Monday, March 31, 2014

Inside Al Qaeda's Biological Weapon Directorate

"The issue of al-Qaeda (AQ) acquiring biological weapons has so far been a remote preoccupation of Western intelligence services. However, with the Syrian crisis the potential acquisition of biological weapons by AQ, the issue is now a clear and present danger." (

In 2001 the Northern Alliance discovered seven state of the art labs in Afghanistan. One of the primary labs which conducted work on anthrax for vaccine development was the Institute of Veterinary Vaccine Production. The lab was first built in Charikar, in the northern province of Parwar, in 1993-4 with equipment from India then moved to Kabul, where the Taliban oversaw work on anthrax and possibly other highly pathogenic agents. The Taliban officer in charge of the lab network was Mullah Qari Abdullah. Midhat Mursi al-Sayid Umar, headed AQ's WMD program 'Project al Zabadi. The other labs were built mainly with equipment procured from Germany.

What remains, if anything, of the programs which the Taliban oversaw, remains with the scientist-terrorists who worked in those labs and trained in the camps. Who were they and more importantly where are they now? Not only did the Taliban oversee several state of the art, mainly veterinary and agricultural laboratories which worked on vaccines for anthrax among other highly pathogenic agents, it applied this expertise to training camps, mainly the Derunta camp.  The "core" of AQ WMD Committee included: Midhat Mursi al Sayid 'Umar aka Abu Khabab, Assadalah Abdul Rahman and Abu Bashir al-Yemini, all were associated with or running trainings on CBW at the Derunta camp.  "According to experts and various reports, al Masri provided Afghanistan Taliban poisons and explosives training in his hideout at Derunta Camp, near Jalalabad. Derunta camp came into the limelight when videotapes showing AQ experiments poisoning dogs with chemical weapons surfaced in 2001. According to AQ observers Masri received his chemical weapon training in the Egyptian army before defecting to the militant Islamic Jihad group founded by Ayman al Zawahri. A threat from 2010 signed by Mustafa Abu al Yazeed warned that al Masri had 'left behind (...) a generation of faithful students who will make you suffer the worst torture and avenge him and his brothers." On 28 July of 2008, the Pentagon confirmed al Masri was killed in a missile strike in Pakistan.  
( While several of AQ's top BW and CW experts have been killed others remain at large and or have been held under detention.
Where are they now? 

In 2004, an interior ministry official for France reported that evidence from Islamist militants arrested in the Lyon area made it clear an attack with botulinum or ricin toxin was being prepared. Of the eight suspects arrested, most were related to Menad Benchellali, the son of a radical imam in the Lyon suburb of Venisseux, jailed since 2002. The ministry official confirmed that Benchellali was a chemical weapon expert trained in poison making in Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and was actively trying to produce botulim toxin and ricin which he had tested on animals. See:

Israel recently announced the detention of Samar Halmi Abdel Latif al Barq, a Kuwaiti citizen of 'Palestinian' descent. Prior to his detention, Al Barq studied microbiology in Pakistan and underwent military training in Afghanistan before his recruitment by AQ by Ayman al Zawahiri. According to the Jerusalem Post. Additionally, he spent three months in 2003, at Guantanamo Bay and five years in a Jordanian prison. ( Fortunately al Barq is in detention, however, other AQ BW experts continue to pose an unconventional weapon threat, if not a risk to global public health security.

One of the better known terrorist/scientist working with AQ is Yazid Sufaat. He too is currently in detention again, having previously served seven years in a Malay prison under ISA detention. A rather concise an accurate biography on Wikipedia lists Sufaat as having gained a degree in microbiology from California State University at Sacrament in 1987 and then serving as an army medical technician in the Malaysian Army. In 1993 Sufaat set up a pathology laboratory called Green Laboratory Medicine where he subsequently tried on behalf of al Qaeda to weaponize anthrax. (for full citations see: and

This is a social network analysis by Valdis Krebs of the 911 AQ terrorists (See:  Sufaat was deeply involved in AQ's attempts to acquire and weaponize pathogenic agents. It appears the majority of his R&D skills were devoted to anthrax weaponization. He also provided material assistance to two of the 911 hijackers of Flight 77 which crashed into the Pentagon.While Sufaat has been on the radar for years, also during his time in Afghanistan, he's recently been re-arrested and is under ISA detention again in Malaysia.

