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NSA Looked for 'Nefarious' Genetics Projects

More than 10 years ago, the US National Security Agency was monitoring international research projects with the aim of spotting "nefarious" genetic engineering projects, Gizmodo reports.

A new document from the trove leaked by Edward Snowden in 2013 claims that the signals intelligence program was sifting through electronic and communication data it collected for information on genetic sequencing efforts, it adds.

"The ultimate goals of this project are to gain general knowledge about genetic engineering research activity by foreign entities," wrote a cryptoanalysis intern, according to the Intercept, "and to identify laboratories and/or individuals who may be involved in nefarious use of genetic research."

Gizmodo notes that intelligence officials have called genetic engineering a "weapon of mass destruction." In addition, it adds that the effort described in this document predates CRISPR's arrival on the genetic engineering scene, and that intelligence officials last year added genome editing to their list of national security threats.

"Given the broad distribution, low cost, and accelerated pace of development of this dual-use [genetic engineering] technology, its deliberate or unintentional misuse might lead to far-reaching economic and national security implications," intelligence officials said in a report at that time.