Tagged: case

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Trump's transgender military ban 'worse than don't ask, don't tell,' advocates say

The Trump administration released two documents on Friday outlining the president’s ban on transgender people serving in the military[1]. While LGBTQ-rights advocates say this new measure is even more discriminatory than the now-defunct “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, they also note that recent court rulings prevent the ban from actually taking effect.

The administration’s first document, a memo[2] signed by the president, stated that “transgender persons with a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria — individuals who the policies state may require substantial medical treatment, including medications and surgery — are disqualified from military service except under certain limited circumstances.”

 President Donald Trump walks across the South Lawn of the White House on March 23, 2018 in Washington. Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

The second document[3], titled “Department of Defense Report and Recommendations on Military Service by Transgender Persons,” lays out the specific policy recommendations regarding trans individuals serving U.S. military. The 46-page report stated that the department had concluded “accommodating gender transition could impair unit readiness,” “undermine unit cohesion” and “lead to disproportionate costs.”

“This new policy will enable the military to apply well-established mental and physical health standards — including those regarding the use of medical drugs — equally to all individuals who want to join and fight for the best military force the world has ever seen,” the White House said in a statement[4] released on Friday.

“CATEGORICAL BAN”

The new report states “nothing in this policy precludes service by transgender persons who do not have a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria and are willing and able to meet all standards that apply to their biological sex.”

Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), disagreed, claiming such a policy constitutes a “categorical ban” of transgender people from the military by requiring service members to live as their sex assigned at birth.

“It means you can’t be transgender,” Minter said. “This is worse than ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ in its justification … It would be as though the government had tried to justify the DADT policy by saying that you can serve in the military if you say you will stop being gay.”

With DADT, which was ended in 2011, “the government never went so far as to say that being lesbian or gay is not a legitimate identity and [lesbians and gays] should undertake therapy to become straight, but that is what this report is saying about transgender people,” according to Minter.

He argued the ideas in the plan “have zero medical credibility” and are “lifted whole from anti-transgender propaganda put out by right-wing groups.”

“PANEL OF EXPERTS”

A federal judge issued a court order[5] on Tuesday requiring that the Department of Justice disclose the names of the military experts the Trump administration consulted regarding its transgender military ban. On Thursday, the Justice Department filed a response[6] to the judge’s order, stating the administration chooses “not to identify” those consulted.

The Justice Department “is coming close to defying court orders,” Minter said. “They do not want to disclose what lay behind this process.”

An article published by Slate[7] on Saturday, which cited multiple unnamed sources, claimed that Trump’s “panel of experts” included several people with histories of opposing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, including Vice President Mike Pence[8]; anti-transgender activist Ryan T. Anderson[9]; and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins[10]. NBC News has not independently verified Slate’s findings.

Friday’s report addressed the findings and recommendations of a 2016 study commissioned by the Department of Defense and conducted by the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit think tank. That report found no reason to prevent the enlistment and service of openly transgender individuals. The new report stated the Pentagon had “reached a different judgment on these issues” than RAND and the previous administration, adding that the issue is “more complicated.”

Natalie Nardecchia, senior attorney at LGBTQ civil rights organization Lambda Legal, slammed Friday’s report and said the previous administration “did a real report and did a real analysis … and then they enacted a policy.”

“That is the way it’s supposed to work, and this is the very opposite,” she said of the Trump administration’s findings.

“NO IMMEDIATE IMPACT”

Minter said the new policy is “as bad as it could be.” However, he said it has “no immediate impact,” because “federal courts have already issued orders saying the ban cannot be enforced.”

On Friday, Pentagon spokesperson Maj. David Eastburn echoed Minter’s assessment, saying the announcement of a new policy would have no immediate practical effect on the military, because the Pentagon is obliged to continue to recruit and retain transgender people in accordance with current law.

Minter said he does not expect any impact on currently enlisted soldiers or those attempting to enlist in the near future. However, because of what he called the plan’s “complete repudiation of transgender identity,” Minter said transgender troops may face additional stigma.

 Nicolas Talbott Courtesy of Nicolas Talbott

Nicolas Talbott, a 24-year-old transgender recruit from Lisbon, Ohio, said for now his enlistment process continues to advance.

“It’s going great,” he told NBC News. “I’m working with a wonderful recruiter, and at this moment we are waiting to … schedule a date for my physical exam and written test.”

Talbott said Friday’s documents were discouraging and felt like “another bump in the road,” but he said this just “reaffirms the fight is not over.”

“I am very optimistic that I’m going to get into the U.S. Air Force,” Talbott said. “There is nothing about being transgender in any way, shape or form that impacts an individual’s ability to serve.”

Nardecchia, agreed, saying “there is no medical or scientific support for presuming that transgender people are unfit.” Gender dysphoria, she added, “is a fully treatable condition that only some transgender people experience.”

“LEGALLY IRRELEVANT”

Civil rights groups, including the ACLU, Lambda Legal, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), NCLR and Equality California brought four different lawsuits before federal courts last year in attempts to block the transgender military ban. The courts issued preliminary injunctions, which prevent even this newly released implementation plan from taking effect.

Late last year, two different federal courts rebuffed the administration’s efforts to delay the enlistment of transgender troops, and the Justice Department declined to appeal those decisions[11]. Openly transgender troops began to enlist on January 1.

“Anything that the government comes forward with now is legally irrelevant,” Nardecchia said, adding that the burden is on the government to demonstrate a persuasive justification to stop allowing transgender troops to serve openly.

