America's Biological Weapons

IRRIGON, OREGON - For the children who live near the Umatilla Chemical Depot, the hard truth of chemical warfare is softened by a friendly face. Wally Wise, a smiling cartoon turtle, tells them: Go inside, turn on the radio, stay off the phone. But the cartoon face on posters does little to mask the daily anxiety felt by those who live in the shadow of the igloo-like bunkers in the high desert that house 12% of America's deadly nerve gas and blistering agents, the same type that Iraq's Saddam Hussein is allegedly hiding (but which none of the investigators has provided any evidence of).

Criticism is mounting that the millions of dollars allocated for accident preparedness were embezzled and mismanaged, as plans proceed to incinerate the US's stockpile of biological weapons, the largest in the world. Communities living with tanks full of toxins of which one drop is enough to kill, have been abandoned by the Federal Republic, which left the communities without adequate alarms, protective suits, or information to save their lives. These communities, of course, were not in foreign countries, but American communities full of Americans, that Federal officials put at risk without a second thought.

Army officials put the odds at 3 million to one that an accident would take place, but this is the same group that had to send 26,000 soldiers into Panama to arrest a single man. They said it would take a major disaster like a plane crash or an earthquake to send lethal doses of the biological agents into the residential neighborhoods, as if plane's never crash, and earthquakes never take place. The risk to the 25,000 Americans who live nearby grows daily as the arsenal ages, and chemicals destabilize. The corrosive components have eaten through some of the M-55 rockets, mines and bombs that contain 3,700 tons of deadly nerve agent. More than 100 rockets are already classified as "leakers," meaning vapor has already been detected outside the steel casings. In a worst case scenario, the 25,000 people who live nearby could all be killed in a horrifically painful disaster that could reach as far west as Portland, a mere four hours drive away.

The growing risk of storage is one of the major selling points for the $567 million incinerator, one of eight being built around the country to destroy the U.S. stockpile under a worldwide treaty. Of course, the Federal Government that signed that treaty is the same group that refused to sign onto the world wide treaty banning the use of landmines, as if the last superpower on the Earth actually needed landmines in any tactical or strategic sense. The United States Government also makes a habit of lying to the American people, so even if the Army told the American people it was destroying the whole stockpile of biological weapons of mass destruction, it could be possible for it to keep a secret stash, and not tell anyone, in the defense of "national security" (which oddly enough, always seems to be at the expense - and risk - of the American people).

Chemicals are already being burned at Tooele, Utah, and Johnston Island, 800 miles southwest of Hawaii. Incineration is also planned for storage sites in Alabama, Maryland, Kentucky, Indiana, Arkansas and Colorado. An eastern Oregon group, GASP, has sued to stop the incineration, in fear that the incinerated remnants of the toxins may have a dangerous impact on the pristine Oregon landscape. "We are the guinea pigs," said the group's founder, Karyn Jones. "No one knows for sure what the risks are."

Army officials say burning is safer than storing, and the agents are being painstakingly transported and sealed into furnaces. In the Pentagon's scary world-view, where civilians are supposed to accept any story dictated to them by military officials without question, the official position is that whatever comes out of the filters of the furnace smokestacks will be "cleaner than the region's dust-choked air." The reality that the air in the Pacific Northwest is some of the purest, untouched air in the United States, is conveniently ignored.

Construction of the furnaces is on schedule, and officials believe that the furnaces will be ready by 2001; of course, these are the same officials to whom cost overruns are every-day routine parts of doing business, and holding up a project to squeeze out a few more million is a time-honored tradition of the Federal budgetary appropriations process. The officials of the Pentagon invented corruption, when its predecessors supplying the Continental Army ripped off the Continental Congress by providing food that was rotten at premium prices; and later, in the Civil War, when suppliers in the War Department bought uniforms that fell off in the rain.

Congress allocated $25 million for emergency preparations, including an alert-and-rescue emergency system of outdoor sirens and tone-alert radios. The systems were supposed to be in place nine years ago, and critics say that what has been set up is incomplete and inadequate; so again, the money is embezzled, while the nuts-and-bolts safety of the American people is put at risk. And when anyone is asked about it, the bureaucracy conducts a cover-up which is nothing more than an obstruction of justice. "It is unconscionable. The most disconcerting thing about the whole situation is that the public thinks it has some level of protection," said David Trott, a former employee of Oregon's emergency preparedness program, who lives downwind of the poison-laden bunkers.

The region's fire departments and major hospitals are still without protective suits, monitoring devices and pressurization. Emergency crews have advised the public not even to bother trying to call 911. Residents say the 42 sirens that are currently in place cannot be heard indoors, and the thousands of radios that were supposed to be purchased with some of that $25 million, which were supposed to be plugged into every home in the target area, have not even been ordered yet. "We are no better prepared than anybody else," said Fire Chief Jim Stearns, "we would have to leave."

Good Shepherd Hospital in Hermiston would have to lock its doors, despite extensive training from Army staff in handling chemical injuries. "We would be rendered useless in a matter of seconds," said Ken Franz, the hospital's director of emergency services. "It's like being trained as a surgeon, and not being provided the instruments for surgery." In a scathing report last summer, the GAO (General Accounting Office) blamed the shortcomings on longstanding management weaknesses in the Army and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which head the program. The report said that most of its funding disappeared in Washington on studies and staff, and never trickled down to the threatened communities.

Of course, to say that money was spent on studies and staff is just shorthand for EMBEZZLED. (Incidentally, FEMA is the monster agency of the Federal Government, being the only agency without Congressional authorization, which operates under nothing more than the authority of an Executive Order. On paper FEMA is supposed to act as a coordinating point for all levels of government, local, state and national, for the handling of emergencies; and always, FEMA hands out checks after disasters; but it also has such far-reaching authority that it was FEMA that was responsible for handling the Pope's security when he visited the United States.)

While Dictator Clinton whines about Saddam Hussein's treatment of his population, Americans should not be fooled. The United States Government made a deal with Hussein, that is why he is still in power. One day the President of the United States calls Hussein Hitler, and goes to war against him; the next day, the President signs a deal with this new Hitler, allowing him to remain in power. In fact, the same firms that provided Adolph Hitler with the poison gas he required to kill eleven million Europeans, also provided Saddam Hussein with much of the agents he had, or perhaps has; some of which he used on his own population.

But before we go to war again against Iraq, Americans should understand that their own government, the United States Government, is more of a deadly threat to them now -- today, here -- than Saddam Hussein ever will be, half way around the world. Because it is here, such as in Oregon, and here, such as in the Santa Susanna Mountains in California, where there are tank farms full of deadly gas, where the real frontline of danger exists for real flesh-and-blood Americans.


SOURCE: Information for this article was derived from an article printed in the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Edition, 29 March, 1998, issue, written by Lauren Dodge of Associated Press. This article is provided in public service of the national interest of the American people.