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By DAVID DISHNEAU
Associated Press Writer

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) - The author of a 1989 federal law that criminalized the development of biological weapons says the government's plan to genetically engineer viruses and bacteria at Fort Detrick in order to create deadlier organisms for defensive research is illegal.

Francis A. Boyle, a University of Illinois international law professor with a history of opposing U.S. biodefense and nuclear weapons programs, filed his comments Thursday with Fort Detrick officials who are completing an environmental review of a proposed laboratory to replace the existing U.S. Military Institute of Infectious Diseases. The new USAMRIID would be part of a planned, multi-agency biodefense campus at the military installation.

The Army maintains that its research at Fort Detrick has been, and will continue to be, solely defensive in nature.

Boyle wrote that the planned lab is an integral part of a federal biodefense program that violates the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, an international agreement ratified by the United States in 1975.

Boyle says participants in the program would be subject to criminal penalties under the Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989, which he drafted and which was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1990.

Specifically, Boyle wrote that the work at Fort Detrick "will include acquiring, growing, modifying, storing, packaging and dispersing classical, emerging and genetically engineered pathogens." Such activities, along with expected research on the pathogens' weaponized properties, "are unmistakable hallmarks of an offensive weapons program," Boyle wrote.

USAMRIID Commander Col. George Korch Jr., said in 2004 that the government might genetically engineer organisms at Fort Detrick to make them deadlier to ensure that U.S. defenses would be effective against the most dangerous pathogens. Korch, then deputy director of a Department of Homeland Security center that is also part of the planned biodefense campus, said the research could include developing aerosols containing deadly germs and new methods of delivering biological warfare agents.

Some arms control advocates also have warned that work planned at the biodefense campus may violate the Biological Weapons Convention and encourage other countries to follow suit.

But the Army says all work at USAMRIID would comply with the international agreement and the federal law. Both allow for development, production and stockpiling of small amounts of pathogens for defensive, protective or other peaceful purposes, Army officials said.

Julie Fischer, a senior analyst at the Henry L. Stimson Center, a Washington think tank devoted to international peace and security, said the dispute points to a need for government openness about the research it conducts at the biodefense campus. Secrecy would feed skepticism about the nature of the work, she said.

"The less that is shared about what is going on at a research facility, the more the people living around it tend to fear the potential impact on their community," Fischer said.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

By DAVID DISHNEAU
Associated Press Writer

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) - The author of a 1989 federal law that criminalized the development of biological weapons says the government's plan to genetically engineer viruses and bacteria at Fort Detrick in order to create deadlier organisms for defensive research is illegal.

Francis A. Boyle, a University of Illinois international law professor with a history of opposing U.S. biodefense and nuclear weapons programs, filed his comments Thursday with Fort Detrick officials who are completing an environmental review of a proposed laboratory to replace the existing U.S. Military Institute of Infectious Diseases. The new USAMRIID would be part of a planned, multi-agency biodefense campus at the military installation.

The Army maintains that its research at Fort Detrick has been, and will continue to be, solely defensive in nature.

Boyle wrote that the planned lab is an integral part of a federal biodefense program that violates the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, an international agreement ratified by the United States in 1975.

Boyle says participants in the program would be subject to criminal penalties under the Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989, which he drafted and which was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1990.

Specifically, Boyle wrote that the work at Fort Detrick "will include acquiring, growing, modifying, storing, packaging and dispersing classical, emerging and genetically engineered pathogens." Such activities, along with expected research on the pathogens' weaponized properties, "are unmistakable hallmarks of an offensive weapons program," Boyle wrote.

USAMRIID Commander Col. George Korch Jr., said in 2004 that the government might genetically engineer organisms at Fort Detrick to make them deadlier to ensure that U.S. defenses would be effective against the most dangerous pathogens. Korch, then deputy director of a Department of Homeland Security center that is also part of the planned biodefense campus, said the research could include developing aerosols containing deadly germs and new methods of delivering biological warfare agents.

Some arms control advocates also have warned that work planned at the biodefense campus may violate the Biological Weapons Convention and encourage other countries to follow suit.

But the Army says all work at USAMRIID would comply with the international agreement and the federal law. Both allow for development, production and stockpiling of small amounts of pathogens for defensive, protective or other peaceful purposes, Army officials said.

Julie Fischer, a senior analyst at the Henry L. Stimson Center, a Washington think tank devoted to international peace and security, said the dispute points to a need for government openness about the research it conducts at the biodefense campus. Secrecy would feed skepticism about the nature of the work, she said.

"The less that is shared about what is going on at a research facility, the more the people living around it tend to fear the potential impact on their community," Fischer said.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

 

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