from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2002, Issue No. 62
July 12, 2002


The synthesis of infectious poliovirus from mail-ordered chemical components, newly accomplished by Pentagon-funded scientists and reported in Science Magazine online yesterday, is renewing a simmering debate about whether limits are needed on the conduct or publication of scientific research and, if so, who should define those limits.

The scientists described the methodology that they used to assemble the virus in Science Magazine here:

Some initial reactions to the announcement were reported in "Scientists Create a Live Polio Virus" by Andrew Pollack in the New York Times here:

Anticipating controversy, lead author Jeronimo Cello defended publication of the virus paper on grounds that "By releasing this, you alert the authorities... [to] what bioterrorists could do." For obvious reasons, this is not a very persuasive argument.

Penrose Albright, Senior Director for Research and Development at the White House Office of Homeland Security, said in May that his Office had "spent many hours" considering whether and how to seek limitations on scientific research relating to weapons of mass destruction, but had made little progress.

"We look to the scientific community" to define appropriate criteria and procedures, Dr. Albright said. The unstated implication was that if the scientific community does not somehow rise to the challenge, then government will eventually intervene in some clumsy fashion, particularly if there are new indications that terrorists are pursuing these technologies.

One post-September 11 restriction on biological research is a new requirement, enacted in the recent Bioterrorism Preparedness Act, to notify the government of the possession of certain highly lethal biological agents and toxins. Draft guidance for providing such notification was published in the Federal Register today. See:


The Senate Armed Services Committee, which has jurisdiction over Pentagon intelligence agencies (that make up the bulk of the U.S. intelligence community), issued its report on the Intelligence Authorization Act for 2003 this week. The brief report reflects continuing turf struggles between the Armed Services Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee, with which it shares jurisdiction. See:

The House version of the intelligence bill continues to languish in the House Rules Committee.


Efraim Halevi, the director of the Mossad, Israel's foreign intelligence service, recently addressed the NATO North Atlantic Council in Brussels on his perception of the regional and global threat environment. The Council meeting was closed, but the text of the Halevi speech was published by the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot on June 28 and translated by the CIA's Foreign Broadcast Information Service. See:


"The events of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent anthrax incidents have prompted some observers to suggest creating a capability for a virtual or electronic Congress (e-Congress) that could function in the event of an emergency," according to a recent Congressional Research Service assessment.

"The possibility of convening an e-Congress raises a number of procedural, technical, and resource questions."

See "Electronic Congress: Proposals and Issues" by Jeffrey W. Seifert and R. Eric Petersen, updated July 2:


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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