Posts Tagged ‘internet’

Have a spare $15,000?

January 5th, 2010 admin No comments

… because if you do (and remember, serious inquiries only), you can snatch this gold mine right out from under World Net Daily’s nose:

Hello there…

I am an internet marketing consultant that is the owner of the domain name. is going to come out with a book of the same name and is offering to purchase my domain name.

I will gladly sell it to you, if you can pay more than

This would be a great opportunity to control the message for this domain, refuting anti-obama claims as well as the book with the same name.

Any serious inquiries, need to be sent to:

If you are interested, or know someone who is please let them know that I need to be contacted ASAP.

Asking price is $15,000.

Categories: Politics Tags: , , ,

Internet Explorer losing users as other browsers set share records

January 3rd, 2010 admin No comments

In the last quarter, Chrome, Safari and Opera all set new personal bests for browser market share with 4.63, 4.46 and 2.4 percent respectively. This period marks the first time Chrome has pipped Safari to third spot, while their collective prosperity comes at the expense of IE, which continues to hemorrhage users at a rate of 0.92 percentage points a month. Microsoft’s 62.7 percent slice might still look mighty, but projections from Net Applications suggest it could shrink to below 50 percent by May of this year. Unless something magical happens. You’ll probably also want to know that Net Applications monitors incoming traffic to over 40,000 websites and generates a sample size of about 160 million unique visitors each month — making the veracity of its claims pretty robust. One hidden sign of our collective laziness: 21 percent of all users last quarter were still fulfilling their browsing needs with IE 6. For shame.

Internet Explorer losing users as other browsers set share records originally appeared on Engadget on Sat, 02 Jan 2010 17:09:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Jonathan Handel: Cat Fight in the Fox’s Den

January 2nd, 2010 admin No comments

Until moments ago (mid-day Jan. 1), when a deal was reached, Fox was threatening to black out its channels, most notably Fox broadcast, from Time Warner Cable (TWC) unless TWC anted up a subscriber fee of reportedly $1 per subscriber per month. Historically, cable networks such as HBO, Showtime, AMC, etc. got those fees, but broadcast networks didn’t. They need them now, with ad revenue shrinking, and customers departing networks in favor of cable channels — a multi-decade trend — and, more recently, video games, Internet TV sites such as Hulu, unauthorized (pirated) content, and user-generated content such as on YouTube.

Broadcast networks have started to get paid — CBS, for instance, reportedly gets up to $0.50. TWC apparently offered Fox only $0.30, but the terms of the deal they reached are undisclosed and most likely higher. Even though Fox ultimately didn’t pull the plug, it took the intervention of Senator John Kerry to keep football and “American Idol” from going dark on TWC. That’s not the sort of attention a media company wants. So why didn’t TWC just ante up the $1 and pass on the cost to consumers?

The answer is that MSO’s (cable cos. like TWC) are afraid that if they keep raising cable prices, they’ll drive more consumers to satellite or induce them to drop cable and just watch TV on the Internet. That is, instead of buying an Internet+cable bundle from Time Warner Cable, the customer might just drop the cable portion and buy Internet only.

Even worse for TWC: If customers opt for Internet only, some will be peeled away by telephone+Internet or cellular+Internet bundles from ATT or Verizon, causing TWC to lose the customer altogether. It’s called churn, and it’s especially likely because customer perception of cable company greed would dovetail with the belief that telcos offer better customer service anyway. Thus, raising cable prices could cost TWC dearly.

So, the battle between TWC and Fox is just another facet of an n-dimensional war between MSOs, satellite cos., landline telcos, cellular cos., cable networks, broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, CW, Fox, NBC), network affiliates (the local stations that actually broadcast the network signal), video game companies, Internet TV sites, unauthorized (pirated) content, user-generated content–and, of course, the consumer. And that’s not even to mention the companies that manufacture the hardware, such as handsets, TV’s, cable and satellite receivers, and other set top boxes. They’re always looking to play transmission companies off against each other and capture more of the consumer dollar.

To add to the confusion, there’s cross ownership between some of these companies but not all of them, meaning that ostensible competitors have very different profiles from each other, and also that they must often collaborate. For instance, when the Comcast – NBC Universal deal closes (assuming, of course, that it does), Comcast will control a cable system, a broadcast network, and multiple cable channels, whereas Time Warner Cable is a cable system only (that’s because Time Warner Inc. spun off TWC) and Fox’s parent, News Corp., lacks a cable system. Speaking of News Corp., throw in the fight between newspapers and Internet sites, and it’s clear that the Internet sparked a revolution that’s got everybody up in everyone else’s business. It’s the media equivalent of string theory, except that MBA’s usually have better hair than Einstein did.


