Pandora Report 3.10.2023

This week we tackle the addition of three subsidiaries of BGI Group (formerly the Beijing Genomics Institute) to the US Entity List, the ongoing discussion regarding DOE’s recent COVID-19 origins assessment, congressional hearings on the same subject, and updates on the suspected poisonings of school girls in Iran. This issue also has several new publications and upcoming events, including one discussing the outcome of Germany’s intervention in a suspected IS-inspired plot using ricin and an upcoming book talk with Dr. Katherine Paris, an alumna of the Biodefense PhD program.

US Department of Commerce Adds Three BGI Subsidiaries to Entity List

Effective March 2, 2023, the US Department of Commerce officially added three subsidiaries of BGI Group, formerly the Beijing Genomics Institute, to the Entity List. The Entity List is published by the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) and requires foreign persons, entities, and governments to meet US licensing requirements for export and transfer of certain items. Placement on the list does not prohibit companies and persons in the US from purchasing from or doing business with these entities. About 600 Chinese entities are on the list, including many known to have aided the PLA in creating artificial islands throughout the South China Sea. The Biden administration has added over 110 Chinese entities to the list, in large part because of the PRC’s military-civil fusion policies and the two-way transfers they have facilitated between companies, research institutions, universities, and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

The BIS announcement read in part: “The ERC [End-User Review Committee] determined to add BGI Research; BGI Tech Solutions (Hongkong) Co., Ltd.; and Forensic Genomics International, to the Entity List, under the destination of China, pursuant to § 744.11 of the EAR. The addition of these entities is based upon information that indicates their collection and analysis of genetic data poses a significant risk of contributing to monitoring and surveillance by the government of China, which has been utilized in the repression of ethnic minorities in China. Information also indicates that the actions of these entities concerning the collection and analysis of genetic data present a significant risk of diversion to China’s military programs. These entities are added with a license requirement for all items subject to the EAR.”

BGI released a statement in response to the announcement, saying “We believe the BIS’s decision may have been impacted by misinformation and we are willing and able to clarify. BGI Group’s work strictly abides by local, regional, and global moral and ethical standards, and adheres to all required laws and regulations. BGI Group does not condone and would never be involved in any human-rights abuses. None of BGI Group is state-owned or state-controlled, and all of BGI Group’s services and research are provided for civilian and scientific purposes.”

As we discussed early last year, BGI is known to have used its NIFTY test, a prenatal test used globally, to collect data in collaboration with the PLA. Furthermore, early in the pandemic, as the US struggled to build testing capacity and states could not run their own tests in their state labs, BGI Group targeted US state governments with cheap tests that promised to rapidly increase their capacity. The company also worked with the PLA on projects aiming to make ethnic Han Chinese people less susceptible to altitude sickness, though BGI Group claims this work was purely academic in nature. The all adds to growing concerns that foreign entities are using seemingly harmless products, such as at-home DNA tests like 23andMe or AncestryDNA, can be exploited by adversaries.

COVID-19 Origins…Familiar Arguments, Renewed Vitriol

Predictably, discussion of last week’s announcement that the Department of Energy assesses with low confidence that SARS-CoV-2 very likely originated in a laboratory has continued with much fervor this week. This section covers some recent publications discussing this as well as the recent congressional hearing focused on the matter.

Updates on Discussion of DOE and FBI’s Assessments

As we discussed last week, there has been a lot of online discussion of the updated intelligence assessment from DOE that inadequately explains what the Department actually found and what it means. Cheryl Rofer explains in her recent Scientific American piece that 90 day intelligence estimates are not the end-all and be-all, especially in a situation like this. She writes that “An intelligence assessment isn’t a scientific conclusion. They are different beasts. The summary itself observes that different agencies weigh intelligence reporting and scientific publications differently. The important factor for intelligence assessments is the veracity of sources, whereas scientific conclusions depend on data and the coherence of the argument the data support. However, data from a scientist who has proved unreliable in the past will weigh less heavily in scientific conclusions, and intelligence analysts will regard fanciful stories from an otherwise reliable informant skeptically. The scientific data are available to the public, unlike the reporting that underlies the intelligence assessments.”

Rofer also explains how the intelligence divisions of national laboratories work, writing “Cutting-edge science is the expertise of the Department of Energy, however, which runs 17 national laboratories, several studying SARS-CoV-2 and its origins. Intelligence professionals in the national laboratories work with scientists to develop assessments. Because they are embedded in the laboratories, they can develop working relationships to explore puzzles of science and intelligence. Because I was responsible for a similar environmental cleanup site at Los Alamos National Laboratory, a question that I was involved in during the 1990s was whether the Soviets had done hydrodynamic tests at the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site, scattering metallic plutonium chunks. Members of the intelligence division came to me and other chemists, and our physicist colleagues, to learn how and why such tests would have been performed, and what clues they would leave behind for analysts to spot. Eventually, we found that indeed tests were run in this way. A joint program with Russia and Kazakhstan recovered 100 kilograms of plutonium that might have gone to scavengers, as a result of this detective work.”

Furthermore, as Drs. Angela Rasmussen and Saskia Popescu (assistant professor in the Schar School Biodefense Program) explain in their piece for the Washington Post, “No new evidence is available for public scrutiny. It is impossible to evaluate the Energy Department’s claims. Yet they have been repeated in many quarters as if they were proof of a lab origin — a belief that fuels demands to curtail work on dangerous infectious agents…This circus makes the United States and the world less prepared, not more, to defend itself against emerging pathogens that could lead to pandemics, including the alarming influenza strain H5N1 spreading globally in animals or the deadly Marburg virus outbreakin Equatorial Guinea.”

In their piece, Rasmussen and Popescu highlight the critical oversight of the risk that cities where people and animals live in close contact pose. They write “Only in a city with a large, mobile, interactive population of people and animals could the virus establish sustained onward transmission from person to person. This pandemic could have just as easily begun in Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou — where SARS-CoV-1 emerged in 2002, also as a direct result of the sale of live animals at “wet markets.”