Nardecchia called Friday’s report “reverse engineering” in an attempt by the government to provide the courts with a valid justification for the ban.

“WE WILL KEEP FIGHTING”

On Tuesday, Nardecchia and other attorneys from Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN, which together represent nine transgender service members, will seek a permanent injunction against the ban.

“We are asking for the court to grant a summary judgment — without going to trial — and to permanently prevent the ban from going into law,” she explained.

Nardecchia said she doesn’t know when the court might hand down a decision, but she’s “optimistic.”

“We will keep fighting until we get a final judgment,” she added.

The release of the new transgender military policy, according to Minter, is good for LGBTQ advocates fighting the ban. “We now know exactly what we have to rebut in the court,” he said.

Minter is working on a separate case from Nardecchia, Doe v. Trump. The lawsuit, which was filed by NCLR and GLAD, was the first to challenge the ban.

“We are proceeding with discovery, which is all the more important now,” he said. “Where did they come up with these discredited views? What was this process? Who was involved?”

Minter expects the government — as it did in its refusal to disclose its “panel of experts” — to appeal any decision not in its favor.

“Eventually it is likely that it will reach the Supreme Court,” he said of the transgender military ban.

FOLLOW NBC OUT[12] ON TWITTER[13], FACEBOOK[14] AND INSTAGRAM[15]

References

  1. ^ ban on transgender people serving in the military (www.nbcnews.com)
  2. ^ memo (www.lambdalegal.org)
  3. ^ document (www.lambdalegal.org)
  4. ^ statement (www.whitehouse.gov)
  5. ^ court order (www.washingtonblade.com)
  6. ^ filed a response (www.washingtonblade.com)
  7. ^ published by Slate (slate.com)
  8. ^ Mike Pence (www.nbcnews.com)
  9. ^ Ryan T. Anderson (thinkprogress.org)
  10. ^ Tony Perkins (www.glaad.org)
  11. ^ declined to appeal those decisions (www.nbcnews.com)
  12. ^ NBC OUT (www.nbcnews.com)
  13. ^ TWITTER (twitter.com)
  14. ^ FACEBOOK (www.facebook.com)
  15. ^ INSTAGRAM (www.instagram.com)
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1ST BRIGADE COMBAT TEAM: 326th BEB provides diverse combat enablers

While most battalions have one primary role in its support of the brigade combat team, brigade engineer battalions provide multiple critical functions to enable combat operations.

Soldiers from 326th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, showcased their unit’s versatility during a weeklong field training exercise, March 12-Friday, at Fort Campbell’s training area.

The FTX prepared the battalion to better integrate into brigade-level combined arms training events. The FTX also certified certain elements on their mission essential tasks.

“The 326th BEB is the most unique battalion within the Bastogne brigade,” said Lt. Col. Jonathan Zimmer, 326th BEB commander, who often compares his battalion to a multipurpose tool. “Each tool performs a different function, and this is how our battalion supports the brigade.”

Those tools include six companies from which there are two engineer companies, a signal company, a military intelligence company, a forward support company and a headquarters and headquarters company.

Soldiers from A and B engineer companies conducted engineer qualification tables, Sapper missions focused on reconnaissance, mobility and counter mobility, and survivability operations.  “We have an area reconnaissance lane, and a complex obstacle breach lane, a route reconnaissance lane, and a complex obstacle emplacement lane where they are actually emplacing a deliberate crater and an 11-row wire obstacle,” said Capt. Benjamin Speckhart, A Co., 326th BEB commander.

The Soldiers of C Company, the signal company, performed retransmission and networking training, and sling load operations to hone their military occupational skill-specific and air assault skills.

The Soldiers of D Company, the military intelligence company, consists of three platoons – the unmanned aircraft system platoon that operates the RQ-7 Shadow UAS, a multi-function platoon that has signal and human intelligence capabilities, and an information collection platoon that, with the brigade intelligence section, analyzes information from all reconnaissance assets for Bastogne. The Soldiers conducted aerial reconnaissance missions in support of 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry Regiment, 1st BCT, and 326th BEB’s platoon defensive live-fire exercises,

The forward support Soldiers of E Company increased their lethality during the platoon defensive live fire as well as conducted sling load operations to certify day and night aerial resupply missions. Additionally, the maintenance platoon conducted recovery operations, the field feeding section cooked and served meals for more than 500 Soldiers during the week, and the distribution platoon supported the entire battalion with fuel and ammo.

During the defensive live-fire exercise, the chemical reconnaissance platoon of Headquarters and Headquarters Company conducted decontamination training to increase the knowledge and skills for Soldiers throughout the battalion.

“We’re training on how to properly decontaminate equipment and vehicles so that in the case we are attacked, we can set up a decon line and get them back to the battle,” said Spc. Thomas Rivera, a CBRN specialist. This training is important because there are countries who are experimenting with chemicals, and there’s a history of chemicals being used, so I feel it is our responsibility to actually make sure everybody is prepared for such an attack.”  

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Civil Rights Groups Are Fighting to Read Homeland Security's Mysterious 'Race Paper'

Image: Ted S. Warren (AP)

Two civil rights groups, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and Color of Change (COR), have filed a motion[1] asking a judge to force the Department of Homeland Security to un-redact a mysterious document known as the “Race Paper.” Following FOIA requests, the DHS turned over hundreds of pages to CCR and COR, but has fought releasing the so-called “Race Paper,” as its referred to in internal DHS emails. Little is known about the document, including its actual title, though COR and CCR believe it is potentially related to data-driven surveillance of protestors.

