TEN years ago, the consuming national security threat to the U.S. was the nuclear arsenal of the Soviet Union. Virtually all of the energies, talent, and resources of the Laboratory were dedicated to checkmating the Soviet threat, both by ensuring a safe and reliable U.S. nuclear stockpile and by contributing to bilateral strategic arms control agreements. That world no longer exists. The Soviet Union has disappeared, and although a Russian nuclear threat remains, it is greatly diminished, and prospects are favorable for a continuing good relationship with Russia.|
Today, the highest priority threat to national security and U.S. forces stems from the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons-the so-called weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Possible perpetrators include rogue states, state-sponsored terrorist groups, domestic terrorists, and even internationally organized criminals and narcotics traffickers. Indeed, more than 50 countries are known to supply, demand, or provide a conduit for WMD devices, materials, and technology.
New technologies and capabilities are needed to deal with the WMD proliferation threat, and nowhere is this more true than for biological weapons. The revolution in bioscience and biotechnology has both heightened awareness of the threat posed by biological weapons and provided the basis for tools to counter it.
The Department of Energy recently established the Chemical and Biological Weapons Nonproliferation Program and is encouraging its rapid implementation and growth. Lawrence Livermore, in cooperation with other national laboratories, is taking an active part in this effort by developing diagnostic methods, detection instrumentation, modeling analyses, and decontamination procedures that prevent and respond to the threat posed by chemical and biological weapons. The Laboratory has many existing capabilities-in remote sensing, detection technologies, forensic science, intelligence analysis, atmospheric science, process modeling systems analysis, hazardous material handing, and bioscience-to apply against this threat. The article entitled Reducing the Threat of Biological Weapons reports on specific examples of how Livermore is using these existing capabilities to respond to the bioweapons threat.
The early 1990s saw the development of miniaturized, portable detection instruments at Livermore, and this effort was enhanced in 1996 by a Laboratory Directed Research and Development project to specifically develop instruments for rapid field identification of biological agents. This project culminated in a demonstration of outstanding performance by several biodetectors in Joint Field Trials held at the Dugway Proving Grounds, Utah. On the basis of this success, the Nonproliferation, Arms Control, and International Security and the Biology and Biotechnology Research Program directorates have expanded a collaborative initiative to address the threat of biological weapons.
The principal elements of this effort are systems analysis, biodetector development, and molecular diagnostics. A systems analysis team is working with federal and local representatives to determine where to deploy detectors and to develop incident response scenarios; these activities also provide valuable information for improving biodetector performance and operation. In biodetector development, researchers are continuing to decrease the size and increase the sensitivity of the instruments, with an emphasis on autonomous detection systems or "sentries." Molecular diagnostics research is contributing to the fundamental understanding of biological threat organisms needed for optimum incident response and attribution. This information will also be used to improve pathogen detection assays and to assist other agencies in the development of effective preventative and therapeutic medical treatments.
As a national security laboratory, Lawrence Livermore is building on its established programs and its historical nuclear weapons mission to address the threat posed by biological weapons. This most recent initiative typifies the Laboratory's multidisciplinary, cross-cutting approach to applied science and its ability to anticipate and respond to national security needs.