The Anthrax Accident: A Dangerous Delivery
On June 1, there was a protest by civic groups in front of Osan Air Base, which is under the control of the U.S Forces’ Korea (USFK). The civic groups accused the USFK Commander General Curtis Scaparrotti and the commander of the U.S. 7th Air Force Lieutenant General Terrence O'Shaughnessy for bringing in activated anthrax bacterium into Korea. The USFK stated that they did not know that the anthrax bacterium was activated. They also stated that they destroyed the anthrax bacterium sample they brought in the moment they were told that the anthrax bacterium was activated, so there is no way to know the correct state of the anthrax bacterium samples.
Wool Sorter’s Disease
Anthrax can be divided into three different kinds depending on how a human can be infected: cutaneous, pulmonary, and intestinal. All three kinds of anthrax were mostly caught by wool sorters, but pulmonary was the kind that took the lives of wool sorters the most. For this reason, Pulmonary Anthrax was also known as Wool Sorter’s Disease. Anthrax infected through anthrax bacterium. It inhabits in soil and if the condition of the environment it lives in deteriorates, the anthrax bacterium makes spores and survives in a dry state for at least ten years. Humans catch anthrax by having contact with the spores of the anthrax bacterium through excretion of animals, corpses, or dirt. The toxin made by the spores of the anthrax bacterium causes damage to the immune cells which leads to the pathogenesis of anthrax. The disease lies dormant at first, showing similar symptoms of just a regular cold. However, the disease eventually causes lung congestion which leads to a shock or sudden death. Even if a person survives from the shock, the number of anthrax bacterium inside the body multiples infinitely and ends up killing the person. Anthrax bacterium is resistant to heat, sunlight, and disinfectants, so anything that is infected by the anthrax bacterium should be burned or disinfected regularly.
There are incidents that show how dangerous anthrax bacterium is, but the most horrible one happened in the Soviet Union in 1979. About 2,000 people who lived in Sverdlovsk, a small industrial city of the Soviet Union, suffered high fever and violent coughing and eventually died because they were exposed to anthrax bacterium. The Soviet Union authorities lied to the public that many people died in Sverdlovsk because they ate beef that was infected by anthrax bacterium and “only” 68 people died. The truth, however, was revealed 13 years later in 1992, by biochemist Dr. Ken Alibek who was exiled to the U.S. Alibek revealed that he was one of the people who were in an experiment about anthrax bacterium. During the experiment, the spores of the anthrax bacterium were accidentally leaked into the air and they flew out to a nearby ceramic factory where the death toll began.
Anthrax Delivery to Korea
On May 29, The Korea Center for Disease Controls (KCDC) issued a press release that was titled ‘Anthrax Bacterium Delivery Mistake’. At the 12th ASEAN Regional Forum, Ashton Carter, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, met Han Min-koo, the Korean Minister of National Defense, and revealed that America had “sent the anthrax bacterium to the USFK on accident.” Carter also mentioned, “This is the first time we did it, but we apologize.” The USFK brought in inactivated anthrax bacterium sample from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) for research at the end of April. The samples were taken to Osan Air Base and the experiment was conducted there on May 21. However, there was an order to destroy the sample from the U.S. DoD on May 27 because there was a possibility that the anthrax bacterium sample was an activated one. During the six days, 22 U.S. researchers were exposed to anthrax bacterium. The U.S. Department of Defense stated that the possibly activated anthrax bacterium sample was mistakenly delivered to Osan Air Base located in Korea and 9 states in the U.S. After additional investigation though, the number of places grew from 10 to 51 including Australia, Canada, and 17 other laboratories in America. The number of places that have activated anthrax bacterium is expected to increase through more investigation according to U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work.
Not only is the fact that anthrax bacterium sample was delivered is the problem but also the way it was delivered is, as well. Private delivery company FedEx was selected by the U.S. Department of Defense to send the dangerous anthrax bacterium sample via other general cargo. FedEx’s advertisement manager Connie Avery said that the cargo was sent to its destination without any accidents or harm and FedEx was sure that the staff and customers will have no problem in their health or safety.
