Former Soviets' Bio-War Expert Details Threat
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 3, 1999 Anthrax, plague, smallpox -- the former Soviet Union had them all and was fully prepared to use them, a one-time leader of a secret Soviet biological weapons program told Congress recently.
Dr. Ken Alibek, former deputy director of Biopreparat, the civilian arm of the former Soviets' biological weapons program, appeared in October before a joint meeting of the House subcommittees on military procurement and military research and development. Alibek moved to the United States in 1992 and has since written a book, "Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World."
Representatives called on Alibek, DoD and other civilian and military experts to clarify the capabilities of chemical and biological weapons. They also wanted perspectives on the threat the weapons pose to the United States and U.S. forces, especially if used by terrorists or rogue nations.
Following Alibek's testimony, DoD officials briefed committee members on the department's ongoing efforts to counter the threat. Since the Gulf War, DoD has beefed up funding to accelerate fielding detection equipment and to develop improved defenses.
Alibek told committee members the Soviets launched their biological weapons program in 1928 and by the late 1980s had "the most powerful and sophisticated program of biological weapons in the world." Biopreparat, the defense and health ministries and even the KGB were developing biological agents that could destroy people, livestock, agricultural crops, equipment and fuel, he said.
Alibek said the Soviet Union established a huge production capability to manufacture biological weapons, and Russia still has four top-secret production facilities. One facility is capable of producing 1,000 tons of anthrax a year; another can make 50 tons a year, he said. Other facilities can produce hundreds of tons of plague and other biological agents such as tularemia and glanders obgrislosis, he added.
Alibek said Soviet military doctrine included the use of smallpox and plague as strategic biological weapons and anthrax, Q-fever and Marburg infection as operational ones. The Soviets were also developing delivery systems such as medium-range bombers with spray tanks, cluster bombs and missiles; and strategic bombers and ballistic missiles with single or multiple warheads.
According to Soviet military doctrine, Alibek said, biological weapons would have been used in massive amounts to significantly destroy any military resistance during war. The KGB also had a sophisticated program to develop biological weapons for assassination, he added.
He asserted the Soviets used biological weapons against German troops during World War II and in Afghanistan in 1982. Anyone who doubts the effectiveness of these weapons is wrong, he stressed -- a small, accidental outbreak of anthrax in the city of Sverdlovsk in 1979 killed hundreds.
"We still don't know how many people were killed, but we know that this biological weapon unfortunately ... worked perfectly," Alibek said.
With the Cold War's end, Russia downsized its biological weapons program and ordered its stockpiles destroyed, Alibek said. He believes only about 10 to 20 percent of the former Soviet capability remains today, "but believe me, it's enough to develop sophisticated biological weapons," he said.
Proliferation of Russian knowledge and expertise in this field is evident as Russia continues publishing research and development work conducted in the 1980s and 1990s, Alibek said. He said he's convinced that the knowledge has spread to many countries and terrorist organizations.
Many publications produced in the last seven years contain instructions on how to manufacture biological agents, Alibek said. Two or three years ago, he said, he found a flyer offering new techniques to genetically alter tularemia bacteria for increased lethality. Rogue nations can get this information for "the cost of a translator," he said.
Up to 70,000 scientists were involved in Soviet Cold War biological weapons research, development and manufacturing, Alibek said. Some moved to the United States and other Western nations when the Soviet Union collapsed, but others went to Iraq, Iran and other countries and may be proliferating biological weapons.
"A lot of Russian scientists are now underpaid or they have no pay," he said. "It's quite attractive for some of them [if] they got good offers to start working for somebody else."
Alibek noted that while the Soviet Union had about 2,000 scientists developing offensive anthrax weapons and defenses, the United States today has only about a dozen scientists working on developing medical defenses against biological weapons. He stressed the need to develop prevention, pretreatment and treatment techniques as well as new detection systems.