Promised Congressional Hearings Kick-Off with House Oversight Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic Hearing

Rasmussen and Popescu summarize much of the problems and concerns with the congressional hearing in their piece mentioned previously, writing “Deepening partisanship on covid-19 hinders progress at home and abroad. None of the witnesses called so far by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic for its first hearing this week has technical expertise on SARS-CoV-2 origins science. Few have experience within the covid-19 response effort. All have promoted pro-lab leak opinions without providing any evidence to support their claims. It is easier to place blame than to address systemic issues that led to more than a million covid deaths in the United States.”

The majority’s witnesses included Dr. Jamie Metzl, a historian of Southeast Asia whose career has largely centered on humanitarian policy; Nicholas Wade, a former science editor at the New York Times who drew criticism for his 2014 book that asked, in reference to economic issues in many African countries, whether “variations in their nature, such as their time preference, work ethic and propensity to violence, have some bearing on the economic decisions they make.”; and Dr. Robert Redfield, a physician who was the CDC director during the Trump administration and has ample clinical research experience, largely focused on HIV/AIDS. The minority witness was Dr. Paul Auwaerter, an infectious disease physician whose researcher includes work on Lyme Disease and EBV.

As Jon Cohen explains in Science Insider-“Some scientists and legislators might have hoped this morning’s U.S. congressional hearing on the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic would move beyond partisan politics and seriously investigate what has become a deeply divisive debate. But members of the House of Representatives’ Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic mostly hammered home long-standing Republican or Democratic talking points, shedding no new light on the central question: Did SARS-CoV-2 naturally jump from animals to humans or did the virus somehow leak from a laboratory in Wuhan, China?”

Of course, much of the witness statements and questions focused on the EcoHealth Alliance and its role in projects with the Wuhan Institute of Virology. In response to several of the statements, the EcoHealth Alliance issues these corrections to assertions made at the hearing. Of particular interest is the status of the DEFUSE proposal that was submitted to DARPA, a frequent talking point in online lab-leak discussions. Of this, the Alliance writes plainly “…the proposal was not funded and the work was never done, therefore it cannot have played a role in the origin of COVID-19.”

Bloomberg also published a piece discussing how this drawn out, unproductive discourse obscures the rise globally of high-security biolabs, which features the work of Biodefense Graduate Program Director Dr. Gregory Koblentz and Dr. Filippa Lentzos of King’s College London. Of the politicization this has brought, Dr. Koblentz was quoted saying “Nobody wants lab accidents…Unfortunately this issue has become politicized and polarized. That’s because the people with the loudest voices have had the microphone.

Iran Poisonings

According to NBC, at least 2,000 people in Iran have reported symptoms since concerns about deliberate poisonings of schoolgirls in the country first emerged, though some members of parliament estimate that number could be as high as 5,000. This comes as videos circulate of young girls coughing profusely as they are escorted out of school, with others showing girls slumped over and struggling to breathe in hospitals. So far, 30 schools in at least 10 provinces have reported cases of girls mysteriously falling ill. This has led to mounting protests in Tehran, which is particularly troubling in light of recent protests over the death of Mahsa (Jina) Amini, a young Kurdish woman, in police custody after she was arrested by the Islamic religious police for allegedly violating modesty standards.

President Ebrahim Raisi spoke out this week about the issue, ordering investigations and telling the cabinet that these incidents are “an inhumane crime” aimed “at intimidating the students, our dear children, and their parents,” according to state media. The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamene, also said that, if these allegations are confirmed, that they constitute a “great and unforgivable crime” and that “the culprits must face the toughest of punishments.”

“Can a 1975 Bioweapons Ban Handle Today’s Biothreats?”

In this piece for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Matt Field writes “Rapid advances in biotechnology and the lack of an enforcement mechanism are challenging the Biological Weapons Convention. Amid swirling allegations that countries are violating the treaty, are slow-moving attempts to update it enough to prevent biological doom?” In it, he discusses challenges in adapting the treaty to current issues, quoting Biodefense Graduate Program Director Dr. Gregory Koblentz, writing “It is worrisome that states parties can’t agree on relatively simple propositions that would ensure that the Article 1 prohibition on developing biological weapons includes biological agents produced or modified via emerging technologies such as genome editing,” Koblentz, the George Mason University biosecurity expert, said.”

“Model Law for National Implementation of the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention and Related Requirements of UN Security Council Resolution 1540”

New from VERTIC: “This Model Law was developed to assist countries in drafting legislation to implement the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention and the biological weapons-related provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 1540.”

“It can be used to identify all the relevant measures that should be included in national legislation to give effect to the BWC and related provisions of UNSCR 1540. It can further be used during the legislative drafting process. As there is no “one size fits all” approach for the drafting of national implementing legislation, each state should determine the type of implementing measures it requires in accordance with its constitutional processes, legal tradition, existing legal framework, activities in the field of bioscience and other national circumstances. The Model Law is therefore intended to provide a useful basis to draft BWC implementing legislation and can be used to draft new legislation, or amend existing laws and/or regulations.”

“Ricin’s Round Two: Germany Prevents Another Islamic State-Motivated Bioterrorism Attack”

Herbet Maack’s piece in the Terrorism Monitor discusses the outcomes of Germany’s January intervention in a suspected IS-inspired attack. Maack writes in his conclusion, “The disrupted plot of Monir J. and Jalal L. shows the continued threat from loosely IS-connected and IS-inspired individuals. It also underscores the continued interest of Islamist-motivated perpetrators in bioterrorism and their desire to inflict significant losses of life. For Germany, the disrupted plot was already the second one involving ricin. While US-German counterterrorism intelligence cooperation seems to be functioning well, the potentially catastrophic consequences for any failure should cause Berlin to consider strengthening its own domestic counter-terrorism intelligence gathering capabilities.”

“Diverse Voices in International Security: NTI’s Gabby Essix on Promoting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Biosecurity Field”

This interview with Grabby Essix, a Bio Program Officer at the Nuclear Threat Initiative, discusses DEI efforts in the biosecurity field: “NTI is committed to highlighting and supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the peace and security field. During February, Black History Month, NTI Deputy Vice President for Communications Rachel Staley Grant sat down with NTI | bio Program Officer Gabrielle (Gabby) Essix to discuss DEI efforts in the biosecurity field. Essix supports NTI’s efforts to increase global action on biological and health security through the Global Biosecurity Dialogue and the Global Health Security Index and she leads NTI’s annual Next Generation for Biosecurity Competition. Since 2017, this competition has fostered professional development for rising global leaders in the field of biosecurity and biosafety, and it promotes DEI within the global health security community.”

