Op-Ed – Improving Intelligence on Emerging Bioweapons Threats: New Engagements Needed Between Intelligence and Academia

Kathleen M. Vogel, Associate Professor, Department of Science and Technology Studies and the Judith Reppy Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies, Cornell University

Since the end of the Cold War and the rise of asymmetric security threats, the U.S intelligence and policy communities have been increasingly concerned about new types of bioweapons attacks that might arise from a spectrum of state and non-state actors. In a 1995 U.S. Senate hearing, CIA official Gordon Oehler lamented that, “the increasingly troubled post–Cold War world has, in a curious way, made us yearn for the dark days of the 1960s and 1970s when we knew the kind of target we were dealing with and the problems we were facing.” Former CIA Director Jim Woolsey also likened the challenge of meeting a growing and diverse set of national security threats in the post-Cold War period as a “jungle filled with a bewildering variety of poisonous snakes.” With the events of September 11th, new scientific developments, and an increase in the globalization and diffusion of biotechnologies, the number of possible poisonous snakes has continued to grow. Recently, specific concerns have arisen that advances in the life sciences and biotechnology have made bioweapons capabilities accessible to an increasing number of actors, including not just individuals linked to terrorist organizations but also garage bio-hackers, proverbial “mad scientists,” and other bio-criminals. The danger that violent non-state actors will acquire and use powerful weapons to kill, injure, or simply disrupt life for a large number of people remains one of the foremost national security concerns in this environment.

On 12-14 September 2012 in London, I partnered with the UK Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) Genomics Policy and Research Forum to organize a meeting entitled, “US-UK Joint Workshop on Improving Intelligence Analysis for Emerging Biotechnology Threats.”1 This meeting consisted of a mix of current and former intelligence practitioners and policy officials, and social science and scientific experts from both countries. The workshop was designed to: (1) examine new analytic approaches that take into account both social and technical factors in assessing emerging bioweapons and dual-use threats; (2) create a new forward-looking dialogue and intellectual exchange between intelligence practitioners and academic experts on how both communities can think more holistically about bioweapons threats; and (3) challenge the conventional wisdom that substantive discussions of analytic methods for bioweapons threats can only occur in highly classified settings.

The workshop presentations and discussions identified two main issues worthy of attention: (1) the need for better conceptual models for understanding biotechnology; and (2) the challenges of integrating these models (or any new analytic approaches) into existing intelligence culture and work practices. Regarding the first issue of developing better conceptual understandings of biotechnology trends, one key panel at the workshop entitled, “Understanding the Emerging Life Science Landscape,” examined two different models for explaining innovations in biotechnology and the life sciences. One well-known model, the “biotech revolution model,” presented at the workshop by Gerald Epstein, Homeland Security Department deputy assistant secretary for chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear policy, emphasizes the importance of codified knowledge and the material aspects of biotechnology, with a fixed technological trajectory. According to this model, biotechnology is seen as becoming more powerful, available, familiar, and decentralized. As a result, the bioweapons threat is expected to grow in the future.

An alternative model, which could be dubbed the “biotech evolution model,” presented by University of Sheffield sociologist of biotechnology Paul Martin, illustrated how there is a lot of uncertainty in how biotechnologies might develop in the future due to the complex social, economic, scientific, and technical factors that shape biotech innovation and its applications. This model, based on decades of in-depth qualitative social science research, involving longitudinal (20-30 years) case studies covering a range of biotechnologies, reveals a slower, more complex, and non-linear model for biotechnology development than the biotech revolution model. Some of the growth-determining factors accounted for by the evolutionary model can powerfully modulate potential bioweapons threats. The upshot of these presentations and subsequent discussions was the need for a better conceptual model, such as the one proposed by Paul Martin, for explaining changes and modes of technology transfer in biotechnology and the life sciences and how these map onto specific threats, all of which take into account important social, economic, organizational, and network factors in addition to technical issues.

