Biotech Breakthroughs May Put Chemical Arms in Easier Reach

A damaged microscope seen in a Gaza Strip laboratory caught in crossfire between Palestinian fighters in 2007. An international panel said it is still impossible to fully determine how future technologies may make chemical-warfare materials easier to produce and harder to regulate.
National Journal
Diane Barnes
July 3, 2014, 7:28 a.m.

An in­ter­na­tion­al team wants to closely watch how fu­ture tech­no­lo­gies could make the world’s dead­li­est pois­ons easi­er to pro­duce and harder to reg­u­late.

It is still im­possible to know how an ar­ray of emer­ging tech­no­lo­gies — such as cus­tom-built pro­teins and mi­cro­scop­ic con­tain­ers — will af­fect cap­ab­il­it­ies to man­u­fac­ture and de­liv­er leth­al chem­ic­als banned un­der in­ter­na­tion­al law, sci­entif­ic ad­visers to the Or­gan­iz­a­tion for the Pro­hib­i­tion of Chem­ic­al Weapons said in a new as­sess­ment.

In­ter­na­tion­al au­thor­it­ies should con­tin­ue mon­it­or­ing the po­ten­tial of bi­o­tech­no­logy to af­fect en­force­ment of the Chem­ic­al Weapons Con­ven­tion, even though de­vel­op­ments rel­ev­ant to the pro­duc­tion of banned chem­ic­al agents “are cur­rently lim­ited,” says the fi­nal re­port by a work­ing group of the OP­CW Sci­entif­ic Ad­vis­ory Board.

Des­pite the field’s present lim­it­a­tions, “bio­medi­ated pro­cesses might still be ef­fect­ive for pro­du­cing weapon­iz­able quant­it­ies of tox­ins that are leth­al,” the re­port warns. “New pro­duc­tion pro­cesses, com­bined with de­vel­op­ments in drug dis­cov­ery and de­liv­ery, could be ex­ploited in the de­vel­op­ment of new tox­ic chem­ic­als that could be used as weapons.”

The pan­el ad­ded that the agency’s man­date hems in its en­force­ment au­thor­ity, po­ten­tially com­plic­at­ing any glob­al ef­fort to over­see bio­lo­gic­al in­nov­a­tions that fall in a gray area of in­ter­na­tion­al law.

The Chem­ic­al Weapons Con­ven­tion may not re­quire mem­ber na­tions to re­port “many fa­cil­it­ies tak­ing ad­vant­age of bio­lo­gic­ally me­di­ated pro­duc­tion pro­cesses,” the ad­vis­ory pan­el said in its re­port. The group ad­ded that the treaty ex­empts nu­mer­ous activ­it­ies that “may be sci­en­tific­ally jus­ti­fied” for peace­ful pur­poses, such as pro­du­cing bio­fuel or al­co­hol­ic drinks.

The re­port also calls for routine con­sulta­tions with of­fi­cials re­spons­ible for over­see­ing a sep­ar­ate in­ter­na­tion­al ban on bio­lo­gic­al arms. OP­CW Dir­ect­or Gen­er­al Ah­met Üzüm­cü three years ago dir­ec­ted his agency’s sci­entif­ic ad­visers to con­sider how the or­gan­iz­a­tion’s en­force­ment tasks may be af­fected by the on­go­ing “con­ver­gence” of chem­ic­al and bio­lo­gic­al sci­ences.

The pan­el ad­vised Üzüm­cü to dis­cuss con­ver­gence is­sues with over­seers of the Bio­lo­gic­al Weapons Con­ven­tion.

What We're Following See More »
Holder: Snowden Performed a Public Service
1 hours ago

Former Attorney General Eric Holder said that NSA leaker Edward Snowden "actually performed a public service by raising the debate that we engaged in and by the changes that we made" by releasing information about government surveillance. Holder, a guest on David Axelrod's "Axe Files" podcast, also said Snowden endangered American interests and should face consequences for his actions. 

Bernie Hits Game 7
1 hours ago

Sen. Bernie Sanders, needing an improbable comeback to take the nomination from Hillary Clinton, showed up to the Warriors' Game 7 in Oakland during a break in California campaigning. "Let's turn this thing around," he told the San Francisco Chronicle's Joe Garofoli.

Trump Won’t Debate Sanders After All
3 days ago

Trump, in a statement: “Based on the fact that the Democratic nominating process is totally rigged and Crooked Hillary Clinton and Deborah Wasserman Schultz will not allow Bernie Sanders to win, and now that I am the presumptive Republican nominee, it seems inappropriate that I would debate the second place finisher. ... I will wait to debate the first place finisher in the Democratic Party, probably Crooked Hillary Clinton, or whoever it may be.”

UAW: Time to Unite Behind Hillary
4 days ago

"It's about time for unity," said UAW President Dennis Williams. "We're endorsing Hillary Clinton. She's gotten 3 million more votes than Bernie, a million more votes than Donald Trump. She's our nominee." He called Sanders "a great friend of the UAW" while saying Trump "does not support the economic security of UAW families." Some 28 percent of UAW members indicated their support for Trump in an internal survey.

Trump Clinches Enough Delegates for the Nomination
4 days ago

"Donald Trump on Thursday reached the number of delegates needed to clinch the Republican nomination for president, completing an unlikely rise that has upended the political landscape and sets the stage for a bitter fall campaign. Trump was put over the top in the Associated Press delegate count by a small number of the party's unbound delegates who told the AP they would support him at the convention."