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Chem-Bio

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Its a disturbing development in the Iraq insurgency. So far, 2007 has marked the first time al Qaeda terrorists made good on their promise to use chemical weapons on U.S. troops, Iraqi forcesand Iraqi civilians.

Since January, al Qaeda operatives have detonated six vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, or VBIEDs, using chlorine gas. Three were employed last week alone. Though a Marine source in al Anbar where most of the attacks have taken place downplays the new tactic, it raises the possibility of U.S. troops having to don their hot, uncomfortable chemical warfare gear once again.

Our friends over at Stratfor have put together a pretty good intel brief on AQIs new weapon of mass destruction.

From Stratfor:

The use of chlorine in chemical VBIEDs is attractive to militants because the chemical is widely available in Iraq and around the world. The problem, as Iraqi militants are finding, however, is dispersing the chemical with a VBIED while maintaining an effective concentration of the gas

Regardless of these bombs’ effectiveness as mass killers, however, insurgents like them because the immediate chlorine odor incites fear. Witnesses of the Iraqi attacks, for example, reported nasty smells and a white plume of smoke that turned black and blue. Furthermore, these attacks are valuable to insurgents as tests for future operations elsewhere. Whether this method of attack is the fixation of a particular insurgent leader or it represents an emerging doctrine by al Qaeda in Iraq, the attacks will allow the insurgents to gain tactical expertise and learn to construct more effective chemical bombs. The attackers also could be conducting these attacks to gauge security weaknesses or to divert attention from a different location where an operation is planned

Chemical VBIED attacks are likely to continue in Iraq and to spread as those responsible for them export the knowledge gained throughout the region and beyond. Al Qaeda units in other locations followed the lead of al Qaeda in Iraq as it increased its use of tactics such as employing roadside bombs and conducting beheadings — and the use of chlorine bombs could be next

Because chlorine is so common, movement of the chemical cannot be severely restricted. This is especially true in areas where the state already has a weak hold on the security situation. Therefore, Iraqi insurgents are likely to continue refining their technique — and their allies and sympathizers beyond the state will start to adopt the tactic themselves.

(Gouge:CM)

Christian

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In the wake of the chlorine tanker truck bombing in Taji, Iraq today, domestic government agencies are taking another look at how easy it might be for terrorists to wreak stateside havoc. This from the Associated Press:

QUANTICO, Va. — Kirk Yeager makes bombs from the stuff found under kitchen sinks. He does it to help the FBI defend against what officials say is the next frontier for terrorists in the United States.

Ten years ago, peroxide-based bombs were mostly the work of young pranksters. But the easy-to-make yet deadly chemical cocktails were embraced in the late 1990s by Palestinian militants and suicide bombers bent on killing large groups of people.

Now, Yeager says, the “Mother of Satan” explosives are considered the most likely weapon that terrorists will use against the U.S., more so than a nuclear or radiological “dirty” bomb.

“Every serious terrorist group knows about them and knows how to make them,” Yeager said. The forensic scientist heads the explosives unit at the FBI’s laboratory in Quantico, Va., about 35 miles south of Washington.

“Bad guys are bombers. You don’t have to have the level of sophistication to make a bomb that you need to get nuclear materials,” Yeager said.

The bombs are made by mixing chemicals that are used in common household items, including hydrogen peroxide and paint thinner, and easily found at drug stores or hardware stores. Experts know them as TATP, short for triacetone triperoxide, and HMTD, or hexamethylene triperoxide diamine.

Recent cases of explosions or thwarted attacks with TATP or HMTD in the U.S. include:

–Millennium bomber Ahmed Ressam. He was carrying HMTD among the 124 pounds of explosives in the trunk of his car when he was arrested near the U.S.-Canadian border in December 1999.

–Richard Reid. The would-be British shoe bomber tried unsuccessfully to detonate 8 ounces of TATP hidden in his high-top sneaker during a Paris-to-Miami flight in 2001.

–University of Oklahoma suicide bomber Joel Henry Hinrichs III. He used TATP to blow himself up near a packed football stadium in October 2005.

–College student Matthew Rugo in Texas City, Texas. He was killed last July when a plastic storage container of TATP that was mixed in his apartment exploded. The FBI has not found any connection in the case to international terrorist groups, but the investigation continues.

Additionally, counterterrorist authorities say terrorists planned to mix a solution similar to TATP in last summer’s thwarted attacks on as many as 10 London-to-U.S. flights — leading to the crackdown on bringing liquids aboard airlines.

Also, ecoterrorists and animal rights extremist groups such as Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front are believed by authorities to use peroxide-based explosives.

Yeager, 41, who helps the FBI solve bombing cases by investigating the crime scene debris, is the only U.S. official who makes TATP and similar explosives in mass quantities.