The second critical issue that emerged in the workshop discussions centered on the challenges of integrating new analytic approaches into existing intelligence culture and work practices. Several intelligence practitioners at the meeting stated that intelligence analysts face pressures to continually produce “current intelligence reports,” which are a type of intelligence writing that emphasize short pieces of analysis on just-in-time intelligence information. In this work environment, intelligence analysts are consumed daily with having to keep up with producing current intelligence reports for a variety of policy customers—a demanding task that comes at the expense of developing long-term, in-depth analytic programs.2

Moreover, other practitioners noted that since the 2003 Iraq intelligence failures, the intelligence community has become highly risk averse in making analytical judgments. This has led to the development of an “audit culture,” where intelligence analysts rely upon checklists and structured analytic techniques in order to increase confidence in their judgments. According to practitioners at the workshop, although these tools can be useful, they have also made producing intelligence a more bureaucratic process that comes at the expense of building up in-depth subject-matter expertise, mentorship relationships among junior and senior analysts, and long-term institutional knowledge. Furthermore, intelligence analysts face challenges in acquiring and processing information related to bioweapons threats. According to intelligence practitioners, there is typically little evidence of state/non-state actors developing biological weapons. In contrast, there is an overload of information about general biotechnology developments, which begs for better tools or conceptual aids to help the analyst sort through this sea of information to identify and prioritize potential security risks. These statements by intelligence practitioners at the workshop regarding the daily work challenges facing analysts highlighted how it is useful to consider how, and to what extent, new analytic approaches can be successfully adopted and used in intelligence units, and the work that would be required for that to happen in this context.

The London workshop raised a number of intriguing issues that would benefit from further inquiry by additional conversations between intelligence practitioners and academic experts. These discussions could be initiated by either party and could be done on an unclassified basis.3 In doing so, these kinds of dialogues would further a 2008 directive on “Analytic Outreach” from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that charged intelligence analysts to engage outside experts in order to “explore ideas and alternative perspectives, gain new insights, generate new knowledge, or obtain new information.” The Directive recognizes the importance for analysts to move out of their classified domains in order to tap into valuable outside knowledge and expertise relevant to intelligence problems and that can challenge erroneous group-think that can occur in the closed worlds of intelligence. This type of engagement can also be beneficial to academic scholars because it allows them to better understand practical, working-level and institutional challenges that face intelligence analysts in bringing new ideas, techniques, and tools to their work. Thus, the workshop showed that there is much to be gained by bringing the academic and intelligence communities in close conversation with one another to further both communities’ understanding of how to improve assessments of bioweapons threats. More initiatives along these lines should be supported by government and non-government funds.


1. Funding support for the workshop was provided by the UK Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) Genomics Policy and Research Forum. The Genomics Policy and Research Forum is a novel ESRC-funded initiative dedicated to the development of links between social scientists and scientists working in the contemporary life sciences, and the connection of research in this area to policymakers, business, the media and civil society. The Genomics Forum is based at the University of Edinburgh [and is part of the ESRC Genomics Network (EGN), a major ESRC investment spanning five of the UK’s leading universities examining the development and use of the science and technologies of genomics. I would also like to thank Christine Knight at the ESRC and Mark Jansson at FAS for their early feedback on this article.
2.  I have previously noted that these pressures for current intelligence reports have a history that begins to emerge with the end of the Cold War.  For more discussion of this, see:  Kathleen M. Vogel, Phantom Menace or Looming Danger?: A New Framework for Assessing Bioweapons Threats (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013).
3.  Within the U.S. intelligence community, the National Intelligence Council as well as the Department of State’s Global Futures Forum, would be natural counterparts to initiate these conversations as these entities have a track record of engaging with a diverse set of experts in the academic community in an unclassified manner.  The Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s Biological Sciences Experts Group (BSEG) aims to increase academic expertise into intelligence, but some of the existing limitations of this Group include: a primary focus on technical expertise, a requirement that academics obtain security clearances, and BSEG meetings occur within classified spaces.  BSEG, however, could be modified to become a more open and inclusive body for academic-intelligence discussions and engagements.