“Toxic Inheritance: Assessing North Korea’s Chemical Weapons Capability”

This essay from Royal United Services Institute discusses ongoing work using open source research and remote sensing technologies to assess the DPRK’s CW capabilities and production capacity. This essay provides a review of historical documents related to the program and identifies 33 sites of interest in the country, with the promise of creating a map of more sites at a later date with alleged links to CW production.

“Verification of Exposure to Chemical Warfare Agents Through Analysis of Persistent Biomarkers in Plants”

De Bruin-Hoegée et al. discuss the possibility of using plant biomarkers in forensic reconstructions of chemical warfare attacks in their article in Analytical Methods. Abstract: “The continuing threats of military conflicts and terrorism may involve the misuse of chemical weapons. The present study aims to use environmental samples to find evidence of the release of such agents at an incident scene. A novel approach was developed for identifying protein adducts in plants. Basil (Ocimum basilicum), bay laurel leaf (Laurus nobilis) and stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) were exposed to 2.5 to 150 mg m−3 sulfur mustard, 2.5 to 250 mg m−3 sarin, and 0.5 to 25 g m−3 chlorine gas. The vapors of the selected chemicals were generated under controlled conditions in a dedicated set-up. After sample preparation and digestion, the samples were analyzed by liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) and liquid chromatography high resolution tandem mass spectrometry (LC-HRMS/MS), respectively. In the case of chlorine exposure, it was found that 3-chloro- and 3,5-dichlorotyrosine adducts were formed. As a result of sarin exposure, the o-isopropyl methylphosphonic acid adduct to tyrosine could be analyzed, and after sulfur mustard exposure the N1- and N3-HETE-histidine adducts were identified. The lowest vapor exposure levels for which these plant adducts could be detected, were 2.5 mg m−3 for sarin, 50 mg m−3 for chlorine and 12.5 mg m−3 for sulfur mustard. Additionally, protein adducts following a liquid exposure of only 2 nmol Novichock A-234, 0.4 nmol sarin and 0.2 nmol sulfur mustard could still be observed. For both vapor and liquid exposure, the amount of adduct formed increased with the level of exposure. In all cases synthetic reference standards were used for unambiguous identification. The window of opportunity for investigation of agent exposure through the analysis of plant material was found to be remarkably long. Even three months after the actual exposure, the biomarkers could still be detected in the living plants, as well as in dried leaves. An important benefit of the current method is that a relatively simple and generic sample work-up procedure can be applied for all agents studied. In conclusion, the presented work clearly demonstrates the possibility of analyzing chemical warfare agent biomarkers in plants, which is useful for forensic reconstructions, including the investigation into alleged use in conflict areas.”

“Twenty Years Ago in Iraq, Ignoring the Expert Weapons Inspectors Proved To Be a Fatal Mistake”

In this essay for the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Robert E. Kelley discusses the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and faulty claims about Iraqi WMD programs that drove the decision to invade. He writes in part, “I was in Iraq in those final months before the 2003 invasion as Deputy for Analysis of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Action Team tasked with the nuclear side of the weapons inspections, while the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) worked in parallel, looking for biological and chemical weapons, as well as illicit missile programmes. We studied a few outstanding questions regarding the Iraqi nuclear weapons programme that had been discovered and dismantled in the early 1990s; we looked for new evidence and investigated leads and suspicions passed on to us by national governments; we inspected many sites and interviewed Iraqi scientists and officials in person; and we analysed the data. By early 2003 we knew at a very high level of confidence that there was no nuclear weapons effort of any kind in Iraq, and we were regularly passing this information back to the UN Security Council. We were not wrong.”

“ChatGPT: Opportunities and Challenges for the Nuclear Agenda”

In this work published by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Yanliang Pan discusses the potential for misuse of ChatGPT in academia, politics, and cybersecurity, focusing on the nuclear agenda. He writes in part, “However, just as AI instruments can be used to advance the nuclear agenda, they also present risks that cannot be ignored. For instance, ChatGPT’s potential to enhance the capabilities of malign cyber actors represents a serious danger to nuclear security. With the digitalization of instrumentation and control systems, nuclear facilities are increasingly vulnerable to cyber threats, including malware and phishing attacks that ChatGPT is most proficient in assisting.  Testing shows, for example, that the AI model has no qualms about writing fake emails to nuclear facility employees asking for access credentials – in different languages and styles of writing as requested…Indeed, it has no way of knowing whether the email is fake at all as it lacks the ability to check the user’s credentials. Upon the user’s request, the AI model will also identify common vulnerabilities in specific systems of a nuclear facility and list the malware that has been used in the past to target those systems…”

“Now AI Can Be Used to Design New Proteins”

In this piece for TheScientist, Dr. Kamal Nahas explains advancements in AI, writing “Artificial intelligence algorithms have had a meteoric impact on protein structure, such as when DeepMind’s AlphaFold2 predicted the structures of 200 million proteins. Now, David Baker and his team of biochemists at the University of Washington have taken protein-folding AI a step further. In a Nature publication from February 22, they outlined how they used AI to design tailor-made, functional proteins that they could synthesize and produce in live cells, creating new opportunities for protein engineering. Ali Madani, founder and CEO of Profluent, a company that uses other AI technology to design proteins, says this study “went the distance” in protein design and remarks that we’re now witnessing “the burgeoning of a new field.”

“Trust In US Federal, State, And Local Public Health Agencies During COVID-19: Responses And Policy Implications”

From Health Affairs: “Public health agencies’ ability to protect health in the wake of COVID-19 largely depends on public trust. In February 2022 we conducted a first-of-its-kind nationally representative survey of 4,208 US adults to learn the public’s reported reasons for trust in federal, state, and local public health agencies. Among respondents who expressed a “great deal” of trust, that trust was not related primarily to agencies’ ability to control the spread of COVID-19 but, rather, to beliefs that those agencies made clear, science-based recommendations and provided protective resources. Scientific expertise was a more commonly reported reason for “a great deal” of trust at the federal level, whereas perceptions of hard work, compassionate policy, and direct services were emphasized more at the state and local levels. Although trust in public health agencies was not especially high, few respondents indicated that they had no trust. Lower trust was related primarily to respondents’ beliefs that health recommendations were politically influenced and inconsistent. The least trusting respondents also endorsed concerns about private-sector influence and excessive restrictions and had low trust in government overall. Our findings suggest the need to support a robust federal, state, and local public health communications infrastructure; ensure agencies’ authority to make science-based recommendations; and develop strategies for engaging different segments of the public.”

