Spertzel: wrong on weaponized anthrax

So Richard Spertzel, former U.N. weapons inspector, had this to say in WSJ:

Information released by the FBI over the past seven years indicates a product of exceptional quality. The product contained essentially pure spores. The particle size was 1.5 to 3 microns in diameter. There are several methods used to produce anthrax that small. But most of them require milling the spores to a size small enough that it can be inhaled into the lower reaches of the lungs. In this case, however, the anthrax spores were not milled.

What’s more, they were also tailored to make them potentially more dangerous. According to a FBI news release from November 2001, the particles were coated by a “product not seen previously to be used in this fashion before.” Apparently, the spores were coated with a polyglass which tightly bound hydrophilic silica to each particle. That’s what was briefed (according to one of my former weapons inspectors at the United Nations Special Commission) by the FBI to the German Foreign Ministry at the time.

Another FBI leak indicated that each particle was given a weak electric charge, thereby causing the particles to repel each other at the molecular level. This made it easier for the spores to float in the air, and increased their retention in the lungs.

Um, no.  I’ll trust a peer-reviewed assessment over some policy-pressurized briefing, thank you.

According to the FBI scientist who analyzed the anthrax letters, Douglas Beecher, it was NOT “weaponized.” He published this in Applied and Environmental Microbiology in 2006.

Individuals familiar with the compositions of the powders in the letters have indicated that they were comprised simply of spores purified to different extents (6). However, a widely circulated misconception is that the spores were produced using additives and sophisticated engineering supposedly akin to military weapon production. This idea is usually the basis for implying that the powders were inordinately dangerous compared to spores alone (3, 6, 12; J. Kelly, Washington Times, 21 October 2003; G. Gugliotta and G. Matsumoto, The Washington Post, 28 October 2002). The persistent credence given to this impression fosters erroneous preconceptions, which may misguide research and preparedness efforts and generally detract from the magnitude of hazards posed by simple spore preparations.

Purification of spores may exacerbate their dissemination to some extent by removing adhesive contaminants and maximizing the spore concentration. However, even in a crude state, dried microbial agents have long been considered especially hazardous. Experiments mimicking laboratory accidents have demonstrated that simply breaking vials of lyophilized bacterial cultures creates concentrated and persistent aerosols (4, 8). The potential for propagating disease with crude lyophilized material is illustrated by an outbreak of 24 cases of Venezuelan equine encephalitis throughout three floors of a Moscow virology institute. These infections were caused when vials containing dried infected mouse brain were accidentally broken on a stairwell landing and were spread by air currents and foot traffic (11).

Can we just put this to rest? Dry it, grind it up. It’s good enough for envelope dissemination. Poof!

Hizballah threatening chem-bio?

Hassan Nasrallah’s got a big surprise, so he says:

“Oh Zionists, if you think of launching a war on Lebanon, and I don’t advise to do it. … I promise you a big surprise that could change the fate of war and the fate of the region,” Nasrallah told a mass rally late Tuesday in Beirut’s southern suburbs, a Hezbollah stronghold that was heavily bombed by Israeli warplanes during the 34-day war.

Nasrallah did not elaborate on his threat but reiterated that his group possessed long-range rockets that could reach deep into the Jewish state. During Tuesday’s speech, he did not specify how many rockets Hezbollah has, but in October, Nasrallah said Hezbollah had 33,000 rockets.

Some have taken his speech to mean Hizballah has chemical or biological weapons.

Hezbollah’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, said in a speech last week that, should Israel again go to war in Lebanon, it would face a “surprise that will change the fate of the region”.

The unspecified threat prompted Abdul Bari Atwan, editor of Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper, to argue at the weekend that the Iranian-backed Lebanese militia may have weapons of mass-destruction.

Noting that Hezbollah’s arsenal of thousands of rockets, and its willingness to use them against Israel, became manifest facts during last year’s Lebanon war, Atwan said that “from an initial examination it can be understood that these rockets, or part of them, can be outfitted with chemical or biological warheads”.