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Categories: World Tags: , , , ,

Randall Amster: 2010: A Peace Odyssey?

January 2nd, 2010 admin No comments

Another year brings another war, so it would seem. Already in the works beforehand but now hastened by the Christmas “underwear bomber,” we are swiftly moving down a road that could lead straight to another front in the generational war without end. The al Qaeda bogeyman rears its head, and we respond like clockwork. All aboard folks — next stop, Yemen .

Is this really the most effective way to make national policy and decide the fates of others around the world? When a suggestible and misguided youth attempts an asinine act, does that mean we automatically must respond in kind with foolhardy actions of our own? This has led to disastrous effects already in the Global War on Terror, and equally troubling alterations in the fabric of society here at home. Simply put, if we let the terrorists dictate our course of action, then we have already lost the moral high ground and the upper hand in the larger conflict as well, as Patrick Cockburn suggests in a cogent essay on the situation in Yemen :

“In Yemen the US is walking into the al-Qa’ida trap. Once there it will face the same dilemma it faces in Iraq and Afghanistan . It became impossible to exit these conflicts because the loss of face would be too great. Just as Washington saved banks and insurance giants from bankruptcy in 2008 because they were ‘too big to fail,’ so these wars become too important to lose because to do so would damage the US claim to be the sole super power…. But the danger of claiming spurious victories is that such distortions of history make it impossible for the US to learn from past mistakes and instead to repeat them by intervening in other countries such as Yemen.”

Consider that we are still embroiled in an escalating war in Afghanistan as a direct response to the events of 9/11. Iraq of course was folded into this “terror-response” logic by the Bush Administration despite clear evidence to the contrary. Pakistan has now become the new Cambodia to Afghanistan’s Vietnam in the current war that echoes actions of the past. And now we have our sights set on Yemen as the next front, which Marwan Bishara contends will almost inevitably lead to disastrous effects that serve to exacerbate the conditions that yield terrorism:

“[O]ver the last several months, Yemen has emerged as the latest front. Reportedly, the US air force has participated in the bombardment of several locations in Yemen and spent tens of millions of dollars. But since the Nigerian man was apparently trained in Yemeni camps that are less threatened than Afghanistan , one can expect this war front to be expanded sooner rather than later. Waging another war in or through Yemen could prove, as in Afghanistan , untenable as the country could descend into chaos. With war against the Houthis in the north, tensions with the secessionists in the south, and the regime’s tenuous hold on power, Yemen could implode.”

If the United States is truly to be a global leader, we are setting a poor example through our war-making policies. We are essentially mere followers in this dynamic, letting the terrorists set the agenda and walking right into the response they expect and desire from us. Recall that up front it was al Qaeda’s stated intention to bleed America ’s moral and economic resources dry by provoking us into direct military interventions in Muslim nations. By choosing the retaliatory option, we are playing precisely into their hands, and thus relinquishing the mantle of leadership.

Similar patterns have taken hold at home. On the heels of 9/11, a fundamental reorientation of the delicate balance between liberty and security ensued. Rights of privacy, due process, habeas corpus, and presumed innocence have been lost, perhaps permanently, as the constitutional architecture of two centuries eroded under our feet. Now, following the botched Christmas attack, we are likely to see a ramping up of the security apparatus, including privacy-impinging actions such as pat-downs and full-body scans. Not to mention, of course, the commitment of more resources to continue fighting the war that the terrorists wanted to goad us into all along.

It is a grim picture coming out of 2009, but the symbolic relief of calendar change can be a powerful curative. I would like to suggest that 2010 can become a critical turning point year toward peace and prosperity if we focus our energies positively and proactively. Here are just a few suggestions for moving in that direction and making the new year one that history will recall as the beginning of the end of a mindset that has plunged the world into perpetual warfare.

The Peace Dividend: Whatever your views on war, one thing most people can agree on is the desire to live peaceful and productive lives. This includes the existence of an economy in which ordinary people can prosper and be assured of fairness in their wages, investments, and expected contributions. The war ethos has shifted trillions of dollars from public to private coffers, and it has stimulated not economic growth but a global recession. Ending war means more resources for education, healthcare, community development, and environmental protection — all of which promise better prospects for a peaceful world than does the path we have been on until now.

