Category Archives: Merchants of Death

Blackwater Founder Remains Free and Rich While His Former Employees Go Down on Murder Charges

Jeremy Scahill writes for The Intercept:

Featured photo - Blackwater Founder Remains Free and Rich While His Former Employees Go Down on Murder Charges‘[...] The incident for which the men were tried was the single largest known massacre of Iraqi civilians at the hands of private U.S. security contractors. Known as “Baghdad’s bloody Sunday,” operatives from Blackwater gunned down 17 Iraqi civilians at a crowded intersection at Nisour Square on September 16, 2007. The company, founded by secretive right-wing Christian supremacist Erik Prince, had deep ties to the Bush Administration and served as a sort of neoconservative Praetorian Guard for a borderless war launched in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

While Barack Obama pledged to reign in mercenary forces when he was a senator, once he became president he continued to employ a massive shadow army of private contractors. Blackwater — despite numerous scandals, congressional investigations, FBI probes and documented killings of civilians in both Iraq and Afghanistan — remained a central part of the Obama administration’s global war machine throughout his first term in office.

Just as with the systematic torture at Abu Ghraib, it is only the low level foot-soldiers of Blackwater that are being held accountable. Prince and other top Blackwater executives continue to reap profits from the mercenary and private intelligence industries. Prince now has a new company, Frontier Services Group, which he founded with substantial investment from Chinese enterprises and which focuses on opportunities in Africa. Prince recently suggested that his forces at Blackwater could have confronted Ebola and ISIS. “If the administration cannot rally the political nerve or funding to send adequate active duty ground forces to answer the call, let the private sector finish the job,” he wrote.’

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US jury convicts Blackwater security guards in deaths of Iraqi civilians

Dan Roberts reports for The Guardian:

Three security guards working for the private US contractor Blackwater have been found guilty of the manslaughter of a group of unarmed civilians at a crowded Baghdad traffic junction in one of the darkest incidents of the Iraq war.

A fourth, Nicholas Slatten, was found guilty of one charge of first-degree murder. All face the likelihood of lengthy prison sentences after unanimous verdicts on separate weapons charges related to the incident.

The Nisour Square massacre in 2007 left 17 people dead and 20 seriously injured after the guards working for the US State Department fired heavy machine guns and grenade launchers from their armoured convoy in the mistaken belief they were under attack by insurgents.’

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Marshall Islands nuke suit against U.S. gets Nobel winners’ support

Bob Egelko reports for the San Francisco Chronicle:

‘The Marshall Islands, a small nation in the northern Pacific that endured 67 U.S. atomic tests in the 1940s and 1950s, has sued the United States in a Bay Area federal court, claiming violations of an international nuclear weapons treaty and seeking a court order that would require the U.S. to enter negotiations on nuclear disarmament within a year. The suit appears to be a longshot — Justice Department lawyers are seeking dismissal on multiple grounds, including a lack of judicial authority over the issue — but it recently picked up some eminent support.

In an open letter to the islands’ government and its people, 68 advocates of disarmament and human rights from 22 nations, including two Nobel Peace Prize winners, endorsed the federal lawsuit and a parallel suit the Marshall Islands have filed in the World Court against all nine nuclear weapons nations.’

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George W. Bush was still completely wrong about Iraq’s WMDs

Matt Purple writes for Rare:

‘Yesterday the New York Times published a major scoop: American troops had uncovered chemical weapons during the Iraq war, and on at least six occasions were injured by chemical agents. The government then frantically tried to conceal the WMDs, keeping the information classified and, in some cases, denying soldiers care for chemical-related injuries.

There are plenty of conclusions to draw from the Times story.

That the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq is vindicated is not one of them.

The Times reports that many of the chemical weapons were empty, most were unusable, and all were manufactured before 1991. This fits with the current wisdom that Saddam Hussein abandoned his chemical weapons program after the First Gulf War.

As the Times concludes, “The discoveries of these chemical weapons did not support the government’s invasion rationale.”

Still that hasn’t stopped many conservatives from engaging in a little hackneyed told-you-so. “Put that ‘Bush lied, kids died’ in your pipes and smoke it!!!” went today’s typical Tweet.’

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Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta Sparks Debate Over U.S. Nuclear Strike on North Korea

Lauren Walker and Jeff Stein report for Newsweek:

RTR2TB18‘The specter of nuclear mushroom clouds rising over northeast Asia has long been a staple of nightmare scenarios in the event of another war between North and South Korea. It’s a prospect so apocalyptic that American officials have rarely articulated exactly what would trigger their use of weapons that could instantly kill millions and make the entire peninsula uninhabitable for decades.