Global BioLabs 2023 Launch- “High Consequence Bio Labs: Growing Risks and Lagging Governance”

“The Global Biolabs Initiative is proud to announce the launch of its new report, Global BioLabs 2023, and an updated interactive map of BSL4 and BSL3+ labs. With the global expansion of BSL4 and BSL3+ labs, gaps in biosecurity and biosafety governance are widening. Since its inception in 2021, the Global Biolabs Initiative has tracked the proliferation of the highest containment labs, identified several key trends in their construction and operation, developed biorisk management scorecards to measure how well countries are governing biosafety, biosecurity, and dual-use research, and mapped the global biorisk management architecture. The pace of BSL4/BSL3+ labs expansion is outpacing current biosafety and biosecurity regulations, and coordinated international action is needed to address increasing biorisks.”

“Dr Filippa Lentzos, King’s College London, and Dr Gregory Koblentz, George Mason University, will present the Global BioLabs 2023 report, describe key trends, and discuss recommendations for strengthening global biorisk management. The event will also feature a demonstration of the interactive map:”

This event will take place March 16, 2023, 1 pm GMT. Register for the Zoom webinar here and access Global Biolabs tools and resources at

Credit: The BulletinGlobal Biolabs

Penetrate, Exploit, Disrupt, Destroy – with Dr. Craig J. Wiener

From the Alperovitch Institute: “Join us on Wednesday, March 15th at 5pm at the SAIS Hopkins Kenney Auditorium. Dr. Craig J. Wiener is recognized as an expert in major foreign adversary espionage, sabotage and strategic capabilities that pose threats to the U.S. Government (USG) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Dr. Wiener’s previous position was as the Senior Technical Analyst for the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence where he fulfilled a role as DOE’s lead all source cyber threat analyst, the Department’s representative to the National Security Council for Cyber Operations, a key member of National Intelligence Council Special Analytic Groups, and a government briefer and/or advisor for Defense Science Board studies on Cyber as a Strategic Capability, Homeland Defense, Strategic Surprise and the future of US Military Superiority among other topics. Additionally, Dr. Wiener initiated and led studies for special nuclear weapons related threat and vulnerability analyses and advanced technical security threats to USG equities by foreign adversaries and engaged in the development, planning and operationalization of counter-adversary strategies across multiple domains of operations. Dr. Wiener joined the MITRE Corporation as a Technical Fellow in early-2020, where he supports key U.S. Government (USG) national security initiatives. He was recently appointed by the Secretary of Energy to the Electricity Advisory Committee to advise DOE on current and future electric grid reliability, resilience, security, sector interdependence, and policy issues.”

Dr. Wiener is an alumnus of the Biodefense PhD Program! Learn more and register for this event here.

Online Event: Discussion with Amb. van der Kwast About What to Expect at the 5th CWC Review Conference

“The Fifth Five-Year Review Conference (RC-5) for the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention will be held in the Hague from May 15-19, 2023.”

“At the conference, member states and the broader chemical weapons disarmament community will gather to assess past achievements, treaty implementation, and compliance, and discuss plans to strengthen the CWC in the years ahead.”

“You are invited to join a virtual discussion with Ambassador Henk Cor van der Kwast, the chair-designate for the Review Conference, who will share his hopes and expectations for the conference’s outcomes.”

“Paul Walker, the Chair of the CWC Coalition, will moderate. Amb. van der Kwast’s remarks will be followed by a Q&A session.”

“This discussion will be on the record.”

“This special event will be open to all members of the CWC Coalition, and other interested members of the public, journalists, and diplomats.”

This webinar will take place on March 21 at 11 am EST. Register here.

Book Talk with Dr. Katherine Paris on “Genome Editing and Biological Weapons: Assessing the Risk of Misuse”

“Dr. Katherine Paris, an alumnus of the Mason Biodefense PhD program, recently released her new book “Genome Editing and Biological Weapons: Assessing the Risk of Misuse.” Join the NextGen Global Health Security Network for a conversation with Dr. Paris to learn about her research!” This event will take place on Wednesday, March 22, from 7-8 PM. Register for the Zoom here:

Intelligence Studies Consortium

“On March 24, 2023, the Intelligence Studies Consortium is convening its third symposium, entitled New Perspectives in Intelligence Studies. This year, George Mason’s Schar School of Policy and Government is hosting. The symposium will be from 8 AM to 4 PM in Rooms 125-126 Van Metre Hall, 3351 Fairfax Drive, Arlington, VA. The closest Metro is Virginia Square/GMU on the Orange and Silver lines.

The symposium will feature student presentations in four panels:

  • Russia and China
  • Violent Non-State Actors
  • Emerging Technologies
  • Transnational Challenges

There will be an 8:30 AM keynote address from the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, Shannon Corless, and a lunchtime conversation with General Michael V. Hayden.

We encourage students to attend in person. We have also provided a livestream option for those not in the Washington DC area.”

Learn more and register here.

Weekly Trivia Question

You read the Pandora Report every week and now it’s time for you to show off what you know! The first person to send the correct answer to will get a shout out in the following issue (first name last initial). Our question this week is: In 1978, Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian dissident, was poisoned with what agent?

Shout out to Scott H. for winning last week’s trivia! The correct answer to last week’s question, “This chemical agent features in Roald Dahl’s famous short story, The Landlady, in which the main character is given a tea that tastes of bitter almonds. What is the name of this agent?” is potassium cyanide.

Pandora Report 3.3.2023

Happy end to yet another very eventful week! Today we are covering the Department of Energy’s updated assessment on the start of the pandemic, the subsequent discourse, the IC’s assessment on Havana syndrome, the newly-signed NSM 19, and Iran’s investigation into alleged poisonings of schoolgirls.

