Biological warfare | Image: Wikipedia
War in Ukraine is turning people’s lives and affairs upside down. Governmental functioning is confounded. Unsurprisingly, dirty laundry, previously hidden, is on display. A Russian communication March 6 mentions “evidence of an emergency clean-up performed by the Kiev regime was found – aimed at eradicating traces of the military-biological program in Ukraine, financed by @DeptofDefense.”
A Chinese Foreign ministry spokesperson two days later spoke of “26 [U.S.] bio-labs and other related facilities in Ukraine.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki responded, saying that that the United States “does not develop or possess such weapons anywhere.” Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland indicated “Ukraine has biological research facilities …[and] so we are working with the Ukrainians [to] prevent any of those research materials from falling into the hands of Russian forces.”
The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists reported that, as of February 25, “a network of US-linked labs [existed] in Ukraine that work with dangerous pathogens.” Those 26 such facilities are “public and animal health labs.”
The gist of the Chinese and Russian communications is their claim that the U.S. Government is doing biowarfare. In that regard, the large “Richard Lugar Center for Public Health Research” in Tbilisi, Georgia, comes into view. The U.S. Defense Department’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) paid for the Center’s construction and for its operation, between 2011 and 2018.
Bulgarian investigative journalist Dilyana Gaytandzhieva produced a report in 2018 alleging the Center had bioweapons capabilities. She claimed that most of the Center’s staff were U.S. citizens enjoying diplomatic immunity and that at least three U.S. companies were doing bio-weapons research there. She indicates elsewhere that biologic specimens arrive by diplomatic pouch.
Gaytandzhieva’s extraordinarily detailed report displays dozens of official U.S. documents and graphics. She points out that DTRA-funded private companies carry out bio-weapons research and testing in laboratories and facilities located in Georgia, Ukraine, in the Middle East, South East Asia, Africa, and at Fort Detrick, Maryland, and the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. U.S. government apologists have dismissed the report as Russian-inspired propaganda.
The distinction between offense and defensive preparations has been clear as regards Fort Detrick. A “biological weapons program” existed there until 1969, when, as ordered by President Richard Nixon, it became a “biological defense program.” U.S. research installations elsewhere in the world lack clear demarcation between offensive and defensive purposes.
One of the U.S. bio-laboratories abroad is Battelle Corporation, “a $59 million subcontractor at Lugar Center,” that, according to Gaytandzhieva, operates laboratories in eight countries across the globe and, as of 2018 “has been awarded some $2 billion [in] federal contracts” and ranks 23rd among US government contractors.
As of that year, the Southern Research Institute, Black & Veatch, and Metabiota company were operating one or more of the 11 Defense Department-funded bio-laboratories in Ukraine. In a report published in January, 2022, Gaytandzhieva mentions the “US Federal contracts registry” as documenting that “DTRA allocated $80 million [to Black & Veatch company] for biological research in Ukraine as of 30 July 2020.”
She charges that the contractor did more than merely fund the labs – as suggested by Victoria Nuland – but instead has been responsible for their day-to-day operation. Cited as evidence are “internal documents” showing that “independent experts were denied even a visit” to the laboratories.
Ominously, scientists funded by the Defense Department have developed a new way of transmitting viruses to plants. According to a Science magazine article in 2018, the Defense Department initiated a program named “Insect Allies” in 2017 and would continue it for four years. Biting insects are being studied at the Luger Center in Georgia and presumably in other laboratories included in the multi-national U.S. bio-weapons network, such as those in Ukraine.
The scientists have arranged for genetically-modified viruses to infect insects that then go on to transmit the fixed-up viruses to plants where they alter the plants’ properties. Critics, mainly in Europe, doubt the peaceful purposes of the new methodology. They fear that the technique of “lab-modified self-spreading viruses” will soon be applied to humans and animals.
Commentary from the Max-Planck Institute interprets the Science magazine article as arguing “that the findings of the Insect Allies Program could be more easily used for biological warfare than for routine agricultural use.” It cites a legal opinion saying that, “The Insect Allies Program could be seen to violate the Biological Weapons Convention” (BWC),” which took effect in 1975.
Information presented here suggests it’s at least possible that the United States really has been developing bio-weapons for offensive use at facilities throughout the world and particularly in countries along Russia’s western periphery.
But questions crop up of mission overlap. Bio-medical and bio-industrial products are developed for both peaceful and war-making uses. In the latter case, a given product may be used for offensive or defensive purposes. A representative statement from officials in The Netherlands in 2013 testifies to a merging of purposes:
“On the one hand, many pathogenic organisms are very important to research and development in the fields of medicine, biology and agriculture. However, some of these organisms can also be used to develop biological weapons that may pose a threat to public health and the environment. The term ‘dual-use research’ can be extended … ‘Dual-use research of concern’ is the type of research that could be misused directly and whereby such misuse would have major consequences.”
Ambiguity cries out. That ambiguity demands that, in regard to Ukraine, and elsewhere, we view the likelihood of the United States preparing for biowarfare as probable, not as possible.
One more set of circumstances now boosts that likelihood up to near certainty. In furtherance of its goals, the U.S. government easily accepts the reality that masses of humans are going to suffer and die. We recall:
- The nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the conventional bombing of Dresden that sickened and killed hundreds of thousands.
- Pursuit of wars, in Korea and Vietnam, in which millions died, plus wars and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan that took the lives of hundreds of thousands.
- Complicity in massacres in Indonesia and Latin America.
- Institution of economic sanctions that killed or incapacitated hundreds of thousands in Iraq, Cuba and Venezuela.
- Support for repressive regimes like apartheid South Africa and Saudi Arabia that killed and maimed.
W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine.