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Clinton Warns of Bio-Weapons Threat, Terrorism

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivers a policy statement to the Biological Weapons Convention Review at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, December 7, 2011.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivers a policy statement to the Biological Weapons Convention Review at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, December 7, 2011.

The ability of terrorists and others to develop and use biological and toxin weapons is growing, according to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She underscored the nature of the bio-weapons threat is evolving.

“The advances in science and technology make it possible both to prevent and cure more diseases but also easier for both states and non-state actors to develop biological weapons," she said. "A crude but effective terrorist weapon can be made by using a small sample of any number of widely available pathogens, inexpensive equipment and college-level chemistry and biology.”

Speaking at the United Nations in Geneva, she pointed out bio-weapons have been used in attacks on civilian populations before.  There were anthrax spore and sarin gas attacks on the subway system in Tokyo in the 1990s. Anthrax attacks in the United States killed five people and sickened 17 others in 2001.  That same year, Clinton said, coalition forces in Afghanistan found evidence al-Qaida was trying to foster its ability to conduct bio-weapons attacks.  

“And less than a year ago, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula made a call to arms for, and I quote, 'brothers with degrees in microbiology or chemistry to develop a weapon of mass destruction',” she said.

The materials to make the weapons are easily accessed and have ethical purposes, which the U.S. State Department says could make verification of use impossible.

“For example, the emerging gene synthesis industry is making genetic material widely available," said Clinton. "This obviously has many benefits for research, but it also could potentially be used to assemble the components of a deadly organism. So how do we balance the need for scientific freedom and innovation with the necessity of guarding against such risks?”

Clinton called for the convention’s annual reporting system to be revised so that parties better explain steps they are taking to guard against the misuse of biological materials.

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