From: Richard Blaber.
Location: Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, England.
I recently went on to the Entrez Nucleotide site, and was able to obtain complete genome sequences for two strains of the Variola major (Smallpox) virus. See, for example, the web-page at http:/www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/viewer.fcgi?db=nuccore&id=109724243 ,which gives the Bangladesh 1975 v75-550 Banu strain.
Is it really responsible of the NIH to put this information in the public domain, along with - again, for example, complete genome sequences for Bacillus anthracis and other nasties?
If I can download said material to my laptop with ease, so too can Osama bin Laden and Ayman bin Zawahiri. Surely there's already far too much material that's useful to terrorists in cyberspace, without the US Government and its agencies actually putting more there.
From: Greg Bear
Good question, Richard. This information has been available for decades, however, and not just on the Internet, but in scientific journals. (One of the researchers who decoded this genome was actually an advisor on DARWIN'S RADIO.) And this concern is certainly widespread. Actually creating a virus from this information is problematic, however--though not impossible, in a fully equipped laboratory, which certainly exist in nations that promote terrorism. (Though I suspect smallpox is a little too iffy to be a weapon of choice.) The plain fact is, details on diseases, explosives, poisons, nuclear weapons, etc., have been available for decades in all of our libraries--and that information has been part of the free flow of scientific information, essential to the economic health of our nation. Solutions? Well, we could block it all... censor it... stop scientific development. But remember--the major goal of terrorism is to force nations into self-destructive postures. And that would certainly qualify. Are we ever going to be completely safe against these threats? No. Watchful vigilance--and sensible precautions and professional awareness--are our best defense, as always.
From: Jim Duron
Location: Prairieville, La
Bravo Greg, could not agree more. I think fear is used to motivate and separate us without knowing it. Censorship, civil rights and such things can never be taken to lightly because once you lose those even for a presumed security threat you may have a hard time getting them back. To me Mother Nature(pandemic) is potentially far more likely to cause mass death than bio-terrorist.
I do believe security in those labs needs to be re-evaluated and constantly audited. We do have recent security breaches in missile defense labs in both Clinton and Bush Sr. Administrations a problem does exist.
From: Greg Bear
Absolutely. Security problems are like death and taxes--guaranteed, and eternal!