During the past 15 years, the Department of Defense (DOD) has supported a variety of international security-oriented biological activities within the framework of DOD’s Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program. For 10 years, these activities have been referred to by DOD as the Biological Threat Reduction Program (BTRP) and have been implemented by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). They have been carried out in Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine. BTRP is one of several U.S. government programs that have been developed and implemented within an interagency framework to prevent the proliferation of expertise, materials, equipment, and technologies that could contribute to the development of biological weapons. These other programs are referred to in this report as “related” programs.
The U.S. Congress included in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2007 a provision calling for a study by the National Academy of Sciences of the activities carried out by BTRP and activities that should be considered in the future. The legislation calls for the study to (1) assess relevant cooperative activities that have been carried out in Russia and other states of the former Soviet Union (FSU) with support by BTRP and other U.S. government programs, and (2) identify activities that should be considered for further cooperation, particularly BTRP activities. This report addresses the Congressional mandate.
BTRP and its predecessor programs have involved a number of ministries and several dozen institutions in the six countries. The cost to the U.S. government has been more than $430 million from Fiscal Year (FY) 1998 through FY 2007, with expenditures in earlier years very limited. DOD plans call for significantly increased funding for BTRP beginning in FY 2008, with the appropriation estimated to be about $200 million for FY 2008.
Over the years, BTRP and its predecessor programs have made significant contributions to preventing the proliferation of biological weapons. The categories of activities and expenditures through FY 2007 are as follows:
Biological Infrastructure Elimination, with three facility dismantlement projects completed in Kazakhstan and Georgia and on Vozrozhdeniye Island in the Aral Sea:$15.2 million (3.5 percent of the program)
Biosafety/Biosecurity, which involves facility upgrades, training, and related activities throughout the region and initial steps in establishing the Threat Agent Detection and Response (TADR) network in Georgia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan: $271.4 million (63 percent of the program)
Cooperative Biological Research, with research laboratory upgrades and research projects carried out in Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Georgia, and Azerbaijan: $62.4 million (14.5 percent of the program)
Program Administration, involving supporting activities by a variety of organizations, including a contractor-led Threat Reduction Support Center and contracts to cover costs of shipments of materials and equipment to partner countries : $81.9 million (19 percent of the program)
Summarized below are recommendations for building on BTRP’s successful contributions in preventing the proliferation of biological weapons. For the purposes of this report, biological weapons are defined as any biological materials that, if deliberately misused, could cause significant harm to human health or agricultural resources.
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Recommendation 1: The U.S. government should provide strong and sustained support for BTRP and related programs.
Within the former Soviet Union, BTRP activities have strengthened the containment of biological materials, technologies, equipment, and expertise that, if misused, could result in serious biological threats. Specific changes in the region that can be attributed at least in part to BTRP have included the following:
Unprecedented transparency at dozens of important facilities with dual-use capabilities that had not previously been open to foreign specialists
Dismantlement and/or conversion of production and research facilities established to support biological weapons activities, including transformation to civilian activities of more than a dozen important components of the weapons-oriented Biopreparat complex
Redirection to civilian pursuits of hundreds of senior biological scientists, engineers, and technicians who were formerly engaged in defense programs
Attraction and retention of hundreds of younger specialists working in basic sciences and in the fields of public health and agriculture
Adoption by local institutions of standard international approaches to project management and to fiscal accountability
Participation in scientific conferences and training programs abroad by specialists from the region who had not previously traveled abroad
Increased publication by local scientists in peer-reviewed international journals of research findings, which demonstrate their capabilities to participate effectively in international scientific activities
Enhanced quality of local research projects and technology transfer activities that have taken advantage of the experience and expertise of international collaborators
Improved biosecurity and biosafety at biological research institutions, particularly with regard to consolidation and physical protection of dangerous pathogen strains
Opening and sharing of local databases with international collaborators
Construction and equipping of modern research, public health, and agriculture facilities where activities of interest to international partners are carried out
Development of local regulations and related training programs concerning the safety and security of biological materials and good laboratory practices
The foregoing and other results of engagement activities supported by BTRP and related programs have led to the establishment of continuing international linkages based on friendships and common professional interests. These personal contacts help build mutual
respect and trust that are necessary for successfully addressing technical issues with dual-use implications. They also provide important insights as to present and future scientific aspirations and intentions of foreign colleagues and their institutions in areas of national security importance. Finally, intergovernmental cooperation in the biological sciences and biotechnology, exemplified by BTRP, offers important opportunities for political and scientific leaders from the United States and partner countries to discuss common security and health interests and to develop complementary approaches for combating threats of global terrorism.
In short, past U.S. government investments in BTRP have provided substantial benefits to national security, and the opportunities for future contributions are many fold. At the same time, there will continue to be difficult implementation problems due to different objectives and priorities of BTRP and partner organizations, a legacy of mistrust in sensitive technical areas, and administrative problems in matching U.S. approaches with interests of partners. A long-term U.S. government commitment to the program is essential in overcoming these problems and increasing the positive impacts of cooperation.