In a memoir published last week, however, former CIA chief and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta reopened the prickly issue, recalling a chilling, 2010 briefing in Seoul by General Walter L. “Skip” Sharp, the commander of U.S. forces in South Korea, who told him just such a nightmare could come true should communist forces pour across the DMZ as they did in 1950.’

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Obama and Republican hawks are in perfect agreement about Pentagon spending

Jonathan Bydlak writes for Rare:

Fotor01010161359‘At the Pentagon earlier this week for a national security update, President Obama doubled down on his calls for ending sequestration, labeling it “draconian” in a time of increased demands on the military.

Yet as recently as 2011, the President was on record as saying, “I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts to domestic and defense spending. There will be no easy off-ramps on this one.”

What a difference a few years makes. The sequester, a collection of discretionary spending caps, ended up becoming law after the so-called “Super Committee” failed to enact cuts in return for raising the debt ceiling. And perhaps unsurprisingly, it wasn’t long before the President changed his tune.’

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Pentagon spending getting out of hand

Editor’s Note: William D. Hartung is director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy. He is also the author of ‘Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex‘.

William D. Hartung writes for CNN:

‘It’s no secret that the Obama administration has been routinely using the war budget as a safety valve to pay for equipment and operations that have nothing to do with fighting wars.

But as the President continues to expand U.S. military operations in Iraq and Syria, it is important that this practice of using war funding to pay for unrelated items be brought to an end. The alternative — allowing the Pentagon to use budgetary sleight of hand to evade the spending caps contained in current law — is simply unacceptable.

The levels of overfunding of the war budget — known in Pentagon-ese as the Overseas Contingency Operations account — have been astonishing. Independent analysesby the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments and the Project on Government Oversight suggest that there may be $20 to $30 billion in non-war-related expenditures in the $80 billion-plus OCO account in the 2014 budget alone.’

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Nearly $500 Million Pentagon Plane Project Netted $32,000 in Scrap Metal

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

‘The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) has documented a long, long list of failed programs wasting billions of dollars over the course of the 13 year war. The bad news keeps coming.

Today [Oct 9th], SIGAR is asking the Air Force for a good explanation of a program on plane acquisition for the Afghan Air Force. They bought the planes and refurbished them at a cost of $468 million before deciding they couldn’t get spare parts for the planes to keep them useful.’

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Pakistan is eyeing sea-based and short-range nuclear weapons, analysts say

Tim Craig and Karen DeYoung report for The Washington Post:

‘In one of the world’s most volatile ­regions, Pakistan is advancing toward a sea-based missile capability and expanding its interest in tactical nuclear warheads, according to Pakistani and Western analysts.

The development of nuclear missiles that could be fired from a ship or submarine would give Pakistan “second-strike” capability if a catastrophic nuclear exchange destroyed all land-based weapons. But the acceleration of Pakistan’s nuclear and missile programs is renewing international concern about the vulnerability of those weapons in a country that is home to more than two dozen Islamist extremist groups.’

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Costs of Obama’s New War in Iraq and Syria Set to Explode, say Analysts

Lauren McCauley reports for Common Dreams:

‘The U.S. government’s new war in Iraq that now also includes Syria has already cost American taxpayers between $780 and $930 million, and could amount to over $1 billion a month if U.S. efforts intensify on the scale demanded by war hawks in Congress, according to a think tank analysis published this week.

[...] On an annual basis, CSBA estimates, the U.S. military’s operation against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (or ISIS) could cost as much as $22 billion dollars a year.

The Pentagon is currently funding the attack through a controversial war fund, dubbed the Overseas Contingency Operations account, which is exempt from federal budget caps. The fund was originally created to fund the previous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan though defense officials say it will likely be around for the “long-term.”

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Jeremy Scahill on Obama’s Orwellian War in Iraq: We Created the Very Threat We Claim to be Fighting

‘As Vice President Joe Biden warns it will take a “hell of a long fight” for the United States to stop militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, we speak to Jeremy Scahill, author of the book, “Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield.” We talk about how the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 that helped create the threat now posed by the Islamic State. We also discuss the role of Baathist forces in ISIS, Obama’s targeting of journalists, and the trial of four former Blackwater operatives involved in the 2007 massacre at Baghdad’s Nisoor Square.’ (Democracy Now!)

