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Biowar against Drugs in Central Asia
Wed, 17 Jan 2001

forwarded by The Edmonds Institute

Fowarded to us from Sharon Stevenson in Lima, Peru:

Central Asia: The Covert Biowar Against Drugs In Central Asia

Tashkent (TCA). Uzbekistan is the epicenter of American, British and UN-funded secret research that could destroy not only illicit drug-producing plants but also many of the world's cereal crops.

In February 1998, the UNDCP signed a three and a half year contract with the Tashkent Institute of Genetics, Plants and Experimental Biology to develop a "reliable biological control agent" to destroy opium poppies.

The opium fungus Pleospora Papaveracea was field-tested with complete success.

The fungus does not affect any of one hundred thirty closely related plant species.

Field tests are to be conducted on small plots over the next three years, after which scientists estimate that the fungus will be ready for use. US scientists, however, have concluded that the toxins possess "broad genetic variability" that could lead to mutant strains devastating adjacent crops.

American interest in using biological weapons against drug cultivation dates back to the Nixon administration, which in 1971 asked Congress to fund research into insect species that would devour opium crops.

Today, the social cost of illicit drugs in the US is estimated at $70 billion and 14,000 deaths annually.

The "drug war" has become a high-profile "politically correct" issue for politicians of all parties.

The USSR also approached the United Nations International Drug Control Program (UNDCP) with proposals to develop more effective and environmentally benign biological agents for use against opium poppies and marijuana.

An expert group working for the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs also suggested the use of biological agents to eliminate narcotic-producing plants.

Uzbekistan is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention. In April 1998, Uzbekistan signed a counter-narcotics cooperation agreement with the United States. Uzbekistan is also a member of the Economic Cooperation Organization that features drug control coordination supported by the UNDCP. There are currently three UNDCP projects operating in Uzbekistan. One provides support to the Tashkent Institute of Genetics, Plants and Experimental Biology to create an effective pathogen specific to opium poppies.

The US has also provided training in drug forensics at Drug Enforcement Agency headquarters to two Uzbek laboratory technicians.

Uzbekistan's highly significant holdings of unique fungal, bacterial and viral strains are of potential considerable commercial value to Western biopharmaceutical companies.

In 1998, Uzbekistan's annual "Operation Black Poppy" operation destroyed only 2.9 hectares of poppies, since the government has all but eliminated opium poppy cultivation in Uzbekistan. Under American and British influence, Uzbekistan has become more and more deeply enmeshed in the region as the West's surrogate partner in the war against drugs.

In 1998 it is conservatively estimated that 1,670 metric tons of opium were produced in Afghanistan. As a further incentive to pressure Uzbekistan to cooperate with the United Nations, there is evidence that heroin labs are being located close to the borders of some Central Asian countries.

There is some question as to whether the use of Pleospora Papaveracea would contravene the United Nations' Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention (BTWC). Because of the active participation of Uzbekistan in the culturing and use of the agent within its own borders, many conclude that the BTWC would probably not apply.

Some UN officials fear, however, that if used, the mycotoxins could lead to charges of biological warfare by the fundamentalist regimes in Afghanistan and Iran. The issue could be exploited to win wider support in the Islamic world.

The foreign implications of the development of this biological agent are troubling. The United States has no domestic cultivation of poppies to eradicate. Thus, the development of the agent is for foreign use and might be seen by its intended clients as a biowar agent.

The top foreign producers of opium poppies are Burma and Afghanistan where more than 90% of the world's illicit opiates originate.

As neither state has a close relationship with the US, security and political concerns impelled the research to continue in Uzbekistan.

There are substantial security concerns about the release of such an agent into a politically hostile environment. Terrorists or rogue states could arm themselves with biological agents that could be used against Western food stocks. World population growth places an immense strain on food supplies, making crops a tempting target.

Confidential UN documents show its experts are worried that once spread on poppy fields the fungus Pleospora Papaveracea might be difficult to contain. There are also worries that it might mutate in forms that could be used by terrorists or traffickers themselves. The Anglo-American secret project is a direct threat to the financial prosperity of some of the most powerful and ruthless criminals in the world.

Drug cartels threatened with the loss of their livelihood could themselves acquire the technology and use a form of agricultural terrorism in revenge attacks against the Western developers of the pathogens.

Loyal American client states have balked at participation in the program.

In January 2000, the UNDCP acknowledged that both Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan refused to carry out field tests of the fungus.

In addition to Uzbekistan, both Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have been urged to participate in field trials.

Work continues at an accelerated pace driven by visions of imminent success.

A confidential UN research report states: "Production capacity to treat approximately 2,000 hectares of illicit opium poppy crop currently in cultivation in the sub-region Central Asia could be established relatively easily, and at modest cost." What the report fails to address is the ultimate cost to the environment and humanity if the scientists and politico-drug warriors are wrong.

For an essay on who might engage in biowarfare, what the consequences might be, how it might work and how genetic technology might change that, which states are at risk, and how it all might be deterred, see Mark Wheelis's essay "Agricultural Biowarfare and Bioterrorism" on The Edmonds Institute website

For more information on biowarfare and the use of fungi to eradicate drugs, see The Sunshine Project website

The Edmonds Institute

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