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"[Arms Control Today is] Absolutely essential reading for the upcoming Congressional budget debate on the 2018 #NPR and its specific recommendations ... well-informed, insightful, balanced, and filled with common sense."

– Frank Klotz
former Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration
March 7, 2018
WMD Terrorism

Rumsfeld Reprise? The Missile Report That Foretold the Iraq Intelligence Controversy

Greg Thielmann

In recent weeks, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has come under fire for his part in the Bush administration’s misuse of U.S. intelligence to justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq. But Rumsfeld’s tendency to hype selective portions of intelligence that support his policy goals was already familiar to intelligence professionals. They remember his chairmanship of a 1998 congressionally chartered commission charged with evaluating the nature and magnitude of the ballistic missile threat to the United States. As with Iraq, Rumsfeld’s work on ballistic missiles often ignored the carefully considered views of such professionals in favor of highly unlikely worst-case scenarios that posited an imminent threat to the United States and prompted a military, rather than diplomatic, response. Just as is likely to be the case with Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD), time has proven Rumsfeld’s predictions dead wrong.

The “Report of the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States,” chaired by Rumsfeld and released in July 1998, was one of the most influential congressionally mandated reports in recent memory. The presentation of the Rumsfeld Commission report and the unexpected attempt by North Korea to launch a satellite one month later combined to create a political tidal wave that ultimately engulfed one of the most successful arms control treaties in history, the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. The report also led to massive increases in spending on defenses against ICBMs rather than on domestic spending, other defense priorities, or more urgent defenses against short- and medium-range missiles. Because the Rumsfeld report had such a significant impact on U.S. foreign and defense policy, it is worth checking the report’s predictions against current realities.

To do so on the report’s fifth anniversary is particularly appropriate because of the report’s emphasis on how much the missile threat could grow during a five-year period. The report concluded that any nation with a well-developed, Scud-based missile infrastructure would be able to flight-test an ICBM within about five years of deciding to do so. It further asserted that North Korea and Iran were seeking this capability in order to deliver weapons of mass destruction. Yet, since the report’s release, none of the emerging missile states have flight-tested a missile with even half the range of an ICBM. The report that helped kill the ABM Treaty was spectacularly wrong about its principal premise. “Happy Anniversary” greetings are not in order.

The report’s central and most clarion warning is contained in the first paragraph of its unclassified Executive Summary :

The newer ballistic missile-equipped nations [North Korea, Iran, and Iraq]…would be able to inflict major destruction on the U.S. within about five years of a decision to acquire such a capability (10 years in the case of Iraq). During several of those years, the U.S. might not be aware that such a decision had been made.1

The report further states that North Korea and Iran place “a high priority on threatening U.S. territory, and each is even now pursuing advanced ballistic missile capabilities to pose a direct threat to U.S. territory.” Such language created the strong impression that the five-year clocks of North Korea and Iran were already running. Moreover, the estimate of a five-year timeline from the development decision point to the initial ICBM capability was said to apply not just to the three countries that President George W. Bush would later label the “axis of evil,” but to any nation “with a well-developed, Scud-based ballistic missile infrastructure.”

The Rumsfeld Commission strongly implied that movement from single-stage, short-range ballistic missiles to multiple-staged ICBMs is a straight-line, relatively rapid, and predictable progression. This notion is both ahistorical and unrealistic. Missile development programs of even the most advanced industrialized states have advanced in fits and starts, encountering serious programmatic setbacks along the way. Even after the development secrets of long-range missiles have been unlocked by other states, it can take many years to move beyond the rudimentary short-range missiles represented by the Soviet Scud model. Those countries today that seek to build missiles that can deliver a sizeable payload on target to the other side of the globe must still overcome significant technological hurdles. These include, among others, the use of staging, developing, or acquiring sophisticated guidance systems and mastering high stress atmospheric re-entry. Moreover, emerging missile states also have to seek foreign help in an environment where most potential suppliers have pledged to withhold assistance.

The report also warned ominously about the scope, pace, and inscrutability of ballistic missile proliferation and, in a harbinger of Iraq, dismissed the ability of intelligence professionals to monitor developments. “The threat to the U.S.…is broader, more mature and evolving more rapidly than has been reported in estimates and reports by the Intelligence Community.” The report identified a new danger from “alternative ballistic missile launch modes,” such as sea-launched, short-range ballistic missiles and third-country basing schemes. Furthermore, the report concluded that the Intelligence Community could no longer be expected to provide ample warning of threatening developments. “The Intelligence Community’s ability to provide timely and accurate threats of ballistic missile threats to the U.S. is eroding.… The U.S. might have little or no warning before operational deployment.”

Reverent Attention From the Pundits

Such a unanimous conclusion about the future by nine prominent experts (Rumsfeld, Dr. Barry M. Blechman, General Lee Butler, Dr. Richard L. Garwin, Dr. William R. Graham, Dr. William Schneider Jr., General Larry Welch, Dr. Paul Wolfowitz, and The Honorable R. James Woolsey) was hard to challenge at the time, particularly after North Korea appeared to underscore their findings with the flight of a three-stage Taepo Dong-1 space launch vehicle on August 31, 1998. Commentators and pundits soberly intoned about the heightened peril. The new missile powers were declared more dangerous than the old. Their strategic ballistic missile potential was said to be emerging rapidly and their governments were presumed to have already taken the decision to develop ICBMs, leaving little time for remedial action. A typical example of the report’s uncritical reception was provided by Brookings Institution President Michael H. Armacost: “[T]he potential ballistic missile threat to the American homeland has increased as missile delivery system technology has proliferated, as noted in the Rumsfeld Commission report.”2 Most relevant to the actionable strategic policy issue of the day, many pundits concluded that the new threat could only be reliably addressed by deploying ballistic missile defenses outside of ABM Treaty limits.

The Intelligence Community Bends

The intelligence community had been judged harshly by elements of Congress for the alleged sanguinity of its past assessments of foreign ballistic missile developments. Yet, an attempt to get a more forward-leaning professional assessment on missiles by appointing a commission chaired by former CIA director Robert Gates did not succeed in fundamentally altering previous intelligence judgments. After passing a new law, which broke with the congressional tradition of naming commission members proportionately between the parties, the Republican majority did succeed in appointing a new commission under Rumsfeld and naming six of its nine members. In an apparent effort to mollify Republican congressional critics, the intelligence community adopted a more alarmist tone in its next full-blown National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on the subject in 1999, “Foreign Missile Developments and the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States Through 2015.” This NIE lowered the threshold for identifying a new missile threat. The previous standard of “initial operating capability,” still used by the U.S. military, was discarded in favor of using the first flight test of either a missile or a space launch vehicle as the key milestone. This new milestone was inelegantly dubbed “initial threat availability,” but its exact meaning was elusive. Did it mean, for example, the first fully successful flight test? Would the proliferant state have confidence that the missile would work without a fully successful test or even after only one successful test? Not surprisingly, adoption of the new criterion meant that missile systems under development would now be considered “a threat” significantly earlier than before.

The impact of the definitional change was made dramatically clear in the NIE’s treatment of the August 1998 Taepo Dong-1 launch. The North Korea section of the unclassified summary’s Key Points began by assessing that “North Korea could convert its Taepo Dong-1 space launch vehicle [SLV] into an ICBM that could deliver a light payload…to the United States.” The tone implied that a quasi-ICBM threat already existed. One would have to read deeper into the document to learn that this system failed even to place its small satellite in orbit. If the system were to be converted from an SLV into an ICBM, the North Koreans would also have to learn how to construct a warhead that could be brought back through the atmosphere successfully, undamaged by the considerable heat and vibration of re-entry, and then could be directed to hit its target. These requirements each pose discrete engineering challenges — and mastering them is far from a foregone conclusion for a country that has no long-distance instrumented test range and no long-range missile development experience.

The NIE featured warnings of what “could” happen more prominently than projections of what was “likely to” happen. The result echoed that of the Rumsfeld Commission, heightening concerns about technically possible but wholly implausible scenarios. Thus before presenting what analysts judged were Iraq’s most likely capabilities, the NIE declared that “most analysts believe Iraq could test an ICBM that could deliver a lighter payload to the United States in a few years based on its failed SLV or the Taepo Dong-1,” which could be imported from North Korea. While readily absorbing the alarm inherent in the expression “in a few years,” readers were less likely to note that neither scenario made much sense, nor was anyone predicting that either would happen. A similar argument was advanced with Iran. In neither case did the report explicitly state what analysts well understood: a lighter payload would necessarily be a non-nuclear one and lack significant military impact. Buried toward the end of the report was the clarification that, when it came to larger payloads, analysts were divided between “likely before 2010” to “unlikely before 2015.”

The NIE did a better job than the Rumsfeld Commission of accurately describing the awesome but declining strength of Russian strategic forces and of describing the relative numerical insignificance and qualitative weaknesses of any ICBMs that might emerge from North Korea, Iran, or Iraq. It described the Russian ICBM threat as “considerably more robust and lethal than that posed by China, and orders of magnitude more than the threat posed by other nations.” The Rumsfeld report’s Executive Summary is focused almost exclusively on emerging ballistic missile threats to the United States although the commission was mandated by Congress to assess “existing and emerging” threats. In passing quickly over Russia, the Rumsfeld report’s summary acknowledged that the number of missiles in the inventory was “likely to decline further” but stated that intelligence estimates on Russia were “difficult to make.” According to the NIE, Russian strategic forces would “decrease dramatically.” The commission warned that “the risk of an accident or loss of control over Russian ballistic missile forces…which now appears small…could increase sharply and with little warning.” The NIE judged the chance of an unauthorized or accidental launch as “highly unlikely so long as current technical and procedural safeguards are in place.”

Still, the NIE conformed to the principal Rumsfeld Commission theme that the threat from newer ballistic missile-equipped nations was broader, more mature, and evolving more rapidly than previously reported by the intelligence community. Particularly in its presentational aspects, the NIE repeated the commission’s emphasis on ballistic missile threats from North Korea, Iran, and Iraq over those from Russia and China. The threat from emerging states was emphasized up front in the list of “Key Points” in the unclassified summary and the sections of the main body, relegating the much more potent Russian and Chinese missile arsenals and the dramatic decline of Russian strategic forces to a secondary position. A reader of the NIE’s Key Points learns that the United States will most likely face new ICBM threats from North Korea and Iran by 2015 and that a North Korean Taepo Dong-2 ICBM “could be tested at any time.” But the same reader would have to read between the lines of the Key Points or to perform an exegesis of the discussion section to realize that the net ballistic missile threat to the United States through 2015 was expected to fall by thousands of warheads.

Subsequent intelligence community proclamations and products maintained fealty to the broad thrust of the Rumsfeld Commission report. For example, CIA Deputy Director John E. McLaughlin told a space and missile conference in Huntsville, Alabama, on August 21, 2001, that:

[A] number of countries hostile to the United States are on a path that seems likely to expose America to an increased intercontinental [ballistic missile] threat…Some emerging missile states have already decided to go beyond medium-range weapons and develop intercontinental ballistic missiles.3

The only intelligence entity voicing public dissent on these themes was the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR). According to INR Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Tom Fingar, testifying in an open session of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee on February 7, 2001, “INR assesses that, among states seeking long-range missiles, only North Korea could potentially threaten the U.S. homeland with ballistic missiles in this decade, and only if it abandons its current moratorium on long-range missile flight testing.”

What Has Happened

Looking around in the summer of 2003, five years after the Rumsfeld Commission completed its report, one sees a very different world than the one predicted. There have been no ICBM flight tests by any of the newer ballistic missile-equipped nations. As of this writing, North Korea has still not flight-tested its Taepo Dong-2 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM)/ICBM, an event which the 1999 NIE predicted would probably take place that same year. In fact, none of the ballistic missiles flight-tested by the proliferant states have so far reached the 3,000-kilometer-range floor of the intermediate-range ballistic missile category. The total number of long-range ballistic missiles in the world, meanwhile, has fallen to roughly half of Cold War highs and the number of countries with active long-range programs has also declined. [See Chart 1.]

There is no doubt that ballistic missiles still hold attraction for a number of countries. The Rumsfeld Commission explained that “emerging powers…see ballistic missiles as highly effective deterrent weapons and as an effective means of coercing or intimidating adversaries, including the United States.” But the manifestation of this interest has primarily been seen in the category of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles. According to a 2002 Carnegie Endowment for International Peace reckoning, 22 of the 35 nations with ballistic missiles have missiles with ranges of 300 kilometers or less; only 11 have missiles with ranges of more than 1,000 kilometers.4 Five of these countries are nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) nuclear-weapon states; four more are either friendly or at least not hostile to the United States. The remaining two states, North Korea and Iran, have single-stage, 1,300-kilometer-range missiles—the North Korean Nodong and its Iranian derivative, the Shahab-3. Neither poses an imminent ballistic missile threat to population centers in the United States, thousands of kilometers away. [See Chart 2.]

This analysis does not dispute that the existing ballistic missiles of proliferant states can pose a threat to U.S. forces, interests, or allies, nor does it argue for indifference to ongoing development programs for longer-range missiles. But efforts to develop and deploy defenses against these threats were not limited by the ABM Treaty. The Rumsfeld Commission report was specifically charged with assessing another kind of ballistic missile threat: that posed by strategic ballistic missiles, on which the ABM Treaty did pose limits. The salient policy question was therefore supposed to be whether and how soon a new strategic ballistic missile threat would emerge.

There is a general consensus among U.S. government and academic experts that both North Korea and Iran have development programs for longer-range missiles and for nuclear weapons. There is no consensus on whether the longer-range ballistic missile programs are on an immutable track to deployment and, if so, what the timetable for testing and deployment would be. On the fifth anniversary of the Rumsfeld Commission report, however, we can reach the tentative conclusion that the commission was either wrong about the intent of emerging missile states to develop and deploy ICBMs or wrong about the speed with which they could do so. It is also possible the commission was wrong about both. Moreover, none of the “plausible scenarios” for other, non-ICBM ballistic missile threats to the United States identified by the commission have materialized.

So What?

For the Rumsfeld Commission to have erred in its principal warning is an important symptom of deeper problems, but it is hardly an impeachable offense in and of itself. Indeed, it is unreasonable to expect either congressional commissions or intelligence agencies to predict the future with complete accuracy. Excessive concern about avoiding mistakes in prognostication can turn clear, insightful analysis into overly qualified mush. Properly done, the commission’s report could have helped its consumers understand trends, put dangers in perspective, and revealed underlying truths. The shortcoming of the Rumsfeld Commission report was not so much its inability to foresee specific missile development timelines as it was its failure to educate Congress and the public about an important and complicated issue. Instead of elucidating a security concern, it sounded a false alarm. In the process, it fostered a polarization of the intelligence community on the warning function, emphasizing possible but highly unlikely outcomes. Moreover, the Executive Summary of the report blurred the distinction between a real, tactical ballistic missile threat to U.S. forces and interests and a hypothetical future threat to U.S. territory from “rogue state” strategic ballistic missiles, just as the administration recently blurred the distinction between Iraq and the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks. This morphing of the threat was later matched by the Bush administration’s morphing of the response to the threat. Under Rumsfeld, the rhetorical, programmatic, and budgeting distinction between ballistic and tactical missile systems has been virtually eliminated in the administration’s analysis.

WMD Payloads: Apples and Oranges

The Rumsfeld Commission report also exaggerated the threats that Iran and North Korea could pose to the United States by blurring crucial distinctions on the ability of each country’s missiles to carry different payloads—from nuclear to chemical and biological weapons. The report asserted baldly that “a successfully launched ballistic missile has a high probability of delivering its payload to its target compared to other means of delivery.” But it didn’t make clear that these countries were far from producing missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, far and away the most destructive payload, in terms of both the number of human victims and the amount of material damage. Because nuclear weapons require far more missile throw-weight than do chemical or biological weapons, developing a nuclear-tipped ICBM is an especially challenging way for North Korea or Iran to threaten the United States. The Rumsfeld report also did not explain that ballistic missiles are not an optimal means of delivering biological and chemical weapons. Biological weapons pose particular technical challenges in surviving the high temperatures of ICBM warhead re-entry. The deadly effects of chemical weapons are confined to the area of use, requiring more accuracy, and are critically weather dependent. Moreover, many types of chemical weapon agent are lethal for only a short period.

Rather than spelling out the relative dangers posed by the different weapons and evaluating the ability of Iran and North Korea to use ballistic missiles as delivery platforms, three categories of unconventional weapons were lumped together under the catchall label “weapons of mass destruction.” Such unqualified assertions mislead the non-expert reader about the basics of missile physics, contributing to the subsequent distortion of such events as North Korea’s unsuccessful Taepo Dong-1 space launch effort. In the latter case, the intelligence community was surprised by the addition of a small kick motor and satellite to the payload of the anticipated two-stage medium-range ballistic missile. Although North Korea failed to place the satellite in orbit, extrapolations of the system were made by strategic missile defense advocates to describe the Taepo Dong-1 as an intercontinental weapon, which could launch a “WMD”—meaning a chemical- or biological-weapon—warhead to the United States. Critics derided such a fantasy weapons payload as the “golf ball of death.”

If the Rumsfeld Commission had given a fair assessment of the dangers posed by ballistic missiles, far fewer of the foreign ballistic missiles projected by the commission to be a “serious threat” to the United States would have seemed so. Add to that the fact that the accuracy of rudimentary Iranian or North Korean ICBMs would be so poor as to prevent them even from reliably targeting cities and the report’s claims that such missiles have “a high probability of delivering its payload to its target compared to other means of delivery” would have come undone. Certainly, these nations would have been better off using simpler technologies to spread chemical or biological weapons even as the 1999 NIE pointed out. On the penultimate page of the unclassified summary’s discussion section, six advantages of nonmissile WMD delivery options for emerging ballistic missile states were listed, including less expense, greater accuracy, greater reliability, greater effectiveness for biological weapon dissemination, greater ability to avoid missile defenses, and greater ability to avoid retaliation by masking the source of attack.

