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Bioterrorism and yourbrain
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, 12 2007

Australian Broadcasting Corporation


Professor Malcolm Dando
Professor of International Security
Department of Peace Studies
Director of the Bradford (WMD) Disarmament Research Centre
University of Bradford, UK

Dr Mark Wheelis
Senior Lecturer,
University of California, Davis

Malcolm Dando: And Isuppose the dog that's not barked so far is the use of a fentanyl type agent by Russian special forces to break the Moscow hostage siege. Thatindicated that at least one country must have had quite large stockpiles, at least some training and a willingness to use a form of incapacitant.


Natasha Mitchell: Mark Wheelis, remind us of the significance of the Moscow theatre storming. Asyou suggest, Malcolm, it's understood, not confirmed necessarily, that an opiate chemical fentanyl was used to incapacitate the hostage takers but also the hostages. Remind us of that situation that happened in 2002.

Mark Wheelis: That was in the fall of 2002 in October and about 50Chechen separatists took somewhere between 800and 900theatregoers hostage in the Dubrovka theatre in Moscow. Theydemanded the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya a demand that the Russian federation clearly was not willing to meet. TheRussian federation stalled for a couple of days and then by a mechanism that is still not well understood but which Ithink involved tunnelling down to the air-handling systems in the basement of the building, and then introduced this anaesthetic agent in aerosol form, probably as a fine powder, into the air-handling equipment. Theagent was identified by the Russians as a derivative of the anaesthetic fentanyl but they were not more specific than that.

Natasha Mitchell: Over 100hostages died.

Mark Wheelis: There were about

Natasha Mitchell: What does that event actually raise for you, you have considerable concerns about what that was a harbinger of.

Natasha Mitchell: And it raises human rights issues for you more broadly, doesn't it, too?

Natasha Mitchell: Malcolm Dando, under the existing international chemical weapons conventions was there any discussion about this Moscow siege?

Malcolm Dando: As Iunderstand it, the whole issue of non-lethal agents and the implications for the convention, despite some state parties and certainly some NGOs attempting to bring the question up, it was not brought to the floor. Theproblem is that the international regime, the governance regime for chemical and biological agents is in a fairly fragile state. Wehave the 1925Geneva Protocol which effectively banned first-use of both chemical and biological agents. Wehave the 1975Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention, we have the 1995Chemical Weapons Convention, which is a much stronger modern instrument with a major international organisation to look after it. Butwith a certain amount of ambiguity in one of the key parts of the convention.

One of the exemptions for peaceful purposes reads, 'law enforcement, including domestic riot control' there's a worry law enforcement chemicals could be developed and could be argued to be legal, rather than a blanket ban, and what you'll end up with under the impact of the revolution in the life sciences is the erosion of the strongest element we have in the prohibition regime.

Mark Wheelis: These kinds of ambiguities are often found in international instruments because they facilitate agreement. Butthey can later come back to haunt one, as in this case. There is a lack of political will to actually close what we might view as a loophole because there are some countries that would like to keep it open. The Russian Federation clearly has already gone down this path and used this agent. There is some indication that some Special Forces units in the United States military may be equipped with knockout agents as well. There are noises from China about the utility of these weapons, Israel has used fentanyl as an assassination weapon and, once developed, we may see them being used by military forces in conditions that are not arguably law-enforcement.

Mark Wheelis: Yeah, there are ethical questions Ithink, the broadest ethical question is the concerns of the ethics of manipulating human physiology without the permission of the people whose physiology is being manipulated. Andmore specific issues would extend down to the very specific issue for instance of the execution of the comatose hostage-takers; whether that is legal under international law or not.

Mark Wheelis: Yeah, two major concerns Ihave about this. Thefirst is the one that Malcolm has just suggested that it provides virtually definitive evidence that the Russian Federation did develop, produce, stockpile and train troops and use this chemical agent as a weapon in this situation. Theprecedent that one country has actually engaged in developing such a weapon is worrisome because it is likely to stimulate others to do the same.

Mark Wheelis: 126or 127of the hostages died, Isuspect it was a combination of fentanyl overdose and airway blockage when they collapsed unconscious. There's an unknown number, but probably quite a large number of survivors who had continuing long-term deleterious health effects.

Natasha Mitchell: But many more were saved as a result.

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Comments (2)
1. Written by kasper, on 10-01-200800:21
2. Written by website, on 10-01-200806:20
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530 . , 13 8 (http://nord-ost.org/appendixes-to-the-report/appendix-22.-resolution-on-refusal-to-initiate-criminal-proceedings-dated-16.10.html). , 640.

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