The Pentagon Fact Sheet on the Ukrainian Biolabs: A Closer Examination
This post evaluates the Pentagon Fact Sheet (PFS) based on established scholarship, generally reliable media sources, and prior DoD statements. It also provides historical context for the PFS.
On 11 March 2022, the USA Department of Defense (DoD) released a “FACT SHEET: The Department of Defense’s Cooperative Threat Reduction Program — Biological Threat Reduction Program Activities in Ukraine." Hereafter referred to the Pentagon Fact Sheet.
This post will evaluate the Pentagon Fact Sheet based on established scholarship, media sources that previously were considered reliable, and prior DoD statements. An evaluation is desirable if not necessary because the USA government at the highest levels has lied to us before on the topics of biological weapons and biological weapons development.
These acts of falsehood are also a matter of established scholarship, known and widely accepted history — not conspiracy. So regretfully, we cannot simply accept at face value any claims our government makes regarding bioweapons. We will review two major instances of deception. But first, let us establish some context for the Pentagon Fact Sheet.
Context for the Pentagon Fact Sheet
The Pentagon Fact Sheet was issued three days after Victoria Nuland, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, testified before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In the final minutes of the hearing on 8 March 2022, Senator Marco Rubio (FL) asked dismissively if Ukraine had biological or chemical weapons.
Senator Rubio’s purpose seemingly was to debunk Russian and now also Chinese claims about the USA supporting biolabs in Ukraine and elsewhere which contained bioterrorism-level pathogens. For several weeks prior, the USA mainstream media and a horde of social media fact-checkers — many of them self-appointed — had a strong chorus going which denounced any such claims as Russian and Chinese propaganda and dis-mis-mal information. Pundit and fact-checker consensus. (Glenn Greenwald has the receipts here and here). Case closed.
But rather than answering Senator Rubio with a flat denial, Victoria Nuland clarified:
Ukraine has biological research facilities which in fact we are quite concerned Russian troops, Russian forces, may be seeking to gain control of, so we are working with the Ukrainians on how they can prevent any of those research materials from falling into the hands of Russian forces should they approach.
Yes, Ukraine has USA-supported biolabs which contain dangerous pathogens. In truth, this was NOT classified information: but Nuland’s admission came as a shock to many people given the previous MSM consensus.
The Russian News Agency TASS Responds
On 9 March 2022, the Russian News Agency TASS claimed:
Documents were obtained from employees of Ukrainian biological laboratories about emergency disposal of particularly dangerous pathogens of plague, anthrax, tularemia, cholera and other deadly diseases, carried out on February 24. In particular, we are talking about the Ukrainian Health Ministry order on prompt disposal of all stockpiles of dangerous pathogens, sent to all bio laboratories.
We evaluated this claim in a prior post, and found the specifics of it highly plausible. In fact, the debate is not over whether the pathogens existed: this is now beyond dispute.
The debate is over whether the pathogens should be categorized under the Biological Weapons Convention (1975) as either legitimate research materials or as bioweapons. The secondary concern is whether or not such a collection of biological materials amounts to a “stockpile” since the the “stockpiling” of potential “biological and toxin weapons” is likewise forbidden. An amount greater than necessary for research purposes could be construed as proof of violation.
The White House and Department of State Respond
Also on 9 March 2022, in response to the Russian claims, the USA White House and State Department issued denials. The USA and Ukraine have no bioweapons, were not developing bioweapons, and are in full agreement with the Biological Weapons Convention (1975).
Regarding the USA rebuttals, please note that the TASS statement referred to (a) “dangerous pathogens” and not (b) finished bioweapon products per se. More on this distinction later, as these (a & b) under treaty are NOT direct equivalents. Even if de facto equivalents, “dangerous pathogens” and finished bioweapons products are not de jure equivalents. (De facto: empirically; or, for all practical purposes. De jure: legally; technically under an existing agreement, contract, or relevant legislation).
So, yes, USA and Russia are arguing in part over what constitutes a stockpile. The existence of “dangerous pathogens” is not being disputed — only that such biological material is being used for “prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes” as under the agreement.
