The US sanctioned two more senior North Korean officials Tuesday, the latest attempt to hit the country’s nuclear program. But in South Korea, another deadly weapon is back in the headlines, one that is far easier and cheaper to make: anthrax. This week, the Blue House was forced to deny President Moon Jae-in and other top officials had been vaccinated against the biological weapon.
Presidential spokesman Park Soo-hyun said the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention bought 1,000 doses of anthrax vaccines, to be given to biochemical counterterrorism agents or civilians in the case of anthrax exposure. The vaccines arrived in November.
Park said the Blue House had bought 350 doses of anthrax vaccine to counter accidental exposure, but he said it was ordered by the previous government led by former President Park Geun-hye after an incident in 2015.
Then, it emerged the US military erroneously shipped live anthrax used for research purposes to South Korea, as well as parts of the US, Canada and Australia. The sample sent to South Korea was destroyed and the facility decontaminated.
There were no plans to vaccinate the general public, the Blue House spokesman said. Adding to these concerns was a report in the Korean media alleging one of the four North Korean soldiers who defected in 2017 was found to have antibodies to the biological weapon in his system, suggesting he was either vaccinated against anthrax or exposed to it at some point.
South Korea’s National Intelligence Service told CNN it could not confirm that report. The Defense Ministry said it also could not confirm the report, adding that none of the four military defectors are believed to have worked in North Korea’s biochemical warfare unit.
According to the Trump administration’s National Security Strategy, released earlier this month, North Korea “has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons” including research into “chemical and biological weapons which could be delivered by missile.”
In a statement, North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said such claims were “groundless” and accused the US of attempting tpuo “cook up untruths.” As a signatory to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), North Korea “maintains its consistent stand to opp2ose development, manufacture, stockpiling and possession of biological weapons,” the statement said.
It pointed to US claims Iraq possessed biological agents and other weapons of mass destruction before the invasion of that country in 2003, which were later proven to be “dead wrong,” according to a US government commission.
Previous US administrations have also accused Pyongyang of developing biological weapons, with a 2004 report from the Deputy Director of National Intelligence saying that after its accession to the BWC in 1987, North Korea continued to pursue research in this area.
“North Korea has the scientists and facilities for producing biological products and microorganisms, and has the ability to produce traditional infectious biological warfare agents or toxins,” the report said.
Nerve agents and toxins
There was renewed attention on North Korea’s chemical and biological weapons programs this year after the audacious assassination of Kim Jong Nam, half-brother of the North Korean leader, in Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
He was killed with the nerve agent VX, allegedly by two women acting on behalf of North Korea. Pyongyang has consistently denied any involvement in Kim’s death; lawyers for the women have said they thought they were taking part in a prank TV show.
According to a report published in October by researchers at Harvard, “accurately assessing the threat from North Korea’s biological weapons program is challenging,” as tests can be carried out in secret behind closed-doors, unlike nuclear or missile testing, and many technologies involved can be dual-use, such as for the creation of pesticides.