Overshadowed by Star Wars and overlooked by the media, the push toward biowarfare has been one of the Reagan administration’s best kept secrets. The research budget for infectious diseases and toxins has increased tenfold since fiscal ’81 and most of the ’86 budget of $42 million went to 24 U.S. university campuses where the world’s most deadly organisms are being cultured in campus labs.
The amount of military money available for biotechnology research is a powerful attraction for scientists whose civilian funding resources dried up. Scientists formerly working on widespread killers like cancer now use their talents developing strains of such rare pathogens as anthrax, dengue, Rift Valley fever, Japanese encephalitis, tularemia, shigella, botulin, Q fever, and mycotoxins.
Many members of the academic community find the trend alarming, but when MIT’s biology department voted to refuse Pentagon funds for biotech research, the administration forced it to reverse its decision. And, in 1987, the University of Wisconsin hired Philip Sobocinski, a retired Army colonel, to help professors tailor their research to attract Pentagon-funded biowarfare research to the school. Richard Jannaccio, a former science writer at UW, was dismissed from his job on August 25, 1987, the day after the student newspaper, THE DAILY CARDINAL, published his story disclosing the details of Colonel Sobicinski’s mission at the University.
Since the U.S. is a signatory to the 1972 Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention which bans “development, production, stockpiling and use of microbes or their poisonous products except in amounts necessary for protective and peaceful research,” the university-based work is being pursued under the guise of defensive projects aimed at developing vaccines and protective gear. Scientists who oppose the program insist that germ-warfare defense is clearly impractical; every person would have to be vaccinated for every known harmful biological agent. Since vaccinating the entire population would be virtually impossible, the only application of a defensive development is in conjunction with offensive use. Troops could be effectively vaccinated for a single agent prior to launching an attack with that agent. Colonel David Huxsoll, commander of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases admits that offensive research is indistinguishable from defensive research even for those doing it.
Each of the sources for this synopsis raised ethical questions about the perversion of academia by military money and about the U.S. engaging in a biological arms race that could rival the nuclear threat, yet none mentioned the safety or the security of the labs involved. The failure to investigate this aspect of the issue is a striking omission. Release of pathogens, either by accident or design, would prove tragic at any of the following schools: Brigham Young, California Institute of Technology, Colorado State University, Emory, Illinois Institute of Technology, Iowa University, M.I.T., Purdue, State University of N.Y. at Albany, Texas A&M, and the Universities of California, California at Davis, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Utah.
ISTHMUS, 10/9/87, “Biowarfare and the UW,” by Richard Jannaccio, pp 1, 9, 10; THE PROGRESSIVE, 11/16/87, “Poisons from the Pentagon,” by Seth Shulman, pp 16-20; WALL STREET JOURNAL, 9/17/86,
“Military Science,” by Bill Richards and Tim Carrington, pp 1, 23.