Recent Papers and Important Archived Documents

Over the years, present and past members of the Scientists Working Group on Biological and Chemical weapons (SWG) have written hundreds of issued papers, commentaries and analyses. Many of these documents were never published, but distributed to relevant people and organizations. Some are over twenty years old, but are still relevant or have considerable historic or educational value. Here, key unpublished-issued and published papers may be accessed in their entirety from this website. These documents trace the activities of the SWG over the years. They are organized mainly by year they were issued or published.

Some of the earlier documents list the Federation of American Scientists as the SWG’s parent organization. About ten years ago we moved to the Center for Arms Control and non-Proliferation.

Click on the titles below to access each document.


Global Monitoring of Emerging Diseases: Design for a Demonstration

This organizational document marks the beginning of ProMED mail, an e-mail reporting service for the Global Monitoring of Emerging Diseases. ProMED mail was established in 1996 by two Emeritus Members of the SWG, Barbara Hatch Rosenberg and Stephen Morse, and one current member, Jack Woodall.

From the document:

“The emergence and reemergence of infectious diseases as the result of recent and ongoing social and environmental changes urgently calls for a global surveillance system, so that unusual outbreaks can be recognized and controlled at an early stage. Today, it remains a major source of timely reporting of emerging infectious diseases… unlike most surveillance systems, which tend to be centrally run with a hierarchical (vertical) structure, the program is designed to be strongly horizontal, with emphasis on building area networks and local partnerships.”

The document may be downloaded also from the International Society for Infectious Diseases website. It was originally published in Health Policy (Health Policy, 38 (1996) 135-153).


Implementing the Biological Weapons Convention Protocol in the United States: What It Means to the Biopharmaceutical Industry

This 2000 article published in the magazine Biopharm was the result of over two-year discussions between SWG members and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. PhRMA is the drug industry’s Washington DC lobbying arm. The article outlines conditions, to which the SWG agreed and under which PhRMA would support the Protocol to strengthen the BWC.

The article was considered a breakthrough because it was the first time that the US pharmaceutical industry stated publically they could support the Protocol if certain conditions were met. Before then, they were steadfastly opposed to the Protocol mainly because of confidentiality, theft, and production-interruption concerns. Furthermore, they were concerned that inspections mandated in the Protocol would make them appear to be in violation of the BWC.


Secret Biodefense Activities Are Undermining the Norm Against Biological Weapons

in 2003, The SWG was perhaps the first group to sound the alarm over excesses in the US biodefense program from the US overreaction to the 2001 anthrax letters sent to high-level public figures. Before those letters, the SWG was in the frustrating position of trying to draw attention to the risk of biological weapons. With the overreaction of the Bush Administration to the anthrax letters, we curiously we found ourselves arguing instead for restraint.


Chemical Incapacitating Weapons Are Not Non-Lethal

This SWG 2003 position paper argued that chemical incapacitating weapons are as likely as bullets to cause fatalities. It was written in response to a number of events that brought “non-lethal” chemical incapacitating agents into the news. Most prominently, their use in the rescue of hostages held in a Moscow theater in October 2002, which encouraged advocates of the military development of such weapons since most of the hostages were rescued. Detractors were alarmed that over 15% of the hostages died of effects of the chemical agent (as well as all of the captors, who were executed by security forces while they were comatose).

Such weapons may be on a slippery slope to violations of the Chemical Weapons Convention. For that reason as well, they should not allowed in nations’ military arsenals.

This paper along with the mathematical analysis, Beware the Siren’s Song: Why “Non-Lethal” Incapacitating Chemical Agents are Lethal, helped convince the U.S. and other developed nations to back away from development of “non-lethal” weapons as acceptable weapons under the Chemical Weapons Convention.


Guest Commentary: Biodefense Crossing the Line

This 2004 commentary was published in the Journal Politics and the Life Sciences. It was authored by two of the SWG’s Emeritus members, Ambassador James Leonard and Milton Leitenberg. The third author, Richard Spertzel , was the former Deputy Director of USAMRIID. They argued:

“The rapidity of elaboration of American biodefense programs, their ambition and administrative aggressiveness, and the degree to which they push against the prohibitions of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), are startling. The production and stockpiling of biological-weapons agents are not the only criteria by which an offensive biological weapons (BW) program is defined. They are only such a program’s most obvious terminal expressions. Taken together, many of the activities detailed above — most particularly the “Store, Stabilize, Package, Disperse” sequence and the “Computational modeling of feasibility, methods, and scale of production” item — may constitute development in the guise of threat assessment, and they certainly will be interpreted that way.”