Dulling Intelligence

The Rumsfeld Commission report, in addition to the U.S. intelligence community failures to provide tactical warning of the May 1998 Indian nuclear tests and the August 1998 North Korean missile launch, put intelligence agencies on the defensive. Intelligence officials were subsequently grilled during congressional hearings on previous ballistic missile threat assessments. The press criticized the failures of previous intelligence assessments to predict what happened. The intelligence community got the message and showed in subsequent ballistic missile assessments that it would not again be outdone in forecasting threats. But by making its projections more “worst case” and less qualified, these estimates became less useful for decision-makers, who have a greater need to know what is probable than what is theoretically possible. By making assessment criteria less precise, intelligence projections also became less useful for analysts and planners throughout government. The intelligence analysis, which predicts that “anything can happen,” may not be proven wrong, but neither will it be very useful. A similar dynamic emerged with intelligence assessments of Iraq. If a capability could not be disproven, it was assumed to exist. “Faith-based analysis” was characteristic of Rumsfeld in both cases.

Ignoring Deterrence

The Rumsfeld Commission report asserted that “emerging powers see ballistic missiles...as an effective means of coercing or intimidating adversaries, including the United States.” A number of U.S. officials, both in the Clinton and in the Bush administrations, have repeatedly claimed that the United States would not have come to Kuwait’s aid if Saddam Hussein had possessed nuclear weapons. (Such rhetoric would appear to have damaged U.S. deterrence much more effectively than any weapons developments occurring in the new missile states.) The report did not elaborate on why these states believed that strategic rather than shorter-range ballistic missiles were necessary to achieve this effect, but one can assume the authors were contending that only by credible threats to the American homeland would the United States be deterred from intervening in areas where its core interests were not engaged. Recent events, however, remind us that perceived threats to the American people can increase rather than discourage public support for U.S. military action abroad.

Logic would argue that any deterrent advantages for “rogue state” leaders of ballistic missiles with unconventional weapons could be achieved with shorter-range systems since the feared U.S. invasion force would likely be within range. For emerging missile powers to anticipate effectively intimidating the United States with threats of a direct missile attack against the American homeland is a dubious proposition. There is no empirical evidence that even the most erratic foreign leader would believe himself immune from such an attack. After all, the last time U.S. territory was attacked by a foreign state, the aggressor state was utterly defeated and then occupied, losing two cities to nuclear detonations in the process, and its ring-leaders were hanged. When a nonstate terrorist organization based in another country attacked America on September 11, 2001, the United States sent troops to the ends of the earth to overthrow that country’s government.

The problem with emerging missile powers using or threatening to use strategic ballistic missiles against the United States is that it cannot be done anonymously. There are no plausible scenarios for disguising the source of an ICBM attack on the United States. The sophistication of U.S. ballistic missile early-warning assets and the inability of emerging missile states to target those assets leaves little doubt that the origin of an ICBM attack would quickly become known. Devastating retaliation and the end of the attacker’s regime would have to be assumed.

Sabotaging Arms Control

The Clinton administration assumed that for it to win congressional approval for future reductions in U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear forces that it would need some kind of strategic missile defense. In 1996, the Clinton administration sought to demonstrate this support by designating National Missile Defense (NMD) as a acquisition program. Prior to the Rumsfeld Commission report, however, the president had not yet made a deployment decision and Congress had not mandated system deployment. The Rumsfeld report and the North Korean missile launch that summer provided a huge impetus to the effort to develop and deploy strategic missile defenses and a rationale for withdrawing from the ABM Treaty. The report’s dubious assertions that the new missile states could have ICBMs within five years of a deployment decision and that there would be little warning in advance of a flight test created a new sense of urgency. Although Clinton ultimately postponed the expected deployment decision in 2000, the die had been cast. It made little difference that the ABM Treaty did not preclude the deployment of defenses against the short- and medium-range missiles, which had experienced dynamic growth. Nor did it matter that there was a nearly universal desire internationally for retention of the ABM Treaty and that Russia had made START II implementation contingent on adherence to the ABM Treaty. Bush announced before the end of his first year in office that the United States would withdraw from the ABM Treaty, without even selecting a system architecture that would explain the necessity for withdrawal. Six months later, the treaty was gone, and with it, the START II agreement that would have verifiably halved the number of U.S. and Russian strategic weapons.

Bilateral strategic arms control was not the only victim. Withdrawing from the ABM Treaty was one of the first in a long series of major U.S. policy decisions flying in the face of world opinion—spending precious political capital and lowering the reservoir of international support needed in moments of crisis. The full-bore pursuit of strategic missile defenses will have cost the United States tens of billions of dollars in obligations over five fiscal years. It has diverted attention and resources from the greater threat posed by terrorist attack. It has even siphoned funds from the tactical ballistic missile defense programs that would address a real and present danger to U.S. forces.

The Rumsfeld Commission report also weakened the NPT regime by ignoring progress made over the previous decade in nonproliferation efforts and implicitly denigrating the potential effectiveness of existing international instruments. So fixated was it on the empty half of the glass that it became completely blind to the full half. Moreover, by emphasizing how dire it would be for the United States to face off against even one unreliable, inaccurate ICBM with a biological- or chemical-weapon warhead, the report gave heart to the missile program advocates in hostile states that their efforts would yield a great political dividend in deterrent value.

The end result of both the Rumsfeld Commission report and subsequent intelligence estimates was to distract their consumers from the most serious security threats to the nation, leading to misallocation of resources, America’s estrangement from its allies, and a weakening of the nation’s deterrent. With five years’ hindsight, it is apparent that the impact of the Rumsfeld report were policies that actually worsened the security problems facing the nation. Now, in the aftermath of a war propelled by dubious threat assessments from the Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz Pentagon, it is difficult to avoid being overcome by a powerful sense of déjà vu.


Ballistic Missiles: Who Has What?

China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States are the only countries that have deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) or intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs). The table below depicts the status of the missile programs other countries have. None of the countries listed below have ever flight-tested an IRBM or an ICBM.

Countries With IRBM or ICBM Programs
Countries With Deployed Medium-Range Ballistic Missiles
India
India
Iran
Iran1
North Korea
Israel
Pakistan
North Korea
Pakistan
Saudi Arabia

1. Iran has flight-tested the Shahab-3 several times with mixed results. A handful of Shahab-3s with an estimated range of 1300 kilometers, are believed to be available if Iran decided to deployed them.

Sources: Arms Control Association and the Central Intelligence Agency

 

Missile Ranges
SRBM
Short-range ballistic missile (<1,000 km)
MRBM
Medium-range ballistic missile (1,000-3,000 km)
IRBM
Intermediate-range ballistic missile (3,000-5,500 km)
ICBM
Intercontinental ballistic missile (5,500+ km)

[Return to text.]


Developments Since the Rumsfeld Commission Report

The Rumsfeld Commission contended that the ballistic missile programs of Iran and North Korea posed “a substantial and immediate danger to the U.S., its vital interests and its allies.” The commission’s report insinuated that both countries could possibly develop and flight-test an intercontinental ballistic missile within a five-year period of choosing to do so, particularly if they received foreign help. Below is the current status of the Iranian and North Korean ballistic missile programs.

Iran

Iran has flight-tested and is in the “late stages” of developing its medium-range Shahab-3 ballistic missile. It is estimated that the Shahab-3 could travel up to 1,300 kilometers.

Iran is working on the Shahab-4 and the Shahab-5, both of which are expected to have greater ranges than the Shahab-3. Neither has been flight-tested, and the Shahab-5 is reportedly in the very early stages of development.

North Korea

The longest-range missile North Korea has deployed is the Nodong-1, which has an estimated capability of delivering a payload of up to 1,300 kilometers.

North Korea has conducted one flight test of the Taepo Dong-1, which has an estimated range of up to 2,000 kilometers. That sole flight test occurred in August 1998 and was a failed effort to put a satellite into orbit.

North Korea is working on a Taepo Dong-2, which, if successfully built, is estimated to have the capability to strike the continental United States. The missile has not been flight-tested.

North Korea declared a missile flight test moratorium in September 1999 and has reiterated that pledge several times since, the last at a September 2002 North Korean-Japanese summit. Pyongyang flight-tested short-range missiles earlier this year, but the White House said the tests were not covered by the moratorium, which Washington has always interpreted as applying to long-range ballistic missiles.

Sources: Arms Control Association and the Central Intelligence Agency

[Return to text.]


NOTES

1. The report’s executive summary is available at www.armscontrol.org.

2. James M. Lindsay and Michael O’Hanlon, Defending America: The Case for Limited National Missile Defense (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2001), p. vii.

3. John E. McLaughlin, “Watch for More and More Medium- and Long-Range Missiles,” International Herald Tribune, August 29, 2001.

4. Joseph Cirincione, Jon B. Wolfsthal, and Miriam Rajkumar, Deadly Arsenals: Tracking Weapons of Mass Destruction (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2002), p. 73.


Greg Thielmann retired in 2002 as director of the Strategic, Proliferation, and Military Affairs Office in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research.

 

 

Bush Administration Defends Intelligence Findings on Iraq

Paul Kerr

The failure to find weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq is forcing the Bush administration to defend itself against charges that it exaggerated the threat posed by former Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, and two congressional committees have begun hearings on the administration’s interpretation of intelligence related to Iraq’s WMD.

The Bush administration’s chief rationale for invading Iraq was that it posed a near-term threat to the United States and countries in the Persian Gulf region. Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, the administration claimed, and might have used them or given them to terrorists. Vice President Dick Cheney stated in an August 26 speech that “there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction” and said March 16 that Iraq has “reconstituted nuclear weapons.” In an October speech, President George W. Bush himself asserted that Baghdad “possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons,” and he repeated the claim two days before the invasion began.

UN weapons inspectors have long said that Iraq had never provided an adequate accounting of its prohibited weapons programs or convinced them that its weapons of mass destruction had been destroyed. But Hans Blix, who retired July 1 as executive chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), told Arms Control Today June 16 that he warned government officials not to equate unaccounted-for weapons with existing weapons.

Now, more than three months after coalition forces entered Iraq, no weapons of mass destruction have been found, leading critics to question the administration’s characterization of intelligence reports on Iraqi WMD and the imminence of the threat they posed. Greg Thielmann, who was director of the Strategic, Proliferation, and Military Affairs Office in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research until retiring in September 2002, told Arms Control Today June 26 that senior administration officials made misleading statements about intelligence regarding Iraq. Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, said June 25 that “administration officials rarely included the caveats and qualifiers attached to the Intelligence Community’s judgments” in their statements about Iraq’s weapons programs.

Press reports have suggested that intelligence analysts felt pressured by the White House to alter their assessments to conform with the administration’s beliefs about Iraqi WMD. The CIA and the Pentagon, however, have denied these allegations. Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet said in a May 30 statement that “the integrity of [the intelligence analysis] was maintained…and any suggestion to the contrary is simply wrong.”

Nevertheless, criticism of the administration’s use of intelligence has grown strong enough that Congress has decided to look into the matter. Initial calls by Democrats for a formal investigation were rebuffed, but both the House and Senate intelligence committees are conducting closed hearings as well as reviewing relevant intelligence documents. Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a June 22 appearance on Fox News Sunday that his committee would also conduct a public hearing and issue a report after the closed hearings. Harman stated June 25 that the House will hold public hearings as well.

The Administration’s Defense

Administration officials have dismissed the criticism, expressing confidence in the veracity of their prewar claims and offering several rebuttals, the starkest of which was Bush’s assertion that coalition forces had actually “found…banned weapons.” In a May 29 interview with Polish television, Bush said that forces had discovered two trailers that the CIA had identified as being part of a larger system for producing biological weapons. (See ACT, June 2003.) The CIA, however, reported in May that the trailers never actually produced any weapons. Additionally, a State Department memorandum written after the CIA’s public report raised doubts about whether the trailers were built to produce biological weapons, spokesman Richard Boucher said June 26.

The president has not repeated his claim but instead has subtly changed his language when discussing Iraq’s potential WMD. During a June 9 briefing, instead of maintaining that Iraq had proscribed weapons themselves, the president said only that Iraq “had a weapons program” and that the United States will “find out that they did have a weapons program.” White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said June 17 that Bush uses the terms interchangeably. The president continues to believe that Iraq possessed prohibited weapons up until the invasion and that weapons will be found, he added.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, however, continues to draw a distinction between the two terms, stating during a June 24 press briefing that coalition forces will “find weapons or evidence of weapons programs.” In March, he stated that the United States knew where Iraq’s WMD were. John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, argued during a June 4 hearing before the House International Relations Committee that Saddam Hussein’s “desire” to possess WMD, along with Iraq’s capability to produce them, was sufficient justification for military action.

Bush administration officials, such as national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, have also defended their judgment by citing prewar intelligence reports, such as the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE). Not all of those estimates, however, support the unequivocal claims the administration made about Iraqi WMD.

The introductory section to the NIE, for example, stated that “Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons.” However, the supporting explanation says only that Iraq has failed to fully account for past weapons production and is expanding its production capabilities.

A September 2002 British government report was more definitive in its judgment, stating that Iraq has “chemical and biological weapons…available, both from pre-Gulf War stocks and from recent production.” The report added, “The Iraqi military are able to deploy these weapons within 45 minutes of a decision to do so.” The supporting explanation asserted that Iraq retained some pre-Gulf War chemical weapons and had relevant delivery systems as well as production capabilities. It did not discuss specific weaponization efforts. (See ACT, July/August 2003.)

A recently declassified portion of a September 2002 Defense Intelligence Agency study, however, seems to directly contradict the administration’s contentions about Iraq’s chemical weapons program, stating that “there is no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical weapons.” The study does say that Iraq “probably possesses [chemical weapons] agent in chemical munitions,” but it then concedes that the agency lacks “any direct information” for this claim and that Iraq’s ability to reconstitute a chemical weapons program presupposes “the absence of an international inspection regime.”

The administration’s assertion that Iraq had a nuclear weapons program appears to be its weakest claim. The NIE stated that “in the absence of inspections…most analysts assess that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear [weapons] program,” adding that Iraq “may have acquired uranium enrichment capabilities” to produce a nuclear weapon. But the British report, while concurring that Iraq was trying to acquire nuclear weapons, added that Iraq could not produce a nuclear weapon “while [UN] sanctions remain effective.”

The legitimacy of the two chief pieces of evidence the administration provided of an ongoing Iraqi nuclear program was undermined significantly before the war even began. During his January State of the Union address, Bush claimed that Iraq was attempting to procure high-strength aluminum tubes to manufacture centrifuges for a uranium enrichment program and that Iraq was trying to procure uranium from Africa.

International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei said in March that Iraq was probably using the aluminum tubes for rocket production and that it was “highly unlikely” that Baghdad could have used them for centrifuges. ElBaradei also said in March that the documents which provided the basis for the claim that Iraq was seeking to purchase uranium were forgeries, and Rice acknowledged June 8 that the information had been “mistaken.” Press reports have also indicated that the administration’s own analysis had refuted its claims about the aluminum tubes and imported African uranium before the war began.

The Bush administration has also argued that the international community shared its judgment that Iraq possessed prohibited weapons. During a June 2 press briefing, Secretary of State Colin Powell said that UN Security Council Resolution 1441 “started out with the proposition that Iraq…had weapons of mass destruction.” Although the resolution stated that Iraq had obstructed weapons inspectors and failed to account for its weapons and related facilities, it did not claim Iraq possessed prohibited weapons.

 

The failure to find weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq is forcing the Bush administration to defend itself against charges that it exaggerated the threat...

Inspectors' Accomplishments in Iraq, 2002-2003

Hans Blix, executive chairman of the United Nations Monitoring,Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), sent the commission’s 13th quarterly report to the UN Security Council on May 30. Information from the report has been used to update and augment a summary of inspectors’ accomplishments in Iraq that appeared in the April 2003 issue of Arms Control Today.

The Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein continually stated that it had destroyed all of its prohibited weapons. However, Iraq’s UN-required declarations about its weapons programs never provided an adequate accounting of Baghdad’s weapons programs or proof that the weapons had been eliminated.

The May 30 report stated that inspections “contributed to a better understanding of previous weapons programmes,” but “the long list of…unresolved disarmament issues was not shortened either by the inspections or by Iraqi declarations and documentation.” The report added that, while Iraq “devoted much effort to providing explanations and proposing methods of inquiry” into outstanding disarmament issues, “little progress was made.”

UN weapons inspectors began their work in Iraq November 27 and left March 18. Iraq submitted a declaration containing information about its weapons of mass destruction December 7, as required by UN Security Council Resolution 1441. Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) conducted 237 inspections at 148 sites, including 27 sites not previously inspected. UNMOVIC inspectors conducted 731 inspections at 411 sites, including 88 sites not previously inspected. Of those inspections, 22 percent were related to chemical weapons, 28 percent to biological weapons, and 30 percent to missiles. The remaining 20 percent were multidisciplinary inspections, involving experts from each disarmament area.

UNMOVIC carried out a total of eight aerial surveillance and monitoring missions by helicopter and 16 reconnaissance missions using U-2 and Mirage aircraft between mid-February and mid-March 2003.

Inspectors also conducted 14 private interviews with Iraqi scientists, out of 54 that they had requested, between January and March 2003. Iraq provided 31 lists of Iraqi scientists to UNMOVIC, five of which contained the names of experts involved in the handling and destruction of prohibited weapons materials. Some of these scientists were involved in destroying anthrax—one of the most important outstanding disarmament issues—but inspectors were withdrawn before those scientists could be interviewed. UNMOVIC considered such interviews to be a critical source of information, especially when, as Iraq claimed, documentation did not exist to support Baghdad’s assertion that it had destroyed its prohibited weapons.

