Modern Multifunctional Mobile Complex for Analysis of Pathogenic Biological Materials Created for NBC Threats (

Several Facts and a Few Questions
Frederico Carvalho
A contribution to the proceedings of Working Group 1 ― Peace, Disarmament, Cooperation
90th Executive Council Meeting of the WFSW, Marrakesh, 8-12 March 2020

As discussed in a previous paper[1] submitted to the WFSW Working Group 1[2], biological agents have been used in multiple occasions in the course of History as a means to subdue or defeat an enemy at war or annihilate legitimate resistance of human groups to submission by an alien force. Smallpox viruses and the bacterium Bacillus anthracis are two examples of biological agents that have been weaponized in the context of either state or rogue terrorism[3]. In recent times a particularly tragic episode has been the use of biological weapons by the Japanese Army against the Chinese [4]

Building on the site of the Unit 731 complex of biological weapons in Harbin
©Akiyoshi Matsuoka, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Unit 371, pictured, was a secret biological and chemical warfare research and development unit of the Japanese Imperial Army that carried out lethal human experimentation on civilians and prisoners of war including Russian and American soldiers captured on various fronts during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), part of World War II.

US President Gerald Ford signs the US instrument of ratification of the BWC on 23 January 1975 (Photo credit: Ford Presidential Library)

In 1972 the so-called Biological Weapons Convention[5] short for Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction, was opened for signature on April 10. The Convention entered into force on March 26, 1975. At present 183 states are party to the Convention, a set that includes all major world powers[6]. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council are signatories. It is noteworthy that this was the first multilateral disarmament treaty banning the production of an entire category of weapons.

Fifty years before that, in 1925, a Protocol was signed in Geneva that prohibited the use of both chemical and biological weapons[7]. The Geneva Protocol did not however outlaw either the possession, production, storage, transfer or development of those weapons. It simply prohibited the use of chemical and biological weapons in international armed conflicts. Furthermore a number of countries submitted reservations when becoming parties to the Geneva Protocol, declaring that they only regarded the non-use obligations as applying to other parties and that these obligations would cease to apply if the prohibited weapons were used against them.

The BWC, a considerable step forward in the direction leading to disarmament and preservation of peace, remains in force until the present day. The Convention is however serious flawed by the absence of a verification procedure to monitor compliance with the provisions of the agreement. That absence being a cause of concern has led to a process of negotiations that started in 1990. Since 1980, quinquennial review conferences of the Convention had been held but until the present day no agreement on a mechanism to monitor compliance has been reached.

Between 1995 and 2001 negotiations towards an internationally binding verification protocol to the BWC took place in a forum known as the Ad Hoc Group. On 25 July 2001, however, the process was effectively doomed once the Bush administration, after conducting a review of policy on biological weapons, decided that the proposed protocol did not suit the national interests of the United States[8].

The next review conference is scheduled to take place in Geneva in late 2021. In 1986 an agreement was reached on the principle of the voluntary submission of annual reports by the state parties to the United Nations on the so-called Confidence Building Measures. Actually only about half of the treaty signatories submit these voluntary annual reports[9].

Article 1 of the BWC reads as follows:
“Each State Party to this Convention undertakes never in any circumstances to develop, produce, stockpile or otherwise acquire or retain:

  • (1) Microbial or other biological agents, or toxins whatever their origin or method of production, of types and in quantities that have no justification for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes;
  • (2) Weapons, equipment or means of delivery designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes or in armed conflict.”

The provisions of Article 1 have since been clarified in the course of the mentioned Review Conferences to include all future scientific and technological developments relevant to the Convention. This clarification is particularly significant in view of the accelerated development of techniques and methods that take advantage of new scientific knowledge often encompassing different disciplines that may be used for non-peaceful purposes i.e. that may be weaponized.

And how to ensure that the purpose served by the biological agent or toxin ― a poisonous substance produced within living cells or organisms ― is a prophylactic or a protective one or other peaceful purpose? How to determine that the retained quantity is consistent with the proclaimed purpose?

Furthermore, it is possible to interpret the provisions of the Convention as banning the creation of biological arsenals and outlawing offensive biological research, while defensive research is permissible. DARPA’s programme “Insect Allies” launched in 2016 has been described as “pursuing scalable, readily deployable, and generalizable countermeasures against potential natural and engineered threats to the food supply with the goals of preserving the U.S. crop system[10]. The mention of “engineered threats” widens the scope of possible purposes to include defensive action against “threats introduced by state or non-state actors”. This would be a permissible purpose. However the programme is giving rise among members of the international scientific community to concerns about being possibly misused for the purpose of biological warfare. In the opinion of Dr. Guy Reeves, a post-doctoral genetics researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Germany and one of the authors of a report critical of the “Insect Allies” Programme[11], (quote): “Given 30 seconds and a bit of imagination, there is nothing that you can’t imagine a genetically modified virus could do, particularly if these viruses have the capacity to seek out in the environment a species and genetically alter them”[12].

