Kyrgyzstan is set to receive $27 million from Canada for construction of a secure hub for storage and research of lethal pathogens such as anthrax and plague, the National Post reported yesterday (see GSN, June 29).
Security is poor at existing laboratories in the former Soviet republic, raising concerns that extremists might be able to acquire disease materials from those sites for use in acts of bioterrorism. Among the problems identified by Canadian officials were the lack of bars or glass in some windows, broken locks on doors and trees that could be used to climb over fences. Conditions within the facilities are also not up to Western safety standards.
"It's a long laundry list of security deficiencies. For facilities that are home to some of the most dangerous materials that are naturally occurring on this planet, that is simply unacceptable," said Trevor Smith, who heads biological and chemical nonproliferation programs at the Canadian Foreign Affairs Department.
Even some high-level scientists at the laboratories make barely $18 per month, the Post reported.
"Someone shows up at an institute with tens of thousands of dollars in a briefcase, and says ‘I need five grams of anthrax or 5 [grams] of pneumonic plague or 5 [grams] of cholera, no questions asked,' there would be a temptation, no doubt," Smith said.
"I think our good luck and good fortune with something not happening ... is going to run out, and that's why Canada is working so hard now," he added.
Facilities in Kyrgyzstan played a role in the biological weapons program of the former Soviet Union, according to Jonathan Tucker of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. The nation needs to maintain research sites to counter natural outbreaks of diseases such as anthrax, cholera and hemorrhagic fever.
Canada is providing the funding through the Group of Eight Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction.
Officials in Kyrgyzstan will operate the new site, which Tucker said might constitute "overkill" given the actual terrorism threat (Tom Blackwell, National Post, Aug. 17).