The IAEA found no evidence that Iraq was pursuing a nuclear weapons program. Based on information in the May 30 report and previously issued documents, UNMOVIC inspectors:

  • Supervised the destruction of 72 prohibited al Samoud-2 missiles and dozens of associated warheads. The May 30 report said Iraq destroyed 74 warheads and that 25 missiles and 38 warheads remained to be destroyed, but those numbers differ from previous UN statements.
  • Supervised the destruction of three al Samoud-2 missile launchers but said six remained to be destroyed.
  • Supervised the destruction of two casting chambers capable of producing motors for prohibited missiles.
  • Discovered 231 illegal Volga missile engines. Iraq had declared that it had imported only 131 such engines, but the report places the total number at 380.
  • Supervised the destruction of five engines—presumably Volga engines—for al Samoud-2 missiles. The May 30 report, however, stated that 326 remained to be destroyed and did not explain the apparent discrepancy between the number of engines imported and those slated for destruction.
  • Discovered 14 empty 122-millimeter rocket warheads that could be used to deliver chemical weapons. Iraq notified UNMOVIC that it had discovered another four warheads.
  • Supervised the destruction of 14 155-millimeter shells containing mustard gas that had been found by the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) in 1997 at a declared location. UNSCOM had emptied four of the shells but not destroyed them.
  • Discovered a component of a cluster sub-munition designed to deliver chemical or biological weapons.
  • Discovered fuel spray tanks modified for possible use in delivering chemical or biological agents.
  • Found and destroyed a small quantity of a precursor chemical for the production of mustard agent. The May 30 report stated the quantity was 500 milliliters, but a February UNMOVIC report placed the amount at one liter.
  • Verified Iraq’s declarations that it had reinstalled eight pieces of prohibited chemical equipment. UNMOVIC decided that Iraq should destroy the equipment, but the destruction was not carried out before UNMOVIC left the country.
  • Observed Iraqi efforts to recover physical evidence of 157 R-400 bombs, built for the delivery of biological agents, that Iraq claimed to have destroyed and apparently buried in 1991. According to the May 30 report, the excavations accounted for 104 bombs, which, combined with the 24 bombs excavated by UNSCOM at the same site, accounted for 128 munitions. The liquid contents of two bombs UNMOVIC excavated tested positive for anthrax.
  • Were unable to determine whether Iraq had pursued an unmanned aerial vehicle program to deliver chemical and biological weapons.
  • Discovered no mobile facilities for producing weapons.

 

 

Radioactive Materials Discovered in Thailand, Georgia

Christine Kucia

Police in Thailand and Georgia recently apprehended suspects possessing radiological materials, reinforcing international concern about the availability of the building blocks for “dirty bombs.”

Authorities in Thailand apprehended Narong Penanam on June 13 after the police, tipped off by U.S. investigators, seized a substance in an undercover sting operation that the suspect claimed was uranium. Tests later showed the material was cesium-137, which, if paired with a conventional explosive, could be used to make a radiological weapon, or “dirty bomb,” that could spread radioactive debris over a wide area.

U.S. and Thai authorities have been working together since October 2002, after preliminary reports surfaced about the possible sale of weapons-grade uranium in Asia, according to a June 13 Homeland Security Department press release. Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge called the sting operation “an outstanding example of international cooperation in disrupting the proliferation of radiological material.”

The suspect claimed that he procured the material from a source in neighboring Laos and expected to net as much as $240,000 from selling it. U.S. officials told The New York Times that the seized quantity of cesium—initially reported to weigh around 66 pounds—may have originated in Russia.

Loose radioactive material was also found in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, according to a June 16 Reuters article. Georgian police found containers of cesium-137 and strontium-90, as well as nerve gas concentrate, in a Tbilisi taxi cab May 31, and they arrested the taxi driver and two other suspects. Like cesium-137, strontium-90 is a radioactive isotope that could be used to make a dirty bomb. According to Givi Mgebrishvili, spokesman for the Georgian Interior Ministry, “The most likely version is that the containers were intended to be transported on to Turkey and to be resold,” Reuters reported.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has worked with Georgian authorities since 1997 to secure radioactive materials and dispose of abandoned equipment containing such materials, often found at Soviet-era military installations. They have not always been successful: In June 2002, for example, IAEA and Georgian authorities failed to find two strontium-90 thermoelectric generators known to have been abandoned in western Georgia.

The agency has documented over 280 incidents worldwide since 1993 involving the illicit trafficking of radioactive material, and in March over 120 countries met to discuss the problem. (See ACT, April 2003.)

 

 

Police in Thailand and Georgia recently apprehended suspects possessing radiological materials, reinforcing international concern about the availability of the building blocks for “dirty bombs.”

Blair Faces Fight Over Intelligence on Iraq

Kerry Boyd-Anderson

While the Bush administration faces congressional hearings on the use of prewar intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, across the Atlantic, British Prime Minister Tony Blair is fighting for his political future as questions arise over the failure to find any clear evidence of chemical or biological weapons in Iraq.

The recent controversy revolves around a dossier Blair released in September 2002 detailing Iraq’s alleged efforts to continue developing biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons. Blair cited Iraq’s pursuit of such weapons as the primary justification for the U.S. and British invasion of that country. The dossier was approved by the Joint Intelligence Committee, which includes the heads of the British intelligence agencies and provides assessments to the prime minister.

Although some skeptics questioned the dossier’s claims from the beginning, the current row began in early June when the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) quoted “a senior British official” saying that Blair’s office had revised the September dossier “‘six to eight times.’” In particular, the unnamed official criticized the prime minister’s office for including information in the report—“Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Assessment of the British Government”—claiming that Saddam Hussein’s military planning would allow for some of his chemical and biological weapons “to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them.” According to the BBC, the official said the intelligence services had not included that statement in the original draft because of doubts about its reliability.

The debate over the September dossier follows earlier disclosures about another report released in February on Iraq’s attempts to deceive inspectors. That dossier included 12-year-old information copied from a thesis by a U.S. graduate student.

Blair has forcefully denied that his office tampered with the evidence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction programs or that there is any serious breach between the intelligence community and the Cabinet.

In response to concerns over the use of intelligence by the Blair government, the Intelligence and Security Committee and the Foreign Affairs Select Committee are launching investigations. Opposition leaders also called for an independent inquiry, expressing concern that the two committees would not be objective. The Intelligence and Security Committee, in particular, reports to the prime minister, who decides whether to make the committee’s reports public. The opposition, however, lost a June 4 vote to hold an independent inquiry 301-203. Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith also asked Blair to release the original dossier that the Joint Intelligence Committee provided before it was publicly released in September; Blair has so far refused to do so.

Blair has offered full cooperation with the investigation by the Intelligence and Security Committee, promising to provide the committee with all Joint Intelligence Committee reports and to publish the parliamentary committee’s final report. Blair insists that more time is necessary to uncover weapons of mass destruction in Iraq but that they will be be found.

 

While the Bush administration faces congressional hearings on the use of prewar intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, across the Atlantic...

The Post-Hussein Era: America, Russia,

Representatives Curt Weldon and Chet Edwards

The nations of the world are moving warily into the post-Saddam Hussein era. Bruised feelings, suspicions, and strained relations among old and new friends and allies abound. France, Germany, and Russia, which once saw little of common interest, now nurse a common grudge against what they see as America’s willingness to ignore their counsel. Healing all of these wounds will be important for America’s national interest, but none is more significant than restoring our increasingly close strategic relationship with Russia, for Russia is the only country that can make or break our war on terrorism.

Of paramount importance to the lives and safety of the American people are the massive stockpiles of nuclear weapons and materials and the expertise for building them that Russia and the other independent states inherited from the Soviet Union. The size of those inventories and that pool of scientific know-how, along with their dangerous vulnerability to theft or diversion, continue to pose dangers of immense proportions, dangers that we have not done enough to address.

A recent Department of Energy estimate put the amount of Russian weapons-usable nuclear materials at more than 1,500 tons.1 That is enough for more than 100,000 nuclear weapons.2 Just one weapon with an explosive power of 10 kilotons, somewhat smaller than the Hiroshima bomb, detonated at Grand Central Station in New York could kill about a half-million people and inflict about a trillion dollars of direct economic damage. The U.S. government considers that a real possibility; in October 2001, it was concerned that al Qaeda might have smuggled a 10-kiloton warhead into lower Manhattan. The fact that a Russian nuclear commander had recently reported that he could not account for a warhead that size ostensibly under his control was part of the reason for the concern.3

If a terrorist group setting off such a weapon were to claim the ability to detonate one or more additional bombs, the effect on the American people, our government, and our economy would be too horrific to assess.

It has been 12 years since Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) and then-Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA) alerted the nation to this kind of danger and successfully proposed bold, forward-looking legislation establishing threat-reduction programs in the states of the former Soviet Union. They saw the danger to the United States, and to the whole world, of the Soviet-era nuclear legacy that had fallen to Russia and the other states of the former Soviet Union.

The Need for More Threat Reduction

The Nunn-Lugar and related nonproliferation programs are beginning to account for and secure the nuclear stockpiles of the former Soviet Union while developing sustainable commercial employment for the tens of thousands of scientists and technicians who used to work in the development and production of weapons of mass destruction. The programs are aimed at exactly the right targets. As Nunn recently observed, “It becomes obvious from analyzing the terrorist path to a nuclear attack that the most effective, least expensive way to prevent nuclear terrorism is to secure nuclear weapons and materials at the source. Acquiring weapons and materials is the hardest step for the terrorists to take, and the easiest for us to stop.”4

What is distressing to note, looking back over the past decade, is that we have not moved with greater speed and determination to protect American lives from this great danger. These programs, despite being effective, are too small and have been operating at a pace that does not match the size and urgency of the problem. To cite just one example, working with Russia, we certainly by now should have completed “comprehensive upgrades” at all vulnerable nuclear sites in that country. These upgrades involving sophisticated security systems are along the lines of what we use here in the United States to protect our own stocks of weapons-grade materials. According to the Department of Energy’s fiscal year 2004 budget documents, even by October 2004, comprehensive upgrades will not have been completed at facilities containing enough material for more than 22,000 nuclear weapons. This is far too risky given that a recent CIA report faulted the security of Russian nuclear arsenal facilities, noting that “undetected smuggling has occurred.”5

There is little to be gained from pointing fingers. Neither the Clinton administration, the Bush administration, nor the Congress, under either Democratic or Republican leadership, has given these programs the priority they deserve.

It strains credulity that we are apparently comfortable with leaving such large quantities of bomb material so lightly protected, or essentially unprotected, in sites in the former Soviet Union for years and years while we keep our own under heavily guarded, highly sophisticated, electronically based security. There is no doubt that terrorists not only want nuclear weapons but that they are actively attempting to acquire them. A Harvard study commissioned by the Nuclear Threat Initiative recently reported that “[i]n October 2001, the commander of the force that guards Russia’s nuclear weapons reported that during that year, terrorist groups had twice carried out reconnaissance at Russian nuclear warhead storage sites—whose very locations are a state secret.”6 This report was confirmed by the official Russian government newspaper.7 In addition, there have been numerous other reports in the Russian press of terrorists reconnoitering nuclear warhead transport trains.8 Also, it has been reported that the 40 armed Chechens who seized hundreds of hostages at a Moscow theater in October 2002 had considered seizing a nuclear reactor with hundreds of kilograms of highly enriched uranium (HEU)—enough to build several nuclear weapons.9

As the readers of this publication are well aware, the bipartisan task force headed by former Senate Republican Leader Howard Baker and former Clinton administration White House counsel Lloyd Cutler concluded in January 2001 that an effort in the magnitude of $30 billion over eight to 10 years was necessary in order to deal with nuclear threat reduction and nonproliferation problems in Russia.10 We have not yet even approached that level and are currently devoting only about $1 billion a year to this problem.

Last year at the Group of Eight (G-8) summit in Kananaskis, Canada, the participants established a Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction and promised to “raise up to $20 billion” for the initiative over the next 10 years. That is still $10 billion shy of the Baker-Cutler recommendation and is spread over a much broader range of problems than preventing the proliferation of Russia’s nuclear weapons, materials, and know-how. It will address the spread of weapons of mass destruction on a global basis and include matters relating to nonproliferation, disarmament, counterterrorism, and nuclear safety and environmental issues. Thus, whether or how much the G-8 initiative will actually increase threat-reduction and nonproliferation efforts in Russia cannot be discerned at this point.

For example, the U.S. pledge of $10 billion essentially assumes a straight-lining of the U.S. programs at 6 percent less than the fiscal year 2002 level 11 and would be even less in real dollars after adjusting for inflation.

Another factor requiring increased U.S.-Russia nonproliferation efforts over the coming years is the fate of the thousands of Russian strategic warheads that will be removed from deployment under the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT). The already beleaguered Russian system of accounting, securing, and destroying nuclear weapons and materials will be further stressed by the downloading of these warheads. Ensuring that these warheads do not proliferate should be a key U.S. objective in the years to come.

Clearly, we in Congress need to be doing more to enhance and accelerate these programs. A leading observer has noted the unsatisfactory pace of the U.S. programs this way: “Continuing on the current course…could leave key objectives unmet at the end of this decade.”12 That plainly is unacceptable.

But resources are not the only problem. The United States and Russia still have not ironed out the problems of working together efficiently, including problems of access to sensitive sites in Russia where security upgrades are necessary and of the need for the United States to be assured that work that has been paid for has been completed. Other problems include the fact that there are dozens of U.S. programs operated by three cabinet departments and other agencies. Thus, problems in the coordination or synchronization of the programs continue to arise.13

The challenges are as urgent as they are clear, and they require two immediate responses. First is ensuring that U.S.-Russian relations are on a plane where these nuclear nonproliferation programs can move ahead more aggressively and the difficulties in carrying them out can be resolved. This clearly is an issue requiring the attention of Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin in their June 1 summit in St. Petersburg and in any subsequent talks between the leaders. Americans and Russians alike need the protection that these programs can provide, and they need that protection now. Many have recommended that these two leaders each designate a top-level official reporting directly to their respective president to lead and coordinate these programs.14 We agree. In both countries, these officials should each be charged with developing an integrated plan for their government’s part in these efforts, meeting with their counterpart, offering advice on the budgetary requirements for carrying out these plans, and alerting their president when problems requiring his intervention arise.

Urgent Next Steps

A strong congressional effort to take the Nunn-Lugar-type programs to a new level is necessary and is beginning to take shape. On April 10, we, together with a bipartisan group of 22 other members of Congress, introduced the Nuclear Security Initiative Act of 2003 to do just that.15 Many of these provisions have been included in the House version of the fiscal year 2004 defense authorization bill. (See ACT, June.) The Senate and the White House would be wise to endorse them as Congress hashes out the final House-Senate compromises on the defense bill.

Important next steps for Congress to address include: Enhance Security Upgrades and Expand Them to Research Reactors

We should accelerate the Department of Energy’s International Nuclear Materials Protection and Cooperation (MPC&A) program in order to quickly improve basic security measures at all nuclear weapons and materials storage facilities in the former Soviet Union. According to the Department of Energy’s own fiscal year 2004 budget documents, by October 2004, enough nuclear material to build 16,000 bombs will still be in Russian facilities lacking the most basic security protection, such as fences, strengthened doors and locks, and bricked-up or barred windows. These are the protections—the kind you would expect to find at a warehouse for storing home appliances in the United States—that can prevent ordinary burglars from breaking into buildings containing the makings of enormous tragedies in U.S. cities.

In addition, hundreds of facilities around the world, many of them too poor to provide basic security, have various quantities of plutonium or HEU.16 This situation poses a grave and immediate threat to our security, and we need a new approach to deal with it.

The recent success in Vinca, Yugoslavia, is illustrative. A research reactor facility there that had received HEU from the Soviet Union cooperated with an international team that returned the material to a secure site in Russia, where it was reduced to non-weapons-usable, low-enriched uranium (LEU). The United States provided $2 million to $3 million for this project, and making up for a gap in the U.S. government’s authority, a private nonprofit group, the Nuclear Threat Initiative, donated $5 million.17 But we cannot afford the several months of interagency negotiations and the enlistment of private help that are currently needed to cobble together each of the dozens of Vinca-like projects that need to be undertaken as quickly as possible around the world.

Our legislation provided for such an expedited effort by permitting expansion of the MPC&A program authority to countries outside the former Soviet Union. It also would allow the administration to offer incentives to convince managers to part with fissile material that they see as critical to a research reactor’s reason for existing. Thus, our broader program would include the authority to purchase vulnerable HEU and plutonium and transport it to the United States or elsewhere for secure storage or neutralization and the authority to offer targeted financial and other incentives to encourage facilities to release the material. Incentives might include assistance with managing nuclear waste, funding to convert a reactor to the use of LEU, and decommissioning reactors and related facilities. Where it might be practical for a country to retain the fissile material, our expanded MPC&A program could assist with security upgrades that are considered adequate and sustainable.

Acceleration of HEU Blend-Down Program

Under a 1993 U.S.-Russian HEU Purchase Agreement, the U.S. Enrichment Corporation (USEC), a corporation serving as the U.S. executive agent under the agreement, each year buys about 30 tons of Russian HEU that has been removed from dismantled nuclear weapons and blended down to LEU, which is not weapons usable. USEC then sells the LEU on the U.S. market to nuclear power companies. The amount of HEU blended down annually is geared not to U.S. or Russian security demands but to what the U.S. market will bear without causing prices to drop too far or pushing American producers out of business. The agreement covers 500 tons of HEU and will run through 2013.
There are at least another 600 tons of HEU in Russia, however, that must be dealt with. Thus, section 3157 of the Bob Stump National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2003 authorized a new program for blending down additional quantities of HEU in Russia that are not covered by the 1993 agreement. Our bill provides funds for expediting the expanded program of blending down HEU that is critically important to our security.