Call me skeptical. It’s true that Hizballah has the potential to deliver chemical or biological agents (the image is a Zelzal-2). However, Nasrallah probably understands that the use of them equals immediate worldwide condemnation and a more supportive or at least stand-offish environment for harsh Israeli retaliation. Further, any “agents” Hizballah would develop on its own are unlikely to be military grade weapons—more likely they would have access to some ineffective TICs, or develop something about as sophisticated as Colombian insurgents’ shit bombs.

The big question is whether Iran would supply Hizballah with true chemical or biological agents? Experts have long argued against states providing such weapons to terrorists due to the possibility of attribution and the condemnation factor. But it seems that Iran isn’t particularly concerned with attribution in the case of its support of terrorism in Iraq, so maybe the conventional wisdom needs to be reconsidered in this case.

For now, however, my guess is that any “surprise” Nasrallah may allude to would be another long range rocket capability or other conventional weaponry. Which is certainly a concern, but frankly wouldn’t be that much of a surprise.

IRGC threatens to “punch” U.S. harder

A couple of days ago the U.S. decided to list the IRGC as a specially designated terrorist organization, and now it’s being reported that the head of that busy little hive of terrorism support, that one-stop shopping portal for terrorist arms and training, that active participant in attacks against Coalition Forces in Iraq, says the U.S. can expect escalation of its undeclared war:

TEHRAN, Iran – Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards said they would not bow to pressure and threatened to “punch” the United States, in their first response to Washington’s plan to list them as a terrorist organization, newspapers reported Saturday.

Local press in the Iranian capital of Tehran quoted Revolutionary Guards leader Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi saying that he could understand Washington’s ire towards the group because of their recent successes against the United States.

“America will receive a heavier punch from the guards in the future,” he was quoted as saying in the conservative daily Kayhan.

“We will never remain silent in the face of U.S. pressure and we will use our leverage against them,” he was quoted as saying.

There was no elaboration on what Safavi meant by the punch or the organization’s “leverage.”

Washington has accused the Guards of supporting militias and insurgent groups attacking U.S. forces in Iraq — charges Iran denies.

The fact that the remarks, made Thursday in the central Iranian city of Isfahan, appeared in local newspapers rather than the official state news outlets suggest the comments are for domestic consumption.

But I’m sure the General realizes these days, nothing is just for local consumption.

UPDATE: Fourth Rail, Qods in Iraq

Provocative anti-Islamic propaganda video

Is the other side catching up to the Islamic extremists’ use of new media to spread its ideas at gut level rather than in sophisticated ads, documentaries, TV shows, and government-sponsored stuff? In other words, on the same playing field? Possibly, if this video is any indication.

I found it fascinating how this was able to efficiently push some gut-level anti-Islamic buttons using extreme subject matter, imagery, and music – same thing terrorists have been doing for years right back at them. At least one thing’s for sure: the music in this video is so much more enjoyable than that horrendous chanting in terrorist videos…

h/t velvethammer

McCain chides media on negative reporting

In “The War You’re Not Reading About,” John McCain writes today that while there are some encouraging stories beginning to emerge in Iraq,

…most Americans are not aware because much of the media are not reporting it or devote far more attention to car bombs and mortar attacks that reveal little about the strategic direction of the war. I am not saying that bad news should not be reported or that horrific terrorist attacks are not newsworthy. But news coverage should also include evidence of progress.

Would it be so hard for the media to report more often on things like infrastructure rebuilding projects and other civil affairs programs, or the increasing numbers of Iraqi volunteers showing up to join the police and military? McCain offers some examples of stories that deserve bold headlines in the American media:

  • Sunni sheikhs in Anbar are now fighting al-Qaeda. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki visited Anbar’s capital, Ramadi, to meet with Sunni tribal leaders. The newly proposed de-Baathification legislation grew out of that meeting. Police recruitment in Ramadi has increased dramatically over the past four months.
  • More than 50 joint U.S.-Iraqi stations have been established in Baghdad. Regular patrols establish connections with the surrounding neighborhood, resulting in a significant increase in security and actionable intelligence.
  • Extremist Shiite militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr is in hiding, his followers are not contesting American forces, sectarian violence has dropped in Baghdad and we are working with the Shiite mayor of Sadr City.
  • Iraqi army and police forces are increasingly fighting on their own and with American forces, and their size and capability are growing. Iraqi army and police casualties have increased because they are fighting more.