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Recommendation 2: The White House should exert strong leadership to ensure integration of BTRP with related biological threat reduction activities supported by the U.S. government.
Reducing security risks associated with a wide variety of biological research and technology activities that have dual-use dimensions is a complex task. Programs to this end involve many types of expertise that are available within different U.S. government departments and agencies that support biological nonproliferation programs in the former Soviet Union. In addition to DOD, they include the Departments of State (DOS), Agriculture (USDA), Health and Human Services (DHHS), and Energy (DOE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Each of these entities has international partners with similar interests and therefore has comparative advantages in engaging in specific types of cooperative activities. However, USDA, DHHS, and EPA have only small nonproliferation budgets made available through the Department of State, and these budgets are shrinking. Therefore, the authorizing legislation for BTRP should include a provision that helps ensure that BTRP will engage other departments as appropriate and will provide them with financial resources to this end when necessary.
Interagency coordination mechanisms have been in place for many years. However, past efforts to integrate the interests and capabilities of the six Executive Branch departments and agencies have been inconsistent, with lost opportunities to advance the nation’s nonproliferation agenda. Of particular concern is the level of representation from the departments and agencies in the interagency deliberations and the leadership roles of the participants in interagency deliberations within their own departments. In the future, the participants should be senior officials who collectively can ensure sustained, high-level attention to international biological risk reduction throughout the government. These officials should be in a good position to develop common government-wide strategic goals that help guide BTRP and related on-the-ground programs supported by the U.S. government and to assess the cumulative security and health impacts of programs of different departments and
agencies. Also, they should be able to identify opportunities for using the results of BTRP research, while identifying international research competencies developed by BTRP that are of interest to their departments.
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Recommendation 3: BTRP should be transformed from a Washington-directed program of assistance to a genuinely collaborative program of partnerships with governments of the states of the former Soviet Union, built on strong relationships between important scientific, public health, and agriculture institutions and specialists in these states and counterparts in the United States. Should BTRP expand into other geographical areas, collaboration rather than assistance should be a guiding principle whenever possible.
Development of strong partnerships is essential to sustain program activities initiated through BTRP or related programs. To this end, a critical early step is for BTRP to fully engage partner governments, institutions, and specialists in the selection and design of proposed cooperative activities from the outset. Greater attention should be given to the priorities of partners, and BTRP should be flexible so that BTRP activities can be effectively integrated with partner priorities. The likelihood of sustainability by partners of activities initiated through BTRP must be considered before projects are undertaken to ensure that important activities which are launched will be continued for the indefinite future and that newly acquired dual-use biological assets in the region, such as Biosafety Level 3 (BSL-3) facilities, will be used appropriately.
A key issue in encouraging local partner governments to buy into BTRP activities is selection of the disease agents and disease syndromes to be addressed in surveillance and research projects. The governments in the countries where BTRP has been active are most interested in diseases that are of continuing public health or agriculture concern. They are less interested in highly dangerous pathogens that seldom pose public health or agriculture threats but have been identified by the U.S. government and by international bodies as being of special terrorism concern. When diseases of local interest (e.g., tuberculosis, influenza, or respiratory diseases) are included in projects along with pathogens of global terrorism concern, local support for the program increases and the likelihood of sustained support and engagement is greatly enhanced.
Selection of the institutions and scientists to be involved in projects is a second important issue. BTRP should encourage partner governments to select for collaborative activities those institutions and scientists, and particularly young scientists, that are well positioned to play leading national roles in research and surveillance activities. The final selection should be made jointly by partner governments and BTRP.
Among the many other important issues that should be addressed to help ensure genuine collaboration that leads to sustainability are the following:
Collaborative development of a country science plan for each country where BTRP has activities. This plan should provide a shared vision of the goals of the program and a framework for designing activities that reflect priority interests of partner governments as well as achieve BTRP objectives. Also, the plan should be consistent with overall U.S. government policy and program approaches in the country.
Joint strategic planning for proposed national Central Reference Laboratories, which may cost $60 million each to build and equip. This planning should ensure that the anticipated long-term health and agriculture benefits, particularly the benefits derived from expensive BSL-3 laboratory capabilities, warrant both the initial and life-cycle costs. These benefits should not only be cost-effective but should also outweigh the possibility that in the long term the facilities might be misused for nefarious purposes due to unanticipated political developments in the region.
An early region-wide evaluation of the health and agriculture benefits of the TADR network that is being established initially in Georgia to help ensure that similar BTRP investments in other countries are well targeted and result in discernible benefits that will encourage future local investments. Of special importance is the eventual integration of the TADR network with existing national and regional surveillance networks within the participating countries.
Joint programs to ensure that important pathogen strains that can be obtained within the region are available at local facilities to international investigators, thereby reducing the need for controversial transfers of such strains to the United States that raise questions over BTRP objectives and unnecessarily delay projects.
