NARRATOR: On September 11th, 2001, the sun rose on one America but it set on another: a nation consumed by grief and terror.
In the weeks that followed, Americans struggled to come to grips with what horrors might be next: Another hijacking? Or something worse? something previously unimaginable?
JOHN ASHCROFT (Attorney General of the United States): The FBI assesses the use of crop dusting aircraft to distribute chemical or biological weapons of mass destruction.
NARRATOR: Is the powdered anthrax which has contaminated our postal system the greatest threat?
RICHARD DANZIG (Secretary of the Navy, 1998-2001): The aim of the aggressor may well be to demoralize the U.S. population, to undercut the credibility of the U.S. Government, to say, "they can't protect you against us."
NARRATOR: Or could the air we breathe become a weapon?
MARGARET HAMBURG (Nuclear Threat Initiative): If there was a release that involved exposure of a million people, we would have a catastrophic situation.
CHRISTOPHER SHAYS (Chair, House Subcommittee on National Security): Oh, Osama bin Laden has biological weapons. There's no question. I don't think it's a question of if it will happen, I think it's a question of when, where and of what magnitude.
JUDITH MILLER (New York Times reporter): This country would not recover from a modest plague attack.
NARRATOR: Three New York Times reporters are uniquely qualified to address America's questions about biological terrorism. Their odyssey into the dark world of germ warfare began years ago, and has taken them around the world. They've explored how microscopic germs could be made as powerful as nuclear weapons, and they've found how easy they are to obtain if you know where to look.
BRIAN HAYES (Defense Threat Reduction Agency): Okay, this is one of the refrigeration units that contains plague. There's somewhere between three and four hundred ampules in here, containing various...various types of plague: anthrax, tularemia, tuberculosis...
STEPHEN ENGELBERG (New York Times reporter): This is just another engineering problem: "How can you make the most lethal possible agent and the largest quantity in the shortest time?"
NARRATOR: Investigations editor and intelligence reporter, Steve Engelberg.
JUDITH MILLER: "And they'll never be able to trace it to us." That's the way the modern terrorist state thinks, I think.
NARRATOR: Senior Writer and specialist in Middle Eastern terrorism, Judy Miller.
WILLIAM BROAD (New York Times reporter): They are decoding the genomes right and left for all these bugs.
NARRATOR: Pulitzer-winning Science Reporter Bill Broad.
Their research has resulted in a book. It reached stores on the day the Pentagon and World Trade Center were attacked, becoming an instant bestseller.
Where did germ weapons come from? Who can get them? And what is the U.S. doing to get ready?
NOVA was with the reporters as they discovered secret government research projects at the heart of an urgent race to mount an effective defense. A race little-known—though it has gone on for a decade.
STEPHEN ENGELBERG: Eleven years after the Gulf War we've been unable to solve the technical problems of producing vaccine in a timely fashion.
WILLIAM BROAD: You know they made enough germs to kill everybody on earth several times over. And you start digging in...well...what does that mean?
JUDITH MILLER: This is a perfect weapon for Osama bin Laden. It's cheap. It's portable. It's certainly easier to make than a nuclear weapon and less detectable. It has no return address, so we could never definitively prove that he and his group had done this to us. Of course Osama bin Laden, I believe, would use a biological weapon if he could get one.
Major funding for NOVA is provided by the Park Foundation, dedicated to education and quality television.
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NARRATOR: In 1990 and '91, the United States fought a war against Iraq and won. But the period that followed the Gulf War brought shocking revelations about Iraq's germ weapons capacity.
ROBERT KADLEC (National War College): It really wasn't until several years after the fact that the true scope and nature of that program was known. Anthrax, botulinum toxin, and a few others had actually been loaded into weapons and had been dispersed around the country prepared for use.
NARRATOR: The Pentagon launched a number of programs to make U.S. forces more prepared the next time.
STEPHEN ENGELBERG: Well, the beginning was the announcement that kind of took us all by surprise, that the entire American military was going to be vaccinated against anthrax.