There are signs that a tipping point is possible. It may not be hopeless. Come on, American media: dig for that story. As McCain points out,

This is not a moment for partisan gamesmanship or for one-sided reporting. The stakes are just too high.

Specter of Cuban bioweapons rises again

This article says Roberto Ortego, former Cuban Army colonel and chief of Cuba’s military medical services from 1984-1994, claims there is a secret underground bioweapons lab near Havana. Cuban biological agents were created as a deterrent and blackmail tool against the U.S., he claims.

“They can develop viruses and bacteria and dangerous sicknesses that are currently unknown and difficult to diagnose,” Ortega told The Miami Herald. “They don’t need missiles or troops. They need four agents, like the people from al-Qaida or the Taliban, who contaminate water, air conditioning or heating systems.”

He said Cuba was ready to use the biological agents “to blackmail the United States in case of an international incident” such as the threat of a U.S. invasion. Ortega says he told the CIA two years ago about the underground facility but is unhappy he hasn’t seen any action taken, so he’s apparently going on the public speaking circuit.

Cuba’s advanced biotechnology industry is well known, having produced vaccines for hepatitis and meningitis B and exported them to dozens of countries around the world. In 2002, John Bolton, then a top U.S. State Department official for arms control, said that Cuba “has at least a limited offensive biological warfare research and development effort.” In a report last year, the State Department acknowledged that analysts were divided on the issue of whether Cuba has such a program.

In his book BIOHAZARD, Soviet defector Ken Alibek said his boss Maj. Gen. Yuri Kalinin believed Cuba had an offensive biological warfare program. The program had been supported, initially at least, with training and equipment from the Soviet Union.

Alibek says the first Cuban biotech lab was set up with Soviet assistance and a strain of genetically engineered E. coli that produced interferon. Within a few years the Cubans were running a world-class biotech operation capable of advanced weapons research.

Whether they actually were performing advanced weapons research remains unknown, but if so, it would be with Raul Castro’s approval. He has been the Minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces since 1959 and is the nation’s highest ranking general, second in power only to his brother Fidel.

More info here at GlobalSecurity.org
This article discusses the current Cuban political situation.

Gardasil lobbying, vaccination requirements are creepy

So Merck’s been making the rounds and spreading a bit of financial goodwill in support of lawmakers who might favor laws forcing citizens to present their offspring for inoculation with its new HPV vaccine. Nothing like a guaranteed return on investment all the way until the patent runs out. But Merck says it’ll stop the monkey business. Why? Because it doesn’t matter at this point—the train already left the station since the Texas Governor signed the controversial order requiring girls be vaccinated and many other states are prepared to jump aboard.

I have to say, when a big pharmaceutical company tries to set the stage for laws forcing its products into citizens’ bodies, that’s downright creepy. But companies of all kinds do this kind of thing all the time. That’s what lobbying is all about: semi-controlled bribery.

Does it matter which side you’re on politically on this issue? Well, one reason I’ve never leaned to the left is that it seems they’re always coming up with more laws to “protect me from myself” that translate to losing the freedom to make my own decisions in simple aspects of daily private life. On the other hand there’s the right, which, except for its obsession with security against the outside world of evil arch enemies, could care less what happens to me…that is, unless the price is right! I sadly conclude that we citizens have to protect ourselves from both.

Hey big brother, at the risk of sounding like some sort of libertarian, how about leaving us alone to make our own decisions like grownups? If we want the vaccine we know where to find it!