The acknowledged “dangerous pathogens” — even if not finished bioweapon products — do NOT require additional processing to present a lethal biohazard. The biohazard presented by finished bioweapon products will scale much faster outside containment — but the biohazard presented by “research materials” still requires the highest levels of laboratory safety and security: BSL-3 and BSL-4. (Defined later below).
Tulsi Gabbard Calls for a Cease-Fire to Implement Bio-Security
The Ukraine biolabs controversy gained additional public and media attention when Tulsi Gabbard on 13 March 2022 called upon Russia and Ukraine to implement an immediate cease-fire so that the pathogens could be secured. Please note well: this was two days AFTER the Pentagon Fact Sheet was issued on 11 March 2022.
The Pentagon Fact Sheet asserted that the USA under DTRA has “invested approximately $200 million in Ukraine since 2005, supporting 46 Ukrainian laboratories, health facilities, and diagnostic sites” and has worked with Ukraine to “increase biosecurity and biosafety at these sites to ensure pathogens do not pose a risk to the people of Ukraine or the region.”
Biolabs? Yes, reconfirmed on 11 March 2022. Pathogens present? Yes, reconfirmed on 11 March 2022. No state secrets revealed by Tulsi Gabbard on 13 March 2022. Prior to the Pentagon Fact Sheet, we still had publicly available a wealth of scholarship, other US government publications, and respected journalistic sources: some of which was discussed by American Exile in a prior post.
But Senator Mitt Romney — and a horde of MSM commentators and their greater horde of social media enforcers — publicly denounced Tulsi Gabbard as a treasonous liar spreading Russian propaganda. Evidently, Senator Romney could not bother checking first with the Pentagon. Learning some basic facts. Call his behavior what it was: asinine, inexcusable, and legally actionable.
So we have at least one high-ranking government official, a majority of MSM commentators on the matter, and hordes of social media enforcers on the same: all of whom had no knowledge of the issues nor any desire to learn. Instead, they vilified a USA military veteran who — exercising her First Amendment rights — called for a Russian-Ukrainian cease-fire to prevent a potential lethal biohazard outbreak and possible pandemic.
And this robust demonstration of ignorance, arrogance, and incompetence shown by the critics of Tulsi Gabbard here is what now masquerades for moral righteousness in the USA. Sad and troubled times, indeed. (Please see Glenn Greenwald’s commentary on the same).
Trust, but Verify
Or, Why We Cannot Simply Accept the PFS as Fully Correct and True
Spoiler alert: based upon established scholarship and related credible resources, from what we can determine the Pentagon Fact Sheet gets reasonably high marks for the purely factual content. The framing of the facts and the interpretative content, far more questionable matters.
Caution still advised. Again, on the topic of bioweapons, the USA government at the highest levels has previously lied to us the American people, and to the world. Let us sadly review two instances, and then turn our attention to the Pentagon Fact Sheet.
The Mobile Biolabs in Iraq that Were Not
0n 5 February 2003, Colin Powell, USA Secretary of State, stood before the UN Security Council and addressed the global public. Saddam Hussein of Iraq had mobile biolabs which can “produce anthrax and botulism toxin” — “enough dry biological agent in a single month to kill thousands upon thousands of people.” Terrifying. Powell shared the following representation (image to the left, below):
Just earlier in his presentation, to highlight the dangers of anthrax, Powell held up a small vial filled with white powder (image to the right, above) and explained
this is just about the amount of a teaspoon — less than a teaspoon full of dry anthrax in an envelope shutdown the United States Senate in the fall of 2001. This forced several hundred people to undergo emergency medical treatment and killed two postal workers just from an amount just about this quantity that was inside of an envelope. [ref]
True enough as it goes. But the anthrax (Bacillus anthracis) used in those 2001 attacks was the Ames strain, and came from a USA biodefense lab at Fort Detrick, Maryland. Powell did not know that yet — to the best of our knowledge. He was working from a script vetted by both the Pentagon and the CIA. His presentation connected the anthrax to the “Mobile Production Facilities for Biological Agents” lurking in Iraq.
Only the mobile biolabs did NOT exist — despite Powell’s convincingly detailed testimony, despite the professionally designed graphic.
