Pandora Report 8.23.15

We’re starting this update with some big blog news, are you sitting down? This will actually be the last weekend update…at least for a while. We’re in discussion with how to proceed with the blog and social media for GMU Biodefense. Please check back at and on twitter @PandoraReport for updates as they happen.

Looking back, there have been times since I’ve started as managing editor that the news has been sad, or, frankly, downright depressing. So, for this edition, lets focus on some of the good in the world. The first story comes from (probably the nicest human on the face of the Earth) Jimmy Carter. We’ve also got good news about Polio. Then, of course, we’ve got stories you may have missed.

Thank you for reading… and don’t forget to wash your hands!

Jimmy Carter Wants to See the Last Guinea Worm Die Before He Does

This week, former President Jimmy Carter announced that his cancer had spread to his brain. Though many members of his immediate family died from cancer, Carter said “I’m perfectly at ease with whatever comes.” Rather than fear or sadness over his diagnosis, Carter instead focused on meeting one of the long-term goals of his nonprofit organization—the Carter Center—the eradication of Guinea worm. In 1986 when the Carter Center began its work there were 3.5 million cases of across 21 countries. In 2014 there were 126 cases; today, there are 11.

The Huffington Post—“When Guinea worm has been eradicated, it will be only the second time in human history that a disease has been totally wiped out. The first, smallpox, was eradicated in 1977, according to the World Health Organization. Experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that Guinea worm will meet the same fate — a final piece in Carter’s legacy.”

WHO Declares Africa Free of ‘Wild’ Cases of Polio

According to the World Health Organization, Africa has been free of wild cases of Polio since July. This doesn’t mean that there are no cases on the continent; there is still ongoing work in Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia, but transmission of the illness has been interrupted. The director of the Polio Global Eradication Initiative has said that even though Africa is now free of wild cases, there are still challenges when it comes to eradication, for example, surveillance of the disease.

io9—“The goal of the Initiative has been to interrupt the natural transmission (wild cases) of the virus, which seems to be the case so far. The next step, according to WHO, will be to continue to monitor the region for additional cases. If none appear in the next two years, the continent will be certified Polio-Free.”

Stories You May Have Missed


Image Credit: Commonwealth Club

The Ebola Vaccine and the Ethics of Drug Trials

By Greg Mercer

The World Health Organization recently announced that a trial of the VSV-EBOV Ebola virus vaccine in Guinea has been “highly effective,” and that randomization in the trial would be stopped to allow for expansion of the range of subjects and protection of more people against the virus.  The trial began in March, and until recently, randomized subjects so that some received the vaccine immediately, while others received it later, after the virus’ gestation period.

A paper published in The Lancet details the study, and finds that the vaccine is highly effective and likely safe to use in the affected population.  The “recombinant, replication-competent vesicular stomatitis virus-based” vaccine is administered in a single dose via the deltoid muscle.  4,123 people received the vaccination immediately, while 3,528 people received the delayed vaccination (more on the study methodology in a moment). The researchers found that no subjects developed a case of Ebola after receiving the immediate or delayed vaccination, meaning that the vaccine proved 100% effective (with p=0.0036 at 95% CI).  These findings are excellent news for researchers, government officials, and those in the affected counties, and are fascinating from a scientific standpoint.

At The New Republic, Timothy Lahey, of Dartmouth, argues that these results, while promising, aren’t necessarily confirmed.  He notes that the lack of a placebo (because of the study’s particular methodology) makes it difficult to determine effectiveness, the vaccine could have failed to protect subjects from infection in a way that the study didn’t detect, and that a statistical aberration could mean that while the vaccine is not actually 100 % effective.  Regardless of whether these potential pitfalls affected the study or not, Lahey raises an important issue in drug testing for a disease like Ebola.  He is concerned that a lower standard for vaccines could mean that lower-income countries might not receive drugs of the same quality as rich countries, and points to past failed vaccines to illustrate the fallacy of believing that all vaccines work as intended.

The ethical dilemmas of drug testing have been front and center in the Ebola crisis.  Back in November, 2014, Nature reported on public health officials weighing the question of whether to use control groups when testing treatments for a disease with 70% mortality.  At the time, some advocated for applying experimental treatments (like the ZMapp antiviral cocktail, which had been used in patients but whose effectiveness was not entirely determined) to all patients, while others argued that these treatments might not be more effective than standard care, and that randomized trials guard against harmful side effects and provide a clearer picture of a drug’s effectiveness.

The VSV-EBOV vaccine was tested in the “ring” method that was previously used in the eradication of Smallpox.  This method eschews the double-blind placebo treatments commonly associated with drug trials.  Instead, this method creates a “ring” around new cases.  Contacts and contacts of contacts were identified by Guinea’s tracking system, and eligible adults were entered into randomization blocks, and received either the immediate or delayed vaccination.  This way, all of the subjects received the treatment, but in varying circumstances to establish effectiveness.  The full study is available via The Lancet.

Ethical drug testing is a crucial consideration, and has an imperfect past.  The National Institutes of Health’s own ethics guide cites a study that led to the United States’ ethics rules: a study that withheld syphilis treatment from 400 African-American men.  And for many, there’s good reason to be concerned about the actions of international organizations and multinational corporations.  In 1996, Pfizer conducted a study of an experimental drug on children with meningitis in Nigeria. While Pfizer maintained that the study was philanthropic, allegations arose from Nigerians and international organizations that children and parents were not informed that they were part of a study, and that Pfizer withheld treatment without consent or administered dangerous drugs.  The incident spawned a series of lawsuits and a panel of Nigerian medial experts condemned Pfizer’s actions in 2006, as reported by The Washington Post.

