Ethnic-bioweapons: between conspiracy and reality

Bioweapons exist, while ethnic-bioweapons are whispered conspiracies. Pandemics can fairly hazardous to human life, the 1918 Flu Pandemic killed 20-50 million people. A man made pandemic could cause complete pandemonium, and an unimaginable death toll. So is the future of biological based weapons.

As technology progresses we must come to secure that which poses such a grave risk to us. This risk becomes exasperated as it moves from theoretical realms into a more tangible reality. Those who seek to wrought destruction through its might will transgress from technologically advanced states and into the hands of nefarious groups of people. Melinda Gates recently declared these people the biggest threat to humanity. Yet, somewhere between paranoia and possibility states could be developing weapons that target people down to the gene. The changing gaze of security.

Genetic bioweapons are weapons designed to target certain ethnic groups. Once released, it would only target those whose genes it was designed to attack. This might seem like the first chapter of a dystopian novel, however, a 2004 report, Biotechnology, Weapons and Humanity II, gave heed that construction of such weapons “is now approaching reality”. The rate of progress in some areas of bioscience is exponential. Which makes 2004 a long time ago. It’s possible to write such ideas off as quackery, as an esoteric realm pseudoscience for cranks and idiots, but states may be taking them seriously.

The international arena sees states pitted against each other wondering what the other may do. They reflexively act in their own self interest, for their own protection. The international community on the other hand tries its best to mitigate against state fear by installing institutions and regimes that attempt to curtail the paradoxes bellicosity and trepidation. The most secret of programmes drawn from the darkest parts of defence structures can be black boxes shrouded by monolithic security apparatuses. These are actions we can only speculate about, but sometimes snippets of information are leaked from these boxes, and they become the points we can begin to draw lines between.

In 2008 the US government held a congressional committee on, ‘Genetics and other human modification technologies: sensible international regulation or a new kind of arms race?’ The bulk of which discussed advances of in genetics and its potential to be weaponized. During this they discuss how, “we can anticipate a world where rogue (and even not-so-rogue) states and non-state actors attempt to manipulate human genetics in ways that will horrify us”. They spoke about the using “DNA to create modified infectious agents, new toxins, using genetic DNA techniques”. New bio-weapons.

A testimony to the committee by Richard Hayes, Executive Director, Center for Genetics and Society, elucidated: “we also need to acknowledge that a world still far from having overcome its propensity for racism, xenophobia and warfare, the possibility of a techno-eugenic arms race driven by nationalist fervour cannot be dismissed…in 2003 the Sunshine Project documented nearly a dozen possible uses of genetic science for biowarfare purposes. Including the creation of ethnicity-specific pathogens…we now need to add bioweaponry incorporating human genetic technology to our arms control portfolio.” The threat is almost tangible.

The Snowden files, a leak exposing the surveillance techniques and methods used by the the United States government provides a document that proves they fear the work of others. The file details a cryptanalysis intern’s experience working for the Office of Tradecraft for Analysis in which she states she gained: “general knowledge about genetic engineering research activity by foreign entities and to identify laboratories and/or individuals who may be involved in nefarious use of genetic research.” The threat is digital, and transmittable across a network.

Russia takes things further. The masters of doublespeak and false narratives have weaved a tale all the way back to 2007, when a Russian newspaper, Kommersant, reported the banning of all exports of human biosamples from Russia due to the fear of ethnic bioweapons. Bringing it back in vogue in 2017, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, during a speech at Russia’s Human Rights Council told those gathered: “do you know that biological material is being collected all over the country, from different ethnic groups and people living in different geographical regions of the Russian Federation?”. Adding:” the question is – why is it being done? It’s being done purposefully and professionally”.

His statement led to a Russian MP, Gennady Onishchenko, to call for biological security legislation to control access to Russians’ DNA. Russia would have you believe the threat is real.

This a debate that has surfaced for at least a decade. The duel use of novel ways to manipulate the world can lead to novel threats. The realm of science fiction is possibly becoming a rapid reality, so perhaps we should not discount seemingly far fetched possibilities.

Perhaps it is sometimes best to draw those lines where they may not exist, and to ask questions that seem tightly embraced in paranoia. To shine a light into the darkest of black boxes. For what is developed in secret will find its way into the public, and downstream we will all feel the blowback. A threat? We can all indulge in conspiracy.

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