Op-Ed – With the Changing Biological threat…smart international engagement policy would lower cost and increase national security.

David R. Franz, DVM, Ph.D.
Former Commander
US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases

“There is no technical solution…”: In 1998, after we understood the enormity of the Soviet offensive program and the potential of the Iraqi one to disrupt, Nobel Laureate Joshua Lederberg said, “There is no technical solution to this problem of biological warfare. It needs an ethical, human and moral solution, if it’s going to happen at all….” Then he paused and said, “But would an ethical or moral solution appeal to a sociopath?” The early days of the biological Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program were similar to the nuclear and missile programs. Cutting up an anthrax production fermenter the size of a Kansas farm silo is not a lot different than eliminating a Soviet silo constructed to launch an ICBM. But when the anthrax fermenter is relegated to the scrap heap and its operator is a pensioner, how do we reduce the likelihood that the next generation of molecular biologists and virologists, with much better tools and knowledge, continue to work for “the good” of their people, their country and for a global community?

Simple metrics for sustainable engagement would change the way we think…and act: “It’s possible to succeed in accomplishing what we set out to measure and still fail in our overall objective.” Furthermore, the most important metrics for international engagement of any kind are often difficult or impossible to measure. However, if we go forward with a set of metrics [or call them goals] of success firmly in mind—even unmeasurable ones—the likelihood of a successful and sustainable national security outcome is greatly enhanced.

1) Are we using taxpayer dollars efficiently? (Yes; our less fortunate friends are watching this.)
2) Are our engagement activities really enhancing our partners’ health and human security?
3) Are we teaming effectively with our partners; have they “bought in” to the partnership?
4) Will our work result in sustainable capabilities and positive long-term relationships?
5) Is there evidence of open communication and even trust between us?

We can accomplish these goals through collaborative partnerships with credible people, when technical knowledge is the currency and honesty, integrity and even a sense of humor are the vehicle. We must therefore, send credible, knowledgeable experts to meet with their equals.

Our National Experience at the end of the Cold War: When the Soviet Union fell and the Trilateral Agreement to assure the dismantlement of their offensive biological warfare infrastructure collapsed, the visionary Nunn-Lugar CTR program engaged former weapons labs and scientists. Its additional purpose was to reduce the likelihood that their technologies and knowledge would proliferate to other countries. Engagement was focused on securing facilities, neutralizing pathogen production capabilities and redirection of biological scientists to peaceful pursuits. The labs and the scientists desperately needed financial help so they “cooperated.”

Seeking to understand the natural risks and intentional threats: Today, fifteen million humans die of communicable and contagious disease globally each year. Microbes move constantly and quickly with their human and animal hosts. An individual exposed to a virus in Beijing, Bangkok or Buenos Aires can be in Boston before symptoms of disease are manifest. Microbes don’t respect political borders and what happens in “your country” can be in “my country” tomorrow. The same is true of illicit development and transport of biological weapons. To counter this threat, we attempt to understand the “intent” of nation states and the “capabilities” of sub-state groups. Neither is easy in biology. There are no portals through which we can have them pass to identify a virus-containing vial, canister or human. And we can’t “secure” all the microbes, the instrumentation, the knowledge or the scientists.

Exporting the U.S. biosecurity model: Worried about the insider threat at home, we have imposed severe regulatory and security burdens on our own scientists in the form of “select agent rules” and “biological surety” regulation. These include background checks, psychological testing, “guns, gates and guards” around laboratories and agent accountability schemes akin to those used in our nuclear weapons labs. Our own scientists have no choice but to comply or choose a career outside the affected life-sciences enterprise. However, we are also exporting our security model to some countries where our list of “Especially Dangerous Pathogens” (EDP) pales in the harsh reality of their populations’ disease burdens from HIV-AIDS, drug-resistant TB, malaria and parasitism. Desperate for public health resources, they cooperate with us as we consolidate and secure their labs and ask them to develop standards, regulations and response plans aligned with our priorities for our favorite “threat agents”…the EDP. Much of this technical work was needed and has significantly improved their options regarding laboratory safety and their laboratory’s security profiles, raising the bar for a wouldbe terrorist hoping to obtain a pathogen strain. However, when the contract ends, we just don’t know…unless relationships of respect and trust have been established
in the process.

