National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center
|This article is outdated. (February 2015)|
|Jurisdiction||Federal government of the United States|
|Headquarters||Fort Detrick, Frederick, Maryland, USA|
|Parent agency||United States Department of Homeland Security|
The National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC) is a government biodefense research laboratory created by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and located at the sprawling biodefense campus at Fort Detrick in Frederick, MD, USA. Created quietly a few months after the 2001 anthrax attacks, the NBACC (pronounced EN-back) is intended to be the principal U.S. biodefense research institution engaged in laboratory-based threat assessment and bioforensics. NBACC is an important part of the National Integrated Biodefense Campus (NIBC) also being built at Fort Detrick for the US Army, National Institutes of Health and the US Department of Agriculture.
Mission and operations
The core of the NBACC facility is a cluster of laboratories ranging from BSL-2 to BSL-4 built to hold and assess the threat of small amounts of bacteria and viruses to the people of the United States. Part of the NBACC’s mission is to conduct realistic tests of the pathogens and tactics that might be used in a bioterrorism attack. It seeks to quantitatively answer questions pertaining to what might happen in a biological attack.
The NBACC is equipped to develop and investigate genetically engineered viruses and bacteria. New and emerging technologies will be evaluated along with delivery devices that U.S. adversaries might use to disseminate the pathogens.
The NBACC coordinates closely with the many Departments and Agencies in the U.S. government, including the U.S. intelligence community which has assigned advisers to the Center.
In June 2006, construction began on a new $128 million, 160,000 sq ft (15,000 m2) facility inside the Ft. Detrick installation. Space inside the 8-story, glass-and-brick structure, scheduled to open in 2008, is divided between NBACC's two centers:
- The National Biological Threat Characterization Center (NBTCC), which seeks to identify and prioritize biological threats and our vulnerabilities to those threats through its laboratory threat assessments.
- The National Bioforensic Analysis Center (NBFAC), a forensic testing center equipped to identify and characterize the possible culprit pathogens after an attack has already occurred
The NBTCC will include biocontainment suites, including BSL- 2, 3, and 4 laboratory space, air-handling equipment, security controls, and other supporting features. The new building will be classified as a SCIF, or Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility; access will be severely limited and all of the activity and conversation inside will be presumed restricted from public disclosure.
Until its new building was being completed, the NBFAC (in collaboration with the FBI) was borrowing floorspace from the US Army's biodefense facility (see USAMRIID) at Ft Detrick.
A business entity spun off from Battelle Memorial Institute manages NBACC for DHS as an FFRDC.
NBACC was first certified to work with biological select agents and toxins in September 2011.
The NBACC employs about 180 researchers and support staff as of early 2015.
Questions have been raised by some arms-control and international law experts as to the necessity and advisability of the very high level of security surrounding the NBACC and as to whether it does (or will) place the United States in violation of the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC). (The BWC outlawed developing, stockpiling, acquiring or retaining pathogens "of types and in quantities that have no justification" for peaceful purposes.) Experts at the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Biosecurity have been particularly vocal in their criticism. 
NBACC’s opponents contended that the facility would operate in a “legal gray zone” and skirt the edges of the BWC, which outlaws production of even small amounts of biological weapons. They contend that a high degree of transparency is needed to reassure Americans (and the rest of the world) of the U.S. government's good intentions. In their view, the U.S. government may find it hard in the future to object to other countries testing genetically engineered pathogens and novel delivery systems when they invoke their own national biodefense requirements. 
The Bush administration contended that the NBACC is purely defensive and thus its operations are fully legal and in accord with the BWC. A principle is that assessing the technical threat of biological pathogens is essential to inform and help develop biodefense policy. Administration officials say that making small amounts of biowarfare pathogens for study is permitted under a broad interpretation of the treaty. The Obama administration has continued funding for the NBACC with the award of a 10-year long, US$481 million-dollar contract to Battelle National Laboratories in late September 2015. 
NBACC's work is currently monitored by an institutional review board to assure compliance with the Biological Weapons Convention treaty guidelines governing "Dual-Use Research of Concern," as well as normal scientific oversight, in addition to DHS internal review boards. This is a conventional peer-review process involving small groups of scientists who are independent of the research in question (albeit all with government security clearances). 
- Center for Biosecurity, University of Pittsburgh, PA; directed by Tara O'Toole, founded by D.A. Henderson.
Notes and references
- Ember, Lois (August 2005). ""Testing The Limits: Biodefense research to characterize threats may violate the biological weapons treaty, experts say"". Chemical and Engineering News 83 (83): 26–32.
- Warrick, Jo (30 July 2006). "The Secretive Fight Against Bioterror"". The Washington Post (Washington, DC, USA). Retrieved 13 November 2015.
- ""DHS Awards Battelle $481 Million To Manage Biodefense Center"". Copyright Access Intelligence. 30 September 2015. Retrieved 9 November 2015.
- Landon, Paul V; et al. (January 2015). "Institutional Review of Dual Use Research of Concern to Support a Culture of Responsibility". Journal of Bioterrorism & Biodefense 6 (1): 1–3. doi:10.4172/2157-2526.1000130.
- Warrick, Joby, "The Secretive Fight Against Bioterror", The Washington Post; Sunday, July 30, 2006; A01.
- Hernandez, Nelson, "Huge New Biodefense Lab Is Dedicated At Fort Detrick", Washington Post, October 23, 2008; p. B1.
- DHS/NBACC Website[dead link]
- Battelle National Biodefense Institute/NBACC Website
- PowerPoint/PDF presentation detailing NBACC structure and mission]