A major theme that emerged from these discussions is the notion that pathogens are not the only potential bioterrorist agents. Some experts argue that bioregulators, which are non-pathogenic organic compounds, may pose a more serious dual-use risk than had been previously perceived, particularly as improved targeted delivery technologies have made the potential dissemination of these compounds much more feasible than in the past. This shift in focus highlights the reality that the materials, equipment, and technology necessary for disseminating and delivering the agents to their intended recipient(s) are equally, if not more, important than the agents themselves in terms of their dual-use risk.
The immune and neuroendocrine systems are particularly vulnerable to bioregulator modification. In fact, the capacity to develop bioweapons that can be aimed at the interaction of the immune and neuroendocrine systems again points to a shift in focus from the agents to, in this case, how a range of agents can be exploited (or created) to affect the human body in targeted, insidious ways.
A controversial issue that arose from these discussions is how all research on immune system evasion could be considered potentially dangerous, thus highlighting the very important need to uphold the norms of the Biological Weapons Convention. The unlikely possibility that reaffirming these norms will have any immediate effects further complicates the problem. Discussion of these issues is reserved for Chapter 5.
Another important theme that emerged from discussions of the material presented here is the notion of time and how the advancing technology landscape has an uncertain future and unpredictable dual-use risk implications. This unpredictability poses a significant challenge for developing and implementing a strategy to manage these risks.
Added to the temporal challenge are difficulties associated with adapting or developing prevention strategies that are effective against the wide range of risks posed by the various types of dual-use agents, materials, and technologies. Comments were made about how the CDC Select Agent Program does not accurately reflect the variable nature of these risks.3
Importantly, the growth and proliferation of dual-use agents, materials, equipment, and technology summarized here does not necessarily imply that the acquisition, creation, or effective use of a biological agent is easy. The Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo’s nine failed attempts between 1990 and 1994 to disperse biological weapons in Tokyo and nearby areas are a reminder of the difficulty of carrying out an attack, even with category A agents (Bacillus anthracis or botulinum toxin), despite the expenditure of
The interim final rule on the possession, use, and transfer of select agents and toxins can be viewed online at http://www.cdc.gov/od/sap/docs/42cfr73.pdf.