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The military's guinea pigs

There was a more innocent time in this country when U.S. soldiers
rolled up their sleeves when they were told and took their medicine —
in the form of all kinds of vaccines for who-knows-what.

Today, some 240 military service personnel are refusing to be
inoculated with the anthrax vaccine — with good reason.

Approximately 100,000 Persian Gulf War veterans have become sick with
a still-unexplained syndrome many suspect has to do with vaccines they
were given and/or through possible exposure to chemical or biological
weapons. Since the Pentagon has been less than forthcoming in providing
answers to the victims and their families, it’s more than understandable
that there would be a little suspicion about another vaccine of limited

Furthermore, this administration has gone out of its way to do
anything and everything it can to destroy the military its commander in
chief once candidly admitted he “loathed.”

But there’s a lot more to this picture — a lot more.

It turns out the company with the sole contract for manufacturing the
anthrax vaccine is in deep financial trouble — this after being
provided the taxpayer support to renovate its facility and after
agreeing to a $29 million contract with the Defense Department. Now
Bioport Corp. says it can’t meet its commitment to produce the vaccine
for $3.50 a dose; instead, it will need to be paid more like $10 a dose.

But it gets worse. Despite publicly minimizing the vaccine’s risks,
the military is taking a different posture in protecting Bioport from
any liability. Last September, Army Secretary Louis Caldera agreed to
accept the burden of potential claims made against the vaccine
manufacturer by service members, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported
this week. In doing so, he wrote that the vaccine “involves unusually
hazardous risks associated with the potential for adverse reactions in
some recipients and the possibility that the desired immunological
effect will not be obtained by all recipients.”

In the memo, Caldera also acknowledged just what those refusing to
accept the vaccine have been saying all along — that there is little
assurance it will work against the forms of biological warfare likely to
be employed by enemies in the field.

The Defense Department is spinning this little development in
Clintonesque fashion, downplaying the agreement to take Bioport off the
hook for any defects in the vaccine.

“It’s legalese,” explains Army Col. Dick Bridges, a senior Defense
Department mouthpiece. “It’s like the San Diego Union-Tribune buying
libel insurance. You don’t expect to libel anyone, but you can’t say
it’s never going to happen.”

Not quite a perfect analogy. Bioport is not buying insurance against
liability claims. It is being provided broad-brush protection against
them at taxpayer expense.

That raises the question of why. Who’s behind Bioport? Why is the
company getting this kind of unusual protection and favored treatment
from the Pentagon?

It turns out the major force behind the company is Fuad El-Hibri, a
German citizen of Lebanese descent. How does a company whose principal
is a foreign national win a contract to produce such a militarily
sensitive product?

Here’s the answer: Just bring into your company Admiral William J.
Crowe, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and give him —
that’s right, gave him — 22.5 percent ownership. Crowe invested not one
penny of his own money, according to his spokesman.

But it’s amazing how much attention you can get at the Pentagon with
such a resume on your executive team. There’s not a doubt in my mind it
was well worth the 22.5 percent share of the company to snag Crowe.

Doesn’t this smack of insider wheeling and dealing? Bioport has had
every advantage imaginable handed to it — from taxpayer subsidized
renovations of its plant to product liability underwritten 100 percent
by the federal government. And who benefits from it? A former chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And even with all those advantages,
Bioport still has its hand out, threatening bankruptcy if it doesn’t get
three times its current price for the product.

This is a shady deal. And I don’t blame the 240 service personnel who
have refused to be guinea pigs in this scam.

Soldiers are being asked to risk their health for a vaccine of
questionable effectiveness and safety. Why? Is it for political reasons?
Is it for reasons of greed? Is it some morbid desire to experiment with
people’s lives? Or is it simply one more of this administration’s
strategies to destroy the morale and spirit of the U.S. military?