Cultural Exchange: The high-speed potential of both the internet and international travel has opened up — perhaps for the first time in human history — the possibility of realizing a truly global society. This does not entail giving up autonomy or sovereignty, but asks only that we remain open to and appreciate the remarkable cultural diversity of our world. The more we become educated in this regard, learning about the myriad ways in which people everywhere share similar hopes and desires despite their unique cultures, the more we will opt for peace.

Politics is People: For too long we have abdicated control over our lives and fortunes to remote representatives who have failed to adequately protect and promote our interests. Party politics is passe at this point, with the clarity of insight that lobbyists and corporate concerns have essentially purchased a controlling interest in politicians of all stripes. The saving grace in our system is that “the people” retain the ultimate political power, despite repeated attempts to undermine this constitutional gift from our forebears. This power is electoral, but perhaps even more importantly, it is personal, with each of us asked to make numerous daily choices regarding how we will exercise it. Simply put, we can watch peace, purchase peace, eat peace, drive peace, and learn peace if we have the will to do so. And then politics will have no choice but to follow.

There are many more notions along these lines, which I will leave to your imaginations to develop and implement. The basic point is that we stand today at a critical juncture, and can ill afford to slide blithely back into apathy and torpor if we are to avert that proverbial iceberg sitting just ahead on our present heading. Let history record that 2010 was the year we steered clear and instead charted a new course for ourselves and the world toward peace in our time.

More on Iraq

Categories: World Tags: , , , , ,

SmartQ V5 MID available now to a world that’s just stopped caring

January 1st, 2010 admin No comments

When we first laid eyes on the SmartQ V5, we were pretty underwhelmed… yet another resistive touchscreen MID? We’re beginning to long for those halcyon days of late 2009 when an Android handheld was a thing of awe and wonder. Just a refresher: this guy features a 4.3-inch display, 600MHz ARM11 processor (which the brave among us can overclock to 800MHz), 256MB RAM, HDMI out, and more. Of some interest to the jaded gadget-head, this guy ships with Android, Ubuntu, and Windows CE 6.0 pre-installed — not a bad feature, if that’s your thing. If you poke around the Internets you should be able to find this bad boy for near $180.

SmartQ V5 MID available now to a world that’s just stopped caring originally appeared on Engadget on Thu, 31 Dec 2009 12:24:00 EST. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Bill Mann: All Those Fox News Viewers? They Don’t Get Out Much

December 31st, 2009 admin No comments

So, Fox News has just posted its highest ratings ever in 2009? This is hardly a surprise to those of us who cover the television industry. We’re used to lousy programming doing well in the ratings. It’s almost an article of, well, faith.
The Huffington Post piece added that shows like the duimbulb “O’Reilly Factor” have kicked ass this year. But isn’t that what the thuggish Bill-O does..kick ass? Well, beat up on people.
I’ll let you in on a little secret among many of us TV critics. One you may well have already guessed. There are a lot if shut-ins out there. Lots of them.
My daughter, for example, lived until recently in an apartment in the San Francisco Area above a woman she never met. The woman’s TV was on literally 24 hours a day, and tobacco smoke wafted from her dreary cocoon. She left her door ajar, presumably to let some smoke escape, so I could hear what was on TV when I walked past her door. The woman, who wasn’t disabled, rarely went out (and she wasn’t elderly), and she was watching mostly Fox News. Quelle surprise!
Shut-ins, the fearful, and low-information viewers. That’s the backbone of Fox News’ audience. And let us speak plainly here: This country is, sadly but inarguably, full of such dimbulbs and recluses.
Not that everyone who watches Fox News fits the above description, of course.
Some of them DO get out. To tobacco stores and fast-food places. Many of them are white and don’t like people of color. (As the joke currently making the rounds goes, they hate the fact that a black man living in public housing is running the country.)
And they often go out to casinos. I say the latter because both times I’ve stuck my head in a large Indian gaming parlor this year (to use the bathroom), it was Fox News displayed above the bar and in the men’s room.
No one is more cynical– or, I would argue, more realistic — about the people who watch hours and hours of TV each day in the internet age than those of us who cover TV for a living. “Heavy TV users,” is the network term. We all know who these sad, angry people are. And we know they watch garbage. (I know…this is unbelievably elitist). We TV writers know there are some people who actually find “According to Jim” to be funny. After all, it wouldn’t have lasted what, 15 years? SOMEBODY’S watching this garbage. Actually, lots of people, sad as that is to contemplate.
Same deal with Fox News.
So, whatever the opposite of “creme de la creme is,” that’s your basic Fox News viewer. And there are a lot of them. Just not enough to elect our President, thank God.

