Pandora Report: 6.10.2022

This week we cover updates on monkeypox, including the CDC’s Level 2 travel alert, and the conviction of Harry Johannes Knoesen, a South African extremist who was interested in using BW to infect and kill Black people to “reclaim South Africa for white people.” A number of new publications are included, including recent work from a Biodefense PhD Program alumnus and FEMA’s updated guidance for nuclear detonation response. Events and announcements are included at the end, including an upcoming book talk from Al Mauroni and a professional development opportunity offered by the OPCW.

Monkeypox Updates

Monkeypox continues to spread in non-endemic countries, with Oahu, HI announcing a third probable case yesterday as the US total sits at 44 cases. As of June 7, 29 countries reported a total of 1,088 cases, with the UK reporting a whopping 321 cases nationwide. The CDC also raised the travel alert to Level 2 for monkeypox, recommending “enhanced precautions” while traveling, but walking back prior advice to begin masking in response to this specific concern. CIDRAP writes, “The enhanced precautions include avoiding contact with sick people, including genital contact, avoiding contact with dead or live animals, and avoiding contact with contaminated materials, such as bedding.” Cases are still mostly in men who have sex with men, prompting many to express concern that the failures and horrors of the mismanagement of the HIV/AIDS crisis will be repeated. There are also concerns that the strategy the US has in place for testing is creating a bottleneck and is wasting precious time in getting the outbreak managed before it becomes more serious. Information on global and country case counts can be found here on the CDC website.

Map depicting locations in the US with confirmed MPX cases. One individual in Florida tested positive while in the UK, which is what the asterisk denotes. Source: CDC

Leader of National Christian Resistance Movement Found Guilty of High Treason, Incitement to Carry Out Violent Attacks, and Recruiting People to Commit Attacks

Harry Johannes Knoesen was convicted by a South African court this week for his plot to overthrow the government and kill thousands of Black people in the country using a biological weapon. Knoesen, a pastor, and his group were interested in using a bioweapon to specifically infect and kill Black people. They entertained the idea of using water reservoirs that supply Black communities to do so, according to the prosecution. ABC News writes, “The plot by the pastor’s group was foiled in 2019 by South Africa’s police and intelligence services, who have since dismantled the organization’s cells across various parts of the country and arrested some of its leaders.” Knoesen was also found guilty of unlawful possession of firearms, and the state highlighted what it described as his religious belief that he was ordained to “reclaim South Africa for white people.” “To further this end, he planned to attack government institutions and more specifically police and military institutions,” Monica Nyuswa, a spokeswoman for the National Prosecuting Authority, told The Associated Press. Knoesen is set to return to court today (June 10) to begin sentencing.

This certainly was not the first plot of this nature in the country. ABC writes, “In 2013, 20 members of the right-wing white supremacy group known as the Boeremag were sentenced to prison for plotting to kill South Africa’s first Black president Nelson Mandela, overthrow the government and kill thousands of Black people.” However, it is noteworthy as an example of a non-state group expressing interest in BW to achieve its objectives.

“The Long, Cloudy History of Moscow’s BW Program”

Biodefense PhD Program alumnus, Dr. Glenn Cross, recently published this review article in The Nonproliferation Review. In it, he covers three of Anthony Rimmington’s books, Stalin’s Secret Weapon: The Origins of Soviet Biological Warfare (2018), The Soviet Union’s Invisible Weapons of Mass Destruction: Biopreparat’s Covert Biological Warfare Programme (2021), and The Soviet Union’s Agricultural Biowarfare Programme: Ploughshares to Swords (2021). Cross notes that the Soviet and, later, Russian BW programs were very much understudied by scholars until the early 1990s when two prominent Biopreparat researchers defected from the USSR. He also notes that, until Rimmington’s recent publications, the most recent scholarly works on this topic were from 2012, 2016, and 2018, highlighting the importance of fresh perspectives on this topic. While Cross notes many of Rimmington’s contributions to this area of study, he also calls attention to a few contradictions across the books and a pervasive challenge of unanswered questions in them. Most importantly, Cross notes that these books do not do much to answer the questions of what the purpose of the Soviet BW program was, which he explains is an increasingly relevant question today. He also points out that Cross relies heavily on secondary sources in Stalin’s Secret Weapon, though he does argue that he makes better use of Fedorov than other scholars have previously. Finally, despite these issues, Cross says Rimmington’s work does offer some value, particularly in their descriptions of Soviet BW facilities and in their identification of Soviet BW program leadership.