Powell’s 5 February 2003 testimony before the UN, stating the casus belli — the justification for the coming war with and invasion of Iraq, is now treated as a case study in USA intelligence failure. This seems far too kind.
The Scholarship on Powell’s Testimony
In her excellent analysis of the same, Kathleen Vogel, PhD, at the School of Public Policy, Center for International Security Studies, University of Maryland, noted (2014):
Within a year’s time, a diverse collection of government and nongovernment analysts had discredited the purpose of the captured trailers and all of the intelligence evidence about the mobile biological labs presented in Powell’s UN speech. We now know that Iraq’s bioweapons program ended back in 1996 and that it is unlikely that Iraq ever had a mobile bioweapons capability. (p 133).
By 2004, proven false. But let us rewind back to the moment.
With George Tenet, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, seated directly behind him, Powell reassured his colleagues on the Security Council that “every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.”
What we as citizens hope for in a government report or briefing. What our elected officials require to make informed decisions. What our allies require likewise. Facts and solid intelligence.
But as Koblentz (2009) has reminded us, things are not always what they seem (boldface mine):
As we know now, these conclusions were not based on solid intelligence. In fact, after the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, investigation of Iraq’s WMD programs has shown that every single U.S. allegation regarding Iraqi biological weapon (BW) activities was wrong. According to the bipartisan Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (also known as the Silberman-Robb Commission), this failure to properly assess Iraq’s BW capabilities and intentions was “one of the most painful errors” committed by the intelligence community before the war.
To quote that highlight: “every single U.S. allegation regarding Iraqi biological weapon (BW) activities was wrong.” Every single one. But these were not presented as allegations — they were presented as truths.
When you deliberately and painstakingly present something as true when you know well it might not be: that is deception — that is lying.
The Anthrax Attacks in the USA that Were
Colin Powell’s 5 February 2003 testimony before the UN Security Council and the global public had additional credibility, urgency, and even moral authority because the USA had suffered from a series of anthrax attacks starting on 18 September 2001, just one week after the 9/11 attacks.
The 2001 anthrax attacks seem to have gone down the memory hole. Let us take a brief journey back in time. In the words of the Council on Foreign Relations, “The White House and U.S. intelligence agencies point[ed] the finger at Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.” How so?
Must be that Iraqi Dictator …
President George W. Bush referenced the attacks in his speech to gain passage of the USA Patriot Act (26 October 2001), nominally targeted towards foreign terrorists and now being used against American citizens exercising their First and Fourth Amendment rights.
Bush again referenced the 2001 anthrax attacks in his infamous “Axis of Evil” State of the Union address of 29 January 2002, which identified three presumed roque nations: Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. None of which had any involvement with the 9/11 attacks or the anthrax attacks. In the same speech, Bush specifically linked Iraq with the active development of anthrax bioweapons — even though UN observers and others had already reported that the Iraqi bioweapons program ended circa 1996.
Moreover, in USA, the MSM reported on physical evidence (which later was definitively refuted) confirming the Iraq connection. Infamously, ABC chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross [ref1 &/or ref2] proclaimed on a national television broadcast (back when that was a thing):
“sources tell ABCNEWS the anthrax in the tainted letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle was laced with bentonite. The potent additive is known to have been used by only one country in producing biochemical weapons — Iraq. … [I]t is a trademark of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's biological weapons program.”
In the minds of many Americans, Saddam Hussein must have been behind the 2001 anthrax attacks.
The stage for Colin Powell’s performance before the UN security council in early 2003 was being painstakingly built and set. We have the Patriot Act in 2001. We will have the global War on Terror for two decades to follow.
But the Evidence Says “Domestic Terrorism” — USA Biodefense Related
But back to the 2001 anthrax attacks: aka, the “Amerithrax.” After numerous false starts and false allegations, the FBI in cooperation with other USA government agencies determined the source of the anthrax: Ames strain from spore-batch RMR-1029 at the United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), Fort Detrick, Maryland, USA.