WILLIAM BROAD: And so we started getting serious about trying to understand for the paper, for the New York Times, what was the threat? What's the new level of interest in this?
STEPHEN ENGELBERG: Well, what I do on a day-to-day basis is I run an investigative unit of...you know, six or seven people. And we do a variety of different kind of projects. Judy Miller, for example, works for me, and she spent a good part of last year doing work on Osama bin Laden and his global network.
NARRATOR: Judy Miller was in the Middle East during the Gulf War. She was worried when Saddam Hussein was allowed to remain in power.
JUDITH MILLER: I knew when the American forces did not go to Baghdad that if Saddam Hussein could hang on, he would—that he was going to try to protect his nuclear and chemical and biological capability. What surprised me, because I didn't know anything about biological weapons, was, of those three horrible weapons, the one he wanted to keep the most was biology. And I said to myself, "Why? What's with these weapons?"
NARRATOR: Judy teamed up with science journalist Bill Broad, who felt compelled to write about what is sometimes called "black biology," the perversion of medical science to create germ weapons.
WILLIAM BROAD: I think it's a responsibility of a science reporter to understand not just the "ra-ra-sis-boom-ba science does great things for us," but to understand and communicate what all the social implications are of science.
NARRATOR: The reporters first set out to learn where Saddam Hussein's dangerous germ weapons had come from. The trail led them in some surprising directions, for example, back to America. To the town of Manassas, Virginia, where the American Type Culture Collection is now located.
WILLIAM BROAD: This is the place where Saddam Hussein, back in the '80s, got a lot of his germs, you know? For sure anthrax, for sure lots of other nasty stuff.
NARRATOR: The ATCC is a non-profit center providing samples of bacteria and viruses for scientific study. It's a valuable, public service.
But as these receipts from the 1980s show, the Iraqi Technical and Scientific Import Division, a front for weapons procurement, was able to order dangerous pathogens through the mail from this repository. All these sales were legal at the time.
One sample purchased by the Iraqis was especially deadly: bacillus anthracis 11966, a military strain of anthrax originally developed here, Fort Detrick, in Frederick, Maryland, where the U.S. Army pioneered modern germ warfare.
The United States began preparing biological weapons in 1943, and maintained the program over the next twenty six years. University biology departments like this one in Utah, worked under secret contracts finding germs to attack humans, plants and animals.
A military factory at Pine Bluff, Arkansas, brewed up bacteria in giant fermenters and grew viruses inside millions of fertilized eggs.
The heart of the biological weapons program was always here, the labs at Fort Detrick, where scientists during World War II were issued pistols to help guard germ weapons as highly classified as any in the nuclear program.
Much of what went on here is still classified. In order to enter the secret world of Detrick, the New York Times reporters needed to find a guide.
WILLIAM BROAD: We are going to see Bill Patrick who is one of the great, old, former, American bio-weaponeers. He is our main window into the past.
NARRATOR: Bill Patrick and his colleagues developed many of the biological weapons and techniques that now threaten America.
BILL PATRICK: Now, this is a simulant that represents anthrax. It is composed of bacillus globigii. Anthrax looks exactly like that.
NARRATOR: Bill Patrick was Fort Detrick's Chief of Product Development for 12 years. He was responsible for producing germs for biological weapons, as well as harmless simulant powders like this, for field tests.
WILLIAM BROAD: How many of those little bugs are in there?
BILL PATRICK: There are trillions of noninfectious spores of BG per gram in this.
WILLIAM BROAD: Per gram?
BILL PATRICK: Per gram.
NARRATOR: Bill Patrick told the New York Times and NOVA some of what the U.S. Army learned about the effectiveness of germ weapons.
BILL PATRICK: The feasibility of biological warfare was established without a shadow of a doubt by large-scale field tests done in the Pacific. That's dealing with hard facts from a field test, not some hypothetical situation.
WILLIAM BROAD: When you say "field test," you mean ships and people and airplanes?
