Bio Weapons or Bio Health Reference Lab in Tbilisi Georgia?
Joni Simonishvili, Tbilisi Georgia
Officially the Central Public Health Reference Laboratory in Tbilisi, Georgia, opened on 18 March 2011. With a price tag of 100 million USD, facility is designed to promote public and animal health through infectious disease detection and epidemiological surveillance. The facility was built by the United States Defense Threat Reduction Agency, a part of the U.S. Department of Defense, and it has both Georgian and American staff. http://civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=23257
Despite its official designation, however, locals and other consider the impressive facility to be a bio-weapons lab that has been strategically located near the Tbilisi International Airport for quick deployments. The stakeholders in the lab are especially disturbing, and include the likes of Bechtel National and its various subcontractors. One only needs to look at who was selling a cocktail of poisonous chemicals to Iraq in the 1980s which were gas the Kurds. There have been some serious safety concerns in Georgia because of shoddy workmanship, and especially as the facility warehouses weapons grade bio materials – as in bio warfare. This information is based on a long-term investigation carried out by Georgian, American and European journalists. They have carefully research the history of Anthrax for Export – and how Bechtel and other US companies sold Iraq the ingredients for a witches brew (The Progressive, April 1998)
Bechtel had another finger in the Iraqi pie during the 1980’s. They sought, without success as it turned out, to build an oil pipeline via Jordan to Aqaba, intended to carry a million barrels per day of Iraqi exports. The deal was to be financed through the US Exim Bank. The former Secretary Donald Rumsfield lobbied Saddam for permission while the White House pressured the Exim Bank. Details were given in a report from the Institute for Policy Studies, which “reveals that the diplomatic pressure from Rumsfeld and the Reagan administration happened during and despite Hussein’s use of chemical weapons. Behind the scenes, these officials worked for two years attempting to secure the billion dollar pipeline scheme for the Bechtel Corporation.”
As for Georgia, the IMMEDIATE threat is real. A female Turkish safety engineer was fired after it became obvious that leaks in welds in the stainless steel tubing (bio stew vats) had formed and the steel structure of the entire building had to be reworked. In response to this disaster waiting to happen, a Bechtel hired a Bio-Maintenance Engineer to backstop the so-called Technology Management Company (a front, 4 Tavisuplebis Moedani), which was initially responsible for facilities to safety. His job description includes performing certification, preventive and corrective maintenance on laboratory equipment. All of this has been kept secret – including the hidden cost overruns. Why has all this information been concealed from the public and “real” public health experts in both Georgia and abroad?
The wider public may never know what was the actual price tag of what is a flimsy disguised bio weapons facility, and in a country that only performs rapid test on blood donations, why a reference lab – I doubt if one false negative or false positive will be checked and the workers don’t even know the difference between HIV and HHV-8.
It does appear that this lab is more a public health threat than anything funded to “promote public and animal health through infectious disease detection and epidemiological surveillance.” Such a statement of its intended “real purpose” is but carefully crafted PR in what can be best described as a flat out lie – and pulling the wool over the eyes of Georgian and American Taxpayers.
Why is the Ministry of Defense responsible for this project and not the Ministry of Health, and why is the Centre for Disease Control in Atlanta Georgia not involved in backstopping what would otherwise “appear” as a worthy project – especially to the naïve and uninformed .
- What kind of lab is it really, and why has there been so much speculation about it?
- It is located in a place called Alekseevka, an abandoned Soviet military base, today a suburb with a few thousand people living within a mile of the new building.
- Locals protested against it in 2004, some fearing the risk of a leak, while others suspected that the new lab will produce biological weapons.
- The leader of the Georgian Green party, Giorgi Gachechiladze, was one of the leaders of the demonstrations.
- He argued strongly against building the lab, and pointed to all the secrecy and misinformation.
- Both the American staff and the Georgian government have denied foreign journalist access to the new facility; they have given misleading information over the course of this investigation, so much so that it would be hard even to write the story they want to get across, or writing about it from a popular science perspective, without hard facts.
