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"Forget the Rest" blog

For immediate release March 18, 2004

Nonprofit Journalist Denied Entrance

To Biological Weapons Conference

Commercial Press Absent So Far from National Event 

Contact: Darwin BondGraham or Greg Mello, 505-265-1200

Albuquerque – If biological threats are important enough to warrant billions of dollars in new programs and serve as touchstones for emergency planning for the public, does the public have a right to know what’s going on?  Not according to the organizers of the 2004 Biological Threat Reduction Conference now running in Albuquerque.  The conference, which runs from Wednesday to Friday this week at the Wyndham Hotel is bringing together leading researchers on biological warfare, terrorism from academia, the military, and several DOE labs, and includes policymakers from federal and state government.   

            The conference is sponsored by public institutions: the State of New Mexico, the University of New Mexico, Argonne National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratories. 

            Keynote speaker Steve Younger, a Los Alamos weapons scientist, began the conference with a talk entitled, “A Retrospective of World Terror Issues.”  Other presenters represent the Department of Homeland Security, the Air Force, Sandia National Laboratories, private companies, and more.    

            The topics discussed at the conference bear centrally on public policy questions relating to military and civilian disaster procedures, civil rights, the worldwide “war on terrorism,” the future of New Mexico’s economy, and future programs at its national laboratories and universities.  Billions of dollars of federal funding are involved nationwide. 

            Some of projects in the field have been identified as possible sources of novel, uniquely-infectious pathogens.  Approximately 42 existing and new secure BSL-3 (Biological Safety Level 3) and BSL-4 laboratories and outdoor test ranges are involved, including one at LANL and one at the Lovelace Institute.  Open-air dispersion experiments involving large quantities of surrogate organisms have been approved for the White Sands Missile Range (WSMR), among other sites.

            According to the conference’s official web sit (www.btr-albuquerque.org), the conference is an “open public forum.”   The press, however, has not been allowed entry so far.  Conference coordinator Barbara Daniels responded to an email from Darwin BondGraham of the Study Group requesting permission to cover the proceedings by saying, “We appreciate your interest in BTR; however, the press is not covering the conference.”  A registration fee of $350 ($300 with early registration) is required before any member of the public or journalist can attend any portion of the publicly-funded “open” conference. 

            Study Group Director Greg Mello said, “Key issues bearing centrally on the future of our society are receding behind closed doors and closed internet portals, and are increasingly made by corporate-military “partnerships” like the ones involved in this conference.  What plans are being made?  Who might be affected?  Who is profiting?  Is there appropriate oversight?  The answers to all these questions are very unclear.”

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