IN 1989, PARTLY AS A RESULT OF AMERICA’S PARTICIPATION in the 1972 International Biological Weapons Convention, but also in response to growing concerns about terrorist use of biological weapons, Congress passed the first of a series of bioterrorism acts, this one entitled the Biological Weapons Antiterrorism Act of 1989. This Act spelled out the first restrictions on access to biological weapon agents by individuals:
Sec 175a. Whoever knowingly develops, produces, stockpiles,
transfers, acquires, retains, or possesses any biological agent,
toxin, or delivery system for use as a weapon, or knowingly assists
a foreign state or any organization to do so, shall be fined under
this title, or imprisoned for life or any term of years, or both.
This is the law under which members of the Minnesota Patriots Council were tried and sentenced for manufacturing and possessing ricin, even though they never used it. Subsequent sections of this Act provide a legal basis for searches and seizures of biological agents and spell out conditions for use of such agents by scientists engaged in studies within recognized research institutions with appropriate institutional and granting agency oversight. Provisions of the Act were clearly targeted toward persons buying, making, or possessing dangerous human pathogens that have “no apparent justification for prophylactic, protective, or other peaceful purposes.”