The interest of the military in possible dual-use technological advances in applied biological research is well documented. Despite the ratification of the Biological Weapons Convention and in the absence of agreement on a compliance mechanism, the threat of biological warfare remains. According to a recent report on the status of the USA National Biodefense Security[13], Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, and Syria[14] are still engaging in dual-use or bioweapons activities. Other sources refer that Israel, the United Kingdom and France may as well be engaging in such activities.

It is important to note that biosecurity at all levels, either national or global, can be endangered not only by biological warfare and bioterrorism, but also by laboratory accidents with dangerous pathogens. The fact that the synthesis of deadly pathogens is made possible by new developments in synthetic biology[15] is a source of serious concern. Since the field of synthetic biology “includes the art and science of constructing viral genomes” it will e.g.  be possible to create in the laboratory the smallpox virus that has been eradicated from nature[16]. The only known samples of the virus responsible for 300 million deaths in the 20th century only are or have been held in two high-security facilities in the United States and Russia.

In this context it is appropriate to quote MIT biochemist Kevin Esvelt’s warning that “improved DNA assembly techniques and awareness of their capabilities have made potential pandemic viruses widely accessible to non-state actors”[17].

Manipulation of biological agents is carried out in high security facilities of which a significant number is operated by the militaries or national security agencies. According to a Jeremy Patterson’s post in the Arms Control Association website, the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security “will conduct threat assessment research, a controversial type of biological research in which new types of biological weapons are produced by researchers in order to determine their potential viability and how one might defend against them”. According to the author, some outside experts say that such research is of tenuous legal standing from the perspective of the Biological Weapons Convention.[18]

Scientists with positive pressure protective suits in a high security laboratory (BSL-4)
“The NIAID Integrated Research Facility in Frederick, Maryland”
Courtesy: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

The number of Biosafety Level 4 (BSL-4) labs in the USA increased from 5 to 15 between 2001 and 2007. Presently worldwide the total number of BSL-4 labs whose existence is disclosed is 53. Several sources let understand that the real number is higher.

A few years ago statements by high level authorities of the Russian Federation accused the USA of “encircling Russia with bioweapons labs[19] and covertly spreading them. Particular mention was made to a “clandestine biological weapons lab in the country of Georgia, allegedly flouting international conventions and posing a direct security threat to Russia[20]. These accusations are strongly denied by the American authorities[21].

Recalling President George W. Bush’s stance of 2001 of refusing the proposed internationally binding verification protocol to the BWC protocol, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, speaking at a session of the UN Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, accused the US of “continuing to block all efforts to create a verification mechanism for the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, which came into force in 1975, while creating its own mechanism for biowarfare security[22].

In the case of the USA, according to various sources, the interest on the military applications of both biological and chemical agents has a long history of tragic achievements. Larry Romanoff[23] in a recent article writes that “the US government and its many agencies and educational and health institutions, have for many decades conducted intensive research into biological warfare, in many cases strongly focused on race-specific pathogens”.

In the year 2000, in a report produced for “The Project for the New American Century” entitled “Rebuilding America’s Defenses”, the authors stated: “Advanced forms of biological warfare that can ‘target’ specific genotypes may transform biological warfare … to a politically useful tool.”[24]

It is generally known that DNA data banks both public and private exist in several countries the largest ones being national DNA databases. A national DNA database is a DNA database maintained by the government for storing DNA profiles of its population. They are generally used for forensic purposes which includes searching and matching of DNA profiles of potential criminal suspects. Defining “criminal suspect” leaves a wide margin of interpretation that can be exploited by law enforcement and security agencies for purposes contrary to common good.

At present DNA profiles of hundreds of thousands even millions of individuals that have been collected not always with clear justification, are stored in biobanks. The largest DNA databank in existence is supposedly in the USA. The Department of Defense maintains a DNA database with more than 50 million records[25].

In the course of the last decade several sources have disclosed disturbing news concerning a renewed interest of the military to collect DNA samples either directly or by proxy parties in foreign countries. Although it is difficult to establish details or veracity of the cases reported it is a fact that at least in the case of the Russian Federation suspicions have been voiced at the highest level of official responsibilities.

