FBI - Sean Donahue - Law enforcement perspective SynBERC - Chris Anderson DOS - Meg Flanagan WWICS - Todd Kuiken BWC ISU (Piers Millett)

We're here to talk about security. We have a great panel of individuals representing internationally and domestically in the US Government as well as external synbio audience as well. So the first talk will be from Sean Donahue.

Sean: I'm going to talk about what we look at and what we do. One of the international partners from Holland was saying it was hard to find who to talk with. That's the main focus of my job. It's creating that bridge between themselves and law enforcement. For Biocurious, I'm that person. When something comes off, they can call me and bounce an idea off of me. When their equipment is stolen or material stolen, if you call it into the local police, they might freak out by what's in there. And that might turn into the same situation as Kurt from back in 2004. We try to mitigate that. Biocurious can talk with myself, and I can talk with local law enforcement to let them know what's going on. There's nothing nefarious going on, they're great folks. We're not intrusive. I'm not knocking on the door, coming in unannounced. That's the opposite of what we're doing. We're not regulatory. We're not trying to see what you have, what equipment you have, do you meet your safety requirements, that's not what we're about.

To address another point: why are we looking at DIYbio? It originally started from iGEM. But also it comes from Congress and people angry about unregulated amateur biology groups. We can now stand up and say that we're talking with the amateur communities, and that they are doing good work - it's non-traditional, a whole different group of people. The non-traditional route has different backgrounds with people not from academia. They are educating themselves into a new area. That's what I am. I am that conduit. If something does happen, and they need to talk with law enforcement, or needs someone to explain to a local enforcement agency, I can be that person. We don't have a centralized law enforcement system in the US. All police departments are paid for and funded on a local county, state basis. The FBI is an investigative force, we're not a police force. We're pretty small if you look at our numbers and how we're spread out.

We have relationships with all law enforcement agencies. We have people in most squads, either just for gang activity, organized crime, public corruption cases, that's why we're there. I would also try to branch out not just law enforcement but also your local public health officials. You should let them know that you're there, I have great working relationships with all the public health people in the Bay Area. So if these people need help, they can reach out to myself. We know the hospitals, we know the research institutes that are there, and they might not know that you are there, and they might find it useful that you're out there and this is what we're doing, and we're good people.

That's the focus of what the WMD coordinator does. It might be a bit different than in NYC. On the east coast, they are in a suit and tie. We're a bit more relaxed. That's what I do, just my job. We do events coordination, we have the US Open Golf tournament this week, and we have to have people on standby response for that, and that's all I have for this time. We'll take questions at the end.

Nate: Next up we have Chris Anderson from SynBERC to give a presentation. Nate: Next up is Meg Flanagan from Dept of State. Nate: Next up is Todd Kuiken from Woodrow Wilson. Nate: Next up is the BWC person (Piers Millett) (see the other files)


Ellen: I am really heartened to see there's such support for our communities. I want to ask Nathan. You're aware of the meetings that we've had, that Todd organized, about ethics, one in America and one in Europe. I think it's ironic that there's an .. opportunity here... when Olliver from Genspace and Eri Gentry from Biocurious have been trying very hard to set up that meeting, and we've received a lukewarm response from the academic community. I brought it up with George Church at SB5.0 last year, and he brought up that maybe an online forum is more appropriate in this day and age, they are not interested in an assimilar. We've tried.

Meg: Who is they? They being the academic community? We were trying to get everyone excited about it ... Yes, so, we've fought for that. I guess, I would, perhaps we can talk offline, and then if there's time later or today, I can answer this question more comfortably, the perspective... in Washington, that's my perception, I'm not familiar with the engagements or lack thereof with academia. I see that as something, so.

I was in an igem team last year. We took the work in London and tried to make it into a synbio, and submit it to the igem audience in Europe, it didn't really get interest. We tried to engage them, but there was no public response. Another thing I wanted to ask you, the shipment regulations. I really wonder how you think about this. It's difficult to ship living organisms across the countries, but I'm not sure within Europe, I think ti's quite easy to ship it, in the future, you will not ship the organisms, you will just ship the DNA. Or will you be detecting DNA or what?

Nathan: That's a good point, we don't have a representative from the Department of Commerce about that, but that's something that, been codified somewhat in the US, but handling that internationally that the World Customs Organization might be able to shed light on as well. We would like to see more attention paid to, there are communities that want to share information either genetic or biological. I want to address some attention to the coding workshops that were held, and provide some more context. I askt hat question because Meg brought up, self-regulation, could this be similar to.. 2.0.. there is some hesitation from the community in doing so? So what posture can the amateur biology community take, in order to address the ascension of these types of issues, in light of not getting traction with the academic community? Todd has laid groundwork with the CODE workshop.

