Special Report

The Government Is Worried About These Biological Weapons

Russia accused the United States of secretly supporting a biological weapons program in Ukraine at the U.N. Security Council meeting in March. The U.S. strongly denied the claims. There were concerns this would be used as a pretext for Russia’s own use of chemical or biological warfare in Ukraine. Since then, the Kremlin has continued to spread such claims — but provided no proof — culminating last week in Russia requesting a formal hearing of violations of the U.N. Biological Weapons Convention

The convention, which went into effect in 1975, prohibits the development, production, stockpiling or otherwise acquisition of biological weapons. Nearly universally adopted, 184 countries signed the agreement – and for good reason. 

Biological weapons are designed and used to spread pathogens or toxins that can harm or kill humans, animals or plants. The consequences of their use can be severe and unpredictable, potentially resulting not only in illness and loss of life across populations, but also food shortages, environmental catastrophe, economic harm, and widespread fear. 

Not confined to national borders, these effects could spread beyond their intended target and lead to global devastation. 

Still, the international ban on biological weapons offers no guarantee of compliance. A report issued by the U.S. State Department as recently as 2019 raised concerns that China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia – all parties to the BWC – are potentially flouting some of the terms of the convention. Some of these countries are recognized to be some of the most corrupt in the world. 

Non-state actors, including terrorist groups, could also potentially employ the use of biological weapons. In 2001, letters laced with anthrax were sent through the U.S. mail, infecting nearly two dozen people and killing five. The suspected perpetrator of what is remembered as the worst biological attack in U.S. history was a biodefense researcher with the U.S. government who took his own life before he was brought up on charges. 

Government organizations, including the Department of Defense and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still consider biological weapons a potential threat to the United States. Using data from government reports and medical journals, 24/7 Wall St. identified the 25 biological weapons the U.S. government is worried about. 

The weapons on this list are ordered in terms of their priority classification by the CDC – from third highest to highest. The highest priority bioweapons are those that are easiest to transmit and have the highest potential for public harm and social disruption. (Also see, the world’s most dangerous chemical weapons.)

Click here to see which biological weapons the government is worried about.

Click here to see our detailed methodology.

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