A new round of secrecy about germ-warfare research bugs Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah - but delights rival Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah.
Owens - despite Hansen's opposition - pushed through the House last year a defense budget requirement that the Army list all the biologic agents it uses, where they are used and their characteristics.But Hansen had the last laugh this week - and said national security was better protected - when the Army sent Congress the required list with only scant information.
That was allowed because of a change in Owens' original wording that Hansen pushed for in a House-Senate panel appointed to work out differences in the two bodies' defense budget bills.
Hansen, who was appointed to that panel because he is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, supported wording that forced the Army to reveal only those germ agents not already "listed in the Centers for Disease Control Guidelines."
Those voluminous guidelines outline suggested laboratory precautions for use of virtually every disease-causing germ known to man.
That didn't leave many other agents for the Army to mention in its list - and didn't force the Army to reveal which guideline-covered deadly germs it is using and where.
Little revealed in list
The new list did mention some toxins, or poisons, derived from such sources as venom from snakes, scorpions and puffer fish. But an aide to Owens said such toxins don't present much public health or germ-warfare risk because they do not easily spread to the masses or become contagious as do some disease-causing germs.
None of those toxins was listed as being used at the three Utah sites that are part of the Army's Biological Defense Research Program - Dugway Proving Ground and Brigham Young and Utah State universities.
-Hansen smiled when asked about the list and said, "We won on this one." He said disclosure of all agents used by the Army could aid enemies and said he is confident the Army is working with local health officials to inform them of all pertinent risks.
-Owens said he was "unhappy that the Army chose to follow such a narrow reading of the law. This list was to help ease concerns in the international community that we might be engaging in biological warfare by showing openly what we are doing. That didn't happen."
He added, however, "Under current law the Army still must make all of this information available to anyone who seeks it. We just tried to make that easier by requiring the list."
Even though the Army's biologic research program is unclassified, many groups have complained about difficulty in obtaining information about it. The Deseret News, for example, requested information about numerous open-air biologic tests at Dugway Proving Ground, but the Army said most information had been destroyed, lost or did not exist.
Owens said he will try again to require a more comprehensive list, and is considering writing the Army or criticizing it in speeches to protest its scant disclosure this year.
-Steve Erickson, spokesman for the watchdog group Downwinders, said: "If the program is truly not classified, then why is there all this cloak and dagger stuff?"
He added that another bill by Owens to turn over military germ research to civilian agencies might be a good idea. "The Army didn't have to list any germ that was listed in Center for Disease Control Guidelines, but the public has no idea whether the Army is even following those guidelines.
"It's just another attempt to whitewash the Biological Defense Research Program and keep the public in the dark about what's going on in their own backyards."
Germ-warfare tests at Dugway
Controversy about the program in Utah peaked in recent years after the Deseret News reported that at least 279 - and possibly thousands - of open-air germ-warfare tests have been conducted at Dugway, and after a controversy about a proposed lab at Dugway that would make aerosols out of the most deadly disease-causing germs known to man.
Plans for that lab have been revised and now call for it to use only germs for which cures and vaccines are available. An updated draft environmental impact statement about it is due in mid-May, said Dugway spokesman Dick Whitaker.
Past Deseret News research also has revealed some of the germs used at Dugway in open-air tests through the years - even though currently used germs were not provided in the new Army list.
Former open-air tests have included germs that cause deadly anthrax, plague, tularemia, brucellosis, Q-fever, undulant fever, parrot fever and coccidioidomycosis.