After almost three years of waiting, we now know the preferred location of the much sought after federal biotech prize the NBAF. On Friday the Department of Homeland Security confirmed what the Associated Press leaked on Wednesday. Manhattan, Kansas was chosen as the “Preferred Alternative” to host the world’s largest BSL4 Agricultural facility. With the facility comes the claims of an economic boom with the influx of construction jobs, state and federal taxes, federal grants and last but not least research prestige. The official announcement was made as a delegation of Kansas Politicos waltzed one by one toward the mic to express their glee on the “historic opportunity“. Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius said “Very few people on their Christmas list had NBAF in their Santa Clause letter”, “I did,” she said “What do you want for Christmas”? “NBAF”.
Only hours before Sebelius’ Christmas wish was granted, a new report released from a congressionally ordered bi-partisan commission went virtually unnoticed. The report “World at Risk“, The Report of the Commission on the Prevention of WMD Proliferation and Terrorism offered more somber warnings concerning the U.S. proliferation of bio-containment facilities. In part, “The Commission further believes that terrorists are more likely to be able to obtain and use a biological weapon than a nuclear weapon. The Commission believes that the U.S. government needs to move more aggressively to limit the proliferation of biological weapons and reduce the prospect of a bioterror attack.”. In essence the report”s message takes aim at the current rapid proliferation of BSL3 and BSL4 bio-containment facilities, potential dangers related to the U.S. bio-defense expansion and the methodology used by the Bush Administration’s, U.S. bio-defense complex which encompasses the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) plans and it’s rational for the NBAF.
The commission examined the likely hood a scientist could “cross the line” and become a “turn-coat” for a terrorist organization or become another threat like ” Bruce Ivins”. In August of this year that new type of threat presented itself. Remember Aafia Siddique, she is a very well (U.S.) educated member of al-Qaeda.” She was born in Karachi, Pakistan and came to American in 1990 by all accounts she was a productive citizen. She attended and graduated from MIT and she is also a Brandeis alumna. When she was arrested in Afghanistan, Siddique allegedly had in her possession maps of New York, a list of potential targets that included the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, the subway system and the animal disease center on Plum Island, detailed chemical, biological and radiological weapon information that has previously been seen only in a handful of terrorist cases. DHS maintains the NBAF will not be a potential terrorist target.
(About the video – ABC news coverage of the arrest and capture of Aafia Siddique.)
Now, consider this excerpt from a recent American Scientific piece by By John Dudley Miller “Postal Anthrax Aftermath: Has Biodefense Spending Made Us Safer“?
In an opinion that echoes those of several public health scientists, Keith Rhodes, the Government Accountability Office’s chief technologist, told a congressional hearing in October 2007 that “we are at greater risk today” than before of an infectious disease epidemic because of the great increase in bio laboratories and the absence of oversight they receive. In the past six years, says Rutgers University microbiologist Richard Ebright, “the Bush administration has driven a 20- to 30-fold increase in the number of institutions and individuals with access to live, virulent bio-weapons agents,” to about 400 institutions and 15,000 people. Every one of them, he claims, “is a potential source of an attack like the 2001 attack.” Even before the expansion, some 100 scientists had access to the anthrax strain Ivins managed. Moreover, huge growth “multiplies the chance of an accidental release,” argues Hillel Cohen, an epidemiologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.