“Preliminary Report for the Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens”

The WHO released the first preliminary report from the Scientific advisory group for the origins of novel pathogens (SAGO) this week. This report is part of SAGO’s ongoing work and includes background information on the group and its goals, preliminary recommendations for ensuring a global framework to study high-threat zoonotic pathogens and better understand SARS-CoV-2, and discussion of the group’s next steps. Their proposed future meeting topics include everything from “Further analysis of findings from studies pertaining to the Huanan market in Wuhan China and follow up on any identified leads,” to “Discussions about the studies needed to study the re-emergence of other high threat pathogens, e.g., monkeypox virus, MERS-CoV, arboviruses, Ebola virus.”

“Planning Guidance for Response to a Nuclear Detonation”

FEMA’s third edition of this guidance was released last month, having been developed by a federal interagency committee led by the FEMA CBRN Office with representatives from across the Departments of Homeland Security, Energy, Health and Human Service, and Defense plus the Environmental Protection Agency. This edition has been “…updated and expanded to provide guidance for a wider range of nuclear detonations, including larger detonations and air bursts. It also incorporates new research, best practices, and response resources. Additionally, this edition includes a new chapter on the Integrated Public Alert & Warning System (IPAWS), which enables state, local, tribal, and territorial (SLTT) officials to send warnings and key messages during the response.” It includes guidance ranging from providing acute medical care to population monitoring to communications and public preparedness.

“Diagnostic Accuracy of Non-Invasive Detection of SARS-CoV-2 Infection by Canine Olfaction”

Grandjean et al.’s new article in PLOS One discusses use of non-invasive detection of SARS-CoV-2 infection by canine olfaction as a possible alternative to nasopharyngeal RT-PCR. Their study compared detection using canine olfaction with NPS RT-PCR as the reference standard in addition to saliva RT-PCR and nasopharyngeal antigen testing in 335 ambulatory adults. Their findings indicate that overall sensitivity of canine detection was 97% with 91% specificity (94% in asymptomatic individuals) and that canine detection’s sensitivity was higher than that of nasopharyngeal antigen testing.

“The Lanzhou Brucella Leak: the Largest Laboratory Accident in the History of Infectious Diseases?”

Dr. Georgios Pappas’ new article in Clinical Infectious Diseases discusses the aerosolization and spread of Brucella in the summer of 2019 at a biopharmaceutical plant in Lanzhou, China. This accident resulted in more than 10,000 human cases of the disease by November 2020. Pappas writes, “The leak, possibly the largest laboratory accident in the history of infectious diseases, underlines the particular characteristics of Brucella that have made the pathogen a historical entity in biodefense research and a major cause of laboratory-associated infections. It further underlines the need for enhanced vigilance and strict regulatory interventions in similar facilities.”

“Dr. Delirium & the Edgewood Experiments”

Discovery+ released its newest documentary, “Dr. Delirium & the Edgewood Experiments” this week, covering the Army’s experiments during the Cold War to find CW agents that could incapacitate enemy troops without killing them. These experiments, conducted from 1955 to 1975, were done on over 7,000 US soldiers using over 250 agents at the Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland. The documentary relies heavily on interviews with veterans who participated in the experiments, in addition to a long-form interview with Dr. James Ketchum, who ran the psychochemical warfare program at Edgewood. The film does cover theories that Nazi scientists granted asylum through Operation Paperclip were involved with the Edgewood program, though it never actually makes the connection between these two. It also discusses the CIA’s interest in this and other programs. It has received generally positive reviews as well. Read more about the Edgewood Experiments here.

The Impossible State Podcast- COVID-19 in North Korea

In this episode of CSIS Korea Chair’s podcast, The Impossible State, Andrew Schwartz and Dr. Victor Cha are joined by Dr. J. Stephen Morrison to discuss the Covid-19 outbreak in North Korea, the impact of the pandemic on the unvaccinated country, and the road ahead amidst ongoing health and food crises worsened by an extreme lockdown.

Book Talk- Biocrisis: Defining Biological Threats in US Policy

Al Mauroni, current Director of the US Air Force Center for Strategic Deterrence Studies, will be giving a book talk at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in DC on June 21 at 10 am EST. How should the US government address biological threats today? In Biocrisis: Defining Biological Threats in US Policy, Al Mauroni provides a timely analysis of US policy on the intersection of national security and public health. He explores disease prevention, bioterrorism response, military biodefense, biosurety, and agricultural biosecurity and food safety, and proposes a new approach to countering biological threats. Learn more about the event and register here.

