"The effects of some of these engineered biological agents could be worse than any disease known to man," the panel said.

The unclassified two-page CIA report dated 3 November and released on Friday, is titled "The Darker Bioweapons Future" and it was posted on the Federation of American Scientists' website.

It summed up a January workshop of a panel of non-government science experts who discussed with the CIA the potential threat from new biological weapons.

Growth in biotechnological research and increased knowledge on the genomic revolution provided an understanding of genes and how they could be used in unpredictable ways, the panel warned.

"The same science that may cure some of our worst diseases could be used to create the world's most frightening weapons," the report said.


Stealth virus attack

One example given by one of the panelists was the possibility of a stealth virus attack that could cripple a large portion of people in their forties with severe arthritis, leaving a country with massive health and economic problems.

"The resulting diversity of new BW [biological warfare] agents could enable such a broad range of attack scenarios that it would be virtually impossible to anticipate and defend against," the report said. "As a result, there could be a considerable lag time in developing effective biodefence measures."

"The same science that may cure some of our worst diseases could be used to create the world's most frightening weapons"

CIA report

Traditional intelligence methods for monitoring development of weapons of mass destruction "could prove inadequate" in dealing with the threat from advanced biological weapons, the report said.

Detecting the development of these novel bio-engineered diseases will increasingly depend on human intelligence and require a closer working relationship between the intelligence and biological sciences community, the report said.

"In the past, CIA has been completely insular, they have been unwilling to engage with outside experts," he said, "and so this is a welcome departure from that norm."