Epidemics and drug testing present a multitude of practical and ethical concerns, but careful consideration of the issues and sound methodology can, as they did in Guinea, produce exciting scientific and humanitarian results.

Image Credit: Psychonaught

Pandora Report 8.16.15

It looks like the blog isn’t the only place with a lull during the summer. This week was oddly slow for news; maybe it’s an August thing? For our top stories we’ve got ISIS with chemical weapons and, from our neighbor to the north, a disease diagnosing fabric. We’ve even got a few stories you may have missed.

Have a great week!

U.S. Investigating ‘Credible’ Reports that ISIS Used Chemical Weapons

The U.S. is investigating what it believes are credible reports that ISIS fighters used mustard agent against Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in Makhmour in Northern Iraq. ISIS posted about the attack on social media, but American officials have stated they have independent information that left them believing that a chemical weapon was used. A German Ministry of Defense spokesman echoed that they cannot confirm or rule out that a chemical weapons attack occurred. The major question for U.S. officials is to determine if it was mustard gas, and if so, how ISIS came to possess it.

CNN—“Blake Narenda, a spokesperson for the State Department’s Arms Control, Verification and Compliance Bureau, said, “We continue to take these and all allegations of chemical weapons use very seriously. As in previous instances of alleged ISIL use of chemicals as weapons, we are aware of the reports and are seeking additional information. We continue to monitor these reports closely, and would further stress that use of any chemicals or biological material as a weapon is completely inconsistent with international standards and norms regarding such capabilities.”

CNN has previously reported claims from monitoring groups that ISIS used chlorine weapons against Kurdish forces.”

Halifax Scientist Develops High-Tech Fabric that Helps Diagnose Diseases

Yes, you read that right. Christa Brosseau, an analytical chemist at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, is working on the development of a chemical sensor which can be built into fabric and can detect diseases like tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV/AIDS.  How is this even possible? First the scientists make Nanoparticles, then aggregate those particles which ends up as a silver Nanoparticle paste. That paste can be placed on a fabric chip and it then ready to use. The fabric chip interacts with bodily fluids like sweat, saliva, or urine, and is then scanned for information.

CTV—“The technology picks up disease biomarkers and the scientists are able to get results in approximately 30 seconds, by using hand held units, the size of a TV remote control, to scan the samples. The size of the units makes them convenient for working in the field.

Eventually, the scientists hope to see the technology deployed in exercise headbands, or cloth inserts in infant diapers, to better monitor the state of health.”

Stories You May Have Missed

Image Credit: U.S. Army

Week in DC: Events

August 12, 2015

Naval Aviation
Date: August 12, 9:00 am
Location: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1616 Rhode Island Ave NW, Washington DC

Please join CSIS and USNI for a discussion with Lieutenant General Jon Davis, Deputy Commandant for Aviation and Vice Admiral Mike Shoemaker, Commander, Naval Air Forces moderated by Admiral Joseph Pureher, USN, Ret. The discussion will focus on the state of the current fleet in terms of personnel and equipment as well as what the future holds for the Naval Aviation community.

Register here.

August 13, 2015

Assessing the Iran Nuclear Agreement: Placing Sanctions in Context
Date: August 13, 2:00 pm
Location: Heritage Foundation, Lehrman Auditorium, 214 Massachusetts Ave NE, Washington DC

Sanctions are what convinced Iran to begin negotiations with the United States. However, the mechanics behind lifting sanctions and the differences among international, U.S. and European Union sanctions are complicated. All beg the question of how effective the Iran deal really is. This program will explore the role of sanctions in the Iran Deal. Our panelists will examine the structure of the sanctions regime, debate its various implications, and explore what we can do about it. Among the questions to be addressed are: What sanctions are currently in place on Iran? What is the difference between multi-lateral oil sanctions and unilateral sanctions imposed by the United States on Iran? Is it really possible for the sanctions to be “snapped back” if Iran violates the agreement? Would the sanctions regime really disband if there was no agreement?

Join us as our panel discusses Iran’s new sanctions regime and what it means for the future.

RSVP here.

2018 FIFA World Cup Russia: Political, Economic, and Social Implications
Date: August 13, 10:00 am
Location: George Washington University, Lindner Commons, Room 602, 1957 E Street NW, Washington DC

Please join the Center on Global Interests and the Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies (IERES) at George Washington University for a discussion on the political, economic, and social implications of Russia hosting the 2018 FIFA World Cup. This event marks the beginning of a joint CGI-Futbolgrad project on the World Cup that will continue this discussion through various panels, publications, and digital journalism leading up to the event.

Register here.

The Iran Deal: Key Issues and Controversies
Date: August 13, 2:00 pm
Location: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2nd Floor Conference Center, 1616 Rhode Island Ave NW, Washington DC

Please join us for a discussion with Dr. Colin Kahl and other members of the administration on key elements of the Iran nuclear deal and its specific implications for the international community.

Register here.

Pandora Report 8.9.15

My apologies for lack of update last weekend…but that means a SUPER UPDATE this weekend! This week marked the 70th anniversary of atomic bombs being dropped in Japan. Rather than find an insufficient story that attempted to address the gravity of that event, we’re focusing on a successful Ebola vaccine trial, UN consensus on Syrian chemical weapons, and airplane bathrooms (because I can’t help myself when I see a story like that!) We’ve also got stories you may have missed.

Have a great week!

