The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy (CSTSP) and the WMD Directorate of the Federal Bureau of Investigation have a long-lasting partnership to bridge science and security for biological research. This partnership promotes trust and communication between the scientific and security communities to address challenging security problems associated with biological research at universities, non-profit research institutions, and health laboratories.
This year, AAAS/CSTSP and FBI have initiated a project to evaluate the national and international security implications of big data and analytics in the life sciences. The overall goal of the project is to review the current scientific and technological advancements in big data and analytics, applications of this field to different life science fields, and potential benefits or risks to national security.
On April 1, 2014, AAAS/CSTSP and FBI are hosting a public event on Big Data, Life Sciences, and National Security. Associated with this event, a series of pre-event interviews have been conducted with Daniela Witten, Assistant Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Washington, Subha Madhavan, Director of the Innovation Center for Biomedical Informatics at the Georgetown University Medical Center, and Angel Hsu, Director of the Environmental Performance Index, a joint project between the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy and the Center for International Earth Science Information Network at Columbia University.
In 2012, AAAS/CSTSP and FBI collaborated with the Association of American Universities and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities to hold a series of outreach and policy meetings with research, policy, and security stakeholders and summarize important lessons learned, challenges faced, and areas for improvement of local and national biosecurity initiatives.
The following publications and reports were produced as a result of the outreach and policy meetings.
In August 2013, AAAS, AAU, APLU, and the FBI hosted a meeting focused on improving understanding of the components of a sound personnel security program, providing examples of existing personnel security programs, and determining mitigation strategies for identified gaps.
The goals of the meeting were:
- To discuss and compare personnel security programs, sharing best practices and models among sub-sectors of biological sciences research and development;
- To better understand elicitation and vulnerability, which could contribute to compromised security, and security of information and intellectual property; and
- To suggest approaches for personnel suitability assessments.
In April 2013, AAAS, AAU, APLU, and the FBI hosted a meeting on the challenges faced during implementation of the revised Select Agents and Toxins Regulations and possible approaches for addressing those challenges.
The goals of the meeting were:
- To identify challenges and best practices encountered in implementing the revised Select Agents and Toxins Regulations at research institutions with differently sized programs;
- To understand the effects of the revised Select Agents and Toxins Regulations on research and education at research institutions;
- To identify new challenges that have emerged with the implementation of the revised Select Agents and Toxins Regulations; and
- To provide suggestions on how to address these challenges.
In February 2013, AAAS, AAU, APLU, and the FBI hosted a meeting on international science and security in the life sciences, entitled International Science and Security.
- To identify current challenges in addressing safety, security, and ethics while conducting or enabling biological research with foreign students, faculty, staff, or collaborating partners;
- To discuss current strategies or needs for promoting a common understanding of biosecurity risks and mitigation measures, and how they relate to safety and ethical risks and mitigation strategies of biological and biotechnological research;
- To identify strategies for enabling international scientific collaboration within the existing biological sciences and security environment; and
- To identify ways in which the research community and FBI can work together to address these challenges.
Meeting participants were asked to consider the following issues:
- Challenges that research institutions face with foreign scientists working in the U.S., international collaborations, and American scientists working in foreign institutions;
- Current practices or procedures that overcome one or more of these challenges;
- Gaps in understanding or process that need to be addressed to ensure that interactions between scientists are safe, secure, ethical, and scientifically useful and/or productive; and
- Specific action items to gather more information about what is needed to improve the current situation or to help alleviate existing problems.
In September 2012, AAAS, AAU, APLU, and the FBI hosted a meeting on review and oversight of dual use research, entitled Bridging Science and Security for Biological Research: A Discussion about Dual Use Review and Oversight at Research Institutions.
Meeting participants were asked to consider the following questions:
- What dual use oversight strategies have institutions voluntarily implemented?
- What challenges did institutions face when implementing dual use review and oversight programs?
- What aspects of dual use review and oversight worked well?
- What is the current state of regulatory burden on research institutions?
The goals of the meeting were to:
- Share best practices from voluntarily-implemented review and oversight programs;
- Identify and discuss lessons learned about the review, mitigation, and communication of potential using the recent H5N1 papers as a case study; and
- Inform current national-level policy debates on dual use life sciences research.
In February 2012, AAAS, AAU, APLU, and the FBI hosted a biosecurity outreach meeting, entitled Bridging Science and Security for Biological Research: A Dialogue between Universities and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The goals of the meeting were to:
- Facilitate open communication between the security and the scientific communities about the risks biological research and how to balance the costs and benefits of mitigating those risks;
- Determine how the university and security communities can work together to address the risks of misuse of biological research, theft of biological agents, or accidental exposure, while supporting critical research progress;
- Develop and disseminate to both the security and academic communities recommendations for building a collaborative framework for policies that reflect the balance of risk and benefit while ensuring critical biological research can be pursued in the US; and
- Develop and disseminate to the scientific community and policy-makers possible solutions that could address the potential risks of biological research at the local or national level.
During this time, AAAS/CSTSP and FBI jointly engaged the Do-It-Yourself Biology community to build trust and communication between the amateur biology community and the FBI WMD Directorate.
The partnership began in 2009 with a series of conferences involving scientists and technologists working in the area of synthetic biology. Together, and with other U.S. government partners, AAAS/CSTSP and the FBI held three synthetic biology conferences bringing together law enforcement, security experts, and scientists and engineers to explore the national and international security implications of synthetic biology.
FBI Biosecurity and Outreach Program
The FBI contributes to the U.S. government’s efforts to reduce the risk of bioterrorism by enforcing the federal statutes that prohibit development, production, or stockpiling of biological weapons. A major component of these efforts is the biosecurity initiatives developed by the Biological Countermeasures Unit (BCU) of the FBI’s WMD Directorate. The BCU has established a successful biosecurity outreach program, the goal of which is to establish strong, sustainable relationships with officials and scientists from research institutions to prevent and mitigate potential threats faced by research institutions.