Categories: World Tags: , , ,

Midday Open Thread

December 30th, 2009 admin No comments
  • Pushing the Obacalypse is shaping up to be the Gee Oh Pee’s campaign strategy for 2010, writes David Corn. Rep. Pete Sessions, the Texas Republican, who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee, sent David Corn the same email a lot of us got, which, amid other hyperbole, stated:

    In just one year, liberals have altered the course of this country so dramatically that current U.S. policy is almost unrecognizable from the conservative values on which we built this country.

    America cannot survive on this new course. Fortunately 2010 offers us a chance to hold the far left accountable and elect Representatives who will stand up for our American values in Congress.

    Yikes and a half. You mean the far left?

  • If you gotta have your news graphically, you might head over to GOOD for a gander at their year’s end effort on The Biggest News Stories of the Year. There, you can get a full-screen treatment of this transparency:
  • Assuming Ron Paul doesn’t seek another shot at the brass ring, here is the guy most likely to try to take on the Paulite mantle: Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson is heading to New Hampshire.
  • Joe Lieberman: How About Another War?:

    Referencing his own travels to Yemen, and meetings with unnamed U.S. officials, the senator chirped: “Iraq was yesterday’s war, Afghanistan is today’s war. If we don’t act preemptively, Yemen will be tomorrow’s war.”

    Lieberman, whose refusal to serve in the military when he could have during the Vietnam era has never prevented him from spouting hawkish views so over-the-top that his wiser colleagues to keep him off committees that deal with issues of war and peace, seems to be unaware that “acting preemptively” in the manner he suggests, is an act of war.

  • Ha! Ha! Ha! A tea partier and his money are soon parted, with the cash going right into the hands of the GOP consulting group that created the “party.” One of the leading Tea Party PACs, called Tea Party Express, has paid out nearly two-thirds of its funds to the consulting group that created it.
  • If you thought wackos would just fade away in the second decade of this century, you…uh…missed the boat. Because Randall Price will be back in Turkey digging into the ice on Mount Ararat, searching for Noah’s Ark. He says they’re close. “While we’d like to think it’s Noah’s Ark, we’re not sure what it is, but it’s in the right place,” he said.
  • In Science, Andrew J. Oswald and Stephen Wu have concluded a scientific study purporting to show by nonsubjective measures the 10 unhappiest states in the U.S.: In reverse order, with No. 10 first: Rhode Island, Ohio, Massachusetts, Illinois, California, New Jersey, Indiana, Michigan, Connecticut, New York.
  • Not that anyone here has ever been afflicted, but Anatomy of A Brain Fart might still be of interest. Who knows what could happen in 2010?
  • Nate Silver offers A Note on Activism, Populism and Polarization at the End of the ‘Aughts:

    Take the Tea Parties, for example. Liberals don’t give nearly enough credit to the technological sophistication of the Tea Partiers. Back in the old days — you know, like 2005 or so — getting several hundred people together at several hundred different locations would have required months of planning. But thanks to the Tea Partiers’ ability to find one another on blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and so forth — and to some extent the megaphone of Fox News — these protests can come together fairly spontaneously. The left’s use of the Internet has been much more heralded, but obviously has been exceptionally impressive too, particularly the extent to which the most listened-to people on the left (think Markos Moulitsas or Jane Hamsher) tend to come from nonpolitical backgrounds. Then there are things like the Ron Paul movement, which would have gotten absolutely no traction without the Internet.

  • After nearly 37 years of solitary confinement, the consequences of a trial that depended on manufactured evidence, Herman Wallace, now 68, is still shackled to the table when his 70-year-old sister arrives for her weekly visit at one of the country’s most infamous prisons, the former slave plantation at Angola, Louisiana.

Categories: Politics Tags: , , , ,

Susan Boyle — Beatle?

December 30th, 2009 admin No comments

Filed under:

Here’s Scottish Internet sensation turned pop star Susan Boyle in Scotland last week (left) — and British music legend Paul McCartney at a London concert last week (right).One of them is a 48-year-old woman.We’re just sayin’.

