Event Summary and Analysis for “The Implications of Chemical Weapons Use in Syria”

by Wardah Amir, Graduate Student in the Security Policy Studies Program, The George Washington University

On September 14 2013, a deal was reached between the United States and Russia which set a deadline for the destruction of the declared Syrian chemical weapons stockpile. While the original deadline set by the deal was not met, on June 23 2014 the last of Syria’s declared chemical weapons had been successfully removed out of the country amidst its civil war. Despite these efforts, chemical weapons were continuously used in the Syrian Arab Republic. In April this year, Douma fell victim to yet another chemical attack. Roughly 40 to 70 lives were lost. Continue reading “Event Summary and Analysis for “The Implications of Chemical Weapons Use in Syria””

Review of the Blue Ribbon Study Panel “Fits and Starts: Reactionary Biodefense”

By Alexandria Tepper and Michael Krug, GMU Biodefense

On October 9th, 2018, the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense presented a discussion session entitled “Fits and Starts: Reactionary Biodefense”. The five-hour event was composed of a series of expert panels spanning multiple fields, agencies, and backgrounds. The panels were moderated by four co-chairs from the Blue-Ribbon Study Panel, including: Former Senator Joseph Lieberman, Former Governor Thomas Ridge, Senator Tom Daschle, and Kenneth Wainstein. The discussion centered around the steps taken, 17 years later, since the anthrax events of 2001. Continue reading “Review of the Blue Ribbon Study Panel “Fits and Starts: Reactionary Biodefense””

A Multi-Disciplinary Approach to Multi-Disciplinary Threats

by Janet Marroquin, GMU Biodefense

Nearing the two year anniversary of the Biodefense Strategy Act and twelve years after the Amerithrax incident that changed the course of biodefense, a new National Biodefense Strategy has been released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). In 2016, the Biodefense Strategy Act produced a congressional requirement for the White House to create a new biodefense strategy in response to a 2015 Blue Ribbon Study Panel report that determined the 2009 National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats to be inadequate in effectively protecting the U.S. from biological threats.  Policy recommendations made by the Panel and various other advisory councils, including the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, the National Security Council, and the Presidential Advisory Council on Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria (see previous Pandora Report article on the M.I.A. biodefense strategy) included the following: Continue reading “A Multi-Disciplinary Approach to Multi-Disciplinary Threats”

Rebuilding Health Security in the Wake of Ebola

by Stephen Taylor – Schar School of Policy and Government, George Mason University

In late 2013 and early 2014, the West African nation of Guinea was caught unprepared when Ebola cases began spreading in its southeastern districts.  The outbreak rapidly spread to the neighboring countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia.  Lacking the public health capabilities of tracing and isolating Ebola cases and lacking the medical capacity to safely treat Ebola patients, all three countries were quickly overwhelmed as the outbreak grew to pandemic proportions. The pandemic spread to urban centers and then to seven other countries around the world.  In Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia, the pandemic spanned three years and cost over 6 billion USD to bring under control.  Over 28,000 West Africans contracted Ebola virus disease and over 11,000 died.  10% of GDP disappeared in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone due to lost workforce and productivity.  This further resulted in lowered investment and a loss in private sector growth. Continue reading “Rebuilding Health Security in the Wake of Ebola”


by GMU biodefense graduate student Justin Hurt

On August 21st, 2018, the National Academies presented a “Luncheon Series” discussion on recent research conducted by a Department of Defense sponsored group to assess the state of national biodefense and biosecurity efforts. Titled “A Roadmap for Biosecurity and Biodefense Policy in the United States,” the discussion centered on a research study conducted over the past year that sought to define the linkages and differences between the various biodefense and biosecurity-related policies, regulations, legislation, and agreements, how they affected stakeholders in affiliated institutions and organizations, and where gaps may exist that require further analysis.

Moderated by Katherine Bowman of the National Academies, two of the main contributors to the study, Diane DiEuliis of National Defense University’s Center for the Study of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and Kavita Berger of Gryphon Scientific, discussed their research process and findings with a large group of academic, non-profit, and governmental associates during the monthly National Academies lunchtime discussion series. The impetus for the study was largely founded in the recent increase in interest regarding biodefense and biotechnology advancements and risks over the past two years. This included heightened international engagements, changes in the biotechnology landscape and the advent of new uses for biological science, all of which have contributed not only to potentially life-enhancing and prosperous outcomes for mankind, but also increased anxieties about the potential for illicit and dangerous uses of such technology. Continue reading “REVIEW OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES LUNCH SERIES ON BIODEFENSE AND BIOSECURITY, AUGUST 21st, 2018”

NASEM: Roadmap for Implementing Biosecurity and Biodefense Policy in the United States

By GMU Biodefense graduate student, Carlos Alvarado

On August 21st the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine hosted Dr. Kavita Berger of Gryphon Scientific and Dr. Diane DiEuliis of National Defense University. The event focused on discussing the Roadmap for Implementing Biosecurity and Biodefense Policy in the United States.