BILL PATRICK: Ships and people. Yes.
NARRATOR: Twenty eight agents, or germs, were turned into weapons and tested by the U.S. Army, including ones that cause diseases such as Tularemia, Brucelosis, and Venezuelan Equine Encephalomyelitis. One of the first agents studied has now become all too familiar to Americans: anthrax.
The military focused on respiratory anthrax, which is caused by inhaling Bacillus anthracis. This bacteria hibernates inside a tough shell, called a "spore," to survive in the soil or the open air. But in the moist environment of your body the seed-like spores break apart, germinate and multiply, releasing toxins.
If you breathe enough spores deep into your lungs, symptoms will usually appear within a week. If antibiotics are not taken, you'll start to cough, as if you had the flu. The disease, anthrax, has begun. Once respiratory anthrax gets underway, antibiotics are often useless.
There are other forms of anthrax: cutaneous, caused when spores enter the skin; or intestinal, caused when spores are eaten. Both are potentially deadly but highly treatable diseases.
Scientists at public health labs are now encountering anthrax firsthand.
CHERYL GAUTHIER: The egg white, beaten look—how it stands up like that—that is very characteristic of anthrax.
NARRATOR: A nationwide scare began when letters containing anthrax were sent through the mail. Postal workers who delivered the tainted letters and people nearby when they were opened, have inhaled the spores. There have been cases of inhalation and cutaneous anthrax.
But the U.S. Army would never have developed anthrax as a weapon just to send it through the mail. They had more efficient delivery in mind.
BILL PATRICK: If we had a powder that contained the weaponized form of our anthrax, we would probably infect the city of Fredrick. That's about five miles away. Since we are using a "point source system" as opposed to a "line source," the aerosol would be limited in terms of its width.
NARRATOR: Anyone handling real anthrax in this manner would almost certainly kill himself.
But the same principles can be found in sophisticated sprayers developed by the U.S. Army in the '50s and '60s, including several types of germ bomblets. Airplanes, pilot-less drones and rockets were all rigged to deliver invisible clouds of disease to America's enemies.
In these films, never before seen by the public, the Army experimented with a number of clandestine delivery systems—delivery systems that would be perfect for a terrorist.
VOICE FROM OLD FILM: ...the cloud of biological organisms could not be distinguished from the exhaust smoke of the motor. The wind carried the cloud of simulant agent over most of the operations area...
RICHARD SPERTZEL (Former Head of Biology, Ft. Detrick): One of the beauties—if you are thinking from the terrorist standpoint—is the fact that there is a delay between the delivery and the effect. The terrorist can be long gone. Unless a terrorist wanted to claim credit for it, you may never know.
NARRATOR: Experts have assured NOVA that these particular film clips do not reveal information that might endanger national security.
HARVEY "JACK" MCGEORGE (Public Safety Group, Inc.): The movie that you saw depicts techniques that are potentially relevant to a terrorist. However, it was not a terrorist that made those devices. It was an army laboratory that made those devices, that was just chock-full of very talented and skilled people who had spent a great deal of time thinking about and developing those things. That's an element that I think would be missing in a terrorist scenario. I doubt that they have the level of understanding. Will they achieve it eventually? Yeah, I think they will. I see no reason why not. It's a mechanical problem.
NARRATOR: Bill Patrick makes it look deceptively easy. More powder would probably be needed, and many uncontrollable factors would need to fall into place. One example: the weather.
BILL PATRICK: You pick one of those times where you have an inversion, where the aerosol remains on the ground. You've got to be, if not a professional meteorologist, you certainly have got to be able to look at wind, smoke from burning leaves and determine whether it is a good day or not.
WILLIAM BROAD: And what is a good day? A calm...
BILL PATRICK: A calm day. And maybe a five- to ten-mile-an-hour wind.
NARRATOR: Germ weapons are inherently unpredictable. That's why the U.S. Army favored anthrax and other non-contagious diseases. They won't cause epidemics, which spread from person to person.