See Also

Susan …


Categories: Gossip Tags: , ,

Ellen Snortland: OldieWeds: What to get the late bloomer boomers

December 29th, 2009 admin No comments

\Celebrating a wedding anniversary as a late-love blooming, baby-booming bride has its challenges. We’ve been married for one year as I write this. We’re not spring chickens. We can’t add one more material item into our already packed-to-the-rafters house. What gift shall I give my groom? Or for those who want to give us something, what do we suggest? Being internet savvy helps, so I Googled the tables of traditional anniversary gifts and suggestions. Alas, so many of the gift recommendations are more fitting for newlyweds; younger people who are newly furnishing first-time homes. Here’s my contribution of appropriate presents for middle-aged “oldieweds”:

1st Wedding Anniversary –
Youthful people give each other paper hats, risqué paper lingerie, expensive lavender scented stationery. My suggestion for the older set who ties the knot? Why, Depends™ of course! Disposable adult diapers are a thoughtful gift, and useful for guests who have trouble sneezing or laughing when chuckling at the twists and turns of life. Adult diapers are also useful for any arts and crafts project you may take on in retirement; they make polishing shiny surfaces and clean-up a breeze! But of course, if you’ve lost your retirement account, the older couple may also enjoy a paper piñata in the shape of Bernie Madoff or, for the left-wingers, George W. Bush.

2nd Wedding Anniversary — Cotton
For those hot young couples, 1000 thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets are just the thing! For frugal been-there, done-that oldieweds, collect cotton wads from prescription medicine bottles, wrap them up and present them to your hearing-impaired better half and tell them to stuff it in their ears when everything is SO DAMNED LOUD everywhere! Geez! Turn it down, you kids!

3rd Wedding Anniversary — Leather
Leather pants on nice bodies? Yowza! Leather pants on us? Bow-wowza. Better to just give each other shoes that have been in the back of the closet that we forgot we had.

4th Wedding Anniversary — Fruit
Yeah, yeah. This is obvious. Prunes are appreciated for so many of us over 50. Hardy-har-har. And no, they’re NOT “dried plums,” they’re prunes dammit! Dried fruit people, you can call it anything you want … but we still know what it is.

5th Wedding Anniversary — Wood
For young couples, a new dining room set or new cabinets may be just the ticket. Wood for your older couple? Ask your Doctor for free samples of Viagra or Cialis.

6th Wedding Anniversary — Candy or Iron
What? Candy or Iron? Whose idea was that? I guess candy if the couple feels the relationship is going well, and iron if it’s not? This reminds me of my mother’s joke wedding shower gifts for every new bride whose shower she’d attend. She’d give the bride either a carved rolling pin or cast iron skillet with a note on it saying, “This is in case you need to make a firm impression on your husband.” Hard to believe that my mother was a proponent of women’s self-defense, years before I became an advocate myself.

7th Wedding Anniversary –
OK, I guess his and hers matching cashmere sweaters or a woolen bedspread would be appropriate for the people who make it through the famous “seven year itch.” Geezer couples? Well, my OB-GYN told me at my last appointment that her biggest complaint comes from older women whose husbands have gone down the road to Viagra-ville and worn out their welcome with the Missus. A great gift idea: the original wool delivery system… a sheep. I know, I’m BAAAAAAAAAD.

8th Wedding Anniversary — Bronze
Who the heck gets anything in bronze? What is bronze? I thought the bronze thing was over — excuse the expression — AGES ago. I suppose the senior couple could bronze their first orthopedic shoes.

9th Wedding Anniversary — Pottery
The younger folks? How about a nice new dish set, with serving bowls, thrown by a local artist. The older folks? Oh geez, just go get some clay and do your best. Goodness knows, you could make some ashtrays for the guests that still insist on smoking even though you kick them out of the house. Give them one of your homemade pottery ashtrays to use while they shiver in your backyard.

10th Wedding Anniversary — Tin or Aluminum
For the couple in their 30s, I suppose canisters, accessories, sculptures would be fine. For your older couple? Given the economy, and how many 401K funds have tanked, a tin cup or aluminum can for selling pencils and collecting coins would be very thoughtful.

100th Wedding Anniversary — 10K diamond
At this point, the distinction of young and old couples is clearly moot. It seems to me that if you are able to live with one person for 100 years the most logical gift would be some type of congressional medal of honor, regardless of the materials it’s made from.

