News & Politics

U.S. Military Proposes Illegal Bioweapons Research


According to documents unearthed by a nonprofit government watchdog, the United States military has proposed the development of biological weapons that would violate international treaties and federal law. In fact, they may have already developed some of these illegal, treaty-busting bioweapons. Using the Freedom of Information Act, the Sunshine Project has recently pried loose some damning documents from the Marine Corps, which seems to be overseeing this area of research.

Exhibit A is a 1997 proposal from the Naval Research Laboratory to create genetically engineered bacteria and fungi that will corrode and degrade enemy matériel, such as roads, runways, vehicles, weapons, and fuel.

Then we have the document from Armstrong Laboratories at Brooks Air Force Base in Texas. The flyboys propose much the same thing as the navy—engineered microbes that can destroy enemy equipment, including explosives and chemical weapons.

The military scientists take great care to point out that the germs they want to create would be “nonlethal.” But this doesn’t matter. The international Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention treaty absolutely bans member nations from possessing or developing microbes, toxins, or any other biological agents for use in battle or other hostile situations. (Under the treaty, bioweapons can only be developed for defensive purposes, which is what lets the U.S. government brew anthrax with the supposed goal of developing a vaccine.) The U.S. was one of the original signatories, putting its John Hancock on the treaty in 1972.

Yet the navy lab is advocating these super-bugs for blatantly offensive purposes, saying they will “degrade opposing forces’ mobility, logistical support and equipment maintenance programs prior to or during military engagements.” Likewise, the air force proposal is for bioweapons that would be used to attack enemy forces: “Catalysts can be developed to destroy whatever war matériel is desired. All [military] Services would have an interest.”

Both proposals claim that the destructive germs wouldn’t violate the biological weapons treaty. “That’s completely false,” says Edward Hammond, a co-founder of the Sunshine Project. He notes that the convention makes no distinction between bioweapons that target humans and those that take out equipment or other targets. “If the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention was limited to humans, it would be disastrous. Weapons that target animals, like livestock, would be legal. Destroying crops would be legal.”

And let’s not forget that the actual use of biological weapons, as opposed to their development, was outlawed way back in 1925 by the Geneva Convention.

The military’s proposed germ research would violate more than just international treaties. “U.S. federal law explicitly states that biological weapons that attack matériel are illegal,” Hammond says. “The penalty is life in federal prison. If they lifted a finger to do this research, they have violated the [Biological and Toxin Weapons] Convention and federal law.”

Which leads to another crucial point. The military’s proposals from five years ago reveal that they already had developed similar bioweapons. The navy lab says it has a fungus that breaks down polyurethanes. In the air force document, Armstrong Laboratories brags that it’s been doing “biotechnological research at the molecular level” for eight years. Specifically, it’s cooked up a bio-agent that quickly destroys rocket fuel, plastic, and other organic and artificial polymers “without fire or explosion.”

Does this mean that the military has already violated the bioweapons treaty and U.S. law? “I don’t want to comment on that right now,” Hammond says. “We’re discussing it with lawyers.”