Georgetown sues former employees over CIA-funded biosurveillance project

Georgetown filed a lawsuit yesterday in D.C. District Court against Dr. James M. Wilson and Mark G. Polyak over rights to a biosurveillance system that they developed with funding from the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Defense while working at the University.

Wilson and Polyak left Georgetown in March and April of 2008, respectively. Since then, the University says it has been requesting that they transfer their patent rights to the system they created, Argus, with no luck. Now the University is suing to obtain rights to the program.

But what is Argus? According to testimony (PDF) Wilson gave to Congress in 2007, Argus is a program that monitors events related to health emergencies and alerts policymakers. It was created in response to the rise of diseases like avian flu and SARS.

In 2007, the Department of Defense funded the program with $5,200,281, according to a report that tracks federal grant money. The CIA gave $7,279,780 for research on Argus in 2008, according to 2008 version of the same report.

In the lawsuit, Georgetown argues that the University’s intellectual property policy means any work created while employed by Georgetown belongs to the University.

Congressional testimony Wilson gave in 2008 [PDF] might hint at what his and Polyak’s defense will be, if they decide to fight Georgetown’s lawsuit (emphasis added):

While at Georgetown University (we were housed at GU for convenience with little interaction with the rest of campus and no independent support from the University)

Wilson seems to be sayng the project didn’t have any help from Georgetown, besides the use of Georgetown facilities.

Check out the lawsuit Georgetown filed after the jump!

Georgetown Argus Lawsuit

6 Comments on “Georgetown sues former employees over CIA-funded biosurveillance project

  1. “In the lawsuit, Georgetown argues that the University‚Äôs intellectual property policy means any work created while employed by Georgetown belongs to the University.”

    Just to be specific, it’s not actually saying ANY work created while employed by Georgetown belongs to the University. It’s saying that any work developed from “university research work” is property of Georgetown. Moonlighting projects aren’t covered (and that seems to be what they are arguing, if I read that snippet correctly).

    Very nice job on the story and links, Will. If I know you, I somehow smell an FOIA on Argus coming up?

  2. Not clear how someone can be “housed at GU for convenience.” Not to be snarky, btu last I checked the University was a teaching & research institution (where the defendants taught, researched, and then apparently patented their research results), not a housing development.

    Good luck with that line of argument, pfft.

  3. I actually met Mr. Polyak before, he is so arrogant, narcissistic and full of shit. Not surprised this kind of thing happened.

  4. The government agency charged with detecting and responding to outbreaks of all infectious disease is the CDC, and the rapid growth of biowarfare-related research projects in the university system with links to the DOD and the CIA should be halted and eliminated.

    The desire to protect against biowarfare attacks is understandable, as is the desire to protect against nuclear weapon attacks – but for sophisticated state-run biowarfare programs, there is no real defense against large-area dispersal of aerosolized infectious agents. As with nuclear weapons, security relies on international cooperation, safeguards and treaties with inspection protocols.

    Small groups are not really capable of making sophisticated bioweapons, happily. They are more like to get themselves killed than anything else, or to carry out “attacks” involving sprinkling Salmonella on salad bars, etc.

    So, what is Argus really for? It could serve as a dual-use technology for conducting biological warfare attacks – you would want to know how your pathogen dispersed, right? This is also true for much of the vaccine research into bioweapons – the users of such weapons must be vaccinated against them, so that is also dual-use technology.

    Given the multi-billion dollar funding and secrecy surrounding all these programs (BARDA, Project Bioshield, HHS contracts, etc.), one really has to wonder if there is an underlying effort to create an offensive biowarfare capability – or if this is just useless pork steered to various biotech companies and defense contractors by their Congressional benefactors. In either case, the entire project should be drastically scaled back, and instead the Centers for Disease Control and the NIH should be the ones administering public health programs – and BSL-4 level labs should certainly not be put in private hands, or even placed under public-private partnerships.

    Keep in mind, this entire program was based on anthrax letters sent on 9/18/2001 and 10/9/2001 – sourced to the same kinds of domestic biowarfare programs that the CIA had been running in the 1990s (Clear Vision and Project Jefferson). Expanding those same projects in response doesn’t exactly “make us safer”, does it?

  5. The CIA has done bioweapons research and mind control techniques
    since the Cold War. What if they have been behind some funding at
    Level 4 research labs on such things as engineered flu viruses? Why
    do we need bioweapons anyway? Isn’t there a push by the current
    administration to do away with this type of research? And how much
    does the White House know about what is being researched? These
    and other scientists could really enlighten us.

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