His interest in bomb-making began at Cornell University, where he earned his Ph.D. in organic chemistry. He honed his skills at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, one of the nation’s top centers for explosives research and testing.

Yeager’s brews are used for testing and training police officers and bomb-sniffing dogs. Until recently, authorities knew little about peroxide-based bombs because they are too volatile to handle casually. Moreover, TATP in particular is hard for dogs to detect.

Over the past year, the FBI and Transportation Security Administration have trained dog teams to sniff out the chemical cocktails at 75 airports and on subway, train and bus systems in 13 cities. The government pays up to $50,000 to train each of the 420 teams currently in action.

“It’s a threat that’s not here right now, but we see it coming,” said Dave Kontny, director of TSA’s national explosives detection canine teams. “So we’re better off to have these teams.”

John Rollins, a counterterrorism expert at Congressional Research Service and former U.S. intelligence official, said TATP and other varieties of peroxide-based bombs are most likely to show up in the hands of homegrown extremists and other splinter sympathizers of international terrorist groups.

The larger and centrally organized groups, such as al-Qaida, are more interested in “big bang” weapons that he said would cause widespread deaths and economic losses.

But aspiring terrorists, Rollins said, “would lean toward this because it’s so readily available, it’s so hard to detect.”

“It certainly would be enough of a bang to draw attention to their cause, and shake the foundations in the short term of society’s belief that the government can protect the United States,” Rollins said.

– Ward

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Chem_tech This is part three of my investigation of the DOD Chemical Biological Defense Program (CBDP) budget for FY2008. Today, we invade the lair of the research and development community. Sixty-one percent of the R&D budget for next year ($610 million) is in budget activities 6.1 through 6.3, what is called science and technology or the tech base. Not much happens in here other than applied research into potential technologies that might develop into a practical application — someday. And that pays for a lot of scientists’ salaries. The other 39 percent is advanced development (about $380 million), budget activities 6.4 and 6.5. These funds are used to prove that prototypes work and that a given project is ready for manufacture and fielding.

I’m going to talk about the advanced development funds first, because it’s easier to explain. The medics will develop biological vaccines to counter plague and botulinum toxin ($40 million and $19 million respectively). We might see a fielded plague vaccine in 2010 — maybe. Don’t count on a bot tox vaccine prior to 2015. Nearly $70 million is going to the Transformational Medical Technologies Initiative (TMTI). Although the project is supposed to be focused on far future “silver bullets” for BW threats, for some reason, DOD will start spending advanced development funds next year. On what, I have no idea, since the investigational part has barely started in the tech base. I’m not sure DOD knows what they’ll be doing either — it’s been more of a “here, take this $2 billion and put it to work with industry” kind of affair. Ready, fire, aim.

Medical chemical research funding is about one fourth of that of med bio research funding. The $36 million is being split nearly equally on an advanced anticonvulsant system, a nerve agent bioscavenger, and an improved nerve agent treatment system. There’s about $7 million being spent at AFRRI for medical radiological countermeasures. This is a new area — previous to 2007, the CBDP really didn’t want to do med rad countermeasures. Then Dale Klein (from DOE) decided that the CBDP might want to think about being a CBRN Defense Program. Hasn’t completely happened yet, in part because the Air Force and Navy really don’t want to do joint radiological programs, and there is so much medical radiological research already going on outside of the program.

The tech base for medical accounts for 42 percent of the R&D budget. There’s nearly $250 million being spent in the TMTI program, $85.7 million spent on biological defense research, and $62 million being spent on chemical defense research. Don’t ask me what they spend it on. Lots of drug discovery efforts, studies on how things work in the body, potential pre– and post-treatment therapies. I’m not a medical guy, and tech base is frankly a lot of small, high risk projects, many of which aren’t successful. It’s not DARPA-like, but it’s not uncommon to see a project go for 3–4 years before being terminated if it isn’t leading anywhere.

On the non-medical side, about 13 percent of the R&D funds goes to advanced development projects. Detection projects make up 4.5 percent ($45 million) of the R&D funds. In biodetection, most funds are going to the development of critical reagents for biological detection ($10 million) and development of a tactical (man-portable) biological agent detector ($3 million). I’m not enamored of a Joint Biological Tactical Detector System (JBTDS). The warfighters want a bio equivalent to the automatic chemical detectors, refusing to listen to the analysts quietly pointing out that chemical hazards are somewhat different acting than biological hazards. The requirements guys have ignored the challenge of managing the analysis of thousands of liquid samples every week if this system were to be fielded.

On the chemical detection side, DOD is spending $12 million on continued R&D for the Joint Chemical Agent Detector (yes, even as it is being fielded, there’s still significant R&D tweaking going on). About the same is being spent on the joint reconnaissance systems, probably tests and evaluations. A few million being spent on the agent water monitor system. There’s really not a lot of new R&D being spent in CB detection, largely in part that we’ve got good systems out there, and there are few potential future technologies to reach out toward.