Health Engagement for National Security: Professor Lederberg was right; technical means [used for nuclear threats] aren’t the solution to this challenge. But how to apply the “ethical and behavioral” fixes he proposed? Focusing together as partners on hard, common human- and animal-health challenges offers several advantages over “leading with security.” Leading with Public Health can make a real difference that is relevant to human health and human security. It brings like-minded people and their technical capabilities together in a non-threatening environment. Most importantly, it almost guarantees improved understanding and even trust between the collaborating partners. Trust between individuals, particularly highly qualified individuals, often leads to communication and even trust between governments. And most importantly, the personal relationships and the open communication that result from real health or science engagement are sustainable at almost no cost even when the official engagement ends.

It’s about people and relationships: Government funding agencies or congress often mandate metrics of engagement, but the right metrics are especially important for the individuals we send to engage. If the measure of success is to “build a containment laboratory and a security system around it,” our contractors go in with a “project” mindset. Just get it done! Such international projects can actually do harm, if the human relationships are not positive…and we have no way of knowing how the upgraded biological facilities will be used after we depart. However, if real scientists and clinicians engage for mutually relevant reasons, the outcome is typically far different, beneficial to our partners and actually enhances our own health security and our national security. While our view of intentional threats, and even natural risks, will never be even close to perfect it could be better; we must be alert to the ever-changing biological world around us. Friends can and do help us…when and where we have them.

Op-Ed – The Biological Weapons Program of the Soviet Union

Milton Leitenberg
Senior Research Scholar
Center for International Security Studies, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland 

In a highly unusual and unanticipated development, the United States government announced the end of its offensive biological weapons (BW) program on November 25, 1969. US BW stockpiles were destroyed in 1971-1972, and facilities converted. Great Britain, by then also divested of its BW program, proposed a treaty banning BW, which had been until that time always combined with chemical weapons in arms-control negotiations. The Soviet Union initially opposed this proposal, but changed its position in 1971. The USSR and the US then negotiated the final language of the treaty: it would ban the development, production, stockpiling, acquisition, retention and transfer of BW. However the US-Soviet treaty language deleted two key provisions of the British draft treaty: a ban on research, and the inclusion of on-site verification provisions. The Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), without these key provisions, was signed on April 10, 1972 and entered into force on March 27, 1975 following ratification.

However, precisely at the end of 1971, the Central Committee of the Soviet Union, under Leonid Brezhnev, approved a massive expansion of the Soviet offensive BW program. From 1975 on the Soviet BW program existed in violation of the BWC. The USSR could maintain the violation only through decades of deception and blatant lying. The instrumental forces in the Soviet decision-making structure that were responsible for maintaining the program during this period were a small coterie of scientists at the senior level of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, the 15th Directorate of the General Staff and senior officials of the Military Industrial Commission (VPK). If, and when, the program was definitively closed down in the decades after the dissolution of the USSR remains unknown to this day.

Why did the Soviet leadership do this? What did they intend to use BW for? Against who? In what circumstances? Why did Michael Gorbachev, despite his enormous achievements in strategic and conventional arms control in the face of opposition by the Soviet Ministry of Defense, fail to abolish the BW program? Why did Boris Yeltsin also fail to abolish the program despite promising the US and UK governments that he would do so?

The Soviet BW program was initiated in 1928. Germany was not an enemy then, neither was the US, and no other country at the time had such a program. It continued during WWII and directly afterwards. After 1945, the Soviet program benefited from information obtained from the wartime Japanese and US BW programs, in the US case particularly from two books written by Theodor Rosebury, an instrumental figure in the US wartime program. Roseburys’ publications emphasized aerosol distribution of pathogens, which became the major means of BW dispersion. Beginning in 1949, the USSR also initiated a campaign of falsely accusing the US of using BW all over the world, most famously during the Korean War. The accusations, all of them fabrications, continued until 1988.

