A panel of outside experts told the CIA that advances in technology due to genomic research could produce the worst known diseases and the “most frightening” biological weapons, a CIA report said on Friday.
“The effects of some of these engineered biological agents could be worse than any disease known to man,” the panel told the CIA.
The unclassified two-page CIA report dated Nov. 3, 2003, and titled “The Darker Bioweapons Future,” was posted on the Federation of American Scientists Web site at http:/www.fas.org/irp/cia/product/bw1103.pdf.
It summed up a January workshop of a panel of non-government science experts who discussed with the CIA the potential threat from new biological weapons.
Growth in biotechnology and a knowledge explosion due to the genomic revolution which provided an understanding of genes and how they work could be used in unpredictable ways, the panel warned.
“The same science that may cure some of our worst diseases could be used to create the world’s most frightening weapons,” the report said.
In the next decade or beyond, some of the unconventional pathogens that could arise included binary biological warfare agents that only become effective when two components are combined, such as a mild pathogen and its antidote, the panel of experts said.
There could be development of “designer” biological warfare agents created to be antibiotic-resistant or evade an immune response, weaponized gene therapy vectors that cause permanent change in the victim’s genetic makeup, or a “stealth” virus which could lie dormant inside the victim for an extended period before being triggered, the report said.
STEALTH VIRUS ATTACK
One panelist gave as an example the possibility of a stealth virus attack that could cripple a large portion of people in their forties with severe arthritis, leaving a country with massive health and economic problems.
“The resulting diversity of new BW (biological warfare) agents could enable such a broad range of attack scenarios that it would be virtually impossible to anticipate and defend against,” the report said. “As a result, there could be a considerable lag time in developing effective biodefense measures.”