Leaked e-mails between the Lugar Center, the Pentagon biolaboratory in Tbilisi, the US Embassy to Georgia and the Georgian Ministry of Health reveal new information about the $161 million secretive US Government biological research program in this former Soviet country.
The data allegedly originating from the Ministry of Health of Georgia has been published anonymously on Twitter and on a forum for database leaks – Raidforums. Among the documents there are internal memos, official letters and detailed information about US government projects at the Lugar Center, funding and foreign business trips.
Arms Watch volunteers have analyzed these documents and discovered very interesting facts about the Center’s recent activities.
The Pentagon has planned to turn Georgia into its largest biological research center overseas, combining its military resources with the resources of the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Georgia.
Furthermore, the number of US projects and grants have increased as well as the number of US scientists deployed to the Lugar Center. The Pentagon-funded facility is planned to temporarily accommodate 16 CDC specialists from Atlanta, for whom Georgia will build a separate BSL-2 laboratory, administrative building and a campus near the Lugar Center. In addition, Georgia will become a regional CDC hub for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, internal documents reveal.
The Lugar Center already sparked controversy about possible dual-use research in 2018 when leaked documents revealed that US diplomats in Georgia were involved in the trafficking of frozen human blood and pathogens for a secret military program.
The Lugar Center is just one of the many Pentagon biolaboratories in 25 countries across the world. They are funded by the US Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) under a $ 2.1 billion military program – Cooperative Biological Engagement Program (CBEP), and are located in former Soviet Union countries such as Georgia (the motherland of former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin) and Ukraine, the Middle East, South East Asia and Africa.
Pentagon research on bioterrorism agents at the Lugar Center
US military scientists have been deployed to Georgia for research on bioterrorism agents at the Lugar Center, according to the new data-leak. These bio-agents have the potential to be aerosolized and used as bioweapons. Among them anthrax, tularemia, Brucella, Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever, Hantavirus, Y. pestis (causing the disease plague).
The US military biological research projects in Georgia have been funded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). According to internal data, American and Georgian scientists are currently working on the following DTRA projects in the Lugar Center:
Project 1059: Zoonotic Infections with Fever and Skin Injuries in Georgia
The project includes isolation of new orthopoxviruses in humans, rodents, domestic and wild animals in Georgia, and collection of rodents (as a natural reservoir for this virus) for their further study.
Duration: 01/11/2015-31/10/2018 (extended to 2020)
Project 1060: Characterization of the Georgian National Center for Disease Control (NCDC) Strain Repository by New Generation Sequencing
Description: characterization and genome research on 100 strains from four endemic species: Y. pestis (causing the disease plague), B. anthracis (anthrax), Brucella, and F. tularensis (causing the disease tularemia).
Funding: $ 518,409
Project 1439: Molecular Virological Research in Georgia
Description and objectives:
- Identify and characterize Hantavirus and Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever virus (CCHFV) strains by molecular methods;
- Characterize and study genetic diversity of Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever virus and hantavirus strains isolated from rodents and ectoparasites;
- Serological examination of febrile patients with Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever and hemorrhagic fever with renal syndrome;
- Collection of rodents and ectoparasites (ticks, fleas);
Project 1742: Risks of bat-borne zoonotic diseases in Western Asia
Duration: 24/10/2018-23 /10/2019
In 2017 the US Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) launched a $6.5 million project on bats and coronaviruses in Western Asia (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Jordan) with the Lugar Center being the local laboratory for this genetic research. The duration of the program is 5 years and has been implemented by the non-profit US organisation Eco Health Alliance.
The project’s objectives are: 1. Capture and non-lethally sample 5,000 bats in 5-year period (2017-2022) 2. Collect 20,000 samples (i.e. oral, rectal swabs and/or feces, and blood) and screen for coronaviruses using consensus PCR at regional labs in Georgia and Jordan. According to the project presentation, Eco Health Alliance already sampled 270 bats of 9 species in three Western Asian countries: 90 individual bats in Turkey (Aug 2018), Georgia (Sept 2018), and Jordan (Oct 2018).
EcoHealth Alliance and Georgian scientists sampling a bat for coronavirus research in 2018 (Facebook, Keti Sidamonidze)
Coincidentally, the same Pentagon contractor tasked with the US DoD bat-research program – Eco Health Alliance, USA, also collected bats and isolated coronaviruses along with Chinese scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. EcoHealth Alliance received a $3.7 million grant from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) to collect and study coronaviruses in bats in China from 2014 to 2019. …