John Oliver on America not taking very good care of its 4,800 nuclear weapons

U.S. Says it Needs Nukes to Defend Against Asteroids

NBC News reports:

‘The U.S. government delayed the dismantling of some nuclear warhead components to protect against a foreign threat: asteroids. The nuclear component, called the canned subassembly (CSA), contains highly enriched uranium. Several of them were scheduled to be dismantled in 2015, but are now being kept until senior government officials can evaluate their usefulness in “planetary defense against earthbound asteroids,” according to a Government Accountability Office document reported on first by the Wall Street Journal.’

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TV Generals and Precision Bombs: Corporate Media Go to War

Peter Hart writes for Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting:

‘Want to know what corporate media look like when they’re reporting for duty?

On the most recent CBS‘s Face the Nation (9/28/14), host Bob Schieffer previewed the guests who would be appearing on the show:

We will get the latest on the mission and what it entails from Deputy National Security Adviser Anthony Blinken, retired General Carter Ham, former Pentagon official Michele Flournoy and former Deputy Director of the CIA Mike Morell.

So that’s a current government official, a retired general, and retired Pentagon and CIA officials. Now that‘s a diverse line-up.’

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Defense Contractors Are Making a Killing

Dan Froomkin writes for The Intercept:

‘Stock prices for Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman set all-time record highs last week as it became increasingly clear that President Obama was committed to a massive, sustained air war in Iraq and Syria.

It’s nothing short of a windfall for these and other huge defense contractors, who’ve been getting itchy about federal budget pressures that threatened to slow the rate of increase in military spending.

Now, with U.S. forces literally blowing through tens of millions of dollars of munitions a day, the industry is not just counting on vast spending to replenish inventory, but hoping for a new era of reliance on supremely expensive military hardware.’

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Iran says nuclear suspicions are ‘fabricated ambiguities’

Frederik Dahl reports for Reuters:

‘Iran dismissed on Tuesday as “fabricated ambiguities” suspicions that it has carried out nuclear arms research, a day after it came under renewed Western pressure to help clear up U.N. watchdog concerns about its atomic energy program. Addressing an annual meeting of the 162-nation International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), senior official Behrouz Kamalvandi also said Iran was committed to trying to reach a negotiated solution to its decade-old nuclear dispute with the West.

“However, measures such as sanctions or double standard approaches certainly harm the negotiating process and cause further mistrust,” Kamalvandi, vice chairman of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said. He urged world powers – which resumed talks with Iran in New York last week – to take “constructive and realistic approaches” and fully respect Iran’s nuclear rights in order to end what he called an “unnecessary” crisis.’

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IAEA rejects Arab bid to curb Israel’s nuclear capabilities

The Jerusalem Post/Reuters reports:

Vienna ‘Member states of the International Atomic Energy Agency rejected on Thursday an Arab resolution criticizing Israel over its assumed atomic arsenal, in a diplomatic victory for Western states that opposed the initiative.

Arab states had submitted the non-binding resolution – which called on Israel to join a global anti-nuclear weapons pact – to the annual meeting of the 162-nation UN nuclear agency, in part to signal their frustration at the lack of progress to move towards a Middle East free of nuclear weapons.’

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Sources: Libya asks chemical weapons watchdog to remove stockpile

Anthony Deutsch reports for Reuters:

‘Libya has asked the global chemical weapons watchdog to draw up plans to ship a stockpile of 850 tonnes of chemicals overseas due to deteriorating security, sources have told Reuters. Diplomats and officials said that transporting the toxins abroad for destruction, as was recently done in Syria, is the most viable option to keep them out of the hands of battling militant groups.

Since the removal of Muammar Qaddafi three years ago, the country has descended into anarchy, with rival militias and hardline Islamic groups battling for political control and vast oil reserves. Facilities to destroy the chemical weapons were set up and Libyans were trained to use the equipment, but fighting threatens stability and has made it impossible to safely conduct their work.’

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U.S. Ramping Up Major Renewal in Nuclear Arms

William J Broad and David E Sanger report for The New York Times:

‘A sprawling new plant here in a former soybean field makes the mechanical guts of America’s atomic warheads. Bigger than the Pentagon, full of futuristic gear and thousands of workers, the plant, dedicated last month, modernizes the aging weapons that the United States can fire from missiles, bombers and submarines. It is part of a nationwide wave of atomic revitalization that includes plans for a new generation of weapon carriers. A recent federal study put the collective price tag, over the next three decades, at up to a trillion dollars.

This expansion comes under a president who campaigned for “a nuclear-free world” and made disarmament a main goal of American defense policy. The original idea was that modest rebuilding of the nation’s crumbling nuclear complex would speed arms refurbishment, raising confidence in the arsenal’s reliability and paving the way for new treaties that would significantly cut the number of warheads.