According to the U.S. DoD, the anthrax bacterium sample was incubated first at the Dugway Proving Ground, which is a U.S. Army facility and is in the middle of a desert in Utah. The anthrax bacterium from Dugway was sent to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. Dugway Proving Ground’s mission is to test America and Allied biological and chemical weapon defense systems in a secure and isolated environment while Aberdeen Proving Ground tests ordnance and material. After the anthrax bacterium sample was inactivated in Maryland, it was sent to private research centers in California, Texas, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New York, and New Jersey. The researchers in Maryland found out that the anthrax bacterium sample was activated and called the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who called the U.S. Department of Defense. The anthrax bacterium samples that came into Korea’s Osan Air Base were samples that didn’t go to Aberdeen and came directly from Dugway. That is why people are asking if the anthrax bacterium sample was activated. However, the USFK stated that they destroyed the anthrax bacterium samples the moment they were ordered to, so they have no way to find out whether it was really activated or not.
The National SOFA Revision Organization (NSRO) sent a public questionnaire on USFK’s anthrax bacterium smuggling to four Korean government departments including the Ministry of National Defense, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Energy, and Ministry of Health and Welfare on July 1. The NSOR is made up of 66 civic groups: Green Korea United, Solidarity for Human Rights of Korea, Lawyers for a Democratic Society etc. Their main purpose is to improve the unfair parts of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). The questionnaire was sent to these four departments because they are responsible for managing and giving the permission to bring in biological weapons and highly dangerous pathogenic germs according to the following laws: the prohibition of chemical and biological weapons, regulation of making or trading certain chemical agents, and the obligation of protecting and preventing the public from infectious diseases. The questionnaire was sent to reveal the reason and the truth of the anthrax bacterium smuggling and ask the stance of the Korean government and the USFK. The NSRO pointed out through this questionnaire that the USFK is not giving the entire picture of when the anthrax bacterium sample was brought into Korea and why it was brought in the first place. The NSRO also pointed out that it is hard to know whether the Korean government did their duty, supervising the usage of anthrax bacterium, well. Specifically, the NSRO asked the Korean government to tell the public the details of bringing in the anthrax bacterium, plans of preventing recurrence, whether the USFK had reported that they had the anthrax bacterium, the government’s stance of this situation, and the purpose of the USFK’s Industrial Transformation Research Program (ITRP) in Osan. On the other hand, the NSRO claimed that the USFK should tell the public the exact details of this incident, whether they had the Korean government’s permission, how much anthrax bacterium samples the USFK has, how the related trainings are working, whether there are more biochemical weapons, and whether there are more establishments that are related to this situation.
Along with the NSRO, there are people in the U.S. who are attacking the U.S. Department of Defense for their mistakes. For example, Peter King, U.S. Representative for New York’s 2nd congressional district and former Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, mentioned at a broadcast by MSNBC, “It is unbelievable that the U.S. Department of Defense sent anthrax bacterium samples all over America and even to Korea through FedEx.” Also on May 11, according to the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians (NAEMT), Peter King and Bill Pascrell, U.S Representative for New Jersey’s 9th district, recently called the members of Congress to direct Jeh Charles Johnson, the Secretary of Homeland Security, to make anthrax vaccines available to the public for the safety of the people just in case the anthrax was exposed to someone in the delivery process. The NSRO said that the bringing in of anthrax bacterium is very deadly and life threatening for the people of Korea, so they have the right to know the answers to the questions above. The main reason the NSRO is taking these actions is because there is a possibility that this may not be the first time activated anthrax bacterium samples were brought into Korea unlike what U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter claims.