Vaccine Success Holds Hope for End to Deadly Scourge of Ebola

Some great news from West Africa: an Ebola vaccine trial in Guinea has returned results that are 100% effective. 4,000 people who had been in close contact with a confirmed Ebola case showed complete protection after ten days. A ring vaccination strategy—where those who have close contact with an infected person—was used, and after success was demonstrated, the vaccine is now being extended to 13-17 year olds, and possibly 6-12 year old children.

Reuters—“The success of the Guinea trial is a big relief for researchers, many of whom feared a sharp decline in cases this year would scupper their hopes of proving a vaccine could work. Another major trial in Liberia, which had aimed to recruit some 28,000 subjects, had to stop enrolling after only reaching its mid-stage target of 1,500 participants. Plans for testing in Sierra Leone were also scaled back. That left the study in Guinea, where Ebola is still infecting new victims, as the only real hope for demonstrating the efficacy of a vaccine.”

U.N. Approves Resolution on Syria Chemical Weapons

The UN Security Council unanimously—yes, even Russia—adopted a resolution aimed at identifying those responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Syria over the past two years. The resolution established an investigative body that would assign blame for the attacks “so that the perpetrators can be brought to justice.”

Salt Lake Tribune—“‘Pointing a finger matters,” U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power told the council. “This sends a clear and powerful message to all those involved in chemical weapons attacks in Syria that the [new investigative body] will identify you if you gas people.” But she added that prosecuting perpetrators will take time because there is still no tribunal to investigate alleged crimes during the war in Syria, which has killed at least 250,000 people since it began in March 2011, according to the U.N.”

Airplane Toilets Can Help Researchers Find Disease Outbreaks

A recent study in Scientific Reports finds that researchers can tell what continent you’re from and give early indication of disease outbreaks, all from the poop left in airplanes. (I think this is the first time I’ve been able to say “poop” here on the blog.) The researchers gathered samples from 18 airplanes that departed from nine cities and landed in Copenhagen and were able to identify continental trends. Microbes from Southeast Asia had higher incidence of antibiotic resistance; food transmitted microbes were also more frequent in the Southeast Asian samples; and C. diff was much more common in the North American samples.

Popular Science—“These findings led the researchers to believe that they could start to create a typical microbiome for each continent. And any big shifts that happen in their makeup—say, the concentration of C. diff rises dramatically in samples from Southeast Asia—could indicate a growing public health issue. If it’s caught early enough, public health officials could take preventative action.”

Stories You May Have Missed


Image Credit: CDC Global

Week in DC: Events

July 27, 2015

Chemical Safety and Security: TSCA Legislation and Terrorist Attacks
Date: July 27, 2:00 pm
Location: Center for Strategic and International Studies, Room 212 B, 1616 Rhode Island Ave NW, Washington DC

Chemical safety and security is one of the fundamental pillars of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), but the recent and ongoing use of dual-use chemicals such as chlorine in the Syrian conflict, several recent chemical accidents in the US, and congressional updating of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) have all raised these goals to a much higher level. This seminar will address three related safety and security issues: (1) new TSCA legislation in the House and Senate; (2) the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS); and (3) Global Partnership efforts to improve chemical safety and security of industry and transportation.

The Proliferation Prevention Program will co-host this event with Green Cross International and International Center for Chemical Safety and Security (ICCSS).

Register here.

July 28, 2015

Hearing: Iran Nuclear Agreement: The Administration’s Case
Date: July 28, 10:00 am
Location: U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs, 2172 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC 20515

Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) on the hearing:  “This Iran deal is one of the most important in decades.  It reverses decades of bipartisan nonproliferation and regional policy, has several shortcomings, and demands the closest scrutiny.  Secretary Kerry and the other Administration officials will face tough questions before the Committee, as we continue our comprehensive review of the Iran deal and the Administration’s overall regional policy.”

Ranking Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) on the hearing:  “I look forward to hearing from Secretaries Kerry, Lew, and Moniz to discuss the Iran agreement. I have serious questions and concerns about this deal, and input from the Administration will be critical as Congress reviews the proposal.”

Watch live online here.

Developing an Approval Pathway for Limited-Population Antibacterial Drugs
Date: July 28, 10:30 am
Location: Dirksen Senate Office Building, Constitution Ave and 1st Street NE, Washington DC

Please join us on July 28th for a briefing with a panel of antibacterial drug experts and stakeholders, including Center for Drug Evaluation and Research Director Janet Woodcock, MD, to discuss the development of a limited-population antibacterial drug (LPAD) approval pathway.  Bipartisan legislation has been approved by the House of Representatives and introduced in the Senate–the Promise for Antibiotics and Therapeutics for Health (PATH) Act, S. 185.

The LPAD pathway would provide for the approval of new antibiotics that target serious or life-threatening drug-resistant infections in patients who have few or no suitable treatment options. The pathway could help bring critical new drugs to such patients, while maintaining standards of safety and efficacy, limiting use to targeted populations, and requiring post-market surveillance.

You are invited to hear presentations, discussion, and participate in an interactive question and answer session with a panel featuring:

  • Janet Woodcock, MD, Director, FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research
  • Helen Boucher, MD, Associate Professor, Tufts University School of Medicine; Member, IDSA Antimicrobial Resistance Committee
  • Prabhavathi Fernandes, PhD, President and Chief Executive Officer, Cempra Pharmaceuticals
  • Allan Coukell, Senior Director for Health Programs, the Pew Charitable Trusts (moderator)

Register here.

