Two more Pentagon statements on the biolabs in Ukraine: "more pathogens in more places than we recommend..."
But no "offensive biological weapons." We provide context and correct the approved omissions & distractions. By using public, scholarly, and/or respected journalistic sources. No QAnon here.
On 1 April 2022, Deborah G. Rosenblum, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs, testified before Congress. She stated “unequivocally” (circa 00:22:04) that
“there are no offensive biological weapons in the Ukraine laboratories that the United States has been involved with.”
At least one wag in the Epoch Times comment section mocked Rosenblum’s phrase “offensive biological weapons,” wondering what a defensive weapon might be. But Rosenblum chose her words deliberately, making a statement which would stand up to scrutiny and for the public record.
The Biological Weapons Convention (1975) permits nations to retain deadly pathogens— including recognized bioterror disease agents — for “prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes.”
So the Ukrainian biolabs mentioned by Rosenblum could have the direct practical equivalent of a bioweapon or bioweapons. But if this direct practical equivalent existed for the stated purpose of public health or defensive research and not offensive capability, it would NOT violate the agreement.
As Gregory D. Koblentz, PhD, Associate Professor and Director of the Biodefense Graduate Program at George Mason University's Schar School of Policy and Government, reminded us back in 2009:
Policymakers seeking to reduce the dangers posed by biological weapons face two powerful dilemmas. The most important is the multiuse dilemma: the skills, materials, and technology needed to produce biological weapons are also necessary to develop defenses against them and to conduct civilian activities such as biomedical research and pharmaceutical production. Most analyses of biotechnology refer to it as dual-use, since it has both civilian and military applications. In this book, the term “multiuse” is used to highlight the distinct but overlapping applications of biotechnology in civilian, defensive, and offensive domains.
In other words, the research procedures, outcomes, and testing for “prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes” have extensive and detailed overlap with those of developing bioweapons. In fact, the difference between a pathogen enhanced by legitimate research and a bioweapon pathogen might come down to nothing more than a statement of intent. (A case study below in Unflattering American history).
No “offensive biological weapons”, but …
As we discussed in an earlier post, the Pentagon has already acknowledged that Ukraine has a collection of pathogenic “research material” which has its origins in the former Soviet Union bioweapons program. This is no longer up for dispute.
To provide two quick examples (DOD source here):
The third bullet point on the Pentagon Fact Sheet (11 March 2022) states that USA has sought in Ukraine to “to reduce the risk posed by the former Soviet Union’s illegal biological weapons program, which left Soviet successor states with unsecured biological materials after the fall of the USSR.”
The ninth bullet point on the Pentagon Fact Sheet (11 March 2022) states as first priority that the USA will “help them [Ukraine] consolidate and secure pathogens.”
With her careful choice of “offensive biological weapons,” Rosenblum’s testimony sadly and implicitly re-confirms the following: immediately prior to the war, Ukraine had a collection which included Tier 1 agents (as defined by USA standards).
Please note that Tier 1 includes ALL CDC Category A Bioterrorism Agents/Diseases, and many CDC Category B Bioterrorism Agents/Diseases. To err on the side of precision, this post will preferentially use the CDC categories and related information.
But to quote directly from the joint CDC-FDSA statement (9 September 2020) regarding Tier 1 agents:
[T]hese 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.
We will review more evidence below — but it is now beyond dispute that Ukrainian biolabs as late as early 2022 retained pathogen collections derived directly from the former Soviet Union bioweapons program. As just stated above, these pathogens (again, the majority of which are Tier 1 agents) require high levels of biosafety and biosecurity.
Furthermore, despite being unequivocal in her statement, Rosenblum limited her claim in scope to “the Ukraine laboratories that the United States has been involved with.” So if Ukraine does or did recently possess a stockpile elsewhere in other labs, the USA cannot be held accountable by Rosenblum’s account.
Which former bioweapons program pathogens?
We also have some additional details offered by the Russian news agency TASS on 9 March 2022, and these details were NOT denied by our government. Instead, our government on 11 March 2022 claimed that any such pathogen collections were legitimate research material. These pathogens include (but need not be limited to):
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.
In general terms, these pathogenic agents require labs with BSL-4 or BSL-3 standards of biosafety and biosecurity. Ukraine has no BSL-4 labs. It is highly unlikely — downright improbable — that the Ukrainian biolabs which the USA has been working with are up to even BSL-3 standards. This conclusion is based upon previous USA government statements and other evidence, including the statements made by Robert Pope, PhD, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) director for the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, which will be reviewed below.
