Thursday, November 16, 2017

Targeting Europe: As the Dream of the Caliphate Dies Europe May Witness Chemical Attacks

While much is made of Daesh use of Sarin in Syria, Europe may well be in the future cross hairs as Daesh is removed from its stronghold in Iraq. Although in decline, deep radicalization in some sections of Daesh and its European affiliates/operators, may pose some minor risk to civilian security. Recent inquiries, ill conceived as they are given the new context of things, begs questions related to traditional terrorism and future terrorist weapons. I've made an effort to respond in-spite of past issues.

I believe its wise we focus on the reality of the risk to Europe. Sarin is interesting, but its of limited use by Daesh--regionally limited as their manufacturing is slow and nested in Iraq. Of far more concern is the use of conventional weapons on the streets of London for example--a car used to mow down pedestrians. My concerns are focused on more mundane risks. TATP is a worry and while this could be considered a chemical weapon, its use would be far less exotic than the machinations of some service personnel, who tend toward the more remote far out agents. The real risk from Daesh is the continued use of conventional bombs and cars. Its basic and grey, not as sexy as chemical or its very exotic counterpart biological weapons., which no one but a select few life science experts understand. Nuclear is interesting and I wouldn't rule out small nuclear devices, particularly with the transit areas of concern from East to West.

Clearly returning Daesh fighters pose a threat to nearly every country, especially European and Russian populations. It would be wise however, not to run off in fantasy, pose ill thought out queries and alarm the public. Daesh is a terrorist organization, they've been somewhat effective, but historically, Europe has suffered terrorist attacks and been highly resilient.  My advice to the query I received  recently was simple, develop a nation wide barrier system and a CW detection capability and focus on developing an ARS drug stockpile beyond KI. If Europe is serious about protecting its citizens it must adopt such programs, as early as possible.

The threat Daesh poses may slightly increase or it may not, but terrorism will always be problematic and we should develop the resources to protect against real threats not switch gears or try to distract from these issues.  By lowering the bar, we underestimate the resolve of our enemies. Now, the taking of public places like we've seen in Russia with terrorists conducting mass killings of civilians in closed areas like theaters and Beslan School 1, could be attractive and the use of drugs to slow down those who might flee is on the outer ramparts, one can't totally exclude it, Daesh has successfully launched a number of low level attacks and achieved fear so its hard to imagine them, particularly in a state of deep decline, launching a more elevated attack. I wouldn't put it beyond some of the other more professional terrorist organizations, some of the older factions. It should be noted that while I've ventured a best guess on Daesh, I claim no expertise in Daesh, Islamic terrorism or chemical weapons. I remain interested purely in realistic nuclear and bio scenarios. Outreach is an issue the IC can't afford to make too many mistakes with, lest it interfere and obstruct the objective of protecting society from terrorism. Few volunteer and assets viewed as fools by the IC, have a history of biting back. Its embarrassing to watch certain activities from inside. Routing out Daesh will require an investment in resources and long term planning, not short term, ill conceived, solutions.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Scientific Flight from Syria to Lebanon

Recently, I met a long time scientific colleague at a defense conference who happened to mention one of his Syrian colleagues had decamped to Lebanon. While this casual observation may be nothing more than names dropped into a conversation, it does beg the question of the consequences of 'scientific flight,' not only from the SSRC in Syria, but other, what I will call, "labs of concern" scattered throughout the Middle East and Asia. Moreover, should we, as Europeans, be worried about the potential risk of scientists from countries under sanction by Europe and the US, coming to work in our most sensitive pharmaceutical sectors or perhaps the transfer of their weapon knowledge via recruitment by Daesh?

One can recall the deep concern, after the fall of the Soviet Union, of scientists with biological, nuclear and chemical weapon expertise fleeing to states which offered lucrative contracts and the threat reduction programs developed to inhibit and keep track of a handful of these folks e.g. ISTC. As US threat reduction programs, over the past few years, have disintegrated are we safer now? Has the threat diminished? Common sense would seem to dictate that not only has the threat not diminished, it likely has increased as scientific communities are displaced throughout unstable regions wracked by war. One benefit of a strong Russia is the reduction of scientific flight from former Soviet military laboratories, however without restoration of the status quo in the Middle East in site, offensive weapon programs and the proliferation threat this poses, could well replace the former Soviet threat tenfold.

As my colleagues' colleague takes up residence in Lebanon any potential knowledge of offensive programs, run out of the SSRC which is currently sanctioned by the US Treasury Dept., could well pose a risk of knowledge transfer to forces hostile to the US, Europe and certainly Israel. According to a report by IHS Jane's Military and Security Intelligence Centre:

"Despite the existing range of sanctions against the organisation (see Box 4), the SSRC remains largely intact. Even if the current international effort to dismantle Syria's chemical agent development and storage activities are completed effectively, the SSRC has accrued and established a sizeable knowledge base and technical expertise. Aided by its enduring external support network, this capability could easily be resurrected some time in the future. The most recent co-operative international opportunity to curtail the SSRC's activities were measures adopted by the EU on 29 November 2012 (Designation 1117/2012). However, these focus not on the SSRC's proliferation activities or breach of international, US, and European law in pursuit Jane’s Page 5 of 6 of materiel or technologies to support its proliferation ambitions, but on human rights violations, namely providing "support to the Syrian army for the acquisition of equipment used directly for the surveillance and repression of demonstrators". Undeterred by the existing international sanctions and aided by concerted procurement activities, the SSRC's missile and rocket development has been secured and consolidated, and its proliferation momentum continues unabated.
The SSRC and entities operating on its behalf have appeared on the US list of Specially Designated Nationals (SDNs) since 2005 under Presidential Executive Order 13382, 'Blocking Property of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferators and their Supporters', which prohibited US citizens and residents from doing business with the SSRC. In 2007 the US Treasury banned trade with three subsidiaries of the SSRC: the Higher Institute of Applied Science and Technology (HIAST), the Electronics Institute, and the National Standards and Calibration Laboratory (NSCL)."

For a detailed description of proliferation issues with the SSRC see Jane's:

NATO Member States would surely benefit from a more defined common approach to this threat and a clear policy on countering proliferation of scientific flight from Syria to other states. As the perception of Russia as a Cold War enemy recedes, perhaps its time to assess the more realistic and long term threats posed by proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. In order to secure Europe we will need to develop a more rigorous shift in our perception and resources to define a non-proliferation approach which emphasizes non-state parties; one which considers a new paradigm for dealing with Daesh recruitment of scientific experts. Maintaining command and control of scientific institutions within states of concern should be our raison d'etre.