Joint USFK Portal and Integrated Threat Recognition (JUPITR Project) is a program for the USFK to detect pathogenic germ or toxin and find out what it is as fast as possible. Then the USFK would contact related government departments and share the information to increase the fighting efficiency of the USFK. After the Cold War, the U.S. showed deep concern about biochemical weapons because the weapons could be bought at a cheap price and it could kill many people with just a small amount. Therefore, in 2009, the U.S. made ‘New Plan for Preparing Biological Threat’ and chose Korea to carry out this plan. Korea was the “chosen one” because it was close to North Korea, the country that had a possibility of threatening the world with biochemical weapons in America’s opinion, and the USFK was larger than any other country that has U.S. Forces. The JUPITR Project was revealed to the world in 2013. The program’s main purpose is to train an ordinary soldier to analyze 50 to 100 samples of disease producing germs and figure out what it is in at least 24 hours. Dr. Peter Emanuel of Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC), head of the JUPITR Project, said that there were three laboratories that experiment germs including anthrax bacterium. The three are in Yongsan, Osan, and one is unknown. The first step of this program is analyzing anthrax bacterium and botulinum type A. In order to keep the JUPITR Project moving, soldiers must be trained. For the soldiers to be trained, they need to practice with real samples. That is why the NSRO argue that this is not the first time the USFK has brought in anthrax bacterium samples into Korea. The NSRO also said that there is a possibility that not only anthrax bacterium samples but also botulinum type A samples were brought in as well. Botulinum type A is 100,000 times more dangerous than anthrax bacterium. They live in places where there is no air such as canned foods or sausages. Botulinum type A makes deadly neurotoxin and can kill a person if they aren’t immediately dealt with. If the anthrax bacterium, botulinum type A, or even both were leaked out of the laboratories and into the community, then we are in for a really life risking situation.
Meeting of the Two Countries
As the MERS attack is winding up, the Korean government turned their attention to the anthrax bacterium matter. The government established the ROK-US Joint Working Group on July 12 to prevent any other toxic substance like the anthrax bacterium from being brought into Korea and to do something about the anthrax bacterium situation that is happening now. On July 15, the SOFA Joint Committee had its 195th meeting at the office building of the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The meeting was led by Shin Jae-hyun, chief of the North America Affairs Bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Terrence O’Shaughnessy, Deputy Commander of the USFK. The USFK said that they use radiation to inactivate the anthrax bacterium and the radiation always did its duty well. However, it didn’t work this time, so the USFK think that the anthrax bacterium pores developed a tolerance to radiation and the anthrax bacterium mutated its pores for it to survive the radiation. For every 100 million inactivated anthrax bacterium pore, 300 to 400 of them survived the radiation process. The USFK also decided to stop the anthrax bacterium experiments and the JUPITR project until the exact reason of the anthrax bacterium’s survival is revealed. It is said that there many discussions on how to overcome the anthrax bacterium matter, but there was no mention about the revision of the SOFA. Deputy Commander O’Shaughnessy said that he promises that the USFK will cooperate with the Korean government on the investigation of the anthrax bacterium matter, but didn’t mention anything of the SOFA revision. The spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that it is too difficult to revise the SOFA itself, so they will try to change certain regulations on bringing in biochemical weapons into Korea.
Not “The End”, But “The Beginning”
The fact that anthrax bacterium samples were brought into Korea was outrageous, but the fact that the Korean government did not know was even more. It is true that Osan Air Base is under the control of the USFK and there is an agreement made for this kind of situation. The Safeguard Agreement was added the the SOFA on May 30, 2003, and it states that the USFK has the obligation to report to the Korean army what kind of training the USFK is going to carry out two weeks ahead of time. The Safeguard Agreement, however, also states that this agreement corresponds to only the northern part of Gyeonggi-do Province, and Osan Air Base is in the southern part.
It was good to know that the Korean government was finally starting to take notice to the anthrax bacterium incident, and it was a relief that the USFK decided to cooperate with the Korean government. However, there is an important fact that must be remembered. The fundamental reason for this incident is the SOFA. If the meeting was for solving only the anthrax bacterium problem itself, then it will be safe but not for long. It will be difficult to change the SOFA itself, but we must try to at least change the way it is being enforced like the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it will. Not only the northern part of Gyeonggi-do Province but also the whole nation should come under the corresponding area. This meeting must not be the end but the beginning. The number of people who were exposed to anthrax bacterium was 22. If changes are not made, the 22 will become 50 million.