Saturday, February 8, 2014

BW Infrastructure Analysis in a Stand Off Environment: Dispelling Political Myths First


Often times criticism is leveled at the bio-defence community versus the non-proliferation community, a significant distinction in approach, when it comes down to the public understanding of  how potential biological weapon facilities might be identified, or mistakenly identified as the criticism goes. A glance back at the UNSCOM and UNMOVIC inspections is rather disheartening but not for lack of identifying or finding BW. Not only did the public fail to understand what Iraq's biological weapon programs looked like, indeed they would not have had even general knowledge of what any biological weapon program would look like, but the media portrayal of antiquated Soviet stockpiles promoted the impression to the public that inspectors were out in the dessert searching for a secret cache of Scud-B's or R-400's tipped with anthrax or smallpox. Moreover, it didn't seem to matter if the stockpile was chemical or biological because this distinctions also goes by or is lumped together as 'bio-chem.' A stockpile is a stockpile. I imagine the vision that popped into the public's head was something akin to this:


Chemical weapon stockpile Mustard gas Syria


Instead of this:

Vials: A total of 97 vials-including those with labels consistent with the al Hakam cover stories of single-cell protein and biopesticides, as well as strains that could be used to produce BW agents-were recovered from a scientist's residence. See: Statement by David Kay on the Interim Progress Report on the Activities of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) before the House Permanent Select committee on Intelligence and the House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Defence, and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Source: http://www.odci.gov/cia/public affairs/speeches/2003/david kay 10022003.html. 



or far worse this:


A nightmarish and realistic concept of what a modern BW program is likely to consist of, biological laboratories where vaccines and medical counter measures are in full production. This is what a biological warfare complex generally consists of today. It is not identifiable, there is no tidy stockpile to be discovered and generally such a program exists in both legitimate manufacturing, whilst retaining the capability to produce warfare agent usually at relatively short notice, depending on the type of laboratory.

The view that a stockpile of BW is the only acceptable criteria for identifying an active or latent BW program is negligent at best, complacent and possibly dangerous at worst. Clinging to the stockpile criteria and dismissing infrastructure analysis or lab analysis as an aspect of  how current programs are constructed, negates the need to develop stand off methods for detection. As with most mythical creatures the search for the elusively portrayed 'stockpile' and the crushing criticism following the public's disappointment that there was no 'stockpile' lead to significant misconceptions regarding what constitutes a BW program and how to identify this either in country or in a standoff environment which I contend is technically possible today.

Searching for the Stockpile and believing that there was one or that lack of one equated to proof that there was no BW program in Iraq or anywhere else. Unfortunately the propagating of this myth that Iraq had no BW programs and the general criticism over the basis of going to war, has meant that nations who most likely do possess a BW program are perceived as not having one, due to public distaste for accusing a suspected state proliferator and the distaste of possibly going to war again on what is largely perceived to be false information. Believing BW are in nice neat stockpiles waiting to be discovered is like believing there are magical unicorns, then being disappointed when only horses are found. Of course it's easier to have a map that designates the sites, but in the case of most BW programs there is no map until after a country has announced it has a program and is willing to work with an inspection regime to decommission such weapons.



Political discussions aside whether or not identifying BW programs merits any deep consideration,  how do we identify a potential military BW lab or infrastructure in a standoff environment? Is it possible, beyond the dual use bio-tech infrastructure of most developed nations to identify a biological warfare complex? Is it possible within a field where dual-use is the rule, not the exception, to make such an identification, much like an assessment of a deep bunker nuclear weapon program?

Unlike nuclear weapon complex, with identifiable signatures, biological weapon facilities for the most part have been assessed as not possessing identifiable characteristics. Recently, Spenser Ackerman, published an article entitled: Beyond Radiation:   Pentagon Seeks Better Ways to Detect Nuclear Weapons.  For the full article see: http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2013/02/nuclear-sensors/ If we compare how we assess a nuclear weapon program to that of a biological one in a standoff environment, it is comparing apples and oranges. It is worth understanding how nuclear programs are identified and then to take a look at current methods for assessing a BW program. See Assessing a BW Laboratory: Technical Methods Part Two

The BBC has a rather nice overview of the first round of inspections for interest please see: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk/2180237.stm
Dragon voice recognition

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