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by Janet Phelan
Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012 at 1:34 PM
The Biological Weapons Convention meets in Geneva amidst allegations that the US has violated the treaty
The Seventh Review Conference of the Biological Weapons Convention was predicted to be a dud. According to a number of BWC watchers, the expectations for this conference accomplishing very much at all were quite low. http://blogs.shu.edu/ghg/2012/01/06/ruminations-on-the-seventh-review-conference-of-the-bwc-more-or-more-of-the-same/
And if you believe the mainstream media, the only noteworthy event during the fourteen day conference, held at Palais Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, took place on December 7, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed the meeting. Clinton's speech (http://www.state.gov/secretary/rm/2011/12/178409.htm) highlighted the critical nature of work being done to protect the world from the spectre of biological weapons but nixed the idea of launching any verification protocol. The speech was, according to journalist John Zarocosta, “Pure Bolton.”
John Bolton was Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security back in 2001 when the US stonewalled the long awaited verification protocols, refusing to accept the proposal which was years in the making. In a widely quoted speech, Bolton said, “Will we be courageous, unflinching, and timely in our actions to develop effective tools to deal with the threat as it exists today, or will we merely defer to slow moving multilateral mechanisms that are oblivious to what is happening in the real world…The United States will simply not enter into agreements that allow rogue states or others to develop and deploy biological weapons. We will continue to reject flawed texts like the BWC draft Protocol, recommended to us simply because they are the product of lengthy negotiations or arbitrary deadlines, if such texts are not in the best interests of the United States and many other countries represented here today.”
Due to this, the BWC remains a paper tiger, a treaty in name only, with no means of dealing with violations and no way to verify compliance. 165 nations to date have signed the treaty, which entered into force in 1975.
Yes, if you were to believe mainstream media, nothing happened in the rotunda in Room 18, Building E at the United Nations during those icy days in December. Diplomats from all over the world earnestly debated the merits of proposed language for inclusion in a final declaration (http://www.unog.ch/80256EDD006B8954/(httpAssets)/570C9E76CAAB510AC1257972005A6725/$file/ADVACNCE-BWC+7RC+Final_Document.pdf), which was agreed upon the last day of the meeting, just before the Convention was scheduled to close. The subjects on the international plate included such items as: Should the declaration “encourage” or “support” universalization? Should smaller countries be expected to contribute any money for the Implementation Support Unit, a superannuated secretarial service for the BWC?
One might be tempted to shake one's head in bewilderment at the earnest labors of the best and the brightest over a document which could be seen as fulfilling the poetic prophesy of Macbeth's famous absurdist lament......”Full of sound and fury/signifying nothing.” Because in reality, without a verification and implementation protocol, the BWC is pretty much hot air.
Not all in attendance supported the continued lack of verification. Delegates from India, Iran, Cuba and elsewhere repeatedly and plaintively raised their voices insisting that the Convention get back on track and attend to creating a mechanism to give itself some teeth.
These voices were effectively squelched by the Western “democracies,” as the UK, Canada, Switzerland and others (including the United States, of course) steered discussion away from verification, advocating instead fiddling around with the unverifiable CBMs. The CBMs (“Confidence Building Measures”) are forms on which each country is to self report its research programs, legislation and other aspects of their biological “defense” programs. The utter absurdity of expecting countries to accurately report their activities on these forms is reflected in the dismal rate of compliance in submissions. Asking the fox to report on his behavior in the henhouse and calling these unverifiable forms “Confidence Building Measures” is simply not taken seriously by most countries. The low CBM submission rate reflects the level of perceived weight these forms carry.
But was the Seventh Review Conference just a bunch of suits and starched shirts exercising their considerable verbal acuity and diplomatic skills and fiddling around while Rome burns?
