Tuesday, January 20, 2009

MEANINGLESS BIOSECURITY WORKING GROUP FORMED: Too late now

From the Jan. 9 Federal Register:


By the authority vested in me as President by the
Constitution and the laws of the United States of
America, it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1. Policy. It is the policy of the United
States that facilities that possess biological select
agents and toxins have appropriate security and
personnel assurance practices to protect against theft,
misuse, or diversion to unlawful activity of such
agents and toxins.

Sec. 2. Establishment and Operation of the Working
Group. (a) There is hereby established, within the
Department of Defense for administrative purposes only,
the Working Group on Strengthening the Biosecurity of
the United States (Working Group)...


The working group is made up of all the cabinet level secretaries. The group is to present a report on the state of biosecurity in the US not more than 180 days after its assembly. After the submission of this report it is to disband.

The two most interesting cases of misuse of microbes and toxins in the last ten years came from within the US system designed to oversee biological defense and control the dissemination of dangerous agents.

The most famous example is the case of Bruce Ivins. (See here and here.)

The second example was the production, purification of botulinum toxin -- a material covered by the US government's select agent program, for diversion into the cosmetic surgery industry.

The toxin was produced by a research lab in California, one which relies upon the biodefense industry for much of its business. Botox production was ordered from it by a shell firm posing as a legitimate research operation named Toxins Research International (or TRI in the criminal indictments). The material produced in this run was subsequently redistributed to cosmetic surgeons in a business scam which peddled it as a less expensive version of treatments using Allergan's botox. The business came apart when patients were administered the agent and came down with near fatal cases of botulism, conditions which necessitated they be put on life support.

If an opinion is to be ventured, your host believes most of the cabinet secretaries in the former administration (as well as the incoming one) didn't and don't even know about the second example and subsequent criminal prosecutions simply because they were so low profile. (See here and here.)

Do you think the staffers of cabinet members will read any of this? If so, what will they take away from it? More of the same old, same old, probably. We need more biodefense. Because oversight has worked out so well.

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