I hope this helps the shopper who is pondering what to give the couple who has — or maybe used to have — everything. And remember, it’s not the gift but the thought that counts. If only I could remember what that thought was…

OldieWeds first appeared in the Pasadena Weekly on November 12, 2009. Ellen Snortland teaches writing and coaches first-time authors. Contact her at:

More on Marriage

Categories: World Tags: , , ,

Germs, Viruses, and Secrets: How The Obama Administration is Addressing Biological Threats

December 28th, 2009 admin No comments

When most of us think of “Cold War history”, we think of the Soviet Union and the United States building up massive nuclear arsenals, staring each other down over missiles in Cuba, or former Eastern and Western Europe. We think of the Berlin Wall, Gorbachev, and Reagan.

But what most people don’t remember, or may not even know, is that the United States once had a biological weapons program, and that the former Soviet Union did too. I like to think of this as the “forgotten” legacy of the Cold War arms race. Just because the Cold War is over, doesn’t mean that the weapons programs’ legacy is nothing we need to worry about anymore.

So, let’s look at a little bit of history before we talk about the legacy of these weapons programs, and how they affect the world today.

History: Renouncing Biological Weapons… or not.

In November 1969, President Richard Nixon made the following announcement:

Biological weapons have massive, unpredictable and potentially uncontrollable consequences. They may produce global epidemics and impair the health of future generations. I have therefore decided that:

  • The United States shall renounce the use of lethal biological agents and weapons, and all other methods of biological warfare.
  • The United States will confine its biological research to defensive measures such as immunization and safety measures.
  • The Department of Defense has been asked to make recommendations as to the disposal of existing stocks of bacteriological weapons.

Nixon followed up his announcement with an executive order in 1972, formally terminating the United States’ biological weapons program. The United States, as well as the former Soviet Union both signed the “Biological Weapons Convention“, which formally went into effect in March 1975.

But there was one very big problem with the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), which has not yet been corrected:

The greatest weakness of the Convention has been its lack of mechanisms to verify the compliance of the States Parties. Unlike the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] and the CWC [Chemical Weapons Convention], the BWC does not contain verification mechanism. As a result, there is less confidence that all members are in compliance, eroding the overall trust in the effectiveness of the BWC regime.

There are several examples of this “erosion of trust”; the most obvious one is the former Soviet Union’s absolutely massive biological weapons program, which continued beyond the end of the Cold War, into the 1990s. You can read more about it in David E. Hoffman’s recent book, The Dead Hand; he also described it in an interview I did with him several weeks ago.

The Evolving BWC

Since the BWC went into effect, there has been an ongoing effort to strengthen it, as well as to assess how best to address biological security threats through the convention framework. There have been review conferences every five years starting in 1980; you can read about the details of each conference here.

One critical result of these meetings was the establishment of an Ad Hoc Group that, in part, “focused the efforts of States Parties on some difficult issues, in particular the absence of a legally-binding verification mechanism.” In 2001, the chairman of the Ad Hoc Group issued a lengthy document [pdf] that proposed some critical changes:

  • the establishment of an Organization for the Prohibition of Biological Weapons (OPBW), with relevant bodies to monitor the implementation of the Convention and the Protocol
  • mandatory declarations of all relevant facilities and activities, including those in the area of biodefense
  • inspections that would take place at random, in order to make clarifications, and following allegations of noncompliance

However, to make a long story short, in July 2001, the Bush administration completely rejected these ideas, and subsequent talks collapsed that Fall in Geneva.

Then, of course, we all know what else happened in the Fall of 2001. Following the September 11 terrorist attacks, the United States became acutely aware of the concept of biological terrorism, when seven letters laced with anthrax spores were mailed to multiple locations, including the US Senate offices of former Senator Tom Daschle. Ten people died, and millions of dollars were spent on clean-up efforts.

By 2002, “Homeland Security” concerns and US biological defense efforts had become intertwined with their opposition to the protocol proposed by the Ad Hoc Group. The history is obviously complex, and there are no easy answers.

The Obama Administration and the BWC

At this point, it should be obvious why arms control experts have been interested to see how the Obama administration would address the ongoing issues, and they got their answer several weeks ago, when the Obama administration announced its “National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats” [pdf].

In order to better understand the significance and the details of the new national strategy, I had a lengthy chat with Dr. Jonathan Tucker, who is a Senior Fellow at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. He is an expert in biological and chemical weapons, as well as the author of several books, including War of Nerves: Chemical Warfare from World War I to al-Qaeda, and Scourge: The Once and Future Threat of Smallpox.