In 2016, CCR and COR, assisted by the Kramer Law Center, filed FOIA requests for documents relating to FBI and DHS surveillance of Black Lives Matter protestors. The DHS responded with hundreds of documents, including emails from the early months of the Trump administration in which DHS agents talked about composing and editing the “Race Paper.”

However, when the DHS handed the mysterious “race paper” over to the civil rights groups, it was redacted into oblivion, with nine full pages of completely obscured text.
[2]

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Little is known about this document, but lawyers believe it may be related to surveillance of Black Lives Matter protestors. All references to its actual name have been redacted.

“There’s not too much wiggle room when something is called ‘The Race Papers,’” Stephanie Llanes, one of the CCR lawyers filing the motion, told Gizmodo.

Here’s what we know for sure: the paper is a nine-page document put out by members of the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis. The DHS worked on its creation for months, producing multiple draft versions, all of which have been redacted. The Office of Intelligence and Analysis specializes in “information sharing and delivering predictive intelligence and analysis.” The office operates a network of Fusion Centers[3], which specialize in intelligence collection, analysis, and sharing between “state, local, tribal, territorial, and private sector partners.” It follows, then, the paper may relate to predictive technology or surveillance.

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“One of the emails says that the person included a section on ‘drivers and indications,’” Llanes said. “Given what [the Office of Intelligence and Analysis] does, which is predictive intelligence, it just raises serious concerns of the relationship between racial identity and drivers of future behavior.”

It’s speculative, but police have used data analysis to surveil[4] minority protestors in the past. From Massachusetts to Missouri, officers have used complex data-mining software[5] that could provide the locations of social media users to monitor protestors using the #BlackLivesMatter or #MuslimLivesMatter hashtags.

Being asked to produce the “Race Paper” and then handing over nine all-black pages might seem like a cheeky response, but, incredibly, the DHS argued that the documents, redactions intact, satisfy the FOIA request. The DHS insisted it is exempt from releasing all preliminary versions of the document because, as they were draft versions, they “wouldn’t be an accurate assessment of what the agency thinks,” Llanes explains.

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However, the DHS redacted all versions of the document, including the final version, which seemingly would accurately represent the agency’s stance. DHS argued that even partially redacting the final version would threaten national security by revealing sensitive information about how the agency operates.

“They haven’t explained at all how that would be the case. A government agency cant just make this broad, sweeping argument… without explaining how so,” Llanes said. “They still have to un-redact parts of the document that are purely factual, based on publicly available information, [or] would not reveal the pre-deliberative [assessment].”

CCR lawyers are arguing that, under FOIA law, the DHS has a duty to un-redact passages that are based on unclassified facts or public knowledge. By completely redacting every single word, including even the title of the document, the DHS is essentially claiming that every single detail of the “race paper” is, to some degree, sensitive, classified, or private.

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The next step in the case is for the DHS to reply to the motion. If they deny the lawyers’ claims, the case would move onto oral arguments.

[The Intercept[6]]

References

  1. ^ have filed a motion (ccrjustice.org)
  2. ^ race paper (ccrjustice.org)
  3. ^ Fusion Centers (www.dhs.gov)
  4. ^ used data analysis to surveil (gizmodo.com)
  5. ^ complex data-mining software (www.usatoday.com)
  6. ^ The Intercept (theintercept.com)
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Civil Rights Groups Are Fighting to Read Homeland Security's Mysterious 'Race Paper'

Image: Ted S. Warren (AP)

Two civil rights groups, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and Color of Change (COR), have filed a motion[1] asking a judge to force the Department of Homeland Security to un-redact a mysterious document known as the “Race Paper.” Following FOIA requests, the DHS turned over hundreds of pages to CCR and COR, but has fought releasing the so-called “Race Paper,” as its referred to in internal DHS emails. Little is known about the document, including its actual title, though COR and CCR believe it is potentially related to data-driven surveillance of protestors.

In 2016, CCR and COR, assisted by the Kramer Law Center, filed FOIA requests for documents relating to FBI and DHS surveillance of Black Lives Matter protestors. The DHS responded with hundreds of documents, including emails from the early months of the Trump administration in which DHS agents talked about composing and editing the “Race Paper.”

However, when the DHS handed the mysterious “race paper” over to the civil rights groups, it was redacted into oblivion, with nine full pages of completely obscured text.
[2]

Advertisement

Little is known about this document, but lawyers believe it may be related to surveillance of Black Lives Matter protestors. All references to its actual name have been redacted.

“There’s not too much wiggle room when something is called ‘The Race Papers,’” Stephanie Llanes, one of the CCR lawyers filing the motion, told Gizmodo.

Here’s what we know for sure: the paper is a nine-page document put out by members of the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis. The DHS worked on its creation for months, producing multiple draft versions, all of which have been redacted. The Office of Intelligence and Analysis specializes in “information sharing and delivering predictive intelligence and analysis.” The office operates a network of Fusion Centers[3], which specialize in intelligence collection, analysis, and sharing between “state, local, tribal, territorial, and private sector partners.” It follows, then, the paper may relate to predictive technology or surveillance.

