Ten years after the South African bioweapons programme was officially dismantled, some of its expertise and materials are still at large, prompting concern about similar programmes in other nations, such as Iraq.
The Washington Post reported on 20 April that Daan Goosen, a founding director of the lab that did research for South Africa's bioweapons programme, offered the FBI a vial of genetically modified Escherichia coli bacteria. According to the newspaper, he promised to turn over a cache of other weapons in exchange for money and a US passport, but was refused.
The fact that scientists from the programme are still seeking to exploit their knowledge alarms non-proliferation experts who are now looking at the situation in Iraq.
Jonathan Tucker, a senior fellow at the US Institute of Peace, a government-funded think-tank in Washington DC, says that the Bush administration should establish programmes in Iraq similar to those that the government has set up to employ former weapons scientists in Russia and the Ukraine. Earlier this month, Congress rejected a proposal to spend $50 million on such 'cooperative threat reduction' programmes outside the former Soviet Union.
Other experts says that such programmes won't be necessary in Iraq, whose biological-weapons programme was far less extensive than that in Russia. “The concern will be, can we encourage these scientists to stay in Iraq and help build a biotechnology industry which is good for their country?” says David Franz, a former United Nations weapons inspector.
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Check, E. US debates future of Iraqi scientists. Nature 422, 789 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1038/422789b