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Recommendation 4: BTRP should give greater emphasis to a comprehensive, multifaceted approach to international engagement for achieving biosecurity, public health, and agriculture objectives. The approach should include development of countermeasures to bioterrorism, enhanced facility security, collaborative surveillance activities, expanded cooperative research, development of common biosafety procedures, adoption of good laboratory practices and good manufacturing practices, development of human resources, and related activities.
BTRP has supported a variety of research and surveillance activities aimed at improving human and animal health as well as upgrading security in facilities where dangerous pathogens are located. These activities are commendable and reflect a broad approach. They should receive even greater support in future years. While the short-term payoffs from investments in research and surveillance are difficult to measure, in the longer term they may be the most significant activities that BTRP undertakes in some countries to help detect misuse of pathogens and to respond promptly to incidents resulting from misuse.
Within the interagency process, BTRP should continue to play a prominent role in U.S. efforts directed to containment of highly dangerous pathogens and associated activities. At the same time, BTRP, together with DHHS and USDA, needs to be a strong advocate for and active participant in dealing with broader health and agriculture issues that are important in addressing infectious diseases.
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Recommendation 5: DOD should work through existing scientific networks and establish new models as appropriate to reinvigorate BTRP in Russia by supporting cost-shared collaborative research projects, scientific conferences, and other scientific activities that
promote both Russian and U.S. national security interests through engagement of outstanding established and young scientists in the two countries.
To this end, a competitive grants program funded by BTRP that initially emphasizes projects sited in Russia and then expands to other countries should be considered.
DOD has had difficulties in dealing with the Russian government, perhaps due in part to Russian suspicions over DOD motivations; and therefore the department plans to terminate almost all activities in Russia. However, the country’s biological assets are too important not to engage Russian researchers on a broad scale in future BTRP activities. Although the economic situation in Russia is stabilizing, the future of a number of large biological institutions is in flux; and many former weapon scientists remain trapped in uncertain circumstances that could raise serious proliferation concerns. There are mechanisms established by other U.S. departments and nongovernmental organizations that could be used by BTRP for engaging important Russian institutions and specialists in cooperative activities that circumvent the need for new formal agreements with recalcitrant Russian ministries and agencies. Also, there are approaches to engagement that no longer require involvement of BTRP’s integrating commercial contractors, thereby eliminating problems associated with logistics teams based in Russia.
The emphasis should be on high-impact research activities of mutual interest jointly funded with Russian partners. In this way, BTRP can capitalize on its past investments in research in Russia, recognizing that Russia now has stronger technical capabilities than a decade ago and that the Russian need for financial assistance has diminished.
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Recommendation 6: To improve program management, DOD/DTRA should ensure availability of adequate internal technical staffing for BTRP and should recognize that while there is a need for commercial integrating contractors for construction projects, assistance in management of research projects and related training programs can be more appropriately provided by U.S. government, academic, or nonprofit organizations.
Strengthened internal DTRA staff capabilities are essential to reduce the outsourcing of contacts with important foreign participants and of technical judgments to integrating contractors and to improve the efficiency of the entire management system. DOD and DTRA simply have not assigned sufficient internal personnel with strong technical capabilities to develop, manage, and evaluate a program that requires constant judgments to assess scientific uncertainties.
Commercial integrating contractors play an important role in ensuring that complicated construction activities are carried out as planned, that construction funds are properly managed, and that quality control in designing and constructing facilities is maintained. However, with regard to support of research projects, there is less need for these types of contractors to be involved. Other government departments, such as the Department of Health and Human Services, and nongovernmental organizations, such as the U.S. Civilian Research and Development Foundation, have strong scientific reputations and considerable experience in providing technical guidance and establishing mechanisms for transferring
funds to partner institutions and to specialists for salaries, laboratory supplies, and research equipment.
The Way Ahead
As biotechnology capabilities continue to spread throughout the world, opportunities for misuse of biology that can seriously harm U.S. interests at home and abroad are rapidly growing. Current U.S. government programs for redirecting former weapon scientists in Russia and the other states of the FSU to peaceful pursuits and for upgrading the security of facilities in that region and elsewhere which house dangerous strains of pathogens have never been more important. But the programs are only a beginning. Potential problems associated with the spread of dual-use technologies are so widespread that global engagement that enhances transparency and promotes common interests in preventing diseases on a broad basis is essential.
To this end, BTRP can and should play a central role in supporting development of international networks of institutions and specialists with common interests in biological research, public health, agriculture, and biosecurity. Joint efforts can continue to improve the quality of research and related activities throughout the region while enhancing transparency and strengthening personal contacts directed to common problems. Near-term emphasis should continue to be on taking projects to the state of sustainability within Russia and the other states of the FSU.
International networks are a key to preventing the proliferation of biological weapons. They are an essential mechanism in building trust among governments engaged in activities with dual-use dimensions and in providing insights as to intentions of colleagues at the facility level. At the same time, BTRP can use such networks in joint efforts to help provide early warning of disease outbreaks, contribute to development of safe and affordable vaccines and drugs, and provide pathogen detection devices.
In short, U.S. security interests can be served in many ways by a robust and broadly based approach by BTRP and related programs.