In fact, the Pentagon did claim the Ukrainian biolabs are in accordance with International Health Regulations (see previous post). But the IHR does NOT specify laboratory standards for biosafety and biosecurity, and even if it did, Ukraine has never undergone an IHR Joint External Evaluation Assessment to assist with compliance. So this seems a clever way for the Pentagon to distract from and dodge the key issues of biosafety and biosecurity in their FACT SHEET (11 March 2022).
Unflattering American history
There is rather more. We need revisit some established if unflattering American history on the way.
Please recall the following. According to both our government and independent testing, the anthrax used for the 2001 American attacks was the particularly lethal Ames strain, which came from spore-batch RMR-1029, United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), Fort Detrick, Maryland.
Although the anthrax derived from spore-batch RMR-1029 performed well as an offensive bioweapon, spore-batch RMR-1029 was NEITHER an offensive bioweapon NOR the source thereof. Spore-batch RMR-1029 was being retained by the USA as research material for legitimate biodefense purposes, and so the USA was fully in compliance with the Biological Weapons Convention (1975).
In other words, the research procedures, outcomes, and testing for “prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes” have extensive and detailed overlap with those for developing bioweapons. We earlier cited Koblentz (2009) on the same. Legitimate research sample or bioweapon pathogen? It might come down to professed intent.
The ambiguity is real — so are the consequences
So we have civilian research for public health and military research for biodefense, on the one hand; and a military bioweapons program, on the other hand. One is permissible; the other is not. In practical terms, not much difference exists. Only that the military bioweapons program should result in stockpiles of finished bioweapon products ready to deliver, and these products are clearly intended for offensive use.
But even here, provided that the suspiciously large “stockpiles” banned by the agreement do not exist, we determine the intention generally by the statements of the producer. Not unlike in the USA example above: anthrax spore-batch RMR-1029, not an offensive bioweapon nor the source thereof, but research materials for biodefense.
Research materials which, tragically, were misused. The misuse of which — unintended consequences, surely — helped justify passing the Patriot Act (2001), invading Iraq (2003), and launching the greater global War on Terror (2003-ongoing). The accused American scientist, Bruce Ivins, committed suicide in 2008 while under investigation by the FBI but not yet in custody.
Case closed. (For more details: Vogel, 2014; Koblentz, 2009; DOJ, 2010). Enough history for now, and back to the present.
What did Rosenblum establish?
So what, exactly, on 1 April 2022 did Deborah G. Rosenblum, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs, “unequivocally” and yet deliberately state? That the USA is in full compliance with the agreement, and the USA does not have a bioweapons program — either in the USA or in partnership with Ukraine. Please do realize how much and how little this tells us.
Robert Pope, PhD, & Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
This brings us to Robert Pope, PhD, director of the DTRA’s Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. His remarks were reported in an interview on 25 February 2022 conducted by Matt Field for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (hereafter BAS). So this is not a source directly from the Pentagon (as was the Fact Sheet or the 2018 presentation to the EPA); nor was it testimony before Congress (Nuland, Rosenblum).
How many labs?
Dr. Pope’s remarks as reported are far more troublesome than they first appear. We will go slow, establishing the facts first as best as the evidence permits. According to BAS, the “US government has worked with 26 facilities in Ukraine” and provided “direct material support to six Ukrainian labs.”
The Pentagon Fact Sheet (PFS) stated that the USA under DTRA has “invested approximately $200 million in Ukraine since 2005, supporting 46 Ukrainian laboratories, health facilities, and diagnostic sites.” The difference here between 26 facilities and 46 total facilities might be explained by “supporting” versus “worked with” or how either source is using the generic term “facilities" — but Pope’s count seems fine. We explained elsewhere why the $200 million figure does not capture the total USA commitment.
In 2018, the Pentagon reported that the DTRA:
“established 52 labs and research centers throughout the FSU [Former Soviet Union]”;
“built or upgraded 36 labs” [locations unclear from information source].
So again the “26 facilities” count by Pope is reasonable enough, with “facilities” not necessarily equating to biolabs — but as both Rosenblum and Pope acknowledge, this count of USA involvement does not include all the Ukrainian bioresearch facilities.
More about those biolabs
In his interview with BAS (as reported by BAS), Pope makes and tries to reconcile —tries to soft-pedal — two dangerously competing claims. That the pathogens from the former Soviet Union bioweapons program have been retained, but Ukraine is not doing research with them.