Advertisement

“One of the emails says that the person included a section on ‘drivers and indications,’” Llanes said. “Given what [the Office of Intelligence and Analysis] does, which is predictive intelligence, it just raises serious concerns of the relationship between racial identity and drivers of future behavior.”

It’s speculative, but police have used data analysis to surveil[4] minority protestors in the past. From Massachusetts to Missouri, officers have used complex data-mining software[5] that could provide the locations of social media users to monitor protestors using the #BlackLivesMatter or #MuslimLivesMatter hashtags.

Being asked to produce the “Race Paper” and then handing over nine all-black pages might seem like a cheeky response, but, incredibly, the DHS argued that the documents, redactions intact, satisfy the FOIA request. The DHS insisted it is exempt from releasing all preliminary versions of the document because, as they were draft versions, they “wouldn’t be an accurate assessment of what the agency thinks,” Llanes explains.

Advertisement

However, the DHS redacted all versions of the document, including the final version, which seemingly would accurately represent the agency’s stance. DHS argued that even partially redacting the final version would threaten national security by revealing sensitive information about how the agency operates.

“They haven’t explained at all how that would be the case. A government agency cant just make this broad, sweeping argument… without explaining how so,” Llanes said. “They still have to un-redact parts of the document that are purely factual, based on publicly available information, [or] would not reveal the pre-deliberative [assessment].”

CCR lawyers are arguing that, under FOIA law, the DHS has a duty to un-redact passages that are based on unclassified facts or public knowledge. By completely redacting every single word, including even the title of the document, the DHS is essentially claiming that every single detail of the “race paper” is, to some degree, sensitive, classified, or private.

Advertisement

The next step in the case is for the DHS to reply to the motion. If they deny the lawyers’ claims, the case would move onto oral arguments.

[The Intercept[6]]

References

  1. ^ have filed a motion (ccrjustice.org)
  2. ^ race paper (ccrjustice.org)
  3. ^ Fusion Centers (www.dhs.gov)
  4. ^ used data analysis to surveil (gizmodo.com)
  5. ^ complex data-mining software (www.usatoday.com)
  6. ^ The Intercept (theintercept.com)
0

Civil Rights Groups Are Fighting to Read Homeland Security's …

Image: Ted S. Warren (AP)

Two civil rights groups, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and Color of Change (COR), have filed a motion[1] asking a judge to force the Department of Homeland Security to un-redact a mysterious document known as the “Race Paper.” Following FOIA requests, the DHS turned over hundreds of pages to CCR and COR, but has fought releasing the so-called “Race Paper,” as its referred to in internal DHS emails. Little is known about the document, including its actual title, though COR and CCR believe it is potentially related to data-driven surveillance of protestors.

In 2016, CCR and COR, assisted by the Kramer Law Center, filed FOIA requests for documents relating to FBI and DHS surveillance of Black Lives Matter protestors. The DHS responded with hundreds of documents, including emails from the early months of the Trump administration in which DHS agents talked about composing and editing the “Race Paper.”

However, when the DHS handed the mysterious “race paper” over to the civil rights groups, it was redacted into oblivion, with nine full pages of completely obscured text.
[2]

Advertisement

Little is known about this document, but lawyers believe it may be related to surveillance of Black Lives Matter protestors. All references to its actual name have been redacted.

“There’s not too much wiggle room when something is called ‘The Race Papers,’” Stephanie Llanes, one of the CCR lawyers filing the motion, told Gizmodo.

Here’s what we know for sure: the paper is a nine-page document put out by members of the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis. The DHS worked on its creation for months, producing multiple draft versions, all of which have been redacted. The Office of Intelligence and Analysis specializes in “information sharing and delivering predictive intelligence and analysis.” The office operates a network of Fusion Centers[3], which specialize in intelligence collection, analysis, and sharing between “state, local, tribal, territorial, and private sector partners.” It follows, then, the paper may relate to predictive technology or surveillance.

Advertisement

“One of the emails says that the person included a section on ‘drivers and indications,’” Llanes said. “Given what [the Office of Intelligence and Analysis] does, which is predictive intelligence, it just raises serious concerns of the relationship between racial identity and drivers of future behavior.”

It’s speculative, but police have used data analysis to surveil[4] minority protestors in the past. From Massachusetts to Missouri, officers have used complex data-mining software[5] that could provide the locations of social media users to monitor protestors using the #BlackLivesMatter or #MuslimLivesMatter hashtags.

Being asked to produce the “Race Paper” and then handing over nine all-black pages might seem like a cheeky response, but, incredibly, the DHS argued that the documents, redactions intact, satisfy the FOIA request. The DHS insisted it is exempt from releasing all preliminary versions of the document because, as they were draft versions, they “wouldn’t be an accurate assessment of what the agency thinks,” Llanes explains.

Advertisement

However, the DHS redacted all versions of the document, including the final version, which seemingly would accurately represent the agency’s stance. DHS argued that even partially redacting the final version would threaten national security by revealing sensitive information about how the agency operates.

“They haven’t explained at all how that would be the case. A government agency cant just make this broad, sweeping argument… without explaining how so,” Llanes said. “They still have to un-redact parts of the document that are purely factual, based on publicly available information, [or] would not reveal the pre-deliberative [assessment].”

CCR lawyers are arguing that, under FOIA law, the DHS has a duty to un-redact passages that are based on unclassified facts or public knowledge. By completely redacting every single word, including even the title of the document, the DHS is essentially claiming that every single detail of the “race paper” is, to some degree, sensitive, classified, or private.