In August 2008, roughly seven years after the attack, as Koblentz (2009) has neatly summarized:
the FBI announced that its sole suspect in the Amerithrax case was Bruce E. Ivins, a microbiologist and anthrax vaccine researcher with the United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick, Maryland. Ivins, who had been under investigation for over a year and knew he was about to be indicted for the anthrax letter attacks, died on July 29 from an intentional drug overdose. From the publicly available evidence, the FBI’s case against Ivins appears to be based on circumstantial evidence, since the bureau does not have eyewitnesses, surveillance camera footage, handwriting analysis, or analysis of trace evidence that directly link Ivins to the production and mailing of the anthrax letters.
With a high degree of certainty based upon independent testing, we can state the anthrax came from spore-batch RMR-1029, USAMRIID, Fort Detrick, Maryland.
The FBI were confident they had identified the appropriate and now sole person of interest — Bruce Ivins, the American scientist who had committed suicide the previous month (July 2008). [Insert here inappropriate joke about timely suicides effectively ending high-level investigations]. Others — including scientists, security experts, and even respectable MSM journalists — were not so certain of the FBI’s case and made their opinions known.
Over Eight Years Later and Continuing …
Our Department of Justice conducted a study, and made their report on the 2001 Anthrax attacks and the subsequent investigation available to the public on 19 February 2010.
On 15 December 2011, the USA would officially withdraw our troops from Iraq. The war in Afghanistan would last another decade. The ongoing war in Syria would start in 2011. The overthrown and death of Muammar Gaddafi also in 2011 — the Libyan crisis continues to this day. Or, as Garret M. Graff (2021) has argued: “After 9/11, the U.S. Got Almost Everything Wrong.”
The George W. Bush administration knew for certain that they did NOT know for certain who was behind the 2001 anthrax attacks. But they repeatedly and intentionally mislead the American public. So they would could both pass the Patriot Act and have a casus belli for invading Iraq and launching the greater global War on Terror.
When you deliberately and painstakingly present something as true when you know well it might not be: that is deception — that is lying.
American deception at the highest levels has consequences: not just for our republic, but for the greater global community of peoples and of nations.
USA Deception over Bioweapons: To Summarize Our Two Instances
We cannot simply accept the Pentagon Fact Sheet at face value as true and correct. On matters relating to bioweapons and bioweapon development, our government at the highest levels has demonstrated both the willingness and ability to practice deception, to deliberately state falsehoods. Two instances were discussed here:
When standing before the UN Security Council and addressing the global public. (Colin Powell, 2003).
When standing before Congress and addressing the American people. (George W. Bush, multiple occasions while POTUS).
With the immediate and larger historical contexts established, let us now turn to an evaluation of the Pentagon Fact Sheet.
The Pentagon Fact Sheet: Key Points Considered
PFS: First and Third Bullet Points
The first bullet point addresses why these facilities store and “use specific pathogens.” The “specific pathogens” in question are either “endemic” to that nation’s general region or “at risk of spread from other countries.” This seems perfectly reasonable, but rules out absolutely nothing.
The third bullet point confirms two important claims we made in an earlier post. We quote below the PFS — not that post. The biolabs almost certainly contain pathogens from “former Soviet Union’s illegal biological weapons program” as the “fall of the USSR” in 1991 resulted in “unsecured biological materials” which could be “misused, stolen or accidentally released.”
The fall of the USSR was over 30 years ago. We — the USA and local partners — could have destroyed with relative ease these same “biological materials” or what Victoria Nuland has referred to as “those research materials.” We had time and opportunity, but did not do so. We also could have removed these “biological materials” and secured them at BSL-4 biolabs (or the best equivalent) in the USA and NATO Europe. (The BSL standards were first established in 1984, and have been subjected to continual refinement).
Instead, the USA retained and by Nuland’s account helped continue research on these “biological materials” — some of which were pathogens made more lethal, more contagious by the “illegal biological weapons program” of the former Soviet Union. Unpleasant facts established. So what pathogens are we talking about?
What History Tells Us
To blockquote from the Congressional Research Service Report, “Preventing Proliferation of Biological Weapons: U.S. Assistance to the Former Soviet States,” by Michelle Stem Cook and Amy F. Woolf (10 April 2002):
The [Soviet/Russian Bioweapons] program developed and “weaponized” genetically-altered bacteriological agents such as anthrax, plague, tularemia, glanders, and brucellosis that were resistant to heat, cold, and antibiotics. They also “weaponized” several viruses, including:
Smallpox, which can kill 30-40% of an exposed population during an epidemic;
Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis, which is unlikely to kill but can incapacitate troops;
The Marburg virus, which, like the Ebola virus, is a haemorrhagic fever which destroys cells and causes massive internal bleeding.
