Anthrax, UNM, and Bioterror Research in New Mexico
In a February 4, 2004 story in the Daily Lobo at UNM, it states that the university participates in anthrax research.(1)
UNM’s medical community, which has the top hospital in the state, acknowledged it uses government-supplied anthrax spores in its research on biowarfare detection. It was being tested to see if it matched the strains that were used in attacks in 2001 that killed five people. It is likely the anthrax came from a government laboratory, as the potency matches that in government labs.
UNM gets its anthrax from the U.S. Army’s Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease. The same batch was sent to five other research labs across the country, and it proved identical in strength to the anthrax powder used in the attacks. Ever since the attacks the government has been more closely monitoring the labs that have the anthrax.
The university’s research focuses on infection diagnosis and not decontamination. It is funded through the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, and UNM had a five year contract with them. The research is also funded in part by the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Virginia. UNM made $5.1 million over three years for its part in that research.
The anthrax at was rated as Biosafety Level 2. The scales are 1 through 4, with 4 being the most dangerous. Biosafety Level 3 labs deal with pathogens for which vaccines or antidotes are known. Biosafety Level 4 labs handle live organisms that have no known antidote. UNM has two Level 3 labs, and it was considering plans to build a Level 4 lab.
After 9/11 the Pentagon and other agencies gave millions in funds for bioterror research. Some of this research involved making the actual agents. The Pentagon approved developing a “super-anthrax” bacteria to test defenses against biological warfare, research that could violate the 1972 germ warfare treaty.(2)
In 2002 the DTRA executed the Biological Defense Initative (BDI) “to achieve early detection and characterization of a biological related incident in an urban area.” It established its testbed in Albuquerque, in a laboratory located at the New Mexico Department of Health facility at UNM campus.(3) The state Health Department received $1 million in federal funds that year to allow the state to prepare for bioterrorism attacks.(4)
The same year many scientists in the United States and Britain spoke out against the US developing new generation of biological and chemical weapons that would violate the 1972 treaty. This was at the same time they were attacking Iraq for allegedly developing weapons of mass destruction, which were never found and proven to be false. The Treaty “forbids signatories from producing or developing weapons, equipment or means of delivery designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes or in armed conflict.” The Pentagon’s alleged defensive purposes can allow them to make these weapons. There is also a loophole that allows for non-lethal weapons, which is funded through the Justice Department.(5) This new research was feared for sparking a new arms race.
In the years since 9/11 they have also pushed to build new “hot labs” to house these germs. Los Alamos has a Level 3 facility. $6 billion was given by Congress for fighting bioterrorism, which many experts found excessive in comparison to the threat. Communities across the country have protested these labs, many in urban areas.(6)
One contract in 2003 came to New Mexico, to UNM researcher Brian Hjelle, to work on the sin nombre virus, one of the group of which causes hantavirus.
A previous article detailed older information about biowarfare research on campuses (https://elloborojo.wordpress.com/2010/07/05/biowarfare-research-conducted-at-u-s-universities/). In the new post-9/11 era it and other military projects will expand.
(1)Floersheim, Ryan. “UNM Participates in Anthrax Research.” Daily Lobo. February 4, 2004. P. 1, 6.
(2)Borger, Julian. “Pentagon Approves Super Strain: US Developing More Potent Anthrax to Test Vaccine.” The Guardian (London). October 24, 2001
(3)”Analytical Laboratory for the Biological Defense Initiative.” Fact Sheet, Defense threat Reduction Agency. September 2002. Address as of 1/24/03: http://www.dtra.mil/news/fact/nwa_lb_di.html, referenced http://catalogue.nla.gov.au/Record/3849837
(4)AP. “N.M. Receives Funds to Fight Bioterrorism.” Albuquerque Journal. March 23, 2002.
(5)Borger, Julian. “US Weapons Secrets Exposed. The Guardian (London). October 29, 2002. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/oct/29/usa.julianborger
(6)Elias, Paul. “‘Hot Labs’ Creating New Fears.” Albuquerque Tribune. April 30, 2004. P. A1, A10.