I asked Dr. Tucker what the difference was between the Bush administration’s approach, and the Obama administration’s new strategy. He said:

Because Bush administration officials didn’t think it was possible to prevent a bioterrorist attack with any degree of likelihood, they focused on mitigating the consequences of an attack by beefing up domestic biodefense capabilities. In contrast, the Obama people view prevention as a major priority and plan to devote a lot of resources to it. That’s an important departure.

A second difference is that the Obama approach involves a much greater emphasis on multilateral engagement.

A third difference is that rather than focusing narrowly on the deliberate use of biological agents as weapons, the Obama strategy covers the full range of biological threats, from natural outbreaks of infectious disease (such as H1N1 influenza and SARS), to accidental releases from high-containment laboratories working with dangerous pathogens, to deliberate use by states or terrorist groups.

The specifics of what’s new and different with the Obama strategy are interesting. Tucker told me that:

One new development is that under the mantle of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), the Obama administration plans to assist poor countries to meet their obligations in the revised International Health Regulations (IHR), which were adopted in 2005 by the World Health Organization (WHO). These rules require all WHO member states to detect and rapidly contain outbreaks of infectious disease on their territories—whether natural or deliberate in origin—that could potentially cross national borders and affect other countries.

The Obama administration’s plan to help developing countries implement their IHR obligations under the auspices of the BWC is a significant departure.
Until recently, the WHO was wary of getting involved with security issues, particularly those involving biological weapons. The organization created a small unit in Geneva responsible for preparedness and response to bioterrorism, from a strictly public health perspective, but didn’t want to be politically tainted by getting involved with the BWC. That attitude now appears to have changed, and it’s a real paradigm shift. Conversely, the BWC process used to focus narrowly on security concerns but is now addressing the full spectrum of biological threats, from natural to accidental to deliberate. The new U.S. strategy document clearly reflects this holistic approach, which is a positive development.

However, there are some critical weaknesses. These, of course, have to do with verification and compliance. Tucker explained:

The main weakness of the Obama strategy is in dealing with BWC compliance concerns. Undersecretary Tauscher’s speech called for building confidence in compliance through greater transparency, but she mentioned only a few token transparency measures that the U.S. is prepared to take, such as inviting an international official to tour the National Interagency Biodefense Campus at Fort Detrick and posting U.S. confidence-building measure declarations on the Internet. Those steps are extremely modest. In fact, much more needs to be done to increase the transparency of the U.S. biodefense program, which has expanded dramatically since 2001 with a cumulative expenditure of roughly $50 billion. In view of growing international suspicions about the U.S. biodefense program, the Obama administration should take more meaningful steps to increase transparency than simply invite one foreign official to tour Fort Detrick.

So efforts toward transparency need to be stronger. Again, the critical weakness has to do with the lack of ability to verify non-compliance. We (or any other nation) can have all the suspicions we want, but there’s no way for us to prove anything. Just to stress his point, Tucker told me more:

A weakness of the Obama administration strategy is that it doesn’t include new measures for addressing the fundamental weakness at the heart of the BWC—the inability to detect and deter non-compliance. Although the U.S. has made public allegations that several BWC members (including China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia) are violating the treaty, at present there are no effective mechanisms for clarifying such allegations and compelling states to comply.

I can’t begin to emphasize how important it is that the BWC is, in some ways, a far more complex issue than discussing nuclear treaties and compliance. Those are relatively clear-cut; since the BWC does not address verification and compliance, it’s not so easy to draw lines in the sand. In particular, Dr. Tucker and I discussed the dual-use nature of biotechnology. He gave a startling example, from personal experience:

Biotechnology is dual-use. Nearly every item of equipment one needs to produce biological weapons has some legitimate, non-weapons-related application. Although a few specialized procedures for weaponizing biological agents are not dual-use, all of the items of production equipment — fermenters, concentrators, spray-driers, and so forth – have legitimate uses in research and industry.

In 1995, as a member of a UN bioweapons inspection team in Iraq, I visited an industrial microbiology plant outside Baghdad called Al Hakam, which was ostensibly producing single-cell protein in yeast as an animal-feed supplement. Just by looking at the facility, there was no way of knowing that it was a bioweapons plant: the fermentation tanks were exactly what you would expect for the declared use. But UN inspectors later determined on the basis of other evidence that before the 1991 Gulf War, the Iraqis had produced large quantities of anthrax spores at Al Hakam for military use. As a result, the plant was razed to the ground in the summer of 1996.