BILL PATRICK: We felt that we had enough problems of controlling an aerosol with the vagaries of wind and other meteorological conditions without introducing a contagious agent that knows no restrictions...
WILLIAM BROAD: A good point.
BILL PATRICK: ...that knows no bounds.
NARRATOR: The U.S. Army found biological weapons too imprecise for tactical use on the battlefield but found them perfect for indiscriminate targets.
ROBERT KADLEC: You can potentially disseminate them over large areas and affect large areas of populations. And that would be a strategic use...kind of like what a nuclear weapon would do...would be covering a wide area inflicting both blast and heat damage, but in the case of biological just disease.
NARRATOR: In 1957, an airplane flying hundreds of miles released an invisible trail of a harmless chemical marker. When sampling devices were analyzed, the dust particles had spread over a half million square miles. If this had been a biological agent it might have infected millions upon millions of people. This and other tests indicated that germs could be as powerful as nuclear missiles at a small fraction of the cost.
The United States faced a dilemma:should we really be perfecting the art of inexpensive mass destruction?
MATTHEW MESELSON (Harvard University): It would be best if war was so difficult and so expensive that nobody could afford it. Then there would be no war. Next best, from the point of the President of the U.S., would be if it was so difficult and so expensive that only the United States could afford it. Why would we want to pioneer a weapon for which we have no need, since we do have nuclear weapons that everybody could have? It would be undermining our very future.
NARRATOR: In 1969, President Richard Nixon tried to put the biological genie back in the bottle. He renounced germ weapons and invited the rest of the world to follow.
PRESIDENT RICHARD M. NIXON: Instead of working to develop biological weapons, which one nation might use against another nation, now [all the scientists] may devote their entire energy toward working against the enemy of all mankind: disease.
NARRATOR: Over 100 countries, including the Soviet Union, joined the U.S. in signing a treaty intended to ban germ weapons.
RICHARD SPERTZEL: I think it was highly anticipated that other countries would indeed welcome such a treaty and probably comply with it—a high degree of naiveté certainly, in retrospect.
NARRATOR: Welcome to Kazakhstan, now an independent country, but once part of the U.S.S.R.
And this is Stepnogorsk, one of the largest biological weapon production plants in the history of the world. It was built in 1982, ten years after the Biological Weapons Convention, making this a clear treaty violation by the Soviets.
New York Times reporter Judy Miller is accompanying delegates from the U.S. Department of Defense, who are now trying to keep a close watch on all bio-weapons facilities because a terrorist interested in acquiring germ weapons might start here.
ANDY WEBER (Special Advisor, Threat Reduction): This is it, Judy. Now, inside this room was the three-hundred-cubic-meter explosive aerosol test chamber that was used to test both viral and bacterial agents on animals.
At its peak in the late 1980s, this plant employed a total staff of about 800 people, and that was just in this secret military program. And that's the reason why the city of Stepnogorsk didn't appear on any maps at that time. It was an entirely closed secret city.
LUDMILLA: One, two, three, four...eleven fermenters are here.
NARRATOR: There were once scores of fermentation tanks here, some of them up to four stories tall. Each tank was filled with a nutrient broth for anthrax bacteria to feed and grow on.
ANDY WEBER: The wartime mobilization plan was to produce 300 metric tons of anthrax agent and load it onto weapons in a 220 day mobilization period in preparation for all out war. That would be enough, just at this plant, to wipe out billions and billions of people.
NARRATOR: The Soviets tested their germs to achieve maximum killing power, as the director of the Stepnogorsk plant explained to Judy late one evening.
GENNADY LEPYOSHKIN (Stepnogorsk Director, 1987-2001): We made enough weapons to be able to kill everybody in the world nine or 10 times over, but we would have killed ourselves nine or 10 times over as well.
NARRATOR: Killing everyone nine times may be overkill. It was nevertheless Soviet Cold War strategy. If the Americans ever imagined that they could survive and win a nuclear war biological weapons should convince them otherwise.