Spy Agencies Gone Wild RE: COVID-19 Origins? Not Quite…

This week, the Department of Energy (DOE) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) provided assessments and statements indicating that they believe the initial spread of SARS-CoV-2 was the result of a lab leak in Wuhan. The initial firestorm was kicked off by a Wall Street Journal article with a less-than-helpful headline regarding DOE’s delivery of an assessment to the White House. In the following days, the FBI director provided statements indicating his agencies reached the same conclusion. Subsequent discussion has been rife with poor understandings of the Intelligence Community (IC) and intelligence itself, in addition to flawed claims about what these assessments actually mean. This section aims to break down what all has happened in this area this week and highlight the intrinsically interdisciplinary nature of intelligence and national security more broadly.

What Actually Happened This Week

As previously mentioned, the Wall Street Journal published an article on Sunday entitled “Lab Leak Most Likely Origin of COVID-19 Pandemic, Energy Department Now Says” to much uproar from all matter of folks. The assessment referenced by the article stemmed from analysis conducted by Z-Division at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which led DOE to conclude “as part of a new government-wide intelligence assessment that a lab accident was most likely the triggering event for the world’s worst pandemic in a century.”

As the Washington Post explains, “…other intelligence agencies involved in the classified update — completed in the past few weeks and kept under wraps — were divided on the question of covid-19’s origins, with most still maintaining that a natural, evolutionary “spillover” from animals was the most likely explanation. Even the Energy Department’s analysis was carefully hedged, as the officials expressed only “low confidence” in their conclusion, according to U.S. officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a classified report.”

“U.S. officials confirmed that an updated assessment of covid-19’s origins was completed this year, and said the document was based on fresh data as well as new analysis by experts from eight intelligence agencies and the National Intelligence Council.” Furthermore, the IC remains firm in its view that SARS-CoV-2 was absolutely not developed as a biological weapon.

Of course, this news sparked a lot of conversation from lab leak and natural origin proponents alike. As NPR notes:

…at the end of the day, the origin of the pandemic is also a scientific question. Virologists who study pandemic origins are much less divided than the U.S. intelligence community. They say there is “very convincing” data and “overwhelming evidence” pointing to an animal origin.

In particular, scientists published two extensive, peer-reviewed papers in Science in July 2022, offering the strongest evidence to date that the COVID-19 pandemic originated in animals at a market in Wuhan, China. Specifically, they conclude that the coronavirus most likely jumped from a caged wild animal into people at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, where a huge COVID-19 outbreak began in December 2019.

Virologist Angela Rasmussen, who contributed to one of the Science papers, says the DOE’s “low confident” conclusion doesn’t “negate the affirmative evidence for zoonotic [or animal] origin nor do they add any new information in support of lab origin.”

“Many other [news] outlets are presenting this as new conclusive proof that the lab origin hypothesis is equally as plausible as the zoonotic origin hypothesis,” Rasmussen wrote in an email to NPR, “and that is a misrepresentation of the evidence for either.”

The FBI also re-iterated its moderate confidence assessment that the virus originated in a lab, with FBI Director Christopher Wray highlighting this in an interview with Fox News. To summarize, the FBI maintained its moderate confidence assessment that the COVID-19 pandemic began with a lab accident, DOE changed its view to that above, and the CIA and another agency remain undecided as they did in the 2021 unclassified assessment. The others continue to favor a natural origin. So where does that leave us?

The Breakdown

As this discussion has been fraught with confusion about the IC, we will cover some brief basics about the IC’s structure and work. First, the IC is broad and diverse. It is composed of 18 organizations, including the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and the 17 constituent organizations that report to ODNI. ODNI and the Central Intelligence Agency are independent organizations. Nine others are Department of Defense elements (including the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National-Geospatial Intelligence Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office, and the DoD service intelligence elements). Seven other organizations are elements of other departments and agencies. These include the “Department of Energy’s Office of Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence; the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis and US Coast Guard Intelligence; the Department of Justice’s Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Office of National Security Intelligence; the Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research; and the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis.”

Naturally, each of these agencies has its strong suits and purposes, though there is intentional overlap. The intelligence failures in the lead up to the events of September 11, 2001, significantly changed the IC, bringing the abolition of the Director of Central Intelligence, the establishment of ODNI and the Director of National Intelligence position, creation of new agencies and restructurings of existing ones, and an overall effort to improve coordination, collaboration, and communication in the community. The main failure in the case of 9/11 was in not “connecting the dots”, so there have been strong efforts to make agencies share information in a timely, useful manner. Of course, this has not made the IC immune to failures, but it has been a positive step in improving coordination and creating appropriate overlap that can help provide more comprehensive intelligence to decision makers.

Furthermore, far from simply being “spy stuff”, intelligence draws on broad expertise and knowledge sources in a cycle of evaluation and feedback. In fact, it is estimated that about 80% of intelligence relies on open information, including news and academic sources. Information gaps and limitations may require further collection, but the bulk of information is often times openly available. Furthermore, the community is simply not full of a bunch of spies. For example, in 2003, it was estimated that just 10% of the CIA’s workforce were clandestine officers-the ones that recruit sources and go on covert missions like you might see in the movies. The rest are all kinds of analysts, mission management and admin folks, and even all kinds of scientists, physicians, public health experts, and so on. Agencies oftentimes have entire directorates dedicated to S&T work, and there are entire sub-organizations dedicated to specific S&T-related topics, including the National Center for Medical Intelligence.

There is also confusion about how analysts conduct their work. The 2011 IC Consumers Guide referenced by many news outlets and scholars discussing these assessments and their confidence levels explains how analysts conduct their work. It reads in part “Intelligence analysts are generally assigned to a particular geographic or functional specialty area. Analysts obtain information from all sources pertinent to their area of responsibility through information collection, processing, and forwarding systems. Analysts may tap into these systems to obtain answers to specific questions or to generate information they may need.”

“Analysts receive incoming information, evaluate it, test it against other information and against their personal knowledge and expertise, produce an assessment of the current status of a particular area under analysis, and then forecast future trends or outcomes. The analyst also develops requirements for the collection of new information…Analysts rarely work alone; they operate within a system that includes peer review and oversight by more senior analysts.

