Pentagon to Develop Anthrax
Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2001
WASHINGTON - The Pentagon Tuesday acknowledged that the Defense Intelligence Agency intended to develop a new strain of anthrax it fears could be used against the U.S. military and against which a controversial anthrax vaccine might not work.
The DIA has not yet developed the strain, intended for study only, but is likely to receive the green light to begin within a month, the New York Times reported Tuesday.
The White House's desire to push ahead with the so-called Jefferson Project and two other secret biological weapons study programs is a primary reason it refused to sign the enforcement protocols this summer for the Biological Weapons convention, according to the Times. The protocols would allow any signatory to inspect the biological weapon facilities of any other member, an eventuality the White House feared would reveal the United States' greatest vulnerabilities.
On Tuesday, at her first news conference as assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, Victoria Clarke defended the Pentagon's efforts to keep the initiatives secret.
"The purpose is to protect men and women in uniform from what we see is a real and growing threat," she said. "The less information we give to them [potential adversaries] the better."
Clarke said the DIA was studying the legality of developing the strain but believed the Biological Weapons Convention poses no road blocks.
She said no work was going on now and said the United States had not yet received the new anthrax strain it requested from Russia.
Although Soviet scientists developed the strain of the fatal disease, its existence was first reported in 1997 by the journal Vaccine, said Clarke.
The United States signed the BWC under President Richard Nixon and abandoned its germ warfare program in 1969.
Clarke insisted that the work would be compliant with the BWC, as that treaty allows members to do purely defensive work.
In this case, the research and development would be used to determine whether the controversial anthrax vaccine being administrated to U.S. troops is effective against the strain.
The Pentagon still does not have a reliable producer of the vaccine and has repeatedly narrowed the population to which it administers its waning doses. Some service members, concerned about side effects, have refused the vaccine and have been discharged for refusing a direct order.
The government has two other known programs. One, run by the CIA, is known as "Clear Vision." Also begun in 1997, its purpose is to build a small bomb similar to one the Soviets developed to deliver the biological agent. The CIA hopes to determine whether that delivery means is effective, according to the Times.
Another, a factory run by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency in Nevada, uses only commercially available equipment and commercial biological agents to develop mock biological weapons. That program seeks to determine how easy it is to make such weapons without special equipment.
Copyright 2001 by United Press International.
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