Pope states that in Ukraine:
“There is no place that still has any of the sort of infrastructure for researching or producing biological weapons.”
But this seems to throw out the one key defense: the pathogens from the former Soviet Union bioweapons program could be legitimately retained as research materials. Biodefense will allow for and even require research on existing and potential bioweapons, just not — as Rosenblum clarified — for “offensive” purposes.
(For your reference: Anthrax spore-batch RMR-1029, United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), Fort Detrick, Maryland).
But Ukraine does NOT — as we showed previously, and re-affirm here — possess the necessary BSL-4 biolab required for such biodefense research. Nor does Ukraine even seem to have a biolab which unambiguously meets BSL-3 level standards — let alone multiple such biolabs.
So if pathogens are not being studied, why are they still there? Unacceptable biosecurity risk. But if they are being studied, we have unacceptable biosafety risks —along with the existing biosecurity risk.
The “eleven list”
Let us for the sake of argument agree with Rosenblum and concede that bio-offense research, direct bioweapons research and development, was not taking place in Ukraine in the labs which the USA partnered with. But as we established earlier, some of these biological research facilities did retain pathogen collections derived directly from the former Soviet Union bioweapons program.
We know the list of the key eleven former Soviet Union bioweapons program pathogens. Hereafter the eleven list.
The eleven list derives from USA government sources as well as confirming former Soviet sources and independent sources. (See also Ken Alibek). Given the Ukrainian lab conditions, any research on such CDC Category A and CDC Category B Bioterrorism Agents/Diseases, even for the purposes of “biodefense,” would pose an unnecessary risk to the people of Ukraine and of the region. Their continued existence in labs not properly secured also poses an unnecessary risk to the people of Ukraine and of the region.
The pathogenic collection — what Victoria Nuland described under oath on 8 March 2022 as “those research materials”, but what DTRA Director Pope assured us were NOT being used for research — should have been destroyed starting back in 2005.
The image shortly below (from roughly 11 minutes 14 seconds into the video) dates from Autumn 2005 (and not 2017 as Glen Greenwald’s other fine analysis might lead one to think). It is cited under Fair Use. The photo shows Barrack Obama, then a junior Senator from Illinois, meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine, with Andrew C. Weber, the one indispensable and truly heroic Foreign Service Officer engaged in reducing the threat of WMD proliferation.
The setting is a public health lab. The Ukrainian lady in the center back, not named in the source, is the Health Lab director. The Director has just previously handed the refrigerated vials of Anthrax (Bacillus anthracis) to Weber, who now explains the situation to Senator Obama.
So what happened next?
The pathogen collections by and large were NOT destroyed. The decision at the highest levels was to retain the source materials, but to destroy established stockpiles of finished bioweapon products. These products could be readily employed by non-state actors (terrorist groups, criminal gangs) with little to no formal training; or, they could be shipped to rogue states seeking an offensive bioweapons capability. These finished products were generally destroyed: but their source materials, otherwise.
You remain unconvinced. Fair enough. But there is more. From Pope himself.
After Sixteen Years in Country
Let us discount the war year, 2022. The USA started working with and in Ukraine in 2005 — confirmed by the Pentagon Fact Sheet and numerous other sources. From 2005 to 2021, the USA and Ukraine had numerous opportunities and considerable cause to destroy the former Soviet Union pathogen collections still present in Ukraine. We did NOT.
How does Pope explain this, according to BAS quoting his direct words? Wait for it:
“Scientists being scientists, it wouldn’t surprise me if some of these strain collections in some of these laboratories still have pathogen strains that go all the way back to the origins of that [the Soviet Union bioweapons] program.”
It would “not surprise” Pope? He knows this. The Pentagon Fact Sheet on 11 March 2022 confirmed it. Likewise, from various other sources, we also already know this to be confirmed. The Ukrainian biolabs held — among other biological materials, to be discussed soon enough — pathogenic materials derived directly from the former Soviet Union bioweapons program.
But after 16 years, 2005 to 2021 (again, we offer a pass on 2022 — the “war year”), the blame falls on those Ukrainian “scientists” and not the DTRA or even the Ukrainian government. Why? Because boys will be boys, and they need their toys. Just “scientists being scientists” — as Pope seems assured his fellow scientists at BAS will understand. His interview conducted by Matt Field of BAS, an uncritical bromance.