In the pre-1969 US BW program, as in the pre-1972 Soviet one, classical genetic selection techniques were used to select for characteristics that would enhance the virulence and hardiness of pathogens that could incapacitate or kill men and women, animals or plants. In addition, an effort was made to obtain antibiotic-resistant strains of these organisms, as well as ones with modified surface antigenic properties. The latter ability would permit the pathogen to overcome the opponents’ defenses, both vaccines and antibiotics, as well as evade detection and identification systems.
The purpose of the post-1972 Soviet BW program was to use the new techniques of molecular genetics for the same purposes. It is notable that virtually every research direction of the post-1972 Soviet BW program followed elements that were already discernable in the pre-1969 US program. In addition, US Department of Defense authorities were extremely careless in publishing technical details of US BW submunitions in 1962 and 1972 in unclassified or declassified reports that were apparently acquired and copied by the USSR.

US government agencies may have made one additional contribution to the Soviet BW effort. The FBI and US Army were carrying out a CW and BW disinformation effort from 1965 on aimed at misleading Soviet intelligence and defense scientists about aspects of US CW and BW R&D. In an incomprehensibly foolish initiative unsupervised and unknown to other US government agencies, messages were sent after November 1969 through a double agent claiming that the US was continuing a covert offensive BW program. This only came to the attention of the National Security Council and the CIA in early 1971, and by mid-1971, before the BWC was signed, the false disinformation effort was shut off.

Soviet Central Committee documents dating from 1986 to 1992 that were obtained in 2006, unfortunately, shed no light as to whether or in what manner or degree the US disinformation may have affected Soviet policy. It has never been referred to in the Central Committee documents. It also seems clear that Soviet intelligence agencies were never able to locate where in the US any such offensive BW effort could have been taking place between 1971 and 1992.

The post-1972 Soviet BW program was composed of four major components, with support from several additional institutional actors. The main elements were major facilities in the Ministries of Defense, Agriculture and Health and the newly created, nominally civilian Biopreparat organization. Between them, they comprised 40-50 research, development and production facilities plus the large military testing site on Vozrozhdeniye Island in the Aral Sea. A key element of the post-1972 program was at least seven or eight “mobilization capacity production facilities.” These were cumulatively capable of initiating production of thousands of tons of BW agents within a year of being ordered in anticipation of a major war with the US. By 1990 the USSR had proof-tested 13 agents and delivery systems. However, its existing BW stockpiles at that time were still composed of classical (non-genetically modified) bacterial and viral strains. The BW delivery systems produced by the Soviet military were spray systems for medium bombers and bomblet multiple munitions to be contained in air-delivered munitions. However, neither of these delivery systems could reach the continental US, aside from Alaska, and no evidence was found for Soviet possession of an intercontinental ballistic missile-delivered BW warhead, as has been reported elsewhere. Europe and NATO forces and installations in Europe and its periphery would perforce, therefore, have been the targets of Soviet biological weapons.

In late-October 1989, the director of one of the major Soviet BW R&D facilities defected to the UK and was debriefed by UK and US government officials. In mid-March 1990, the US and UK presented a joint demarche to the Soviet government asking it to terminate its BW program. Politburo documents demonstrate that discussion of the BW program, referred to as “Special Problems,” had already begun in November 1986. These deliberations proposed the destruction of the Soviet BW stockpiles while retaining the rest of the program, but destruction was apparently not initiated until late in 1989.

On as many as fifteen occasions between May 1990 and July 1991, President Bush, Prime Minister Thatcher, their foreign ministers and ambassadors in Moscow, and other senior US and UK officials, pressed Gorbachev and Soviet Foreign Minister Shevardnadze to close down the Soviet BW program, with no success. Soviet Politburo documents demonstrate with absolute certainty that Gorbachev knew that the USSR maintained an illegal offensive BW program, but he repeatedly denied its existence to Bush, Thatcher and US Secretary of State Baker.

