Friday, October 17, 2003

Belated thanks to the reader who pointed out that inspectors found a vial of botulinum bacteria rather than botulinum toxin, as I stated in a post last week. And today the Los Angeles Times points out that

* there's no record that anyone's ever managed to weaponize this particular botulinum strain of botulinum, and

* we probably sold it to Iraq:

... Dr. David Franz, a former chief U.N. biological weapons inspector who is considered among America's foremost experts on biowarfare agents, said there was no evidence that Iraq or anyone else has ever succeeded in using botulinum B for biowarfare.

"The Soviets dropped it [as a goal] and so did we, because we couldn't get it working as a weapon," said Franz, who is the former commander of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Ft. Detrick, Md., the Pentagon's lead laboratory for bioweapons defense research.

"From the weapons side, it's not something to be concerned about," agreed Dr. Raymond Zilinskas, another former U.N. inspector who is now director of the chemical and biological weapons nonproliferation program at the Monterey Institute in California.

Botulinum B is a source of botulism, a common form of deadly food poisoning that usually results from improper canning. It disperses quickly in the air, however, and thus is not effective as an airborne agent for weapons, Zilinskas said....

...Zilinskas said the sample almost certainly came from American Type Culture Collection. "We know they bought their botulinum strains from the United States, including B," he said.

In 1994, an investigation by the House Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee determined that American Type Culture Collection had been a primary supplier of botulinum, anthrax and other pathogens to Iraq. The organization, based in Manassas, Va., shipped at least seven batches of botulinum strains to Baghdad in May 1986 and September 1988, according to records released by the committee.

Nancy Wysocki, a spokeswoman for the bioresource center, said there was no way for her to know if her organization had exported the vial of botulinum B found in Iraq. But she said all botulinum and other exports to Iraq at the time had been approved by the Commerce Department. "Iraq was not an embargoed country in the 1980s," she said....

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