Individual protection R&D, funded at $12.5 million, is addressing the Joint Service Aircrew Mask, probably for final testing and approval prior to production. No R&D going to new suits or masks for the first time in a while, and is not expected for several years more (other than in the tech base). In part this is because (again) we have pretty good suits and masks, and there are no great leaps forward in this area. Also, the CBDP is being lazy and not really searching for what ought to be the next big idea in individual protection. We’re stuck with hot suits and rubber masks. If something comes up, they’ll move the money.

Collective protection has just one R&D project, the Joint Expeditionary Collective Protection project. This effort will field mobile field shelters and expedient shelters replacing… well, there is nothing out there right now for troops other than medics. There’s $14 million going to that project, which is really a realigned effort from a former CP shelter project that crashed and burned when the users wouldn’t back off their unrealistic demands on technology and engineering (we want it much smaller, with air conditioning, easy to transport… whine, whine). So we’re trying again, and maybe we’ll see some shelters in 3–4 years.

Decontamination projects have a big $9 million going to three sensitive decontamination projects: the sensitive equipment decon system, a platform interior decon system, and a human remains decon system. As I mentioned yesterday, the sensitive equipment decon project may be ready in 2010, and the interior decon (for inside vehicles) won’t be ready prior to 2012. Right now, the only option to handle contaminated electronic equipment is to junk it. The last project, human remains decon, is a “special demand” by the medics and quartermasters. OSD wants to have the capability to decon contaminated corpses in such a manner that the bodies can 1) come home to Mom and Dad, and 2) be viewed in an open casket funeral. Really unreasonable demands, considering the bodies were formerly contaminated with CB warfare agents, but who ever said OSD leadership was reasonable? So the CBDP will buy some commercial technology and test it, field it in an effort to shut them up.

Information systems are actually getting the most R&D funds (after medical) at $48 million (nearly 5% of the R&D budget), going to the three projects mentioned yesterday — JEM, JOEF, and JWARN. The great thing about software projects is that they can always spend R&D funds to tweak their products, even after they’ve been fielded (as Microsoft can tell us). Nothing really sexy — it’s the usual stuff. Improve the accuracy of how models demonstrate how CB hazards act in the real world, display the information on military communication systems, and include more medical and environmental data in the models. The tough part is, as ever, integrating CB hazard data into battlefield data without stalling communications.

Tech base for the nonmedical efforts are funded at $186 million — about half that of medical tech base (thanks to TMTI). I don’t get much details from the tech base — again, it pays for 3–4 year long science projects that investigate various ways to improve the above capabilities. Standoff and point detection science gets the most (more than $40 million in 2008), with information systems getting $30 million and protection (individual and collective) getting $25 million. Decon sciences get less than $10 million, because there aren’t a lot of new technologies there. Maybe $30 million for various science research projects aimed at finding out more about threat agents and other innovative research efforts.

The test and evaluation money ($67 million, a bit under 7 percent of the advanced R&D) is just going to building capabilities (buying equipment, outfitting buildings) to modernize the DOD’s ability to… test and evaluate CB defense equipment (duh). Lots of money for Dugway, Edgewood, and a few other small T&E sites — special equipment, development of test methods, etc etc. Yawn. Has to be done, I guess, to ensure the equipment works as advertised.

That’s about it. Not really sexy like the Missile Defense Agency. But then again, they have a few billion — several billion actually — more than the CBDP does. Again, more information on these R&D projects can be found in the OSD annual report to Congress on CB defense.

Jason Sigger, crossposted at Armchair Generalist

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Following up yesterday’s post on the new budget, let’s see what chem-bio defense equipment the Defense Department is planning to buy. The top line items include (unsurprisingly) CB detection gear, individual protection equipment, and vaccines. About 36 percent of procurement dollars are going to buy specialized CB defense vehicles for the Army and CB detectors for the services. Nearly 24 percent is going to individual protective equipment — mostly masks and suits. The rest is seven percent for collective protection systems, five percent for decon systems, less than three percent for information systems, and nine percent for biological vaccines. Last, 16 percent for installation protection equipment, largely paying for hazmat gear and exercises.

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The CB Defense Program (CBDP) is buying 28 M31E2 Biological Integrated Detection System (BIDS) for the Army next year, each costing about $3.4 million. These feature the Joint Biological Point Detection System (JBPDS) as the heart of the system. Most of these BIDS platoons were justified as homeland security capabilities, and we’re going to be buying them for several more years. The Navy’s getting eleven JBPDS for their ships, for about $330,000 each. DOD will be buying 25,000 biological assay tickets at $50 a pop as the first phase of its Joint CBR Agent Water Monitor.  All the rest of biodetection funds is in R&D (tomorrow).