But Pope’s explanation is prima facie nonsense, and then nonsense all the way down. The pathogen collections could NOT have been retained without both permission and support from the highest levels of the Ukrainian government.
It likewise seems highly unlikely the Ukrainian government did so — year after year — without knowledge of the USA government. 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.” Evidently, on this critical threat reduction issue, we did not get much cooperation for that $5 billion.
More and More
Yes, there is still more — in fact, two key uses of “more.” Pope acknowledged:
“they [the Ukrainian government] have more pathogens in in more places than we recommend.”
We need to break that statement down.
First, the Ukrainian pathogen collections — which the USA firmly denies are stockpiles — are more extensive than previously acknowledged and do include Tier 1 agents, which require stringent levels of biosafety and biosecurity.
Excepting the USA anthrax attacks of 2001, which we have already briefly discussed here and discussed in more detail elsewhere, we need ask one vital question. Have things ever gone wrong at even in the most secure biolabs in the USA? Yes!
To quote the lead investigative reporter Alison Young, winner of multiple awards for her journalism:
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.
Please do consult the original reports: [Young 1] [Young 2] [Young 3] [Young 4].
Second, the Ukrainian pathogen collections — which the USA firmly denies are stockpiles — are more geographically distributed than previously acknowledged. This not only presents greater biosafety challenges as the number of labs in question has increased — it also presents greater biosecurity challenges.
For now, let us exclude the above-mentioned incidents and the Wuhan lab leak hypothesis. We need ask one more vital question. From labs with the highest recognized levels of biosafety and biosecurity, have live pathogen samples —including Tier 1 agents — ever gone missing or been inappropriately transferred? Yes!
In Canada in 2019, while working at the BSL-4 National Microbiology Laboratory, the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Dr. Xiangguo Qiu and her research team shipped a reported 30 vials containing different viruses to the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
The Chinese government, in fact, raised the alarm which is how the Canadian government learned of the incident: the packaging was inappropriate (not secure enough), and the vials travelled on a standard Air Canada international flight.
Oopsie! Also, Dr. Xiangguo Qiu and team did not exactly have permission to ship the vials. Double oopsie! Well, “scientists being scientists” to use the words of DTRA’s own Robert Pope, PhD — and who has time for all that paperwork?
So what was on the shipping invoice, so to speak? Two of the most deadly virus genera currently known to humankind.
One was the Henipavirus genus, for which we have no vaccines or even standard treatments other than supportive care. You should be happy to learn that such outbreaks are rare. But the case fatality rate for Hendra virus from this genus is roughly 57%; for the Nipah virus from this genus, 40% to 70%, but 100% in some cases. If we were choosing the worst possible candidates for gain-of-function research or for creating chimeras, the Henipavirus genus would be near the top of that list.
Another was the Ebolavirus genus, for which the Zaire ebolavirus only we do have two approved treatments. Otherwise, the case fatality rate has varied from 25% to 90%, with an average around 50%. Makes this author want to fly Air Canada more often: their recommended new motto, “Every flight an adventure!”
So for our list of worst possible candidates for gain-of-function research or for creating chimeras, the Ebolavirus genus places high on the list. We will not object if you wish to argue that the Ebolavirus genus should bump ahead of the Henipavirus genus. But wait until you learn more about the Marburgvirus genus, coming up soon.
That was Canada. Back to Ukraine. The more biolabs Ukraine has which contains dangerous pathogens, the more opportunities exist for the questionable if not illicit if not dangerously unsafe transfer of those pathogens. If the Ukrainian former Soviet Union bioweapons pathogen collections had been destroyed, none of these concerns would apply to those “live samples.”
But surely, you say, the Ukrainian biolabs did (or still do) not hold pathogens as scary or as dangerous as those in the Henipavirus and Ebolavirus genera. Please read on — we will discuss that soon enough. But now back to Robert Pope, PhD, director of the DTRA’s Cooperative Threat Reduction Program.
Biosafety and Biosecurity in Ukraine
Some Background Context
Biosafety and biosecurity are heavily overlapping but not necessarily identical concerns. To generalize, think of biosafety as what should happen in the lab itself: the proper access of, handling of, and then return to storage of the research materials. Biosafety also includes standard decontamination procedures for personnel and work areas, as well as emergency protocols in case of mishaps which at some point will happen. Here we shade into biosecurity.
Biosafety depends on both trained laboratory personnel, and on the physical infrastructure of the facilities. Even if we have human failure, the architecture and build-in safeguards should offer some protection. Here we also shade into biosecurity.