Todd: I think a lot of you were at one or the other of those. From our perspective, I am a former scientist and now do policy. The idea was to get ahead of the regulatory agencies that are, obnoxiously slow as far as trying to keep up with technology and emerging trends. The idea of the DIYBIO:CODE workshops was kind of getting people together to develop, that this isn't how we operate, we're not rogue actors that don't know what we're doing, we're not in basements, we wanted to show to regulator agencies. You guys recognize that there are potential harms and damages, and that thwre's .. one I think that the community is ahead of the curve in this, but, what needs to happen is that use those activities to leverage and in a sense, push some of the regulatory agencies in the academic world to say that first we're not going away, and two we think we're doing this responsibility, and then we can sort of shame them into that. That can take some effort, we have to harp on them. Yes, the agencies move slowly, but they have a lot on their plates. I love bashing the agencies because it's easy to do, but I also feel for them. Part of it is to start these interactions, and Meg is new to this, let's make those connections and leverage those people that we can, they have the power to help leverage funding agencies, if you can get some of those people involved, we can have those broader workshops. We had no idea what would happen in those, I think it was a positive experience, and it was a positive thing for the community to showcase how proactive they were.

A couple things about that. The export control regulations. This is not something that I do on a day to day basis. There is an assume exporting law, like the second it leaves the EU, you will require an export license if it is a controlled agency, or a technology... like it or not, it has been extended to information. We have seen that the Dutch research required an export license to simply submit the paper to the journal.

Mac: I wanted to observe that Jason and Todd have been doing great work at the coding workshops at Ellen/Eri, other people who have tried tackling what they think of ways to bridge the gap in policy and local or national regulatory roles/bodies. I think there has been lots of work. Everyone in this room has to stand up and go somewhere in a proactive way and have proactive conversations. It's been a couple people prodding us, it wouldn't be here today without the generosity of the FBI, but there's good intention, but there hasn't been the critical self-driven movement to get to an assimalar.. the synthetic biology community did this over the last 10 years. Who here in this room right now would spend 2 days straight spending time with their local groups. I guess we're not here to do that, it's not quite like we're having an assimalar today. A variety of groups are moving together. I would like to comment that some of the work has been done, and Todd is funded to think about those things. It bothers me a little bit, that we've already tried to this and it doesn't work, and it's a failure already, but the pieces are just getting started. There's an outside authority bringing us together, it has to be self-driven.

Nathan McCorkle: I think there are two issues here. First is preventing accidents, both industrial and academic. And the other, the FBI is more concerned about nefarious purpose. So. I think that as Chris said, the technology hasn't changed much in the last 30 years, and the availability of information has. I don't think this era is really one of concern to scientists, because a lot of the risks are still the same. For law enforcement, this is a time of great importance because there's so much more information available to people with negative intentions. I just finished a bachelors degree, and I keep hearing that every generation gets so much more information available and things to learn, and the further we progress with technology, the less we know individually, so it's a challenge for people to know all the pieces of the puzzle. Sorting through, is this an accident, is this nefarious, is this just science, is a real challenge for investigators or law enforcement agencies to really sort through, how do you tell, is this BioCurious, or the guy with the blacked out windows? I think that, just psychologically becoming better trained eyes. We have to be better eyes and ears for the blacked out windows. Personally, I think this media, is all just hype. You can take a hammer and build a house, or hurt people. Same thing with rocks. The first technology- fire. These are all "dual use". But sorting through who's got the fire, is much more complicated today. I'm personally working trying to make DNA very cheap, I want to do engineering with DNA, and most of genetic engineering today, and it's mostly banging DNA with a hammer until it works, and we can't do that with today's costs, so I don't think export/import is going to be an issue, because I can send you a zip file with the DNA, I can use encryption, I can use darknets, I can use floppy disks that I cut into a thousand disks and mail in separate envelopes. It's not going to be regulation that fixes that, it's going to be people that check who are these nefarious actors. I think a lot of what we're talking about is trying to reduce the negative media hype, and that's going to be influencing the populace in a negative fashion.

One question for Meg: It seems like the FBI and the DIY relationship really does serve as a model. It's mutually beneficial to both of us. It's not always the case. How would you go about spreading that model, not just here, but perhaps nationally and internationally, so our Dutch counterparts don't have to do a crime to get some attention? And for Chris.. you showed that great slide of molecules and then synthesis button. How long do you think until that program exists out there?

For the latter part- about a year under active development.

Meg: regarding the efficiency of international networking. The BWC is one possible mechanism for building such a network, that said.. as Peirs mentioned, he's one of three people that staffs that. At the most recent revcon, they were reauthorized to carry on their mission. The US along with others had advocated for the expansion of that unit. Peirs showed the cliffnotes version, and I forgot to mention that I brought the printout of cliffnotes of BWC. With regards to the ISU, there's only so much stuff that they can do. But nonetheless, it's about making contacts and knowing who to call, and it's other human endevaors in other respects. Public health is a good example, and it's frightfully based on who people know who to call when things go wrong. Once you make some critical connections, it is self-perpetuating, but I don't have a magic formula for how to build those connections. I think ISU is one. There are intersessional, annual meetings of experts that fall under the rubric of WWWC. It's in Geneva, might not be easy to get over there, but there are side events for meeting experts. There are a lot of other things, about supporting article 10 to promote the peaceful uses of biological sciences. There are things that we do. We don't have a network that is established that's got to be a, two-way street.