In the opening slides, Dr. Berger explained that this review of the roadmap would only be focused on the United States policies and not outside sources. Many countries have their own polices as she explained; however, the goal of this project was to investigate only U.S. polices. She began by giving a brief overview of the actual roadmap, which is for implementing biosecurity and biodefense policy to influence the capabilities and advances in technology and science while minimizing security threats. A key point in these slides were to remember that as technology and science advances, so do the potential threats. Dr. Berger used examples of research, development, institutions, applications, and countries as the driving factors of influencing advances on science and technology. Dr. Berger illustrated how these factors are constantly changing and shifting the biotechnology landscape. An example that was used is how engineering, biology, chemistry, and even health and safety are a wide variety of disciplines that are growing within the biotechnology realm and that it is no longer just a single discipline of biology. The take away from this information was with all these factors there must be regulation to ensure potential threats are not overlooked or ignored but at the same to furthering our research.   Continue reading “NASEM: Roadmap for Implementing Biosecurity and Biodefense Policy in the United States”

Biological Events, Critical Infrastructure, and the Economy: An Unholy Trinity

by Stephen Taylor, GMU Biodefense MS student 

At its recent meeting about resilience, the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense explored the potential impacts of a biological event on critical infrastructure in the United States, as well as the best way to approach risk mitigation.  Ann Beauchesne, former Senior Vice President of the National Security and Emergency Preparedness Department at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, summed up critical infrastructure as “the critical services for our society and the backbone our economy.”  Projected increases in global travel, trade, and development all rely on critical infrastructure, magnifying the potential impact of insults to infrastructure systems.  Concurrently, biological threats are also on the rise. As the world warms and urbanizes, natural infectious disease outbreaks manifest in unexpected places. Anthrax and ricin-laced letters to U.S. political leaders in 2001 and 2013, respectively, represent only the vanguard of a new age of deliberate biological threats.  Gene editing and synthetic biological technologies, as demonstrated by the de novo synthesis of horsepox virus in 2017, offer ever-evolving tools for creating potent biological weapons.  The Dutch Ministry of Defense has projected that the world is likely to face a large-scale biological attack in the next 10-15 years. America must be prepared for the contingency that biological threats and critical infrastructure collide. Continue reading “Biological Events, Critical Infrastructure, and the Economy: An Unholy Trinity”

NASEM Report: Biodefense in the Age of Synthetic Biology

Written by: Sarah W. Denton, Research Fellow, Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy, George Mason University; Research Assistant, Science and Technology Innovation Program (STIP), The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

On June 19, 2018, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) held a public briefing timed with the release of a new report titled, Biodefense in the Age of Synthetic Biology. The panel – comprised of the committee chair, Dr. Michael Imperiale, and four authors of the report, Dr. Patrick Boyle, Dr. Peter Carr, Dr. Diane DiEuliis, and Dr. Jill Taylor– gathered to present their research to the public and provide an opportunity for an in-person and online question and answer session.

During this briefing, the panel discussed the study’s concern-assessment framework (Figure 1). The framework consists of four factors that can be used to assess the level of concern for current and future synthetic biology capabilities. Notably, rather than attempting to assess the levels of concern presented by various technologies (e.g., CRISPR/Cas9), this framework focuses instead on assessing capabilities “that potentially pose a concern because of the harm they might enable.”[i]

While the framework draws on previous works (e.g., Tucker 2012and the 2004 Fink report), what makes this report unique is its use of the Design-Build-Test (DBT) process as the foundation for its capability-assessment. DBT is the “iterative process of designing a prototype, building a physical instantiation, testing the functionality of the design, learning from its flaws, and feeding that information back into the creation of a new, improved design.”[ii]Specifically, the committee found it useful to conceptualize current and future technological developments in terms of the ways in which they enable the DBT cycle, granting that it is entirely possible for some technologies to have impacts across    multiple phases of the DBT cycle.[iii]For example, the committee identified potential points of concern in all phases of the DBT process in their analysis of the level of concern relating to the re-creation of known pathogens.[iv] Continue reading “NASEM Report: Biodefense in the Age of Synthetic Biology”

Crucial Steps Forward: the National Academies of Science’s 2018 Study, “Enhancing Global Health Security through International Biosecurity and Health Engagement Programs”

By: Alexandra Williams, GMU MS Biodefense ‘18

This past Monday, July 16, 2018, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) held an important meeting at their headquarters in Washington, D.C. At this meeting, they discussed with U.S. government security and health agencies the future of global health security, disease surveillance, and biosecurity, as well as the challenges and gaps that exist in meeting international and domestic health security missions and mandates. This second and final NASEM committee public meeting was a follow-up to their first meeting in April 2018. In these two meetings, NASEM was charged with examining and better understanding the Cooperative Biological Engagement Program (CBEP) of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD)’s Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program—CBEP being a forefront program for biosecurity and health security—and other U.S. government stakeholders in health security. An overview of the July 16, 2018 meeting can be found here. Additional information can be found via the National Academies of Sciences project information page. Continue reading “Crucial Steps Forward: the National Academies of Science’s 2018 Study, “Enhancing Global Health Security through International Biosecurity and Health Engagement Programs””

AAAS Science Diplomacy & Leadership Workshop 2018

Christopher Z. Lien – Biodefense, M.S. student

In late June, I attended the Science Diplomacy & Leadership Workshop 2018, a five day workshop held at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) headquarters in Washington, D.C. Our class included 28 participants representing 15 countries including Spain, Latvia, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Pakistan, Austria, Portugal, Australia, and the United States. Participants came from varied professional disciplines (a large portion in the physical and biological sciences) and many are currently in graduate programs or already hold PhDs. Most of the discussions held were subject to Chatham House Rules, where the information presented may be used freely, but the speakers’ and other participants’ names and affiliations are not to be attributed to said information.

The first day posed the three main questions the workshop would address:

  • How does science inform diplomacy?
  • How does diplomacy inform science?
  • What does science in diplomacy look like today?

The second day began with a breakfast at the Embassy of France with The Science Diplomats Club of Washington, D.C. Science and technology representatives from the embassies of Poland, Canada, France, Switzerland, Italy, and from EURAXESS Links North America spoke to us regarding their countries’ scientific diaspora communities and how engaged these communities are in taking an international approach to science. Aligning educational policy with science, gaining talent from abroad, facilitating networking across the diaspora communities – these are some of the tasks the scientists are working toward. Continue reading “AAAS Science Diplomacy & Leadership Workshop 2018”