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Is North Korea Secretly Producing Biological Weapons?

Is North Korea Secretly Producing Biological Weapons?

It looks like North Korea isn’t only investing and experimenting with nuclear weapons, but is also could be researching and developing biological weapons.

North Korea has acquired machinery that could be used to build bioweapons, along with “factories that can produce microbes by the ton.” 

“That the North Koreans have (biological) agents is known, by various means,” said a U.S. official to the Washington Post. “The lingering question is, why have they acquired the materials and developed the science, but not yet produced weapons?” 

It appears as though Kim Jong Un’s government is also promoting advancement in biotechnology. Scientists are being sent abroad to get advanced degrees in microbiology.

“The gains have alarmed U.S. analysts, who say North Korea — which has doggedly pursued weapons of mass destruction of every other variety — could quickly surge into industrial-scale production of biological pathogens if it chooses to do so. Such a move could give the regime yet another fearsome weapon with which to threaten neighbors or U.S. troops in a future conflict, officials and analysts say,” writes the Washington Post.  

However, concrete evidence of the production of the biological weapons has yet to be discovered.

If they are being produced, it would be difficult to detect since it would be done at civilian factories that are creating pharmaceutical and agricultural products.

“If it started tomorrow we might not know it, unless we’re lucky enough to have an informant who happens to be in just the right place,” said the official.

In 2006, a U.S. intelligence official alerted Congress that North Korea was working on biological weapons using pathogens that cause smallpox and anthrax. Fortunately, the communist regime research teams lacked the technical skills to deploy the weapons.  

Then in 2015, Kim filmed at the regime’s newly acquired Pyongyang Biotechnical Institute, a factory that would be making biological pesticides for “farming.”

But what was especially alarming in the footage was that in the background there was advanced equipment that could have more malicious uses.

“On display inside the military-run facility were rooms jammed with expensive equipment, including industrial-scale fermenters used for growing bulk quantities of live microbes, and large dryers designed to turn billions of bacterial spores into a fine powder for easy dispersal,” writes the Washington Post. “U.S. analysts now believe the timing of the visit was deliberate: The previous week, on May 28, the Pentagon had publicly acknowledged that live samples of U.S.-made anthrax bacteria had been accidentally shipped to a South Korean military base because of a lab mix-up. North Korea lodged a formal complaint with the United Nations on June 4, calling the incident proof of American “biological warfare schemes” against its citizens.”

North Korea was banned from purchasing these types of machines under international sanctions, but Kim now has the equipment under the guise that it’s for farming.

“It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the institute is intended to produce military-size batches of anthrax,” said Melissa Hanham, a North Korea specialist at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in a blog post about the video. “Regardless of whether the equipment is being used to produce anthrax today, it could be in the near future.” 

One of the machines was suspiciously not visibility connected to any pipes or vents.

However, biohazard suits and gear need to handle deadly pathogens were nowhere to be found.

Assuming that North Korea is somehow experimenting with biological weapons, the difficult task of learning how to control them may be the only reason Kim has yet to deploy them.

“But germs as military weapons also have distinct disadvantages, as they are difficult to control and can take hours or days to kill or disable. A consensus view among military planners is that Kim is choosing to hold his bioweapons card in reserve for now, while his scientists build up a capacity to manufacture large quantities of pathogens quickly. Now that the North is equipped with state-of-the-art factories and teams of trained specialists, that shift could conceivably happen in weeks or even days, the senior official said,” writes the Washington Post.

Last year, top science advisers warned against the threat of gene-editing technology and how it could be used as a biological weapon.  

To put it simply, gene editing is when DNA is inserted, replaced or deleted inside a living cell.

“Given the broad distribution, low cost, and accelerated pace of development of this dual-use technology, its deliberate or unintentional misuse might lead to far-reaching economic and national security implications,” according to last year’s threat assessment report by the U.S. intelligence community.  

Late last year, the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology urged Congress to “create a $2 billion emergency preparedness fund for to be able to respond to any scenario of a biological weapon by boosting the ability to do research and produce vaccines more quickly,” reported Seeker.

CRISPR/Cas-9, a gene-editing technology has made it much easier to manipulate genetics.  

“There are plenty of black hat scenarios with CRISPR, from potential eco-terrorism to inserting it into a virus,” said Ellen Jorgensen, a biology teacher that teaches a CRISPR-focused class. “The devil is always in the delivery. CRISPR is no different. It has to penetrate the cell and get inside. It’s always the hardest part of any gene delivery system.” 

Could North Korea be experimenting with this type of biotechnology?

Author’s note: It’s scary, but it looks like bioweapons are only becoming easier to produce and this could be bad news for North Korea’s enemies.

Editor’s note: With CRISPR and other gene editing technologies, the expertise needed to produce nasty bio weapons has lowered substantially. This could be a problem.

 

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