Fighting the Smuggling of Weapons of Mass Destruction and Related Materials

Another provision of the bill addresses the need to back up our efforts to secure nuclear weapons and materials with measures to combat smuggling of the weapons, materials, and technologies. Although terrorist organizations lack the capacity at this time to attack the United States with a ballistic missile, it is quite likely that a terrorist organization that gained control of a nuclear weapon or the material to build one could smuggle it into the United States across our northern or southern border or by boat. Only about four kilograms of plutonium or 20 kilograms of HEU is needed for a bomb.18

Several states of the former Soviet Union with stockpiles of nuclear materials, however, lack the legal and institutional frameworks to monitor and control exports effectively, as well as the infrastructure and personnel necessary to implement such controls. In many cases, these countries have borders that are thousands of miles long and national governments that often do not have the ability to monitor, patrol, or secure them. According to the latest estimate, only 45 percent of Russia’s customs checkpoints have operable radiation detectors and monitors.19 Some borders in the former Soviet Union are considered particularly sensitive, including points of entry into Iran on the Caspian Sea.

The same provision also recognizes the great challenge we face in monitoring the more than 20,000 shipping containers that enter the United States each day. New technology could help us determine if any vessel in a port contains nuclear material. If we placed such equipment in ports overseas, we could determine whether a vessel is free of nuclear materials before it departs for the United States rather than after it has entered a U.S. port.

Our legislation authorizes aid to the former Soviet states to improve their border controls, to track and intercept illicit transfers of weapons of mass destruction and the materials and technologies for building them, and to work with other countries to install in their ports devices to detect nuclear or radiological weapons or materials.

“Silk Road” Initiative

In addition to work in Russia to reduce the threat of weapons of mass destruction, more work needs to be done in the countries on Russia’s periphery to ensure that materials and weapons that terrorists might attempt to smuggle out of Russia are interdicted and to ensure that people with weapons of mass destruction expertise in states of the former Soviet Union other than Russia find gainful, peaceful employment. To this end, we want to establish a “Silk Road” Initiative (SRI). The SRI would provide assistance to develop sustainable employment opportunities for scientists, engineers, and technicians formerly employed in the production of weapons of mass destruction in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. These countries—new and struggling democracies that have been very helpful to the United States in the war against terrorism—would benefit considerably from this assistance, and U.S. national security would be enhanced.

Under the leadership of the secretary of energy, the SRI would incorporate the best practices under current and former Department of Energy “brain drain” programs with Russia and facilitate commercial partnerships between private entities in the United States and scientists, engineers, and technicians in the Silk Road countries. Our bill requires that, before fully implementing this new program, the secretary of energy carry out a pilot program with respect to one Silk Road state, preferably Georgia.

Chemical, Biological Weapons Plan

In addition to addressing the threat posed by nuclear weapons, the United States needs to improve its efforts to reduce the threat posed by biological and chemical weapons. Our legislation would address two of the most important steps that could be taken on this front: the creation of a comprehensive plan for biological and chemical weapons nonproliferation programs in the states of the former Soviet Union and the designation of a senior official to coordinate those programs. For too long, these programs have operated without a strategic vision and strong leadership. The principal objectives of this proposal are to focus the very top levels of government on the issue; to fill the need for one high-level official to take responsibility for overseeing and coordinating these programs; and to establish priorities, identify gaps and overlaps, and take advantage of synergies.

Inventory Nuclear Weapons

During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union produced more than a thousand metric tons of weapons-grade nuclear material, enough to build approximately 175,000 nuclear warheads.20 In 1986, at the height of the U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons buildup, the two countries possessed almost 64,000 nuclear warheads.21 Today, the United States and Russia possess more than 95 percent of the world’s assembled nuclear weapons and weapons-grade material.

Unfortunately, the Russian nuclear establishment is unable to account fully for its inventory of weapons-grade material and nuclear weapons. With its closed society, complete with closed and isolated nuclear cities, closed borders, and an intrusive KGB, the Soviet Union never saw the need for the extensive record keeping and physical security measures the United States adopted for nuclear installations during and since the Cold War. This appears to have been especially true for weapons-grade nuclear material and maybe even for portable “tactical” nuclear warheads.22 Now that we are partners with a newly democratic Russia, we need to do all we can to correct that situation in order to help us work together to secure weapons and materials.

For these reasons, the United States must establish a comprehensive inventory of U.S. and Russian nuclear warheads and materials, accompanied by exchanges of the inventory information. Our legislation requires that particular attention be paid to tactical warheads and warheads that are no longer operationally deployed. Such inventories and exchanges, which would be the first steps in a long process, would accelerate the process of establishing fissile material and warhead inventories in which both sides have confidence. Additional steps would include ongoing declarations, inspections to check the accuracy and completeness of the declarations, and measures to verify the dismantling or safe storage of warheads and the elimination of warhead components.

Other provisions included in our proposal further strengthen programs to provide former weapons of mass destruction scientists and engineers with sustainable commercial employment, accelerate programs for closing nuclear weapons production facilities in Russia, enhance the program for improving security at facilities in Russia containing “dirty bomb” radiological materials, and establish a formal Duma-Congress nuclear threat reduction working group.

Preventing terrorists and hostile states from acquiring nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction is the central requirement of the U.S. national security agenda. As President Bush has stated, “The gravest danger our Nation faces lies at the crossroads of radicalism and technology. Our enemies have openly declared that they are seeking weapons of mass destruction, and evidence indicates that they are doing so with determination. The United States will not allow these efforts to succeed…. We cannot defend America and our friends by hoping for the best…. History will judge harshly those who saw this coming danger but failed to act.”23 By taking the steps outlined above, the leadership of the United States will be acting to fulfill its primary duty—protecting the security of the American people.


NOTES

1. March 6, 2003, letter from the Associate Administrator for Management and Administration of the National Nuclear Security Administration, Department of Energy, reprinted in the General Accounting Office report, “Weapons of Mass Destruction: Additional Russian Cooperation Needed to Facilitate U.S. Efforts to Improve Security at Russian Sites,” GAO-03-482 (March 2003), p. 80 (hereinafter GAO report).

2. This figure is based on the conservative assumption that all of this material is highly enriched uranium, requiring about 20 kilograms (44 pounds) for a nuclear weapon, although it contains much plutonium, of which only about 4 kilograms (about 9 pounds) is needed. See Matthew Bunn, Anthony Wier, and John P. Holdren, “Controlling Nuclear Warheads and Materials: A Report Card and Action Plan,” (Project on Managing the Atom, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University 2003), p. 13, n. 9 and accompanying text, available at http://www.nti.org/e_research/cnwm/index.asp (hereinafter NTI study).

3. Massimo Calabresi and Romesh Ratnesar, “Can We Stop the Next Attack?” Time, March 3, 2002.
4. Sam Nunn, “Keynote Address,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace 2002 Non-Proliferation Conference, November 14, 2002, available at http://www.nti.org/c_press/speech_samnunn_1114.pdf.

5. Central Intelligence Agency, “Annual Report to Congress on the Safety and Security of Russian Nuclear Facilities and Military Forces,” (February 2002), available at http://www.cia.gov/nic/pubs/other_products/icarussiansecurity.htm.

6. NTI study, p. 14.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. “A Report Card on the Department of Energy’s Nonproliferation Programs with Russia,” Task Force of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (January 2001).

11. The fiscal year 2002 level totaled $1.065 billion. William Hoehn, “Observations on the President’s Fiscal Year 2004 Budget Request for Nonproliferation Programs and the Former Soviet Union,” (Russian American Nuclear Security Advisory Council, February 11, 2003), available at http://www.ransac.org/new-web-site/index.html.

12. Text of April 24, 2003, letter from the Russian-American Nuclear Security Advisory Council to the U.S. Congress on the future of weapons of mass destruction threat reduction, available at http://www.ransac.org/new-web-site/index.html.

13. NTI study; GAO report, p. 43, (concluding that the Departments of Defense and Energy need “an integrated plan” for their related programs for helping secure Russia’s nuclear warheads).

14. NTI study, pp. 122-24.

15. In addition, another two cosponsors subsequently signed on.

16. NTI study, p. 142.

17. Department of State, Fact Sheet, August 23, 2002.

18. NTI study.

19. U.S.-Russian Legislative Working Group on Nonproliferation, “Statement on the Need to Expand Nonproliferation Export Control Assistance to Russia,” adopted January 28, 2003.

20. Harold Feiveson and Steve Fetter, “Verifying Deep Reductions in Nuclear Forces,” in Harold Feiveson, ed., The Nuclear Turning Point: A Blueprint for Deep Cuts and De-alerting of Nuclear Weapons (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1999), p. 221.

21. Natural Resources Defense Council Nuclear Notebook, “Global Nuclear Stockpiles, 1945–2002,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 58, no. 6, (Nov./Dec. 2002), pp. 103–104.

22. John D. Steinbruner, Principles of Global Security (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2000), pp. 73-80.

23. The White House, “The National Security Strategy of the United States of America,” September 2002.


Curt Weldon (R-PA) is a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee. Chet Edwards (D-TX) is a member of the House Appropriations Committee.

 

Preventing the Misuse of Pathogens: The Need for Global Biosecurity

The anthrax-tainted letters sent through the U.S. mail in the fall of 2001, infecting 22 people and killing five, hinted at the mayhem that could result from the large-scale release of a “weaponized” disease agent. Since then, efforts to counter bioterrorism have focused on the medical and public health response to an attack rather than on prevention. Although improved disease surveillance and therapeutic countermeasures are needed, it is also critical to impede biological attacks by making it more difficult for terrorists to obtain deadly pathogens and toxins (poisonous chemicals produced by living organisms).1

 

Shortly after the anthrax mailings, the U.S. government tightened domestic regulations on access to hazardous biological materials that have legitimate uses in research and industry but could be misused by terrorists. The United States deserves credit for putting its domestic house in order, but no comparable security measures currently exist at thousands of research centers, clinical laboratories, and culture collections overseas that possess or work with dangerous pathogens and toxins. This lack of international harmonization has created security gaps that could be exploited by terrorists.

Negotiating global standards that restrict access to dangerous pathogens would reduce the threat of bioterrorism, while reinforcing the legal prohibitions on the development, production, and stockpiling of biological and toxin weapons contained in the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). Since its inception, the credibility of the BWC has been undermined by its lack of formal mechanisms for monitoring and verification, and efforts over the past decade to strengthen the treaty have been largely unsuccessful. Although the BWC review conferences in 1986 and 1991 introduced politically binding confidence-building measures (CBMs) to increase transparency and improve compliance, only a minority of member states have submitted annual CBM reports. More recently, a six-year effort to negotiate a legally binding inspection protocol to supplement the BWC collapsed in July 2001 when the United States rejected the draft text.

The Bush administration views the terrorist acquisition and use of biological weapons as a more urgent threat than state-level proliferation, and it is also skeptical about the utility of legally binding multilateral agreements. Accordingly, the U.S. government has sought to bolster the BWC by urging member states to pass national legislation mandating domestic measures to counter bioterrorism. In November 2002, under U.S. pressure, the Fifth Review Conference of the BWC adopted a work program consisting of three annual meetings of experts groups and states-parties in 2003-2005, prior to the next review conference in late 2006. The aim of these meetings is to “promote common understanding and effective action” on five measures that could be taken at the national level to strengthen the BWC: penal legislation, pathogen security measures, enhanced international procedures to investigate and mitigate the alleged use of biological weapons or suspicious outbreaks of infectious disease, improved mechanisms for global disease surveillance and response, and scientific codes of conduct.2

The first experts meeting in Geneva on August 18-29, followed by the first meeting of BWC member states November 10-14, will address two issues: national implementation measures for the enactment of penal legislation and best practices for the security and oversight of pathogenic microorganisms and toxins. This article addresses the latter topic, which has come to be termed “biosecurity.”

Defining “Biosecurity”

Although the terms “biosafety” and “biosecurity” are often used interchangeably, they refer to different issues. Biosafety technologies and procedures aim to prevent accidental infections of biomedical researchers and releases of dangerous pathogens from research laboratories that could endanger public health or the environment. These objectives can be achieved through “biocontainment,” which involves placing impermeable barriers or filters between the infectious agent and the researcher and between the laboratory and the outside world. Four levels of increasingly stringent biocontainment—referred to as Biosafety Levels (BSL) 1 through 4—are keyed to the lethality and contagiousness of pathogens and the availability of protective vaccines or therapeutic drugs.

Biosecurity, in contrast, denotes policies and procedures designed to prevent the deliberate theft, diversion, or malicious use of high-consequence pathogens and toxins. (A third term, “biosurety,” refers to the integration of biosafety and biosecurity.) In thinking about biosecurity, it is important to note some fundamental differences between biological and nuclear weapons materials (mainly plutonium and highly enriched uranium) that determine the effectiveness of controls. First, dangerous biological agents exist naturally in the environment. (The sole exception is the smallpox virus, which was eradicated from the wild in 1977 and is stored officially in only two repositories.) Second, since microorganisms will reproduce rapidly under the right conditions, large quantities can be grown from extremely small samples. Finally, biological materials have numerous civilian uses. (See Table 1.) Given the unique characteristics of pathogens, they cannot be controlled to the extent that nuclear weapons materials can be. As a result, it is necessary to develop a new security paradigm that is specifically tailored to microorganisms.

Although it is not possible to measure precisely the level of risk associated with poor security at microbiological laboratories, some recent incidents in the United States and elsewhere have hinted at the magnitude of the problem. A report in May 2002 by the inspector-general of the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that many of the department’s 124 research laboratories were vulnerable to theft and could not account accurately for their stocks of animal and plant pathogens.3 Similarly, investigations of the Pentagon’s leading biodefense facility, the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick, Maryland, found chronic problems with laboratory security during the 1980s and 1990s, including repeated failures to account for samples of pathogens because of poor internal controls and record-keeping.4

If such concerns over laboratory security persist, the Bush administration’s plan for a massive increase in funding for biodefense research and development could prove counterproductive. The U.S. federal budget for fiscal year 2003 allocated more than $1.5 billion to the National Institutes of Health for work on bioterrorism countermeasures—a fivefold increase over the previous year. If the Bush administration gets its way, additional appropriations on this scale will continue for the next several years.5 Much of this money would be spent on the construction of new or expanded high-containment laboratories and related infrastructure for basic and applied research on dangerous pathogens. Ironically, the rapid expansion of biodefense research could create new security problems by multiplying many-fold the number of people with access to hazardous biological materials.


Table 1. Characteristics of Fissile Materials and Pathogens

Fissile Materials
Biological Pathogens
Do not exist in nature Generally found in nature
Nonliving, synthetic Living, replicative
Difficult and costly to produce Easy and cheap to produce
Not diverse: plutonium and highly enriched uranium are the only fissile materials used in nuclear weapons Highly diverse: more than 20 pathogens are suitable for biological warfare
Can be inventoried and tracked in a quantitative manner Because pathogens reproduce, inventory control is unreliable
Can be detected at a distance from the emission of ionizing radiation Cannot be detected at a distance with available technologies
Weapons-grade fissile materials are stored at a limited number of military nuclear sites Pathogens are present in many types of facilities and at multiple locations within a facility
Few nonmilitary applications (such as research reactors, thermo-electric generators, and production of radioisotopes) Many legitimate applications in biomedical research and the pharmaceutical/biotechnology industry

The Threat of Diversion

Until quite recently, controls on biological pathogens were driven more by concerns over safety than security. In contrast to the strict safeguards placed on nuclear weapons materials, dangerous pathogens and toxins have typically been stored in unprotected research laboratories and shipped across national borders with minimal precautions. University-based researchers have a long tradition of sharing microbial cultures informally through the mail, and few countries restrict who is granted access to infectious agents.

One reason for this laxity was that biological threats were not recognized to be as dangerous as nuclear threats, particularly in the pre-September 11 environment. Another reason is that most pathogens and toxins can be obtained from natural sources. A skilled microbiologist can isolate a bacterium or virus from diseased animals, clinical specimens, and even from soil (in the case of anthrax spores). Nevertheless, reliance on these sources entails certain drawbacks. Since natural strains of pathogens vary widely in virulence, or the degree to which a microbe can cause disease, many of the strains isolated from nature could not be developed into effective weapons.

Given the technical difficulties associated with acquiring virulent microorganisms from natural sources, terrorists might well have a higher probability of success if they stole well-defined strains from a research facility, a clinical laboratory, a commercial supplier, or a state-owned culture collection or purchased such strains under false pretenses. The Ames and Vollum strains of anthrax, for example, are known to be highly virulent. Thus, the main purpose of biosecurity standards and procedures is to make it harder for terrorists to acquire deadly pathogens by making sure that legitimate activities and facilities are off-limits. Determined terrorists will then be forced to isolate virulent strains from natural sources, which are considerably less reliable.

Research laboratories working with dangerous pathogens face two main threats of theft or diversion: from outsiders and from insiders. In addition to criminal gangs and terrorist cells, outsiders could include visiting scientists, students, and short-term contractors who might attempt to steal pathogens covertly during a visit or stay at the facility. Insiders, in contrast, are trusted members of the scientific or technical staff who have been granted unescorted access and are familiar with laboratory security procedures and equipment. Such individuals might be motivated to steal dangerous pathogens for a variety of reasons, including resentment over being reprimanded or passed over for promotion, financial pressures, blackmail threats and other forms of external pressure, psychological or personal problems such as divorce or substance abuse, or recruitment by a terrorist organization.

The temptation to divert pathogens for sale on the black market might be particularly strong in the ex-Soviet states, where former bioweapons scientists currently receive only a fraction of their previous salary and perks. Traditional approaches to facility security such as “guns, gates, and guards” cannot prevent a covert outsider or a trusted insider from stealing a small sample of a pathogen and cultivating it in large quantities for illicit purposes. To prevent such misuse, biosecurity systems require an integrated approach that includes physical protection, access controls, materials accountability, and personnel screening.

The International Dimension

The United States currently leads all other countries in the extent and detail of its biosecurity legislation. (See box.) Yet, even as the U.S. government implements the new regulations, the international dimension of the problem remains to be addressed. Several countries outside the United States have passed domestic laws that contain provisions on biosecurity, including Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, and the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, many other countries conduct research on infectious disease agents such as anthrax and plague, maintain collections of microbial pathogens, and operate maximum-containment laboratories that handle the most deadly and incurable disease agents. (See Table 2.) Relying exclusively on nationally developed guidelines would result in an uneven patchwork of regulations, creating pockets of lax implementation or enforcement. For this reason, any effective campaign to restrict terrorist access to dangerous pathogens will have to be global in scope.

