Former colonel issues bleak warning over threat of biological warfare

Enemies ‘could create new Covid as weapon’: Former colonel issues bleak warning over threat of biological warfare

  • Colonel Hamish de Bretton-Gordon urged Government to prioritise biosecurity
  • He says action must be taken to prevent Covid-like virus being weaponised
  • He raised concerns a man-made pandemic could be deliberately imported to UK

Colonel Hamish de Bretton-Gordon (pictured) urged the Government to prioritise biosecurity in its Integrated Review of defence and foreign policy, which will be published tomorrow

Action must be taken now to protect against a Covid-type virus being used as a weapon to cause another deadly pandemic, a leading expert warned last night.

Colonel Hamish de Bretton-Gordon urged the Government to prioritise biosecurity in its Integrated Review of defence and foreign policy, which will be published tomorrow.

The former commander of the military’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Regiment said he was ‘concerned’ the threat of a man-made pandemic deliberately being imported into the UK, either by an enemy state or a terrorist organisation, would be overlooked.

The Integrated Review will set out plans to boost spending on cyber warfare and artificial intelligence and announce decisions to build high-tech military kit securing thousands of jobs in northern England and Scotland.

But Colonel de Bretton-Gordon said: ‘I hope the politicians are not over-prioritising bombs and bullets when pathogens actually pose a more realistic threat to British lives. I am concerned it may be overlooked because we know this threat exists. While it was almost certainly not conceived as a weapon, the spread of Covid-19 has provided a template for terrorists, as well as Russia and China, for how effective a biological weapon could be.

‘It is highly likely these states are researching biological weapons, which [are] also of significant appeal to terrorists. For example, we know that ISIS attempted to introduce plague into refugee camps in Syria while jihadists also successfully obtained a large amount of weaponised ricin in Germany.’

Colonel de Bretton-Gordon served for 23 years in the British Army, spending over a decade focused on chemical and biological attacks.

He led the Army’s responses to anthrax, sarin and chlorine gas attacks in Iraq and Syria and also commanded Nato’s rapid reaction CBRN battalion. He has called for the UK to establish a National Biosecurity Centre to cover the domestic response to future pandemics.

The Integrated Review will set out plans to boost spending on cyber warfare and artificial intelligence and announce decisions to build high-tech military kit securing thousands of jobs in northern England and Scotland

It is also suggested Britain should lead international efforts to set up a global watchdog to monitor bio threats – which has scarcely been mentioned in any discussions as part of the Integrated Review.

Colonel de Bretton-Gordon says an international monitoring group – similar to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons or the International Atomic Energy Agency – is needed to inspect the thousands of labs where deadly pathogens could be created and to compile a register of scientists who are researching viruses. 

The most dangerous pathogens such as anthrax and ebola are kept in maximum containment Biosecurity Level (BSL) 4 labs, of which there are around 50 in the world, according to the World Health Organisation.

But less toxic viruses, which until the Covid-19 pandemic were considered to pose less of an international security threat, are kept at labs which are not as well protected.

It is also suggested Britain should lead international efforts to set up a global watchdog to monitor bio threats – which has scarcely been mentioned in any discussions as part of the Integrated Review

There are thought to be around 3,000 of these BSL 3 labs around the world where pathogens such as influenza and botulinum are usually kept. These labs are less likely to be registered or inspected, and according to experts such as Colonel de Bretton-Gordon, these facilities could be used by terrorists.

He added: ‘It is easy to manipulate a virus and there are laboratories in rogue and failing states where a biological weapon could be produced and brought into Britain, causing thousands of deaths.

‘The threat from bombs and bullets is relatively easy to quantify, the threats from pathogens and deadly chemicals is not straightforward. But if we ignore them, it could be not just catastrophic for us but the whole planet.’ 

Last night the Cabinet Office said: ‘The Integrated Review will set out the Government’s vision for a modern defence, security, foreign and development policy as we tackle the threats of the 21st century.’

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