The politics of bioterrorism

This was a four-year project I headed up focused on socio-political aspects of biosecurity. It was funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and ran from March 2010 to March 2014.

The project examined what can loosely be termed ‘the politics of bioterrorism’ and the policies and policy networks around biosecurity. It developed an understanding of the particular way in which bioterrorism has emerged and been framed in the Anglo-American context, emphasising the evidence drawn upon and the role played by different groups of individuals and institutions.

Through my research, I found that the initial framing of bioterrorism, conceived and pushed by Washington as high consequence ‘superterrorism’, was spread in the first decade of the 21st Century to international security forums and back to capitals around the world. In the last few years, however, security concerns about bioterrorism have become increasingly linked with health concerns. Bioterrorism, or the deliberate spread of disease, is no longer thought of as a stand-alone threat, but has instead come to be understood as one element of a spectrum of disease outbreak threats that also encompass natural outbreaks, unintended consequences, accidental releases, negligence and sabotage. Framing bioterrorism as a ‘catastrophic health event’ has opened up alternate responses and intervention strategies, with their own ‘path dependent’ possibilities and consequences, to keep us secure from the threat of disease in the second decade of the 21st Century.

The project paid particular attention to the links between bioterrorism and synthetic biology.

The project built on my postdoctoral work on governing dual-use biomedical R&D funded by a three-year Wellcome Trust fellowship. That research was featured in a short film titled “Bioweapons: Risk & Response” produced by the London School of Economics.

Key project publications:

Lentzos, Filippa, Catherine Jefferson & Claire Marris (2014) “The myths (and realities) of synthetic bioweaponsThe Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, published online 18 September 2014.

Jefferson, Catherine, Filippa Lentzos & Claire Marris (2014) “Synthetic biology and biosecurity: Challenging the ‘myths’Frontiers in Public Health, Vol.2: 115.

Lentzos, Filippa (2014) “The performativity of constructed uncertainty: Military money and secrecy in biology” Science as Culture Vol.23(4).

Lentzos, Filippa (2014) “The risk of bioweapons use: Considering the evidence base” BioSocieties Vol.9(1): 84-93.

Lentzos, F (2013) “Syria and bioweapons: The need for transparencyThe Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, online 21 November 2013.

Rappert, Brian & Filippa Lentzos (2013) ‘Biosecurity and bio-terror: Reflections on a decade’ in Andrew Dobson, Kezia Barker and Sarah Taylor (Eds.) Biosecurity: The socio-politics of invasive species and infectious diseases, Routledge.

Lentzos, Filippa (2012) ‘Synthetic biology, security and governance’ BioSocieties Vol.7(4): 339-351.

Lentzos, Filippa, Caitlin Cockerton, Susanna Finlay, Alex Hamilton, Joy Zhang & Nikolas Rose (2012) ‘The societal impact of synthetic biology’ in Paul S. Freemont and Richard I. Kitney (Eds.) Synthetic Biology: A Primer, Imperial College Press.

Lentzos, Filippa & Pamela Silver (2012) ‘Synthesis of viral genomes’ in Jonathan Tucker (Ed.) Innovations, dual use and security: Managing the risks of emerging biological and chemical technologies, MIT Press.

Lentzos, Filippa (2011) ‘Hard to prove: The BWC verification quandry’ Nonproliferation Review Vol.18(3): 571-582.