Roughly 1,500 state-owned and commercial culture collections worldwide maintain, exchange, and sell samples of microbes and toxins for scientific and biomedical research. These organizations vary widely in size and content, from large nonprofit organizations such as American Type Culture Collection to “boutique” collections based at universities, federal agencies, and private companies. About a third of the culture collections outside the United States might possess dangerous pathogens that are not adequately secured and controlled, making them vulnerable to theft or diversion.6 Trade in microbial cultures is also poorly regulated, both within countries and among them. In the United States, the Commerce Department licenses exports of pathogens and toxins on a list of “select agents,” and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authorizes imports. In many other countries, however, culture collections routinely ship dangerous pathogens with few questions asked.

The security situation in states with former offensive biowarfare programs is particularly troubling. During the late 1980s, some 60,000 scientists and technicians in the Soviet Union worked on biological weapons at more than 50 research institutes and production plants around the country. After the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, the old structures of authority and control collapsed, putting pathogen collections in the newly independent states of Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Georgia at risk of theft or diversion by terrorists or criminals. In November 2002, authorities in Almaty, Kazakhstan, arrested a man who entered the Scientific Center for Quarantine and Zoonotic Diseases with the apparent intent of stealing samples of dangerous pathogens. Fortunately, the intruder was arrested before penetrating the second layer of physical security, which had only recently been upgraded with U.S. government assistance.7

Another former biowarfare program that poses a proliferation threat is that of South Africa. Known as “Project Coast,” this program began in 1981 and focused on developing small-scale, custom-made weapons to terrorize and kill opponents of the apartheid regime. Project Coast scientists collected hundreds of deadly strains, including the causative agents of anthrax, brucellosis, cholera, and plague. After the program was dismantled in 1993, former Project Coast scientists secretly retained samples of virulent strains to continue work on vaccines and antidotes with commercial potential. They also attempted to sell cultures of deadly pathogens, including genetically engineered varieties, to the United States and possibly to other countries.8

Although the World Federation for Culture Collections (WFCC) has urged its members to restrict the distribution of sensitive materials to third parties, the organization lacks the funding and authority needed to enforce compliance. Moreover, more than two-thirds of culture collections worldwide do not belong to the federation.9 Even if the WFCC recommendation could be enforced, it does nothing to set a minimum security standard and hence does not address the problem that weak regulations in some countries undercut more stringent efforts in others.

Since international terrorist organizations are likely to seek biowarfare materials from the most accessible source, international biosecurity standards would reduce the risk that terrorists could obtain dangerous pathogens from foreign laboratories and culture collections. Harmonized guidelines for transferring pathogens would also facilitate collaborative research and development on biodefense vaccines and drugs. Joint U.S.-Russian research projects on defenses against anthrax and smallpox, for example, have been hampered by incompatible national regulations on the export of dangerous pathogens.10


Table 2. Maximum-Containment (BSL-4) Laboratories Worldwide

Country
Name of Laboratory
Location
Australia National High Security Quarantine Laboratory Geelong
Australia Victorian Infectious Disease Reference Laboratory Melbourne
Belarus Research Institute for Epidemiology and Microbiology Minsk
Brazil Universidade Estadual Paulista, Campus de Botucatu Sao Paulo
Canada , Canadian Science Centre for Human and Animal Health Winnipeg Manitoba
France Jean Merieux Laboratory Lyons
Gabon International Center for Medical Research Franceville
Germany Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine Hamburg
Japan National Institute of Infectious Diseases Tokyo
Russia Institute for Viral Preparations Moscow
Russia Vector Laboratory Novosibirsk, Siberia
Spain Center for Investigations of Animal Health Madrid
South Africa National Institute of Virology Johannesburg
Sweden Institute for Infectious Disease Control Solna
United Kingdom Centre for Applied Microbiology and Research Porton Down
United Kingdom Central Public Health Laboratory London
United Kingdom Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment Porton Down
United Kingdom National Institute for Biological Standards and Control Potters Bar
United Kingdom National Institute for Medical Research London
United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Atlanta, GA
United States Maximum Containment Lab, National Institutes of Health Bethesda, MD
United States U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases Frederick, MD
United States Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research San Antonio, TX
United States University of Texas Medical Branch Galveston, TX

Source: American Society for Microbiology


Developing a Biosecurity Regime

An effective biosecurity system requires the integration of technologies and procedures. The global guidelines should include, as a minimum, the registration and licensing of facilities that work with dangerous biological agents, based on an agreed list of pathogens and toxins that can be readily updated; physical security and access controls at laboratories and culture collections that possess such agents; systems for the control and accounting of listed pathogens and toxins, both in storage and during experiments; background checks on laboratory personnel; and an emergency plan for responding to breaches in security. In view of the wide variety of facilities that work with hazardous biological materials, ranging from pharmaceutical companies to academic research labs, biosecurity measures cannot be developed on a “one size fits all” basis. According to a “white paper” by the American Biological Safety Association, guidelines for laboratory security should consist of functional requirements that the affected entities can implement in a tailored manner.11

It is also important to balance the complexity and cost of biosecurity measures introduced at a facility against the threats posed by the pathogens and toxins that are actually held or used at the facility. To develop a tailored biosecurity plan, each entity that possesses or works with biohazardous materials should conduct a threat assessment of what assets need to be protected and the most likely diversion scenarios. Having identified the greatest risks, the facility should then do a vulnerability assessment based on how and where the pathogens or toxins are employed in research protocols, the security conditions under which they are stored and used, and how they are moved within the facility or transferred to outside locations. Given the impossibility of protecting all assets against all conceivable threats, laboratories must prioritize risks. Cost is an obvious limiting factor in the choice of security measures, since small university laboratories cannot afford state-of-the-art systems such as biometric identifiers and computerized inventory systems.

Physical security poses the greatest challenge to academic institutions, which are the least familiar with it. Most commercial pharmaceutical firms have already implemented extensive site security measures to protect intellectual property and valuable business secrets. In general, the level of security should be commensurate with the level of risk, so that the most dangerous agents and strains—from the standpoint of public health impact and suitability for weaponization—are subjected to the highest levels of physical protection and access control. Nevertheless, biosecurity requirements do not always track directly with biosafety levels: some agents that require lower levels of biocontainment, such as toxins, might pose a significant bioterrorist threat.12 Reynolds Salerno and his colleagues at Sandia National Laboratories have also identified a number of “secondary assets” at biological research facilities that warrant protection, including detailed information about regulatory compliance and biosecurity programs, personnel records, and computer databases.13

To augment physical security, facilities should establish procedures for the accountability of pathogens during their storage in a central repository and their utilization in laboratory experiments. Such procedures include conducting inventories and audits of sample collections, documenting the “chain of custody” of dangerous pathogens outside the access-controlled area, and verifying the destruction of working stocks at the end of an experiment. Any pathogen accountability system is unfortunately not foolproof; because microoganisms reproduce, a scientist who has access to a pathogen could covertly remove a small amount (taking steps to ensure that the organism remained alive and viable under the transport conditions) and later mass-produce it.

Academic and industrial facilities working with dangerous pathogens should train scientists and technicians in appropriate laboratory practice, including elements of both biosafety and biosecurity. Because scientists are not security experts, however, each facility that houses dangerous pathogens should employ a security professional to assess threats and vulnerabilities and develop a tailored biosecurity plan. Should a theft or diversion be detected, the incident must be reported promptly to the responsible government agency.

Given the inherent limitations on the ability of physical security and inventory control measures to prevent insider diversion or theft, any biosecurity system ultimately depends on the personal integrity and reliability of the laboratory staff. Background investigations are a critical element of any biosecurity program, including verifying an individual’s references and checking government or Interpol databases for a criminal history or links to terrorist organizations. Because reliability problems might not emerge until long after an individual has been hired, staff members who work with dangerous pathogens should be subjected to periodic reinvestigation, particularly before they are granted unescorted access to secure areas.

The final element of a biosecurity plan involves controls on transfers of dangerous pathogens, both domestic and international. Each country that ships listed pathogens and toxins across national borders should establish regulations for the safe and secure transportation of hazardous goods, controls on imports and exports, and verification of the declared end-use. A national export-control body should be established to enforce these regulations if one does not already exist. In addition to complying with permit and licensing requirements at the local, state, and federal levels, suppliers of biological pathogens should keep detailed records of each transaction, including strain and batch numbers, method and date of shipment, and name and address of each recipient. Suppliers should also establish reliable mechanisms to verify that recipients of pathogens and toxins have a legitimate need for the requested materials and that all necessary safety and security policies are in place.


 

U.S. Biosecurity Legislation

The U.S. Congress first introduced controls on dangerous pathogens after a 1995 incident called attention to the lack of government regulation in this area. Larry Wayne Harris, a licensed microbiologist and neo-Nazi sympathizer in Columbus, Ohio, used a forged letterhead to order three vials of freeze-dried Yersinia pestis (plague) bacteria from American Type Culture Collection. After Harris’ repeated calls to check on the status of his order aroused suspicion, he was arrested and later convicted of one count of mail fraud.

In response to the Harris case, the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on how to prevent the unauthorized acquisition of dangerous pathogens by criminals and terrorists. The following year, Congress passed the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which included a section imposing new controls on facilities that ship or receive dangerous pathogens and toxins.

Pursuant to this legislation, federal regulations that went into effect April 15, 1997, required anyone shipping or receiving agents on a list of hazardous microbial pathogens and toxins (termed “select agents”) to register with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and file a report on each individual transaction. But the regulations contained a major loophole: laboratories that possessed or worked with listed pathogens or toxins but did not transfer or receive them were not required to register. In the aftermath of the 2001 anthrax letter attacks, the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings at which FBI officials testified that because of the regulatory loophole, the U.S. government did not have a comprehensive list of facilities or scientists in the United States that possessed or worked with anthrax.

In an effort to close this loophole, Congress included two provisions on select agents in an anti-terrorism bill (the so-called USA PATRIOT Act) signed into law October 26, 2001. Section 817 makes it a crime to knowingly possess any biological agent, toxin, or delivery system that cannot be “reasonably justified by a prophylactic, protective, bona fide research, or other peaceful purpose.” In addition, Section 175b specifies several categories of “restricted persons” who are prohibited from shipping, receiving, transporting, or possessing select agents. One such category covers nonresident aliens from countries on the State Department’s list of states that support international terrorism. (The list, which is subject to change, includes Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria.)

On June 12, 2002, President George W. Bush signed a second piece of legislation called the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act. Title II of this act, “Enhanced Controls for Dangerous Biological Agents and Toxins,” requires all entities in the United States that possess, use, or transfer one or more of the 39 pathogens and toxins on the Select Agents List to register with the CDC and implement safety and security measures. In addition, all scientists seeking to work with select agents must undergo an FBI background check. The Bioterrorism Preparedness Act also grants authority to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to develop a separate list of pathogens and toxins that pose a severe threat to animal health or to animal or plant products. The CDC and APHIS coordinate in regulating 16 so-called overlap agents that appear on both the human and animal lists. An estimated 1,469 facilities in the United States that possess, work with, or transfer listed agents are covered by the new rules; clinical laboratories are exempt unless they retain samples of pathogens for long periods. Laboratory security plans must be prepared by June 12, 2003, and each registered entity must be in full compliance with the new regulations by November 12, 2003.

The main objective of the biosecurity regulations is to track “who, what, and where”—who has access to listed pathogens and toxins, what agents have been accessed, and where in a facility they are in use. Because of the wide variety of facilities working with listed agents, the guidelines are not highly prescriptive. Instead, each institution is required to conduct threat and vulnerability assessments and develop a comprehensive plan to ensure the security of areas containing listed pathogens and toxins. Once the security plan has been developed, it must be submitted to the CDC or APHIS, performance tested, and updated periodically. Officials from the two federal agencies may also conduct unannounced inspections of declared sites.

 


Negotiation and Oversight

In preparation for the upcoming August meeting of the BWC experts group in Geneva, the U.S. government has circulated four short papers, two describing U.S. domestic legislation on penal legislation and biosecurity and two outlining how the BWC states-parties might proceed in these areas. The U.S. position on biosecurity is that the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) are the expert bodies most capable of formulating guidelines for national legislation. Accordingly, Washington has asked the WHO to take the lead in this effort by working with the FAO and the OIE to prepare a report for the experts group.

Since the experts will have only one week in which to discuss biosecurity issues, it is likely that a follow-on negotiation among BWC member states will be required to develop an appropriately detailed set of technical guidelines for the protection, control, and accounting of dangerous pathogens. Recently, a few international organizations have launched initiatives in the biosecurity field. (See box.) Drawing on the best practices identified by these efforts, BWC member states should establish a technical experts group that would meet on a regular basis to negotiate a set of detailed functional standards that can be implemented through national laws and regulations.

Biosecurity standards would be promulgated and enforced on a national level by existing or newly established governmental entities. To ensure a degree of uniformity and accountability in national implementation, however, it might be necessary to create an international oversight mechanism. One model is provided by the Nuclear Safety Convention, which was adopted in Vienna on June 17, 1994, to establish basic safety guidelines for the location, design, construction, and operation of civilian nuclear power plants.14 The Nuclear Safety Convention is an “incentive instrument” in that it does not enforce compliance through formal verification measures but rather through the common interest of the parties in achieving higher levels of nuclear safety. Member states are expected to submit periodic reports on the steps they are taking to implement the agreed guidelines. At regularly scheduled review meetings, each participating country has an opportunity to discuss its own actions and to seek clarification of the reports submitted by others. Political pressure and the need for governments to appear responsible create incentives to join the regime and to comply with the agreed standards.

In much the same way, BWC member states that have voluntarily accepted international standards for the protection, control, and accounting of dangerous pathogens could agree to participate in annual review meetings, which might be organized by a small international secretariat staff. At these meetings, countries would report on the implementation of their national biosecurity regulations and answer questions from other delegations. States that failed to implement or adequately enforce the agreed measures could be subjected to probing questions and political pressure. Participating countries could also exchange information to facilitate implementation of the biosecurity standards. For example, if one country refused to grant a scientist access to select agents because of suspected links to a terrorist organization, the intelligence supporting this decision could be shared with other countries so that they could avoid undercutting one another.

Recommendations

Efforts by BWC member states to develop and implement global biosecurity standards will involve a number of policy choices to ensure that the resulting guidelines are workable and cost effective. Key issues to be addressed include the following:

Focus on strengthening the weakest links.

Highly demanding and expensive standards for laboratory security will be counterproductive if developing countries are technically and financially unable to implement them. Instead, the primary aim of global biosecurity standards should be to strengthen the “weakest links”—those states whose research laboratories and culture collections are so poorly secured that terrorists could penetrate them easily. A realistic goal would be to negotiate a set of minimum performance benchmarks that can be met through a variety of different means, either labor intensive (such as armed guards) or capital intensive (such as electronic surveillance technologies).

Engage the international scientific community.

The ultimate success of global biosecurity standards will depend on “buy-in” and voluntary cooperation from microbiologists and laboratory administrators around the world. For this reason, the regulatory guidelines should not be imposed from the top down but rather developed cooperatively from the bottom up with the active participation of leading scientific organizations, such as the International Union of Microbiological Societies.

Balance flexibility and uniformity.

Global biosecurity standards should be flexible enough to be tailored to individual research facilities, yet specific enough to ensure a reasonable degree of consistency and uniformity in their implementation. Overly rigid standards could force universities and other research centers to purchase costly security equipment that is unnecessary or inappropriate to their needs, but standards that are too vague would enable institutions to evade their basic obligations, creating areas of lax implementation that could be exploited by terrorists. Another problem is that regulations tend to be fixed and static, whereas biological science and technology are in constant flux. Thus, a workable system of biosecurity standards must contain a mechanism for periodic review so that the list of regulated agents and the functional guidelines could be revised and updated in response to ongoing advances in scientific knowledge and security measures.

Encourage compliance by using “carrots” rather than “sticks.”

The best way to promote international compliance with biosecurity standards is through positive incentives rather than punishments. Creating mechanisms to “incentivize” compliance is generally easier and cheaper than attempting to establish an international policing mechanism. One precedent is the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which is developing voluntary security guidelines that must be adopted by all states seeking to participate in a planned global network of biological resource centers. The OECD network will effectively create an exclusive “club” whose benefits can be accessed only by meeting the requirements for membership. This arrangement will provide a strong incentive for countries to comply with the agreed biosecurity rules. Similarly, the WHO and other international scientific bodies might make compliance with global biosecurity standards a prerequisite for research grants involving work on dangerous pathogens.

Avoid creating perverse incentives.

Experts developing global biosecurity standards should try to anticipate their downstream consequences, both positive and negative. Since many scientists have a deep aversion to paperwork, regulations that are too burdensome and costly to implement might simply drive microbiologists and laboratory administrators to circumvent the rules by engaging in informal transfers of pathogens that are not reported to government authorities. It is also essential that biosecurity standards not be so onerous that they deter academic and industrial scientists from pursuing legitimate biomedical or biodefense research on dangerous pathogens or drive research institutions to destroy valuable culture collections in the hope of avoiding regulatory burdens or legal liability. To prevent such negative outcomes, biosecurity procedures should be designed to minimize paperwork and ease compliance.

Integrate national biosecurity regulations with international arms control objectives.

Ensuring that pathogens are used only for peaceful purposes would help strengthen the legal and ethical norms enshrined in the BWC against the development, production, and stockpiling of biological weapons. At the same time, biosecurity standards, which focus primarily on the threat of bioterrorism, should be linked to efforts to bolster state-level compliance with the convention. For example, biosecurity measures should be designed so that they do not adversely affect the perception of national biodefense programs, which are permitted under the BWC. The line between defensive and offensive work on biological weapons is unavoidably blurry because researchers must use dangerous pathogens to assess threats and to test the effectiveness of defensive systems, such as detectors and protective equipment. Given this inherent ambiguity, excessive security at biodefense laboratories could arouse suspicion that supposedly defensive research activities are being used as a cover for the development of new biological weapons. For this reason, it is essential that countries not invest in biosecurity technologies or procedures that unduly reduce the transparency of biodefense research. At the same time, states should not be forced to reveal critical vulnerabilities that could render the defenses ineffective.

