You Won't Believe This

From the New York Times:

“You are not going to believe this one,” he told Ron Fouchier, a virologist at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam. “I think we have an airborne H5N1 virus.”
The news, delivered one afternoon last July, was chilling. It meant that Dr. Fouchier’s research group had taken one of the most dangerous flu viruses ever known and made it even more dangerous — by tweaking it genetically to make it more contagious.
What shocked the researchers was how easy it had been, Dr. Fouchier said. Just a few mutations was all it took to make the virus go airborne.
The discovery has led advisers to the United States government, which paid for the research, to urge that the details be kept secret and not published in scientific journals to prevent the work from being replicated by terrorists, hostile governments or rogue scientists.
Journal editors are taking the recommendation seriously, even though they normally resist any form of censorship. Scientists, too, usually insist on their freedom to share information, but fears of terrorism have led some to say this information is too dangerous to share.
Some biosecurity experts have even said that no scientist should have been allowed to create such a deadly germ in the first place, and they warn that not just the blueprints but the virus itself could somehow leak or be stolen from the laboratory.
Dr. Fouchier is cooperating with the request to withhold some data, but reluctantly. He thinks other scientists need the information.
The naturally occurring A(H5N1) virus is quite lethal without genetic tinkering. It already causes an exceptionally high death rate in humans, more than 50 percent. But the virus, a type of bird flu, does not often infect people, and when it does, they almost never transmit it to one another.

“This research should not have been done,” said Richard H. Ebright, a chemistry professor and bioweapons expert at Rutgers University who has long opposed such research. He warned that germs that could be used as bioweapons had already been unintentionally released hundreds of times from labs in the United States and predicted that the same thing would happen with the new virus.
“It will inevitably escape, and within a decade,” he said, though he added that security measures like restricting possession of the virus to fewer scientists and fewer laboratories would lower the chances of that happening so soon. 

From AFP (several days earlier):

Top US scientists defended their bid to stop details of a mutant bird flu virus from being published and called for global cooperation to ward off an uncontrollable pandemic.
Meanwhile, scientists involved in the experiments said they are cooperating with government officials and the editors of the journals Science and Nature to pare down their research for publication in the coming weeks.
The controversy arose when two separate research teams -- one in the Netherlands and the other in the United States -- separately found ways to alter the H5N1 avian influenza so it could pass easily between mammals.
Until now, bird flu has been rare in humans, but particularly fatal in those who do get sick. H5N1 first infected humans in 1997 and has killed more than one in every two people that it infected, for a total of 350 deaths.
The concern is the virus could mutate and mimic past pandemic flu outbreaks such as the "Spanish flu" of 1918-1919 which killed 50 million people, and outbreaks in 1957 and 1968 that killed three million.
The recommendations from a non-governmental advisory panel that key details of the newly altered virus be withheld drew fire from some scientists who saw it as censorship of material that is essential for surveillance and the hunt for vaccines.
My View:

What kind of madman would actively pursue the modification of such a deadly virus to facilitate airborne transmission between mammals (and people)?

When one digs into this story we see that two separate teams were pursuing the same goal.

The question is - why?

Why would the government of the United States be interested in an airborne virus with a 50% death rate?

Is there any use for such information other than bioweapons?

How in the world is this type of research going to make the world a safer place in the land of the free and home of the brave?