"AQAP has also publicly called for, "Brothers with less experience in the fields of microbiology or chemistry, as long as they possess basic scientific knowledge, would be able to develop other poisons such as ricin or cyanide."12 The US-born cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, before his own demise in September 2011, had said, "The use of chemical and biological weapons against population centres is allowed and is strongly recommended."13"

Which AQ BW operatives remain unaccounted for?
 to be continued

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Syrian's Overseeing WMD by Ronen Solomon Israel Defence

It's extremely rare that I come across articles which so concisely encapsulate the Syrian WMD issue that I am posting in full Ronen Solomon's excellent article on Syria's WMD. I certainly share the concerns of Solomon. The article was published at Israel Defence: 

The Syrian Overseeing WMDs

Ronen Solomon on Amr Najib Armanazi, head of the Syrian Agency for Scientific Research responsible for developing and manufacturing Syria's chemical weapons, who enjoys regular vacations in the west and is responsible for the deaths of thousands of people
Armanazi (left) in the company of friends from the agency, at the house of the Syrian Ambassador inArmanazi (left) in the company of friends from the agency, at the house of the Syrian Ambassador in

He is 69 years old and in the past few years, he has held a routine family life alongside his work which includes periodical visits to the UK with the wife Houda, to visit the children who studied in London. Their travels included a visit the US capital where the close friends of the family, Imad Mustafa and his wife Manira, reside due to Imad's role as an ambassador.
The fatherly appearance, with white hair and a pleasant smile, would not give away the fact that this person is in charge of his country's production of weapons of mass destruction.
This is Dr. Amr Najib Armanazi, originally a computer engineer, who manages the office of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC) in the Damascus neighborhood of Barza. Armanazi resides in a private house in one of neighborhoods in Damascus near his work place. He has two sons, Zayd and Bishar and two daughters, Suzanna and Zeina.
Armanazi's last name unveils a history of senior regime officials close to the Assad presidential family for decades. In the 1950s, his father, Najib, served as Syria's ambassador to countries such as India and Egypt, occasionally bringing along both of his sons, Amr and Hayat Armanazi - who would eventually also hold roles within the Syrian state mechanism.
Armanazi's association with Bashar Al-Assad began in the 1990s when Assad managed the Syrian Computer Society (SCS), where Armanazi served as a director on account of being the manager of Syria's top institute for training scientific professions. The institute, which trains Syrian agency engineers for scientific studies, operates with the Syrian Computer Society (SCS) for developing and assimilating computer applications and communication systems for military installations.
Armanazi later became responsible for managing the Syrian Agency for Scientific Research, which is in charge of developing unconventional weapons, including the chemical warheads and those that were intended to be nuclear.
The Syrian Agency for Scientific Research is a vast organization that employs thousands of people working in many departments, and deals in all fields of technology and scientific development that have potential military applications. The departments pertaining to the development of Syria's chemical weapons are concealed under innocent-sounding covers such as the "immunology laboratories" and the laboratories for "environmental research." The special cooling towers, which are typical of facilities for producing chemical weapons, which are found at the agency's facilities, are tied to the complex production process and are involved in the disposal of toxic substances emitted during the production. The main production facility is the Al Safir site in northern Syria. It is at this site that Syria produces Sarin gas and nerve agents such as VX.

Armanazi's standing at this time is equal to that of a senior minister in the Syrian government, due to the scope of the organizations he is responsible for and their national importance. The head of the Syrian Agency for Scientific Research also serves as one of the directors in the steering committee of the senior council for scientific research, alongside the head of the Atomic Energy Commission of Syria.

As of 2001, Amr Armanazi was put in charge as the head of the Technological Branch for Military Targets, as well as the professional contacts with North Korean colleagues in the North Korean national academy for sciences. Amr worked to acquire knowledge and technologies for the Syrian nuclear project being built in the area of Al Kibar, north of Dayr Al-Zawr, and worked towards advancing the cooperation on the topic of missile development. For this purpose, he visited Pyongyang on several occasions, and was even present during the signing of mutual agreements between the countries. He later worked to establish a straw company named "Namchongang Engineering Services" in Damascus, which served as a cover for the activities of North Korea's Scientific Technology Services Center (STSC) in Damascus, for the purpose of support and trade in advanced technological products. These were intended for the shared projects with the Syrian Agency for Scientific Research and Syria's Atomic Energy Commission.

Armanazi participates in many technological conventions, including expert conventions for science and technology, such as those by the UN's Social and Economic Council in Amman and those held in the framework of the Arab Technological School - a Syrian institution that cooperates with academic organizations across the Arab world. During the glory days with Turkey, he even accommodated a Turkish scientific delegation in Aleppo.

His brother, Ghayth, served for several years as the ambassador to the Arab League and head of the Syrian lobby in the UK. Since then, the Armanazi family tends to visit the UK and it included a visit of the daughter, Zeina who studied an MBA degree at the Royal Holloway Institute at the University of London. Since then, she has become a senior manager of Nissan in Syria. Another son, Bishar, studied towards a Bachelors degree in economy and currently works in London as a risk manager at a bank.

