Bioweapons could target DNA and food supply, say two US lawmakers

Biological and chemical weapons have the potential to pose a national security threat to the United States that the country is not equipped to handle, a panel of lawmakers and a military leader told an audience. Aspen Security Forum Friday.

Why is this important: The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored just how debilitating and dangerous pathogens on a global scale could be if deliberately engineered and released.

  • In May, former federal officials warned that the United States was unprepared for the possibility of germ warfare.

The big picture Army Gen. Richard Clarke, commander of US Special Operations Command, said chemical weapons such as chlorine and mustard gas were used in 2014-2016 by actors including the Islamic State in Iraq and in Syria.

  • Clark said non-state actors such as ISIS or al-Qaeda continue to turn to these weapons “because they instill fear”. As such, there is a need to develop capabilities to protect nearby US troops, which the US is working to do, Clarke said.
  • Clarke added that state actors like Russia could also pose a threat.
  • “Russia is ready to use them against political opponents. They’re ready to use them on their own soil, but then walk into the soil of a NATO ally in the UK and use them,” Clark said, alluding to the attack on the agent. neurotoxic against British resident Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in 2018.
  • “As we move forward, we have to be prepared for that eventuality. And I don’t think we’re talking about it as much as we should and looking for methods to keep fighting it.”

What they say : “There are now weapons being developed and developed, which are designed to target specific people,” said Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.), a member of the House Committee on Armed Services and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. spectators.

  • “That’s what it is, where you can actually take someone’s DNA, you know, their medical profile, and you can target a bioweapon that will kill that person or take them off the battlefield or render unusable,” Crow said.
  • “You can’t discuss this without talking about commercial data privacy and commercial data protection, because expectations of privacy have eroded over the past 20 years.”
  • “People will very quickly spit in a cup and send it to 23andMe and get some really cool data about their background – and guess what? Their DNA now belongs to a private company. It can be sold…with very little intellectual property protection or privacy protection, and we don’t have any legal and regulatory regimes that deal with that.”

  • “This data is actually going to be obtained and collected by our adversaries for the development of these systems,” Crow warned.

Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), a member of the Senate The Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee and the Armed Services Committee, added that biological weapons can be just as dangerous if they are designed to target food systems rather than people.

  • “If we look at food security, and what can our adversaries do with biological weapons that are directed against our animal agriculture, against our agricultural sector? Ernest asked.
  • “Highly pathogenic avian flu, African swine fever, all of those things have been circulating around the world, but if they’re targeted by an adversary, we know they lead to food insecurity. Food insecurity leads to many other insecurities. around the world,” she added. added.
  • “There are many ways to look at bioweapons and the need to ensure not only that we secure human beings, but also the food that will sustain us,” Ernst said, adding that she thinks the food will be increasingly militarized in the future, showing how Russia militarized food in its war in Ukraine as an example.

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