Army shopping for anthrax

SALT LAKE CITY – The U.S. military is in the market for mass quantities of anthrax, according to contract requests discovered by the Sunshine Project, a U.S.-German organization that opposes the use of biological and chemical weapons. According to New Scientist, the controversial move is likely to raise questions over the U.S. commitment to treaties designed to limit the spread of biological weapons.

The contract requests relate to the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, and ask companies to bid for the production of bulk quantities of a non-virulent strain of anthrax and equipment to produce significant volumes of other biological agents.

"The company must have the ability and be willing to grow Bacillus anthracis Sterne strain at 1,500-liter quantities," one "biological services" contract specifies. Other contracts are for fermentation equipment to produce 3,000-liter batches of an unspecified biological agent, and sheep carcasses to test the efficiency of an incinerator for the disposal of infected livestock.

The United States renounced biological weapons in 1969, but small quantities of lethal anthrax were still being produced at Dugway as recently as 1998, says New Scientist. Although the proposed use of the biological agents is unknown, possibilities include procedures to decontaminate vehicles or buildings, or to test an "agent defeat" warhead designed to destroy stores of chemical and biological weapons.

Another option, one that critics fear, is use to determine how effectively anthrax is dispersed when released from bombs or crop-spraying aircraft. "I can definitely see them testing biological weapons delivery systems for threat assessment," said Sunshine Project director Edward Hammond.