The threat of a biological weapons deployment is more severe now than at any other time in recent history. Amidst rumors and allegations of covert bioweapons programs in Iran, Russia, Libya and, of course, the drone of complaints about the “terrorists,” the United States has quietly and with studied deception launched a biological weapons program of its own. The BWC bans the development, production and stockpiling of these weapons of mass destruction, but does not ban research. Currently, there are over 1360 BSL-3's in the US and, while the CDC insists there are only 6 BSL-4's, the actual number appears far higher (http://www.activistpost.com/2011/06/concerns-continue-to-mount-on-us.html). The BSLs (biosafety labs) are coded by their containment levels. BSL-4's handle the most dangerous bugs known to man, those for which there is no known cure. The BSL-3's deal with slightly less deadly germs, such as anthrax and plague. According to a report tendered by Edward Hammond, director of the now defunct Sunshine Project, there is no one providing oversight as to the type of research going on in these labs.
Apparently, the Soviet Union had indeed launched an offensive biological weapons program, a fact which came to light in the 1990´s, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. A Soviet scientist who subsequently came over to the US, Dr. Kenneth Alibek, believes that Russia is still involved in developing offensive biological weapons (http://thewednesdayreport.com/articles/research/weapons_of_mass_destruction-super_diseases.htm). Questions have also emerged as to whether the research going on at Porten Down in Great Britain may constitute offensive weapons research.
Russia, Great Britain and the US are the depositaries of the Biological Weapons Convention, which is not technically a United Nations treaty agreement, but is rather posited with the Big Three.
This reporter attended the BWC under the mantle of an NGO with the intent of informing the world community that the United States has violated the treaty and has launched a secret, illegal bioweapons program with intent to deploy. The information provided the delegates, both in a short speech http://www.unog.ch/80256EDD006B8954/%28httpAssets%29/4192F51D1A8D7C2EC1257965004A4EFC/$file/ITHACA.pdf
and in subsequent handouts, summarized the following concerns:
1.The United States has amended its biological weapons legislation via Section 817 of the US PATRIOT Act and is now giving its own agents immunity from prosecution for violating the law
2.The United States has failed to report this change in legislation to the BWC, as it is mandated to do in a politically binding agreement
3.These weapons are reported to be secretly stockpiled at Sierra Army Depot in Northern California
4.Two separate domestic delivery systems have been delineated—one involving country wide reconfigurations of water systems and the other involving imposter pharmaceuticals
While questions have been raised about some of the general language in 817, the fundamental concern revolves around its final caveat, which states that “c)… the prohibition contained in this section shall not apply to any duly authorized United States governmental activity.” A number of attorneys have weighed in on the implications of this peculiar caveat, and some controversy has been brewing as to the meaning of this release from culpability.
These concerns were magnified rather than alleviated by the behavior of representatives from the United States during three side events, hosted by Team USA. Dr. Daniel Gerstein of the Department of Homeland Security made a presentation detailing the US's legislative efforts to combat bioterrorism. However, his power point demonstration featured the older legislation, Title 18 Chapter 10 chapter 175, and did not include mention of the problematic revisions in Section 817 http://www.ehrs.upenn.edu/programs/bio/selectagents/patriot/sec817.html.
When this omission was brought to his attention, he mumbled something about needing to check the legislation and quickly moved on to another questioner. When queried about the reports of stockpiles at Sierra Army Depot, Gerstein declared that he didn't believe there was such a military base Here is the link to Sierra Army Depot, which does indeed exist (http://www.sierra.army.mil/Public).
Gerstein made an alarming prediction during his presentation, stating that “we expect a pandemic by the end of 2013.” One must wonder how Gerstein could possibly pinpoint a timeline for a pandemic, which is generally seen to be the result of unpredictable microscopic events. Unless, perhaps, he has a hand in creating one.
At the second US side event, Selwyn R. Jamison of FBI Bioterrorism responded to a query that the language in 817 constitutes a violation of the BWC stating, “You must be mistaken. The US does not violate treaties.” There was no time allowed for a follow up question which would have refuted his statement. Waterboarding and the Convention Against Torture come to mind, for starters.
At a third US side event, panel members from Health and Human Services and the Center for Disease Control were asked about plans to triage in event of a pandemic, plans which were first published in Chest, a journal of the American Medical Association, in May of 2008. The triage plans delineate that some people, such as the elderly and those with cognitive disabilities, would of necessity be denied medical care, in the event of scarce resources. The Associated Press subsequently picked up on the Chest reports, in a widely published article entitled "Triage plan details whom to let die during a pandemic."http://articles.sfgate.com/2008-05-05/news/17153864_1_critical-care-task-force-health-care
However, both Dr. George Korch of HHS and Dr. Scott Dowell of CDC disavowed knowledge of such triage plans.
