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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


Nevada Test Site - BACHUS

Biotechnology Activity Characterization by Unconventional Signatures

In 1997, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) began a secret program to simulate a Rogue Nation's or terrorist group's clandestine biological weapons program, according to the New York Times and ABC News. The program, code-named BACHUS (Biotechnology Activity Characterization by Uncoventional Signatures), used low-cost, comercially available off-the shelf technology to produce a small quantity of benign simulant with properties similar to Anthrax.

The site chosen by DTRA was a small abandoned building in a closed part of the Nevada Test Site, because of the security afforded by being located within the perimeter of the NTS. Moreover, the building (Building 12-7) was a former recreaction center and barber shop and was small, low-signature building. BACHUS was to provide a small, real-world target to test various ground-based, airborne, and space based Measurement and Signature Intelligence (MASINT) sensors and determine whether these sensors would be able to aquire a clandestine BW weapons lab.

MASINT: The counter-proliferation intelligence Discipline.

Measurement and Signature Intelligence (MASINT) is scientific and technical intelligence information obtained by quantitative and qualitative analysis of data (metric, angle, spatial, wavelength, time dependence, modulation, plasma, and hydromagnetic); all of which are derived from specific technical sensors for the purpose of identifying any distinctive features associated with the source, emitter, or sender and to facilitate subsequent identification and/or measurement of the same. Laser imaging systems can be used to detect and classify chemical/biological agents emitted in the production process. Multi-spectral and hyperspectral imagery systems can be employed as well.

Imagery Analysis

Using video ground truth imagery from an ABC News report, coupled with Microsoft's Terraserver imagery of the Nevada Test Site taken in 1998, as well as other publically available information, we were able to identify the building in which the simulated weapons lab was located.

Building 12-7

Building 12-7 is a mustard-colored building with interior dimensions measuring 120 feet long and 40 feet wide. It is located near a number of other buildings of roughly the same size.

A note on signatures

Signatures are indicators that make a target identifiable or cause it to stand out. Key signature properties are uniqueness and stability. Uncommon or unique features reduce the ambiguity of an indicator and minimize the number of other indicators that must be observed to confirm a single indicator's significance.

Conventional indicators of a biological weapons program might include the existence of biological research facilities operated under military control, the large-scale production of vaccines in excess of legitimate domestic needs, or the purchase of dual-use biological materials and equipment. A noticeable signature for such a program is crucial to the intelligence community's ability to monitor the proliferation activities of states and terrorist groups.

DTRA's BACHUS project seems predicated on the possibility that a terrorist group or rogue nation might try to develop a clandestine minimal BW program completely apart from legitimate commercial pharmacutical R&D efforts that would be more visible and susceptible to standard Western intelligence efforts. Such a program could be funded on a shoe-string budget and would only require a few hundred square feet of floor space. It is reported that BACHUS was able to gather the necessary materials including a 50-liter fermenter and sample biological agents producing only non-harmful bio-pesticides during two trial runs in 1999 and 2000, for roughly $1 million and completely through the open market.

Whether DTRA was able to successfully test MASINT sensors and whether those sensors were successful in detecting and characterizing the facility at Building 12-7, a clandestine BW capability, are not known to the public. The key question is what degree of cross-sensor cueing and multidisciplinary cueing is required for detection.

Disclosure appears to be timed to Congressional Budget

The public revelation of the existence of such a highly classified program seems to be timed to Congressional appropriation hearings for funding of DTRA Biological Weapons programs. BACHUS was initiated without the knowledge of senior Clinton White House officials, but had the approval of DoD and CIA officials.




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