His wife, Houda, manages a Facebook page from which it is possible to learn about their circle of friends and her political and security opinions, which are apparently influenced by her husband's mood. In recent statuses, Houda (whose friends claim to be a Facebook addict) commented on the situation in Syria and voted in a survey against international involvement in Syrian and in favor of death penalties for relatives of those fighting the Assad regime. She also expressed her opinion in a survey that the reason for the recent attack against Hezbollah's stronghold in Beirut was caused by an absence of measures for detecting bombs.

Most of Armanazi's circle of friends served alongside him in the framework of the institutions of the Agency for Scientific Research where he has been a member for two decades. His close friends include Imad Mustafa, Syria's ambassador to the US who was his deputy in the 1990s and dealt with training employees, and Khaled Al Azam, who was tied to fields linked to the development of chemical weapons.

From the side, the families appear very cultural in the spare time, loving art and refined European tastes, surrounded by a familial atmosphere that contrasts the role that preoccupies them once returning to the agency's offices. Their products are the ones that recently killed hundreds of their own people, including little children. It is difficult to guess how they feel today. However, in the profiles of Armanazi's children, it is difficult to find any traces of photo with the father, except for an edited photo of the daughter Zeina with a comment that "It is not recommended that the hugging man (apparently the father) will show up in my profile picture."

In 2005, the Syrian Agency for Scientific Studies and its branches in Syria (where the chemical warheads are developed and stored) were introduced to the list of organizations dealing with weapons of mass destruction, and in May 2011, international sanctions were imposed on it.

In July 2012, WikiLeaks published its "Syrian files", which included correspondences from Armanazi's email linked to debates and technological cooperation with Dr. Ghassan Assi, Head of the Higher Commission for Scientific Research in Syria, which is responsible for science and technology in the government.

Amr Armanazi's name was introduced to the listing of the people sanctioned for dealing with the development of WMDs only in September 2012, apparently due to the initial reports on the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime. As Director of the Syrian Agency for Scientific Research, Armanazi, it was stated, was responsible for the facility for developing and manufacturing Sarin gas. The same gas was loaded last week onto rockets that were dropped on a rebel-controlled suburb of Damascus, and contained "a cocktail of Sarin gas and several other components", causing the death of approximately 1,500 residents, among them entire families.

In February 27, the US State Department Secretary for Review of Weapons and International Security issued an executive order instructing that Amr Armanazi's assets be foreclosed. According to the order, the State Department, upon consulting with the Secretary of the Treasury and the Attorney General, determined that Armanazi engaged, or attempted to engage in activities or transactions that materially contributed to, or posed a risk of materially contributing to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or their means of delivery (including missiles capable of delivering such weapons).

At a press conference on Monday, US Secretary of State John Kerry clarified that the evidence from Damascus presents a clear and shocking picture of the use of chemical weapons against civilians. Kerry said that "This is unforgivable", and that "those who were behind this must bear the responsibility."

Armanazi's office is located in the central complex of the Agency, in the Barza neighborhood north of Damascus near Mount Qasioun. The complex includes warehouses for storing chemical weapons, a technological institute for training the agency's engineering and the agency's HQ. The secure complex is considered by every Syrian as one of the regime's unmistakable symbols in developing chemical weapons, and as such, is listed as a target (among many) which may be attacked as soon as this Thursday.

Assad's Biological Weapons by Ronen Solomon Israel Defense

This is an outstanding article written by Ronen Solomon originally posted to Israel Defense at: 

Assad's Biological Weapons

Will the Syrian Army revert to using biological weapons after the destruction of its chemical weapons? A comprehensive study reveals the scope of Syria's biological weapon industry, which includes such weapons as Smallpox and Anthrax
Assad's Biological Weapons

Syria possesses biological weaponry, and lots of it. The only reason why Syrian biological weapons are not at the center of global attention has to do with the fact that these weapons have not been used as of yet. If Syria had employed its biological weapons, not just its chemical weapons, the US would have 'woken up' a long time ago (as though the deaths of 100,000 people to date by 'conventional' weapons in Syria's civil war were not a good enough reason for international intervention).
Syria's biological weapons project is confidential, naturally, but there has been abundant evidence of its existence. This study, based on open sources, reveals the scope of the biological weaponry inventory available to President Bashar Al-Assad. While the Syrian chemical weapons are being eliminated in accordance with the agreement between Syria and the UN Security Council, the biological weapons remain on hand in the Syrian warehouses.