Disarmament and Non-Proliferation of WMD 2022 Training Programme

The OPCW and Asser Institute are offering this training program September 19-23 in The Hague. The preliminary program is available here and includes information and discussion sessions on core WMD topics and contemporary policy issues offered by world-renowned experts in the field. There will also be networking opportunities. Registration is open and there are scholarships available. Scholarship applications are due by July 4, 2022.

New Global Health Security Agenda Consortium Website

GHSA’s new website is live at https://ghsacngs.org/. The consortium is “a voluntary and open collective of nongovernmental entities who are dedicated to promote values of collaboration, excellence, innovation, and commitment in implementing the Global Health Security Agenda and promoting the adherence of the International Health Regulations (IHRs) and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) Performance of Veterinary Services (PVS) Pathways, the Alliance for Country Assessments for Global Health Security and IHR Implementation, and the Biological Weapons Convention and United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540.” The new site features member profiles, plenty of resources, and a dedicated events page!

Russian WMD Disinformation Resources

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

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

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

Pandora Report 3.15.15

For those of us at Mason, Spring Break is nearing its end. For the rest of us, however, it’s business as usual. This week we’ve got stories about engineering nuclear worries in South Africa, the eradication of guinea worm, the lasting health impacts of Ebola, and other stories you may have missed.

Have a great week, enjoy the longer daylight hours, and we’ll see you back here next weekend!

U.S. Unease about Nuclear-Weapons Fuel Takes Aim at a South African Vault

Located in a former silver vault at a nuclear research center near Pretoria, South Africa, is enough nuclear weapons explosive to fuel half a dozen bombs. Roughly 485 pounds of highly enriched uranium exist as remnants of the apartheid regime’s nuclear weapons program. U.S. officials worry that not only does this stockpile give South Africa the theoretical ability to regain its status as a nuclear-weapons state, but the stockpile’s vulnerability makes it a target for terrorist thieves. This isn’t a far-fetched concept, because in November 2007 two teams of raiders breached the fences at the nuclear center, entered the site, and broke into the central alarm station. Obama has urged President Jacob Zuma to transform the nuclear explosives into benign reactor fuel—with U.S. assistance—to no avail.

The Washington Post—“‘The bottom line is that South Africa has a crime problem,” [arms control expert Jon] Wolfsthal said. “They have a facility that is holding onto material that they don’t need and a political chip on their shoulder about giving up that material. That has rightly concerned the United States, which is trying to get rid of any cache of HEU [highly enriched uranium] that is still out there.’”

Tug of War: On the Verge of the Greatest Public Health Triumph of the 21st Century

As people work around the world to eradicate Polio, another public health enemy is about to be eliminated first—guinea worm. This parasite, found in rivers and streams, enters the body in larval form through contaminated drinking water. The larvae mature inside the body and move towards the skin’s surface in the form of a burning blister. When the infected human puts water on the blister, the worm bursts out into water, continuing the source infection cycle. However, the number of cases of guinea worm is way down—from 3.5 million cases in 1986 to 126 cases in 2014—thanks to a simple nylon filter attached to a drinking straw. The weave on the nylon is tight enough to filter out the larvae from drinking water.

Slate—“Vanquishing guinea worm would be arguably the first great public health triumph of the 21st century. It would also give new life to the human disease eradication movement, which suffered through 35 mostly frustrating years following the conquest of smallpox in 1980. The victory would prove to governments and private foundations that we can still accomplish eradication.”

Ebola Could Cause Thousands More Deaths—By Ushering in Measles

As Liberia removed their Ebola crematorium—with the declaration that the outbreak is contained—new cases of the disease are still popping up in Sierra Leone and Guinea and have resulted in nearly a dozen American volunteers returning to U.S. facilities for treatment.  And this week, in Science, researchers from NIH and four universities have warned that Ebola’s interruption in other health services—like immunization campaigns—could result in epidemics of preventable diseases with larger fatality numbers than Ebola. Specifically, they warn that up to 100,000 cases of measles could result in 16,000 additional deaths.

Wired—“Measles is already present in West Africa, so the team is not arguing that Ebola will revive an eradicated disease — although, poignantly, hard work in the three countries had recently forced measles incidence way down. “Between 1994 and 2003, the countries reported — and this is just how many they reported, not necessarily how many occurred — about 100,000 cases of measles,” Lessler said. “Whereas in the last decade, they’ve only reported 7,000. So they’ve done an excellent job of controlling the virus compared to the previous (decade).’”

Stories You May Have Missed

 

Image Credit: FEMA