Pandora Report: 7.15.2022

It’s Friday and we are bringing you updates on new recommendations to improve US Government DURC and ePPPs oversight, a recent GAO report on CDC’s data system’s faults, ISIS plans to use chemical weapons in Europe, and new US legislation that could ban NIH and CDC funds from being used to support Chinese researchers. We also have the usual slate of new publications and upcoming events in addition to announcements and updates to our running list of information on Russia’s WMD disinformation campaign.

Experts Propose Strengthening US Government’s Enhanced Potential Pandemic Pathogen Framework and Dual Use Research of Concern Policies

A group of scientists and experts in public health and policy have submitted recommendations “…intended to strengthen the oversight of research involving enhanced potential pandemic pathogens (ePPPs) and life sciences dual-use research of concern to the White House National Security Council and Office of Science and Technology Policy, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the National Science Advisory Board on Biosecurity (NSABB). The US government is currently reviewing its policies that provide governance and guidance for this realm of research.” Their recommendations include actions like “Modify and expand the scope of pathogens to be governed by the ePPP Framework,” “Clarify and restructure processes of review, communication, biosafety and biosecurity, and transparency,” and “Revise the USG DURC Policy to expand its scope and clarify requirements.” Dr. Gregory Koblentz endorsed the recommendations. Read more about them here.

Audit Finds the CDC is Unprepared to Quickly Respond to Disease Threats Posed by International Travel

A new Report to Congressional Addressees from the Government Accountability Office, “Contact Tracing for Air Travel: CDC’s Data System Needs Substantial Improvement,” found that “…limitations in how CDC collects and manages air passengers’ contact information—including CDC’s use of an outdated data management system— hinder the agency’s ability to monitor public health risks and facilitate contact
tracing.” It continues on to explain that, “The data management system—developed in the mid-2000s—was not designed for rapid assessment or aggregation of public health data across individual cases. For example, CDC is unable to quickly and accurately identify the number of passengers exposed to a specific infected passenger on a flight. Nor does the system contain the necessary data fields to assess the quality of air passenger information CDC receives, such as a field to determine the timeliness of airlines’ responses to CDC’s request. Consequently, CDC is not positioned to efficiently analyze and disseminate data to inform public health policies and respond to disease threats. Nor is it positioned to evaluate its performance in collecting and sharing quality passenger information.”

ISIS Planned Chemical Weapons Attacks in Europe

Joby Warrick, author of Black Flags, writes in The Washington Post about the results of a UN investigation into the terrorist group’s plans to use chemical weapons in Europe, writing “New insights also are emerging from a U.N. investigation that is combing through millions of pages of Islamic State records as it seeks evidence of the group’s war crimes. In addition, several current and former U.S. officials in interviews with The Post spoke for the first time in detail about an urgently planned military operation, conducted in 2015 by U.S. Special Operations forces with assistance from Kurdish Peshmerga operatives, to kill Sabawi and crush the weapons program before it reached maturity.” Salih al-Sabawi, an Iraqi CW expert later known in ISIS as Abu Malik, had the intention to “create a large stockpile consisting of multiple types of chemical and biological agents to be used in military campaigns as well as in terrorist attacks against the major cities of Europe,” according to US officials.

Dr. Gregory Koblentz was quoted in the article as well, saying: “If Abu Malik had survived, his experience working for Saddam’s program would have made the threat of the Islamic State’s chemical weapons much higher,” said Gregory Koblentz, an expert on chemical and biological weapons and director of the Biodefense Graduate Program at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. “It is pretty horrifying to think of what could have happened if the Islamic State had used a chemical weapon, instead of guns and bombs, to conduct one of their attacks in a major European city.”

Bill Proposes Ban on NIH and CDC Funding for Chinese Research Laboratories

The debate over US support for Chinese research facilities continues as lawmakers consider a ban that would bar funds from the CDC and NIH from being used to support institutions in certain countries. The ban is part of a 2023 spending bill that passed the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations in late June that grew out of suspicions about the Wuhan Institute of Virology, according to Science. Jocelyn Kaiser writes, “Specifically, the measure would bar the Department of Health and Human Services (the parent agency of NIH and CDC) from funding WIV or “any other laboratory” in China, Russia, or any country the U.S. government has designated a foreign adversary, a list that currently includes Iran and North Korea.” She continues, explaining “Some scientific organizations are concerned by the proposal’s expansive scope. “It seems a bit extreme,” says Eva Maciejewski, spokesperson for the Foundation for Biomedical Research, which advocates for animal research. “In theory it’s good to have oversight over biosafety and animal welfare, but in practice there may be better ways than blocking all NIH funding to foreign countries.”

There are also concerns for how this could impact patient recruitment and international research teams, Maciejewski explains. “Projects that do not involve laboratory work—such as a long-running NIH-funded survey on health and retirement in China—could be spared. But many others would likely be vulnerable, including three projects headed by Chinese investigators studying influenza and the mosquito-borne diseases dengue and malaria, and dozens of subawards to Chinese groups participating in clinical trials of drugs, studies of the health effects of heavy metals, and neuroscience research. The U.S. leader of one clinical trial in Shanghai—who asked for anonymity—said his Chinese partner is a former trainee and “close collaborator,” and it would not be possible to recruit enough patients at a single site in the United States.”