Can the P5+1’s Vienna Deal Prevent an Iranian Nuclear Breakout?
Date: July 28, 11:45 am
Location: Hudson Institute, 1015 15th Street NW, 6th Floor, Washington DC

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed earlier this month in Vienna is the culmination of a longstanding Obama administration effort to resolve the international community’s nuclear standoff with Iran through diplomatic means. A host of serious questions surround the agreement, including the complexities of international law and politics necessary to enact its provisions, and the strategic calculations that Iran’s regional rivals will make in its aftermath. But the key question remains the most practical one: Will theJCPOA, advanced by its proponents as a far-reaching and robust arms agreement, actually prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon?

Can the JCPOA’s inspection and verification regime, which allows Iran a 24-day window to prepare – or “sanitize”—any suspected site for on-site review, provide an effective guarantee against violations? What will it mean when the JCPOA expires in 15 years under the “sunset clause” and Iran becomes a “normal” nuclear power? And how, in the meantime, will the deal’s removal of existing sanctions against currently designated terrorists and terror-connected entities – like the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Qassem Suleimani, commander of IRGC’s expeditionary unit, the Quds Force – complicate efforts to constrain Sunni Arab states from pursuing nuclear arms programs of their own?

Please join us on July 28 for a timely conversation with Senator Tom Cotton and a panel of leading experts including William Tobey of Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and Hudson Senior Fellows Michael Doran, Hillel Fradkin, and Lee Smith.

Register here.

Joint Subcommittee Hearing: The Iran-North Korea Strategic Alliance
Date: July 28, 3:00 pm
Location: U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs, 2172 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC

The Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade, and the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa will meet to discuss the Iran-North Korea Strategic Alliance. Witnesses include Mr. Ilan Berman, Vice President at the American Foreign Policy Council; Ms. Claudia Rosett, Journalist-in-Residence at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies; Larry Niksch, Ph.D., Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; and Jim Walsh, Ph.D., Research Associate in the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Watch live online here.

July 29, 2015 

Hearing: Women Under ISIS Rule: From Brutality to Recruitment
Date: July 29, 10:00 am
Location: U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs, 2172 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington DC

The Committee on Foreign Affairs, Edward R. Royce (R-CA), Chairman, will hold an open hearing to discuss women under ISIS rule. Witnesses include Ms. Sasha Havlicek, Chief Executive Officer at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue; Ariel Ahram, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at the Virginia Tech School of Public and International Affairs; Mr. Edward Watts, Director and Producer of Escaping ISIS; and Kathleen Kuehnast, Ph.D., Director of Gender and Peacebuilding Center for Governance, Law and Society at the United States Institute of Peace.

Watch live online here.

Examining Regional Implications of the Iran Deal
Date: July 29, 11:00 am
Location: The Stimson Center, 1211 Connecticut Ave NW, 8th Floor, Washington DC

After more than 20 months of careful negotiations, the United States and its international partners have reached a landmark nuclear deal with Iran, designed to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons-capable state. The deal has implications that extend beyond Iran’s borders and could affect the already turbulent Middle East. Some critics of the deal claim that Iran will use the influx of capital it will receive once sanctions are lifted to fund destabilizing groups such as Hezbollah and the Assad regime. Others worry that countries such as Saudi Arabia will see Iran’s successful posturing and be emboldened to begin pursing a non-peaceful nuclear program themselves. The Stimson Center invites you to join us for an in-depth discussion of the regional implications of the Iran deal.

RSVP here.

Panel: Scorecard for the Final Deal with Iran
Date: July 29, 12:00 pm
Location: JINSA, 1307 New York Ave NW, Washington DC

JINSA’s Gemunder Center for Defense and Strategy invites you to an exclusive lunch panel briefing to release our new Iran Task Force report:

In Vienna on July 14, the P5+1 and Iran agreed on a final deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPA). This report will analyze whether the JCPA addresses the Task Force’s questions and concerns about the framework agreement. Overall, the JCPA rolls back Iran’s breakout time and allows for broader verification, but only in exchange for key restrictions being removed in 8-15 years, R&D on advanced centrifuges, front-loaded sanctions relief – including up to $150 billion in unfrozen assets – with no automatic “snapback” mechanism, an end to the U.N. arms embargo against Iran and no anytime, anywhere inspections.

Register here.

Cyber Risk Wednesday: Rethinking Commercial Espionage
Date: July 29, 4:00 pm
Location: Atlantic Council, 1030 15th Street NW, 12th Floor West Tower, Washington DC

The United States is nearly alone in professing that states should not spy for the private sector’s commercial benefit. As Gen. Michael Hayden (Ret.), former Director of National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency, puts it: “I’ve conducted espionage. I went after state secrets and I actually think we’re pretty good at it. Where I object is where you have state power being used against private enterprise for commercial purposes.” Instead, the United States has strongly promoted innovation and intellectual property, publicly berating or punishing countries that engage in the systematic theft of technology, trade secrets, and proprietary information.

However, as indictments and advances in cyber defense have proven insufficient to secure commercial secrets, it is now time to consider alternative policy options to defend the private sector. Perhaps to save the principles behind banning commercial espionage, we must first embrace it. Could the United States reach better economic and national security outcomes if it joined its adversaries in spying for profit? Could like-minded nations create bilateral no-spy agreements, slowly expanding these into a global institution? Or would experimenting with economic espionage erode the West’s credibility and moral high-ground, leaving us worse off than before?

The panelists will debate whether the United States should continue to abstain from economic espionage, or whether these challenges demand innovative, even radical solutions.

Register here to attend in person or here to watch live online.