Sanctions on the SSRC in Damascus

Sunday, November 22, 2015

France Prepares for CBW Attacks While Europe Sleeps

The rod shaped Anthrax bacteria: Bacillus anthracis bacteria, the cause of anthrax. Magnification: x18,300
While France prepares its population for continued terrorist attacks and the possible use of chemical or biological weapons, other EU states avoid the obvious conclusion that a prepared public is better than an unprepared one. Several smaller states, excluding Spain and Germany, continue the drum beat that there is no significant threat to them or their civilian populations. In study after study this has not been proven to be the case and public preparedness has been shown to reduce casualties (see:; 

PM Valls statement on the bio-chem threat was in part motivated by the apparent loss of several bio-chem suits from a Paris hospital. While its possible these suits were misplaced or that inventory lists were incorrect, and warnings are not based singularly on bio-chem suits being unaccounted for, the French have taken appropriate measures.  Belgium has increased security at its nuclear facilities and France has increased protection for water supply facilities taking note of analysis by French intelligence that IS is capable of manufacturing crude chemical warfare agents.

"Eau de Paris, the capital's state-run water company, has banned access to six sensitive sites to all but key personnel following the Government's decision to declare a state of emergency for three months. "Our eight security agents are the only ones to be accredited by the defence ministry and are in permanent contact with the terrorism cell of Paris police headquarters," a spokesman told Le Parisien." "The storage and treatment sites have protective fencing and special sensors to detect intrusion. To limit the risk of contamination, Eau de Paris has increase the amount of chlorine added to water at five supply sites." "The dose injected has been raised," said Celia Blauel, president of Eau de Paris. Chlorine is a key indicator of any anomaly in the water. "When the chlorine level drops, it means there is a biological contamination." she said." 

"It emerged last week that hospitals and emergency services across France have been supplied with the most powerful antidote to sarin and other nerve gas chemicals for the first time. Under a November 14 decree, the army's medical service was ordered to distribute stocks of the drug atropine. Manuel Valls, the French prime minister, said that the country could rule nothing out when it came to terrorists bent on mass murder, including "chemical and biological weapons".

"Iraqi and American intelligence have warned that IS is aggressively pursuing development of chemical weapons, setting up a branch dedicated to research and experiments with the help of scientists from Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the region. French intelligence agents are convinced that IS is producing mustard gas, after obtaining samples from in Syria. However, US intelligence officials do not believe that IS has the capability to develop sophisticated weapons such as nerve gas.

While the US intelligence community may split hairs over the capability of IS (ISIL in the US) to manufacture military grade nerve agents, this is largely irrelivant. IS has the capability to manufacture crude chem weapons and they have proven to be quite effective in Syria. 

The security services of both France and Belgium are to be commended. Both countries share similar population demographics and have extensive experience with terrorism. Additionally, they have both worked, since 911, to prepare their populations for such bio-chem attacks, some of these scenarios I developed and ran myself with their government officials in attendance. Far from being the weakest link, as some media outlets have portrayed the situation, they are in fact the best prepared within the EU to counter such threats.  The weakest link are those countries who have not prepared their public, are currently bombing IS and have announced it on the nightly news without one moment of thought to the risk they have placed their population in and no counter-terrorism or counter intelligence experience to fall back on. 

In 2005, French Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin called for international cooperation against bioterrorism at an Interpol meeting in Lyon. He promoted the idea of creating a joint database and a rapid alert network for theft, diversion and illegal transfer of biological agents, as well as a list of designated groups and individuals of concern. De Villepin also proposed the creation of an international center for monitoring bio terrorist threats. Mr. de Villepin went on to plead for a better coordination of Biotox style (the French government response to the deliberate introduction of the smallpox virus) plans at European level. "Why not to imagine for example a European reaction plan against a biological attack?"he asked. Furthermore, he added, the EU should initiate an update on reserves of vaccines so that each country knows the nearest country to turn to in case of emergency." See:

For over a decade the French government has established itself as the gold standard when it comes to bio-security, bio-safety and certainly countering, on the ground threats from would be bio-terrorists. In 2003, French authorities discovered ricin like substances in Gare du Lyon train station. Subsequently nine suspects of North African descent, who had trained in the Pankisi Gorge and were associated with AQ were arrested. While this is just one high profile example of a possible bio-threat, the French have developed outstanding and what I would describe as comprehensive capabilities to counter the threat of bio-terrorism. This depth of expertise offers a lot from which Member States within the EU could well benefit. France's Biotox-Piratox under their Vigipirate model is and has been a clear forerunner in bio-security and bio-safety for the analysis of attacks with deliberate disease. The French model, according to a report by European Hospital, published in 2013 includes the following structure: See:

"Born in the USA out of the anthrax scare that followed the 9/11 attacks, the formation of a network of laboratories kept on 24/7 alert against potential bio-terrorism was introduced in France at the end of 2001.

Initially interested only in the search for Bacillus anthracis, (the causative agent of anthrax), the structure was enlarged in 2004 with the mission to carry out the analysis of all chemical and biological agents that could present a terrorist threat.
Under the jurisdiction of the Interior Minister for National Defence and Safety, a network of laboratories known as Biotox-Piratox has evolved, within the context of the national security plan ‘Vigipirate’.
Since 2011, the network has extended its missions to include the discovery of all substances of suspect nature in the environment, in drinking water, and/or the food chain, that could have been placed by a deliberate malevolent act, or by negligence. The aim of the network is to act efficiently and promptly in collaboration with the health services, police and army to eliminate the threat and protect the general public."
Structure of Biotox-Piratox
According to the European Hospital report, "Dr. Binder, President of the Network's Scientific Board and Security Defence Advisor for INSERM, will present the work of the network at the Journées Internationales de Internationales de Biologie (JIB) in Paris at the beginning of November.The network has been set up to work in a way that is optimal when confronted with a potential biological or chemical risk to public health. The network is organised over three levels. Level one is known as our ‘sentinel laboratories’. These countrywide laboratories must be able to recognize a suspicious situation, package or sample, alert the authorities, and recognize which of the 100 or so, level 2 laboratories is best adapted to deal with the situation.