With this information in mind, it is clear that statements that paint the IC as a hive mind that produces assessments on political whims without oversight, methodologies, or internal review processes are unhelpful and untrue. Though it is not publicly known who specifically wrote these assessments, it is reasonable to believe they were made in good faith and in accordance with the above information. In addition to personal knowledge and expertise, importantly, IC analysts do have access to classified information-a fact seemingly overlooked by many in the last week.

One of the main points of confusion in public discussion of this has centered on why the Department of Energy is making an assessment on the origins of a virus. It is true that the Department of Energy, as the name implies, oversees national energy policy and manages nuclear power and weapons, but that is not its only tasking. In fact, the idea that eventually led to the Human Genome Project was conceived in the Department’s Office of Science. DOE has an intelligence element (as referenced above) and also oversees the National Laboratories, a broad system that aims to address critical scientific challenges “from combating climate change to discovering the origins of our universe”. Three of these laboratories (Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, and Sandia) are National Nuclear Security Administration labs, meaning they do work related to nuclear weapons in addition to other kinds of research-including global security research. The labs do work in conjunction with other organizations and, in some cases, support the IC. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, for example, has its Laboratory Intelligence Program, which has been at the heart of this frenzy and provides “critical science and technology support to the intelligence community’s foundational intelligence missions in strategic intelligence and anticipatory intelligence, as well as mission objectives in counterproliferation, cyber intelligence and counterterrorism.” The point is-DOE is not just a bunch of physicists working on the nuclear weapons stockpile. The Department is as large and diverse as its taskings, including those requiring expertise in the life and social sciences.

Much attention has also been paid to the confidence levels of the assessments. WSJ noted later in its piece that the assessment was made with low confidence, a term used by analysts when “…information used in the analysis is scant, questionable, fragmented, or that solid analytical conclusions cannot be inferred from the information, or that the IC has significant concerns or problems with the information sources.” Unfortunately, this information is not particularly helpful for the general public as the assessment itself is classified, so it is not known what information led to the assessment and why specifically it was rated low confidence. Analytical confidence can be influenced by several factors, including analyst expertise (which is likely limited given the nature of this specific assessment), time constraints, source reliability and corroboration, and more.

As ODNI identified in its unclassified October 2021 Intelligence Community Assessment on COVID-19 Origins, at the time, four elements and the National Intelligence Council also assessed with low confidence that initial SARS-CoV-2 infection was likely caused by natural exposure to an infected animal. One agency (the FBI) was noted to assess that the first human infection with SARS-CoV-2 most likely was the result of a laboratory-associated incident. This assessment was made with moderate confidence, which “…generally indicates that the information being used in the analysis may be interpreted in various ways, or that the IC has alternative viewpoints on the significance or meaning of the information, or that the information is credible and plausible but it is not sufficiently corroborated to warrant a higher level of confidence.” At that time, three other IC elements remained unable to coalesce around either explanation. Again, however, these assessments are classified, so there is no way of knowing why they were judged this way in the open source.

Others have taken aim at a low confidence assessment finding a lab origin “very likely”, arguing that these terms are mutually exclusive. Analytic confidence is separate from the estimative language employed by the IC. Estimative language (“very likely”, “almost certainly”, “unlikely”, etc.) expresses an assessment or judgement. Assessments are oftentimes based on incomplete information, which is why analysts use estimative language to express the likelihood or probability of something given what information is available. Because information gaps are inherent to this work, these products include declarations of underlying assumptions and judgements analysts made in their processes. Confidence levels “reflect the scope and quality of the information supporting its judgements.” In fact, to avoid confusion, the ODNI indicates that a confidence level and degree of likelihood should not be included in the same sentence. Again, as these assessments are classified, we do not know what assumptions were made nor what sources were used. However, it is possible and okay to judge that something is very likely with low confidence, particularly when dealing with something as complex as the origin of this virus.

The Bottom Line

Flashy news headlines aside, what have we really learned from these reports? Well…not much. It was well-established in late 2021 that the IC is unclear on the origins of SARS-CoV-2, and the events of this week have not settled that debate. As the NSC Coordinator for Strategic Communications, John Kirby, told the press this week, “There is not a consensus right now in the U.S. government about exactly how covid started…That work is still ongoing, but the president believes it’s really important that we continue that work and that we find out as best we can how it started so that we can better prevent a future pandemic.”

Furthermore, it is important to address the question of to what extent we can know this and what it would change at this point. China is clearly not going to cooperate on any kind of investigation into COVID-19’s origin. That has been clear since the early days of the pandemic and is part of a pattern of behavior on the part of the CCP. Irrespective of where this virus actually came from, it is clear that China did cover up its initial spread in the population, censoring netizens and healthcare professionals until it was impossible to conceal further. While an in-depth investigation into the start of this pandemic has always been needed, hyper focusing on this runs the risk of diverting attention from other critical issues we have much more information readily available on. China did cover up the initial spread of this virus and has been disingenuous in its reporting and handling of it ever since. The United States failed to adequately respond to this pandemic for a variety of reasons, a fact that does not depend on how the virus initially spread. It is vital to balance desires to find the truth of COVID-19’s origins, something that is indisputably important, with using the information that is available and can reasonably be acquired to address these problems before the next pandemic. This information could inform debates on laboratory safety and oversight, though, as Biodefense Graduate Program Director Dr. Gregory Koblentz demonstrated in his interview with the New York Times this week, there is a wealth of information available already driving these discussions.

Finally, this all demonstrates the intrinsically inter/multidisciplinary and cross-sectoral nature of these problems. False dichotomies pitting national defense against public health, particularly in terms of funding, are not helpful, particularly as it is increasingly clear that public health threats are critical national security threats. As the IC learned in the early years of this century, siloing information is incredibly dangerous-a lesson we cannot afford to have to re-learn at the intersection of public health and national security. While respect for expertise and experience is an absolute necessity, understanding the need to collaborate, work across lanes, and recognize what unique capabilities others can offer is equally vital. These threats are not going anywhere, so learning to understand how different disciplines approach these problems and how best to work together is of the utmost importance.

New ICA-Havana Syndrome Very Likely Not Caused by Foreign Adversary

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines released a statement this week regarding the Intelligence Community’s assessment of the mysterious “Havana syndrome”, indicating the IC finds it very unlikely a foreign adversary is responsible for the phenomenon. The Washington Post writes “The new intelligence assessment caps a years-long effort by the CIA and several other U.S. intelligence agencies to explain why career diplomats, intelligence officers and others serving in U.S. missions around the world experienced what they described as strange and painful acoustic sensations. The effects of this mysterious trauma shortened careers, racked up large medical bills and in some cases caused severe physical and emotional suffering.”