In conclusion, the negotiation of global biosecurity standards would represent a departure from arms control as it has been traditionally practiced. Rather than creating a legally binding treaty that is subject to intrusive verification by an international inspectorate, as in the case of the Chemical Weapons Convention, the biosecurity regime would consist of a set of agreed guidelines implemented through national legislation. To ensure a reasonable degree of uniformity and accountability in implementation, a small international secretariat might be established to provide oversight and to organize annual review meetings. Further, instead of focusing on state-level proliferation of biological weapons, global biosecurity standards would reduce the risk of theft or diversion of dangerous pathogens by terrorists and criminals—a problem that the BWC does not explicitly address. Although biosecurity standards would not directly strengthen state-level compliance with the treaty, they would reinforce the basic norms enshrined within it.


 

International Biosecurity Initiatives

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a group of 30 advanced industrial countries headquartered in Paris, has undertaken the most ambitious international effort to date to regulate dangerous pathogens. The OECD has long been interested in “biological resource centers” (BRCs), defined as government, industry, or academic facilities that house, control, test, or use biological materials. BRCs are a key element of the research infrastructure for the life sciences and the biotechnology industry, but many valuable culture collections are disappearing as governments withdraw financial support. In response to this problem, the OECD is organizing a global network of BRCs that will function as a “virtual lending library” to permit the free exchange of microbial cultures among its members.

In mid-2001, the OECD established a Task Force on BRCs to begin negotiations on the global network. In addition to the 30 members of the OECD, several nonmember countries were invited to participate as nonvoting observers. Establishing the BRC network requires the harmonization of national rules for accreditation, quality control standards for the composition and purity of cultures, and funding arrangements. After the terrorist attacks of September and October 2001, the United States asked that the mandate of the BRC Task Force be expanded to include biosecurity measures.

The current plan is for the OECD Task Force to negotiate a set of regulatory guidelines for the BRC network, which will be presented for approval at a meeting of science ministers from the participating countries, scheduled for January 2004. Given the tight deadline, the task force is unlikely to develop detailed technical security standards but instead broad guidelines, and the final rules will not be legally binding. Nevertheless, because the free exchange of pathogens among facilities within the BRC network will be possible only if all the participating facilities are secure, countries that do not meet the agreed minimum standards of quality, safety, and security will be excluded from the network. To certify and enforce the standards on a national basis, each participating government must select an accrediting agency, which will conduct periodic checks of biosafety and biosecurity measures at the participating BRCs.

Although negotiation of the BRC network currently involves the 30 OECD member states plus roughly a dozen observers, member countries are conducting regional consultations with other states, with a view to creating a global network of BRCs. Eventually, the network might be spun off from the OECD and a small, stand-alone international secretariat established to serve as gatekeeper.

Group of Seven Plus Mexico

In response to the events of the fall of 2001, health ministers from the G-7 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States) plus Mexico met in Ottawa, Canada, November 7, 2001, to forge a new partnership called the Global Health Security Initiative. Among the stated goals of this partnership is “to improve linkages among laboratories, including level four [Biosafety Level-4] laboratories, in those countries which have them.” Directors of maximum-containment laboratories from participating countries met in Lyons, France, March 12, 2002, to discuss the establishment of a Level 4 Laboratory Network that will develop standard protocols for the transfer of pathogens among BSL-4 facilities.

Australia Group

The United States and 32 other like-minded countries “harmonize” their national export controls on dual-use materials and equipment that could be involved in the production of chemical and biological weapons through an informal coordinating mechanism known as the Australia Group. This body was established in 1985 in response to the widespread use of chemical weapons by Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war. The Australia Group initially developed a “control list” of chemical weapons precursors that were to be denied to countries assessed to be seeking a chemical warfare capability. In 1990, in response to growing concern over the proliferation of biological weapons, the Australia Group added measures to tighten export controls on dangerous pathogens and dual-use biotechnology equipment.

Although the primary aim of the Australia Group has been to impede state-level proliferation, in June 2002 the group placed greater emphasis on bioterrorism by adding eight toxins of possible terrorist interest to its biological control list. One drawback of the Australia Group is that its membership does not include a number of important countries, such as China, Russia, India, Pakistan, and Iran. Several developing countries also oppose the group’s existence on political grounds, claiming that it is discriminatory and unfairly impedes the economic development of targeted states.

Other International Organizations

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) supports proposed standards for licensing and enforcement procedures related to dangerous pathogens and dual-use biotechnology equipment. The World Customs Organization has started sharing information with Interpol and the World Health Organization to combat the smuggling of biological, chemical, and radioactive materials. The International Maritime Organization plans to negotiate an agreement to halt the shipping of biological agents for hostile purposes.

Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Industry

Although most work with dangerous pathogens takes place in university and government laboratories, elements of the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries have begun to address biosecurity issues. In 2002 the Swiss pharmaceutical trade association Interpharma developed a draft code of conduct titled “Biosafety and Biosecurity—Industry Best Practices to Prevent Use of Biohazardous Material.” It calls on companies to establish internal regulations and procedures for handling dangerous pathogens, including detailed inventories of materials stored and transferred, transparency in the acquisition of pathogens and toxins from commercial sources and scientific collaborators, security measures to prevent access by unauthorized individuals, safe transport of biohazardous materials, and treatment of wastes to avoid discharging infectious agents into the environment.

 


NOTES

1. For useful comments on an earlier version of this paper, I am indebted to Gerald L. Epstein of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, Reynolds M. Salerno and colleagues at Sandia National Laboratories, Janet Shoemaker of the American Society for Microbiology, Frank P. Simione of American Type Culture Collection, and Gregory J. Stewart of the U.S. Department of State.

2. “Decision of the Fifth Review Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) Weapons and on Their Destruction,” BWC/CONF.V/17, Geneva, November 2002, paras. 18-20.

3. “Report Finds Easy Lab Access to Deadly Pathogens,” Reuters, May 8, 2002.

4. Rick Weiss and Joby Warrick, “Army Lost Track of Anthrax Bacteria; Specimens at Md.’s Fort Detrick May Have Been Misplaced or Stolen,” Washington Post, January 21, 2002, p. A1; Charles Pillar, “Biodefense Lab Under a Microscope,” Los Angeles Times, February 12, 2003, p. A1.

5. John Dudley Miller, “Bioterrorism Research: New Money, New Anxieties,” The Scientist, no. 7 (April 7, 2003), p. 52.

6. Gregory J. Stewart, U.S. Department of State, personal communication, May 16, 2003.

7. “Concern Over Kazakhstan Bio-Theft Bid,” CNN.com, November 5, 2002.

8. Joby Warrick, “Biotoxins Fall Into Private Hands,” Washington Post, April 21, 2003, p. A1.

9. William J. Broad, “World’s Largest Germ-Bank Union Acts to Keep Terrorists from Stealing Deadly Stocks,” New York Times, October 23, 2001, p. B9.

10. Peter Eisler, “U.S., Russia Tussle Over Deadly Anthrax Sample,” USA Today, August 19, 2002, pp. 1-2.

11. American Biological Safety Association, “ABSA Biosecurity Task Force White Paper: Understanding Biosecurity,” Applied Biosafety, no. 2 (2002), p. 96.

12. Sandra Fry, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, “Integrating Security and Biosafety,” ABSA conference on “Biosecurity: Challenges and Applied Solutions for Our Future Needs,” Alexandria, VA, April 22, 2003 (presentation).

13. Reynolds M. Salerno, Natalie Barnett, and Jennifer G. Koelm, Balancing Security and Research at Biomedical and Bioscience Laboratories (Albuquerque, NM: Sandia National Laboratories, SAND No. 2003-0701C, March 2003), p. 7.

14. Carl E. Behrens and Warren H. Donnelly, “The Convention on Nuclear Safety—A Fact Sheet,” CRS Report for Congress, Congressional Research Service, Report No. 96-434 ENR, May 16, 1996.


Jonathan B. Tucker is a senior fellow at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) on leave from the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. USIP will publish a longer version of this article in the fall.

 

 

Preventing the Misuse of Pathogens: The Need for Global Biosecurity

Jonathan B. Tucker

The anthrax-tainted letters sent through the U.S. mail in the fall of 2001, infecting 22 people and killing five, hinted at the mayhem that could result from the large-scale release of a “weaponized” disease agent. Since then, efforts to counter bioterrorism have focused on the medical and public health response to an attack rather than on prevention. Although improved disease surveillance and therapeutic countermeasures are needed, it is also critical to impede biological attacks by making it more difficult for terrorists to obtain deadly pathogens and toxins (poisonous chemicals produced by living organisms).1

Shortly after the anthrax mailings, the U.S. government tightened domestic regulations on access to hazardous biological materials that have legitimate uses in research and industry but could be misused by terrorists. The United States deserves credit for putting its domestic house in order, but no comparable security measures currently exist at thousands of research centers, clinical laboratories, and culture collections overseas that possess or work with dangerous pathogens and toxins. This lack of international harmonization has created security gaps that could be exploited by terrorists.

Negotiating global standards that restrict access to dangerous pathogens would reduce the threat of bioterrorism, while reinforcing the legal prohibitions on the development, production, and stockpiling of biological and toxin weapons contained in the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). Since its inception, the credibility of the BWC has been undermined by its lack of formal mechanisms for monitoring and verification, and efforts over the past decade to strengthen the treaty have been largely unsuccessful. Although the BWC review conferences in 1986 and 1991 introduced politically binding confidence-building measures (CBMs) to increase transparency and improve compliance, only a minority of member states have submitted annual CBM reports. More recently, a six-year effort to negotiate a legally binding inspection protocol to supplement the BWC collapsed in July 2001 when the United States rejected the draft text.

The Bush administration views the terrorist acquisition and use of biological weapons as a more urgent threat than state-level proliferation, and it is also skeptical about the utility of legally binding multilateral agreements. Accordingly, the U.S. government has sought to bolster the BWC by urging member states to pass national legislation mandating domestic measures to counter bioterrorism. In November 2002, under U.S. pressure, the Fifth Review Conference of the BWC adopted a work program consisting of three annual meetings of experts groups and states-parties in 2003-2005, prior to the next review conference in late 2006. The aim of these meetings is to “promote common understanding and effective action” on five measures that could be taken at the national level to strengthen the BWC: penal legislation, pathogen security measures, enhanced international procedures to investigate and mitigate the alleged use of biological weapons or suspicious outbreaks of infectious disease, improved mechanisms for global disease surveillance and response, and scientific codes of conduct.2

The first experts meeting in Geneva on August 18-29, followed by the first meeting of BWC member states November 10-14, will address two issues: national implementation measures for the enactment of penal legislation and best practices for the security and oversight of pathogenic microorganisms and toxins. This article addresses the latter topic, which has come to be termed “biosecurity.”

Defining “Biosecurity”

Although the terms “biosafety” and “biosecurity” are often used interchangeably, they refer to different issues. Biosafety technologies and procedures aim to prevent accidental infections of biomedical researchers and releases of dangerous pathogens from research laboratories that could endanger public health or the environment. These objectives can be achieved through “biocontainment,” which involves placing impermeable barriers or filters between the infectious agent and the researcher and between the laboratory and the outside world. Four levels of increasingly stringent biocontainment—referred to as Biosafety Levels (BSL) 1 through 4—are keyed to the lethality and contagiousness of pathogens and the availability of protective vaccines or therapeutic drugs.

Biosecurity, in contrast, denotes policies and procedures designed to prevent the deliberate theft, diversion, or malicious use of high-consequence pathogens and toxins. (A third term, “biosurety,” refers to the integration of biosafety and biosecurity.) In thinking about biosecurity, it is important to note some fundamental differences between biological and nuclear weapons materials (mainly plutonium and highly enriched uranium) that determine the effectiveness of controls. First, dangerous biological agents exist naturally in the environment. (The sole exception is the smallpox virus, which was eradicated from the wild in 1977 and is stored officially in only two repositories.) Second, since microorganisms will reproduce rapidly under the right conditions, large quantities can be grown from extremely small samples. Finally, biological materials have numerous civilian uses. (See Table 1.) Given the unique characteristics of pathogens, they cannot be controlled to the extent that nuclear weapons materials can be. As a result, it is necessary to develop a new security paradigm that is specifically tailored to microorganisms.

Although it is not possible to measure precisely the level of risk associated with poor security at microbiological laboratories, some recent incidents in the United States and elsewhere have hinted at the magnitude of the problem. A report in May 2002 by the inspector-general of the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that many of the department’s 124 research laboratories were vulnerable to theft and could not account accurately for their stocks of animal and plant pathogens.3 Similarly, investigations of the Pentagon’s leading biodefense facility, the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick, Maryland, found chronic problems with laboratory security during the 1980s and 1990s, including repeated failures to account for samples of pathogens because of poor internal controls and record-keeping.4

If such concerns over laboratory security persist, the Bush administration’s plan for a massive increase in funding for biodefense research and development could prove counterproductive. The U.S. federal budget for fiscal year 2003 allocated more than $1.5 billion to the National Institutes of Health for work on bioterrorism countermeasures—a fivefold increase over the previous year. If the Bush administration gets its way, additional appropriations on this scale will continue for the next several years.5 Much of this money would be spent on the construction of new or expanded high-containment laboratories and related infrastructure for basic and applied research on dangerous pathogens. Ironically, the rapid expansion of biodefense research could create new security problems by multiplying many-fold the number of people with access to hazardous biological materials.

The Threat of Diversion

Until quite recently, controls on biological pathogens were driven more by concerns over safety than security. In contrast to the strict safeguards placed on nuclear weapons materials, dangerous pathogens and toxins have typically been stored in unprotected research laboratories and shipped across national borders with minimal precautions. University-based researchers have a long tradition of sharing microbial cultures informally through the mail, and few countries restrict who is granted access to infectious agents.

One reason for this laxity was that biological threats were not recognized to be as dangerous as nuclear threats, particularly in the pre-September 11 environment. Another reason is that most pathogens and toxins can be obtained from natural sources. A skilled microbiologist can isolate a bacterium or virus from diseased animals, clinical specimens, and even from soil (in the case of anthrax spores). Nevertheless, reliance on these sources entails certain drawbacks. Since natural strains of pathogens vary widely in virulence, or the degree to which a microbe can cause disease, many of the strains isolated from nature could not be developed into effective weapons.

Given the technical difficulties associated with acquiring virulent microorganisms from natural sources, terrorists might well have a higher probability of success if they stole well-defined strains from a research facility, a clinical laboratory, a commercial supplier, or a state-owned culture collection or purchased such strains under false pretenses. The Ames and Vollum strains of anthrax, for example, are known to be highly virulent. Thus, the main purpose of biosecurity standards and procedures is to make it harder for terrorists to acquire deadly pathogens by making sure that legitimate activities and facilities are off-limits. Determined terrorists will then be forced to isolate virulent strains from natural sources, which are considerably less reliable.

Research laboratories working with dangerous pathogens face two main threats of theft or diversion: from outsiders and from insiders. In addition to criminal gangs and terrorist cells, outsiders could include visiting scientists, students, and short-term contractors who might attempt to steal pathogens covertly during a visit or stay at the facility. Insiders, in contrast, are trusted members of the scientific or technical staff who have been granted unescorted access and are familiar with laboratory security procedures and equipment. Such individuals might be motivated to steal dangerous pathogens for a variety of reasons, including resentment over being reprimanded or passed over for promotion, financial pressures, blackmail threats and other forms of external pressure, psychological or personal problems such as divorce or substance abuse, or recruitment by a terrorist organization.

The temptation to divert pathogens for sale on the black market might be particularly strong in the ex-Soviet states, where former bioweapons scientists currently receive only a fraction of their previous salary and perks. Traditional approaches to facility security such as “guns, gates, and guards” cannot prevent a covert outsider or a trusted insider from stealing a small sample of a pathogen and cultivating it in large quantities for illicit purposes. To prevent such misuse, biosecurity systems require an integrated approach that includes physical protection, access controls, materials accountability, and personnel screening.

The International Dimension

The United States currently leads all other countries in the extent and detail of its biosecurity legislation. (See sidebar.) Yet, even as the U.S. government implements the new regulations, the international dimension of the problem remains to be addressed. Several countries outside the United States have passed domestic laws that contain provisions on biosecurity, including Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, and the United Kingdom. Nevertheless, many other countries conduct research on infectious disease agents such as anthrax and plague, maintain collections of microbial pathogens, and operate maximum-containment laboratories that handle the most deadly and incurable disease agents. (See Table 2) Relying exclusively on nationally developed guidelines would result in an uneven patchwork of regulations, creating pockets of lax implementation or enforcement. For this reason, any effective campaign to restrict terrorist access to dangerous pathogens will have to be global in scope.

Roughly 1,500 state-owned and commercial culture collections worldwide maintain, exchange, and sell samples of microbes and toxins for scientific and biomedical research. These organizations vary widely in size and content, from large nonprofit organizations such as American Type Culture Collection to “boutique” collections based at universities, federal agencies, and private companies. About a third of the culture collections outside the United States might possess dangerous pathogens that are not adequately secured and controlled, making them vulnerable to theft or diversion.6 Trade in microbial cultures is also poorly regulated, both within countries and among them. In the United States, the Commerce Department licenses exports of pathogens and toxins on a list of “select agents,” and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention authorizes imports. In many other countries, however, culture collections routinely ship dangerous pathogens with few questions asked.