ANDY WEBER: This was built to military specifications for the storage of actual biological munitions.
JUDITH MILLER: So that they could survive a nuclear strike by us and hit back at us with...with germ weapons?
ANDY WEBER: To hit us with germs.
LES CAUDLE: Exactly.
NARRATOR: Soviet strategy was to make war as horrible as possible, and that led them to intentionally to seek out the worst diseases imaginable, including contagious diseases to cause epidemics.
AMY SMITHSON (Stimson Center): They were attempting to weaponize Ebola. They successfully weaponized Marburg. These latter two diseases are devastating hemorrhagic fevers and among some of the most frightening diseases we know of.
NARRATOR: These incurable viruses cause your vascular system to dissolve, creating uncontrollable bleeding.
AMY SMITHSON: But the fact that they messed with smallpox still continues to astound a lot of people in the national security and in the scientific community because smallpox is so highly contagious and has throughout the history of mankind occasionally erupted and just wiped out millions and millions of people at a time.
NARRATOR: Smallpox is the disease caused by the Variola virus. A virus is a tiny ball of nucleic acid and protein. An incomplete lifeform on its own, Variola needs your body's cells to reproduce, but it destroys your cells in the process. Within two weeks of exposure, you'll have flu-like symptoms. Red dots spread, becoming excruciating pustules. Thirty percent of those infected die.
ROBERT KADLEC: That's a disease, if I had to consider one, that keeps me up at night. And the great story is that that disease was eliminated from the face of the earth through a very aggressive immunization campaign that began in the '60s and then was completed in the '70s, that wiped out the disease. Now that's the great story. The bad story is...is that once that event happened...that there were those out there, and the Soviet Union was one of them, that recognized that this was a great vulnerability that could be exploited in the future, and that they actually pursued smallpox as a biological weapon.
NARRATOR: The vaccine that defeated smallpox has not been administered to the American public since the 1970s. On September 11th, the U.S. government had less than 15 million doses available.
JUDITH MILLER: Last week we learned that the government had decided to produce 300 million doses of smallpox vaccine. Why would, all of a sudden, the government turn itself into cartwheels to produce a vaccine against a disease that doesn't exist on the earth anymore? But the question is, "what alarmed them and why did they decide to do that?" And that's what we're wrestling with now.
NARRATOR: The government's decision was made after September 11th, but before the first anthrax case in early October. The order must have been based in part on the history of smallpox as a biological weapon.
The Soviets devised ways to load their smallpox onto missile warheads.
JACK MCGEORGE: If we fill that warhead with high explosive, like TNT, you would expect militarily significant damage over an area about ten thousand square meters. If you fill the warhead with a nerve agent, a chemical, we'd expect militarily significant casualties over an area of about a million square meters. If we filled it with a biological agent, we would probably have an affect over an area anywhere from about five million up to a hundred and fifty or so million square meters. That's a very, very big area.
NARRATOR: When Iraq used Soviet SCUD missiles during the Gulf War, many feared that Saddam had loaded the warheads with a biological agent, perhaps even smallpox, because despite the fact that smallpox has been eradicated from nature, it still exists.
JONATHAN TUCKER (Monterey Institute of International Studies): The smallpox virus continues to exist in laboratory specimens, which are stored, deep frozen, in liquid nitrogen in two official repositories, at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and at a laboratory called Vector near Novasabirsk in Russia. But it's feared that there may be undeclared stocks of the smallpox virus, either left inadvertently in freezers by virologists who took specimens many years ago and just forgot about them or people who deliberately have retained this virus as a potential biological weapon.
NARRATOR: The U.S. is now looking for hidden stockpiles of smallpox. There might even be some inside this building, about 850 miles southeast of Stepnogorsk.
BRIAN HAYES: Again, um...
JUDITH MILLER: Don't touch anything.
BRIAN HAYES: Yeah. And I'll hold the stuff up. You can lick it, smell it, do whatever you want to it. But the bottom line is you don't play with any of the material.