Advertisement

The next step in the case is for the DHS to reply to the motion. If they deny the lawyers’ claims, the case would move onto oral arguments.

[The Intercept[6]]

References

  1. ^ have filed a motion (ccrjustice.org)
  2. ^ race paper (ccrjustice.org)
  3. ^ Fusion Centers (www.dhs.gov)
  4. ^ used data analysis to surveil (gizmodo.com)
  5. ^ complex data-mining software (www.usatoday.com)
  6. ^ The Intercept (theintercept.com)
0

Poisoning of Russian ex-spy puts spotlight on Moscow's secret military labs

During his last run for the presidency, in 2012, Russian leader Vladimir Putin startled U.S. military experts with a mysterious pledge to develop novel kinds of weapons to counter the West’s technological edge. Armies of the future, he said, would need weapons “based on new physical principles” including “genetic” and “psychophysical” science.

“Such high-tech weapons systems will be comparable in effect to nuclear weapons,” Putin said in an essay published in Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the Russian government’s newspaper of record, “but will be more ‘acceptable’ in terms of ­political and military ideology.”

Exactly what Putin meant — and how any “genetic” weapon could square with international treaties outlawing chemical and biological warfare — remains uncertain. But what is now clear is that Putin’s words unleashed a wave of activity across a complex of heavily guarded military and civilian laboratories in Russia.

Since the start of Putin’s second term, a construction boom has been underway at more than two dozen institutes that were once part of the Soviet Union’s biological and chemical weapons establishment, according to Russian documents and photos compiled by independent researchers. That expansion, which includes multiple new or refurbished testing facilities, is particularly apparent at secret Defense Ministry laboratories that have long drawn the suspicions of U.S. officials over possible arms-treaty violations.

[Putin: Russia is developing nuclear arms capable of avoiding missile defenses[1]]

Russian officials insist that the research in government-run labs is purely defensive and perfectly legal. But the effort has come under increased scrutiny in the wake of allegations of Moscow’s involvement in the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in Britain. Both were sickened by exposure to Novichok[2], a kind of highly lethal nerve agent uniquely developed by Russian military scientists years ago.

“The big question is, why are they doing this?” said Raymond Zilinskas, a chemical and biological weapons expert with the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, Calif. In a newly released book[3], “Biosecurity in Putin’s Russia[4],” ­Zilinskas and co-author Philippe Mauger analyze hundreds of contract documents and other records that show a surge in Russian research interest in subjects ranging from genetically modified pathogens to nonlethal chemical weapons used for crowd control.

The analysis also tracks a simultaneous rise in sensationalist Russian claims that the United States is itself pursuing offensive biological weapons. Reports posted on state-sponsored news sites and amplified over social media have accused U.S. scientists of being behind recent outbreaks of the Zika virus as well as the Ebola epidemic in West Africa that began in 2014. In each instance, U.S. federal agencies marshaled a sizable response to counter or contain the outbreaks.

Such baseless claims could be viewed as part of a deliberate effort to “explain to their own people why they need to do this research,” Zilinskas said in an interview.

A spokeswoman for Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to answer written questions but forwarded a March 13 statement by Vassily A. Nebenzia, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations. Nebenzia denied any involvement by the Kremlin in the March 4 nerve-agent attack and suggested that it was the United States and Britain, not Russia, that were continuing to conduct illegal research to create “new toxic substances.”

[Britain’s top diplomat accuses Putin of being behind nerve-agent attack[5]]

The research by Zilinskas and Mauger appears to bear out long-held concerns by the State Department, which has sharply criticized Russia in recent years over a lack of transparency in its military-related biological and chemical research. Since 2012, State Department officials have issued a series of reports faulting Moscow for refusing to open its military research laboratories to outside inspectors, and for failing to provide proof that it destroyed the highly lethal arsenals created by Red Army scientists in the years before the Soviet Union’s collapse.

Thomas Countryman, an assistant secretary of state for international security and arms control during the Obama administration, said that even before Putin, U.S. officials questioned whether the Kremlin had owned up to its past “fully and transparently.” But over the past six years, official distrust has grown as Moscow has embraced a more aggressive foreign policy that includes intimidation of Russia’s neighbors and an unabashed support for a Syrian dictator who uses nerve agents to kill his own people.

“Moscow’s full-throated defense of Syrian use of chemical weapons[6] — and, especially, its apparent use of chemical agents in targeted assassinations — only add to the concerns,” Countryman said.

Cold War pathogens

When the Soviet Union was dismantled in 1991, the Russian Federation became the heir to history’s most dangerous arsenal of chemical and biological weapons.

During the Cold War, Soviet leaders spent vast sums to create weaponized versions of 11 different pathogens — including the microbes that cause anthrax, smallpox and the plague — while also experimenting with genetically altered strains. They created new classes of chemical toxins, such as Novichok, reportedly used in the attempted assassination of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury, England.

[What is Novichok? Russia’s nerve agent has Soviet roots[7]]

A fourth-generation nerve agent more deadly than VX, Novichok is the stuff of legend. Russia denies that it ever researched or manufactured such nerve agents, but it arrested a former Soviet weapons scientist[8] on charges of divulging state secrets after he published details about Soviet Novichok production in newspaper articles and a memoir.