In July, the US Air Force Air Education and Training Command issued a tender on FedBizOpps, a US government website, seeking to acquire samples of ribonucleic acid (RNA) and synovial fluid from Russians. All samples – 12 of RNA and 27 of synovial fluid –“shall be collected from Russia and must be Caucasian,” the tender said. The source adds that “what exactly was meant by ‘Caucasian’ is open to interpretation”. Anyhow the Air Force tender is quoted as explicitly saying that it would not consider tissue samples from Ukraine. Beyond the samples “information on the donor’s sex, age, ethnicity, weight, height and medical history” was also required[26].

Another source refers that “(…) during a meeting of the Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights, President Putin questioned the intent behind the collection by foreign agents of biological material from different Russian ethnic groups[27].[28]

As far as China is concerned ― another “pet enemy” of the USA ― one source bluntly states that “(…) U.S. universities and NGOs went to China specifically to do illegal biological experimentation (…).Harvard University, one of the major players in this scandal, stole the DNA samples of hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens, left China with those samples, and continued illegal bio-research in the U.S.[29]

President George WBush signs the Patriot Act (October 26, 2001)

In 1989, one year before the start of negotiations towards an internationally binding verification protocol to the BWC, to which reference is made above, the United States Congress passed the Bioweapons Anti-Terrorism Act (BWATA) to implement the Convention. The Act that applies the Convention’s provisions to countries and private citizens, and criminalizes violations of the Convention, was not meant exclusively for internal use. BWATA has been expanded two separate times through the implementation of new laws. The most recent expansion of its provisions is embodied in the USA Patriot Act adopted in 2001 in the aftermath of the World Trade Center disaster and the Anthrax letters episode[30].

Letter containing anthrax spores sent to Senator Daschle (October 9, 2001)
Bacillus anthracis spores. Scanning Electron Microscopy Image Credit: J.H. Carr, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
SARS-CoV-2 virus. Transmission electron microscopy image
Credit: NIAID-RML, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

The Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989 (BWATA) was drafted by University of Illinois international law professor Francis A. Boyle. Francis A. Boyle is the author of “Biowarfare and Terrorism”, published in 2005[31]. He is quoted as “blowing the whistle” on the Anthrax attacks on the U.S. in the wake of the “9/11” tragedy, stating “he believes the Anthrax originated from American BSL-4 (Biosaftey Level 4) labs”. In a recent interview[32] Dr. Boyle discusses the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China and the Biosafety Level 4 laboratory (BSL-4) there from which he believes the infectious disease unintentionally escaped. In the report of the interview he is quoted as believing “the virus is potentially lethal and an offensive biological warfare weapon or dual-use biowarfare weapons agent genetically modified with gain of function properties, which is why the Chinese government originally tried to cover it up and is now taking drastic measures to contain it”.

As pointed out by Lynn C. Klotz, a longtime member of the Scientists’ Working Group on Chemical and Biological Weapons[33], quoting the Bioweapons Monitor, “(c)ompliance with the (bioweapons) prohibition is about more than verifying the absence of biological weapons. Perhaps more importantly, it is also about verifying the peaceful nature of activities that could contribute to biological weapons development efforts.” The author adds that “(t)he Monitor argued that political scientists and diplomats have consistently stressed that multilateral arms control regimes rely on transparency to be effective. Transparency serves to reassure countries that others are not conducting illicit work. “Excessive secrecy of activities in the biological field, particularly if carried out in military facilities, is likely to lead to misinterpretation and suspicion, and may result in a new biological arms race.”” (end of quote)

In our opinion, it is imperative that in the next review conference of the Biological Weapons Convention scheduled to take place in Geneva in late 2021, negotiations towards an internationally binding verification protocol to the BWC be resumed.

