- Need a biological war? Labs sell anthrax
germs by mail order
- Lethal biological warfare agents capable
of killing thousands of people are openly on sale for just a few hundred
- Anthrax, plague, botulinum and brucella
- sought by terrorists and rogue states - are being offered for export
to Britain from eastern Europe and the Third World.
- E-coli and salmonella, which have killed
scores of people in Britain, are also available from laboratories that
make no checks on their customers.
- Defence experts say the lack of controls
on the trade makes it easy for countries such as Iraq and North Korea to
stockpile huge arsenals of biological weapons.
- Undercover reporters from the Sunday
Times Insight team, posing as middlemen for a medical laboratory in north
Africa, were offered samples of anthrax, plague and brucella by a laboratory
in the Far East last week.
- Germs were available for just $1,000
(£606), including shipping. The laboratory, in Indonesia, exports
vaccine to North Korea, where the military is known to have developed stockpiles
of anthrax and botulinum toxin.
- A second laboratory, in the Czech Republic,
agreed to supply undercover reporters with botulinum, which causes botulism,
for as little as £20 a sample. No questions were asked about how
the toxin would be used.
- Anthrax and botulinum are crucial to
the biological warfare plans of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator. Microscopic
quantities of the germs can kill hundreds of people if inhaled or eaten
in contaminated food.
- This weekend Menzies Campbell, Liberal
Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, called on ministers to intro-duce measures
to combat the trade.
- "The ease with which these materials
were obtained makes chilling news. It amounts to DIY weapons of mass destruction.
Existing controls are completely inadequate. We urgently need binding international
- Senior Ministry of Defence and United
Nations officials say that terrorists or doomsday cults such as Aum Shinriyko,
which killed 12 people in a sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, are exploiting
loopholes in the trade. The cult developed botulinum and once tried to
spray anthrax from a fan in a Tokyo building.
- Cults, terrorists or psychopaths could
spray the germs at crowds or poison water or air-conditioning systems.
- Terry Taylor, a former chief inspector
with the UN team monitoring Iraq, said the British government needed to
press for strict international controls. "Obviously, this is of concern.
It's easier to get stuff like that than it is to get prescription drugs
over the counter in a pharmacist," he said. papers' standard terms
and conditions. To inquire about a licence to reproduce material from The
Times, visit the Syndication website.
- Killer Germs On Sale For Just £600
By David Leppard, Chris Hastings and Jessica Berry The Sunday Times 11-23-98
- THE Bio Farma research institute prides
itself on protecting public health. Housed in an elegant colonial building
overlooking manicured lawns, the plant is Indonesia's main producer of
vaccine. Its polio and measles vaccines have helped improve the lives of
millions of children.
- But last week it took just one telephone
call and a faxed letter to get staff at the centre in Bandung to offer
a new client more sinister products. For a few hundred pounds they offered
to sell anthrax and plague, two of the deadliest biological germs.
- In a letter to Sunday Times reporters
posing as businessmen, the plant's director said that for $1,000 (£606)
he could also provide mail-order brucella and E-coli. In tiny doses - and
in the wrong hands - they can kill or cripple hundreds of people.
- The reporters said they represented a
laboratory in Africa, but the plant made no checks on the identities of
its prospective customers, nor ask how the products would be used. Anyone
could have imported the germs into Britain.
- Bio Farma's apparent willingness to sell
these potentially lethal biological agents highlights the alarming ease
with which rogue states like Iraq or North Korea and terrorist groups are
able to acquire what scientists call "the poor man's nuclear bomb".
- The threat from anthrax was highlighted
earlier this year when police and MI5 issued an "all ports" alert
over an Iraqi attempt to smuggle it into Britain in bottles of perfume.
That proved a false alarm. But the security risk has led the Foreign Office
to warn British universities about foreign spies seeking biological agents.
- MI5 has visited 700 British firms, telling
them they could be targeted by countries trying to develop biological or
chemical weapons. Ironically, Britain has trained many Iraqi scientists
involved in such programmes; Saddam's secret plan to make biological weapons
was, for example, directed by General Amer Saadi, who studied at Oxford
- Another Iraqi, Rihab Taha, attended the
University of East Anglia. Known as "Dr Germ", she went on to
set up Saddam's botulinum programme and oversaw anthrax tests on Iranian
prisoners of war.
- Iraqi scientists have often targeted
Britain. Unipath, a laboratory supplier then in Basingstoke, Hampshire,
unwittingly sold tons of a germ-growing substance to Iraq before the Gulf
war. The product helped Iraq develop anthrax.
- Iraq made 2,265 (US) gallons of anthrax,
much of it produced from samples bought from laboratories in America.
- The germ's effects are usually 90% fatal;
once inhaled, the bacterium starts with a flu-like infection and tiredness.
Within three days the victim develops lung haemorrhages and severe respiratory
difficulty. Without antibiotics, death invariably follows. Some experts
claim that one gram of anthrax is enough to kill 10m people.
- Sunday Times reporters were also offered
lethal botulinum bacteria by a research laboratory in the Czech Republic.
- The Veterinary Research Institute in
Brno, southeast of Prague, offered samples of a toxin-producing bug for
just 50 German marks (£18.50). Undercover journalists told staff
there they wanted to buy the strains for a laboratory in Morocco. They
were told they could send a representative to collect the samples.
- The toxin was a mainstay of Saddam's
biological weapons arsenal. Iraq has since admitted to UN inspectors that
it produced 3,110 (US) gallons, enough to kill the world's population several
- The highly toxic germ causes blurred
vision and difficulty in swallowing and speaking. Paralysis and vomiting
are followed by respiratory failure. One in three victims dies.
- The Indonesian and Czech laboratories
are among 450 germ collectors worldwide. More than 50 trade in anthrax;
34 sell the botulinum bacteria; 18 sell the plague. The Sunday Times approached
a random sample of 20. Laboratories in Russia and India said they would
consider our requests. Scientific centres in Mexico, China and Brazil offer
the same germs, but they later requested evidence of an export licence
before approving the sales.
- The availability and cheapness of the
germs have alarmed defence experts. The Public Health Laboratory Service
in London says its own collection and that of the Ministry of Defence research
station at Porton Down, Wiltshire, are the only two legitimate sources
of anthrax and plague in Britain.
- Dr Barry Holmes, a clinical scientist,
said the laboratory would refuse to sell any germs without thoroughly checking
- Dr David Kelly, former head of biological
research at Porton Down and now a special adviser on germ warfare to the
UN's Iraqi inspection team, said the agents offered to The Sunday Times
would be of use to terrorists: "Despite the efforts of many countries
to control [these germs], it is a real concern that they are still so readily
- The CIA has warned that biological and
chemical weapons represent the most urgent long-term threat to the West.
There are fears that anyone with a basic scientific knowledge and a backroom
laboratory could use the bugs to make biological weapons.
- One UN adviser said: "It's like
using a cookery book. Delia Smith could do it if she felt inclined."