The Soviet program was motivated in part by competition with the United States. Washington maintained its own stockpile of nerve agents during the Cold War and manufactured biological weapons until 1969, when President Richard M. Nixon dismantled the program. But the Kremlin pressed ahead, convinced that the Pentagon was continuing bioweapons research in secret. Finally, in 1992, newly installed Russian President Boris Yeltsin acknowledged the existence of the secret program to U.S. officials and reported that all Soviet bioweapons had been destroyed.

In the years immediately following the Cold War, securing and dismantling Soviet weapons of mass destruction united Americans and Russians in a common cause[9]. The United States helped Russia build incinerators for destroying its chemical weapons, and it sponsored programs that paired former Soviet bioweapons scientists with Western companies to keep them employed during the country’s economic transition.

[Key allies back Britain in blaming Moscow for chemical attack[10]]

Such U.S.-Russian technical cooperation began to wane after Putin’s election as president, and it collapsed after the Russian strongman won a second term in 2012. Yet, even during the Yeltsin years, Russia refused to grant ­access to key weapons sites, including four biodefense laboratories run by the Russian military and perpetually sealed off from outside visitors, former U.S. officials said.

“We were always curious: Were they embarrassed to let us in because of the shape of their labs? Or were they hiding something?” said Laura Holgate, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama on preventing biological, chemical and nuclear terrorism.

Holgate allowed that Russia’s reluctance also may have reflected a “paranoia about what the U.S. might be learning” about the country’s military capabilities. In any case, she said, it became clear over time that Putin intended to preserve some Soviet-era capabilities for use in very specific situations. One of these was assassination — the killing of the Kremlin’s opponents using methods that were dramatic, yet allowed Moscow to plausibly deny culpability. Another was crowd control: the use of controversial “knockout” chemicals to incapacitate individuals involved in hostage standoffs and other mass disturbances.

Officials familiar with Russia’s program said the expanded activity at military labs may be partly aimed at honing those capabilities, giving Putin a variety of tools for dealing with adversaries while seeking to avoid the most flagrant violations of Russia’s treaty obligations.

“That would be in line with behavior that we’ve been seeing for years,” Holgate said.

Satellite evidence

Whatever the explanation, the buildup is striking. Data collected by Zilinskas and Mauger includes contract documents, ­Russian-language reports and aerial imagery that shed light on a dramatic expansion at the four secret Defense Ministry laboratories and numerous government-run civilian research centers across the country.

At one military complex at Yekaterinburg — the scene of an accidental release[11] of anthrax spores in 1979 that is said to have killed 100 workers and townspeople — satellite images show clusters of newly built, warehouse-size industrial buildings dotting a walled campus. Renovations can be observed in older buildings that in Soviet times were factories for mass-producing bacillus anthracis, the bacteria that causes anthrax.

At the 33rd Central Research Test Institute at Shikhany — formerly a “closed” Russian military city on the Volga River in southwest Russia — records point to a recent spending spree for specialized equipment such as freeze-drying machines used in microbial production. Lab officials are shown soliciting bids for repairs to a wind tunnel, the type used in testing aerosolized bacteria and viruses, as well as upgrades to an area of bermed storage pens that the researchers say are probably intended for open-air testing involving explosives.

Wind tunnels and outdoor testing facilities can be used legitimately to develop defenses against biological and chemical attacks. Indeed, the Pentagon employs similar equipment at its biodefense research facilities in Maryland and Utah. But Zilinskas and Mauger say the Russian expansion invites a higher level of scrutiny in light of the explicit calls by Russian leaders for work on novel kinds of weapons, including “genetic” ones.

After Putin’s essay in 2012, several senior military officials, including the defense minister at the time, Anatoly Serdyukov, publicly endorsed Putin’s appeal for new kinds of weapons and promised to start building them, the researchers note. Serdyukov specifically pledged to incorporate “genetic” research in creating Russia’s next-generation arsenals.

“We noted the numerous high-level calls for the development of biotechnology-based weapons in Russia, without further specification,” Zilinskas and Mauger write. At minimum, the vagueness of such statements potentially opens the door for any military official or “ambitious scientist” to lobby for a chance to develop a new kind of weapon — with the implicit blessing of top Russian officials, they write.

“When taken in conjunction with the [military’s] apparent support for the development of ‘genetic’ weapons, these statements erode normative barriers toward biological weapons in Russia,” the authors say.

Anton Troianovski in Moscow contributed to this report.

Read more:

With Putin’s reelection, expect rising tensions with the West[12]

The long, terrifying history of Russian dissidents being poisoned abroad[13]

Putin vows retaliation for British sanctions over poisoning case[14]

References

  1. ^ Putin: Russia is developing nuclear arms capable of avoiding missile defenses (www.washingtonpost.com)
  2. ^ exposure to Novichok (www.washingtonpost.com)
  3. ^ book (www.rienner.com)
  4. ^ Biosecurity in Putin’s Russia (www.amazon.com)
  5. ^ Britain’s top diplomat accuses Putin of being behind nerve-agent attack (www.washingtonpost.com)
  6. ^ Syrian use of chemical weapons (www.washingtonpost.com)
  7. ^ What is Novichok? Russia’s nerve agent has Soviet roots (www.washingtonpost.com)
  8. ^ former Soviet weapons scientist (www.voanews.com)
  9. ^ a common cause (armscontrolcenter.org)
  10. ^ Key allies back Britain in blaming Moscow for chemical attack (www.washingtonpost.com)
  11. ^ accidental release (nsarchive2.gwu.edu)
  12. ^ With Putin’s reelection, expect rising tensions with the West (www.washingtonpost.com)
  13. ^ The long, terrifying history of Russian dissidents being poisoned abroad (www.washingtonpost.com)
  14. ^ Putin vows retaliation for British sanctions over poisoning case (www.washingtonpost.com)
0

Poisoning of Russian ex-spy puts spotlight on Moscow's secret military labs

During his last run for the presidency, in 2012, Russian leader Vladimir Putin startled U.S. military experts with a mysterious pledge to develop novel kinds of weapons to counter the West’s technological edge. Armies of the future, he said, would need weapons “based on new physical principles” including “genetic” and “psychophysical” science.