- For instance, the Health Minister (who is formally responsible for the project) told that the new lab has nothing to do with non-proliferation, all the while in the old pathogen storage room there were big posters made by the United States' Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) explaining how the DTRA had secured the pathogens, preventing proliferation.
- You can also find articles on the Internet which show that during the early stage of this project it was run by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), whilst now it's under the control of the Georgian Ministry of Defense.
- U.S. Senator Richard Lugar - a significant player in non-proliferation work - called it a storage lab for biological weapons in one of his US Senate trip reports after visiting Georgia.
- The Defense Threat Reduction Agency, a branch of the United States DoD, is a key stakeholder in the building and oversight of the project and similar facilities located in the Caucasus, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. The stated aim is to rapidly detect disease outbreaks, whether accidental, natural or deliberate (terrorism).
- The DTRA - better known as Nunn-Lugar - started out with dismantling weapons of mass destruction (WMB) capability in former Soviet countries, but it is now building up preparedness against outbreaks of disease, whether natural or as a consequence of terrorism.
- The US has been striving to integrate the two areas. The new bio-shield is a countermeasure in the developmental stage, the details of which remain obscured.
Why in Georgia? The new lab in Alekseevka, Tbilisi, will be housing a large collection of dangerous pathogens - a remnant of the so-called anti plague system from the Soviet years. It played an important part in the defense side of the biological weapons research, according to Raymond Zilinskas, a researcher at Center for Non-Proliferation Studies in Monterrey, California. One reason for this is that Tbilisi once had one of the largest primate research facilities, used for testing pathogens. There was also a vaccine factory called "Biokombinat", which could be converted into weapons production in a matter of hours. That was dismantled by the American agency, but on the defense side the Tbilisi anti-plague station's large pathogen collection is still being kept alive and has recently been moved to the new biolab, whose official designation is a 'central reference laboratory' - a term familiar to health workers and microbiologists. However, that is not the case - a bio stew may be more appropriate to describe its function. This term designates a laboratory which keeps alive samples of important viruses and bacteria which occur naturally in a particular area, so that doctors and health workers can compare a patient's blood sample with the pathogens already known. This type of lab forms an important part of the counter-measures against rapid outbreaks of disease, such as a global pandemic, and it is important to keep the lab with the live samples in close proximity to where they will be needed. From the scientists who will be using the central reference lab, there are indications that there will also be some research done there. Non-proliferation experts would in that case want to know: what kind of research? If, for instance, the lab will be working on genetically modifying one of the weaponizeable agents, there will be reason for alarm. The Alekseevka lab is not the only one in Georgia; there are other smaller ones. Actual construction of these is carried out by Bechtel National, (total price tag in spring 2009 was estimated to 180 million USD). Bechtel refuses to speak about the project, but the Georgia chief of the United States Defense Threat Reduction Agency, was willing to talk and was concerned with trying to dispel any idea that the new lab will do anything ill-intended. The agency he represents, DTRA, started out with an ambitious plan to dismantle the Soviet Union's weapons of mass destruction: Nunn-Lugar. This grew into a broad program for what is called Cooperative Threat Reduction in former Soviet countries - securing potentially dangerous technologies and putting the scientists to work doing something useful, so as to not let them fall into the wrong hands. Many pathogens which were weaponized by the US and USSR live naturally in the environment in the Caucasus, such as tularemia and plague. There is also a plant bio facility not far from Georgian seaside resort city of Batumi that was tasked during the Soviet period with destroying the American Corn Crop (that facility is currently being funded by the British Ministry of Defense). The pathogens harvested in the Tbilisi plague station over a century were essential in the Soviet program for biological weapons. It's difficult to get information about the whole project, and the US has – as being the only signatory country - fought against any verification system for policing the ban on biological weapons. Verification would have let the world community know what kind of research will be carried out at the Alekseyevka facility, and dispel fears that the US is up to anything dangerous. Many locals are convinced that the Americans will develop biological weapons, and hide it behind a facade of inconspicuous research; they remember well that this was how the Soviet Union did it. Anti-proliferation
It is surprising that not more has been written about this lab, especially since Russia and the U.S. have tried to find a new arrangement in this field, as the START treaty for reducing nuclear stockpiles expired two years ago. As for Russian biological weapons they were dismantled by the U.S. DTRA, and today Russia states it does not possess biological weapons. But the non-proliferation work continues, exactly because of the inherent dangers arising from the nature of this technology. In recent years, the cooperation with Russia has been downsized, partly due to a growing suspicion in the Kremlin that the US has strategic interests it seeks to realize through the cooperative threat reduction.
