BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS Neuroethics Education Module Unit 11
OBJECTIVES • This unit first considers the misuse of modern biotechnology in the offensive biological weapons programme of the former Soviet Union in the latter part of the 20th Century Cold War. It then describes some of the other agents that were developed by States during that century specifically to attack the nervous system before noting the increasing concerns now about the possible misuse of our growing understanding of neuropeptides. The unit ends by reviewing some of the complexities involved in thinking about chemical and biological warfare.
OUTLINE • A. Modern Military Applications • Slides 1 - 7 • B. Possibilities and Constraints • Slides 8 - 12 • C. Relevant History • Slides 13 - 15 • D. Thinking It Through • Slides 16 -20
A1. Review: Misuse of Modern Biology • “…the early 1970s when, driven by the charismatic and highly influential scientist, YuryOvchinnikov of the USSR Academy of Sciences, the Soviet Union embarked on a new large-scale offensive BW programme. This ‘modern programme’ – in the authors’ phrase – we now know had a clear aim of exploiting the new developments in genetic engineering that were just beginning to emerge in the West…”
A2. Review: UK Government • “…The revelations brought by the new source - Vladimir Pasechnik – helped elevate the problems of biological weapons to the highest levels of government. For the first time since the late 1960s, when the UK had proposed a separate agreement on BW, the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister became closely engaged on BTWC issues. Pasechnik’s information could not be ignored: a massive clandestine offensive programme had been underway since the early 1970s and seemed to represent not only a clear and fundamental challenge to the BTWC, but to arms control more generally – and this too against a background of change in the Soviet Union…”
A3. Review: Peptides • “…We learn in great detail, for example, of the work done on engineering the genes that expressed certain peptides (human bioregulators) into bacteria, which would then serve as the delivery means to attack an exposed population. Of particular interest were those peptides produced naturally by the human body in exceedingly small quantities, such as neuropeptides. Any alteration in the delicate balance in the human body would lead to adverse physiological effects and possible death…”
A4. The Soviet Programme: Scope • “…What we do know is that it had two major components: one housed in the military and security ministries, the other in civilian ones. Although much has been learned about the overall structure of the civilian component, Biopreparat in particular, we know less about the detailed roles [of other components]… More distressingly, we know even less about the most important component of the Soviet BW program – the military. The work programs and accomplishments of the institutes of the MOD that were occupied with offensive BW activity constitute nearly opaque boxes. Nothing significant has ever been published regarding its offensive-directed activities.”
A5. The Soviet Programme: Factor • “Factor. This program’s primary goal was to enhance the virulence of pathogens….Once high-level…officials recognised the importance of peptide R&D, they set up a new program called ‘Factor’ to concentrate on these chemicals….Factor’s R&D came to encompass both special bioregulators called ‘neuroregulators’ that affect the central nervous system and can have either psychological or physiological effects, and ‘immunoregulators’ that affect the host’s ability to defend against microbial invaders…”
A6. The Soviet Programme: Inducing Autoimmunity • “The most advanced and frightening research done in this area involved human myelin….Popov’s goal was to create a genetically engineered bacterium that could produce a protein resembling myelin during an infection in the human host. The protein would stimulate the immune system to mount an inflammatory response that attacks the host’s myelin surrounding nerve cells and destroys brain cells that make and repair myelin. Without their myelin, nerve cells gradually lose their ability to send electrical signals The result would be an artificial version of multiple sclerosis…. Progress to death [would be] in a matter of weeks.”
A7. The Soviet Programme: Rationale • “…The reasons are quite simple. Think of the problems facing an enemy fighting the Soviet Union who suddenly found that its vaccine did not protect its soldiers and population against such a horrible disease as smallpox and whose antibiotics were useless to treat anthrax, tularemia, plague….Further, its soldiers were being decimated by diseases that could not be diagnosed….This would mean that the affected enemy’s medical powers had largely disappeared and, in effect, it had retreated to the pre-antibiotic age….someone who had the capability to effect these kinds of damages to an enemy would posses a higher order of military power.”
B8. Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis • WHO (2012), p267 • The agent is a member of the genus Alphavirus of the family Togaviridae….The virus is maintained in a rodent-mosquito-rodent cycle…The VEE virus can initiate infection via the nasal mucosa and the olfactory epithelium….Most infections are fairly mild, with symptoms usually lasting 3-5 days….CNS involvement ranging from somnolence and disorientation to personality change, convulsions, paralysis and death. The initial symptoms of respiratory infection are like those of insect-borne infection but CNS involvement appears to be more frequent.”