Just building a lab up to BSL-4 standards, which many of pathogens we have discussed would require for research purposes, is terribly expensive. Staffing that lab with fully and appropriately trained personnel, and maintaining the minimal needed level at all times: also terribly expensive. Hence why we have relatively few BSL-4 labs in the world. Ukraine has NONE.
We have more BSL-3 labs, but meeting these standards on a budget for both facilities and personnel is not going to happen. So even for a BSL-3 lab, we have a considerable and ongoing cost commitment.
Our Pope Speaks
Robert Pope, PhD, director of the DTRA’s Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, has admitted that Ukraine had larger pathogen collections (not stockpiles) than the DTRA might consider appropriate, and in more locations than “we [the DTRA] would recommend.” This after 16+ years of cooperation in country. Very good. So how secure were (are) the Ukrainian biolabs?
We need to inspect Pope’s claim to BAS closely. Paraphrasing Pope, BAS reports
The pathogens with which the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program labs work are generally kept frozen, so they can’t replicate and become infectious. The risk the pathogens pose would increase if a building lost power and suffered damage
Once again, NOT necessarily all the Ukrainian biolabs — just the CTR program biolabs. But more to the point, the primary security feature here is that pathogens are “generally kept frozen.” Not necessarily ALWAYS kept frozen? Curious, as Pope earlier admitted that the labs do not meet the standards required for research on these pathogens — which is the correct assessment.
Pope himself explained to BAS:
“If you lose the electrical power, the pathogens in the freezers warm up... If the ventilation system is damaged, or the building itself is damaged, and these now ambient-temperature pathogens are able to escape the facility, then they can be potentially infectious in the region around the facility.”
This statement of concern or rather of threat assessment is beyond ludicrous. We are discussing a biolab, not a frat boy party house. You are not good so long as the beer and the pathogens are cold, the aircon works, and the walls are not coming down. We must be concerned with human malfeasance — not just equipment malfunction.
It’s biolab, not a fraternity party house
In this context, think of biosecurity as being predominantly but not exclusively concerned with preventing human malfeasance and/or also dealing with catastrophic events. To cite a general definition drafted by the Bradford Disarmament Research Centre (2016), biosecurity attempts to minimalize “the risks that the biological sciences will be deliberately or accidentally misused in a way which causes harm for humans, animals, plants or the environment.”
Biosecurity practices require and presume pre-existing lab biosafety practices, but draw upon external support as well as the use of physical barriers and security systems. (Image below from the CDC Security Plan Guidance, February 2020).
Why do we need biosecurity for biolabs? Who wants to steal dangerous pathogens? Our own government has identified both rogue nations and non-state actors whom are seeking bioweapons, or seeking to develop bioweapon programs, or both. We know of multiple previous attempts. Period.
Ukraine without the unicorns guarding the biolabs
Prior to the Russian invasion, Ukraine did not lack a shortage of disparate political parties — some engaged in outright civil and at times violent strife. Ukraine also did (does) not lack militias, members of which have professed extreme ideological agendas. Nor does Ukraine exist in a region free from greater conflicts; rather, Ukraine exists in a region permeated by state and non-state actors of dubious intent.
For biological research into pathogens, the threat of human malfeasance is well-documented, generally considered beyond dispute, and one of the primary justifications for the existence of the DTRA. For lab biosecurity, the facilities are not only designed to provide physical safeguards against the pathogens escaping to the local outside environment — the facilities are also designed with security features and personnel who help control access to and track the usage of the research materials.
Again, our own government provides a detailed description of the needed features. Let us blockquote from the CDC for an overview:
Entities that possess Tier 1 select agents and toxins must adhere to extra security enhancements, including access limitations, extra barriers, intrusion detection system, and visitation policies.
Section 11(f)(4)(i) requires the entity to limit access to a Tier 1 select agent or toxin to only personnel who have been approved by the HHS Secretary or APHIS Administrator, following a security risk assessment (SRA) conducted by the Attorney General, and have had an entity-conducted pre-access suitability assessment. Such individuals must also be enrolled in an ongoing suitability assessment program conducted by the entity.
Make sure that only HHS or USDA approved individuals have access to Tier 1 BSAT.
Conduct a pre-access suitability assessment before granting access.
Enroll each individual to be given access to Tier 1 BSAT in an ongoing suitability assessment program.
