In 1969, US President Richard Nixon ended all offensive aspects of the US bio-weapons program — the first category of weapons prohibited by an international treaty. In 1975, the US ratified both the 1925 Geneva Protocol and the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) — the international treaties outlawing biological warfare. But many reports from different sources offer reason to believe that the US military is developing a new generation of weapons in violation of the international treaties Washington is a party to.
An opinion paper published on Oct. 4 in the journal Science, written by an international group of researchers led by Richard Guy Reeves from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Germany, claims the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is potentially developing insects as a means of delivering a “new class of biological weapon.”
The official goal of Insect Allies, an ongoing research program, is to disperse infectious, genetically modified viruses that have been engineered to edit crop chromosomes directly in the field. But there is a reason to believe that the program is actually an effort to develop biological agents and a means of delivery intended for hostile purposes. If true, this would constitute a breach of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC).
The researchers warn the project could be used to create drought-resistant crops as an “agricultural bio-weapon.” The Washington Post cited Silja Voeneky, the co-author of the Science article and a professor of international law at the University of Freiburg, who stated, “We argue that there is the risk that the program is seen as not justified by peaceful purposes.” According to her, “To use insects as a vector to spread diseases is a classical bio-weapon.”
DARPA’s program manager for Insect Allies, Blake Bextine, acknowledged that the project involves new technologies that potentially could be deployed for “dual use,” in theory, for either defensive or offensive purposes. But that’s true for almost any advanced technology, he added.
The simple fact alone that Insect Allies is a military program naturally raises questions. The US Defense Department says its research agency has been tasked with this problem because food security is a component of national security. The State Department has explained that the project is for peaceful purposes and does not violate the BWC. This does not sound very convincing!
Just a few hours before the scathing report published by Science hit the press, Russian Maj. Gen. Igor Kirillov, the commander of the Russian Armed Forces’ Radiological, Chemical, and Biological Defense Troops, accused the US military of carrying out large-scale, covert, biological warfare research using labs located in Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and elsewhere. The Russian military is concerned about the outbreaks of African swine fever that first began in Georgia in 2007 and then spread into Russia, Europe, and China. “The infection strain in the samples collected from animals killed by the disease in those nations was identical to the Georgia-2007 strain,” Igor Kirillov emphasized.
The documents released by former Georgian State Security Minister Igor Giorgadze have confirmed that the US-funded Richard G. Lugar Center for Public Health Research in Tbilisi, Georgia, was used as a cover for secret military biological research. The Russian military believes the spread of viral diseases in southern Russia could have been linked to the activities of the Lugar Center. Identical information has also been obtained from other sources. US investigative journalist Jeffrey Silverman, who has lived in Georgia for over 25 years, tells the same story about the US military’s biological research effort in that country.
In October 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a statement claiming that someone was collecting “biological material” from various ethnic groups and regions of Russia.
Last summer, the US Air Force’s Air Education and Training Command sought samples of ribonucleic acid (RNA) and synovial fluid from Russian subjects who “must be Caucasian.” It was looking for at least 12 RNA samples from Russians of European ancestry, as well as 27 samples of synovial fluid. Only Russian specimens. It wanted no tissue samples from Ukraine.
In January 2018 Dilyana Gaytandzhieva, a well-known Bulgarian investigative journalist, published an extensive report confirming the fact that the US military has never stopped its bio-weapons research that it conducts in many countries. According to her, it regularly produces deadly viruses, bacteria, and toxins in direct violation of the UN Convention on the prohibition of biological weapons, and that hundreds of thousands of unwitting people are systematically being exposed to dangerous pathogens and other incurable diseases.
No, the reports about the US violations of the BWC cannot be dismissed as mere Russian propaganda. Neither the journal Science nor the authors of the sensational article that has drawn so much public attention have any ties to Russia. Too many sources, based in a variety of geographic locations and publishing reports by a wide range of people, all tell the same story. The programs in question are always under the control of the military, not other, civilian agencies. The issue of US non-compliance with the BWC has not been in the spotlight and has been overlooked in comparison to the problems related to other weapons of mass destruction. But if the United States so flagrantly violates the BWC, can it be trusted with other international arms-control treaties? Russia appears to be trying to draw public attention to this issue. Other nations should join this effort. The time is right to ask the US to stop dodging awkward questions and provide some clear answers to them.