NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Past Hints of Bioterrorism

October 23, 2001

A number of countries have built biological weapons capabilities and stockpiles, says Robert L. Bartley of the Wall Street Journal, including Iraq and the former Soviet Union.

But the U.S. is inadequately prepared for biological attacks because, he says, the government and "opinion elites" have believed arms control treaties would work. Specifically, the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention outlawed development, production or stockpiling of biological or toxic weapons.

  • But in 1981, Secretary of State Alexander Haig revealed that tribesmen in Laos reported being attacked with a yellow powder causing hemorrhaging -- which U.S. researchers identified as a poison concocted from a fungus that grows on moldy grain.
  • In 1984, the Wall Street Journal warned of a huge Soviet effort to use genetic engineering to create new agents for biological attack -- which later turned out to involve some 25,000 people employed in germ warfare.
  • Boris Yeltzin confirmed the existence of the program when he later proclaimed the project had been closed -- but the U.S. has never been allowed to inspect other installations where skeptics believe it continues.

There is a growing body of evidence that enemy countries have ignored the 1972 Convention and are actively engaged in developing bioterrorist weapons. The U.S., however, destroyed its biological weapons stockpiles, ceased development of chemical and biological weapons and -- as recently as the Clinton administration -- decided not to undertake certain defensive research programs because it might violate the 1972 Convention.

The U.S. must not tie its own hands by signing a proposed inspection and record-keeping protocol to the Convention negotiated by 50 countries, including Iraq and North Korea -- nations which have no intention of honoring it.

Source: Robert L. Bartley, "On Anthrax and Arms 'Control,'" Wall Street Journal, October 22, 2001.

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