On the chemical side, the Army will get 13 Strykers modified with point and standoff chemical detectors (the Joint Service Lightweight Standoff Chemical Agent Detector) and other equipment (the vehicle designated as the NBC Recon Vehicle). Each one cost $7–8 million each, over twice what the older M93A1 NBCRS “Fox” cost (which it is replacing). We’re buying nearly 7000 Joint Chemical Agent Detectors, and more each year through the POM at about $4000 each. The CBDP spent years and more than $100 million developing BAE’s ChemSentry to be the JCAD before they gave up and went to Smith Detection’s Lightweight Chemical Detector as the candidate. Finally, the Joint “Light” NBC Recon System (it’s actually very heavy) is finally rolling out after a four-year delay. Seven Heavy HMMWVs and six LAVs will have the new equipment. Yes, it’s duplicative of the Stryker NBCRV but the Strykers can get built faster.

In individual protective equipment, lots of masks — 7122 Joint Service Aircrew Masks (JSAM) costing about $3000 each, and 18,248 disposable Joint Service Chemical Environment Survivability Mask (JSCESM)costing $130 each. The JSAM are for all fixed wing pilots, while the Air Force decided that the program needed to buy them a second mask (instead of using O&M funds as it should). The main program buy is 176,007 Joint Service General Purpose Masks (JSGPM), which will replace both the M40 and the older MCU2/P masks at a cost of $170 each. Overall, there isn’t a large improvement in capability, but it is slightly better than the two predecessor masks and it will offer one standard mask for all ground combatants.

Now the CBDP isn’t supposed to buy consumable items, but the services bullied OSD into ignoring the public law and buying them lots of JSLIST protective suits, boots and gloves ($39 million worth) and Joint Protective Aircrew Ensembles (JPACE). The ground suits cost about $250 a pop, while the aviator version cost twice that. That’s because aviators have to look good in protective suits, and they need pockets for their pens and sunglasses. In the vaccine area, the CBDP is procuring 1.43 million anthrax vaccine doses at about $26 each and 1.25 million smallpox vaccine doses at about $4 each. In a few years, DoD will be buying plague vaccine as well. It’s starting to get really expensive to buy these doses for the total force every year, and some are suggesting DOD procure vaccine doses for military dependents as well.

In the information systems, there are three products — Joint Effects Model (hazard prediction), Joint Warning and Reporting Network (the communication backbone), and Joint Operational Effects Federation (for data management). Most of the procurement funds are going to make CDs to send the first products out to the field. It’s amazingly small amounts of money ($14 million across all three products) for a “network-centric” military. Bottom line, the old-time CBDP people still focus on detectors and protective suits as the favored children over hazard prediction models.

The CBDP is continuing to buy Karcher decon systems as its Joint Service Transportable Decon System (Small Scale) — 338 systems at $24,ooo each, plus DF200 decontaminants. After the Army’s government-produced system M21/M22 Modular Decon System wasn’t accepted (and not deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom), it turned to industry for the solution. Again. In 2009, we might see the first buys of the Joint Service Sensitive Equipment Decon System — 52 systems at $80,000 a pop. These systems are way, way overdue, but critical if we’re ever to clean up after a CB warfare event.

The medics wanted collective protection for their field hospitals and forward aid stations, so they’re getting the Chemical Protective Deployable Medical System (CP DEPMEDS) for about $1.5 million each. The CB Protective System (CBPS), which is installed in medical HMMWVs, costs about $1.2 million each — we’re getting 21 systems in 2008. The Navy convinced OSD to give it money back in the late 1990s to install collective protection systems in its amphibious ships and hospital ships. Next year, the USS Makin Island will get its collective protection for only $10.5 million. The Navy keeps getting money for this purpose (for which it ought to be paying for itself) through FY 2009. No one else seems to value collective protection for fixed and semi-permenant sites, strangely enough.

I’m going on too long, but let me just note the PM Guardian’s fine efforts for installation protection. For the past year (and this year going through next year), the program’s been buying gear for the installation response teams. Each base gets eight DFU-200 air samplers, two chemical point detectors, three chemical agent monitors, six radiation detectors, and assorted other gear. In 2006, 50 bases received this gear. In 2007 they plan to drop this at 17 sites, and in 2008, at 15 sites more. So in 2008, we’re going to see 15 sites get a limited amount of CB defense gear, some comm connectivity, and exercises for $86.4 million. Read the description in the P-forms, and you’d never know what an insufficient capability is actually being provided. This isn’t a protection effort, it’s augmenting the response capability.

Hell of a program. But no one said that passive defense was at the top of any priority lists. “Combating WMD” means air and missile defense, special operations, and interdiction missions. My personal observation — field grade officers are making poor procurement decisions to which the general/flag officers pay little attention, because it benefits their respective services to do so (and I include the Army in this). They’re not going to change until there’s an actual attack and people die from CB weapons, and that’s the real shame of it all.