Instead, because of political deals and geopolitical crises, the Obama administration is engaging in extensive atomic rebuilding while getting only modest arms reductions in return. Supporters of arms control, as well as some of President Obama’s closest advisers, say their hopes for the president’s vision have turned to baffled disappointment as the modernization of nuclear capabilities has become an end unto itself.’

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Blackwater Founder: We Could Stop ISIS

Asawin Suebsaeng reports for The Daily Beast:

Erik Prince has a message for ISIS: You’re lucky Blackwater is gone. On Friday night, the controversial founder of the private military company had plenty to say about what the organization he once ran could be doing in the fight against the so-called Islamic State—and also why Republicans need to stop being such losers.

“It’s a shame the [Obama] administration crushed my old business, because as a private organization, we could’ve solved the boots-on-the-ground issue, we could have had contracts from people that want to go there as contractors; you don’t have the argument of U.S. active duty going back in there,” Prince said in an on-stage discussion featuring retired four-star Gen. James Conway. “[They could have] gone in there and done it, and be done, and not have a long, protracted political mess that I predict will ensue.”’

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Military-Grade Drone Can Be 3D Printed Anywhere

Jordon Golson reports for Wired:

‘We have 3-D printed keys, guns and shoes—now a research team at the University of Virginia has created a 3D printed UAV drone for the Department of Defense.

In the works for three years, the aircraft, no bigger than a remote-controlled plane, can carry a 1.5-pound payload. If it crashes or needs a design tweak for a new mission, another one can be printed out in a little more than a day, for just $2,500. It’s made with off-the-shelf parts and has an Android phone for a brain.’

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UK’s Nuclear Missiles Could Be Headed for the US if Scotland Wins Independence

Colleen Curry reports for VICE News:

‘The UK’s nuclear weapons are housed in the southwest corner of Scotland, at Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde, the Ministry of Defense confirmed Tuesday. The missiles, 58 of them in all, are leased from King’s Bay Naval Base in southeastern Georgia, near the Atlantic Ocean just north of the Florida border. The British have been leasing the missiles and periodically having them serviced at King’s Bay since the mid-1990s, according to the British government.

If Scotland were to vote yes on independence and no on nukes Thursday, the British would be hard-pressed to quickly find or build another place in the UK with the infrastructure to store them, according to experts. That could force the UK to ship the missiles back to the US, at least temporarily.’

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Netanyahu eyes big increase in Israel’s defense spending

Xinhua reports:

‘Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said he supports largely increasing defense spending in the upcoming 2015 budget in opposition to the stance of the finance minister, which may lead to the collapse of his political coalition.

“The billions we’ve invested in Israel’s defense in recent years saved the Israeli economy … Due to the threats in our area we need a substantial increment of billions in the defense budget, and we must do so in a responsible way without a great deficit,” Netanyahu said at the fourth international cyber convention held at the Tel Aviv University.’

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The Pentagon’s $800-Billion Real Estate Problem

Matthew Gault reports for Medium:

‘The U.S. Department of Defense owns more than half a million properties worth in excess of $800 billion dollars. The military’s real estate holdings span the globe and, all together, sprawl across 30 million acres.

Pentagon auditors can’t explain what half the properties are for—and doesn’t have a plan for finding out. All this according to a Sept. 8 report from the Government Accountability Office. The nearly trillion-dollar real estate glut is merely another example of egregious military waste.’

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US weapons makers sense rising demand for air defense systems, tanks

Andrea Shalal reports for Reuters:

‘Military crises around the world are boosting foreign demand for U.S. weapons, especially air and missile defense systems, spy equipment and armored vehicles, according to the U.S. government and industry officials. Weapons makers like Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing and Raytheon anticipate new markets for their goods, which could help offset lower U.S. military spending.

The Ukraine crisis is reviving long-dormant European demand, while the emerging threat from militant groups like Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has underpinned already strong Middle Eastern demand. And in Asia, China’s military buildup and tensions with its neighbors are prompting the United States to deepen relations with traditional allies such as Japan, and forge deeper bonds with other countries, including former foes such as Vietnam.’

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60 Years Ago, Moscow Tested a Nuclear Weapon on Its Own Citizens

Paul Goble reports for The Interpreter:

ingress_image‘Yesterday [Sept 14th] was the 60th anniversary of a horrific tragedy in which the Soviet government tested a nuclear weapon on its own people at a military base in Orenburg Oblast, a tragedy which continues because the Russian government has not been willing to face up to what happen or provide effective help to the victims.