‘Each geographical defence-zone in France has at least one reference laboratory for 'human health' and another reference laboratory for chemo-toxicological analysis of the environment. These include 10 water board and 10 military labs. All the level two laboratories were selected from the results of an inquiry carried out by the scientific board in 2005. In addition to their scientific excellence, their specialty, geographical localisation, equipment and ability to maintain a permanent 24-hour cover, were all taken into consideration.
‘For the most part the human-health labs are connected to a public hospital in each zone. While the toxicology environmental labs belong to different bodies including among others the police, gendarmerie and the national agency for food safety. A full list of level two laboratories is available from the Biotox-Piratox council.
‘The level three laboratories are not necessarily mobilized as soon as the level two labs, as they are the highly specialized members of the network. Their role is to confirm the nature of a suspected pathogen and therefore have to be able to carry out rapid identification techniques such as rt-PCR under security conditions of at least category three. They also must have trained personnel for dealing with the treatment and containment of a potential infection of the pathogen.Responsibility for communication with the public for allaying fears and ad hoc communication rests with the governmental services.‘Looking at the archives, since its existence in 2003 the network has dealt with 1,300 alerts. In 2003, 207 separate incidences were recorded, but since 2010 this has reduced to a steady 150 a year. Due in part to better understanding of what we are looking at and the organisation of the network, the number of analyses for suspected agents for bio-terrorism has fallen from 77.8% to fewer than 2% in 2011." 
For an in depth report on French bio-preparedness planning I highly recommend a look at Eurosurveillance, Volume 17, Issue 45, 08 November 2012 "Assessment of the Bio-Preparedness and of the Training of the French Hospital Laboratories in the Even of Biological Threat ( An additional reference by Dr. Binder is also recommended, see:

While France and Belgium have spent years preparing for Islamic terrorism and prepared their public to face bio-chem threats, while they have real and extensive experience in Africa and the Middle East and their security services are within the top three in the world, other countries exempt themselves, continuously engage in 'peacekeeping' operations, to look good, lack counter terrorism experience and stand on the side lines criticizing their neighbours. I'm horrified that this particular country has openly criticized Belgium and France on national television while there are on-going operations.  They surely are the weakest link. A couple years ago when I sat with one of their so called 'bio-chem' experts, his total lack of knowledge was stunning. His concept of bio-defence was 'decon.' That was it. It was basically what to do post attack and in my view he struggled with the post attack plan as well. There was no concept of prevention, preparedness or response. In question after question I posed to this individual on board a warship, the only responses he could come up with were so simplistic I fear what will happen when this country is hit with any kind of bio-chem attack. The sad truth is that countries who have deliberately chosen not to prepare their public, who pretend they have no internal jihadi issues, who can't seem to meet their NATO obligations, and avoid the uncomfortable truth that they do not possess the resources, knowledge, expertise or experience in counter terrorism or counter intelligence to protect their public, are in fact the weakest links in Europe.  

Thursday, November 19, 2015

French PM Manuel Valls Warns France may face Chemical and Biological Weapon Attacks

Black Six: The BioWarfare Blog: BW Infrastructure Analysis in a Stand Off Environment: Dispelling Political Myths First:
Amid the announcement that bio-chem suits were missing from a Paris hospital, French Prime Minister Valls has warned France may face a chemical and or biological threat from Islamic State. France has also ordered the protection of water facilities under Eau de Paris, which has increased chlorine to five water supply sites. 

IS has used crude chemical weapons, against civilians in Syria and the real concern is that they did not steal or divert these munitions, but appear to have acquired a manufacturing capability. On the biological side, some agents do not need to be weaponized to be effectively deployed in terrorist attacks. France has previous experience with terrorists trying to use a ricin like substance, a crudely made toxin they tried to manufacture to commit acts of terrorism. Islamic State's capabilities appear to be more advanced than other non-state supported terrorist organizations in the past. Like Al Qaeda's Yazid Sufaat, IS seems to have recruited scientists and be in the process of attempting to acquire a CBRN capability.  Sufaat was recruited by AQ to develop mainly anthrax. 

ISIS has used mustard gas on several occasions and according to a Fox report which can be found here:

"Iraqi officials expressed concern that the large safe haven the extremists control since overrunning parts of Iraq and Syria last year has left Iraqi authorities largely in the dark over the IS program. They now have complete freedom to select locations for their labs and production sites and have a wide range of experts, both civilian and military, to aid them," a senior Iraqi intelligence official told The Associated Press." As further noted in the report, "IS has set up a branch tasked with pursuing chemical weapons, according to a senior Iraqi military intelligence officer and two officials from another Iraqi intelligence agency. They wouldn't give details of the program, including how many personnel it is believed to have or its budget. But al Zamili, citing intelligence reports he has access to, told the AP that the group has managed to attract chemical experts from abroad as well as Iraqi experts, including ones who once worked for Saddam Hussein's now dissolved Military Industrialization Authority. The foreigners include experts from Chechnya and Southeast Asia, the Iraqi intelligence officials said." "IS recently moved its research labs, experts and materials from Iraq to 'secured locations' inside Syria, al Zamili added--apparently out of concern of an eventual assault on Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, captured by IS in the summer of 2014."  

Indeed IS manufacturing of chemical weapons is a huge concern and the potential smuggling of these weapons into France would be a worrying development. However, chemical weapons will not go global. Biological weapons have this capacity and in terms of public health security and the risk of epidemics and pandemics the risk IS poses should they develop BW agents would be a very serious situation not only for France but the international community. 

While France has a comprehensive preparedness plan in place for several years, other EU countries do not have such resources allocated to prepare their populations to counter a CBW attack. Several smaller nations in fact have created a false sense of security in their populations and simply do not prepare them at all. This approach to public preparedness  is obviously very concerning. The French plan can be found here:  The announcement by Valls also touches upon national investment in stockpiling for medical counter measures against a range of highly communicable and infectious disease agents. It is unlikely if we consider the traject of AQ that IS will stop at only manufacturing and using chemical weapons against civilians in Syria. It is highly likely they will attempt to smuggle these agents into the EU via Turkey. All efforts must be made to increase support for front line states processing large numbers of refugees and to increase support for refugee camps running along the boarder of Turkey. Refugees represent a very vulnerable population and the exploitation of routes into Europe by IS, possibly to deploy chemical or biological weapons can only be stopped if we intervene at a much earlier stage and go after production sites in country and target would be IS scientists. Classic threat reduction which we would employ against a state actor needs serious review. If IS continues to emerge as a terrorist state we will have to consider threat reduction using a completely different set of principles.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Islamic State and Catastrophic Terrorism: De-skilling in WMD

When we consider 'catastrophic terrorism'  for example, 911, when terrorists used conventional methods of hijacking commercial airlines for use as WMD (weapons of mass destruction), essentially the use of commercial airlines as bombs, its possible to consider this one of the major mass destruction instances of 'de-skilling.' In contrast to the recent, suspected bombing on board the Russian commercial airline Metrojet 9268 over the Sinai which, although causing loss of life is not mass casualty in the sense of 911 and the use of a plane to kill thousands of civilians. The Madrid train bombings, the use again of transportation systems to deliver bombs and cause mass casualties is conventional, catastrophic and mass casualty. In the field of WMD terrorism, the acquisition of biological warfare agents has not occurred in any significant or coordinated undertaking, unlike nuclear materials which have witnessed statistically significant diversion, theft and sale on black markets mainly running through the Balkins. Conventional terrorist weapons continue to dominate acts of mass casualty as the materials required are relatively easy to acquire, manufacture, divert, steal and use. Islamic State has the capacity to build and deploy bombs and have also used chemical agents against civilians on a number of occasions. See:

If we talk about a 'history' of biological weapon development outside military and state labs, attempts to develop and use it have failed to result in mass casualty events. Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese cult who made several attempts to use BW, according to Monterey Institute of International Studies who published a detailed chronology of Aum's attempts which can be found here: 

"Aum's interest in chemical and biological weapons (CBW) terrorism can be traced back to 1990. between 1990 and 1995, Aum launched 17 known CBW attacks with motivations ranging from assassination to murder.  Of these attacks, 10 were carried out with chemical weapons (four with Sarin, four with VX, one with phosgene and one with hydrogen cyanide) and seven attempted attacks were carried out with biological agents (four with anthrax and three with botulinum toxin, although in both cases the microbial strains were apparently non-virulent). In addition to these cases Aum is alleged to have killed 20 of its members with VX and has been linked more tenuously to more than 19 other CBW attacks and attempted attacks (13 attacks where Aum involvement is suspected and six possible copycats)."  

Aum is considered by most CBW experts to have been one of the best funded and staffed terrorist organizations at the time involved in research into CBW. Their laboratories were state of the art and they had a number of doctoral and post doc level scientist working with them. Aum invested millions in their CBW efforts and still did not achieve anything close to mass casualty or catastrophic terrorism. During the release of Sarin on the Tokyo subway according to Monterey Institute only 12 people died. When we consider the cost of using a BW agents its generally considered one of the cheapest WMD to use. This was not the case for Aum who worked on their BW program for years and invested millions only to achieve a handful of deaths. In comparison to the 2004, Madrid train bombings which killed 191 people and injured 1,800, conventional weapons used in catastrophic terrorist acts is a far more efficient way to create mass casualties, than the history of BW would seem to suggest. 

However, when we consider the future of BW and its use in catestrophic terrorism, given advances in the life sciences, the concept of 'de-skilling' which begins to emerge is more concerning. As I have previously written on, de-skilling and refer to my colleague Johnathan B. Tucker's work on this topic, see:

"[ ] the evolution of many emerging technologies involves a process of de-skilling that, over time, reduces the amount of tacit knowledge required for their use. Chris Chyba of Princeton, for example contends that as whole-genome synthesis is automated, commercialized, and "black-boxed," it will become more accessible to individuals with only basic scientific skills, including terrorists and other malicious actors." See

Tucker contends: 

"Gerald Epstein, of the Center for Science, Technology, and Security Policy, writes that whole-genome synthesis “appears to be following a trajectory familiar to other useful techniques: Originally accessible only to a handful of top research groups working at state-of-the-art facilities, synthesis techniques are becoming more widely available as they are refined, simplified, and improved by skilled technicians and craftsmen. Indeed, they are increasingly becoming ‘commoditized,’ as kits, processes, reagents, and services become available for individuals with basic lab training.”[17] In 2007 Epstein and three co-authors predicted that “ten years from now, it may be easier to synthesize almost any pathogenic virus than to obtain it through other means,” although they did not imply that individuals with only basic scientific training will be among the first to acquire this capability.[18]
To date, the de-skilling of synthetic genomics has affected only a few elements of what is actually a complex, multi-step process. Practitioners of de novo viral synthesis note that the most challenging steps do not involve the synthesis of DNA fragments, which can be ordered from commercial suppliers, but the assembly of these fragments into a functional genome and the expression of the viral proteins. According to a report by the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, a federal advisory committee, “The technology for synthesizing DNA is readily accessible, straightforward and a fundamental tool used in current biological research. In contrast, the science of constructing and expressing viruses in the laboratory is more complex and somewhat of an art. It is the laboratory procedures downstream from the actual synthesis of DNA that are the limiting steps in recovering viruses from genetic material.”[19] 
When we consider Islamic State and the potential that they can and will use BW, de-skilling becomes a major factor in their ability to develop this capability. They clearly have the resources to finance such operations and it is likely they could attract former scientists from Syria and the Levant to work with them on BW agents for use against other states and or refugee populations. Without having to capture a weapon lab or divert materials, it is possible IS will be able, over the next few years to research and manufacture BW agents. As IS consolidates into a state actor, their acquisition of this capability is concerning. Catastrophic acts of terrorism using BW, particularly against perceived enemy states of IS (Europe, the US, Russia etc.) could well result in mass casualties and pandemics. Again, it is transportation infrastructures which are highly vulnerable and refugee camps which lend themselves to large populations in poor living conditions. These populations are accessible to IS and to terrorist who may infect water supplies, or a general population. The movement of refugees into Europe and the potential to infect these individuals when they are located in central facilities is concerning as well, as it would be the use of people as weapons. While many in the IC consider these concepts to be on the margin of their concerns, given that bombs have always achieved high kill ratios and the use of BW thus far has been extremely limited, governments have still invested billions to protect their citizens from this very scenario. Its time we begin to seriously consider our counter-measures against the increasing and determined intention of IS to create a terrorist state and their increasing potential to use humans as mass casualty weapons. 

In terms of both public health and counter-terrorism, we must increase protection of refugee populations, specifically those who are based in camps along the Turkish boarder and those refugees who may be at an increased risk from IS and other terrorist groups. We must provide increased health checks and far better living conditions for these people, if we want any chance of deterring IS use of BW against our own populations. Refugee populations are by far the most vulnerable and IS exploits any vulnerability they encounter. In terms of immigration into Europe, refugees must be provided a much higher standard of medical checks and treatment compared to current practices. They must also be provided consistent medical treatment, particularly when we consider childhood vaccination schedules and general health checks to make sure they are not unwittingly spreading disease. I believe it is a moral duty to provide this so that people fleeing war torn states do not become the victims of terrorism.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Vladimir Putin's Syrian Strategy: Reducing the Risk of Biological Terrorism in Europe

“There are an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 fighters from Russia and other CIS member states fighting for ISIL,” Putin said referring to IS by its former name.“We certainly cannot allow them to use the experience they are getting in Syria on home soil.” Putin was speaking to leaders of the CIS, a regional union of a dozen former Soviet republics. He reported details of the Russian bombing campaign in Syria targeting the jihadists and assured that there was significant progress in defeating IS. He added that Russia stands for the creation of “as big a coalition to fight the extremists and terrorists as possible and is working with major regional and international partners” like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Jordan and Israel. Vladimir Putin also reiterated that Russia is acting in compliance with international law in Syria."
“The operation of the Russian Air Forces supported by the ships of the Caspian Fleet are in full compliance with the international law and absolutely legitimate, since we are conducting it at the formal request of [Syrian] President [Bashar] Assad,” he said.
The Russian leader said CIS members should be on guard for possible retaliation from the terrorists and ramp up cooperation between their national counterterrorism and border guard agencies.---For full article see:

With the exception of Israel, no other state has more experience successfully countering jihadi terrorists operating in their own territory than Russia. Obviously there are numerous countries who struggle with jihadi terrorism and have experience combating it, but their success is debatable. Russia has been highly successful and has a wealth of experience in combating this specific type of terrorism. IS poses a direct threat to the Caucuses, with the leader of Russia's Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov, issuing statements reiterating the risk returning fighters pose to his territory. While the West drags its feet, Russia has already made impressive gains in Syria against ISIS targets. The refugee crisis in Europe, which surely will spill over to the United States at some point has hastened the view that we must cooperate with Russia, to end the refugee crisis by ending the encroachment of Islamic State into Syria and Iraq.