Yet the primary concerns expressed by Pope were (1) consistent electric power to freezers; (2) the ventilation system working; and (3) no significant general damage to the infrastructure. Again, beyond ludicrous. Biosecurity should not be understood as a troublesome hassle which might disturb Pope’s “scientists are scientists” bromance. His casual near-dismissal of biosecurity concerns merits further review and attention.
Pope surely does know better — including, knowing the vulnerabilities he bromanced under the rug. Few citizens in the USA or EU would find this level of biosecurity acceptable. In fact, under USA and EU laws, it is NOT acceptable.
To REPEAT: we must be concerned with human malfeasance — not just equipment malfunction.
No Progress but Excuses
Pope surely does understand this — so once again the Ukrainians are to blame. As BAS reported:
The program had been helping Ukrainian researchers sift through their frozen pathogen collections, with the goal of persuading the Ukrainians to preserve their genetic information of samples via sequencing before destroying the live samples.
We wanted to destroy these pathogen collections — the “live samples.” But those difficult-to-persuade Ukrainian scientists had deep emotional commitments to the research materials they were not researching. So after only 16 years, 2005 to 2021, we did not make much progress. Because scientists are scientists.
But there is more. It turns out that 2022 was the magic year. We and the Ukrainian scientists were finally going to destroy those pathogen collections directly derived from the former Soviet Union bioweapons program. The collections which were NOT stockpiles, and stockpiles which do not exist. Only the Russians.
As BAS reported:
Pope said his program had been close to an agreement with the Ukrainians on consolidating samples, but the invasion has now made that project uncertain.
After 16 years and going on year 17, so close — and yet so far away. But Russia now alone is to blame, you must understand.
As Pope stated to BAS:
“All of that, obviously, has been derailed here with the recent events ... I don’t know what kind of contact we will have in these labs in the near future.”
So in year 17, the USA and Ukraine were just getting the legacy pathogen mess cleaned up maybe, “close to an agreement,” but then the Russians invaded and threw a giant monkey wrench into our noble efforts. Bottom line according to our government: no matter what happens in terms of a biohazard event — if anything God forbid does happen — the Russians are to blame. Or the Ukrainian scientists.
Pope is not wrong as in not entirely. Even if we were to let the USA off the hook, we must acknowledge the willingness — if not outright intransigence — of the Ukrainian government in keeping alive the legacy of the former Soviet Union bioweapons program. 16+ years since the USA partnership; 30+ years since the USSR dissolved.
Not convinced even yet? Well, since you made it this far, please keep reading.
More Possible Pathogens in the Ukrainian Biolabs
At American Exile, we cannot provide a comprehensive list of the pathogens that were in the Ukrainian biolabs. We rely exclusively on “Open-source information” in our private effort to produce Open-source intelligence (OSINT), commentary, and analysis. Likewise, just because an “open source” makes a claim or presents evidence that is consistent with other claims or evidence, this does not mean we have verified the truth. Only that we have established higher or lower degrees of probability.
With a high degree of probability which approaches certainty — enough to pass for historical fact or “truth,” we can endorse the eleven list of bio-agents which were integral to the former Soviet Union bioweapons program.
Welcome to Our Nightmare
The eleven list includes the Marburgvirus genus, against which — according to the CDC — we have NO vaccinations or even approved treatments. Both the members of this genus, the Marburg virus (MARV) and Ravn virus (RAVV), are in CDC Category A Bioterrorism Agent/Disease; and in the World Health Organization Risk Group 4 pathogens. By USA, EU, and WHO standards, these pathogens require BSL-4 containment or the direct equivalent of BSL-4 containment.
For the Marburg Virus Disease (MVD), the two largest outbreaks to date were in Congo DRC (154 cases; 128 deaths; 83% mortality rate), and Angola (252 cases; 227 deaths; 90% mortality rate). The two most recent but much smaller outbreaks were in Uganda (4 cases; 3 deaths; 75% mortality rate), and Guinea (1 case; 1 death; 100% mortality rate).
The Marburgvirus genus easily makes our list of worst possible candidates for gain-of-function research or for creating chimeras — and places within the top five.
The former Soviet Union worked to weaponize the Marburgvirus genus – to make it more easily transmissible, as the two known marburgviruses cause Marburg Virus Disease (MVD) are lethal enough. We do not need biological samples of these efforts falling into the wrong hands — in fact, we do not need either weaponized or “gain-of-function” or chimerical versions of the Marburgvirus genus to exist at all.