Jason Sigger, crossposted at Armchair Generalist

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Jbpd The Defense Department’s chem-bio defense budget (CBDP) only accounts for less than one percent of what the U.S. military spends. But there’s still a lot to pore over. I thought that I would give an overview today, talk about procurement tomorrow, and talk about RDT&E on Thursday. (Go to the Defense Department Comptroller’s web site for fiscal year 2008 and access the procurement and RDT&E programs, to find the appropriate documents.)

Overall, the DoD CBDP will obligate $1.63 billion dollars in FY 2008 against 40-odd acquisition projects and other efforts. That’s a bit less than one percent of the DoD modernization budget for that year. Breaking it down, the CBDP will spend:

  • $609.6 million for science and technology (37.4 percent)
  • $381.9 million for advanced research and development (23.5 percent)
  • $543.8 million for procurement (33.4 percent)
  • $93.6 million for management functions (5.7 percent)

The services were a bit snippy about this budget because of the spending pattern — R&D spending is twice that of procurement, which means they don’t get as many toys. It’s a trend that continues through the 2008–2013 Program Objective Memorandum (POM), which is the Pentagon’s five year spending plan. Part of this is because of Rumsfeld’s direction to “assume risk in the short term” in order to invest more in out-year future tech. The other part is because most, if not all, of the CB defense projects (detection in particular) have slipped their fielding dates by several years (for several reasons, most involving poor management), forcing a move of funds into R&D (lest they be taken away).

Medical biological countermeasures is the obvious favorite in the program this year (see breakout of funds by area here). You can thank the DOD vaccine program (anthrax and smallpox vaccine buys) and the Transformational Medical Technologies Initiative (TMTI) for that. The vaccine program is spending about $48 million in 2008, while TMTI is spending $248 million in tech base and $69 million in advanced R&D. Both programs’ costs will continue to climb through 2013. The TMTI is the latest “good idea” from OSD [Office of the Secretary of Defense], where DoD is basically sending a hell of a lot of money to industry to find “silver bullets” — a therapeutic that will address a broad range of BW threats, instead of a “single vaccine-single disease” approach.

This ambitious project is the latest Holy Grail for CBDP. In the late 1990s, the program promised free protective suits and vaccines for everyone. Then it was stand-off biological detection in 2000–2001. In 2002, OSD decided that every military base should have CB defense gear for antiterrorism, and threw a billion dollars at that problem. Now it’s the terrorist BW threat, combined with the worry of “genetically engineered” BW agents, that drives OSD’s “good idea” effort. Funny as in tragic. The installation protection effort started in 2004 (PM Guardian) got half its funds taken to kick-start TMTI, had to be reorganized, and is trying to get back on track. More on PM Guardian’s failures later.

We’re not going to see anything from TMTI for several years though. First, as a warning shot, Congress took $90 million of TMTI money from the DOD CBDP FY07 budget because there was no business plan other than “throw money at industry.” Now a plan has been put together, and they’re hiring lots of managers. But as with all medical research projects, and this one in particular, there’s not going to be a final product ready for FDA approval for six to ten years, if we’re lucky. But it’s really, really important! To OSD leadership, not the warfighter, mind you.

In general, the DOD CBDP priorities run like this — chem-bio detection, protective suits and masks, and medical biological countermeasures. The funds left over go to CB defense information systems, medical chemical countermeasures, collective protection systems and decontamination systems. This has been pretty much the same profile for both R&D and procurement since 1995, which is funny since both Gulf Wars (1991 and 2003) showed that our forces really have no effective CB defense information systems, collective protection, or decon capability for most of our operational units or fixed sites.

Test and evaluation efforts have recently been called out in a separate budget line. Nearly $67 million is going to projects to modernize test and evaluation capabilities at Dugway Proving Ground, Edgewood, Dahlgren, and other test sites. The aging test infrastructure was one reason why new CB defense equipment has been delayed. Hard to tell when — or if — this funding is going to get the projects back on schedule. Another $54 million in management funds goes to Dugway every year to pay for salaries and other T&E needs. Past CBDP management funds were kept down to 4 to 4.5 percent of the total program costs, but that’s bounced up to 5.8 percent (and rising) due to OSD deciding it’s going to spend more on studies and upgrading service laboratories. This management slice also doesn’t reflect the R&D funds spent at DTRA CB and the Joint Program Executive Office on managing projects directly.

More information can be found at the OSD office site in its annual report to Congress on CB defense.

UPDATE 02/14/07: Analysis from Dick Destiny.
Jason Sigger, crossposted at Armchair Generalist

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Med_Needle.jpgThe Washington Post has this article on the BioShield program. It’s a bit of a scorecard on the four-year old program, and the score doesn’t look good for homeland security. Let’s take a look, agent by agent.