"If anything Putin sees the potential threat to Russia from ISIS as bigger and more urgent, because the number of Russians (many of them Chechens) thought to be fighting with ISIS and the threat of jihadism in and around Chechnya. Russia's desire to combat ISIS need not be seen as a pretext for protecting Assad; the converse may rather be true. In Russia's view, as Putin set out at the UN, the Assad government is all that stands in the way of complete victory for ISIS and the de facto disappearance of the Syrian state. For Putin, the priority is the preservation of the Syrian state. He looks at Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, and sees western interventions that have resulted in anarchy. He foresees the same for Syria if the west sees toppling Assad, rather than combating ISIS as the priority." See:

While the refugee crisis, a humanitarian disaster caused  partially by our failure to intervene in Syria to stop ISIS at a much earlier stage is worrying, IS manufacturing of crude chemical munitions will be a real wake up call, should such unconventional warfare munitions be used against European targets. Russia, of all countries, has sadly learned by experience, the devastation Islamic terrorism can bring to the field. They have suffered sustained terrorist attacks in their own country for years from Islamic Chechen terrorists. For more information see: In contrast to a country like the Netherlands who dip their feet in the water, to look good by sending a couple rusty F16's, Russia has the capability, the resources and the international clout under President Putin to bring ISIS to its knees. Its time we support him and his forces to end the humanitarian crisis brought on by Islamic State's war in Syria and Iraq.

Why do some European states hold back from cooperation with Russia when this would clearly be to their benefit? A few European countries feel they are exempt from Islamic terrorism and think they can naively claim some kind of neutrality. They believe if they are not perceived as a primary force against IS, even though they donate their last F16's to the cause and make a spectacle of themselves by announcing this on national tv to seek attention, they can kind of slide under the radar. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Their countries are at greater risk because they choose not to cooperate to the extent that is needed, lest they be seen to help President Assad stay in power which might pit them against their UK counterparts. Unfortunately such choices, designed purely to be perceived as 'politically correct'  are likely to increase the threat IS poses to them and their allies.

Russia, on the other hand, has consistently offered cooperation, even while being blamed for events they had nothing to do with and threatened with legal procedures. President Putin has over the past four years consistently asked for cooperation and offered olive branches to the West in order to rid the Levant of IS. RT quotes President Putin:

"I don't really understand how our American partners can criticize Russia's counterterrorism effort in Syria while refusing direct dialogue on the all important issue of political settlement," Putin explained. "Putin was commenting on the refusual by the Obama administration to receive a Russian delegation headed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to discuss the differences the two nations have on the Syrian crisis. The US said it would not talk unless Russia followed Washington's lead and stopped helping the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad." "I believe this position to be unconstructive. The weakness of this position is apparently based on a lack of agenda. It seems they have nothing to discuss." Putin said at a meeting with the Kazakhstan president in Astana." See:

Israel and a handful of other countries, thankfully, understand the practical side of cooperation, beyond  trying to be perceived as politically correct or attempting to garner some kind of international attention. They understand fully the consequences of IS over running Syria and Iraq. At the moment Russia is fighting our war for us. They are literally paying for it and war is expensive. For an analysis of the costs see: They will suffer possible loss of life in fighting IS, so that Europe can enjoy peace and security from the threat of IS; a far more serious threat than Syria under Assad ever posed. Additionally, they have suffered criticism for bombing civilian areas, without any mention that IS is using civilians and these areas as human shields. They know very well that Russia will be blamed for collateral damage and any loss of civilian life. Beyond the strategic posturing of some countries, its time for Europe to take a serious look at the consequences, should IS operatives infiltrate refugee camps and or gain access to European immigration routes, which in my opinion has already happened. Coordination with Russia is crucial, not only to prevent mishaps between nations currently engaging IS, but to ensure Syria does not fall to possibly the worst terrorist organization we have ever witnessed.

Why does Western Public Opinion Support Russian ops in Syria?

ISIS Bio-Chem Capabilities: Targeting Europe

"The use of mustard agent would mark an upgrade in Islamic State's battlefield capabilities, and a worrisome one given U.S. intelligence fears about hidden caches of chemical weapons in Syria, where Islamic State controls wide swaths of territory." See:

In terms of biological and chemical capabilities, IS has manufactured and used crude chemical warfare agents against civilians and will likely continue an interest in manufacturing these agents. In August, ISIS is strongly suspected of using mustard agents. See: Confirmation of the use of HD was made a while later. See:

Its imperative we offer support to secure the SSRC in Damascus to prevent IS from acquiring any kind of biological weapon capability or the ability to spread disease in refugee camps or elsewhere.

"The HD [compound] of mustard is listed as a 'Schedule 1' chemical weapon and is strictly banned under the international treaty known as the Chemical Weapons Convention. When sprayed or released from artillery shells, mustard agents blister skin and can damage lungs if inhaled."

While no one blinks as IS uses sulfur mustard against Kurdish forces, they may blink if they use something like a multi-resistant strain of TB in highly populated refugee camps and if those same refugees travel through the Balkans into Europe. I'm in support of helping resettle refugees and they deserve a safe passage, but their health and the biological threat from IS must be considered a significant public health issue in that resettlement process. In terms of warfare agents, Russian forces, although not yet on the ground, could well face CBW agents if a ground offensive is deemed necessary. IS is considered to be manufacturing its own very crude CW and working to attain a CBW capability and possibly a nuclear capability. While Russian forces are well prepared for unconventional weapon use, we must still consider that they are placing their forces in harms way and the result of this will benefit Europe and the West considerably. If European states are serious about reducing the risk of terrorism in Europe from ISIS, they must coordinate with Russia and provide support for their operations to oust ISIS and end the humanitarian crisis brought on by ISIS solidifying its state across the Levant.