Bacteria, Viruses & Toxins
Biological warfare generally employs bacteria and viruses such as Anthrax, Ebola and SARS-CoV, or toxins like Botulinum or Ricin. Viruses and toxins are used as weapons of mass destruction.
Most Western states currently have defensive biological warfare programs - they possess the ability to control bacteria, viruses and toxins with the intent of producing cures or vaccines for coping with them. These states, as well as Syria, receive assistance from international health organizations such as the UN, but they all commit to civilian use solely. Some states have also developed offensive biological warfare capabilities with the intent of controlling the pathogen to the extent that it may be dispensed effectively as a weapon. This activity is forbidden by the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC).
In the development of biological warfare agents, natural, violent microorganisms are normally used. There are about 40 contaminants that could be used as biological weapons, but only a handful can cause casualties on a massive scale while being effectively controlled. Apparently, Syria currently has a large number of biological warfare research programs underway, and it controls a considerable number of pathogens and toxins. The most lethal of those toxins is Ricin, a toxin produced from the common castor oil plant (Ricinus Communis). One kilogram of Ricin can cause the same damage as eight tons of Anthrax bacteria, which Syria possesses as well. Anthrax is regarded as a fairly common and easy to produce biological weapon. Syria also possesses the Smallpox virus (Variola major), which tops the list of the world's most lethal contaminants.
Syria has kept Smallpox specimens since the last natural outbreak of the disease in the country in 1972, and probably received genetically-engineered versions from North Korea in 2006. The severity of Smallpox is not only in the lethality of the virus itself, but also in the secondary infecting potential, if no measures are taken to quarantine the carrier.

Straw Companies
Syria embarked on the mission of obtaining biological weapons as far back as 1983. In order to acquire the necessary means and research tools, it established several factories and government-owned 'straw' biomedical companies, which purchased dual-use technologies from such countries as Germany, Britain, Holland, France, the US, Egypt and Russia. Syria acquired knowledge and technical microbiological capabilities for the purpose of controlling the cultivation potential, maintaining cleanliness, stabilizing and concentrating the pathogen, as well as the ability to manufacture optimal size particles for effective dispensing of the contaminant.
Syria's biological weapon programs normally operate out of so-called 'legitimate' research facilities. Most of the laboratories operate as part of the national pharmaceutical industry. Syria uses this industry as a cover for the programs associated with the development of biological weapons, and the Syrian pharmaceutical industry is currently regarded as one of the most advanced in the Middle East. The pharmaceutical industry is formally under the supervision of the Ministry of Health, but it is managed directly by the Syrian Ministry of Defense and Military Intelligence.
One example that illustrates the connection between the Syrian pharmaceutical industry and the biological weapon industry is the story of Baxter Biomedical, which sold equipment for the production of fluid infusion intended for the Syrian Army in the 1990s. The equipment was sold by a consortium of French pharmaceutical companies to the Dimas plant established in the city of Aleppo in the 1980s, and was directly controlled by the Syrian Ministry of Defense. During the 1990s, the plant was shut down for a while, probably in order to convert it to the production of chemical and biological weapons, along with another company, Tamco, which operates a major manufacturing facility in Damascus. These plants employ about 900 employees charged with the importation of chemicals and drugs into Syria.
Some of the investments in the pharmaceutical industry come from Syrian businessman Saeb Nahas, a local tycoon who commands various gas-related businesses. Nahas maintains commercial relations with Lebanon, Iraq and other countries, and even places his business operations at the disposal of Syrian intelligence occasionally. Nahas had planned to establish one of the world's largest pharmaceutical plants in Syria.
One of the most senior Syrian scientists at the Syrian Scientific Studies & Research Center (SSRC) is Dr. Suzan Wayesh, an expert in chemical synthesis and raw materials, who operates out of the agency's main research center in Damascus under the title "pharmaceutical engineering expert". Dr. Wayesh deals, among other things, in the development of measures for inserting chemical and biological agents through human skin, using injections and even without them. She often attends international scientific conferences alongside such individuals as Dr. Khaled Al-Azzam, the scientist in charge of chemical weapon facilities at the SSRC, scientists from the Atomic Energy Commission of Syria (AECS) and other colleagues from the Syrian Ministry of Health, in charge of the national pharmaceutical industry.
Previous experience gained from Iraq's biological weapon industry, revealed following the collapse of the Saddam Hussein regime, proved that the brains behind the development programs in various biological warfare fields were women, who dominate the field of microbiology worldwide. One of the most famous of these women was  Dr. Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash, known as Mrs. Anthrax and Chemical Sally, who was responsible for Saddam Hussein's biological weapon program until surrendering to coalition forces in 2003. Another is Dr. Rihab Taha, a toxins expert who headed the biological weapon programs at the Iraqi Salman Pak and Al-Hakum facilities. Taha was handed over in 2005, but was later released.
Iraq was engaged in the development of biological weapons for many years and was way ahead of Syria in this field. Among other things, Iraq produced 8,350 liters of Anthrax bacteria in liquid form, which could fit into one of the fermentation and storage containers purchased from the Russian plants, and about 19,000 liters of Botulinum toxin – the most lethal toxin manufactured in Iraq. This amount is equal to the capacity of a standard hotel swimming pool. Pursuant to the Second Gulf War, there were concerns that the knowledge gained in Iraq, especially with regard to the testing, arming and dispensing of biological weapons, would be transferred to Syria.

