Editor’s note: Originally aired Nov. 6, 2001, on KLAS TV in Las Vegas.
MYSTERY WIRE — Fear generated by the global outbreak of coronavirus has led to wild conspiracy theories as well as legitimate concerns.
Several conspiracy sites have claimed coronavirus is a biological weapon, unleashed on the public either by accident or on purpose.
That prospect has been studied by the US military for decades. The big question is, could our sensors detect a bio lab if one was operating in a clandestine location? One such lab was created in the desert, using equipment purchased over the counter. How tough would it be for us to find it?
The Mystery Wire coronavirus blog, updated daily.
For daily news updates, follow the 8NewsNow coverage.
In the sci fi classic “The Andromeda Strain,” government scientists used a secret lab deep in the Nevada desert to try and come up with solutions to a biological calamity. The movie’s scenario isn’t that far from the truth because deep in the Nevada desert government scientists have been secretly studying ways to prepare for possible biological attacks.
And since the events of 9/11 and the anthrax scare, such work seems more urgent than ever.
“The biological weapons threat is very real and not well understood,” says retired Army Intelligence Col. John Alexander.
Alexander was not involved in the Nevada program, but was part of similar research at Los Alamos National Lab in the early ’90s. He spoke with us after a Pentagon officials said we could not use their face or voice for this story.
Alexander doesn’t know if terrorists have their own bio labs, but it wouldn’t surprise him.
“I have not seen anything specific that says that they have … any specific group has done it. The issue is it is well within the technical and financial means of many groups to do,” he says.
The Pentagon program was housed in Area 12 of the Nevada Test Site in what used to be a recreation hall. The former barber shop now has a huge tank of some sort that has nothing to do with haircuts. On the other side of that wall sits a contraption — an assortment of stainless steel gear that can all be purchased commercially.
This lab did not produce actual anthrax, but something very similar. The purpose was not only to demonstrate how easily such a lab could be created, but also to test whether our military could detect such an operation from afar.
The Pentagon will only say the results remain classified.
Alexander believes such an operation would generate a so-called signature — something that could be detected, but it wouldn’t be easy.
“The signatures are relatively difficult to detect,” Alexander says. “However, if you know where you’re looking, we have sensor systems now that can get down in effluence in parts per billion, probably approaching parts per trillion. Very, very small trace amounts. But again, you have to know where to apply your sensors and what what you’re looking for.”