The security situation in states with former offensive biowarfare programs is particularly troubling. During the late 1980s, some 60,000 scientists and technicians in the Soviet Union worked on biological weapons at more than 50 research institutes and production plants around the country. After the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, the old structures of authority and control collapsed, putting pathogen collections in the newly independent states of Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Georgia at risk of theft or diversion by terrorists or criminals. In November 2002, authorities in Almaty, Kazakhstan, arrested a man who entered the Scientific Center for Quarantine and Zoonotic Diseases with the apparent intent of stealing samples of dangerous pathogens. Fortunately, the intruder was arrested before penetrating the second layer of physical security, which had only recently been upgraded with U.S. government assistance.7

Another former biowarfare program that poses a proliferation threat is that of South Africa. Known as “Project Coast,” this program began in 1981 and focused on developing small-scale, custom-made weapons to terrorize and kill opponents of the apartheid regime. Project Coast scientists collected hundreds of deadly strains, including the causative agents of anthrax, brucellosis, cholera, and plague. After the program was dismantled in 1993, former Project Coast scientists secretly retained samples of virulent strains to continue work on vaccines and antidotes with commercial potential. They also attempted to sell cultures of deadly pathogens, including genetically engineered varieties, to the United States and possibly to other countries.8

Although the World Federation for Culture Collections (WFCC) has urged its members to restrict the distribution of sensitive materials to third parties, the organization lacks the funding and authority needed to enforce compliance. Moreover, more than two-thirds of culture collections worldwide do not belong to the federation.9 Even if the WFCC recommendation could be enforced, it does nothing to set a minimum security standard and hence does not address the problem that weak regulations in some countries undercut more stringent efforts in others.

Since international terrorist organizations are likely to seek biowarfare materials from the most accessible source, international biosecurity standards would reduce the risk that terrorists could obtain dangerous pathogens from foreign laboratories and culture collections. Harmonized guidelines for transferring pathogens would also facilitate collaborative research and development on biodefense vaccines and drugs. Joint U.S.-Russian research projects on defenses against anthrax and smallpox, for example, have been hampered by incompatible national regulations on the export of dangerous pathogens.10

Developing a Biosecurity Regime

An effective biosecurity system requires the integration of technologies and procedures. The global guidelines should include, as a minimum, the registration and licensing of facilities that work with dangerous biological agents, based on an agreed list of pathogens and toxins that can be readily updated; physical security and access controls at laboratories and culture collections that possess such agents; systems for the control and accounting of listed pathogens and toxins, both in storage and during experiments; background checks on laboratory personnel; and an emergency plan for responding to breaches in security. In view of the wide variety of facilities that work with hazardous biological materials, ranging from pharmaceutical companies to academic research labs, biosecurity measures cannot be developed on a “one size fits all” basis. According to a “white paper” by the American Biological Safety Association, guidelines for laboratory security should consist of functional requirements that the affected entities can implement in a tailored manner.11

It is also important to balance the complexity and cost of biosecurity measures introduced at a facility against the threats posed by the pathogens and toxins that are actually held or used at the facility. To develop a tailored biosecurity plan, each entity that possesses or works with biohazardous materials should conduct a threat assessment of what assets need to be protected and the most likely diversion scenarios. Having identified the greatest risks, the facility should then do a vulnerability assessment based on how and where the pathogens or toxins are employed in research protocols, the security conditions under which they are stored and used, and how they are moved within the facility or transferred to outside locations. Given the impossibility of protecting all assets against all conceivable threats, laboratories must prioritize risks. Cost is an obvious limiting factor in the choice of security measures, since small university laboratories cannot afford state-of-the-art systems such as biometric identifiers and computerized inventory systems.

Physical security poses the greatest challenge to academic institutions, which are the least familiar with it. Most commercial pharmaceutical firms have already implemented extensive site security measures to protect intellectual property and valuable business secrets. In general, the level of security should be commensurate with the level of risk, so that the most dangerous agents and strains—from the standpoint of public health impact and suitability for weaponization—are subjected to the highest levels of physical protection and access control. Nevertheless, biosecurity requirements do not always track directly with biosafety levels: some agents that require lower levels of biocontainment, such as toxins, might pose a significant bioterrorist threat.12 Reynolds Salerno and his colleagues at Sandia National Laboratories have also identified a number of “secondary assets” at biological research facilities that warrant protection, including detailed information about regulatory compliance and biosecurity programs, personnel records, and computer databases.13

To augment physical security, facilities should establish procedures for the accountability of pathogens during their storage in a central repository and their utilization in laboratory experiments. Such procedures include conducting inventories and audits of sample collections, documenting the “chain of custody” of dangerous pathogens outside the access-controlled area, and verifying the destruction of working stocks at the end of an experiment. Any pathogen accountability system is unfortunately not foolproof; because microoganisms reproduce, a scientist who has access to a pathogen could covertly remove a small amount (taking steps to ensure that the organism remained alive and viable under the transport conditions) and later mass-produce it.

Academic and industrial facilities working with dangerous pathogens should train scientists and technicians in appropriate laboratory practice, including elements of both biosafety and biosecurity. Because scientists are not security experts, however, each facility that houses dangerous pathogens should employ a security professional to assess threats and vulnerabilities and develop a tailored biosecurity plan. Should a theft or diversion be detected, the incident must be reported promptly to the responsible government agency.

Given the inherent limitations on the ability of physical security and inventory control measures to prevent insider diversion or theft, any biosecurity system ultimately depends on the personal integrity and reliability of the laboratory staff. Background investigations are a critical element of any biosecurity program, including verifying an individual’s references and checking government or Interpol databases for a criminal history or links to terrorist organizations. Because reliability problems might not emerge until long after an individual has been hired, staff members who work with dangerous pathogens should be subjected to periodic reinvestigation, particularly before they are granted unescorted access to secure areas.

The final element of a biosecurity plan involves controls on transfers of dangerous pathogens, both domestic and international. Each country that ships listed pathogens and toxins across national borders should establish regulations for the safe and secure transportation of hazardous goods, controls on imports and exports, and verification of the declared end-use. A national export-control body should be established to enforce these regulations if one does not already exist. In addition to complying with permit and licensing requirements at the local, state, and federal levels, suppliers of biological pathogens should keep detailed records of each transaction, including strain and batch numbers, method and date of shipment, and name and address of each recipient. Suppliers should also establish reliable mechanisms to verify that recipients of pathogens and toxins have a legitimate need for the requested materials and that all necessary safety and security policies are in place.

Negotiation and Oversight

In preparation for the upcoming August meeting of the BWC experts group in Geneva, the U.S. government has circulated four short papers, two describing U.S. domestic legislation on penal legislation and biosecurity and two outlining how the BWC states-parties might proceed in these areas. The U.S. position on biosecurity is that the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) are the expert bodies most capable of formulating guidelines for national legislation. Accordingly, Washington has asked the WHO to take the lead in this effort by working with the FAO and the OIE to prepare a report for the experts group.

Since the experts will have only one week in which to discuss biosecurity issues, it is likely that a follow-on negotiation among BWC member states will be required to develop an appropriately detailed set of technical guidelines for the protection, control, and accounting of dangerous pathogens. Recently, a few international organizations have launched initiatives in the biosecurity field. (See International Biosecurity Initiatives Sidebar.) Drawing on the best practices identified by these efforts, BWC member states should establish a technical experts group that would meet on a regular basis to negotiate a set of detailed functional standards that can be implemented through national laws and regulations.

Biosecurity standards would be promulgated and enforced on a national level by existing or newly established governmental entities. To ensure a degree of uniformity and accountability in national implementation, however, it might be necessary to create an international oversight mechanism. One model is provided by the Nuclear Safety Convention, which was adopted in Vienna on June 17, 1994, to establish basic safety guidelines for the location, design, construction, and operation of civilian nuclear power plants.14 The Nuclear Safety Convention is an “incentive instrument” in that it does not enforce compliance through formal verification measures but rather through the common interest of the parties in achieving higher levels of nuclear safety. Member states are expected to submit periodic reports on the steps they are taking to implement the agreed guidelines. At regularly scheduled review meetings, each participating country has an opportunity to discuss its own actions and to seek clarification of the reports submitted by others. Political pressure and the need for governments to appear responsible create incentives to join the regime and to comply with the agreed standards.

In much the same way, BWC member states that have voluntarily accepted international standards for the protection, control, and accounting of dangerous pathogens could agree to participate in annual review meetings, which might be organized by a small international secretariat staff. At these meetings, countries would report on the implementation of their national biosecurity regulations and answer questions from other delegations. States that failed to implement or adequately enforce the agreed measures could be subjected to probing questions and political pressure. Participating countries could also exchange information to facilitate implementation of the biosecurity standards. For example, if one country refused to grant a scientist access to select agents because of suspected links to a terrorist organization, the intelligence supporting this decision could be shared with other countries so that they could avoid undercutting one another.

Recommendations

Efforts by BWC member states to develop and implement global biosecurity standards will involve a number of policy choices to ensure that the resulting guidelines are workable and cost effective. Key issues to be addressed include the following:

Focus on strengthening the weakest links.

Highly demanding and expensive standards for laboratory security will be counterproductive if developing countries are technically and financially unable to implement them. Instead, the primary aim of global biosecurity standards should be to strengthen the “weakest links”—those states whose research laboratories and culture collections are so poorly secured that terrorists could penetrate them easily. A realistic goal would be to negotiate a set of minimum performance benchmarks that can be met through a variety of different means, either labor intensive (such as armed guards) or capital intensive (such as electronic surveillance technologies).

Engage the international scientific community.

The ultimate success of global biosecurity standards will depend on “buy-in” and voluntary cooperation from microbiologists and laboratory administrators around the world. For this reason, the regulatory guidelines should not be imposed from the top down but rather developed cooperatively from the bottom up with the active participation of leading scientific organizations, such as the International Union of Microbiological Societies.

Balance flexibility and uniformity.

Global biosecurity standards should be flexible enough to be tailored to individual research facilities, yet specific enough to ensure a reasonable degree of consistency and uniformity in their implementation. Overly rigid standards could force universities and other research centers to purchase costly security equipment that is unnecessary or inappropriate to their needs, but standards that are too vague would enable institutions to evade their basic obligations, creating areas of lax implementation that could be exploited by terrorists. Another problem is that regulations tend to be fixed and static, whereas biological science and technology are in constant flux. Thus, a workable system of biosecurity standards must contain a mechanism for periodic review so that the list of regulated agents and the functional guidelines could be revised and updated in response to ongoing advances in scientific knowledge and security measures.

Encourage compliance by using “carrots” rather than “sticks.”

The best way to promote international compliance with biosecurity standards is through positive incentives rather than punishments. Creating mechanisms to “incentivize” compliance is generally easier and cheaper than attempting to establish an international policing mechanism. One precedent is the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which is developing voluntary security guidelines that must be adopted by all states seeking to participate in a planned global network of biological resource centers. The OECD network will effectively create an exclusive “club” whose benefits can be accessed only by meeting the requirements for membership. This arrangement will provide a strong incentive for countries to comply with the agreed biosecurity rules. Similarly, the WHO and other international scientific bodies might make compliance with global biosecurity standards a prerequisite for research grants involving work on dangerous pathogens.

Avoid creating perverse incentives.

Experts developing global biosecurity standards should try to anticipate their downstream consequences, both positive and negative. Since many scientists have a deep aversion to paperwork, regulations that are too burdensome and costly to implement might simply drive microbiologists and laboratory administrators to circumvent the rules by engaging in informal transfers of pathogens that are not reported to government authorities. It is also essential that biosecurity standards not be so onerous that they deter academic and industrial scientists from pursuing legitimate biomedical or biodefense research on dangerous pathogens or drive research institutions to destroy valuable culture collections in the hope of avoiding regulatory burdens or legal liability. To prevent such negative outcomes, biosecurity procedures should be designed to minimize paperwork and ease compliance.

Integrate national biosecurity regulations with international arms control objectives.

Ensuring that pathogens are used only for peaceful purposes would help strengthen the legal and ethical norms enshrined in the BWC against the development, production, and stockpiling of biological weapons. At the same time, biosecurity standards, which focus primarily on the threat of bioterrorism, should be linked to efforts to bolster state-level compliance with the convention. For example, biosecurity measures should be designed so that they do not adversely affect the perception of national biodefense programs, which are permitted under the BWC. The line between defensive and offensive work on biological weapons is unavoidably blurry because researchers must use dangerous pathogens to assess threats and to test the effectiveness of defensive systems, such as detectors and protective equipment. Given this inherent ambiguity, excessive security at biodefense laboratories could arouse suspicion that supposedly defensive research activities are being used as a cover for the development of new biological weapons. For this reason, it is essential that countries not invest in biosecurity technologies or procedures that unduly reduce the transparency of biodefense research. At the same time, states should not be forced to reveal critical vulnerabilities that could render the defenses ineffective.

In conclusion, the negotiation of global biosecurity standards would represent a departure from arms control as it has been traditionally practiced. Rather than creating a legally binding treaty that is subject to intrusive verification by an international inspectorate, as in the case of the Chemical Weapons Convention, the biosecurity regime would consist of a set of agreed guidelines implemented through national legislation. To ensure a reasonable degree of uniformity and accountability in implementation, a small international secretariat might be established to provide oversight and to organize annual review meetings. Further, instead of focusing on state-level proliferation of biological weapons, global biosecurity standards would reduce the risk of theft or diversion of dangerous pathogens by terrorists and criminals—a problem that the BWC does not explicitly address. Although biosecurity standards would not directly strengthen state-level compliance with the treaty, they would reinforce the basic norms enshrined within it.

U.S. Biosecurity Legislation

The U.S. Congress first introduced controls on dangerous pathogens after a 1995 incident called attention to the lack of government regulation in this area. Larry Wayne Harris, a licensed microbiologist and neo-Nazi sympathizer in Columbus, Ohio, used a forged letterhead to order three vials of freeze-dried Yersinia pestis (plague) bacteria from American Type Culture Collection. After Harris’ repeated calls to check on the status of his order aroused suspicion, he was arrested and later convicted of one count of mail fraud.

In response to the Harris case, the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on how to prevent the unauthorized acquisition of dangerous pathogens by criminals and terrorists. The following year, Congress passed the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which included a section imposing new controls on facilities that ship or receive dangerous pathogens and toxins.

Pursuant to this legislation, federal regulations that went into effect April 15, 1997, required anyone shipping or receiving agents on a list of hazardous microbial pathogens and toxins (termed “select agents”) to register with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and file a report on each individual transaction. But the regulations contained a major loophole: laboratories that possessed or worked with listed pathogens or toxins but did not transfer or receive them were not required to register. In the aftermath of the 2001 anthrax letter attacks, the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings at which FBI officials testified that because of the regulatory loophole, the U.S. government did not have a comprehensive list of facilities or scientists in the United States that possessed or worked with anthrax.

In an effort to close this loophole, Congress included two provisions on select agents in an anti-terrorism bill (the so-called USA PATRIOT Act) signed into law October 26, 2001. Section 817 makes it a crime to knowingly possess any biological agent, toxin, or delivery system that cannot be “reasonably justified by a prophylactic, protective, bona fide research, or other peaceful purpose.” In addition, Section 175b specifies several categories of “restricted persons” who are prohibited from shipping, receiving, transporting, or possessing select agents. One such category covers nonresident aliens from countries on the State Department’s list of states that support international terrorism. (The list, which is subject to change, includes Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria.)

On June 12, 2002, President George W. Bush signed a second piece of legislation called the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act. Title II of this act, “Enhanced Controls for Dangerous Biological Agents and Toxins,” requires all entities in the United States that possess, use, or transfer one or more of the 39 pathogens and toxins on the Select Agents List to register with the CDC and implement safety and security measures. In addition, all scientists seeking to work with select agents must undergo an FBI background check. The Bioterrorism Preparedness Act also grants authority to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to develop a separate list of pathogens and toxins that pose a severe threat to animal health or to animal or plant products. The CDC and APHIS coordinate in regulating 16 so-called overlap agents that appear on both the human and animal lists. An estimated 1,469 facilities in the United States that possess, work with, or transfer listed agents are covered by the new rules; clinical laboratories are exempt unless they retain samples of pathogens for long periods. Laboratory security plans must be prepared by June 12, 2003, and each registered entity must be in full compliance with the new regulations by November 12, 2003.

The main objective of the biosecurity regulations is to track “who, what, and where”—who has access to listed pathogens and toxins, what agents have been accessed, and where in a facility they are in use. Because of the wide variety of facilities working with listed agents, the guidelines are not highly prescriptive. Instead, each institution is required to conduct threat and vulnerability assessments and develop a comprehensive plan to ensure the security of areas containing listed pathogens and toxins. Once the security plan has been developed, it must be submitted to the CDC or APHIS, performance tested, and updated periodically. Officials from the two federal agencies may also conduct unannounced inspections of declared sites. Return to text.

 

International Biosecurity Initiatives

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a group of 30 advanced industrial countries headquartered in Paris, has undertaken the most ambitious international effort to date to regulate dangerous pathogens. The OECD has long been interested in “biological resource centers” (BRCs), defined as government, industry, or academic facilities that house, control, test, or use biological materials. BRCs are a key element of the research infrastructure for the life sciences and the biotechnology industry, but many valuable culture collections are disappearing as governments withdraw financial support. In response to this problem, the OECD is organizing a global network of BRCs that will function as a “virtual lending library” to permit the free exchange of microbial cultures among its members.

In mid-2001, the OECD established a Task Force on BRCs to begin negotiations on the global network. In addition to the 30 members of the OECD, several nonmember countries were invited to participate as nonvoting observers. Establishing the BRC network requires the harmonization of national rules for accreditation, quality control standards for the composition and purity of cultures, and funding arrangements. After the terrorist attacks of September and October 2001, the United States asked that the mandate of the BRC Task Force be expanded to include biosecurity measures.

The current plan is for the OECD Task Force to negotiate a set of regulatory guidelines for the BRC network, which will be presented for approval at a meeting of science ministers from the participating countries, scheduled for January 2004. Given the tight deadline, the task force is unlikely to develop detailed technical security standards but instead broad guidelines, and the final rules will not be legally binding. Nevertheless, because the free exchange of pathogens among facilities within the BRC network will be possible only if all the participating facilities are secure, countries that do not meet the agreed minimum standards of quality, safety, and security will be excluded from the network. To certify and enforce the standards on a national basis, each participating government must select an accrediting agency, which will conduct periodic checks of biosafety and biosecurity measures at the participating BRCs.