While a number of reporters were present for these events, none chose to report on these concerns. Besides some spotty attendance by the mainstream press, the Bioweapons Prevention Project had a reporter present at the BWC, Richard Guthrie. Guthrie (http://www.cbw-events.org.uk/rg.html) produced detailed daily reports as to the events at the Convention; however, he failed to report on the fact that concerns were being raised as to the veracity of the United States' public statements about its compliance. When asked if he would like to be copied on a series of emails between NGO representatives who were pondering the implications of 817, Guthrie replied that there were so many critical issues going on at the Convention that he didn't think it would be worthwhile. He went on to issue an apparent apologia for the PATRIOT Act, saying that he had read it and thought it must have been hastily constructed .
A number of NGO participants took a different view of the relevance of concerns as to the US's compliance, as did a number of state parties, who directly contacted this reporter to express alarm and gratitude for bringing these issues to the fore. Whether or not a state party will act upon these concerns and request the Secretary General to assign an inspection team is as yet undetermined. In the absence of a verification protocol, the only way that an inspection team can be assembled is if a state party contacts the UN Secretary General and requests this.
This reporter also had meetings with several higher-ups at the UN. Valere Mantels, Political officer of the Geneva branch of the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, refused to accept documentation from this reporter, saying “I am not going to burn my fingers turning over documentation to the Secretary General.” Peter Kolarov of Disarmament Affairs declined to meet with this reporter, suggesting the documentation be taken to New York (?). UN Political officer Bantan Nugroho, also of Disarmament Affairs, did agree to a meeting and was handed a stack of relevant documentation. He declined to take action, cheerfully suggesting that this reporter take Gerstein's 2013 prediction as a personal deadline.
A final meeting with Jarmo Sareva, Director of Disarmament Affairs at the Geneva branch of the United Nations, ended in a stalemate when he informed this reporter, “We are neutral. We do not take sides.” When it was suggested that neutrality was a concept useful when there was a debate about facts but here the documentation amassed may have transcended what could be termed a difference of opinion, he mumbled something about how countries might “use this information for political purposes....” This reporter pushed ahead, stating that “we are not talking about missing money here. We are talking about the possible destruction of human life on a nearly unimaginable scale.”
When Sareva did not respond this reporter terminated the meeting.
Early on in the Conference, a member of the US delegation made a comment which may reflect the true nature of the current status of the Biological Weapons Convention. This delegate, an officer at the US State Department, reminded the attendees that the BWC itself provides for no meetings after the First Conference. "This Conference has no legal standing," he declared. "We just like each other a lot and so we keep getting together, year after year. But there is no legally binding aspect to anything we do here."
While in Geneva, I went to see the new Soderbergh film, “Contagion.” The movie features a scenario in which a pandemic wipes out a big chunk of the world´s population. The meta messages in the movie were clear—“Government is good. A pandemic is an accidental natural event and your government is only trying to protect you. Bloggers, however, are evil and opportunistic and not to be believed.” Propaganda, it appears, is not only the dominion of main stream reporters. Hollywood has gotten into the game, as well, pushing out movies which have a subtext which is frankly poisonous.
So where does this leave us? While no overt movement took place in terms of dealing with the threat posed by the United states, seeds may have been planted. Delegates from a number of countries expressed their concern to me, promising to take the information back to their respective capitals. One can hope that they do.
As I said to Director Jarmo Sareva as I pleaded for intervention, we appear to be cresting on a deliberately engineered attack, under the guise of a circumstantial pandemic, which has the potential of killing untold millions of people. The fact that the delivery systems which have been identified are domestic indicates that the United States is planning to attack selected segments of its own population. Saddam Hussein was hung for a purported attack on his own people, the infamous gassing of the Kurds. Is the United States now so powerful that no one will attempt to put a stop to this?
Is there a country on earth which has the guts to stand up to America and demand accountability? And while we are waiting to see if a country breaks from the pack, what can we do to protect ourselves?
To be continued….
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