CDC Special Report-“COVID-19 U.S. Impact on Antimicrobial Resistance”

CDC’s new report discusses changes in healthcare settings and other consequences of the pandemic that have worsened antimicrobial resistance in the US. The report focuses on COVID-19’s impacts on tracking and data, preventing infections, antibiotic use, environment and sanitation, and vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics. It finds that there was an increase of at least 15% from 2019 to 2020 in resistant infections starting during hospitalization, also noting that “Because of pandemic impacts, 2020 data are delayed or unavailable for 9 of the 18 antimicrobial resistance threats.” It also provides an outlook and recommendations for the future of building public health capacity for antimicrobial resistance.

“Germany Prioritizes Biosecurity for Global Partnership”

Kelsey Davenport writes in the latest edition of Arms Control Today that, “Germany plans to prioritize biological security during its year-long presidency of the Global Partnership Against the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction.” Her article explains recent presidents’ efforts and priorities while leading the Global Partnership and how Rüdiger Bohn, the German deputy commissioner for arms control and disarmament, plans to tackle major challenges moving forward.

CBRNe World June Issue

The latest edition of CBRNe World includes a number of interesting articles, including “Lies, Damned Lies and Russia Statistics: Robert Petersen on the Disinformation Campaign,” “Crimes Against History: Historical CW Crimes in Soviet Russia,” “The Monkeypox Prophecy: Zoe Rutherford on the Current Epidemic,” and “Quality of Life: Dr Faraidoun Moradi on Life After Sarin.” A free basic subscription to the magazine is available on its website.

“Strengthening the Global Bioeconomy to Sidestep the Next Pandemic”

Wilmot James and Lewis Rubin-Thomspon write in BusinessDay about what it will take to overhaul the bioeconomy and improve pandemic preparedness, writing “In a world that feels increasingly post-pandemic, the reality is that another pathogen more deadly and infectious than Sars-CoV-2 could arise at any time. To break a historic cycle of “panic-and-neglect” in health security, the time to bolster our ability to detect and respond to such biological threats is now.” They argue that the results of a poorly functioning global bioeconomy were on display early in the pandemic as countries failed to use or lacked existing laboratory and healthcare infrastructure, and that “…decades of progress in biotechnology and the streamlining of R&D processes helped compensate for early shortcomings of the global response, demonstrating the importance of investment in preventive infrastructure.”

Virtual Course: Combating Transnational Organized Crime and Illicit Trade: A Focus on the Americas

The Schar School’s Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center is partnering with UPEACE to offer this week-long course. The course aims to improve students’ comprehension of the dynamics of transnational organized crime, focusing on money laundering, corruption, illicit trade, security, free trade zones, state fragility, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (Agenda 2030).

The main objective of the course is to identify how different types of crime impact the capacity of the state to manage and mitigate internal and external threats. The course will also push participants to think about organized crime from a more nuanced perspective, specifically as an aspect of social conflict, emphasizing that the challenges for promoting peace are embedded in local, regional, and global contexts.

The 1-week innovative certificate course will take place virtually from the 22nd to the 26th of August 2022 and has a fee of $200 USD. Learn more and register here.

International One Health Conference- A Systemic Approach to Managing Urban and Natural Resources

The University of Catania is hosting this conference on September 27-28, 2022. The conference will be held in hybrid form, with 1/2 days to share and debate on experiences of systemic approaches to One Health and visions for a better systemic approach to managing urban and natural resources. “The conference aims to activate synergic dialogues among disciplinary research fields and action domains among researchers, experts and students. The One Health conceptual framework and the possible contribution from the One Health approach in the urban resilience capacities enhancement will be the core of the congress dialogues.” Learn more and register here.

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.

The Mold That Changed the World– Popular UK Play Comes to the US Fall 2022

The Mould That Changed the World, a UK show that tells the story of the discovery of antibiotics and the risks of antibiotic use, is headed to Washington DC and Atlanta this fall, appropriately re-titled “The Mold That Changed the World” for us Americans. Learn more, buy tickets, and even audition here.

Biointelligence and Biosecurity for the Intelligence Community Seedling Research Topic – Broad Agency Announcement

ODNI’s Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) recently announced Naval Information Warfare Center, Pacific, on behalf of IARPA, is soliciting proposals under a broad agency announcement for the Biointelligence and Biosecurity for the Intelligence Community (B24IC) program’s Seedling Research Topic. The B24IC program “…seeks to develop new capabilities, matching the wider synthetic biology and biotechnology fields, ensuring the Intelligence Community’s (IC’s) capability to meet the biointelligence and biosecurity threats of the 21st century.” Learn more about the solicitation on SAM.gov.

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:

Russia Finds Another Stage for the Ukraine “Biolabs” Disinformation Show”

Dr. Filippa Lentzos and Jez Littlewood discuss Russia’s triggering of Article V of the BWC, forcing the 184 member states to hold a special summer session to hear Russia’s claims about illegal US “biolabs” and the United States’ response. Read more on the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

“Lies, Damned Lies and Russian Statistics”

Robert Petersen, an analyst at Denmark’s Centre for Biosecurity and Biopreparedness, authored this piece for CBRNe World comparing and discussing Russia’s historical and current disinformation campaigns, arguing that the current effort has utterly failed “to sow discord among US allies, prevent support to Ukraine and legitimise the Russian invasion.” However, he also writes, “On the other hand, the campaign has managed to persuade a quarter of the American public that the US military has been developing biological weapons across Ukraine”

“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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