Construction work has begun near Washington on a vast germ warfare
laboratory intended to help protect the US against an attack with biological
weapon, but critics say the laboratory's work will violate international law
and its extreme secrecy will exacerbate a biological arms race.
The National Biodefence Analysis and Countermeasures Centre (NBACC), due to be
completed in 2008, will house heavily guarded and hermetically sealed chambers
in which scientists simulate potential terrorist attacks.
To do so, the centre will have to produce and stockpile the world's
most lethal bacteria and viruses, which is forbidden by the 1972 Biological
and Toxin Weapons Convention. Three years before that treaty was agreed,
President Richard Nixon halted the production of US biological weapons at Fort
Detrick in Maryland. The same military base is the site for the new $128m (£70m),
160,000 sq ft laboratory.
The green light for its construction was given after the September 11 attacks,
which coincided with a series of still-unsolved anthrax incidents that killed
five people. The department of homeland security, which will run the centre, says
its work is necessary to protect the country. "All the programmes we do are
defensive in nature," Maureen McCarthy, director of homeland security research
and development, told the Washington Post. "Our job is to ensure that the
civilian population of the country is protected, and that we know what the threats
The biological weapons convention stipulates that the signatories must not
"develop, produce, stockpile, or otherwise acquire or retain" biological
weapons, and does not distinguish between offensive and defensive intentions.
A presentation given by Lieutenant Colonel George Korch said the NBACC would
be used to apply "red team operational scenarios and capabilities"
- military jargon for simulating enemy attacks.
Some analysts say the extraordinary secrecy surrounding the project will heighten
suspicions of US intentions and accelerate work on similar facilities around
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