International Cooperation
Syria's biological warfare programs are based on three categories: human pathogens, animal pathogens converted to attack humans, and a series of lethal toxins normally produced from plants. For any engineering of a pathogenic species, the system is required to produce a vaccine that provides protection against the pathogen. Some of the vaccines already exist, as an outcome of the activities of Syria's preventive medicine system.
Each category is handled by the relevant institutes and organizations, in cooperation with the local industry. The program based on animal pathogens (such as SARS and Swine Flu) also incorporates various veterinary institutes. The program based on the production of lethal toxins from plants (such as Ricin, produced from the castor oil plant) also incorporates institutes engaged in the research and development of agricultural engineering and biological pest control technologies. Between 2003 and 2011, Syria had encouraged the growing and production of castor oil up to an average production of 1,400 tons per year. In the context of this production activity, the toxic protein concentrations found in the husks of the castor beans were produced as well.
Many of the Syrian researchers involved in the field of biological warfare possess rich resumes that include specialization studies and scientific cooperation with research institutes around the world, including visits to the scientific and technological research centers of Iran. Senior Syrian scientists also serve as members of joint scientific committees of Iran and North Korea, which have been assisting the manufacture of chemical and biological weapons in Syria for many years. Since the late 1990s, Sudan is also regarded as an active partner, along with Syria and Iran, in the development of chemical and biological weapons, and – according to NATO intelligence sources – has provided the grounds for field trials of chemical and biological weapons.
Over the years, several accidents have taken place in the context of Syria's chemical and biological warfare programs. Some of these accidents were the result of ventilation infrastructure problems. Among others, in July 2007 a weapon facility near Aleppo exploded while Iranian and Syrian engineers were attempting to adapt a mustard gas warhead to a Scud missile.
A major portion of the research and development of biological weapons is managed from the SSRC complex on the outskirts of Damascus. The trial programs, production and storage of the bacteria and viruses (Anthrax, Smallpox, Cholera, Ricin, Tularemia, Botulism, et al.) occur at three central facilities. These are the Sarin facility near the city of Homs, the military missile testing facility to the south of Homs and the Al-Safir facility near Aleppo.
The Sarin facility is located near the manufacturing plants in Homs and serves, according to intelligence experts, as the primary storage facility of Syria's biological weapons. Contrary to the chemical weapon stockpiles, biological weapons do not require large storage areas in order to store the agents. In this case, the quality of the pathogen (as opposed to quantity), along with the ability to fit it into munitions and dispense it, are the important criteria as well. These substances cannot be detected and remain latent during the manufacturing process as well as when they are actually used.