At American Exile, we do NOT know if the Ukrainian biolabs circa 2005 to 2022 contained live weaponized samples of the Marburgvirus genus. But this remains a terrifying possibility: because the former Soviet Union bioweapons program did work with the Marburgvirus genus, and the DTRA and the Ukraine government did not destroy the legacy pathogen collections in the Ukraine.
The Pathogen List Goes On …
Our list for the Ukrainian biolabs, however, is not limited to former Soviet Union bioweapon pathogens.
According to BAS, Pope stated:
“What we have today and what these countries [the DTRA partners] maintain are small amounts of various pathogens that by and large are things that are collected out of their environment that they need for research to be able to legitimately surveil disease and develop vaccines against.”
All good as it goes. But the concerns for biosafety and biosecurity remain. The potential candidates for Ukraine include pathogens which naturally occur in the region, even if human infection is rare. And pathogens which may not be necessarily be endemic or originally so, but for which Ukraine or even neighboring nations have reported cases of.
Legitimate Public Health Research on Pathogens Still Needs Biosecurity
So none of the above is wrong, misguided, or deceptive: quite the opposite. All legitimate public health concerns. But now our potential list — note: potential, not all verified — includes in ADDITION to the candidates from the eleven list:
African Swine Fever (Asfarviridae): Not categorized by CDC as a Bioterrorism Agent/Disease. A hemorrhagic virus deadly to domestic pigs and wild boars. Samples of this virus are certain, based on multiple sources. No conspiracy – entirely legitimate research to combat an existing and widespread problem in Europe and elsewhere.
Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever (CCHF): CDC Category A Bioterrorism Agent/Disease. (under Viral hemorrhagic fevers).
Hantavirus: CDC Category C Bioterrorism Agent/Disease (Emergent Threat).
Typhus fever (Rickettsia prowazekii): CDC Category B Bioterrorism Agent/Disease.
Tick-Borne Encephalitis: Not categorized by CDC as a Bioterrorism Agent/Disease. (Other forms of Viral encephalitis: CDC Category B Bioterrorism Agent/Disease).
Bartonella species (Carrion’s disease; cat scratch fever; Endocarditis): Not categorized by CDC as a Bioterrorism Agent/Disease.
Borrelia species (Lyme disease; relapsing fever): Not categorized by CDC as a Bioterrorism Agent/Disease.
Ehlrichia species (Ehrlichiosis): Not categorized by CDC as a Bioterrorism Agent/Disease.
Leptospira species (Leptospirosis; Well’s disease): Not categorized by CDC as a Bioterrorism Agent/Disease.
Typhoid fever (Salmonella typhi): Not categorized by CDC as a Bioterrorism Agent/Disease.
West Nile virus (WNV): Not categorized by CDC as a Bioterrorism Agent/Disease.
Several of the above pathogens might appear listed in a Travel Advisory to the region as possible, albeit unlikely to encounter, infectious agents. For the majority of the above pathogens in nature, insects (more formally, arthropods) comprise the primary disease vector. No conspiracy required to explain why such samples might be present.
Less, Not More Pathogens, Please
We still have more candidates. From the eleven list — and this in ADDITION to the four candidate pathogens cited earlier:
Marburg virus (MARV): CDC Category A Bioterrorism Agent/Disease.
Q fever (Coxiella burnetii): CDC Category B Bioterrorism Agent/Disease.
Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (Alphavirus genus): CDC Category B Bioterrorism Agent/Disease.
Brucellosis (Brucella species): CDC Category B Bioterrorism Agent/Disease.
American Exile CANNOT verify these four pathogens (listed immediately above) were in the Ukrainian biolabs circa 2005-2022. Regretfully, we also have no grounds — no evidence — for ruling out this possibility. We know the eleven list — we do not know for certain Ukraine’s exact or entire legacy from that list, only that Ukraine did retain pathogens collections from the eleven list.
But we know the Ukrainian biolabs also contain dangerous pathogens NOT derived directly from the former Soviet Union bioweapons program. Which brings us back to the related and unresolved issues of biosafety and biosecurity, but with additional urgency. So why not clear out the former Soviet Union derived collection, and focus on current and emergent disease threats?
Summary Statement in Detail
To start, the USA government official statements appear contradictory. The Ukrainian labs do contain samples derived directly from the former Soviet Union bioweapons program. This is now beyond dispute. Under the Biological Weapons Convention (1975), Ukraine has the right to retain these deadly pathogens for “prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes.”