Instead, the Bellona organization says, this horrific event “continues not only in the fates of the witnesses still living but in the fate of their children and grandchildren. Over these 60 years, a very great deal has changed, but what has not changed is the impermissible attitude of the state towards its own citizens.”

On September 14, 1954, the Soviet authorities exploded a nuclear device of between 10 and 40 kilotons, approximately twice the power of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, in an area where some 45,000 to 60,000 Soviet citizens were living in order to test the effectiveness of the weapon, the environmental activist group says.’

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Who’s Paying the Pro-War Pundits?

Lee Fang writes for The Nation:

‘If you read enough news and watch enough cable television about the threat of the Islamic State, the radical Sunni Muslim militia group better known simply as ISIS, you will inevitably encounter a parade of retired generals demanding an increased US military presence in the region. They will say that our government should deploy, as retired General Anthony Zinni demanded, up to 10,000 American boots on the ground to battle ISIS. Or as in retired General Jack Keane’s case, they will make more vague demands, such as for “offensive” air strikes and the deployment of more military advisers to the region.

But what you won’t learn from media coverage of ISIS is that many of these former Pentagon officials have skin in the game as paid directors and advisers to some of the largest military contractors in the world. Ramping up America’s military presence in Iraq and directly entering the war in Syria, along with greater military spending more broadly, is a debatable solution to a complex political and sectarian conflict. But those goals do unquestionably benefit one player in this saga: America’s defense industry.’

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How Big Tech Companies Are Helping Maintain America’s Empire

Adam Hudson writes for AlterNet:

‘Silicon Valley has been in the media spotlight for its role in gentrifying and raising rents in San Francisco, helping the NSA spy on American citizens, and lack of racial and gender diversity. Despite that, Silicon Valley still has a reputation for benevolence, innocence and progressivism. Hence Google’s phrase, “Don’t be evil.” A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that, even after the Snowden leaks, 53% of those surveyed had high confidence in the tech industry. The tech industry is not seen as evil as, say, Wall Street or Big Oil.

One aspect of Silicon Valley that would damage this reputation has not been scrutinized enough—its involvement in American militarism. Silicon Valley’s ties to the National Security State extend beyond the NSA’s PRISM program. Through numerous partnerships and contracts with the U.S. military, intelligence and law enforcement agencies, Silicon Valley is part of the American military-industrial complex. Google sells its technologies to the U.S. military, FBI, CIA, NSA, DEA, NGA, and other intelligence and law enforcement agencies, has managers with backgrounds in military and intelligence work, and partners with defense contractors like Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. Amazon designed a cloud computing system that will be used by the CIA and every other intelligence agency. The CIA-funded tech company Palantir sells its data-mining and analysis software to the U.S. military, CIA, LAPD, NYPD, and other security agencies. These technologies have several war-zone and intelligence-gathering applications.’

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Murky Special Ops Have Become Corporate Bonanza, Says Report

Ryan Gallagher reports for The Intercept:

Featured photo - Murky Special Ops Have Become Corporate Bonanza, Says Report‘The U.S. government is paying private contractors billions of dollars to support secretive military units with drones, surveillance technology, and “psychological operations,” according to new research. A detailed report, published last week by the London-based Remote Control Project, shines a light on the murky activities of the U.S. Special Operations Command by analyzing publicly available procurement contracts dated between 2009 and 2013. USSOCOM encompasses four commands – from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps – and plays a key role in orchestrating clandestine U.S. military missions overseas.

Researcher Crofton Black, who also works as an investigator for human rights group Reprieve, was able to dig through the troves of data and identify the beneficiaries of almost $13 billion worth of spending by USSOCOM over the five-year period. He found that more than 3,000 companies had provided services that included aiding remotely piloted drone operations in Afghanistan and the Philippines, helping to conduct surveillance of targets, interrogating prisoners, and launching apparent propaganda campaigns.’

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Deadly plague and botulism microbes found in US lab

BBC News reports:

Bubonic plague bacteria‘A number of long-forgotten deadly microbes have been uncovered in US government laboratories. The highly poisonous substances were found in a hunt triggered by the accidental discovery in July of vials of smallpox at a lab in the National Institutes of Health near Washington.

They included vials of ricin and pathogens that cause botulism, the plague and a rare tropical infection. The substances, some dating from nearly a century ago, have now been destroyed. Officials from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) said some of its laboratories were cleared to use poisonous substances and were checked regularly. But the recent finds were from historical collections that were once allowed to be stored without regulation.’

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