CBRNe News July 2007
Gwyn Winfield examines the latest news in the world of CBRNE
Welcome to the quiet news months of July and August…
June saw CBRNe World at the Biosecurity Conference in Ankara, the CRTI conference in Canada and the Joint CBRN Conference in Fort Leonard Wood. You can catch up with the team at Bruchsal, Germany (16-20 July) and IABTI in Phoenix (28 July – 3 August). A warm welcome is always guaranteed on the stand and telling the editor exactly why he is wrong is always welcomed. New shows have been added to the Autumn calendar with the editor being invited to attend the International CBRN Commandant and Commander’s Conference in Panama City (Florida) in October and the National Danish CBRN Conference in November.
The Joint CBRN Conference in Fort Leonard Wood was, for us, the best of the series in the three years that we have been attending them. While it seemed that numbers were down it did allow you more time with the many serious delegates that were there – within 30 minutes of opening CBRNe World’s stand had been visited by three US Generals. Next year, to celebrate the 90th Anniversary of the Chemical Corp, CBRNe World will be holding a sponsored event on the Sunday prior to the show - more details later!
The 3rd National NBC Symposium in Turkey was a mixed bag, an excellent event for those who speak the language, otherwise the 200 odd delegates were polite but largely incomprehensible. Let down by eccentric exhibition staff the event was a great opportunity to learn more about CBRN defence developments in Turkey.
Allen Vanguard launched their new RF Field Monitor system to allow confidence tests in jammer operations in June. The hand held, battery powered device, allows operators to test their ECM equipment while it is deployed. This is a life saver (perhaps literally) to those warfighters who do not have the technical skills to understand ECM, but want to be sure that they are being protected. The Field Monitor will check that the system is operating correctly on each of the channels and will work across the set RF frequencies no matter who’s jammer is being used.
HMS, the Counter - IED training provider opened a new office in the Shrivenham Hundred Business Park in the UK. The office was opened by the UK’s Shadow Minister for Culture, Ed Vaizey, MP for nearby Didcot.
Despite such prestigious visitors HMS also managed to chalk up yet another contract win, this time to the Norwegian Army for C-IED Investigation. While there is no disclosed contract worth, and it is likely to be less than the previous US and Nato ones, it is a sure sign that more countries are realising their competence (or lack of it) to deal with the IED threat.
Swept up in the threat
SeaAway have been promoting their new Prior to Port screening solution. Their plan is to avoid having to laboriously screen containers after they have been offloaded by scanning them while still at sea. Using a range of sonar, acoustic and ‘other sensors’ they will be able to detect suspect containers of CBRNE or smuggling hazards and offload them while still at sea. The solution requires a chain of floating rigs with a suite of sensors and IT systems, complemented by UAV, UUV, buoy and heli assets. Regardless of whether the system would actually work, the question must be whether anyone - even the US - would be able to afford this system.
While container security is a threat it only works if all ports are as secure as each other, ensuring no weak links, the cost to any one port would be prohibitive, the cost to all of them would bankrupt most counties. Undoubtedly there are opportunities, choke points, such as Singapore and the Gulf, might make this solution viable but it is a lot of money to spend to only have the terrorists/criminals use the road network.
Alibekov on the block
The LA Times on the 1st July did a comprehensive hatchet job on Ken Alibek, ex-head of BioPreperat and President of AFG Biosolutions. While part of it may well be politically motivated – that Ken is picked out while so many others are ‘guilty’ of similar crimes - it does provide a great deal of uncomfortable facts. While criticisms over his suggestions of Iraq’s bio program might be taken with a pinch of salt, his diet pills and somewhat eccentric press releases can not be brushed away so lightly. A well written and researched article that will dog Alibek until he can clear his name.
Sensitive teeth? You have now…
China was embroiled in a major row over toothpaste, pet food and other items. The Chinese companies decided to use diethylene glycol as a low cost substitute in their toothpaste, cough syrup and other medicines. It has been responsible for at least 50 deaths in Panama and Chinese toothpaste is flying off the shelves as authorities seize it to try and limit the damage. This is in addition to melamine in their pet food and baby milk that has no nutritional value - which resulted in 13 deaths.
China announced that it would make efforts to establish a biuological security system that would be ready in 20 years time. This would fight both bio-terrorism and serious epidemics. China is a country dealing with the long term collapse of its health care system and a number of indigenous and particularly unpleasant pathogens. There is a long way to go, and 20 years doesn’t sound nearly long enough.
Nuclear weapons have left the building
Long term Elvis fan, and leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Il – has called on all parties involved in nuclear disarmament to follow through on their pledges. These signs of relaxation of a hard line policy were made to China’s Foreign minister and will involve the IAEA inspectors making visits. The announcement is linked to the foreign aid promised if Korea shuts down its Yongbyon reactor although there is no deadline for this to happen. The horse trading begins in earnest this month with a six party disarmament conference (US, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia) and we can expect a great deal of sabre rattling before it is all over. Thank you ver’ much.
Despite reports of clouds of ‘gas’ coming out of the VBIED that was attempted to be detonated in London, and a sweep of the burning vehicle in Glasgow Airport with what appeared to be a rad meter – the attacks on the UK proved to be resolutely conventional. Despite the fact that Doctor’s plots usually only affect third world dictatorships this is clearly both a sign of disaffection with the conflict in Iraq/UK Foreign Policy and terrorist groups attempting to recruit these sorts of individuals. Thankfully there were no organic chemists or engineers among their number otherwise the devices would not have malfunctioned.
The CDC announced that they would indefinitely suspend Texas A&M University from research on infectious disease after The Sunshine Project announced that three of their researchers had become sick with Q Fever after one had already been infected with Brucella. In a wonderful piece of understatement Dr Mike McKinney admitted that the problem should be taken care of and was reported by the Dallas Morning News as saying ‘I have a whole bunch of frustration, but it’s not with the CDC… I want to name names, fix the blame.’ Texas A&M is one of ten centres of excellence in the US, with their National Center for Foreign Animal and Zoonotic Disease Defence, and had been bidding for the new National Bio and Agro Defense Facility. The major problem is not that the incident happened, but that it happened in April 2006 and has only just come to light - prompting allegations of a cover up.
In a news release that caused a great deal of jubilation, but no real surprise, Ali Hassan al-Majeed, also known as Chemical Ali, was sentenced to be hung for the crimes of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. While Kurds have treated the news with delight, there are some that worry that now the figurehead is gone there will be little investigation into others that participated in the Anfal campaign.