See also the claims of Ken Alibek (1999), a defector and former Soviet Union bioweapons developer: Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World.
So the Russian News Agency TASS (9 March 2022) claimed the Ukrainian biolabs contained “stockpiles of dangerous pathogens” including:
Anthrax (Bacillus anthracis): CDC Category A Bioterrorism Agent/Disease
Plague (Yersinia pestis) : CDC Category A Bioterrorism Agent/Disease
Tularemia (Francisella tularensis) : CDC Category A Bioterrorism Agent/Disease
Cholera (Vibrio cholerae) : CDC Category B Bioterrorism Agent/Disease
What constitutes a stockpile? We are back to that seemingly ridiculous point of contention. Because based on the evidence we have, the above TASS list of dangerous pathogens is highly plausible. The DoD made no outright denial of the pathogen list — only that such pathogens were “samples” and NOT stockpiles, research material and not finished bioweapon products.
These biological agents and toxins present the greatest risk of deliberate misuse with significant potential for mass casualties or devastating effect to the economy, critical infrastructure, or public confidence, and pose a severe threat to public health and safety.
So our government recognizes that working with these pathogens require the highest bio-safety and bio-security standards.
Questions and Problems
Question one: how many biolabs does the world need researching such deadly pathogens? Question two: did the Ukrainian biolabs meet recognized safety and security standards? We will engage both these questions shortly, but giving more weight to the second for which the USA has clearly defined standards.
In cooperation with former Soviet Union partners, the USA did destroy massive stockpiles of chemical weapons and of finished bioweapon products. “Dealing with the legacy of these threats in a way that permanently eliminated the threat”— in the words of Andrew C. Weber (2017; circa 10 minutes 59 seconds), the one indispensable Foreign Service officer whose work on reducing WMD proliferation stands truly as an benefit to all of humanity. (WMD: weapons of mass destruction).
Soviet-era pathogens were retained
But our government made the decision to retain significant amounts of “biological materials” from the former Soviet Unions bioweapons program. These became the seedling cultures, the germ and virus lines, for much of what Victoria Nuland in 2022 described as “those research materials” at some of the biological research facilities in Ukraine.
In justification, the PFS explains in first bullet point: “All member countries of the World Health Organization (WHO) International Health Regulations (IHR) (2005) must have such capabilities to detect and respond to disease threats.” True and fair. But not in all cases equivalent to conducting ongoing research.
The first PFS bullet point justifies the existence of “biological materials” derived from a bioweapons program by blurring together different types of biological, medical and public health facilities and their connected — often overlapping — but not identical missions and concerns.
By the way of example, while a resident in Portland, Oregon, this author made good use of a local Urgent Care. They had the ability to detect numerous types of diseases and infections, far beyond what they were able to effectively treat. A fairly generic blood panel might reveal wonders.
For treatment for a serious illness, the author might have needed to visit OHSU, Portland, which has excellent lab services: but it does not have a BSL-4 lab required to conduct research on Plague (Yersinia pestis) or some of the other pathogens listed above. All of which — because of their previous enhancement under the Soviet Union bioweapon program — require BSL-3 or higher.
Even if a medical facility has the capabilities to detect and treat serious diseases, that does not mean the medical facility has the pathogens in stock for research purposes.
This brings us to second, fourth, and ninth bullet points which concern mission, standards, and direct USA commitment.
PFS: Second Bullet Point
The second bullet point clarifies that the “United States, through BTRP, has invested approximately $200 million in Ukraine since 2005, supporting 46 Ukrainian laboratories, health facilities, and diagnostic sites” for the express purpose of improving “Ukraine’s biological safety, security and surveillance for both human and animal health.”
The Biological Threat Reduction Program (BTRP) is one of several programs that the DoD, through the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), has conducted in Ukraine. Two previous programs include the Chemical and Biological Defense Program (CBDP), and Cooperative Biological Engagement Program (CBEP). We discuss aspects of both in a prior post. So the stated figure of “$200 million in Ukraine since 2005” likely significantly understates the total USA support.
