Pandora Report: 7.8.2022

This week starts with some exciting updates from our faculty and alumni, including new legislation in the Senate and a faculty award. We also include updates on COVID-19 in North Korea, suspected Marburg cases in Ghana, and NATO’s new CBRN defense policy. As always, there are plenty of new publications and upcoming events included too. Happy Friday and end to what has been a very interesting week globally!

Bipartisan Offices of Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction and Health Security Act Introduced in Senate

US Senators Rob Portman and Gary Peters have introduced the bipartisan Offices of Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction and Health Security Act to “significantly enhance the federal government’s ability to detect, recognize, and evaluate threats from weapons of mass destruction, which include chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) weapons. The bill would reauthorize the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD) office, which leads the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) effort to safeguard the country from CBRN threats. The legislation would also authorize the new Office of Health Security (OHS) that ensures DHS can better address public health and medical related security threats across the Department – including assisting with medical care in the event of potential attacks from CBRN weapons.” 

Biodefense Program faculty member Dr. Ashley Grant, a lead biotechnologist at the MITRE Corporation and Brooking LEGIS Congressional Fellow, helped produce this bill.

Biodefense Program Alumnus Wins Faculty Award

Dr. Keith Ludwick (Biodefense PhD, 2016) recently received American Military University’s 2022 Graduate Excellence in Teaching Award. Dr. Ludwick currently serves as an Associate professor at American Military University teaching a variety of courses surrounding technology, intelligence, and national security in their Doctorate of Strategic Studies Program.  In addition, he serves on several dissertation committees.

USCG Academy Offers Soon-to-Be Ensigns CBRN Training

The US Coast Guard Academy recently offered senior cadets “Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) training as part of a pilot program organized by the Coast Guard Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD) Program in the Office of Specialized Capabilities (CG-721). This training was the inaugural offering to senior class cadets before they enter the fleet to their first assignments as commissioned officers. The cadets participated in online training and then underwent a practical training scenario offered by the Special Missions Training Center (SMTC). As the threat of CBRN incidents increase, it is critical to train and raise awareness for our future leaders.”  

Dr. Jennifer Osetek, a Biodefense PhD alumna working as the Office of Specialized Capabilities CWMD Program’s biological and chemical weapons SME, wrote this blog post on the training.

North Korea Blames “Alien Things” and Balloons for Introducing COVID-19 in the Country

Rodong Sinmun, the official paper of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, recently claimed that COVID-19 spread into North Korea via “alien things coming by wind” and “other climate phenomena and balloons,” first infecting a soldier and young student near the border with South Korea. KCNA and other outlets referenced these balloons and, though they did not explicitly name North Korean defectors and other activist groups in the South in doing so, these are the groups that normally send balloons over the border into North Korea. The first time they did so this year was in April, well before the North admitted it was in the midst of an outbreak in mid-May. NK News writes, “The country’s epidemic headquarters called for officials to “strengthen the all-people supervision and report system in which anyone notifies of alien things instantly after seeing them, and tighten such anti-epidemic measures as making the emergency anti-epidemic teams strictly remove those things.” North Korea is currently reporting nearly 5 million cases with just 74 deaths. South Korea’s Ministry of Unification rejected this claim entirely.

Rodong Sinmun reports 1,630 “fever” cases and 2,060 recoveries today. It says the country’s total sits at 4,763,360 cases with 4,760,170 (99.933%) recoveries and 3,110 (0.065%) receiving medical treatment.

On a related note – In early June, officials in Dandong, a Chinese city near the border with North Korea that was locked down at the time, were unable to determine where an outbreak came from and announced they believed COVID-19 blew over the border into the city. China also claimed that the Omicron variant entered the country via a piece of Canadian mail early this year, so there is no shortage of far-fetched claims in this region either.

NATO Updates CBRN Defense Policy

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization recently updated its CBRN defense policy, replacing the Comprehensive, Strategic-Level Policy for Preventing the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and Defending against Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Threats with its Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Defence Policy. The latter now supersedes the former and reads in part, “NATO’s security environment has grown more complex and challenging since 2009, when Allies agreed NATO’s Comprehensive, Strategic-Level Policy for Preventing the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and Defending against Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Threats. That Policy has served as a cornerstone of Allied security and stability for thirteen years. Today, we face a world in which the potential use of CBRN materials or WMD by state and non-state actors remains a central and evolving threat to Allied security. It is a world in which NATO increasingly cannot assume that the international norms and institutions related to the proliferation or use of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) will ensure our security, and in which scientific and technological innovation and other emerging trends have accentuated CBRN risks to the Alliance.”