It was the weakest and most difficult period of Gorbachev’s political control while in office. Soviet military officials habitually lied to Gorbachev and the Politburo, and during the same time period, Gorbachev was beset with the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, the issue of German reunification, drastic food shortages in Moscow and other Soviet cities, demands for independence by the Baltic republics and Georgia, and the initiation of Yeltsin’s reach for political power. It was also the time during which Gorbachev had swung his support to hard-line elements in the Kremlin, with the coup attempt occurring in mid-August 1991.

When Yeltsin took office in January 1992, the US forced his public admission that there had been an offensive Soviet BW program and that it had continued until March 1992. Yeltsin promised to abolish the program, which he presumed to think would be possible by decree, and to dismiss the military officials who had run the program for the preceding decades. However, he did not do this. The same military officials who advised Yeltsin in January 1992 to continue the BW program remained in their positions.

Following additional defections from the program, the US and UK stated that the BW program continued as of September 1992. They forced Russian agreement to the Trilateral Statement, signed in Moscow in September 1992, in which Russia committed itself to allow access to the Ministry of Defense BW facilities. However, Russian negotiating teams subsequently ran discussions about access into the ground between 1993 and 1996. Yeltsin was inept and unconcerned, and long before 1996 he had washed his hands of the issue, despite repeated appeals by President Clinton and his senior officials.

US and EU assistance programs for the conversion of the Biopreparat and Ministry of Agriculture facilities eventually led to access and assurance that they were subsequently performing legitimate civilian research and commercial activities. In addition, no proliferation apparently took place from the Soviet BW program. No more than a handful of Russian biological scientists emigrated to countries of BW proliferation concern and they had not been engaged in the Soviet BW program. However, official annual US government declarations continue to question Russian compliance with the BWC, and the three major Ministry of Defense facilities remain closed to this day.

Milton Leitenberg is a Senior Research Scholar at the Center for International Security Studies, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland. He is the co-author, with Raymond Zilinskas, of The Soviet Biological Weapons Program, A History (Harvard University Press, 2012).

Op-Ed – Building Capacity for Global Health and Biosecurity – Moving from Siloes to Systems

Julie E. Fischer
Senior Associate
Stimson Global Health Security Program

Human actions continually transform the landscapes in which pathogens can spread within and between vulnerable populations.

For example, rising average household incomes throughout emerging economies have propelled rising consumption of animal proteins.  Suppliers respond to this new demand by crowding livestock and poultry into farms and markets mingled with human settlements. At the same time, economic opportunities in the dynamic cities of Asia and Africa are driving urbanization at a pace that often outstrips investments in public health and safety infrastructure.  As many as 900 million urban dwellers worldwide live in slum-like conditions marked by crowding and inadequate access to safe water and sanitation, ideal conditions for the rapid spread of communicable diseases.  Sprawling suburbs disrupt sylvan or rural ecosystems, creating complex new interfaces for human, domestic animals, wildlife, and insect interactions. The constant churn of highly mobile workforces within and between countries elevates the risk that any emerging infectious disease that does cross into humans will travel between major urban centers in weeks, or even days.

SARS, H5N1 avian influenza, and the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic demonstrated that these risks are far from hypothetical.  The need to detect emerging infections in real time and develop effective countermeasures creates an obvious conundrum:  how to increase laboratory capacity to identify and analyze potentially lethal pathogens while minimizing the risks of exposures – either accidental exposures of workers to pathogens, or exposures of pathogens to actors who would deliberately divert or misuse them.  The number of high-level containment laboratories worldwide has climbed steadily in the past decade, meeting public health and research objectives but also creating new vulnerabilities.