See full article in Pravda:

Monday, October 5, 2015

Disruptive Technologies in Bio-Defence

Disruptive technology describes a new technology that displaces an established one. Clayton M. Christiansen separates technology into two categories: sustaining and disruptive. Sustaining technology relies on incremental improvements to an already established technology. Disruptive technology on the other hand, lacks refinement, is not fully developed, appeals to a limited audience and may not have a proven practical application. ( 

Disruptive technology in the life sciences has changed the landscape of bio-technology and bio-defence.  If we consider bio-defence technology in particular, there are several advances which will likely alter how we conceive of defence and our medical counter measure options. Three major technologies: Virus Like Particles, 3D bio-printers and MIT's 4D self assembling and programmable matter technologies, will likely revolutionize bio-defence. 

In an article by Stu Magnuson, entitled: Chemical-Biological Defence Office to Kick Off Dozens of New Programs, the author contends: "There will be about 3.5 billion from fiscal years 2013 to 2018 to spend on everything from new vaccines and protective gear to information technology that will create a global early warning system for infectious diseases, said Carmen Spencer, the joint program executive officer for chemical and biological defense. "Everything is locked in Jell-O," he cautioned, referring to the continuing resolutions and budget uncertainties that have plagued the Defense Department of late. "Because of the world situation as it is today and the emerging threats, there is much more scrutiny in our ability to protect our armed forces, (and) to prevent WMD proliferation around the globe," Spenser told reporters at an advanced planning briefing for industry day at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Md." See:
(nano particles used in untested H1N1 Swine Flu Vaccines)

While preventing proliferation of WMD is a noble cause, advancements, specifically in offensive biological weapon development and deployment platforms, which in some sectors of BW has resulted in 'de-skilling,' make proliferation and acquisition more likely. We simply can not afford to continue countering the threat of BW to our forces with current drug development models, outdated non-proliferation treaties and highly limited methodologies. If we compare developments in the chemical weapon field Johnathan B. Tucker noted in his paper entitled, "The Future of Chemical Weapons:" "At the same time that the process of economic globalization is undermining traditional nonproliferation measures such as export controls, a number of emerging chemical technologies have the potential to transform the nature of the CW threat as well. The pharmaceutical industry, for example, uses a technique called 'combinatorial chemistry' to discover promising drug candidates. This method involves the automated mixing and matching of molecular building blocks to generate a 'library' containing thousands of structurally related compounds, which are then screened for a desired pharmacological activity such as the ability to inhibit a key enzyme. Although harmful substances discovered in this manner typically have no therapeutic value and are set aside, it would be fairly easy to 'mine' a combinatorial database to identify highly toxic compounds that could be developed into CW agents.According to a group of experts convened by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) to discuss the implications of emerging technologies for the CWC, 'Some new chemicals found by data base mining will have toxicity characteristics that could lead to their being considered as chemical weapon agents.' Before a new toxic chemical can be turned into an effective weapon, however, it must meet a number of additional requirements, including stability in long term storage, an appropriate degree of volatility or persistence to ensure its effective dissemination, a low cost production method, and the availability of medical antidotes to protect the attacker's own troops." (See: I would argue that disruptive technologies will witness, in the near future, the ability to rather swiftly overcome the above mentioned technical threshold issues.

When we consider vaccine production and medical countermeasures for bio-defence, disruptive technologies take on a substantially new meaning. "The Defence Department and the Food and Drug Administration generally takes about fifteen years and an average of 280 million dollars to develop one vaccine." Per the armed services, "Big Pharma is just not interested. Companies in that industry want to produce a billion doses of a vaccine and the military orders quantities in the 100,000 range. Bio-defence is an industry which will likely be revolutionized by these disruptive technologies.Vaccine production for example could be made on demand, while this may undercut big bio-pharma, in the long term it is likely to be highly profitable for this industry.(See: 

Additionally, our ability to bio-print vaccines and medical counter-measures will likely increase research and development and substantially decrease manufacturing and delivery times. In terms of drug development to counter the threat BW poses to the war fighter, nano particle vaccine research and development has been on going for the past several years and is a disruptive technology which will substantially change how we deliver vaccines and other drugs. Drug development is only one sector within bio-defence to be revolutionized, it is imperative we consider technologies thus far unrelated to preventing biological weapon deployment in mass casualty scenarios. Advanced BW delivery platforms such as Micro Aerial Vehicle (MAV) delivery, requires a different set of counter-measures and an understanding of and appreciation for how this technology could be utilized for purposes beyond surveillance and intelligence collection.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Germany's Relationship to Hezbollah: Why we should be concerned

Author's note: Last year I presented a review of possible Syrian biological warfare programs as an invited speaker by the Bundeswehr Medical Military and Microbiology Institute in Munich. As a previous participant at both their nuclear and bio-defence conferences, I was honored to be asked to deliver a talk on this subject.  The discussion, which was not sugar coated for the non-proliferation participants, touched upon the potential of Hezbollah to acquire a BW capability, either via Syria or Iran. Moreover, the central theme of my talk revolved around looting (not destruction through war) of Syrian veterinary and vaccine labs, and for which before and after photos were made available upon request.  In discussions with colleagues prior to my talk, one of the subjects repeatedly brought up was Germany's lack of initiative in listing Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Some caution was urged at accepting the invitation given Germany's apparent policy issues related to Hezbollah. The EU has now listed Hezbollah, but Germany apparently was extremely hesitant to do so and resisted for some time. In reviewing Germany's relationship to Hezbollah, it is interesting to consider how their lack of initiative could compromise public health security, not only their own, but that of the international community as a whole, should Hezbollah acquire a BW capability. Hezbollah
"Prior to September 11, 2001, Hezbollah murdered more Americans than any other terrorist group. Despite al-Qaeda’s increased visibility since then, Hezbollah remains a bigger, better equipped, better organized, and potentially more dangerous terrorist organization, in part because it enjoys the unstinting support of the two chief state sponsors of terrorism in the world today—Iran and Syria. Hezbollah’s threat potential led former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to dub it “the A-Team of terrorism.” "Hezbollah has developed a cooperative relationship on an ad-hoc bases with the Al-Qaeda terrorist network and several radical Palestinian groups. In June 2002, U.S. and European intelligence officials noted that Hezbollah was "increasingly teaming up with Al Qaeda on logistics and training for terrorist operations." Both Al Qeda and Hezbollah established training bases in Sudan after the 1989 coup that brought the radical National Islamic Front to power. Iran's Revolutionary Guards, which also established a strong presence in Sudan, to support the Sudanese regime, ran several training camps for Arab radical Islamic groups there and may have facilitated cooperative efforts between the two terrorist organizations."