Suspected Marburg Cases Reported in Ghana

Ghana has reported its first ever cases of Marburg virus disease, according to the WHO, in two patients in the Ashanti region. The patients are now deceased and were unrelated. Their samples were taken by Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research and were provided to the Institut Pasteur in Senegal, a World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre for confirmation. According to WHO, “WHO is deploying experts to support Ghana’s health authorities by bolstering disease surveillance, testing, tracing contacts, preparing to treat patients and working with communities to alert and educate them about the risks and dangers of the disease and to collaborate with the emergency response teams.”

World Bank Board Approves New Fund for Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response (PPR)

The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors announced recently the “…establishment of a financial intermediary fund (FIF) that will finance critical investments to strengthen pandemic PPR capacities at national, regional, and global levels, with a focus on low- and middle-income countries. The fund will bring additional, dedicated resources for PPR, incentivize countries to increase investments, enhance coordination among partners, and serve as a platform for advocacy. The FIF will complement the financing and technical support provided by the World Bank, leverage the strong technical expertise of WHO, and engage other key organizations.” Read more about this FIF on the World Bank’s fact sheet for it, including the potential for use to support One Health activities.

Countering WMD Journal Spring/Summer 2022 Edition Out

The US Army Nuclear and Countering WMD Agency’s newest edition of the Countering WMD Journal is available online now. This issue includes articles ranging from “The Army’s Place on the Nuclear Battlefield” to “Targeting Al Shifa: Explaining an Intelligence Failure” and “The Unknown Unknowns of Paleovirus Hunting”.

“A World Emerging from Pandemic: Implications for Intelligence and National Security”

This paper from the US National Intelligence University and DoD’s Strategic Multilayer Assessment program was recently released and is available here.

“This edited volume explores how the COVID pandemic has impacted—and will continue to impact—the US Intelligence Community. Authors from multiple disciplines probe the ways in which pandemic-associated conditions interact with national security problem sets. This work presents evidence-based, qualitative, quantitative, and mixed-methods analyses so their projections can be tested against future conditions. This project is the result of a cooperative effort between National Intelligence University and the Pentagon’s Joint Staff Strategic Multilayer Assessment office.”

“The G7 Summit’s Geopolitical Pivot Signals a Difficult Future for Global Health”

David P. Fidler’s article in Think Global Health discusses how war in Europe and shifts in the global power balance overshadowed global health at this year’s G7, despite pre-summit meetings and the leaders’ communique identifying numerous global health threats. Fidler also discusses issues like G7 countries’ being “…unlikely to generate ideological benefits by providing climate adaptation assistance because they bear great responsibility for causing climate change.” He writes, “China and Russia turned the geopolitical tables on democracies despite decades of global health leadership by G7 countries. That reality sends a warning that such leadership does not produce balance-of-power or ideological benefits for democracies. Nor did those decades of global health leadership make the G7 democracies reliable partners concerning the two greatest transnational threats to global health—pandemics and climate change.”

“NTI-WEF Technical Consortium for DNA Synthesis Screening Comments on Revised U.S. Government Guidance”

The Technical Consortium for DNA Synthesis Screening, convened by the Nuclear Threat Initiative and the World Economic Forum, recently responded to the US government’s request for comment on its Revised Screening Framework Guidance for Providers and Users of Synthetic Oligonucleotides—fragments of DNA or RNA. The government’s Revised Guidance was published in April 2022 as an update to the influential guidance initially established in 2010 that set standards for screening customers and DNA sequences for synthetic DNA orders. NTI explains, “The Technical Consortium’s comment—signed by leading technical and policy experts from biotechnology industry, the academic research community, and the biosecurity community—expresses support for many aspects of the Revised Guidance, noting “[we] applaud the U.S. government for releasing this Revised Guidance and opening an important, valuable discussion on these challenging topics.” The comment recommends a dual-track strategy to expand biosecurity screening practices to providers who don’t currently screen and improve such practices among responsible providers.”

“Healthier Ecosystem and Food Systems in East Asia and Pacific Can Reduce Global Pandemic Risks”

Benoît Bosquet, Sitaramachandra Machiraju, and Daniel Mira-salama recently authored this World Bank blog post discussing One Health and how improvements in food system practices can help prevent future pandemics. They write, “East Asia and Southeast Asia have large and densely concentrated human settlements, high livestock populations, and abundant wildlife. Rapid urbanization and agricultural expansion are leading to encroachment into wilderness areas, increasing the likelihood of pathogen spillover between humans and wild animals. These factors along with climate change are increasing the possibility of transmission of both zoonotic and vector-borne diseases. Consequently, many EAP countries are at a high risk of zoonotic outbreaks. Increasing domestic and wildlife trade in the region, deforestation and ecosystem degradation, together with inadequate livestock biosecurity and food hygiene practices, represent additional risk factors.”