B9. Mixed Infections • US Army Biological Project 4B11-02-068 • “…studies suggest that the MacacaMulattamonkey, when exposed simultaneously to aerosols of the Trinidad stain of VEE virus…and the AD strain of CoxiellaBurnetii…exhibits a concurrent mixed infection with VEE and Q fever. The course of the dual infection in the monkey is characterized by an abrupt early onset of viremia and febrile response (48 to 72 hours) to VEE that lasts approximately eight days. The onset of Q fever, as characterized by rickettsemia, occurs in the final stages of the VEE infection (seventh to eleventh days)…”
B10. Incapacitating Weapons • SIPRI, 1975 • “…In the early days of the US incapacitating-agent programme, there seemed to be many mechanisms of incapacitation which new CW agents might be developed to exploit. Hypotension was one such mechanism….Emesis was a second example, for a retching and vomiting soldier would clearly not be an effective one….Disturbance of body temperature was a third example….Several bacterial endotoxins are amazingly potent fever-inducers in man, effective at submicrogram dosages…”
B11. BZ Weapons • Midspectrum Incapacitant Programs • “…In the autumn of 1961 a 12-month program under Project 112 was created to provide a standardized munition for BZ, resulting in standardization on 12 March 1962 of BZ in the 750-pound M43 cluster bomb and the 175-pound M44 generator cluster. These were clusters made on the basis of a ¾-pound canister, the M16 BZ generator, based on the M42 smoke pot…”
B12. UK, 2012 • III. Neuroscience and peptides: medium to long term considerations • “… Many of the benefits and risks of advances in the neurosciences lie in the future. However, in the development phase it is timely to consider issues related to governance of this dual-use technology area, balancing the obligations to take measures to prohibit and prevent misuse with the need to ensure that the beneficial development of science is not hampered. State Parties need to be vigilant and be in a position to take decisions and actions in good time when needed; these intersessional meetings provide a platform to promote relevant measures.”
C13. USA, 1991 • Peptides • “2.1.6 Their range of activities covers the entire living system, from mental processes (e.g.endorphins) to many aspects of health such as the control of mood, consciousness, temperature control, sleep, or emotions, exerting regulatory effects on the body. Even a small imbalance in these natural substances could have serious consequences, including fear, fatigue, depression or incapacitation. These substances would be extremely difficult to detect but could cause serious consequences or even death if used improperly.”
C14. The US Offensive Programme • William C. Patrick III, 2010 • “From 1943, the beginning of the Offensive Programme, until its termination in 1969 the feasibility of biological warfare was firmly established by large-scale field tests. Industrial-grade biological agents, purified, concentrated, and stabilized, were disseminated from realistic munitions and sophisticated delivery systems into open-air targets….I was privileged to be part of these exciting times.”
C15. The Biology of Doom • “…Test 68-50 was a full-scale field test of the area coverage potential of the F4/AB45Y-4 incapacitating weapon system. The weapon system disseminated the aerosol over a 40-50km downwind grid, encompassing a segment of the atoll and an array of five tugs….A single weapon was calculated to have covered 2400 square km, producing 30 per cent casualties for a susceptible population….No insurmountable problems were encountered in production-to-target sequence.”
D16. Historical Allegations of Biological Warfare • Wheelis, 1999: Criteria to analyse an allegation: • “The reported outbreak should be a plausible consequence of the alleged action. • The source of the allegation should be clearly documented. • There should be some evidence to support the allegation.”
D17. Types of Attack • Source Nature of Attacker • Individual Sub-State State • Point • Criminal Act Assassination Assassination • Medium • Criminal Act Terrorism Military Tactical • Large • Not Possible National Military Liberation Strategic Army (use)
D18. A Military Classification of Agents • Potentially contagious from first victim • Class Example Military Issues • Incapacitant Influenza ` Lack of control • Lethal Plague Lack of control • Not contagious from first victim • Class Example Military Issues • Incapacitant Q-fever Decay in air… • Lethal Anthrax incubation, etc.
D19. Potential Targets • Target Possible Agents • Human • Influenza,Smallpox, Botulinal toxins • Animal • Newcastle disease, Foot and Mouth Disease • Plant • Black Stem Rust of Cereals, Rice Blast
D20. Bioregulator Warfare • The Second Indochina War • “During the Second Indochina War, the USA carried out a massive herbicidal programme that stretched over a period of a decade….It was aimed for the most part at the forests of South Viet Nam and, to a lesser extent, at its crops….The major anti-plant agents that were employed …were colour-coded….Agents Orange and White consisted of mixtures of plant-hormone-mimicking compounds that kill by interfering with the normal metabolism of treated plants…”
QUESTIONS • Describe how and why the former Soviet Union developed a new form of biological weapon based on the genetic engineering of microbial agents to produce bioregulators in the victim’s body. • What biological weapons were developed by major States in the last century to specifically target the nervous system? • Why are possible new weapons based on our growing knowledge of neuropeptide systems of such concern? • Summarise the reasons why biological warfare is regarded as a dangerous possibility not just for use by States, but also by sub-State groups and even deranged individuals.
Bibliography • Walker, J.R. (2012) The Leitenberg-Zilinskas History of the Soviet Biological Weapons Programme. Harvard Sussex Occasional Paper Issue 2. Available at: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/Units/spru/hsp/occasional%20papers/HSPOP_2.pdf • Alibek, K. and Handleman, S. (1999) Biohazard: The chilling true story of the largest covert biological weapons program in the world – told from the inside by the man who ran it. New York: Random House. • Wheelis, M., Rosza, L., Dando, M. (eds.) (2006) Deadly Cultures: Biological Weapons Since 1945. Harvard: Harvard University Press.