Experiments on Prisoners
Encapsulating biological weapons is a major challenge if biological warfare is to be used as a primary weapon in a war. The challenges are the dispensing of the viruses so that they inflict maximum damage without damaging the dispensing process. For this purpose, mathematical models are used to examine the ability to dispense the agent effectively over the largest possible area. In Syria, this particular development process takes place mainly at the SSRC facility in Al-Safir, and the trials are conducted at the proving grounds located about 15 kilometers to the south of Homs, near the biological weapon storage facilities.
As with the storage facilities, the testing facilities are heavily defended and are used for the testing of missiles and munitions adapted for carrying chemical and biological warheads. There have been several limited indications of the development or testing of biological variants of incendiary bombs, cluster munitions, Scud warheads, UAVs, aircraft and cruise missiles for dispersing biological agents over a large area, while exploiting wind and weather conditions.
Syria was also involved in the development of micro-spraying technologies intended for biological terrorism purposes, as well as in the development of viruses and bacteria intended for mass infection through a human carrier. A state becomes aware of the fact that it is under a biological warfare attack only when people start showing up in clinics and hospitals. This type of weapon category has a sparse and very faint fingerprint.
A few years ago, Syria developed an engineered species of Anthrax with Russian assistance that may be fitted to missile warheads. The Israel Institute for Biological Research (IIBR) in Ness-Ziona developed vaccines for that Anthrax species. Between the years 1998 and 2006, the Institute, along with the IDF Medical Corps, conducted a secret experiment code-named "Omer-2" that tested the effectiveness of the new vaccine against the engineered Anthrax species. The fact that the experiment had been conducted was revealed in May 2007 on Israeli television.
Dr. Jill Dekker, who had served as NATO advisor on chemical warfare until 2007, gives periodic interviews in which she refers to evidence that Syria conducted chemical and biological weapon experiments on prisoner populations. Additionally, over the last few years, human rights organizations operating in Syria blamed the Syrian government for the unexplained deaths of dozens of prisoners in Syrian prisons, mainly in the Damascus and Aleppo areas. Some of these deaths occurred over the last two years while others were explained as the collateral outcome of fires started by the rebels who had shelled the facilities in question, which could have masked deaths by chemical strangulation or biological poisoning.
As Syria controls several species of lethal diseases, it is reasonable to assume that some of these biological warfare capabilities will be transferred to Hezbollah as well. NATO officials estimate that knowledge and capabilities in this field have already been transferred by the Iranians and the Syrians to the Lebanese organization. Hezbollah operatives have been receiving biological warfare instruction and training at a facility of the Quds Force in Iran - where local inhabitants residing near the facility reportedly suffered from unexplained skin diseases - and even trained under field conditions on Sudanese soil. One of the primary concerns involves measures developed by Syria for launching biological weapons by anti-tank or anti-aircraft man-portable missiles. Hezbollah, which also employs MUAVs, could use those vehicles to attack civilian populations without implicating itself in a biological warfare attack.
In December 2012, the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida reported that Israel was behind an explosion in a Hezbollah munitions warehouse in the village of Tir-Harfa in southern Lebanon. According to this newspaper, whose reports were attributed in the past to leaks by Israeli officials, the warehouse where the explosion occurred had contained missiles capable of carrying chemical or biological warheads, which had been transferred recently from Syria to Lebanon.
Experts maintain that Syria was engaged in the development of a non-lethal biological weapon intended to neutralize IDF troopers in the event of a war on the Golan Heights, in a manner that would appear as the natural outbreak of an epidemic. In 2007 and in 2011, two unusual outbreaks of Newcastle Disease (a viral disease that affects birds and sometimes humans, whose symptoms are similar to those of Avian Influenza) occurred in the Galilee area.
A German company currently known as Lohman Animal Health assisted Syria indirectly with one of its biological weapon programs, when, in the early 2000s, it illegally supplied more than 14 million doses of its vaccine for Newcastle disease to a Syrian company. The vaccines contained a live attenuated virus transferrable to humans, which generates mild symptoms.

Anthrax on the Golan Heights
Israel is preparing for a biological terrorist attack scenario and vaccines against various toxins are being developed. Among other things, joint projects of MAFAT (the Israel Ministry of Defense R&D Directorate) and the US Pentagon's R&D agency are engaged in the development of instruments designed to detect and identify toxins in water. Additionally, in a research project conducted at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology and financed by the IMOD (among others) a new method was developed to immediately identify bacterial contamination in water.
The importance of early detection and identification in the management of irregular biological incidents is critical, clear and immediate. About two years ago, in November 2011, a large-scale exercise, code-named "Orange Flame 6", was conducted in Israel. The exercise simulated the outbreak of a biological disease as a result of a terrorist attack or a natural disease (such as SARS or Avian Influenza). The joint exercise by the IDF Homefront Command and the Israel Ministry of Health, in which all of the defense forces and emergency services participated, examined such capabilities as promptly identifying and isolating the virus, transferring samples quickly, monitoring data, and others. In an actual event, the speed and thoroughness in which the teams operate and how they protect themselves will be of the utmost importance. The exercise also pointed to the importance of efficient computer-based systems to the monitoring of patients and preventing secondary infection of a dangerous disease.
In the last two years, two outbreaks of Anthrax occurred on the Golan Heights. The most recent incident occurred just a few months ago, when Anthrax bacteria resulted in mortality in a herd of cattle belonging to farmers from Moshav Nov in the central Golan Heights. This particular area has intensive troop movements, as well as water flowing to the Sea of Galilee and various local reservoirs. The Anthrax bacteria can exist for decades in a dormant state, and the area where it was discovered suffered an Anthrax epidemic back in 1984. One wonders, however, if the pathogens survived for nearly 30 years, or whether the outbreak was the result of a new infection.