The blog post accompanies two report, “From Reacting to Preventing Pandemics: Building Animal Health and Wildlife Systems in East Asia and Pacific” and “Reducing pandemic risks at source: Wildlife, Environment and One Health Foundations in East and South Asia“.

“How Pfizer Won the Pandemic, Reaping Outsize Profit and Influence”

Arthur Allen discusses how Pfizer came to gain substantial weigh in determining US health policy in developing COVID-19 vaccines and antivirals in this new article in Kaiser Health News. He writes in part, “Pfizer’s terms in the contracts exclude many taxpayer protections. They deny the government any intellectual property rights and say that federal spending played no role in the vaccine’s development — even though National Institutes of Health scientists invented a key feature of Pfizer’s vaccine, said Robin Feldman, a patent law expert at the University of California.” He also explains that, “Pfizer’s 2021 revenue was $81.3 billion, roughly double its revenue in 2020, when its top sellers were a pneumonia vaccine, the cancer drug Ibrance, and the fibromyalgia treatment Lyrica, which had gone off-patent. Now its mRNA vaccine holds 70% of the U.S. and European markets. And its antiviral Paxlovid is the pill of choice to treat early symptoms of covid. This year, the company expects to rake in more than $50 billion in global revenue from the two medications alone.”

TEXGHS: Monkeypox and the Western Media’s Portrayal of Infectious Disease

Join TEXGHS for their free monthly lecture series, featuring public health physician & global health thought leader Dr. Ifeanyi Nsofor on July 12 at 12 pm CDT. Global health is colonial in its origin. This colonial nature is reflected in skewed leadership of global health organizations favoring the global north. It is also reflected in the way some western media outlets paint the African continent: as a disease-ridden continent (or country) incapable of helping itself. This bias reporting must stop in the interest of both global north and global south.

Strengthening Private Public Partnerships in Pandemic Preparedness for National Security and Economic Competitiveness

Join the Capitol Hill Steering Committee on Pandemic Preparedness and Health Security for a webinar, Strengthening Private Public Partnerships in Pandemic Preparedness for National Security and Economic Competitiveness, on Wednesday, July 20, at 12pm (ET). Register here.

The country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic led to new public-private partnerships (PPPs) that drove the development of new medical countermeasures and bolstered domestic manufacturing capacity for medical products. This session will highlight the key components of what is necessary to incentivize, facilitate, and sustain effective PPPs for innovation to bolster pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response; what Congress can do to support and leverage such partnerships, the role of the appropriations process; and how the US can be better positioned in the global economy through increased investments in PPPs in the areas of health security and advanced life science.

Russian WMD Disinformation Resources

We are currently working on creating a searchable collection of resources on Russian WMD disinformation on the Pandora Report site. The page is a work in progress, and currently just lists resources we have highlighted in the past. In the meantime, here are some recent updates and works on the topic:

“Russian Disinformation Finds Fertile Ground in the West”

Ilya Yablokov’s June article in Nature Human Behaviour discusses potential methods for tackling Russian disinformation in the West. 

Recording- The History and Future of Planetary Threats | Biological Risks and Hazards in the World Today- with Special Focus on Russia and Ukraine

A panel of experts, including our own Dr. Gregory Koblentz, discussed evolving biological risks, the health security environment in post-Soviet states, and the biological risks posed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine- including those associated with Russia’s disinformation campaign at this event in May! Access the event recording here.

“A Perspective on Russian Cyberattacks and Disinformation”

Glenn Gerstell, a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and former general counsel of the National Security Agency, was interviewed at a Wall Street Journal event in San Francisco in front of a live audience. The discussion focused on Russian cyberattacks against Ukraine and Russia’s use of disinformation. Highlights of the discussion are available here.

“Fact Sheet on WMD Threat Reduction Efforts with Ukraine, Russia and Other Former Soviet Union Countries”

The Department of Defense recently released this fact sheet covering the history and accomplishments of US collaboration with the international community to reduce WMD threats in Ukraine, Russia, and other countries who were formerly part of the USSR. It provides a comprehensive yet concise timeline of efforts, including the Nunn-Lugar CTR program, and discusses efforts by Russia and China to undermine these immense accomplishments today to further their agendas.

Schar School Applications Open- Deadline July 15

The Biodefense program is accepting Fall 2022 applications for our MS and graduate certificate program through July 15. Learn more about our admissions process and apply here.

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