February 26, 2008

 Jamie Johnson Director,

 Office of National Labs Department of Homeland Security Washington, DC

Re: National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) proposed Athens, GA location

Dear Mr. Johnson:

I appreciate that you have a difficult, perhaps daunting, job. It is probably an understatement to say that your having to oversee the NBAF site selection process and the ultimate development of what likely would be the world’s largest BSL-3 and BSL-4 laboratory, a facility which would experiment, perhaps on an unprecedented scale, with some of the world’s deadliest and most virulent pathogens on large animals, while at the same time having to assure reluctant residents of the targeted communities that such a facility would make a benign and beneficial neighbor – which neither degrades the environment nor poses a risk to public health or safety – can’t be easy.

The purpose of this letter is to suggest how to make your load a little lighter, make your work a bit easier. It’s simple: Take Athens, GA, off the short list of potential NBAF sites.

As I mentioned during our brief visit before the DHS-sponsored meeting in Athens on Feb. 19, most informed citizens of Athens and surrounding communities do not want NBAF (or anything like it) in their midst, so close to one of our scarce water sources, the Oconee River, our Botanical Garden, our schools, churches and neighborhoods. The DHS site selection process is seriously flawed, as is the DHS community comment process.

DHS claims the public comment period is over, but you are just now coming to our community to host a public forum and answer questions about NBAF. Then, when we ask questions, as we did on Feb. 19, we do not get definitive answers. Instead, we get mere speculations about what NBAF would bring to Athens, with comparisons to Plum Island when those comparisons are favorable, and non-specific statements about the safety of new technology (presumably superior to Plum Island’s) when those comparisons are unfavorable. Just now the community is learning that NBAF was invited to Athens without community or community government input. Just now the community is learning about the environmental hazards and potential health risks NBAF will bring to town. And now DHS refuses to formally consider our comments and questions for the record. This is wrong. FAQ, Inc. (“For Athens Quality-of-life”) requests that you re-open the public comment period for the record, and that DHS specifically include in the public record a copy of the video of the Feb. 19 meeting, along with copies of the unedited versions of the written questions from the community that were selected to be asked, as well as copies of all those questions that were not selected to be asked, or answered, at that meeting.

Community Acceptance

We know that “community acceptance” is an important component of what DHS must consider when making its final choice for the NBAF site. Regardless of what may have been represented to DHS in its dealings with the Georgia consortium, “community acceptance” has not been achieved, or even sought, by those who are promoting NBAF for Athens. Further, our mayor’s letter of recommendation given in March 2006, the only apparent indicia of community acceptance in the Georgia consortium’s proposal to locate (all other letters of recommendation were from persons or entities with a financial or other “stake” in NBAF being located in Athens), was a “freelance” undertaking by her without formal action by the Athens-Clarke County Commission or any public forum. Thus, her letter was not a valid indication of community acceptance.

The Georgia proposal to locate was submitted before any information about NBAF had been made available to the public other than a misleading, puffed-up February 2006 press release from the Georgia Governor’s office that contained wildly exaggerated claims of economic impact (up to $6 billion over 20 years). That exaggeration, touted by UGA officials for over 18 months, was pure wishful thinking. The belated launch of the UGA/ NBAF website in February 2007 further touted the exaggerated economic claims until September 2007, when my wife, Kathy Prescott, and I met with David Lee of UGA (along with other representatives of UGA). At that meeting we asked for the assumptions upon which such remarkable numbers were based. A new report was then hastily prepared by UGA’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government that projected not $6 billion, but $1.5 billion over 20 years. It was not until January 2008, after more urging from us, that UGA published the report on its website and quietly explained that the earlier projected figures were based on “best guesses” made in 2006, when they allegedly had no DHS-provided information (although the DHS-provided information which UGA waited 18 months to use in its economic projections had been available to UGA since February 2006 – we have a dated copy of its being furnished to UGA). Further, we have recently learned from experts FAQ has consulted that the economic model used to predict even the lesser economic estimate published by UGA late last year leaves out many important factors necessary to be a legitimate predictor of economic impact.

 

During my time as an enforcement lawyer in Washington, DC, with the Securities and Exchange Commission, such gross misrepresentations in connection with the sale of a security would have warranted a criminal prosecution. After 38 years policing clients’ disclosures as a securities and corporate lawyer, I am frankly astonished that the continuous misrepresentation and manipulation of material facts regarding something as serious as a huge, potentially deadly bio-terror laboratory would be considered proper tactics by its proponents in furthering the agendas of UGA and/ or DHS. A deceit is a deceit, for whatever purpose, and deceitfulness is made worse when committed by those in whom we have been conditioned to place our trust – such as a vice president of a university, or an official of a federal agency. NBAF could turn out to be a far more dangerous lemon than your typically oversold and overrated used car.

All the Information

Because of the disingenuous information being published by UGA and DHS about NBAF, my wife and I undertook to research the NBAF story on our own. Ultimately, we became so disillusioned at the lack of candor and the manipulation of information on the UGA/ NBAF website and in the media, that in late 2007, we founded FAQ, Inc. FAQ’s initial purpose was to inform the uninformed, or badly informed, Athens community of the true complexity of the issues that surround NBAF, issues that UGA and DHS had been unable or unwilling to answer in a forthright manner. Even the answers that were given by UGA and DHS often changed over time as, to use UGA’s terminology, DHS “refined” its concept of NBAF. The more the people became aware of what NBAF was really all about, the more the community became informed, then the more we became convinced in our opposition to NBAF. Our opposition has been further provoked by learning that the actual community had been excluded by the Georgia consortium from the NBAF invitation process, even though DHS named “community acceptance” as on of DHS’s four principal criteria for locating NBAF.

In my personal conversation with you last Tuesday night [Feb. 19], I confirmed that FAQ and the grassroots community have prepared, and are poised for, a vigorous and unrelenting fight by all legal means to prevent NBAF from being imposed upon the community of Athens. It is imperative that DHS follow the letter of the law in reviewing the impacts this facility will have on Athens. All citizens’ concerns must be heard by DHS, and thoroughly evaluated and reviewed on the record by the appropriate DHS officials in compliance with all applicable laws.

I did enjoy the brief visit with you on Feb. 19, and I respect you as a person and for your service to our government. But I hope you will take seriously our resolve to keep NBAF away from Athens. If the EIS is done properly, I know you will find that there will be serious adverse environmental impacts from the construction and operation of the facility in Athens, and that there is the potential for devastating impacts, in terms of animal health, human health and economics, from the possible spread of foreign animal diseases from this facility. If the EIS is not done properly and fails to lead NBAF away from our fair city, please be aware that we will take all lawful necessary actions in response.

Sincerely,

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