  • Old Anthrax Treatment: “As the result of an effort that began before BioShield, there are enough antibiotics in the national stockpile to treat 40 million people for more than 60 days, HHS says. Stockpiles also include 9 million doses of an anthrax vaccine produced by Emergent BioSolutions of Gaithersburg, with another 1 million to be delivered by the first quarter of this year.” You might know “Emergent BioSolutions” better as BioPort — the controversial supplier of anthrax vaccine to the Defense Department.
  • New Anthrax Treatment: “The agency is struggling to develop a more modern anthrax vaccine that could be administered in fewer doses and with fewer side effects. In 2004, the agency tapped a small California firm, VaxGen, for an $877 million contract to deliver 75 million doses of an anthrax vaccine. VaxGen encountered delays and technical problems, and HHS canceled the contract in December after the firm failed to begin human testing on time.” VaxGen just laid off half its force and its CEO resigned.
  • Botulinum Antitoxin: “Cangene has begun delivering the first of 200,000 doses of an antitoxin, which would have to be delivered shortly after patients show symptoms to counteract the effects of the toxin. There are currently no plans to pursue a vaccine, according to HHS.” Bot tox is not really a mass casualty agent, more of an assassination tool. Not sure the victims will know what they have prior to… ah, dying. Not sure why this is even in the stockpile.
  • Smallpox:There is a stockpile of more than 300 million doses of smallpox vaccine, enough for everyone in the United States, according to HHS. That effort began before BioShield.” Good news — lots of vaccine. Bad news — this is the old smallpox vaccine, which has odds on killing people who take it. No work for a new smallpox vaccine is underway.
  • Potassium Iodide:Enough potassium iodide to treat 1 million people is already in the national stockpile, according to HHS. Potassium iodide doesn’t treat most aspects of radiation exposure, but scientists believe it can protect the thyroid gland from cancer in such an attack.” Great! Now we don’t have to worry about stunted growth! Does nothing for the rest of your irradiated body, though.
  • Plague and Ebola: “Despite President Bush’s mention of plague and Ebola in his State of the Union speech, the government has yet to contract with any company to produce a defense. HHS officials say the implementation plan to be issued in the next few months will include a roadmap to address both threats. Meanwhile, the National Institutes of Health is pursuing research on vaccines for both. NIH has completed the first phase of human testing for the Ebola version and is seeking volunteers for the second, according to an NIH official, who said it would be several years before it could be stockpiled.

So how’s your scorecard look? Four years ago, President Bush announced BioShield as key initiative of the “Biodefense Strategy for the 21st Century.” It took two years just to get the legislative language into shape. Four years later, we’re still not much better than we were before 9/11. The administration’s homeland security policy for medical biological countermeasures has failed.

Jason Sigger, crossposted at Armchair Generalist
UPDATE: I failed to consider the British company Acambis work on a new, safer smallpox vaccine. It’s in an IND status, not approved for general non-emergency use. I don’t think that the R&D work is being funded through BioShield, however. They’ve been working on the vaccine for several years, with a large international customer base in mind.

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And who wouldn’t love a seven-foot Amazonian woman leading the Female Furies to save the day? Oh, we’re not talking about the DC comics book character “Big BARDA”? It’s also the name of a new Department of Health and Human Service’s (DHHS) effort? Well, we can talk about that, too.
big_barda2.jpgLast Thursday, the Senate approved legislation within the “Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act” (S. 3678) to create a Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Agency (BARDA). This particular legislation has been in the works for about two years as Congress has tried to address industry gripes about Project BioShield, the DHHS effort intended to fastrack industry’s development and fielding of medical countermeasures used in the response to a terrorist CBRN incident.
The biggest challenge to the U.S. government has been to encourage industry to make drugs that may never be used, and if given out in large quantities during an emergency, may be misused or abused by the general public and/or panicky emergency responders. Big Pharma took a look at the risks, the liability insurance needed, and the profit margin, and said “no thanks, we’ll stick to curing male impotence issues.” However, little brother Pharma (the small start-up labs struggling to break out) said “give us an indemnification agreement against future liability suits and make it worth our while and we’ll talk.” In short, that’s what BARDA’s role will be.
The legislation is much more pretty-sounding. It says the DHHS Secretary will coordinate the acceleration of countermeasure and product advanced research and development by:

— facilitating collaboration between DHHS and other agencies, industry, academia, and other persons, with respect to such advanced research and development;
– promoting countermeasure and product advanced research and development;
– facilitating contacts between interested persons and the offices or employees authorized by the Secretary to advise such persons regarding requirements under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act; and
– promoting innovation to reduce the time and cost of countermeasure and product advanced research and development