“Such high-tech weapons systems will be comparable in effect to nuclear weapons,” Putin said in an essay published in Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the Russian government’s newspaper of record, “but will be more ‘acceptable’ in terms of ­political and military ideology.”

Exactly what Putin meant — and how any “genetic” weapon could square with international treaties outlawing chemical and biological warfare — remains uncertain. But what is now clear is that Putin’s words unleashed a wave of activity across a complex of heavily guarded military and civilian laboratories in Russia.

Since the start of Putin’s second term, a construction boom has been underway at more than two dozen institutes that were once part of the Soviet Union’s biological and chemical weapons establishment, according to Russian documents and photos compiled by independent researchers. That expansion, which includes multiple new or refurbished testing facilities, is particularly apparent at secret Defense Ministry laboratories that have long drawn the suspicions of U.S. officials over possible arms-treaty violations.

[Putin: Russia is developing nuclear arms capable of avoiding missile defenses[1]]

Russian officials insist that the research in government-run labs is purely defensive and perfectly legal. But the effort has come under increased scrutiny in the wake of allegations of Moscow’s involvement in the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in Britain. Both were sickened by exposure to Novichok[2], a kind of highly lethal nerve agent uniquely developed by Russian military scientists years ago.

“The big question is, why are they doing this?” said Raymond Zilinskas, a chemical and biological weapons expert with the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, Calif. In a newly released book[3], “Biosecurity in Putin’s Russia[4],” ­Zilinskas and co-author Philippe Mauger analyze hundreds of contract documents and other records that show a surge in Russian research interest in subjects ranging from genetically modified pathogens to nonlethal chemical weapons used for crowd control.

The analysis also tracks a simultaneous rise in sensationalist Russian claims that the United States is itself pursuing offensive biological weapons. Reports posted on state-sponsored news sites and amplified over social media have accused U.S. scientists of being behind recent outbreaks of the Zika virus as well as the Ebola epidemic in West Africa that began in 2014. In each instance, U.S. federal agencies marshaled a sizable response to counter or contain the outbreaks.

Such baseless claims could be viewed as part of a deliberate effort to “explain to their own people why they need to do this research,” Zilinskas said in an interview.

A spokeswoman for Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to answer written questions but forwarded a March 13 statement by Vassily A. Nebenzia, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations. Nebenzia denied any involvement by the Kremlin in the March 4 nerve-agent attack and suggested that it was the United States and Britain, not Russia, that were continuing to conduct illegal research to create “new toxic substances.”

[Britain’s top diplomat accuses Putin of being behind nerve-agent attack[5]]

The research by Zilinskas and Mauger appears to bear out long-held concerns by the State Department, which has sharply criticized Russia in recent years over a lack of transparency in its military-related biological and chemical research. Since 2012, State Department officials have issued a series of reports faulting Moscow for refusing to open its military research laboratories to outside inspectors, and for failing to provide proof that it destroyed the highly lethal arsenals created by Red Army scientists in the years before the Soviet Union’s collapse.

Thomas Countryman, an assistant secretary of state for international security and arms control during the Obama administration, said that even before Putin, U.S. officials questioned whether the Kremlin had owned up to its past “fully and transparently.” But over the past six years, official distrust has grown as Moscow has embraced a more aggressive foreign policy that includes intimidation of Russia’s neighbors and an unabashed support for a Syrian dictator who uses nerve agents to kill his own people.

“Moscow’s full-throated defense of Syrian use of chemical weapons[6] — and, especially, its apparent use of chemical agents in targeted assassinations — only add to the concerns,” Countryman said.

Cold War pathogens

When the Soviet Union was dismantled in 1991, the Russian Federation became the heir to history’s most dangerous arsenal of chemical and biological weapons.

During the Cold War, Soviet leaders spent vast sums to create weaponized versions of 11 different pathogens — including the microbes that cause anthrax, smallpox and the plague — while also experimenting with genetically altered strains. They created new classes of chemical toxins, such as Novichok, reportedly used in the attempted assassination of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury, England.

[What is Novichok? Russia’s nerve agent has Soviet roots[7]]

A fourth-generation nerve agent more deadly than VX, Novichok is the stuff of legend. Russia denies that it ever researched or manufactured such nerve agents, but it arrested a former Soviet weapons scientist[8] on charges of divulging state secrets after he published details about Soviet Novichok production in newspaper articles and a memoir.

The Soviet program was motivated in part by competition with the United States. Washington maintained its own stockpile of nerve agents during the Cold War and manufactured biological weapons until 1969, when President Richard M. Nixon dismantled the program. But the Kremlin pressed ahead, convinced that the Pentagon was continuing bioweapons research in secret. Finally, in 1992, newly installed Russian President Boris Yeltsin acknowledged the existence of the secret program to U.S. officials and reported that all Soviet bioweapons had been destroyed.