To declare bias and based on what information we have (discussed in a prior post), we think highly of the CBDP and CBEP: but their funding amounts are almost certainly not captured by the $200 million figure. The DoD likely wanted a number more palatable to the American public: it turns out that neither the American public nor Senator Mitt Romney was paying attention. A more plausible figure might have served us all better.
Victoria Nuland herself, then Assistant Secretary of State for Europe, estimated in 2013 that the USA had invested $5 billion in Ukraine to help bring about “the future it deserves.” [ref]
Obviously, since her 2013 speech, much more USA tax-payer money has gone to Ukraine to help bring about “the future it deserves.” Some of that then and now, directly or indirectly, went to the Ukrainian biolabs and related public health projects. The biolabs again, did serve — and we hope will soon again serve — many essential and legitimate purposes.
Since the funding in part was dedicated to improving “Ukraine’s biological safety, security and surveillance for both human and animal health,” what levels of bio-safety and bio-security do we have? This brings us to the fourth and ninth bullet points.
PFS: Fourth and Ninth Bullet Points
The fourth bullet point clearly states that the “biosafety and biosecurity capacities that DoD has provided are in keeping with those required by the WHO IHR.” The PFS earlier clarifies that WHO IHR stands for the World Health Organization (WHO) International Health Regulations (IHR) (2005).
This is clever, but in fact dodges the major safety and security issues. Our CDC (19 August 2019) provides clear guidance on the International Health Regulations. Let us take the CDC’s own summary:
IHR (2005) requires that all countries have the ability to do the following:
Detect: Make sure surveillance systems and laboratories can detect potential threats
Assess: Work together with other countries to make decisions in public health emergencies
Report: Report specific diseases, plus any potential international public health emergencies, through participation in a network of National Focal Points
Respond: Respond to public health events
IHR (2005) also includes specific measures countries can take at ports, airports and ground crossings to limit the spread of health risks to neighboring countries, and to prevent unwarranted travel and trade restriction.
The IHR regulations concern detecting, reporting, and coordinating responses to public health emergencies and threats. So a nation must have the “surveillance systems and laboratories” which “can detect potential threats.” All good. But the ability to detect deadly pathogens is not the same as having an active research program with deadly pathogens.
What the PFS IHR Claim Does and Does Not Cover
The IHR states no explicit requirements concerning biolab safety and security, nor any means for enforcing compliance with the same if they did exist. Please read the document for yourself from the WHO source. So the fourth PFS bullet point engages in misdirection — a policy statement like a “sleight of hand” magic trick.
The CDC kindly provides a map of nations which have undergone Joint External Evaluation Assessments (January 2016-July 2019) to help with IHR compliance:
Mongolia, yes. Chad, yes. Finland, yes. Cambodia, yes. Hint: Ukraine is NOT one of the nations which has undergone a “Joint External Evaluation Assessment.” So we need take the DoD’s word on that matter — which again still tells us nothing helpful about biolab safety and security.
But let us walk it back to the CDC. We in the USA do a great job with biolab safety and security, right? So we can share our considerable expertise with Ukraine — they surely will benefit from our experience.
At Home — the CDC Performance Record
Alison Young, winner of three Scripps Howard Awards, three Gerald Loeb Awards, and the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award for Investigative Journalism, writes for USA Today. She has authored or co-authored a series of articles on our domestic biolab safety and security, “Biolabs in Your Backyard.”
In 2015, she and Nick Penzenstadler found that “hundreds of lab mistakes, safety violations and near-miss incidents have occurred in biological laboratories coast to coast in recent years, putting scientists, their colleagues and sometimes even the public at risk.” [Young 1]
In the same article, the authors note: “Of particular concern are mishaps occurring at institutions working with the world's most dangerous pathogens in biosafety level 3 and 4 labs — the two highest levels of containment that have proliferated since the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001.” [Young 1]
Not good. But things have gotten better, right?