The legislation also authorizes BARDA to execute a $1 billion budget, and it limits any disclosure of specific technical data or scientific information that is created or obtained during the countermeasure and product advanced research and development carried out under subsection © that reveals significant and not otherwise publicly known vulnerabilities of existing medical or public health defense against biological, chemical, nuclear, or radiological threats. That means FOIA or FACA requests would not apply to BARDA working groups or the National Biodefense Science Board.
That part is a little controversial, and was one of the main reasons why it’s taken Congress two years to actually try to improve Project BioShield. DHHS has awarded a few procurement contracts for anthrax vaccines, a botulinum toxin antiviral, and potassium iodide, but not much else. This legislation will enable BARDA to “help” industry through the long, expensive process of making other vaccines, ones that probably won’t have too much use outside of emergency response to the very low probability of bioterrorism incidents. Needless to say, industry loves this idea and can’t wait for the House to agree to the words and print this baby into law.

Passage by the U.S. Senate of this bill, which includes critical BARDA provisions and provisions to reauthorize bioterrorism grants, is an important and necessary step toward improving America’s defenses against bioterrorism and pandemic diseases.
This legislation recognizes that the ‘Valley of Death’ remains a barrier to effective countermeasure product development, and authorizes the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) within the Department of Health and Human Services. Through BARDA, contracts and grants for advanced research and development will be made to companies working on products to protect the American people. The bill also contains important contract reforms that improve upon the advances made under Project BioShield, by allowing, for example, milestone payments and surge capacity provisions to improve the viability and sustainability of biodefense product development and manufacture.
Significantly, the Senate-passed bill contains strong funding levels and important provisions to permit competing companies to cooperatively respond to government-declared emergencies without violating antitrust laws.

The “Valley of Death” refers to the time period between industry’s drug development and the FDA’s approval of the drug. The current BioShield legislation doesn’t award any federal funds until the industry firm is producing the actual approved drug, and the small pharma firms just don’t have the investments to make it that long. Thus, like a superhero racing to the rescue, comes Big BARDA!
- Jason Sigger

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North Korea’s newly-tested nuke is bad news, for sure. But the bigger worry, says Popular Mechanics is the “huge arsenal of mass casualty weapons” that Kim & Co. have been assembling for 45 years: biological and chemical arms.
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While it would be foolish not to be gravely concerned about North Korea’s purported development of an offensive nuclear capability, the actual threat for the foreseeable future is, arguably, minimal. North Korea’s threadbare economy (it has a GDP of $40 billion — compare that to California’s gross state product on $1.55 trillion per year) is incapable of maintaining an effective nuclear weapons program. Its nuclear science is at best second rate and, certainly, is second hand.
In contrast, as one North Korea expert explained to me, CBW is mass destruction on the cheap. “Biological and chemical weapons are very inexpensive, many, many times cheaper than nuclear.” Another expert gave this grim assessment: “The use of anthrax is a distinct possibility for this nation [North Korea]…“
The consensus among weapons inspectors, intelligence analysts, academics and others I have interviewedwhich is backed up by the available open source material-is that North Korea has developed anthrax, plague and botulism toxin as weapons and has extensively researched at least six other germs including smallpox and typhoid. It is also believed to have 5,000 tons or more of mustard gas, sarin nerve agent and phosgene (a choking gas). The Center for Nonproliferation Studies says North Korea ranks “amongst the largest possessors of chemical weaponry in the world.” South Korea’s military estimates half of North’s long-range missiles and 30 percent of its artillery are CBW capable…
Yet the West’s myopic obsession with North Korea’s nuclear efforts has allowed this far more real and equally lethal threat to escape into the shadows: a WMD program, backed by in excess of 13,000 specially trained troops, capable of devastating its southern neighbor, attacking U.S. troops in Asia and disrupting the regional economy in ways that could see the U.S. and other western nations plunged into crisis.
Yes, the new [United Nations] resolution 1718(2006) includes a reference to biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction, but only as an afterthought, and the resolution exists only because of the nukes and their perceived threat. Unfortunately, in this case, as with others, the world is overly focused on a potential retina-searing nuclear detonation, without properly appreciating the very clear-and-present CBW killer that exists just a virtual button’s push away from Kim Jong Il’s perfectly manicured fingernails.

If the whole thing sounds a little hysterical to you, chem-bio guru Jason Sigger says: get real. The story is “100 percent right in regards to N. Korea. And you can extend that argument to China, Iran, Syria, Israel, Pakistan, and India, and potentially in the near future (because of Iran), Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and others.”

Seriously, I see this all the time in the “combating WMD” community. The arms control and counterproliferation people talk “WMD” but the subtext is “nuke.” Even the majority of the consequence management tasks are now “dirty bomb” or “improvised nuclear device” scenarios… [the] mentality is [that] nukes are the only thing that can drastically affect US military power in any region of the world.

But there are other threats, too.