On 8 March 2022, Victoria Nuland, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, suggested such pathogen collections were part of “those research materials” that should not fall into wrong hands.
But just a bit earlier on 25 February 2022, in his interview with BAS, Robert Pope, PhD, director of the DTRA’s Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, correctly asserted that Ukraine does not possess the facilities suitable for biodefense research into CDC Category A and CDC Category B bioterrorism agents.
By this account, because there is no research program, Ukraine’s justification for retaining these pathogens for many years is highly dubious. Yet because Ukraine lacks labs at the necessary biosafety and biosecurity levels, having an active research program would appear unjustifiable to nearly qualified observers.
Again, the pathogens in question are also classified by the USA government as Tier 1 agents, concerning which again our government (9 September 2020) has stated:
[T]hese 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.
Pope also mentioned that Ukraine had more pathogen collections in “more places than we recommend.” This after 16 years in of DTRA in country, excluding the war year, 2022; and now over 30 years after the Soviet Union ended in 1991. Not stockpiles, but not kosher either.
So there was a research program for legitimate biodefense or public health purposes; or, there was not; or, some combination of was and not. As late as early 2022, the Ukrainian biolabs did have collections with “more pathogens in more places than we [DTRA] recommend.” But these collections in toto were not “stockpiles” as forbidden under the agreement. Understood. Conceded.
To confirm that the USA and Ukraine in the biolabs that USA was involved remained in full compliance with the agreement, on 1 April 2022, Deborah G. Rosenblum, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs, stated “there are no offensive biological weapons in the Ukraine laboratories that the United States has been involved with.” Understood. Conceded.
Nota bene, please: neither Pope nor Rosenblum offer any warrant for any Ukrainian biological research facilities with which the USA was not directly engaged.
After evaluating the Rosenblum claim, we learned that the absence of “offensive biological weapons” does NOT offer the Ukrainian people or the global public the reassurance it might at first seem. The Ukrainian biolabs could still have lethal materials capable of resulting in a devastating local outbreak or even potentially a regional epidemic. In fact, the Ukrainian biolabs do — the pathogen collections derived directly from the former Soviet Union bioweapons program.
Furthermore, we know from Pope and other sources that Ukraine did not — and still does not — have labs up to biosafety and biosecurity levels which these pathogenic collections do require in the USA or in the EU.
Finally, the central question remains: why did the Ukrainian biolabs retain pathogen collections derived directly from the former Soviet Union bioweapons program?
The Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. Over three decades ago. In 2005, the USA starting working with Ukraine to reduce the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction —including bioweapons. But from 2005 to 2021, little to no progress was made on destroying the Ukrainian pathogen collections derived directly from the former Soviet Union bioweapons program.
Pope stated that 2022, seventeen years later, the USA and Ukraine were making progress — only this progress was interrupted by the Russian invasion. His remark here, like his earlier remarks on biosafety and biosecurity, could be politely described as inadequate and unconvincing.
At this point, it seems beyond doubt that the Ukrainian biolabs presented an unnecessary and high-risk danger to the people of the Ukraine and the people of the region. So let Ukraine take a fair shame of the blame as well. The living legacy of the former Soviet Union bioweapons program in Ukraine could not exist without the annual commitment of the Ukrainian government. The government, not the “scientists being scientists.”
This unnecessary and high-risk danger existed NOT because the Ukrainian biolabs were engaged in peaceful and appropriate public health activities, which is true — but because the biolabs retained under questionable circumstances pathogen collections derived directly from the former Soviet Union bioweapons program. And the Ukrainian government did so even while knowing their labs lacked the appropriate (for the USA and EU, required) levels of biosafety and biosecurity.
This general and shared failure does not justify the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But it does call for more oversight of the DTRA. In 2018 (see above image), the DTRA proclaimed: “Over 2500 Global Engagements — 2943 Site Locations — 2627 Missions — 110 Countries — 48 US States.” Since 2018, that number of “Global Engagements” has only increased.
The now 17-year mission in Ukraine had some phenomenal early successes, but now has a record of complacent and sustained failure to reduce known and serious threats either derived directly from or related directly to the most comprehensive and lethal bioweapons program in history — that of the former Soviet Union. Rather than destroying the legacy of the former Soviet Union bioweapons program in Ukraine, the DTRA for whatever reasons has helped the Ukrainian government perpetuate and even risk proliferating that bioterrorism threat.
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