In the years immediately following the Cold War, securing and dismantling Soviet weapons of mass destruction united Americans and Russians in a common cause[9]. The United States helped Russia build incinerators for destroying its chemical weapons, and it sponsored programs that paired former Soviet bioweapons scientists with Western companies to keep them employed during the country’s economic transition.

[Key allies back Britain in blaming Moscow for chemical attack[10]]

Such U.S.-Russian technical cooperation began to wane after Putin’s election as president, and it collapsed after the Russian strongman won a second term in 2012. Yet, even during the Yeltsin years, Russia refused to grant ­access to key weapons sites, including four biodefense laboratories run by the Russian military and perpetually sealed off from outside visitors, former U.S. officials said.

“We were always curious: Were they embarrassed to let us in because of the shape of their labs? Or were they hiding something?” said Laura Holgate, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama on preventing biological, chemical and nuclear terrorism.

Holgate allowed that Russia’s reluctance also may have reflected a “paranoia about what the U.S. might be learning” about the country’s military capabilities. In any case, she said, it became clear over time that Putin intended to preserve some Soviet-era capabilities for use in very specific situations. One of these was assassination — the killing of the Kremlin’s opponents using methods that were dramatic, yet allowed Moscow to plausibly deny culpability. Another was crowd control: the use of controversial “knockout” chemicals to incapacitate individuals involved in hostage standoffs and other mass disturbances.

Officials familiar with Russia’s program said the expanded activity at military labs may be partly aimed at honing those capabilities, giving Putin a variety of tools for dealing with adversaries while seeking to avoid the most flagrant violations of Russia’s treaty obligations.

“That would be in line with behavior that we’ve been seeing for years,” Holgate said.

Satellite evidence

Whatever the explanation, the buildup is striking. Data collected by Zilinskas and Mauger includes contract documents, ­Russian-language reports and aerial imagery that shed light on a dramatic expansion at the four secret Defense Ministry laboratories and numerous government-run civilian research centers across the country.

At one military complex at Yekaterinburg — the scene of an accidental release[11] of anthrax spores in 1979 that is said to have killed 100 workers and townspeople — satellite images show clusters of newly built, warehouse-size industrial buildings dotting a walled campus. Renovations can be observed in older buildings that in Soviet times were factories for mass-producing bacillus anthracis, the bacteria that causes anthrax.

At the 33rd Central Research Test Institute at Shikhany — formerly a “closed” Russian military city on the Volga River in southwest Russia — records point to a recent spending spree for specialized equipment such as freeze-drying machines used in microbial production. Lab officials are shown soliciting bids for repairs to a wind tunnel, the type used in testing aerosolized bacteria and viruses, as well as upgrades to an area of bermed storage pens that the researchers say are probably intended for open-air testing involving explosives.

Wind tunnels and outdoor testing facilities can be used legitimately to develop defenses against biological and chemical attacks. Indeed, the Pentagon employs similar equipment at its biodefense research facilities in Maryland and Utah. But Zilinskas and Mauger say the Russian expansion invites a higher level of scrutiny in light of the explicit calls by Russian leaders for work on novel kinds of weapons, including “genetic” ones.

After Putin’s essay in 2012, several senior military officials, including the defense minister at the time, Anatoly Serdyukov, publicly endorsed Putin’s appeal for new kinds of weapons and promised to start building them, the researchers note. Serdyukov specifically pledged to incorporate “genetic” research in creating Russia’s next-generation arsenals.

“We noted the numerous high-level calls for the development of biotechnology-based weapons in Russia, without further specification,” Zilinskas and Mauger write. At minimum, the vagueness of such statements potentially opens the door for any military official or “ambitious scientist” to lobby for a chance to develop a new kind of weapon — with the implicit blessing of top Russian officials, they write.

“When taken in conjunction with the [military’s] apparent support for the development of ‘genetic’ weapons, these statements erode normative barriers toward biological weapons in Russia,” the authors say.

Anton Troianovski in Moscow contributed to this report.

Read more:

With Putin’s reelection, expect rising tensions with the West[12]

The long, terrifying history of Russian dissidents being poisoned abroad[13]

Putin vows retaliation for British sanctions over poisoning case[14]

References

  1. ^ Putin: Russia is developing nuclear arms capable of avoiding missile defenses (www.washingtonpost.com)
  2. ^ exposure to Novichok (www.washingtonpost.com)
  3. ^ book (www.rienner.com)
  4. ^ Biosecurity in Putin’s Russia (www.amazon.com)
  5. ^ Britain’s top diplomat accuses Putin of being behind nerve-agent attack (www.washingtonpost.com)
  6. ^ Syrian use of chemical weapons (www.washingtonpost.com)
  7. ^ What is Novichok? Russia’s nerve agent has Soviet roots (www.washingtonpost.com)
  8. ^ former Soviet weapons scientist (www.voanews.com)
  9. ^ a common cause (armscontrolcenter.org)
  10. ^ Key allies back Britain in blaming Moscow for chemical attack (www.washingtonpost.com)
  11. ^ accidental release (nsarchive2.gwu.edu)
  12. ^ With Putin’s reelection, expect rising tensions with the West (www.washingtonpost.com)
  13. ^ The long, terrifying history of Russian dissidents being poisoned abroad (www.washingtonpost.com)
  14. ^ Putin vows retaliation for British sanctions over poisoning case (www.washingtonpost.com)