Biological Weapons: The Impact of New Technologies

In June 2018, German police arrested a Tunisian man in Cologne for trying to build a biological weapon using the deadly toxin, ricin.1   In October 2018, researchers flagged a US agricultural program funded by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) as a potential mask for a bioweapons project.2 At the same time, Russia also claimed that the US had tested biological weapons in Georgia killing over 70 people.3 Further, suspect packages were sent to select targets in the United States in October 2018;4 these packages in addition to being mail bombs also carried a white powder reprising concerns of the anthrax attacks from 2001 which led to the death of 5 people.

There has been no incident of biological agents being used as a weapon of mass destruction in the recent past. Yet as the above examples show, there have been attempts to explore and create technologies that could be weaponised by both state and non-state actors. The threat was made apparent by James Clapper, US Director of National Intelligence, who added gene editing in their annual worldwide threat assessment report in 2016.5 Since then, there has been a wider recognition that the advances in technologies and improved access to science have lowered the barriers to creating designer bioweapons. [Read more]