"According to U.S. intelligence officials Hezbollah has cooperated with the terrorist network formerly lead by Abu Masab al-Zarqawi [ ]. This network officially became part of Al Qaeda in 2004. Despite Zarqawi's militantly anti-Shia views, the two groups have reportedly coordinated terrorist efforts against Israel on an ad hoc basis. Zarqawi's network, composed of Sunni extremists from Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories, Iraq and other countries has a strong fundraising and support infrastructure in Europe that poses a significant threat to Europeans as well as citizens from a wide range of other countries." 

See: James Phillips, "Hezbollah's Terrorist Threat to the European Union", Heritage Lectures, No. 1038, Delivered June 20, 2007, published August 28, 2007. Germany has a rather concerning history when it comes to Hezbollah. In 2005 for example they released a Hezbollah hijacker and ignored extradition requests from the United States. 

'Apparently ignoring Washington's extradition request, for Mohammed Ali Hamadi, German authorities have secretly released the Lebanese Hezbollah member who was serving a life sentence in the country for the hijacking of a TWA jet (Flight 847) and for the torture/murder of a US Navy diver (Rob Stethe). Syria is a key backer of Hezbollah and Hamadi's brother, Abdul Hadi was a senor security official of the group." See: his release Hamadi rejoined Hezbollah. 1n 2010, Hamadi was reportedly killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan.  


"Hezbollah has 950 members in Germany, including 250 in the capital Berlin, a report released by Berlin's domestic intelligence agency released in September of 2013 noted. "A Hezbollah controlled orphans organization in Lower Saxony state is used to raise money for the families of suicide bombers targeting Israelis, the 140 page German language report examined by The Jerusalem Post also showed. The Lebanese terrorist organization had some 900 members in the Federal Republic in 2010, and 950 in 2011, around the same number it has now.  Dr. Wahied Wahdat-Hagh, a leading European expert on the Iranian regime and Hezbollah terrorism, told the Post on Saturday it had long been known that Berlin was 'a strong center of Hezbollah." See: Was it only the presents of large numbers of Hezbollah in the German capital which made Germany reluctant to list the organization or were there other interests involved? In 2007 Foundation for Defence of Democracies published a report entitled: "Hezbollah's German Helpers" by Mark Dubowitz. The report notes: 

"In ignoring the threat from Hezbollah, the German government puts hope above experience. While it tries to spare German citizens from the wrath of Hezbollah, it plays down the danger of a group that seeks to destroy both Lebanese democracy and the Jewish state. In the end, this approach also compromises the safety of German citizens. On July 31, 2006, two Lebanese students, Yussuf Mohammed El Hajdib and Jihad Hamad, placed bombs hidden in suitcases on two regional trains in Germany, but they failed to go off. Germany's federal law enforcement agency concluded that a successful explosion would have resulted in a tragedy on par with the London subway attacks of July 2005. The two suspects said they wanted to take revenge for the Danish cartoons of the prophet Mohammed. - See more at: In the past, the German government has shown strong resolve when it saw a threat to German security. It banned the Hamas "charity" al-Aqsa as well as the radical Sunni Islamist Hizb-ut Tahrir group. And it joined the EU in designating the PKK, the radical Kurdish group, as a terrorist organization." It did not, however, ban Hezbollah - See more at:

The relationship between Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda is a worrying one for many reasons but more concerning still because the later continues to tie jihad to the responsibility to acquire and use WMD including biological weapons against Western targets. In fact Hezbollah is known to have pre-designated targets for attack across Europe. Lack of German initiative  in light of Hezbollah possibly seeking or acquiring a BW capability is disturbing at best. As the roots of this go far deeper than just a taking a non-proliferation, head in the sand approach. While one might consider that failing to acknowledge the risk to their own national populations would, unfortunately for Germany's civilian population, be primarily limited if Hezbollah were to use conventional, chemical or even small nuclear devices in German cities, unfortunately, biological weapons spread. Thus the lack of incentive to arrest and deport those suspected members of Hezbollah puts the global community at risk. In a Ynet article entitled: " Hezbollah has more missiles than most States," the article notes that in a speech to the American Enterprise Institute, "outgoing US Defence Secretary Robert Gates warned against the Shiite group's arming methods and the possibility that it owns chemical and biological weapons, CNN reported Wednesday." Two months ago, an Israeli security official provided the Washington Post with a map detailing no less than 550 bunkers, 300 surveillance sites and 100 other facilities the Jewish state believes belong to Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon. Most of the sites marked on the map, which appeared in the American newpaper on Wednesday are located South of the Litani River." See:,7340,L-4073768,00.html 

So, while Germany reluctantly listed Hezbollah, the potential that they posses a BW capability is slowly being acknowledged and one wonders, when BW is used in Europe, where the responsibility will fall. 

"The IDF is sounding increasingly alarmed over who might wind up with Syria's chemical and biological weapons collections after the fall of Assad. The question is when, not if. And the big question is what's going to come the day after." Eshel See:

Recalling that several Germany companies were involved in providing dual use materials which ultimately were used for Assad's BW and CW programs. In a 2002 report, which appeared in the Middle East Quarterly entitled: "Guile, Gas and Germs: Syria's Ultimate Weapons," The author notes:

"West German companies also did their share. The first Syrian project involved setting up a production line for serial manufacturing of di-fluoro—DF, from which sarin nerve gas for binary munitions is obtained. The process involves two stages. The first requires resistance to a compound that includes chlorine, which has to be produced before the DF; and the second requires resistance to fluoride, an even more destructive component than chlorine. The processes require highly resistant industrial glass components. Syria chose two German companies to provide them: Schott and Sigri.[24]

Schott is one of the largest industrial glass manufacturers in Germany.The company's commercial name, Boresist, highlights its specialization in installations for the production of chemicals, made from glass of high durability in which boric oxide is a supplement to silicon oxide. It was this that led the SSRC to camouflage the entire operation under the name "Borosilicate Glass Project," whose components—chlorine-resistant chemical-reaction vessels and pipes—were supplied by Schott. Thus began the production of chemical weapons in Syria. A few years later—after many tons of the chlorine compound di-chloro (and from it, DF) had been manufactured—a spokesman of the Schott Glasswerke, answered critics. He explained that the company had no idea of the real purpose the Syrians had intended for the equipment Schott sold them. In competitive industries, he claimed, it was quite common for customers not to tell suppliers the reasons for their purchases.[25]
The German company Sigri demonstrated the same reluctance to ask questions. Sigri specialized in internal Teflon coatings for reaction vessels and for other instruments in the chemical industry that are made of stainless steel. The Teflon, in its optimal configuration, is fluoride-resistant, and the accumulated experience of the Sigri company had taught its engineers how to weld Teflon surfaces at various thicknesses, for every requirement. It too provided essential equipment for the Syrian production line.[26] The German companies Weber, Leifeld, Carl Schenck, Ferrostaal, and others also supplied the SSRC with mixing vessels, high-temperature furnaces, hot isostatic presses, and sophisticated mechanical instruments.[27]
The raw materials for DF production were purchased from various west European companies; conspicuous among them was, again, a German company, Gerit-van-Delden." See:

Germany's stance on Hezbollah and its previous track record with Syrian CW and BW programs, leaves a lot to be desired in terms of state sponsored terrorist organizations and State WMD programs. Should Hezbollah acquire a BW capability, international public health security will be at risk. Germany would be well advised to change course on their Hezbollah and possibly AQ stance and implement policies to protect public health at the minimum. Obviously its continued tolerance of 950 core Hezbollah members in Berlin is a serious security issue which no amount of appeasement will resolve. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Emerging Technologies: Bio-hacking and the Future of Bio-terrorism

For some time concern has been raised over 3D and 4D technologies, (with synthetic biology the emerging technological forerunner of these concerns and the NSABB playing watchdog), with regard to how inherent de-skilling may reduce the technical threshold which inhibits most would-be weaponeers from developing and deploying a weaponized biological agent capable of mass destruction. At the somewhat more extreme end, bio-hacking could reduce barriers which are perhaps better left in place.  Bio-hacking  was put on the map in 2013 when molecular biologist Ellen Jorgensen delivered a TED talk about Genespace, the DIY science lab she opened in New York in late 2010. See:  

The lab Jorgensen oversees is one of approximately 45 DIY international science groups,of  more than twenty in the US. While some of these labs are rather extreme in their goals, emerging technology such as 3D bioprinting could theoretically reduce the knowledge needed to develop synthetic weapons. So far several of the bio-hacking groups seem to be content with using themselves in experiments and implanting magnets but coding life for the masses and or the non-scientific community, could become a lot easier in a relatively short period of time. 

"But we don't smuggle plutonium. We don't supply chemical weapons. We don't build rockets. Instead we have a hobby that the FBI believes could be so dangerous that they have come up with a special programme to make sense of it. That hobby is to play with genes, proteins and bacteria in our spare time in a homemade lab we constructed from scratch. We are part of a rapidly growing community of amateur geneticists, who are often labelled biopunks, or outlaw biologists. Or, better still, in an analogy to the computer programming enthusiasts of a generation ago, some call us bio-hackers. But instead of software code, we try to tinker with DNA, the code of life. The FBI has set up the Biological Countermeasures Unit ( ) one of their goals in preventing acts of terrorism is to reach out to leading names in the field to quiz them about what they do." See:

This surely must be cutting edge bio-security, however, how close are bio-hackers to actually crossing what was considered the technological threshold to creating what might even be considered synthetic biological weapons? After 911 and the US anthrax attacks, I advised governments that mass casualty bio-terrorism was not as simple as it was being touted. In fact I, and several other scientists, focused on state warfare laboratories, considering bio-terrorism not of real world interest. Emerging technology which results in de-skilling however, may make the life of the would be bioweaponeer far easier and reduce what was always considered to be rather insurmountable technical barriers, certainly in the deployment of a mass casualty weapon. 

What is the current view of life sciences deskilling, given the increase in DIY science? Johnathan B.Tucker, a former long time colleague, presented an excellent analysis of the issue in his paper, "Could Terrorists Exploit Synthetic Biology? published in The New Atlantis, see:, although notably before bio-hacker movement emerged more openly into the media with a cohesive defined goal and group structure. Tucker, in his analysis states: 

"Member of this second school point to a contradictory trend in biotechnological development that they claim will ultimately prove stronger. They note that the evolution of many emerging technologies involves a process of de-skilling that, over time, reduces the amount of tacit knowledge required for their use. Chris Chyba of Princeton, for example, contends that as whole-genome synthesis is automated, commercialized, and 'black-boxed,' it will become more accessible to individuals with only basic scientific skills, including terrorists and other malicious actors (16).De-skilling has already occurred in several genetic-engineering techniques that have been around for more than twenty years, including gene cloning (copying foreign genes in bacteria), transfection (introducing foreign genetic material into a cell), ligation (stitching fragments of DNA together), and the polymerase chain reaction, or PCR (which makes it possible to copy any particular DNA sequence several million fold). Although one must have access to natural genetic material to use these techniques, the associated skill sets have diffused widely across the international scientific community. In fact, a few standard genetic-engineering techniques have been de-skilled to the point that they are now accessible to undergraduates and even advanced high school students, and could therefore be appropriated fairly easily by terrorist groups." See:   

Gerald Epstein, of the Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy, write that whole-genome synthesis 'appears to be following a trajectory familiar to other useful techniques: Originally accessible only to a handful of top research groups working at state of the art facilities, synthesis techniques are becoming more widely available as they are refined, simplified, and improved by skilled technicians and craftsmen. Indeed, they are increasingly becoming 'commoditized,' as kits, processes, reagents, and services become available for individuals with basic lab training." (17). In 2007 Epstein and three co-authors predicted that 'ten years from now, it may be easier to synthesize almost any pathogenic virus than to obtain it through other means," although they did not imply that individuals with only basic scientific training will be among the first to acquire this capability.(18)" See: 

"To date, the de-skilling of synthetic genomics has affected only a few elements of what is actually a complex, multi-step process. Practitioners of de novo viral synthesis note that the most challenging steps do not involve the synthesis of DNA fragments, which can be ordered from commercial suppliers, but the assembly of these fragments into a functional genome and the expression of the viral proteins. According to a report by the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, a federal advisory committee, "The technology for synthesizing DNA is rapidly accessible, straightforward and a fundamental tool used in current biological research. In contrast, the science of constructing and expressing viruses in the laboratory is more complex and somewhat of an art. It is the laboratory procedures downstream from the actual synthesis of DNA that are the limiting steps in recovering viruses from genetic material." (19)" See: 

As technology emerges which contributes to deskilling and with the advent of DIY science, we may witness rather rapid advancements which overcome the long time presumed threshold. The bio-hacking community has emerged because techniques used in molecular biology have been de-skilled and the cost has dropped. 

"A couple of decades ago, it took three years to learn how to clone and sequence a gene, and you earned a PhD in the process. Now, thanks to ready made kits you can do the same in less than three days. Specialized materials and second hand equipment are much more affordable, not to mention more available. Machines for amplifying DNA can now be purchased online, whilst enzymes and chemicals for creating, manipulating and sticking together DNA an be ordered off the shelf. The cost of sequencing DNA has plummeted , from about 100,000 for reading a million letters or base pairs, of DNA code in 2001, to around 10 cents today. See: full review: Warfare Technology Analytics