Frederico Carvalho
March 5, 2020
Revised: April 13, 2020

[1] “Insect Allies ― A new Bioweapon System?”, Frederico Carvalho, February 22, 2019
[2] WG 3 ― “Peace, Disarmament and Cooperation”, WFSW 89th Executive Council Meeting. Paris, 29-30 April 2019
[3] Nordic rebels, supplied by the German General Staff, used anthrax against the Imperial Russian Army in Finland in 1916. In 1978–79, the Rhodesian government used anthrax against cattle and humans during its campaign against rebels. In 2001, a week after the destruction of the World Trade Center buildings, letters containing anthrax spores were posted by mail to several recipients in the USA. Five persons were killed and 17 were sickened. 
In 1763, smallpox was used by the British forces in North America, against disaffected tribes of Indians. The natives who had never been exposed to the disease before and had no immunity, were decimated in large numbers. The British used it as well against the Americans during the American Revolutionary War (1775-83).
[4] Cf. “The history of biological warfare”, Friedrich Frischknecht, EMBO Rep. 2003 Jun; 4(Suppl 1): S47–S52
After the war, the Soviets convicted some of the Japanese biowarfare researchers for war crimes, but the USA granted freedom to all researchers in exchange for information on their human experiments. In this way, war criminals once more became respected citizens, and some went on to found pharmaceutical companies. Ishii’s successor, Masaji Kitano, even published postwar research articles on human experiments, replacing ‘human’ with ‘monkey’ when referring to the experiments in wartime China
[5] Cf.
[6] The State of Israel is a conspicuous non-party state.
[7] As of July 2019, 142 states have ratified, acceded to, or succeeded to the Geneva Protocol most recently Colombia on 24 November 2015.
[8] Cf. “Why Bush Is Right to Reject a Defective B.W.C. Protocol”, July 30, 2001Center for Security Policy
[10] eat plants and insects transmit the majority of plant viruses. (…) DARPA plans to harness the power of this natural system by engineering genes inside plant viruses that can be transmitted by insects to confer protective traits to the target plants they feed upon.”
See also Ref.1
[11] “Agricultural research, or a new bioweapon system?”, R. G. Reeves , S. Voeneky , D. Caetano-Anollés , F. Beck , C. Boëte, Science 05 Oct 2018, Vol. 362, Issue 6410, pp. 35-37
[13]NATIONAL BIODEFENSE STRATEGY, Additional Efforts Would Enhance Likelihood of Effective Implementation”, Report to Congressional Committees, GAO-20-273 United States Government Accountability Office, February 2020
[14] Syria has signed but not ratified the Biological Weapon Convention. The other mentioned States are parties to the Convention
[15] Synthetic biology is a multidisciplinary area of research that seeks to create new biological parts, devices, and systems, or to redesign systems that are already found in nature. (
[16] In 2017, the virologist David Evans made headlines when he used synthetic biology to recreate the extinct horsepox virus, which is closely related to the virus that causes smallpox, a disease eradicated in 1980. Cf.“A biotech firm made a smallpox-like virus on purpose. Nobody seems to care”, Gregory D. Koblentz, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, February 21, 2020
[17]Inoculating science against potential pandemics and information hazards”, Kevin M. Esvelt , PLOS, October 4, 2018 (
[18]Weapons Labs Biological Research Raises Concerns”, Jeremy Patterson, Arms Control Today, Vol.38, March 2008 (
[19] Statement by the Russian Foreign Minister, RT-News, Jun 11 2015, (
[20] Russian Defense Ministry Press Service Via Associated Press, quoted in The Star Advertiser: “Russia claims U.S. running secret bioweapons lab in Europe”, Oct. 4, 2018
[21] Cf. “The Russian disinformation attack that poses a biological danger”, Filippa Lentzos, The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, November 19, 2018
[22] RT-News, February 28, 2018 (
[26]Putin: Someone is harvesting Russian bio samples for obscure purposes”, RT-News, Oct.31, 2017
[27] “What Does Putin Know About Us Plans For Anti-Russian Bioweapon?”, TruNews, Oct 31, 2017
[28] In a recent post, Dr. Paul Craig Roberts, Head of the Institute for Political Economy, writes: “Information has reached me from Italy, Germany and the UK that foreign-funded NGOs in Russia are collecting Russian DNA samples from all over Russia for the US Government. I have found English language verification of these reports.
What is the reason for the US government’s interest in studying Russian DNA samples? What immediately leaps to mind is a tailored biological weapon that only targets Russians. Washington has evaded constraints placed on biological weapons work by maintaining laboratories in Africa”.
[30] The USA PATRIOT is described as “an Act to deter and punish terrorist acts in the United States and across the globe, to enhance law enforcement investigatory tools, and for other purposes”.
[31]Biowarfare and Terrorism”, Francis A. Boyle, 2005, Ed. Clarity Press. Inc.
Excerpt from a short synopsis published in the Amazon website (
This book reviews the historical background for the law, policy, and science behind biological weapons in the United States: how and why the United States government initiated, sustained, and then dramatically expanded an illegal biological arms race with potentially catastrophic consequences for the human species and its supporting biosphere on this fragile planet Earth”. In “Dead Silence: Fear and Terror on the Anthrax Trail” Ed. Counterpoint, Berkeley, published 2009, Authors Bob Coen and Eric Nadler, refer to Francis Boyle as “an outspoken opponent of biowarfare research and development”.
[32]Creator Of US Bioweapons Act Says Coronavirus Is Biological Warfare Weapon”, Tyler Durden, ZeroHedge, February. 4, 2020 (
[33]The Biological Weapons Convention protocol should be revisited”, Lynn C. Klotz, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, November 15, 2019 (