The DNI Statement reads in part “Today we are sharing key judgments and investigative efforts from our Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) on Anomalous Health Incidents (AHIs). This assessment builds on the Intelligence Community’s (IC) interim findings released last year, which described the IC’s judgment that U.S. adversaries, including Russia, were not engaged in a global campaign resulting in AHIs, but indicated that we continued to investigate whether a foreign actor was involved in a subset of cases. Since then, we continue to surge resources and expertise across the government to explore all possible explanations.”

“Based on the latest IC-wide effort, which has resulted in an ICA that will be issued today, I can share with you that most IC agencies have now concluded that it is “very unlikely” a foreign adversary is responsible for the reported AHIs. IC agencies have varying confidence levels because we still have gaps given the challenges collecting on foreign adversaries — as we do on many issues involving them.”

President Biden Signs National Security Memorandum to Counter Weapons of Mass Destruction Terrorism and Advance Nuclear and Radioactive Material Security

This week, President Biden signed National Security Memorandum (NSM) 19 to Counter Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Terrorism and Advance Nuclear and Radioactive Material Security. According to the White House, “This comprehensive new strategy advances several of President Biden’s most enduring national security priorities: protecting our nation and the international community from the existential threats posed by WMD terrorism and preventing non-state actors from using chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons.”

Among its central aims is that of keeping radioactive materials used in industry out of terrorists’ hands, notes the New York Times. The same article explains that “Details of the new memorandum are classified. Previous versions of the policy focused on securing fissile material commonly used in nuclear weapons such as the ones the United States used against Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. The effort focuses on specific radioisotopes that terrorists could potentially use in so-called dirty bombs — improvised weapons that use explosives to blast radiological materials into the surrounding area, potentially sickening or killing people and causing environmental harm.”

President Biden’s Homeland Security Advisor, Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, explained the impact of NSM 19 on the medical field at an event at the Nuclear Threat Initiative: “In her remarks, the homeland security adviser said that medical devices for treating blood with X-rays — a process that makes transfusions safer — have traditionally used cesium-137 as the radioactive source to produce those rays, but that alternatives that use less dangerous materials now exist…The Department of Veterans Affairs, which manages the largest public health care network in the country, recently removed all cesium-based blood irradiators from its hospitals, she said, and transitioned in October to machines that produce X-rays though different processes.”

This comes just over a month after a small quantity of cesium-137 went missing in Western Australia, prompting a large search for the tiny cylinder that lasted six days.

Iran Investigating Reports of Schoolgirl Poisonings

Iran announced this week it is investigating reports that several schoolgirls were poisoned as revenge for the role of young women in recent protests in the country. The Guardian explains “Iran’s deputy education minister, Younes Panahi, told reporters yesterday: “After the poisoning of several students in [the city of] Qom … it was found that some people wanted all schools, especially girls’ schools, to be closed.” He added: “It has been revealed that the chemical compounds used to poison students are not war chemicals … the poisoned students do not need aggressive treatment and a large percentage of the chemical agents used are treatable.”

Dan Kaszeta, author of multiple well-known works on chemical weapons, discussing Iran’s investigation

“Report: A Summary on Ending Biological Threats-Event Summary”

From the Council on Strategic Risks: “This report summarizes discussions held during a workshop hosted by the Council on Strategic Risks (CSR) on September 26, 2022, focused on ending extreme risks from biological threats. For several years, CSR has convened diverse experts who agree that it is more feasible than ever to halt the spread of infectious disease threats from all sources before they cause significant damage. After several years of virtual discussions during the heights of the COVID-19 pandemic, this in-person, invitation-only event brought together experts from government, academia, industry, and non-profit organizations to discuss how to use technological advances, policy, and other tools to gauge progress, identify open questions and ongoing challenges, and think strategically about what steps must be done next.”

“Conversations and panels held during “The Summit on Ending Biological Threats” were held under the Chatham House Rule. This report does not represent consensus among participants, nor does it assign specific perspectives to any individual participant. Though many topics were covered throughout the Summit, conversation centered around a few core subject areas: pathogen early warning, public-private collaboration, interagency efforts and collaboration, and strategic communications. This summary report will discuss these central topics and provide a general overview of discussions.”

“A Bipartisan Approach to Pandemic Security? It’s Within Reach”

Beth Cameron, Gary Edson, and J. Stephen Morrison recently published this opinion piece with STAT News in which they discuss the findings of the “Democracy and Pandemic Security” roundtable convened by their respective organizations. They write in part “Covid-19 laid bare persistent inequities across America. Polarization, a comorbidity that made the pandemic worse, continues to impede a unified and effective response to public health threats, and not just those caused by viruses. When the next threat emerges — and it will — it is uncertain if most Americans will adhere to public health measures.”

“That is why our organizations — the Brown University School of Public Health Pandemic Center, the Covid Collaborative, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies Global Health Policy Center — recently convened a diverse group of leaders to discuss how to better protect Americans from pandemic threats while at the same time reinforcing American values of freedom and democracy. The group included former governors and mayors; officials from red, blue, and purple states and from the Biden, Trump, Obama, and Bush administrations; as well as experts in incident management and pandemic inequity.”

“Prevention of Zoonotic Spillover”

From the WHO: “The devastating impact of COVID-19 on human health globally has prompted extensive discussions on how to better prepare for and safeguard against the next pandemic. Zoonotic spillover of pathogens from animals to humans is recognized as the predominant cause of emerging infectious diseases and as the primary cause of recent pandemics.”

“This spillover risk is increased by a range of factors (called drivers) that impact the nature, frequency and intensity of contact between humans and wild animals. Many of these drivers are related to human impact, for instance, deforestation and changes in land use and agricultural practices. While it is clear that the triad of prevention-preparedness-response (P-P-R) is highly relevant, there is much discussion on which of these three strategic activities in the field of emerging infectious disease should be prioritized and how to optimally target resources. For this, it is important to understand the scope of the respective activity and the consequences of prioritization. “

Read this position paper here.