To manufacture a military significant stockpile of chemical weapons, in the hundreds of metric tons, you would need one or more large chemical plants. Producing highly toxic and corrosive chemicals also requires certain types of equipment that are not commonly used in the commercial chemical industry, such as corrosion-resistant reactors and pipes made of a high-nickel steel alloy called Hastelloy, special air-handling systems, and so forth. In contrast, all of the production equipment in a bioweapons plant would be dual-use, although you might want to install specialized air-handling equipment to reduce the risk of accidental releases of deadly infectious agents into the surrounding environment.

Even here, however, Iraq cut corners on safety in order to avoid detection. For example, the Al Hakam factory had no air filters or specialized ventilation systems designed to create negative pressure and prevent dangerous pathogens from escaping. Because the Iraqi regime wanted to minimize the signatures of illicit bioweapons production, they were willing to sacrifice some of their workers and put nearby communities at risk in order to conceal the true nature of the facility. Thus, if countries seeking biological weapons are sufficiently ruthless in the way they go about it, it’s very difficult for outsiders to determine what is going on.

Finally, we discussed a parallel — and very related — concern. Our own biodefense program has the potential to cross some lines. I’ve written about this before, which is why I was curious about Dr. Tucker’s point of view. He said:

The dramatic expansion of the U.S. biodefense research complex over the past decade has raised a number of concerns. The 2001 anthrax letter attacks greatly heightened the nation’s preoccupation with biological threats and caused the Bush administration to make a huge investment in biodefense research, with an emphasis on biological threat assessment and the development of medical countermeasures. This effort soon acquired a life of its own, and states and localities began competing to get one of the expensive new biodefense labs. Yet there was no net assessment of how much high- and maximum-containment research space the nation really needs to deal with the spectrum of biological threats.

In recent years, biodefense has been one of the few areas of science to enjoy a sustained increase in U.S. government funding. As a result, the field has drawn a lot of microbiologists and other scientists away from research on infectious diseases of public health concern, such as AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria, to work on those that are chiefly of biodefense concern, such as anthrax, plague, and brucellosis—infections that don’t kill many people naturally. Thus, one consequence of the biodefense boom has been a distortion of research priorities.

Another concern is that because of the thousands of scientists that have been drawn into biodefense research by the availability of generous funding, there’s a risk that a few of them may be “bad apples.” Indeed, after a seven-year investigation of the 2001 anthrax letter attacks, the FBI now believes that the perpetrator was an insider – a government microbiologist working at Fort Detrick, the Army’s premier biodefense lab. So it turns out that “the enemy is us.”

It’s a great irony is that the anthrax letter attacks apparently came from within the U.S. government biodefense complex, because in response to that incident the Bush administration tripled the size of the complex. Today, some 14,000 people are authorized to work with pathogens and toxins of bioterrorism concern, known as “select agents.” By greatly increasing the number of people who know how to work with dangerous pathogens in order to develop defenses against them, we’ve increased the statistical risk that some of these individuals—for personal or ideological reasons—may decide to use their specialized know-how for harmful purposes. Thus, the biodefense boom has arguably increased the risk of an attack.

Beyond that, the sheer size and scope of the U.S. biodefense program has aroused suspicion on the part of other countries. There’s now a National Interagency Biodefense Campus at Fort Detrick that includes three maximum-containment labs: the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), the Integrated Research Facility run by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC) under the Department of Homeland Security. Because NBACC does classified research, even some people I know at USAMRIID have no idea what goes on there. If U.S. Army scientists have questions about the secrecy surrounding NBACC, then the Russians and the Chinese must assume that the lab is involved in offensive research. I personally believe that those suspicions are unfounded, but they could still cause other countries to start hedging their bets, and soon we could find ourselves in the middle of a biological arms race.

The point is that in our efforts to defend against an attack, we may have increased the probability of one, plus the lack of transparency with biodefense research doesn’t exactly increase the “trust” factor with other countries.

Biological weapons, biological terrorism, and biological defense are all tied together as part of the incredibly complex national security picture that has been etched by the events of the past decade. It’s good to know that the Obama administration has a broader, more multilateral, inclusive approach to addressing biological threats, but the biggest problem remains, and I’ll paraphrase Ronald Reagan’s favorite quote:

Without verification, there cannot be trust.

There’s a lot of work to do in the future.