From Ocean of War to Ocean of Prosperity
Date: July 29, 4:15 pm
Location: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1779 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington DC

Over the past two hundred years, the Western Pacific has been the stage for war, peace, development, modernization, and prosperity. Its rich resources and vital shipping lanes are essential to the well-being of all countries within its bounds. Admiral Tomohisa Takei, chief of staff for the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, will discuss the development of the U.S.-Japan relationship, Japan’s role in the region, and the future of a rules-based international order in the Indo-Pacific. Carnegie’s vice president for studies, Thomas Carothers, will moderate.

Register here.

July 30, 2015 

Threat of ISIS in Iraq: Views from the Ground
Date: July 30, 10:30 am
Location: The Stimson Center, 1211 Connecticut Ave, 8th Floor, Washington DC

From enflaming sectarian tensions to undermining governance and economic development, the expansion of ISIS continues to pose grave risks to Iraq and the broader Middle East. Stimson and the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) invite you to join us for a discussion featuring views and perspectives from AUIS scholars and students examining the nature of the ISIS threat, and the related territorial, demographic and socio-economic consequences. Students from Kurdistan and other parts of Iraq will join us through video links.

Register here.

Pandora Report 7.26.15

Mason students are working through their summer courses and I’m happy to say mine is OVER! Let the summer begin (two months late)! This week we’ve got great news about Polio in Nigeria and a somber anniversary in Japan. We’ve also got other stories you may have missed.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend and have a great week!

A-Bomb Victims Remembered in Potsdam, Where Truman Ordered Nuclear Strikes

Coming up on the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombs being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, German and Japanese citizens in the city of Potsdam held a remembrance ceremony for both the victims that died in the blast and the future. Japan has become, according to the former President of the International Court of Justice, the world’s conscience against nuclear weapons and power. Why? Japan is “the only country in the world to have been the victim of both military and civilian nuclear energy, having experienced the crazy danger of the atom, both in its military applications, destruction of life and its beneficial civilian use, which has now turned into a nightmare with the serious incidents of Fukushima.”

Japan Times—“The Potsdam Conference was held between July 17 and Aug. 2 in 1945. The United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6 and another bomb on Nagasaki three days later. On Aug. 15 that year, Emperor Hirohito announced to the nation that Japan had accepted the Potsdam Declaration, in which the United States, Britain and China demanded the nation’s unconditional surrender.”

Nigeria Beats Polio

Very, very, very exciting news: Nigeria has not had a case of polio in a year. A year! This makes Nigeria polio free and the last country in Africa to eliminate the disease. The achievement was possible with contributions from the Nigerian government (where elimination of the disease was a point of “national pride”), UNICEF, the WHO, the CDC, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Rotary International, and other organizations. With Nigeria’s accomplishment, there are only two other countries in the world where polio still exists—Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Voice of America—“Carol Pandek heads Rotary International’s polio program. She told VOA via Skype that a year being polio-free is a milestone for Nigeria, but noted that it is not over. “Now they need to continue to do high quality immunization campaigns for the next several years,” she said, as well as have a strong surveillance system so, should there be any new cases, they can be identified as soon as possible.”

Stories You May Have Missed


Image Credit: Fg2

Week in DC: Events

July 20, 2015

Global Digital Policy: Views from the United States and South Korea
Date: July 20, 2:00 pm
Location: Brookings Institution, Falk Auditorium, 1775 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington Dc

With more than 193 member countries, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is a U.N. specialized agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs) whose goal is to connect people through modern communication technology. Hosted last year in Busan, South Korea, the ITU’s Plenipotentiary Conference 2014 helped propel South Korea as a central player in the dialogue on Internet policy. Crucial policy topics included Internet governance, the Internet of Things, and ICTs being used for development purposes. This event will examine global digital policy with views from the U.S. and South Korea.

On July 20, the Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings will host a panel to discuss the increasing challenges and opportunities to providing Internet access to a globalized, shifting, and high-demand population. Speakers will discuss the importance of spurring creativity, ingenuity, and innovation in economies around the world. What are the economic and social benefits of the Internet economy, and what are the possible avenues for future U.S.- Korea bilateral engagement on ICT? Participants will reflect upon the international landscape and what lies ahead in the wake of the 2014 ITU conference in Korea with a view towards the United Nation’s upcoming WSIS +10 High Level Meeting, which will take place in December 2015.

After the session, panelists will take audience questions. Register here to attend.

Preparing for Disaster: U.S. Disaster Response Policy and Areas for Reform
Date: July 20, 2:00 pm
Location: Heritage Foundation, Lehrman Auditorium, 214 Massachusetts Ave NE, Washington DC

As summer drags on and we move through hurricane season, concerns about the inevitable severe tropical storm grow. Together with other disasters, the federal government should be evaluating how well prepared the U.S. is to respond to a national disaster.

Have we implemented the lessons learned from the government’s response to natural disasters like Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy and from pandemics like the 2013-2014 Ebola outbreak? What is the state of the federal government’s emergency preparedness systems and response plans? What role does the military play and how can they best support civil authorities? How could the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) be improved to strengthen U.S. disaster response capabilities?

Join us for a discussion regarding the state of disaster preparedness in the United States, as we host a panel of experts who will examine current U.S. disaster policy and potential areas for reform.

Register here to attend in person or watch live online.

July 21, 2015

China’s Transition at Home and Abroad
Date: July 21, 9:00 am
Location: Brookings Institution, Falk Auditorium, 1775 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington DC

As China transitions from an economy driven by exports to an economy driven by consumption, the effects are being felt worldwide. In spite of this economic “new normal,” China has also become increasingly active in seeking a role in global governance as exemplified by the recent establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the “one belt, one road” development strategy. On the other side of the globe, the state of the U.S. economy remains uncertain, breeding serious concern regarding future U.S. economic policies.