Someone: You're cutting through the important issues regarding the security of biological materials, and funding projects to help other countries prepare themselves for public health emergencies. DIYbio gets lots of attention on an international scale. It leaves a lot to be desired. From your perspective and ours, I think you would like to see that get a lot more play?

Piers: Yes and no. At the moment, I am happy that it is not getting the play. These news stories are not getting play, that's great. Things like this will be useful. It's a full UN report with the UN logo on top. It takes a fact-based approach. My encouragement would be to look at these opportunities. It's a long way to come from NY or the west coast, but for Germany, Switzerland, etc., they are actively interested in amateur biology. We can get folks in there so that when the news stories start to come up, like the BWC, is not a picture of the ducks running around, but uh, is actually, the first image should be this map, or it's a personal relationship, which will deflate so many of these concerns. These intersessional meeetings... this year, we are busy with new stuff,, but as we move forward, this would be a good area to build a theme around. I haven't asked specifically, but I think there are no biosafety rules for.. we're an international territory, so I'm not sure if they have figured they need biosafety rules. That would be an interesting question.

I have a question for Sean. What is the expectation of, what is your expectation of us, with regards to where running a community lab, and a bad actor comes in with nefarious intentions, we're not keeping tabs on everybody in the lab, do we really want to call the FBI whenever someone walks in and looks suspicious? What are the expectations?

Sean: That's a good question. If it came to the point where you are extremely concerned that you are beyond whatever your stakeholders in your local lab could handle, that's when I would say bring it up to me. Your best judge of character about who you are giving access to your lab. Last year in NY they had an individual who applied to do some research and Ellen thought it didn't match up with what they did there. There is already a vetting project. He didn't do anything bad, but there was no match with Genspace. If they are working with a select agent, I think that's the point where we want you to inform us. When you can't figure out how you feel about it, that's when you give us a phone call. If you come to a consensus and say that it's beyond what you are comfortable with, then bring it up to us. I don't know if there's a really good definitive line as to when to talk with us, if it's a concern.. we look at basic checks like, does he have a criminal record, is this guy a legit researcher, do we know him, and thanks for letting us know.

Todd: That's one of things with this "Ask a safety officer" program. If someone comes into your lab with an idea for an experiment, and you're not sure about it, this program is designed to ask anonymously if you want to, but it also has the ability to get in direct contact with one of these officers who can give you some details about what it is you're working with, what the safety mechanisms are, or if you are breaching close to a line that you maybe shouldn't be from a legal standpoint or a biosafety level. Genspace operates at BSL1, and you might be at a different lab, and you might be getting close to a level that these bio-safety officers have expertise in. They can give you answers relatively quickly. Use this service as a first step if you are a little worried, and if you get back a "no, they shouldn't be doing that at all", then maybe you should bring it up to the FBI.

One for Chris: are those retainment strands... will they be open and available? For Todd: for dealing with the press on a new lab space? Even the blogs as well as, the original story, by tomorrow it's a completely different story.. unfortunately a lot of the mainstream staff does not have science reporters. They aren't putting time and effort, they are looking into sensation, they want ducks under a title about amateur biologists making the flu. I don't have an answer about how to do it properly. You don't want to not talk to them, because if you don't talk with them at all, they will make up their own. It's also about follow-up. We're actively trying to meet with these reporters, to get the right stories out, but that's hard to do to get them to do more accurate stories. I think you should be actively engaged. You should answer the phone if they call.

Dan: at Genspace, we have a bio-safety review board. When it's questionable to us, well, we have a professor from Harvard, a professor from MIT, and if there's anything questionable, it goes to them. Our lab is BSL1, this is what it means. Among the first few questions, we show that we've done our homework. And it depends on who's calling. NYT? Yes, you should answer them. You should refer them to someone else if you don't know. You don't have to avoid the press. When the issue is about lus, you might be out of your league and should draw us in.

I am not afraid of the press. I am just afraid of people who read this and act on it. There's safety for people doing DIYbio. Some of these emails I've received are kind of threatening, the friendly people are great, and we just talk with them. But some of the people I'm glad that they don't show up.

Chris: We see that at the university level. I haven't seen anything against the DIY community as a whole. Inform us if there are personal threats, inform us. If there is a trend out there where various groups are coming together and looking at DIYbio as a potential target, please let us know. I'm just not aware of any. I'm not sure if any of the DIY groups have had the same situation at all.

Piers: Nefarious folks contacting you guys?;; As democratization in biology going forward, how do you deal with the people that don't want to be contacted? Especially when some of these same individuals have unique takes on responsible behavior. I don't think it's the full answer, the best answer is working through your community. If you know someone is operating a lab, that's better and reassures me that you do know and have a vague idea, if they come to you and say they have a great idea and I'm going to make a flu virus, that reassures me a lot more- that you know- I don't need to know myself. But it's also a degree of trust to broader community. They might not want to be open about it. Through that level of engagement, there are some folks that I know that started off like that, they didn't want anybody to know what they were doing. Over the past few years I have seen some dramatic shifts. It's about building relationships.

Ellen: One of the things we tried to do at Genspace is that have so many cool resources that people would want to work at. It's a carrot.

Nathan: join me in thanking our panel here.