NARRATOR: Judy Miller is the first Western journalist to enter this facility, a storehouse of dangerous pathogens left over from the Soviet biological weapons program.
BRIAN HAYES: As the sign says, we're standing right in front of anthrax. This is tularemia.
JUDITH MILLER: Tularemia?
BRIAN HAYES: Tuberculosis.
NARRATOR: Scientists here now develop tests and vaccines for many infectious diseases, so they hang onto their lethal collection for study.
BRIAN HAYES: This is one of the refrigeration units that contains plague. There's somewhere between three and four hundred ampules in here, containing various...various types of plague. They are catalogued as you can see, in...in a multitude of different ways. There's soup cans containing various strains. You've got peach cans. You've got pea cans. And then you've got various cardboard containers with material in here.
JUDITH MILLER: Plague in a pea can, I never thought I would see it.
NARRATOR: Brian Hayes is encouraging the Kazakhis to beef up security because any one of these vials is a potential biological weapon. They find no smallpox here. But that may be of small comfort because there is reason to believe that Iraq, and maybe other countries, already have smallpox.
RICHARD SPERTZEL: One of the latter outbreaks of smallpox in the mid-seventies spread from Iran through northern Iraq into Syria. I'm certain that specimens were taken from patients. Smallpox was isolated. It would be remarkable if they did not retain seed stock of smallpox.
JONATHAN TUCKER: We know that Iraq was working with camelpox virus which is a close relative to the smallpox virus and could be used as a surrogate for purposes of testing out production, weaponization and delivery techniques because the virus is relatively safe to work with. It's that type of evidence. It's suggestive but not conclusive...but sufficiently compelling for the U.S. government and other governments to be very concerned about this potential threat.
NARRATOR: The U.S. and other governments are trying to keep an eye on collections of dangerous germs around the world. They are also trying to track the experts who know how to turn those germs into weapons.
CHRISTOPHER SHAYS: When the Cold War ended, the world became a more dangerous place, in part because people with extraordinary expertise in the Soviet Union, now Russia, developed chemical and biological agents as weapons. In some cases we know that terrorist-sponsored countries have been able to get some of these assets at phenomenally cheap prices, because there are a lot of destitute people—their pensions aren't worth anything.
NARRATOR: In the early 1990s, the Soviet Union splintered into 14 countries, including Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan, nations where Muslim extremists are active, all right next to Afghanistan, for years the home of Osama bin Laden. These struggling countries came into existence with germ weapon facilities inside their new borders.
The U.S. has set up a program called Cooperative Threat Reduction intended to help former Soviet countries move their biologists into peaceful work.
The most recent director of the Stepnogorsk plant, Gennady Lepyoshkin, has been helping to dismantle his entire facility. But that task is nearing completion. Days before Judy Miller arrived in Stepnogorsk, Gennady Lepyoshkin was relieved of his position. This put a highly decorated bio-weapons expert on the open market.
No one knows the risks better than his former boss, Ken Alibek, who is now doing medical research in the U.S.
KEN ALIBEK (Former Deputy Director, Biopreparat): Genaddy Lepyoshkin is one of maybe 1000, 2000 highly qualified experts in the field of biological weapons. You know, for example, for Genaddy Lepyoshkin at least, to develop an anthrax biological weapon by himself wouldn't be a significant problem.
NARRATOR: Twelve countries and several terrorist organizations are believed to be pursuing biological weapons. Iran, North Korea, Syria, Israel, China, Taiwan, even Al Qaeda might be willing to give Lepyoshkin a job.
GENNADY LEPYOSHKIN: It's so hard. They fired us from work. We have no food.
NARRATOR: Not only is biological weapon expertise becoming available, so is the equipment. What used to be done in giant facilities like this one could potentially take place in small plants like these, thanks to the global spread of miniaturized and automated biotechnology.