On July 21, The John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution will bring together key insiders from the policymaking communities in China and the United States to explore the issues raised by China’s rise and economic transition.

Questions will be taken from the audience following the discussions. Register here.

Iran and the Future of the Regional Security and Economic Landscape
Date: July 21, 9:00 am
Location: Center for a New American Security, NYU Washington DC, 1307 L Street NW, Washington DC

The international community is negotiating a deal with Iran on its nuclear program ahead of a June 30 deadline. Under a potential deal, Iran would put significant limitations on its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief from the international community. But the details and effects of any potential agreement are far from simple. Iran’s regional rivals, who are core U.S. partners in the Middle East, are deeply concerned about how a deal will change regional power dynamics. There are also questions about economic competition, particularly in energy markets, in the aftermath of a nuclear deal. And there are many questions about how the United States and the European Union would be able re-impose their punishing economic sanctions in the event that Iran does not adhere to a deal. To address these questions, the Center for a New American Security and the Center on Law and Security at the New York University School of Law will convene a high level forum of Middle East and sanctions experts to discuss Iran and the future of regional security and economics.

Register here.

Islamic Extremism, Reformism, and the War on Terror
Date: July 21, 10:00 am
Location: American Enterprise Institute, 12th Floor, 1150 17th Street NW, Washington DC

President Barack Obama has said that the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) and other extremist groups do not represent true Islam. The extremists, however, dispute this. This leads to a basic question: What role, if any, does Islam play in fomenting terrorism?

As extremist forces increasingly sow destruction, how should policymakers respond? How prevalent are moderates, and how serious are regional calls for a “reformation” within Islam? What role, if any, can the US play to encourage reform? How do anti-Islamic polemics undercut reform?

Please join us at AEI for a two-panel discussion on the religious basis of Islamist terrorism and how or whether it should factor into a comprehensive US strategy to defeat extremists.

We welcome you to follow the speech and comment on Twitter with #TalkingIslam. RSVP to attend.

Negotiating the Gulf: How a Nuclear Deal Would Redefine GCC-Iran Relations
Date: July 21, 12:00 pm
Location: The Arab Gulf States Institute, 1050 Connecticut Ave NW, Suite 1060, Washington DC

With an agreement now struck between Iran and the P5+1 on the country’s nuclear program, few in the international community have more at stake than Iran’s Arab neighbors across the Gulf.

Will the agreement usher in a new era of detente in the Middle East? Will Iran emerge as a more responsible partner, not just to the West but also to regional powers? Can Iran and the GCC states begin to identify areas of cooperation to bring about more stability and security to the region? Will the agreement truly prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, or does the Middle East stand on the brink of another, particularly dangerous, arms race?

This AGSIW special event will examine these and other key issues from multiple perspectives, providing a timely guide to understanding the complex implications of the Vienna agreement.

RSVP here.

Russian Expansion—A Reality or Fiction: A Conversation with Elmar Brok
Date: July 21, 12:30 pm
Location: German Marshall Fund, 1744 R Street NW, Washington DC

With the Minsk II ceasefire in eastern Ukraine looking increasingly shaky, Europe risks a frozen conflict for years to come. However, is Russian President Vladimir Putin finished in Ukraine? Can the United States and Europe expect more aggression from the Kremlin or is consolidation Russia’s strategy now? What do the future of Russian relations with the European Union and Germany look like and what role do sanctions play in this calculation? Elmar Brok, chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, will answer these questions and provide analysis of U.S.-European views toward Ukraine and Russia. GMF, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, and the European Parliament Liaison Office are pleased to jointly host this conversation.

Register here.

From Sea to Denial to Nuclear Deterrence: India’s Quest for a Nuclear Submarine
Date: July 21, 1:00 pm
Location: Nuclear Proliferation International History Project, 6th Floor, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington DC

In July 2009, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh unveiled India’s first nuclear submarine, INS Arihant, catapulting India into a select group of countries possessing naval nuclear prolusion technology. Contemporary commentaries and popular historical narratives often assign the desire for a nuclear deterrent to the entire history of India’s submarine program. Instead, scholar Yogesh Joshi argues that theArihant’s historical trajectory contradicts any such retrospective reasoning—the program appears evolutionary and the rationale, shifting.

India’s quest for a nuclear submarine began with an interest in nuclear propulsion as a “technology of future” in late 1960s, but the strategic rationale soon shifted to “sea denial” against extra-regional powers operating in the Indian Ocean. Joshi will argue that until the end of the 1970s, there is no evidence available that India was planning to develop its submarine program into a platform for its nuclear weapons. While India’s submarine program gained speed during the 1980s with help from the Soviet Union, the program was configured around the Soviet Charlie-II class submarine, an attack submarine. Moreover, the collapse of the USSR meant that the promise of Soviet technological assistance never materialized in full.

Joshi will argue that the program’s shift towards ballistic missile submarines began after the nuclear tests of 1998, but his research also suggest that the strategic inertia of “sea denial” continued to have heavy influence on the program, as seen through India’s official pronouncements and internal documents. Using declassified materials from the British, Indian, US, and Russian archives, interviews with key decision-makers, and open sources, this seminar will explore the process through which “sea based nuclear deterrence” became a part of India’s strategic calculus.
RSVP here.