“WHO Warns of Worsening Health Situation in Ukraine”

This Devex Inside Development piece discusses the WHO’s data on health care in Ukraine since Russia invaded the country last year. It reads in part “About 44% of people in liberated areas are seeking health care for chronic conditions, such as kidney and heart disease. One in 3 people can no longer afford to buy medicines. An estimated 10 million people may have a mental health condition. All this is happening against a backdrop of continued attacks on health care in the country. Since the war started, WHO has recorded more than 800 attacks on health care, a huge majority of which damaged or destroyed facilities, including hospitals and pharmacies.”

Third International Summit on Human Genome Editing

The Royal Society will host this hybrid summit March 6-8, 8:30- 6 pm GMT. “Building on previous events held in Washington, DC (2015) and Hong Kong (2018), the London meeting will continue the global dialogue on somatic and germline human genome editing. Major themes for discussion include developments in clinical trials and genome editing tools such as CRISPR/Cas9, as well as social, ethical and accessibility considerations these scientific developments entail.”

“The three-day Summit is being organised by the Royal Society, the UK Academy of Medical Sciences, the US National Academies of Sciences and Medicine and The World Academy of Sciences. Find out more about the Summit’s Organising Committee, chaired by Professor Robin Lovell-Badge FMedSci FRS.”

Register here.

Report LaunchPreparing for Success at the Fifth Review Conference of the CWC: A Guide to the Issues

“The United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) is pleased to invite you to the in-person launch of a new report on Preparing for Success at the Fifth Review Conference of the Chemical Weapons Convention: A Guide to the Issues. This is the first in a series of events the Institute is hosting in preparation for the Fifth CWC Review Conference, which is scheduled to take place from 15 to 19 May 2023.” One version will be hosted in The Hague on Monday, March 6 from 12:30-14:30 CET and another in Brussels on Tuesday, March 7 from 12:30-14:30 CET. Both will also be broadcast via Zoom.

Penetrate, Exploit, Disrupt, Destroy – with Dr. Craig J. Wiener

From the Alperovitch Institute: “Join us on Wednesday, March 15th at 5pm at the SAIS Hopkins Kenney Auditorium. Dr. Craig J. Wiener is recognized as an expert in major foreign adversary espionage, sabotage and strategic capabilities that pose threats to the U.S. Government (USG) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Dr. Wiener’s previous position was as the Senior Technical Analyst for the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence where he fulfilled a role as DOE’s lead all source cyber threat analyst, the Department’s representative to the National Security Council for Cyber Operations, a key member of National Intelligence Council Special Analytic Groups, and a government briefer and/or advisor for Defense Science Board studies on Cyber as a Strategic Capability, Homeland Defense, Strategic Surprise and the future of US Military Superiority among other topics. Additionally, Dr. Wiener initiated and led studies for special nuclear weapons related threat and vulnerability analyses and advanced technical security threats to USG equities by foreign adversaries and engaged in the development, planning and operationalization of counter-adversary strategies across multiple domains of operations. Dr. Wiener joined the MITRE Corporation as a Technical Fellow in early-2020, where he supports key U.S. Government (USG) national security initiatives. He was recently appointed by the Secretary of Energy to the Electricity Advisory Committee to advise DOE on current and future electric grid reliability, resilience, security, sector interdependence, and policy issues.”

Dr. Wiener is an alumnus of the Biodefense PhD Program! Learn more and register for this event here.

Intelligence Studies Consortium

“On March 24, 2023, the Intelligence Studies Consortium is convening its third symposium, entitled New Perspectives in Intelligence Studies. This year, George Mason’s Schar School of Policy and Government is hosting. The symposium will be from 8 AM to 4 PM in Rooms 125-126 Van Metre Hall, 3351 Fairfax Drive, Arlington, VA. The closest Metro is Virginia Square/GMU on the Orange and Silver lines.

The symposium will feature student presentations in four panels:

  • Russia and China
  • Violent Non-State Actors
  • Emerging Technologies
  • Transnational Challenges

There will be an 8:30 AM keynote address from the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, Shannon Corless, and a lunchtime conversation with General Michael V. Hayden.

We encourage students to attend in person. We have also provided a livestream option for those not in the Washington DC area.”

Learn more and register here.

Charity Entrepreneurship 2023 Charity Ideas

Charity Entrepreneurship currently has a call open to support the launch of a nonprofit in Biosecurity and Large-Scale Global Health. Possible organizations includes: “An organization that addresses antimicrobial resistance by advocating for better (pull) funding mechanisms to drive the development and responsible use of new antimicrobials,” and “An advocacy organization that promotes academic guidelines to restrict potentially harmful “dual-use” research.” Learn more and apply for these grants here.

Sustainable Diagnostic Containment Laboratories – Request for Expressions of Interest

“This Expression of Interest (RFEI) is seeking bold ideas that will reinvent the diagnostic laboratory, making it fit-for-purpose in resource-limited contexts globally. These innovative solutions are expected to reimagine the physical laboratory in order to reduce ongoing operational and maintenance costs and allow sustainable presence of safe and secure handling of high-consequence pathogenic materials, whilst maintaining and/or optimizing core functions of a diagnostic laboratory in low- and middle- income countries.”

“This RFEI represents Phase I of a dual-phase approach to development of a Grand Challenge for Sustainable Diagnostic Laboratories. The pool of Expressions of Interest received will be used to inform the scope of a full Grand Challenge program in Phase II, under which Grand Challenges Canada will award funding. Submission of an Expression of Interest does not constitute an application for funding; however, Expressions of Interest will receive feedback from an external review process designed to improve the quality of full proposals submitted for an open call for funding applications in Phase II. Most promising Expressions of Interest may also be shortlisted for direct invitations to submit full proposals for funding in Phase II.”

Learn more and register here.

Weekly Trivia Question

You read the Pandora Report every week and now it’s time for you to show off what you know! The first person to send the correct answer to will get a shout out in the following issue (first name last initial). This week, we are throwing it back to middle school English class: This chemical agent features in Roald Dahl’s famous short story, The Landlady, in which the main character is given a tea that tastes of bitter almonds. What is the name of this agent?

The correct answer to last week’s question, “What is the first multilateral disarmament treaty that banned an entire category of WMD?” is the Biological Weapons Convention.