Secrecy. Non-compliance. Enforcement failures. Ongoing experiments with deadly pathogens conducted under deeply questionable conditions. The biolabs we run in the USA and overseen by the CDC. Not the claims of QAnon or Alex Jones, but the award-winning USA TODAY investigative report series “Biolabs in Your Backyard.”
In 2016, Young reported that the “CDC's own labs also have been referred for additional secret federal enforcement actions six times because of serious or repeated violations in how they've handled certain viruses, bacteria and toxins that are heavily regulated because of their potential use as bioweapons.” [Young 2]
The same year, in a detailed look at a particular CDC lab, Young quoted a biosafety expert who said that the disclosed CDC biolab failures read “like a screenplay for a disaster movie.” [Young 3] There is more. Our expert called attention to “cascading, compounding, catastrophic failures” and declared that
the attempted cover-up within the CDC makes it clear that the CDC cannot be relied upon to police its own, much less other institutions. [Young 3]
So according to one American biosecurity expert in 2016, we cannot trust the CDC to police itself or others. In 2017, Young offered a summary of sorts [Young 4] :
USA TODAY’s “Biolabs in Your Backyard” investigation has revealed hundreds of safety incidents at public and private research facilities nationwide and highlighted how many university, government and private labs have fought to keep records secret about incidents and regulatory sanctions. The USA TODAY investigation also exposed that more than 100 labs working with potential bioterror pathogens have faced secret federal sanctions for safety violations, yet regulators allowed them to keep experimenting while failing inspections, sometimes for years.
Secrecy. Non-compliance. Enforcement failures. Ongoing experiments with deadly pathogens conducted under deeply questionable conditions. The biolabs run in continental USA and overseen by our government. Not building confidence, for sure.
But Standards Still Exist, Still Matter
Nevertheless, we have strong, strict, and clearly defined bio-safety and bio-security standards. Even if we do not always meet our own standards. The pathogens that were more likely present in the Ukrainian biolabs are listed as CDC Category A Bioterrorism Agent/Disease pathogens or CDC Category B Bioterrorism Agent/Disease pathogens.
Back to the Ukrainian Biolabs
The PFS ninth bullet point claims that our priorities are to “to help them [Ukraine] consolidate and secure pathogens and to continue to ensure Ukraine can detect and report disease outbreaks before they pose security or stability threats.”
If back in 2005, the USA and Ukraine were working together to consolidate, secure and then DESTORY the Soviet-era bioweapon pathogens, that would have reduced the risk considerably. But between 2005 and early 2022, it seems we were encouraging active research on the same. So how secure were the Ukrainian biolabs? Given that the pathogen collections themselves could pose considerable risk, as Victoria Nuland’s own remarks on “those research materials” acknowledged.
BSL-4 and BSL-3
To quote directly from our dear Government: “BSL-4 laboratories are used to study infectious agents or toxins that pose a high risk of aerosol-transmitted laboratory infections and life-threatening disease for which no vaccines or therapies are available.” [ref] To step down the risk just a bit: “BSL-3 laboratories are used to study infectious agents or toxins that may be transmitted through the air and cause potentially lethal infections.” [ref]
Some of CDC category A Bioterrorism Agent/Disease pathogens, particularly the bacteria, might make the BSL-3 cut. But they are directly listed on the Section 11(f) – Tier 1 Security schedule, so additional precautions still required. For the CDC category A Bioterrorism Agent/Disease viruses: BSL-4, please.
Ukraine does NOT have a BSL-4 lab. In fact, the nearest to Kyiv, Ukraine is in Minsk, Belarus. If we have a decent regard for the safety of our fellow human beings, certain types of biological research should not be taking place in Ukraine.
Likewise, in regard to establishing and maintaining levels comparable to BSL-3 bio-safety and bio-security, the professed $200 million does not go far even in Ukraine when stretched against the “46 Ukrainian laboratories, health facilities, and diagnostic sites” and over a period of time from 2005 to the near-present.
Who’s zoomin’ who?
This brings us to the eleventh PFS bullet point.
PFS: Eleventh Bullet Point
The Pentagon responded to the TASS report and related claims as accusations that the Ukrainians were destroying evidence of a bioweapons program. In rebuttal to these claims, the DoD argued in eleventh PFS bullet point: “Proper disposal of samples during a war reflects responsible conduct on the part of the Ukrainians to protect the Ukrainian people and the international community from potential accidental exposure due to irresponsible Russian actions.”