Rebuilding Afghanistan: Transparency & Accountability in America’s Longest War
Date: July 21, 6:30 pm
Location: PS21, Thomson Reuters Conference Room, 1333 H Street NW, Washington DC

As the longest running and one of the most expensive wars in U.S. history winds down, PS21 asks: just where did the money go? We are delighted to present a discussion with the man looking into that very question, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John F. Sopko, and Just Security.

Register here.

July 22, 2015

Drones and Aerial Observation: New Technologies for Property Rights, Human Rights, and Global Development
Date: July 22, 8:00 am
Location: New America Foundation, 1899 L Street NW, Washington DC

Clear and secure rights to property—land, natural resources, and other goods and assets—are crucial to human prosperity. Most of the world’s population lack such rights. That lack is in part a consequence of political and social breakdowns, and in part driven by informational deficits. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones, by virtue of their aerial perspective, are able to gather large amounts of information cheaply and efficiently, as can unpowered aerial platforms like kites and balloons.

That information, in the form of images, maps, and other environmental data, can be used by communities to improve the quality and character of their property rights. These same tools are also useful in other, related aspects of global development. Drone surveillance can help conservationists to protect endangered wildlife and aid scientists in understanding the changing climate; drone imagery can be used by advocates and analysts to document and deter human rights violations; UAVs can be used by first responders to search for lost people or to evaluate the extent of damage after natural disasters like earthquakes or hurricanes.

Earlier this year, New America launched a website,, which comprises a database of such uses of drones, as well as the first comprehensive compilation of global drone regulations. In conjunction with this July 22nd Symposium, New America is publishing a primer that discusses the capabilities and limitations of unmanned aerial vehicles in advancing property rights, human rights and development more broadly. The primer contains both nuts-and-bolts advice to drone operators and policy guidance. Though drones have substantial potential—in particular they are capable of making new maps cheaply, in a decentralized fashion—they are also a technology with pitfalls.

Please join Anne-Marie Slaughter, New America’s president and CEO, for a half-day discussion of these important issues. Breakfast and lunch will be served.

RSVP here.

U.S.-China Relations in Trans-Atlantic Context
Date: July 22, 10:00 am
Location: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 5th Floor, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington DC

Conflicting responses to Chinese leadership of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the prospects of the renminbi as a reserve currency make clear that the U.S. and its traditional European partners do not always see China’s growing influence in the same light. Differences may be exacerbated by Eurasian projects like China’s One Belt, One Road and Western groupings like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. U.S.-China-EU relations are of growing importance, but the trans-Atlantic implications of U.S.-China relations are not as well understood as the Japanese, Russian, or Southeast Asian contexts.

The Wilson Center is pleased to partner with the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in hosting this discussion of U.S.-Chinese-EU relations.

Register here.

The Future of Energy Markets: The Other Middle East Revolution
Date: July 22, 10:30 am
Location: Atlantic Council, 1030 15th Street NW, 12th Floor, West Tower, Washington DC

Please join us for a discussion with Majid Jafar, Chief Executive Officer of Crescent Petroleum, as part of the Global Energy Center’s CEO Series. Mr. Jafar will discuss how conflict and security issues in the Middle East coupled with the low oil price environment have impacted hydrocarbon producing countries in the region.  He will also address the steps that countries like Iraq should take in improving energy infrastructure, tackling subsidies, and reforming oil laws and regulations to improve investment in the oil and gas sector and bolster domestic stability.

Register here to attend in person or here to watch live online.

Terror Gone Viral: The Rise of Radicalism and America’s Response
Date: July 22, 10:30 am
Location: Heritage Foundation, Lehrman Auditorium, 214 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington DC

America faces the most serious terror threat environment since 9/11. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has now been linked to dozens of plots or attacks against the West, including at least nine inside the United States since January. This surge in Islamist terror activity includes a rise in extremism here at home, as terrorists seek to radicalize and recruit operatives from our own communities. This year alone, the FBI has arrested more than 40 U.S.-based ISIS supporters and is investigating homegrown violent extremists in every state.

Join us for an in-depth discussion as our expert panel offers insights on the state of homeland security, counterterrorism, and U.S. strategy in the war against violent Islamist extremists.

Register here.

On Knife’s Edge: The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia’s Impact on Violence Against Civilians
Date: July 22, 12:00 pm
Location: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 5th Floor Conference Room, Washington DC

The post-Cold War era has witnessed horrific violence against non-combatants. In the Bosnian War alone, tens of thousands of civilians died. The founders of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY)—and then of the permanent International Criminal Court (ICC)—hoped these courts might curb such atrocities.  However, we still know very little about their actual impact.  This talk will draw on the ICTY’s experience as the first wartime international criminal tribunal to provide insight into how and when these institutions might affect violence against civilians.

RSVP here.

The Chinese Cyberthreat: Challenges and Solutions
Date: July 22, 12:15 pm
Location: American Enterprise Institute, 1150 17th Street NW, 12th Floor, Washington DC

US investigators are blaming China for the Office of Personnel Management cyberattack that stole more than 21.5 million US federal employees’ personal information. The attackers appear to be the same Chinese hackers who targeted Anthem this past February, stealing the data of as many as 80 million customers. Yet China’s cyber victims are not limited to government workers and consumers, as Chinese actors are probing American firms, military, and critical infrastructure.

In the absence of international norms guiding the use and deterrence of cyberattacks, what can the United States do to counter Chinese cyberespionage? Join AEI for a conversation with Chairman Cory Gardner (R-CO), followed by an expert panel on how to defend US economic and security interests from China’s growing cyber capabilities.