Assuming the Syrian Army cooperates with the UN inspectors in the destruction of all of Syria's chemical weapon stockpiles, will it dare use biological weapons in the future, in its war against the rebels or against Israel?

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Protecting our Laboratories: How the West Educated some of the World's most Dangerous Biological Weapon Scientists

Rihab Rashid Taha was UK trained microbiologist who earned her doctorate from the University of East Anglia. She was in charge of Saddam Hussein's Biological Weapon (BW) programs and conducted research at Iraq's clandestine al-Hakim biological research laboratory during the 1980's. Taha is by far alone in her acquisition of a western university degree. Taha ran a 150 person biological weapon program at the infamous Salman Pak facility which UN inspectors once dubbed 'germ-warfare central.'

Rahib was not alone, a number of her colleagues, one named 'Mrs. Anthrax,' by inspectors, Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash, was educated in the United States gaining her doctorate in Microbiology from the University of Missouri, and was number 53 on the Pentagon's list of 55 most wanted deck of cards and the only woman featured.  

Today, a number of biological weapon scientists, far from being educated in Russia, have been educated in the West and have worked in a number of BSL2 and 3 facilities. I've written extensively on Malaysian scientist and AQ biological weapon expert Dr. Yazid Sufaat. A rather accurate account by Wikipedia states: "In 1987 Sufaat graduated from the California State University, Sacramento with a degree in biochemistry.(2) He then served in the Malaysian army as a medical technician, reaching the rank of Captain.(1) Suffaat is now believed to be one of al Qaeda's main anthrax researchers. (2,3,4,5) In 1993 Sufaat set up a pathology laboratory called Green Laboratory Medicine, at which he subsequently tried to weaponize anthrax on behalf of al Qaeda. (1) From 5 o 8 January 2000, a major meeting of AQ and JI personnel was held in Kuala Lumpur. (6)(See: 2000 Kuala Lumpur al Qaeda Summit); four of those who attended stayed with Sufaat at his home (7) He is also suspected of providing employment documents to Zacarias Moussaaoui, and providing lodging for two of the 11 September hijackers, namely Khalid al Midhar and Nawaf al Hazmi. (7) See: Sufaat served 7 years in detention was released and very recently re-arrested for planning terrorism offenses related to Syria. 

While we in the West have worried that Russian biological weapon scientists from the reduced Biopreparat program, might sell their know how to states of concern, we in the West were training many of the very scientists who now pose a significant proliferation risk. In November of 2008, The UK Guardian's paper published an article entitled: "Terrorists try to Infiltrate UK's Top Labs." The article noted that security services had intercepted up to 100 suspects posing as post graduate students who aim to acquire weapons material and expertise. (See: Guardian states:"In addition, a number of well-educated iraqi scientists funded by Baghdad infiltrated several British microbiology laboratories in the run up to the Gulf War of 1990-91. Britain has about 800 laboratories in hospitals, universities and private firms where staff have access to lethal viruses such as Ebola, polio and avian flu or could acquire the technology and expertise to develop deadly weapons. Whitehall sources remain concerned about the number of countries intent on acquiring the materials and knowledge to develop a nuclear or biological warfare capability. John Wood of the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control said: 'Any scientist would say it's important that we know who is working in our laboratories, and also why they are working there." ( to be continued.... 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

What Accidental Amplification of Virulence Teaches us about Biological Weapon Development

"Many analysts rank cultured and genetically engineered biological organisms as the most dangerous of all existing weapons technologies, with the potential for producing more extensive and devastating effects on human populations than even fusion nuclear weapons (Henderson, 1999)." See:


In 2001, the New Scientist (4) published an article on a deadly virus created accidentally by an Australian research team trying to genetically engineer a contraceptive vaccine for mice."They spliced a gene for the protein interleukin-4 (IL-4) into the relatively harmless mousepox virus (ectromelia virus) in the hope that IL-4 would boost the immune system to make more antibodies. When the researchers injected this vaccine into mice, all the mice died. In fact, this synthetic virus was so lethal that it also killed half of all the mice that had been vaccinated against mousepox.The work published in the Journal of Virology ( revealed that hte mice used were genetically resistant to the mousepox viruis in the first place. Genetic resistance to mousepox varies among inbred laboratory mice, and depends on natural killer (NK) cells and cytotoxic T-lymphocytes (CTL) responses to viral infection, both of which destroy cells that have been infected with virus so as to clear the body of the virus. The researcher found that expression of IL-4 suppressed both NK and CTL. Genetically resistant mice infected with the IL-4 expressing virus developed symptoms of acute mousepox accompanied by 100% mortality, similar to the disease seen when genetically sensitive mice are infected with the virulent Moscow strain. Strikingly, infection of genetically resistant mice recently immunised against mousepox also resulted in significant mortality. These findings suggest that virus-encoded IL-4 not only suppresses primary antiviral immune responses but also inhibits the expression of immune memory responses.  In previous investigations (6,7), the IL-4 gene inserted into another virus used in vaccinations against smallpox, the vaccinia virus, delayed the clearance of the the virus from experimental animals and undermined the animals' anti-viral defence. These results suggest that IL-4 may function similiarly in all viruses in the same family, which also contains the human smallpox virus. These findings raise the spectre of biological warfare. But the far greater danger lies in the unintentional creation of deadly pathogens in the course of apparently innocent genetic engineering experiments. Genetic engineering involves facilitating horizontal transfer and recombination of genetic materials across species barriers, precisely the conditions favouring the creation of new viruses and bacteria that cause diseases.We now know of cases in the laboratory where such viruses have been created. (
But what does the IL-4 study teach us in terms of modern and advanced biological weapon development? "The scene on the far horizon is much harder to discern simply because the current rapid pace of technological advance suggests that new technologies are likely to be developed in the coming years that will completely change the landscape for biological warfare offensive and defensive possibilities. Even without envisioning new biological agents such as those that could be generated by synthetic biology, the technology already exists for significantly enhancing the lethality of biological weapons. The introduction of antimicrobial resistance genes into bacterial agents could significantly enhance their lethality by reducing treatment options. In this regard, it is relatively easy to generate B. anthracis resistant to first line antimicrobial therapies such as ciprofloxacin (athamna et al., 2004). It is noteworthy that microbial modifications to increase lethality is only one possible outcome for engineering biological weapons since these could also be designed to incapacitate instead of kill. Given the enormous universe of microbial threats, the power of modern biology to enhance the microbial virulence and the high likelihood that biological weapons will continue to threaten humanity one must face the question of how best to protect society. The sheer number of threats and the availability of technologies to modify microbes to defeat available countermeasures suggests that any attempt to achieve defence in depth using microbe-by microb approaches to bio-defence is impractical and ineffective." See: 

Arturo Casadevall's paper, quoted above, posits several possible countermeasures worth considering:

  1. Continued development of specific diagnostic assays and countermeasures (vaccines, drugs, antibodies) for high risk threats identified by current matrix threat analysis. This is essentially a continuation of the major societal response to perceived biological threats in the first decade of the 21st century when a significant proportion of government supported research has focused on known agents such as variola major, B. anthracis and other high risk agents. This approach makes sense given that known agents will continue to be the most likely threats in the near horizon.
  2. Develop host-targeted interventions that enhance immune function against a wide variety of threats. In other words, develop therapies that produce temporary increases in immune function that would protect against known and unknown threats. This approach would provide defensive options against yet to be identified microbial threats.
  3. Develop new ways to assess the healthy state that could allow monitoring of the population to identify the appearance of new agents. Although physicians can readily identify the disease state and surveillance systems for known agents are critically important for identifying a biological attack, such approaches may not suffice for all threats. For example, consider the situation with the outbreak of the HIV epidemic. The epidemic was identified in 1981 as a consequence of clusters of cases with known infectious diseases that did not fit known epidemiological parameters for such maladies as they included rare diseases in individuals with no predisposing conditions. However, we now know that AIDS can follow many years after the HIV infection and the interval between infection and disease is characterized by a slow decline in immune function during which the individual does not exhibit signs of disease. Arguably, the existence of methodology that could assess the healthy state might have identified the silent spread of the virus in certain populations years prior to the onset of the epidemic.
  4. Obtain a better understanding of microbial diseases in animal species and especially those that come in close contact with humans. Given that 72% of emergent infectious diseases described in recent decades have been zoonosis (Jones et al., 2008), it is reasonable to assume that wildlife will continue to be source of new pathogenic microbes for humans and a potential source of biological weapons. Consequently any effort to design a system for defence in depth should include efforts to describe, catalogue and study microbial diseases in wildlife.
  5. In preparing for known and unknown threats the availability of a vigorous scientific research establishment that can respond rapidly is an essential component for any effort to defend society. The rapid identification of HIV as the cause of AIDS and the development of effective anti-retroviral therapies was made possible by prior societal investments in studying the biology of retroviruses at a time when these were not associated with human diseases. Hence, continued investments in basic research with emphasis on fostering a better understanding of host–microbe interactions is an essential cornerstone for any effort to defend in depth against biological weapons.
See: Arturo Casadevall, "The Future of biological warfare", Microbial Biotechnology, Vol.5, Issue 5,584-587, September, 2012.