Yes! Responsible conduct. But do we have confirmation? This is why Tulsi Gabbard called for an immediate cease-fire: for Russia to halt military actions, to pause or stop the invasion. Suspend the war — let Ukraine eliminate the possible biohazard and even possible pandemic. Please notice that the PFS indicated some pathogens were disposed of — thankfully. But as Ronald Reagan, no one’s hippie peacenik, once said: “Trust, but Verify.”
Research Materials vs. BioWeapons
So what makes something either “research materials” or a bioweapon? We addressed that elsewhere, but to simplify: there is no simple determination. It largely comes down to a statement of intent — the professed purpose for doing the research.
Under treaty, the Ames strain from spore-batch RMR-1029, USAMRIID, Fort Detrick, is not a bioweapon: even if after some minimal processing it was used as such.
Why? Because spore-batch RMR-1029 — to use the language of the eleventh PFS bullet point — was one of the “samples” the USA was using for research into biodefense. This is permitted under the Biological Weapons Convention (1975), with which the USA claims to be in full compliance. Bringing us to the twelfth bullet point.
PFS: Twelfth Bullet Point
The DoD claims that the “United States and Ukraine are not developing biological weapons and are in full compliance with the Biological Weapons Convention” whereas Russia is not in compliance. The DoD saved the weakest for last.
The USA can be in “full compliance with the Biological Weapons Convention” and still have the equivalent of a robust bioweapons program, minus the large stockpiles of finished bioweapon products. Smaller collections as “research materials” would be permitted. But these “research materials” as Victoria Nuland acknowledged under oath — however inadvertently — could be quickly ramped up for bioweapon production. Not the USA would ever do so.
The same “research materials” still present considerable hazard “as is”: please consult again the joint CDC-FDSA statement (9 September 2020) on Tier 1 agents, and the CDC Security Guidance (February 2022) for Tier 1 agents. Please review also the 2001 “Amerithrax” history.
So what the DoD claims is technically correct — at the least, and perhaps more — regarding the USA and Ukraine. In turn, Russia could also counter-claim that it also conducts research only for “prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes” as under treaty.
Coming out of and as continuation of the Nunn-Luger Act and the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program, the activities of Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) comprised for a number of years the greatest international policy achievement of the USA since the Marshall Plan — overall, a contribution perhaps equal to or even greater than the Marshall Plan in ambition and importance.
The activities undertaken by DTRA could and should have been understood as comprising one of the USA’s greatest and most enduring contributions to humanity. Instead, it seems the DTRA has begun metamorphizing into something else. A way for the USA to violate the spirit even at it adheres arguably to the letter of varied agreements for combatting the proliferation of WMD.
From all the information we have available (some of it incomplete), what was going on in the Ukraine biolabs would never have been permitted in the USA or EU because the biolabs lacked the necessary bio-safety and bio-security infrastructure, trained personnel, and established procedures. This does not justify the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but it does offer us another Fauci-Daszak-like example of American hubris putting the global community at unnecessary risk.
As we discussed in a prior post, to many qualified observers, it appeared that Nuland was helping to install a USA-friendly government after the Ukrainian coup or revolution of 2014: “coup” or “revolution,” depending on one’s political perspective. With the full blessings of President Barrack Obama and “atta-boy” Vice President Joseph Biden, Nuland got her man. But lost us cooperation with Russia — then our partner on combatting WMD proliferation.
Perhaps only a heartless cynic would say that Ukraine is now “getting the future it deserves” for trusting in Nuland and our own corrupt power elites. The people of the nation should not suffer for the sins of their oligarchs and delusional tyrants — even if such is what Hillary Rodman Clinton, who often behaves as our own delusional wanna-be tyrant, wishes upon the Russian people.
Given the current instability and now President Joseph Biden’s recent call for regime change in Russia, Russia’s deadliest Pandora’s box may yet be opened — dispersed by fire sale to say India, China, Iran, various non-state actors, and perhaps even would-be warlords within the greater Russian territory. WMD proliferation beyond return. Time will soon enough tell.
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