Saturday, February 1, 2014

Iran's Biological Warfare Complex: Chapter One


“The revolution in molecular biology and biotechnology can be considered as a potential Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA). Andrew F. Krepinevich noted 10 RMAs in the history of warfare. Four elements are required for a RMA: technological advancement, incorporation of this new technology into military systems, military operational innovation, and organizational adaptation in a way that fundamentally alters the character and conduct of conflict.” [1]


Within the field of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), and more specifically Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) weapons, Iran’s suspected nuclear weapon program remains the focus of extensive assessment by Western and international intelligence communities. While recent reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), serve to highlight Iran’s suspected nuclear weapon program, Iran’s biological and chemical weapon capabilities, and the infrastructure which support this, have enjoyed far less scrutiny. A comprehensive infrastructure analysis of any clandestine biological weapon complex includes assessment criteria both at the laboratory/facility level as well as the state infrastructure level.[3] Of specific significance to understanding the Iranian biological weapon (BW) complex is its oversight by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the extraterritorial role of the Qods Forces. Iran’s emerging biological weapon complex is infinitely more lethal, indiscriminate and could be easily deployed with plausible deniability, particularly against civilians by Iran’s elite military forces. The convergence of Iran’s BW complex, with command and control squarely under the IRGC, and designation along side conventional armaments poses perhaps a greater threat to global security than its nuclear complex at this point. 

Historically, biological warfare is defined as the intentional use of micro-organisms, and toxins, generally, of microbial, plant or animal origin to produce disease and/or death in humans, livestock and crops.[4] Twenty one states are suspected by US intelligence agencies of maintaining and or conducting ‘offensive’ biological weapon research. Specific characteristics of a biological weapon complex make it difficult to assess whether a state possesses such a program. Countries such as Syria, Iran, and the DPRK have extensive bio-pharma infrastructures which could support a bio-weapon complex.  Understanding the discrete networks which support and are used as cover for states developing biological weapons is critical to US and allied states’ national security interests. While ‘proof’ of a program’s existence may be exceptionally difficult to extract, there remain critical points within a national infrastructure, which contribute to the probability such programs exist.

State ‘offensive’[5] biological weapon programs pose an inherently different threat than that posed by non-state-supported terrorists or organisations. Reasons for this include, but are not limited to, the technical threshold required to produce mass casualty biological weapons, i.e., genetic engineering, dispersal technologies, weapon testing, acquisition, processes involving weaponization, i.e,. milling and aerosolization. It is generally accepted by most bio-weapon specialists that mass casualty biological warfare remains largely the domain of state (military) weapon laboratories. Therefore, the type of weapon developed and deployed and resulting kill ratios, remain distinguishing factors with regard to the technical sophistication of the weapon and not the psychological effects or possible terror it induces. This article does not address ‘bio-terrorism’, nor the knowledge base or infrastructure required by terrorist organizations to develop or maintain a weapon program.  Rather, the focus is on state-based infrastructures required to maintain a full scale offensive, biological weapon military complex. It traces the historic structure of the Soviet Biopreparat program to current networks employed in Iran today.

“Any quantity of a high-consequence pathogen is strategically significant. One viable micro- organism can be cultured and weaponized with common, commercially available equipment. This circumstance, combined with the fact that pathogens emit no energy and thus cannot be detected at a distance with currently available technology make BW agents exceptionally dangerous.”

Renolds Salerno, Sandia National Laboratories

Biological warfare and the weapons employed are generally coveted as this is considered the ultimate weapon for deniable operations. Additionally, a biological weapon program is cheaper to run and maintain than a nuclear or chemical weapon program and is often perceived to ‘level the playing field’ against governments which possess nuclear arsenals or overwhelmingly superior conventional weapon capabilities. Plausible deniability also remains an enticing characteristic in offensive bio-weapon development and potential use. BW can be highly virulent, and when produced synthetically, whereby there are no known counter measures or therapeutics, they can be multi-resistant to all antibiotics, they may have lengthy incubation periods, and be highly transmissible. This substantially differentiates BW from chemical and nuclear weapons.  BW may also be employed in a number of non-lethal scenarios, used on civilian populations, deployed as force reducers, target highly select sections of a population or location (such as water, air, or transportation systems).  Understanding future BW development in order to protect military forces and civilian populations depends to an increasing extent on our ability to identify and interdict clandestine laboratory networks. full content report

[1]Alexander, 192; Mangold and Goldberg, 158-63. From, Ainscough, Michael J., Next Generation Bioweapons, The Gathering Biological Warfare Storm, (eds.) Col. Dr. Jim A. Davis and Dr. Barry R. Schneider, USAF Counter Proliferation Centre, Air War College, Air University, Maxwell Air force Base, Alabama, March, 2002.
[3]Technical and other methods utilized for assessment criteria, which may fall outside the public domain has been excluded from this review.  
[4]Da Silva, Edgar J., “Biological warfare, bioterrorism, biodefence and the biological and toxin weapons convention”, Electronic Journal of Bio-technology, Vol.2, No.3, 15, December 1999.
[5]Under the Biological Toxin and Weapon Convention, ‘defensive’ weapon research is allowed, while ‘offensive’ is illegal. The BWC bans: The development, stockpiling, acquisition, retention, and production of: 1.Biological agents and toxins "of types and in quantities that have no justification for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes;" 2.Weapons, equipment, and delivery vehicles "designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes or in armed conflict." The transfer of or assistance with acquiring the agents, toxins, weapons, equipment, and delivery vehicles described above.  “The Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) at a Glance”, Arms Control Association,
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