The military has wasted much of its biological warfare defense research on germs that no country is suspected of using in biological weapons, a congressional study says.

The U.S. General Accounting Office, an investigative arm of Congress, said the Army developed many vaccines for germs not considered threats by intelligence agencies, spends half its medical research on non-threat germs and does not check with other government agencies to avoid duplicating research.That comes as U.S. troops face the threat of germ warfare for the first time in decades and as questions have arisen about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines against such diseases as anthrax - which has been known to be used in germ weaponry since World War II.

The GAO study is of special note to Utah because much of the field testing for biological defense work has been conducted at Utah's Dugway Proving Ground.

Also, Brigham Young University, the University of Utah and Utah State University have had numerous Defense Department contracts through the years for biological research.

The GAO said that over the past 25 years, the Army has invested $45 million to develop 16 vaccines and other medical products to combat germ warfare agents.

But 43 percent of that was spent on five products to combat germs that intelligence agencies have not shown are under development or production anywhere as germ weapons. They include Rift Valley fever, chikungunya, Argentine and Korean hemorrhagic fevers and lassa fever.

The GAO also reviewed 218 biological defense research projects that were under way in 1990 at a cost of $238 million. It said 49 were for non-threat germs, and it was unsure about another 57 projects because Army research summaries did not contain sufficient information.

The cost of those questionable projects was $95 million.

The report said the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command at Fort Detrick, Md., acknowledged it conducts research on germs that have not been validated by intelligence as warfare threats.

But Medical Command officials said, "Other agents must be researched if they were: 1. Highly infectious by aerosol or other means; 2. Stable in the environment; and 3. Of low to moderate communicability," the GAO reported.

The GAO added, "Using these broad criteria, the Medical Command could conduct research on virtually all biological agents."

The GAO said it also found that the military was not checking to see whether it may be duplicating research of other government agencies.

A GAO review showed that the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control were working on 23 germs that the Army was also researching without mutual coordination. Some of those germs include anthrax, Venezuelan equine encephalitis and Q fever.

The GAO recommended to Congress that all military medical research projects be reviewed to determine whether they address valid warfare threats, and cancel those that don't.

It also suggested requiring the military to search data bases to ensure it is not duplicating research by other government agencies.


(Additional information)

Accusations against the Army

Congress' investigative office says the Army:

- Developed vaccines for and spends half its research budget on germs that aren't threats.

- Does not check with other government agencies to avoid duplicating research.

Utah connection:

- Dugway Proving Ground conducts a lot of biological defense work.

- The University of Utah, Brigham Young University and Utah State University have had Defense Department contracts for research.