As one interesting stakeholder wrote, "I think for something like this the only place is a news service looking for a feature or a documentary, such as AJ.”
I have been asking around and the story is that while they have 'archived' the weapons stuff, the facility - as all such research is about counter/response to biological/chemical agents, so getting ready for anthrax type attacks and the angle is counter terrorism preparedness. However, and here is the interesting catch, to build counter-agents you have to first have the weaponized or 'infecting' agent, which means they have to predict what someone might use (so the bio ingredient archive that Bechtel has is important for this) and then to build a counter-agent."
I think for something like this the only place is a news service looking for a feature or a documentary. I have been asking around and the story is that while they have 'archived' the weapons stuff, the facility - as all such research is about counter/response to biological/chemical agents, so getting ready for anthrax type attacks and the angle is counter terrorism preparedness. However, and here is the interesting catch, to build counter-agents you have to first have the weaponized or 'infecting' agent, which means they have to predict what someone might use (so the archive they got is important for this) and then build a counter-agent.
Making an Analogy
So to make an analogy, you need cobra venom before you can manufacture the anti-venom. I so as is the case with all dual-use technology there is the potential here, and in developing wider defense strategy such 'capacity' is taken into account. I - and friends - however believe that there is little chance that the US would keep such high security information as would be contained in the archive in such a precarious location. Maybe they do some research as a part of the wider program and maybe it’s a place to set up early warning, or something that needs a lab close to Russian or Central Asian territory - what link might there be to Iraq here, or Afghanistan? However, in government circles this is not considered exceptionally sinister or clandestine either. But the public might feel different I suspect....! There is the important caveat though, as you well know the geni is out of the bottle with this stuff so I personally would expect a government to prepare for an attack. Lots of nutters around who would love to hit the US or UK, etc, talk about panic if they were able to pull it off!
Just a general question: “don't we kinda think that this lab might be a 'good' thing. I understand the potential scare value that might sell the story but is not mopping up scientists, their know-how and resources and putting it under a watchful eye the right thing to do? I'm slightly confused as to the thrust of the story.
Anyway, see what you can dig up. There is actually a lot out there about this facility, it is in a few books as well, that cover biological weapons and terrorism and historical writing about the Cold War. The history goes back, and even New York Times article have been written about how Georgia was always an integral part of bio research, even during the Soviet period and not only for bio weapons but medical purposes: A Stalinist Antibiotic Alternative: A hoary Soviet method for fighting infections may prove invaluable in an age of antibiotic resistance. Maybe that's why pharmaceutical companies are flocking to a remote laboratory in Tbilisi, and too … defense contractors. As one source wrote of looking into possible links, “I researched many hours my first week here living in Tbilisi, the virology technology here. I had nothing else to do. My drunken American friend was always passed out and took me nowhere when I first arrived to Tbilisi. I spent a lot of time in October rains 2006 on his computer. You spend a lot of time talking about investigations and publishing, and running around meeting transient contacts in bars and getting your ass beat. However, from hardly ever have sources you can officially quote ... from hard journalistic investigations. Four years ago I made the connection between Eliava Institute, Tbilisi, and Evergreen State Univ. Washington State, and dark sides of U.S. NATO operations, not so connected to EU NATO operations.
All your conspiracy energy and I have not seen even two names like this in any of your many emails on Bechtel secret ops.”
”Digging up diry
Many questions remain, especially kind of lab is it, and why has there been so much speculation about it?
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