ALAN ZELICOFF (Sandia National Laboratory): It is no longer necessary to conceive of large-scale production facilities as the basis for a biological weapons program because the tools of biotechnology for producing organisms in large quantity for legitimate purposes—like making human insulin in E.coli—that technology has advanced tremendously in the past 30 years.
NARRATOR: Would it be possible for a germ factory to exist right here in the United States without being detected? The New York Times reporters discovered just such a thing, some forty miles inside a highly guarded military installation once used to test atom bombs. It was built as an experiment by the U.S. Department of Defense, code name: Project Baccus.
JUDITH MILLER: For a year, a D.O.D. team just put together what, from the outside, looks like a really innocuous building, and from the inside is a kind of death plant, to see how easy it is to do.
NARRATOR: Knowing that the New York Times was about to break the story, the Pentagon invited Judy Miller inside to explain why they'd done it, and what they had learned.
JAY DAVIS (Former Director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency): I think one unpleasant lesson is we've reassured ourselves how easy this was. We were pretty sure it was easy but this has turned out to be frighteningly easy to put together a production facility.
STEPHEN ENGELBERG: If you look at what the Pentagon did as an experiment—buying things off the shelf—they clearly showed that it's not that hard and it doesn't cost that much money. For a million dollars you can assemble a working germ factory.
NARRATOR: Using equipment they ordered from catalogs, government scientists produced a simulant, a harmless bacteria with qualities very similar to anthrax.
Jay Davis, former director of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, explained how a germ can become a deadly arsenal.
JAY DAVIS: Basically production of these things is a multiplication technique. You start perhaps with micrograms of culture at that end on your way to large quantities at this end. This is now an incubator shaker in which these flasks would be agitated and kept at a constant temperature to make the cultures grow. So after a certain number of days in this environment, the cultures which had grown in the nutrient material would then be taken out and brought to this ten liter fermenter.
JUDITH MILLER: Okay, but is this an off-the-shelf item?
JAY DAVIS: Yeah. It's an off-the-shelf item. Any good biological lab at a university, any small pharmaceutical house, would have a thing like this for growing perfectly acceptable cultures.
That is pumped over to this last fermenter, which is a 50-liter fermenter, and the growth process just continues, again at controlled temperature, controlled amounts of nutrient. And you simply grow 'til you've grown the product to saturation. Then you would drain this out into flasks and if it were biologically active material you'd made, true terrorist material, you now would begin the process of converting it into a form that could be dispersed in a weapon.
JUDITH MILLER: Which you haven't done.
JAY DAVIS: Which we didn't do. We did none of that here.
NARRATOR: They didn't make weapons here, but that doesn't mean the U.S. government hasn't been doing it.
WILLIAM BROAD: We renounced germ weapons in 1969. We got out of the business entirely. So the question is...
JUDITH MILLER: Or...or we say we did?
WILLIAM BROAD: We say we did. I believe we did. I don't think we have clandestine...do you think we have clandestine capabilities to make germ weapons?
JUDITH MILLER: I think the problem with this whole area is that the line between offense and defense is so blurry...
WILLIAM BROAD: I disagree.
JUDITH MILLER: ...is so blurry, until you start to weaponize there's no way to tell.
NARRATOR: It has taken years for the reporters to learn what their own government is really up to. Their inside sources are confidential.
STEPHEN ENGELBERG: A little birdie whispers them.
JUDITH MILLER: A hundred trips to Washington...
STEPHEN ENGELBERG: And other places.
JUDITH MILLER: ...and other places. And a number of people sitting there looking at you and saying, "I can't tell you that. You're not even supposed to know that."
NARRATOR: Gradually, the reporters began to gather a complete picture. They uncovered a highly classified CIA program, begun during the Clinton administration, to build a non-lethal model of a Soviet germ weapon, code name: Clear Vision.
JUDITH MILLER: What Clear Vision was all about in its beginning was to test the entire cycle of the agent: how you make an agent, what you put the agent in, how you test the agent, but especially the weaponization. To actually build a missile that was a Soviet missile with little bomblets in the warhead to see whether or not what they put into the bomblets could survive, hit a target, explode and kill an animal.