If you are unable to attend, we welcome you to watch the event live on this page. Full video will be posted within 24 hours. RSVP here to attend in person.

The Cost of Wars: Overseas Contingency Operations and Future Defense Spending
Date: July 22, 3:30 pm
Location: The Stimson Center, 1211 Connecticut Ave NW, 8th Floor, Washington DC

While the number of troops deployed overseas has decreased significantly, the cost per troop has increased markedly since the imposition of the 2011 Budget Control Act caps as the Obama administration and Congress have turned to Overseas Contingency Operations to fund increasingly unrelated programs. In his Fiscal Year 2016 request, President Obama requested a 6.8% increase above the 2015 level for base budget Pentagon spending, arguing for the third year that budget caps put in place by the 2011 Budget Control Act are not sustainable for either defense or non-defense spending. President Obama proposed instead to raise revenues and adopt alternate savings. Congress has again ignored the administration’s proposed alternative, choosing instead this year to use Overseas Contingency Operations as a loophole that allows the Pentagon to increase funding for base budget activities without regard to the constraints of the caps. Without better controls on Overseas Contingency Operations spending, the Pentagon is likely to continue to avoid making choices about how to accommodate the modernization and readiness increases that it wants with the freeze in defense spending mandated by the Budget Control Act. The Stimson Center invites you to join us for a discussion of Overseas Contingency Operations and future defense spending priorities.

RSVP here.

July 23, 2015

The National Idea in Russia and China
Date: July 23, 11:00 am
Location: Woodrow Wilson International Center For Scholars, 6th Floor Conference Room, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington DC

Challenges in U.S. relations with great powers such as China and Russia derive not only from divergent national interests, but from distinct conceptions of nationhood, sovereignty, and modernity. Americans must therefore consider not only what the United States would like Russia and China to do, but how Chinese and Russians see themselves, one another, and the wider world, including the United States.

China and Russia: On Their Own Terms is a joint project of the Wilson Center’s Kennan and Kissinger Institutes. The goal of the series is to offer U.S. policymakers, analysts, and the broader public a primary source perspective on how China and Russia see their evolving international roles in light of their histories, cultural narratives, and national myths.

RSVP here.

Pandora Report 7.19.15

An out of town visitor and a newly rescued pet have kept me very busy this week. Luckily, the news was very straightforward—the nuclear deal with Iran and ISIS with their chemical weapons. We’ve even got a few stories you may have missed.

Have a great week!

A Historic Deal to Prevent Iran from Acquiring a Nuclear Weapon

After two years in the making, the P5+1 settled negotiations to reach a comprehensive, long-term nuclear deal with Iran this week. Despite satisfaction with the outcome, many say that the deal will not end Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions and will not change Iranian policy towards the USDick Cheney responded that the deal makes use of nuclear weapons use more likely and former Senator Jim Webb said the deal weighs in Iran’s favor. Nevertheless, the Obama administration seems pleased with the deal and will work on its passage.

DipNote—“President Obama said “I am confident that this deal will meet the national security interests of the United States and our allies. So I will veto any legislation that prevents the successful implementation of this deal. We do not have to accept an inevitable spiral into conflict. And we certainly shouldn’t seek it.’”

ISIS Has Fired Chemical Mortar Shells, Evidence Indicates

It seems like déjà vu all over again as reports this week said that the Islamic State appears to have manufactured rudimentary chemical weapons and attacked Kurdish positions in Iraq and Syria, evidently multiple times in multiple weeks. Investigators reported that the incidents seemed to involve toxic industrial or agricultural chemicals repurposed as weapons. This could signal “a potential escalation of the group’s capabilities” though, is not without precedent.

The New York Times—“In the clearest recent incident, a 120-millimeter chemical mortar shell struck sandbag fortifications at a Kurdish military position near Mosul Dam on June 21 or 22, the investigators said, and caused several Kurdish fighters near where it landed to become ill.”

Stories You May Have Missed

 Image Credit: U.S. Department of State

Pandora Report 7.11.15

Sorry for the late update here at Pandora Report. We’ve got how the plague turned so deadly, an Ebola update, and of course other stories you may have missed.

Have a great week!

These Two Mutations Turned Not-so-Deadly Bacteria Into the Plague

Researchers at Northwestern University have been investigating how Yersinia pestis—the bacteria that causes bubonic, pneumonic, and septicemic plague—became the infective cause of the Black Death. They discovered two mutations that help to explain the bacteria’s lethality.—“The first mutation gave the bacteria the ability to make a protein called Pla. Without Pla, Y. pestis couldn’t infect the lungs. The second mutation allowed the bacteria to enter deeper into the bodies, say through a bite, to infect blood and the lymphatic system. In other words, first the plague grew deadly, then it found a way to leap more easily from infected fleas or rodents to humans.

Ebola Strain Found on Teen in Liberia Genetically Similar to Viruses in Same Area Months Ago

I’m sure you’ve heard that there were three new cases of Ebola in Liberia—a country that was declared free of the disease on May 9. According to the World Health Organization, samples taken from a teenager who died from Ebola two weeks prior indicate that the disease is genetically similar to strains that infected people in the same area over six months ago—while the outbreak was still ongoing.

US News and World Report—“That finding by genetic sequencing suggests it is unlikely the virus was caught from travel to infected areas of Guinea or Sierra Leone, the group said. “It also makes it unlikely that this has been caused by a new emergence from a natural reservoir, such as a bat or other animal,” it said.”

Stories You May Have Missed

Image Credit: en.wikipedia