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This story about “Project BioShield,” the government’s botched effort to build up a vaccine supply against anthrax and other bioterror threats, is a nice wrap-up of one of the administration’s most troubled homeland security efforts (and that’s saying a lot). But the story also kind of misses, or at least sidesteps, the point.
anthrax_capitol.jpgSince it was introduced in 2003, the core of the BioShield program has been a slow-motion trainwreck. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent to get this new supply of vaccine — with few results to show for it.
But the real tragedy may be in the billions of research dollars BioShield is twisting around. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) is now spending “$1.7 billion on biodefense — up from just $42 million in 2001 — out of a $4.3 billion budget,” Time noted earlier in the year. That’s to fight bioagents which are really, really hard to turn into weapons — and even when they are weaponized, don’t kill all that many. Remember the 2001 anthrax attack? Five people dead. “Compare that to a real biological killer, like tuberculosis,” I suggested in a 2003 Tech Central Station article.

It ends the life of more than 2 million people every year. But the federal government is “luring researchers away” from scientific research into TB and other infections of mass destruction, notes… the Federation of American Scientists.
UCLA’s Dr. Marcus Howritz was “on the cusp of real progress” in developing a better TB vaccine… Now he’s been diverted into working on a barely-lethal biological agent.
Nancy Connell, who heads a Pentagon-funded bio-defense lab in Newark, NJ, doesn’t think a biological strike is all that likely. But she takes grants to study smallpox and anthrax, because she can use the same research funds to work on flu and TB, which “actually do kill people,” she notes.

But the redirection of resources may not be the worst part. It’s where all this semi-questionable research is happening that’s truly spooky. The government is funding the construction of a bazillion new “hot zone” labs, packed with the deadliest of biothreats. And it’s these labs that are the most likely sources of an outbreak. Because safety at these places ain’t exactly iron-clad. Three Boston University lab workers were infected with tularemia, or rabbit fever, back in January, 2005. Nine months later, plague-ridden mice escaped from Connell’s lab in New Jersey. Thanks, BioShield.

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mobile lab.jpgOkay, just when you thought that the whole Curveball-Iraqi biological weapons story couldn’t get any weirder, it does. Milton Leitenberg of the Center for International Security Studies has provided me with the exclusive third (and last) part of the story behind the story of the alleged Iraqi mobile biological warfare labs. In Part 1, he revealed that in 2001 the U.S. government had fabricated a “mobile BW lab” for the purposes of training SOCOM operatives on how to identify and exploit an adversary’s BW production facility. In Part 2, Leitenberg discusses how a U.S. contractor developed the now infamous graphics of an Iraqi mobile BW lab — not based on any existing mobile BW lab or any hard intel from Curveball, but rather based on “the processes he [Curveball] described,” which were “assessed by an independent laboratory as workable engineering designs.“
In Part 3, Leitenberg completes the full riddle inside the enigma within a mystery. It may be that we can trace back the idea of a mobile BW laboratory to Scott Ritter during his tour of duty in Iraq in 1998 with UNSCOM. Ritter was trying to obtain information from the Iraqi National Congress, specifically on Iraq’s intelligence agencies and WMD program. In 1998, he talked to Ahmed Chalabi about his suspicion that Saddam may have had mobile chemical or biological weapons labs, which would explain the UNSCOM’s lack of success in finding any evidence. In late 1999–2000, Curveball — the brother of a top lieutenant to Ahmed Chalabi — starts talking to the German intelligence about mobile Iraqi BW labs, who forwards this information to the CIA. At the same time, Chalabi is talking to Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Feith about the danger of Iraq’s “WMD program.“
So here we have a rumor started by a former U.S. marine supporting a UN inspection team, where he passes the idea to Chalabi, who passes it to German intel and U.S. defense officials, both of whom pass the story to the CIA. The agency develops graphics drawn by a U.S. contractor based on Curveball’s story and might have known of the mock-up BW lab built for SOCOM, both of which “confirms” the concept that Iraqi mobile BW labs exist, which leads to SecState Powell’s speech at the UN in February 2003 and the media’s echo chamber agreeing with the president that there’s enough evidence to go to war against Iraq.
And as a bonus at the end of this short paper, Leitenberg reveals that Scott Ritter was pulled into a British intelligence op called “Operation Mass Appeal” run by MI6 in 1997. The purpose of “Operation Mass Appeal” was to leak weak and not “actionable” data about Iraq’s WMD program to the media, who would fall upon it like hungry wolves and keep alive the public impression that Saddam had an active WMD program, despite the lack of official government endorsement. Leitenberg notes that the disinformation operation functioned similar to the DOD Office of Special Plans, but didn’t involve disinformation regarding the Iraqi mobile BW production vehicles.
Call George Clooney. I’ve got his next movie plot all ready.
Jason Sigger, crossposted at Armchair Generalist

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