Although negotiation of the BRC network currently involves the 30 OECD member states plus roughly a dozen observers, member countries are conducting regional consultations with other states, with a view to creating a global network of BRCs. Eventually, the network might be spun off from the OECD and a small, stand-alone international secretariat established to serve as gatekeeper.

Group of Seven Plus Mexico

In response to the events of the fall of 2001, health ministers from the G-7 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States) plus Mexico met in Ottawa, Canada, November 7, 2001, to forge a new partnership called the Global Health Security Initiative. Among the stated goals of this partnership is “to improve linkages among laboratories, including level four [Biosafety Level-4] laboratories, in those countries which have them.” Directors of maximum-containment laboratories from participating countries met in Lyons, France, March 12, 2002, to discuss the establishment of a Level 4 Laboratory Network that will develop standard protocols for the transfer of pathogens among BSL-4 facilities.

Australia Group

The United States and 32 other like-minded countries “harmonize” their national export controls on dual-use materials and equipment that could be involved in the production of chemical and biological weapons through an informal coordinating mechanism known as the Australia Group. This body was established in 1985 in response to the widespread use of chemical weapons by Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war. The Australia Group initially developed a “control list” of chemical weapons precursors that were to be denied to countries assessed to be seeking a chemical warfare capability. In 1990, in response to growing concern over the proliferation of biological weapons, the Australia Group added measures to tighten export controls on dangerous pathogens and dual-use biotechnology equipment.
Although the primary aim of the Australia Group has been to impede state-level proliferation, in June 2002 the group placed greater emphasis on bioterrorism by adding eight toxins of possible terrorist interest to its biological control list. One drawback of the Australia Group is that its membership does not include a number of important countries, such as China, Russia, India, Pakistan, and Iran. Several developing countries also oppose the group’s existence on political grounds, claiming that it is discriminatory and unfairly impedes the economic development of targeted states.

Other International Organizations

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) supports proposed standards for licensing and enforcement procedures related to dangerous pathogens and dual-use biotechnology equipment. The World Customs Organization has started sharing information with Interpol and the World Health Organization to combat the smuggling of biological, chemical, and radioactive materials. The International Maritime Organization plans to negotiate an agreement to halt the shipping of biological agents for hostile purposes.

Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical Industry

Although most work with dangerous pathogens takes place in university and government laboratories, elements of the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries have begun to address biosecurity issues. In 2002 the Swiss pharmaceutical trade association Interpharma developed a draft code of conduct titled “Biosafety and Biosecurity—Industry Best Practices to Prevent Use of Biohazardous Material.” It calls on companies to establish internal regulations and procedures for handling dangerous pathogens, including detailed inventories of materials stored and transferred, transparency in the acquisition of pathogens and toxins from commercial sources and scientific collaborators, security measures to prevent access by unauthorized individuals, safe transport of biohazardous materials, and treatment of wastes to avoid discharging infectious agents into the environment. Return to text.

 

Table 1. Characteristics of Fissile Materials and Pathogens
Return to text

Fissile Materials
Biological Pathogens
Do not exist in nature
Generally found in nature
Nonliving, synthetic
Living, replicative
Difficult and costly to produce
Easy and cheap to produce
Not diverse: plutonium and highly enriched uranium are the only fissile materials used in nuclear weapons
Highly diverse: more than 20 pathogens are suitable for biological warfare
Can be inventoried and tracked in a quantitative manner
Because pathogens reproduce, inventory control is unreliable
Can be detected at a distance from the emission of ionizing radiation
Cannot be detected at a distance with available technologies
Weapons-grade fissile materials are stored at a limited number of military nuclear sites.
Pathogens are present in many types of facilities and at multiple locations within a facility
Few nonmilitary applications (such as research reactors, thermo-electric generators, and production of radioisotopes)
Many legitimate applications in biomedical research and the pharmaceutical/ biotechnology industry

Table 2. Maximum-Containment (BSL-4) Laboratories Worldwide
Return to text

Country
Name of Laboratory
Location
Australia National High Security Quarantine Laboratory Geelong
Australia Victorian Infectious Disease Reference Laboratory Melbourne
Belarus Research Institute for Epidemiology and Microbiology Minsk
Brazil Universidade Estadual Paulista, Campus de Botucatu Sao Paulo
Canada Canadian Science Centre for Human and Animal Health Winnipeg, Manitoba
France Jean Merieux Laboratory Lyons
Gabon International Center for Medical Research Franceville
Germany Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine Hamburg
Japan National Institute of Infectious Diseases Tokyo
Russia Institute for Viral Preparations Moscow
Russia Vector Laboratory Novosibirsk, Siberia
Spain Center for Investigations of Animal Health Madrid
South Africa National Institute of Virology Johannesburg
Sweden Institute for Infectious Disease Control Solna
United Kingdom Centre for Applied Microbiology and Research Porton Down
United Kingdom Central Public Health Laboratory London
United Kingdom Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment Porton Down
United Kingdom National Institute for Biological Standards and Control Potters Bar
United Kingdom National Institute for Medical Research London
United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Atlanta, GA
United States Maximum Containment Lab, National Institutes of Health Bethesda, MD
United States U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases Frederick, MD
United States Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research San Antonio, TX
United States University of Texas Medical Branch Galveston, TX

 

 


NOTES
1. For useful comments on an earlier version of this paper, I am indebted to Gerald L. Epstein of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, Reynolds M. Salerno and colleagues at Sandia National Laboratories, Janet Shoemaker of the American Society for Microbiology, Frank P. Simione of American Type Culture Collection, and Gregory J. Stewart of the U.S. Department of State.

2. “Decision of the Fifth Review Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) Weapons and on Their Destruction,” BWC/CONF.V/17, Geneva, November 2002, paras. 18-20.

3. “Report Finds Easy Lab Access to Deadly Pathogens,” Reuters, May 8, 2002.

4. Rick Weiss and Joby Warrick, “Army Lost Track of Anthrax Bacteria; Specimens at Md.’s Fort Detrick May Have Been Misplaced or Stolen,” Washington Post, January 21, 2002, p. A1; Charles Pillar, “Biodefense Lab Under a Microscope,” Los Angeles Times, February 12, 2003, p. A1.

5. John Dudley Miller, “Bioterrorism Research: New Money, New Anxieties,” The Scientist, no. 7 (April 7, 2003), p. 52.

6. Gregory J. Stewart, U.S. Department of State, personal communication, May 16, 2003.

7. “Concern Over Kazakhstan Bio-Theft Bid,” CNN.com, November 5, 2002.

8. Joby Warrick, “Biotoxins Fall Into Private Hands,” Washington Post, April 21, 2003, p. A1.

9. William J. Broad, “World’s Largest Germ-Bank Union Acts to Keep Terrorists from Stealing Deadly Stocks,” New York Times, October 23, 2001, p. B9.

10. Peter Eisler, “U.S., Russia Tussle Over Deadly Anthrax Sample,” USA Today, August 19, 2002, pp. 1-2.

11. American Biological Safety Association, “ABSA Biosecurity Task Force White Paper: Understanding Biosecurity,” Applied Biosafety, no. 2 (2002), p. 96.

12. Sandra Fry, Canadian Food Inspection Agency, “Integrating Security and Biosafety,” ABSA conference on “Biosecurity: Challenges and Applied Solutions for Our Future Needs,” Alexandria, VA, April 22, 2003 (presentation).

13. Reynolds M. Salerno, Natalie Barnett, and Jennifer G. Koelm, Balancing Security and Research at Biomedical and Bioscience Laboratories (Albuquerque, NM: Sandia National Laboratories, SAND No. 2003-0701C, March 2003), p. 7.

14. Carl E. Behrens and Warren H. Donnelly, “The Convention on Nuclear Safety—A Fact Sheet,” CRS Report for Congress, Congressional Research Service, Report No. 96-434 ENR, May 16, 1996.


Jonathan B. Tucker is a senior fellow at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) on leave from the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. USIP will publish a longer version of this article in the fall.

 

With War in Iraq Over, Where Are the Weapons?

Paul Kerr

One month after President George W. Bush’s May 1 declaration of an end to major combat operations in Iraq, U.S. forces are continuing their search for nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons but have so far failed to make any significant discoveries. The future of UN weapons inspections in Iraq remains uncertain.

Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith told the House International Relations Committee during a May 15 hearing that the United States has searched about 20 percent of approximately 600 known weapons of mass destruction sites, warning that the process “will take months, and perhaps years.”

Undersecretary of Defense Stephen Cambone told reporters during a May 7 briefing that the United States was sending an additional 2,000 personnel to Iraq to augment search efforts. The personnel will comprise the Iraq Survey Group, tasked with finding prohibited weapons. Cambone emphasized the importance of interviewing knowledgeable Iraqi officials and the evaluation of documentary evidence.

Explanations for the failure to find weapons vary. Administration officials have previously attributed the lack of discoveries to Iraq’s skill at concealing weapons, the need to interview scientists knowledgeable about Iraq’s weapons programs, and the possibility that Iraq might have destroyed prohibited weapons or transferred them to another country. (See ACT, May 2003.)

U.S. officials continue to assert that the coalition forces will locate chemical or biological weapons in Iraq. During a May 16 interview with Russian television, Secretary of State Colin Powell cited Baghdad’s submission of an incomplete declaration about its prohibited weapons programs to the UN Security Council as evidence that the regime had been hiding such weapons.

Security Council Resolution 1441 required Iraq to submit a “currently accurate, full, and complete declaration of all aspects of its [weapons of mass destruction] programmes.” Iraq turned over a 12,000-page declaration to UN officials in Baghdad last December, but it contained little useful information and left many questions unanswered.

The most important weapons-related find has been the discovery of two trailers that U.S. officials believe were built to produce biological weapons agents. The first trailer was found April 19, and the second was discovered May 9, U.S. officials said. The second trailer did not appear to have been completed.

Powell told the Security Council February 5 that Iraq was using mobile biological laboratories as part of a larger effort to conceal its prohibited weapons programs.

U.S. experts say the trailers “appear to have had no purpose but to produce biological agents, and that they are…almost identical, in some respects,” to the vehicles Powell described, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher stated in a May 21 press briefing. Powell said in a press briefing that same day that U.S. experts do not know whether the trailers were used to produce biological agents because they “have been cleaned” with disinfectants and experts “can’t find actual germs on them.”

Role for the IAEA and the UN?

Meanwhile, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors are planning to return to Iraq, according to a May 23 agency press statement. The United States agreed to let the inspectors return following repeated calls from IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei. Agency spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said the inspectors are planning to return “before the end of the week,” according to a May 26 Associated Press article.

Expressing deep concern about press reports indicating that civilians have been looting nuclear sites, ElBaradei called for the United States to “allow IAEA experts to return to Iraq” in a May 19 statement. He indicated that he had warned the United States on April 10 of the “need to secure the nuclear material stored at Tuwaitha”—Iraq’s nuclear research center—and provided Washington with the “information about the nuclear material, radioactive sources, and nuclear waste in Iraq.”

ElBaradei said he wrote to the United States again April 29 because, although the IAEA had received “assurances” from the United States that the site was being protected, he was concerned by further reports of looting. The United States did not respond to that message, he added.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged during a May 14 hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee that looting had taken place at nuclear sites that were unguarded by U.S. forces.

In response to ElBaradei’s May 19 suggestion, Washington is making arrangements with the agency to “conduct a joint inspection of the safeguarded storage area near Tuwaitha,” Boucher said May 21. He emphasized that the IAEA’s inspection of the Tuwaitha sites will fulfill its responsibilities under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and is a separate issue from the question of whether the agency will conduct the intrusive inspections mandated by Security Council resolutions concerning Iraq.

The nuclear material stored at Tuwaitha has been under IAEA safeguards since 1991. The IAEA is responsible for monitoring safeguards agreements undertaken by states-parties to the NPT.

ElBaradei called the security problems a “safety and security” issue in his May 19 statement. IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming stated that the Tuwaitha site contains “radioactive sources that could be used” to make radiological weapons, according to a May 6 Agence France-Presse report. A radiological weapon uses conventional explosives to disperse radioactive material, but such a device would not come close to causing the destruction of a nuclear weapon, which is triggered by a nuclear reaction.

Meanwhile, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1483 on May 22 by a 14-0 vote, ending economic sanctions on Iraq and spelling out the United Nations’ postwar role in the country. Some sanctions on military goods remain in place.

The resolution also “reaffirms that Iraq must meet its disarmament obligations...and underlines the intention of the Council to revisit the mandates of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission” and the IAEA, but it does not specify whether those organizations should resume inspections in Iraq.

UN weapons inspectors left Iraq March 18—the day before the coalition invasion started—after almost four months of work, following U.S. failure to gain support from Security Council members opposed to the immediate use of force against Iraq.

Intelligence Investigated

Several reviews of the intelligence community’s assessments of Iraq’s nuclear, chemical, and biological programs are underway. A CIA spokesperson said in a May 27 interview that a review of intelligence gathering in Iraq was “put in motion” last October as part of a “lessons-learned” exercise. A team of retired intelligence officials is conducting the review, which has been underway for several weeks, the spokesperson added.

Meanwhile, Congress initiated two other investigations of the intelligence community. The chairman and ranking member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, Porter Goss (R-FL) and Jane Harman (D-CA), sent a letter asking for detailed information about intelligence assessments of Iraq’s weapons programs, as well as other matters, a committee staff member said in a May 27 interview.

Describing the investigation as a “routine step,” Goss said in a May 25 appearance on CBS’s Face the Nation that its purpose is to “understand how good [intelligence community] sources and methods are.” Harman added during the same broadcast that the lack of chemical or biological weapons discoveries in Iraq to date “raises some questions” about the quality of U.S. intelligence.

On the Senate side, the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WVA), have asked the CIA and the State Department to conduct “a formal investigation” into the intelligence community’s use of intelligence documents that were apparent forgeries.

 

 

One month after President George W. Bush’s May 1 declaration of an end to major combat operations in Iraq, U.S. forces are continuing their search for nuclear, chemical...

The Case of Iraq's "Missing" Weapons

Daryl G. Kimball

The stated rationale for President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq was intelligence indicating the presence of chemical and biological weapons and renewed nuclear weapons work. Turning its back on a UN arms inspections process it never fully supported, the administration embraced pre-emptive war as its preferred method of curtailing the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

After scouring Iraq for more than two months, however, the Pentagon has thus far failed to uncover evidence backing up the administration’s prewar claims. The case of the “missing” Iraqi weapons requires that we re-examine the administration’s rush to war in Iraq, as well as the use of intelligence to justify pre-emptive action against other states. It also underscores the enduring technical and political value of international weapons inspections.

To be sure, Iraq has possessed chemical and biological weapons, used chemical weapons, and pursued nuclear weapons in the past. During the 1990s, the first group of UN inspectors destroyed the bulk of Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons and dismantled its nuclear bomb program, but the Iraqi government failed to cooperate fully. For this very reason, arms control advocates pressed for the prompt return of the UN inspectors with expanded capabilities and authority. After three months of renewed inspections in 2002 and 2003, scant evidence of WMD was uncovered. Still, more time and cooperation was needed to resolve a number of serious questions about unaccounted-for nerve and mustard agents, as well as chemical and biological munitions.

Although the administration now cites several reasons for the war, its chief claim was that UN weapons inspections had failed and that Iraq’s WMD posed an imminent threat. In his February 5 presentation to the United Nations, Secretary of State Colin Powell asserted that “Saddam Hussein has chemical weapons.” A British government report suggested that such weapons could be ready for use within 45 minutes. Vice President Dick Cheney went even further, saying March 16 that Iraq had “reconstituted nuclear weapons.”

Now it is the Bush administration urging patience, as the U.S. “military exploitation teams” that are searching Iraq come up empty-handed. Bush has even suggested that suspected WMD might have been destroyed before or during the invasion. Although it dismissed France’s prewar proposal to boost the number of UN inspectors, the Pentagon has belatedly decided to increase the number of U.S. specialists looking for Iraq’s banned weapons.

Should the absence of dramatic weapons finds be surprising? Not really, given the likelihood that UN inspections had effectively denied Iraq militarily significant WMD capabilities. Neither should it be surprising if the Pentagon finds dual-use technology and documentation about prohibited weapons work in the past—after all, Iraq did have active WMD programs at a time when Hussein was considered an ally by Washington.

What is shocking is the failure of U.S. and British forces to secure known Iraqi nuclear facilities in the final days of the war. The Department of Defense says only 200 personnel were assigned to the task. Reports indicate that widespread looting occurred at the Tuwaitha facility and six other sites in early April. As a result, dangerous nuclear materials might now be in unfriendly hands—one of the dangers Bush said the war would prevent. Not until late last month did the Pentagon agree to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to return to help secure the sites.

The lack of clear evidence of Iraqi WMD makes it all the more apparent that the latest round of tougher UN inspections were successful in stopping Iraq from assembling a militarily significant chemical or biological weapons arsenal and that they blocked further nuclear weapons activities. UN and IAEA inspectors should be allowed to return to Iraq to complete the task of long-term monitoring and disarmament. Unfortunately, the U.S.-drafted Security Council resolution on postwar arrangements effectively denies UN inspectors the opportunity to do so.

The case of Iraq also underscores the limitations of national intelligence as a basis for pre-emptive war. A good deal of the administration’s case against Iraq was built on information from groups with an interest in the overthrow of Hussein, such as the Iraqi National Congress. In a 2002 report, the CIA itself documented the unreliability of such sources.

If, over time, the dire prewar assessments of Iraq’s weapons prove false, it will be harder to win support for efforts to check the proliferation behavior of foes and even friends. In the long run, the United States can ill-afford to undermine international inspection efforts or injure its own credibility by invoking shaky assessments of weapons dangers to fit preconceived political or military objectives.

 

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