And in the spirit of fair and balanced (or just curiosity?) for a corroborating source I discovered this handy list of things that make you go hmmm! cross-posted at Daily Kos.

The Facts About GARDASIL

  1. GARDASIL is a vaccine for 4 strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), two strains that are strongly associated (and probably cause) genital warts and two strains that are typically associated (and may cause) cervical cancer. About 90% of people with genital warts show exposure to one of the two HPV strains strongly suspected to cause genital warts. About 70% of women with cervical cancer show exposure to one of the other two HPV strains that the vaccine is designed to confer resistance to.
  2. HPV is a sexually communicable (not an infectious) virus. When you consider all strains of HPV, over 70% of sexually active males and females have been exposed. A condom helps a lot (70% less likely to get it), but has not been shown to stop transmission in all cases (only one study of 82 college girls who self-reported about condom use has been done). For the vast majority of women, exposure to HPV strains (even the four “bad ones” protected for in GARDASIL) results in no known health complications of any kind.
  3. Cervical cancer is not a deadly nor prevalent cancer in the US or any other first world nation. Cervical cancer rates have declined sharply over the last 30 years and are still declining. Cervical cancer accounts for less than 1% of all female cancer cases and deaths in the US. Cervical cancer is typically very treatable and the prognosis for a healthy outcome is good. The typical exceptions to this case are old women, women who are already unhealthy and women who don’t get pap smears until after the cancer has existed for many years.
  4. Merck’s clinical studies for GARDASIL were problematic in several ways. Only 20,541 women were used (half got the “placebo”) and their health was followed up for only four years at maximum and typically 1-3 years only. More critically, only 1,121 of these subjects were less than 16. The younger subjects were only followed up for a maximum of 18 months. Furthermore, less than 10% of these subjects received true placebo injections. The others were given injections containing an aluminum salt adjuvant (vaccine enhancer) that is also a component of GARDASIL. This is scientifically preposterous, especially when you consider that similar alum adjuvants are suspected to be responsible for Gulf War disease and other possible vaccination related complications.
  5. Both the “placebo” groups and the vaccination groups reported a myriad of short term and medium term health problems over the course of their evaluations. The majority of both groups reported minor health complications near the injection site or near the time of the injection. Among the vaccination group, reports of such complications were slightly higher. The small sample that was given a real placebo reported far fewer complications – as in less than half. Furthermore, most if not all longer-term complications were written off as not being potentially vaccine caused for all subjects.
  6. Because the pool of test subjects was so small and the rates of cervical cancer are so low, NOT A SINGLE CONTROL SUBJECT ACTUALLY CONTRACTED CERVICAL CANCER IN ANY WAY, SHAPE OR FORM – MUCH LESS DIED OF IT. Instead, this vaccine’s supposed efficacy is based on the fact that the vaccinated group ended up with far fewer cases (5 vs. about 200) of genital warts and “precancerous lesions” (dysplasias) than the alum injected “control” subjects.
  7. Because the tests included just four years of follow up at most, the long term effects and efficacy of this vaccine are completely unknown for anyone. All but the shortest-term effects are completely unknown for little girls. Considering the tiny size of youngster study, the data about the shortest terms side effects for girls are also dubious.
  8. GARDASIL is the most expensive vaccine ever marketed. It requires three vaccinations at $120 a pop for a total price tag of $360. It is expected to be Merck’s biggest cash cow of this and the next decade.

These are simply the facts of the situation as presented by Merck and the FDA.

[Ok, I should add that there are some minor points of bullshit in the above list, but "in general" it does point out at least a couple of good reasons to be skeptical of the need for this vaccine.]

Now that’s propaganda!

Layin’ it on thick, this site features a video (for European consumption, I guess) extolling the glorious virtues of America.

h/t Defense Tech, where this video stirred up plenty of nastiness in the comments. I’m just posting it as interesting propaganda. If you want to fight about it, please go join the commenters at Defense Tech!

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