Images published by North Korean media last month have given us an unlikely look inside a pesticide factory capable of producing “military-sized batches of biological weapons”, including anthrax, according to a new report.
The images, published on June 6, show North Korean leader Kim Jong-un touring the Pyongyang Bio-technical Institute.
The report, written by Melissa Hanham, a senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, and published by 38 North, claims that the facility contains all the equipment necessary to produced weaponized anthrax.
The report concludes: “Given North Korea’s known history and interest in biological weapons, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Institute is intended to produce military-size batches of anthrax.”
North Korea on Monday denied the allegations, inviting U.S. President Barack Obama to send all 535 U.S. senators and representatives to verify whether the facility is producing anthrax.
“Through that opportunity, [U.S. officials] would see for themselves the impressive state of Pyongyang Bio-tech Institute, which has surpassed state-of-the-art technology,” a North Korean spokesman said.
It added that Hanham’s report is a “cheap conspiracy that is reaching an extreme.”
The images were originally published on the same day that a North Korean scientist defected to Finland with data he says proves the country is testing chemical and biological agents on its own citizens.
Further, Hanham’s report, which was published last week, says Kim’s plant visit “may have been intended as a veiled threat to South Korea and the United States. The visit occurred days after news broke that the American military had mistakenly shipped live-anthrax to labs in nine US states as well as to the Osan Air Base in South Korea.”
In a report published last week, VICE News spoke to a number of experts who backed up Hanham’s conclusions.
“They messed up. If you’re a technical expert, it’s clear looking at this facility that it can be used for biological warfare, particularly anthrax. The science is not in dispute,” Joel S. Wit, a former State Department official and a senior fellow at the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, told the outlet.
The North Korean facility is officially meant produce bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a bacteria often used for pesticides that is closely related to anthrax.
Hanham’s report says: “If Pyongyang was interested only in food security, it could have procured Bt bio-insecticide legally and at a fraction of the cost. Instead, by choosing to illicitly import the dual-use equipment, North Korea is likely using the facility to maintain a latent BW capability—or worse—actively producing anthrax.”