Friday, January 26, 2007

WHY COUNTER-TERROR MEN OUGHT NOT TO DIRECT POLICY: Britain expands its select agent restrictions on recommendation of witchfinder generals

Today an item comes across the desk from AP out of London: "An expanded list of deadly toxins and pathogens held in laboratories and hospitals will be more tightly controlled to keep them out of the hands of terrorists, Britain's Home Office said on Thursday.

"Around 100 viruses and bacteria — including diseases such as rabies, polio and influenza — will be covered by the tough new regulations, policing and security minister Tony McNulty said.

"Commercial laboratories, universities and hospitals will be required to give police details of their precise stocks of the agents and the names of every person with access to them, the Home Office said."

Comments from the UK government to AP were all delivered anonymously. The original is here.

In the United States this function is administered by the Select Agent program, administered by the Centers for Disease Control.

As your friendly neighborhood GlobalSecurity.Org Senior Fellow, DD discussed it recentlyhere in connection with the criminal sale of botulinum toxin in this country.

What becomes apparent upon examination of the various restrictions imposed by Select Agent monitoring programs is that the formal rules and regulations aren't so important as the practice of common sense and due diligence in the scientific research community working with potentially dangerous materials.

No amount of restrictions or government oversight stopped sales of botulinum toxin in a business scam. A little common sense, less greed and pusuit of easy profit would have.

In the US, the limits and restrictions on select agents are still set by scientific working groups. While it may not be apparent to the casual observer, there is a good deal of disagreement within such groups, some scientists arguing that there ought not to be any limits set restricting research materials.

Others have argued convincingly that the new restrictions brought by the war on terror, while they do not exclude scientists from continuing valuable work, in practice -- do. It becomes too difficult for the newer scientist to gather the resources and go through the redtape necessary to justify research which utilizes restricted materials. Risks and potential penalties accrue which only well-established and well-funded laboratories and senior scientists wish to undertake.

However, it's a fact that all scientists have to start from scratch, not automatically hatching into well-known and well-compensated senior research programs. The net effect of such restrictions, in the name of the war on terror, is to stifle research.

This is done in the name of public safety and it is very often not justified by the actual nature of the threat.

With respect to the rationalizations furnished by the British government for AP's story, it appears not to be justified at all.

"In 2003, police said they had foiled a plot to spread the deadly toxin ricin in London," wrote AP, working from a script furnished by the British government. "Eight men were charged; four were acquitted and the other four were not tried. No traces of ricin were found but scientists said there was evidence of attempts to produce it."

This, of course, is all cocked up and a substantial distortion. DD has furnished ample evidence showing Kamel Bourgass, the only man convicted in the case, could not have produced anything from his foolish poison recipes. If there was evidence to produce poisons, it was only in a small pile of cherry stones and a handful of castor beans in a jewelry tin. None of these materials threatened the people of London, no matter how much Bourgass may have wished it to be so. Scientists, of course, knew this. A jury accepted it. The British government was not satisfied with these evaluations.

"Last November, a senior British diplomat warned that Islamic extremists had tried to acquire chemical and radiological weapons to use in attacks against Britain and other Western targets," continued the AP story.

Again, another functional lie is delivered through the newsmedia. Readers of this blog know the case of crackpot Dhiren Barot, the alleged al Qaeda man with plans to use thousands and thousands of smoke detectors -- it would have had to have been all the world's smoke detectors -- as a dirty bomb.

"The Foreign Office official, who demanded anonymity to discuss the issue, said intelligence chiefs believed terrorists could create weapons from substances with legitimate scientific or medical uses," intoned AP.

This is certainly true. Intelligence chiefs in the war on terror seem to believe that terrorists have MacGyver-like talents in fashioning WMDs from household, drugstore and hardware store items.

This is a superstition.

There is no substantial evidence to support any of it, although there are many incompetent terrorists who have believed the same things, often informed by crackpot writings and recipes on the Internet, originally published from the American neo-Nazi survivalist fringes in the Eighties.

"Britain's Home Office, which is advised by the domestic security service MI5, has also assessed a potential risk from the use of legitimately held toxins or medical waste, continued AP.

" 'There is a threat posed by the potential terrorist use of certain pathogens and toxins. There are examples of terrorist groups — including al-Qaida — attempting to gain access to such material, ' said a Home Office spokesman, on customary condition of anonymity.

"The spokesman said he could not confirm if attempts had been made by terrorist groups in Britain to acquire biological agents."

Could not confirm. Speaks only on conditions of anonymity.


This is as good example as any of what happens when policy is set by intelligence chiefs, today's equivalent of the witchfinder general.


Post a Comment

<< Home