Not long ago, the international communities vested in biosecurity and in global health approached these challenges separately, often on a disease-by-disease basis.  However, recent processes born of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) and the revised International Health Regulations [IHR (2005)] regimes have reinforced a systems approach to an objective shared by both communities: comprehensive biological risk management.

Between 2003 and 2010, States Parties to the BWC participated in a series of intersessional meetings aimed at maintaining momentum for BWC implementation between the major review conferences.  Despite debate over whether the intersessional program strengthened treaty compliance, the meetings undeniably brought public health and security experts together to examine the practical aspects of biorisk management from a fresh perspective, and to seek new opportunities for cooperation under BWC Article X.  Stakeholders forged partnerships and networks aimed at enhancing national capacities to detect and contain – and thus presumably deter – biological attacks.

In 2005, 194 States Parties (including all 193 member states of the World Health Organization) agreed to adopt IHR (2005), a binding agreement that dramatically overhauled the governance of international public health cooperation.  Unlike previous agreements, which focused primarily on reporting and responding to specific diseases at ports and borders, the revised regulations call on nations to develop the core capacities required to detect, assess, report, and respond to public health events of any origin, whether naturally, accidentally, or deliberately caused.

This sweeping mandate requires nations to strengthen existing systems to detect and respond to public health events and to close any gaps.  The IHR (2005) framework addresses core capacities required to detect emerging health events at the local, intermediate, and national levels – a challenge which relies on establishing appropriate laboratory diagnostic capacities throughout tiered, integrated systems. The IHR indicators include laboratory biosafety and biosecurity measures to ensure that laboratory workers can identify priority diseases in a timely, reliable, and safe manner.

IHR (2005) Article 44 calls upon states to collaborate in building the required capacities by sharing technical, logistical, and financial support.  The revised IHR also required states to report to WHO by June 2012 either that they have either achieved the IHR core capacities, or that they require a two-year extension to implement their national action plans.  Once the tally of extension requests is released publicly, donor states will have a new opportunity to help partner nations support these ambitious, whole-of-government plans at the operational level.

The objectives of public health and security stakeholders in building national capacities for disease detection and response may not be completely overlapping, but they are certainly mutually reinforcing.

The two communities are beginning to find practical ways to approach their mutual objectives.  For example, threat reduction programs in the US, Canada, and other G8 governments have partnered with traditional health and development actors to establish, expand, and connect regional biosafety organizations.  Laboratory accreditation programs are another natural area for collaboration, promoting the reliability of reporting and record-keeping.  Strengthening these networks and training laboratory and health workers in standard practices from specimen collection through sample storage emphasizes a sustainable “culture of safety” that crosses sectors and incorporates biosecurity as an essential worker and community protection.

These regimes and related agreements have created a new framework for aligning public health and global biosecurity priorities at a systems level.  Their success depends very much on maintaining the momentum of the last few years well into the next decade, and on taking the long view.  This means continuing the shift from building capacities to detect and protect specific pathogens to enhancing the skills, tools, and knowledge required to manage biological risks across the spectrum – and keeping the health and security dialogue going.

Op-Ed – The Bangladesh Biosafety & Biosecurity Association: Taking Action to Promote and Foster Local Biosecurity and Biosafety Initiatives and Training

Dr. Asadulghani
President, BBBA
Head, Biosafety & Biosafety Level 3 Laboratory, icddr,b
Mohakhali, Dhaka, Bangladesh

The establishment of the Bangladesh Biosafety & Biosecurity Association (BBBA) was initiated in August 2011 to foster best and sustainable biosafety and biosecurity practices in Bangladesh considering the current situation of ongoing infectious disease outbreaks and increasing demands for research and diagnostics of these disease-causing agents in Bangladesh. The Virtual Biosecurity Center (VBC) provided a grant and together with Biosafety Biosecurity International, assisted in the initiation of activity regarding the formation of BBBA. The icddr,b (International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh) played a key role in organizing and hosting activities that brought the country’s scientific community together to form the BBBA, and continues to advocate and further the BBBA’s goals in many ways,   Read More »