The commentary played a significant role in the U.S. government abandoning their idea of making new biological weapons to learn how to defend against them. Furthermore, in response to the commentary and other efforts from the arms control community, the U.S. put together a government committee to examine all biodefense research to assure that it did not violate the BWC, or appear to do so. The guest commentary may also be downloaded from the Politics and the Life Sciences website.


Assessing the Biological Weapons and Bioterrorism Threat

Milton Leitenberg’s 2005 Strategic Studies Institute U.S. Army War College book makes convincing arguments that the threat of “bioterrorism” is small when placed in global context of the many nonmilitary challenges to national and global security that the United States and other nations currently face and will face in the coming decades. Another published paper from a member of the SWG, Casting a Wider Net for Countermeasure R&D Funding Decisions, makes a focused argument quantifying the relative risk of an influenza pandemic versus an anthrax attack. The likelihood-weighted risk of a pandemic is much greater than an anthrax attack.

Both these analyses may have played a role in Homeland Security shifting much of its focus from biological weapons attacks to pandemics.


The Criterion for Identifying Dual Use Research of Concern

This 2008 statement to the U.S. Government Public Consultation on Oversight of Dual Use Life Sciences Research shows that the SWG was one of the first NGOs to propose independent oversight of dual use and dangerous research.


Federal Funding for Biological Weapons Prevention and Defense, Fiscal Years 2001 to 2009

For a number of years the SWG monitored the U.S. government’s expenditures on biological weapons prevention and defense. This Issued 2008 document is the last year we carried out the analysis. Other NGOs have monitored the U.S. expenditures as well; in particular, the Biological Weapons Prevention Project and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center for Health Security.


Biological threats: A Matter of Balance

This 2010 SWG published paper argued against The Graham-Talent WMD Commission position that the United States must urgently expand its efforts to develop vaccines and other medical countermeasures against potential bioterrorism agents. We disagreed with the commission on both points. The Commission exaggerates the bioterrorist threat and proposes solutions that won’t produce the comprehensive approach needed to strengthen public-health security. This paper has been published in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.


Outline of a Presentation on Behalf of the Scientists’ Working Group on Biological and Chemical Weapons before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs

This 2010 Congressional testimony argues that the threat of a biological weapons attack has been overstated by politicians and the US government.

“We do not accept as realistic the BW terrorism threat pronouncements that have been by far the most common in the nation’s political and bureaucratic communities. Overstatement of the threat, i.e. the alleged ease with which people with low skill level operating under less than ideal conditions could achieve catastrophic impacts using BW, only glorifies BW in the eyes of would-be terrorists and makes it more attractive. This increases the chance that we might in fact face a small-scale attack from such groups.”

Unfortunately, with the increasing number of violent terrorist groups there is increased concern that they may gain access to chemical weapons and even biological weapons.


The Human Fatality and Economic Burden of a Man-made Influenza Pandemic: A Risk Assessment

This 2013-2014 issued study by SWG member, Lynn Klotz, was one of the first risk assessments to quantify the probability of escape from a laboratory of airborne transmissible HPAI, and the likelihood that the escaped virus could seed a pandemic. It was focused on transmission of infection in crowded public transportation where infected individuals would be difficult to trace.

Using results from previous economic studies, the analysis also estimates the economic cost for a lab-made pandemic from a lab escape.


Laboratory Escapes and “Self-fulfilling prophecy” Epidemics

This 2014 issued paper authored by Martin Furmanski presents an historical review of outbreaks of potential pandemic pathogens or similarly transmissible pathogens that occurred from presumably well-funded and supervised nationally supported laboratories. The paper catalogs and provides evidence for laboratory accidents that have actually caused illness and deaths outside of the laboratory in the community.

It was issued during the continuing intense debate over the risks of escape of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus made airborne transmissible among ferrets. A laboratory escape could kill thousands to millions of people. Until the appearance of the Furmanski study, it was generally thought that lab escapes causing many deaths were an entirely hypothetical concern.

A shorter version of this paper has been published in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.


Scientist Working Group Statement to the U.S. Congress

This short 2014 SWG statement to the U.S Congress supported the analyses by two SWG members and notified Congress of our concern over these experiments.

“Research to make highly pathogenic Asian bird flu viruses contagious in humans should be banned.

A number of researchers now have stated their intention to attempt increasing lethality of the already deadly H5N1 and H7N9 Asian influenza viruses. Among their aims is to make the viruses contagious in humans via respiratory aerosols from coughing, sneezing and even normal breathing.

There is a chance that one of these viruses will escape from a laboratory and seed the very pandemic the researchers claim they are trying to prevent…”