STEVEN ENGELBERG: Well, which makes a certain amount of sense because, you know, in the Iraqi program they had these warheads, but who knew if they worked.
JUDITH MILLER: That's right.
NARRATOR: The story became public on September 4th, 2001, when the New York Times ran an article based on information gathered for the book by Miller, Engelberg and Broad.
JONATHAN TUCKER: I was extremely troubled by the New York Times story that reported the U.S. government was engaged in defensive research that involved actually building offensive biological weapons, so as to develop defenses against them. It's essential that our intent be perceived as aboveboard or we could see the beginning of a biological arms race.
MATTHEW MESELSON: We don't want to get a large program started in which, even for defensive purposes, we're training too many people in how to make biological weapons. This would not be good.
NARRATOR: But others say that the CIA must recreate our enemies' biological bombs. Otherwise, our defenses might be useless.
JACK MCGEORGE: I have some familiarity with the programs that were described. I am not uncomfortable with them at all. If, hypothetically, such a weapon was used, that biological agent is going to spread over an area. We need to know how big the area is going to be. These numbers make a huge difference in the scale of an evacuation.
NARRATOR: This research may be needed, but it may also violate the Biological Weapons Treaty advocated by Nixon 30 years ago.
MARY ELIZABETH HOINKES (Arms Control and Disarmament. Agency, 1994-99): I have been asked, on occasion, as to whether I believe that if the United States had reason to believe that another country had produced a biological weapon, could the United States itself reconstruct or reverse-engineer such a weapon for study. And I frankly believe that it could not. I believe the treaty drafters rightfully intended that no one should have biological weapons.
NARRATOR: U.N. inspectors found germ warheads in Iraq. And some believe Iraq has Soviet germ bomblets. Even more worrisome, Iraq might someday supply these weapons to terrorists.
ALAN ZELICOFF: Of course, the Biological Weapons Convention doesn't cover terrorist groups. They are not signatories to the treaty.
NARRATOR: In recent interviews Osama bin Laden has claimed that his followers have expertise in biological weapons and are ready to use them.
JUDITH MILLER: One thing a biological program really needs is a dependable supply of electricity. And Afghanistan is so poor, and the infrastructure is just so overburdened and erratic, that it isn't likely that they had a nice little laboratory humming along producing things. But there is without...it's very clear to me after my trip there, that this is what they're after.
NARRATOR: A few years ago Judy traveled close to one of bin Laden's training camps near Darunta.
JUDITH MILLER: When I came to the road that led off to that camp, I suddenly saw people who were very serious about security. What American Intelligence knew was that Abu Khabab, who heads the camp, was experimenting with chemicals, poisons, toxins, crude biological agents, on rabbits and dogs. They had seen on satellite photos, animals tethered to posts in the middle of what we knew to be test ranges...from the sky.
NARRATOR: Even if terrorists have biological weapons, history has shown that there are many obstacles to using them. For one thing, not all germs are created equal.
RICHARD SPERTZEL: One of the difficulties that a potential terrorist would have is acquiring a strain that is capable of producing the desired effect. Now, anthrax, as an example, you can readily culture that from the soils of many places around the world, including many places in the U.S. That doesn't mean that the agent you would isolate and collect is going to, in fact, be infectious.
NARRATOR: The importance of having the right strain of a germ was demonstrated in 1993, when a Japanese religious cult called Aum Shinrikyu tried a terrorist attack using anthrax. They sprayed it repeatedly from cars and a Tokyo rooftop, in hopes of starting a mass panic that would hasten the end of the world.
JONATHAN TUCKER: It turned out to be an a virulent strain, meaning that it could not cause disease, and, as a result, even though they produced and released this agent, it did not inflict casualties.
RICHARD SPERTZEL: They tried a veterinary vaccine strain. I don't know of anyone that would reasonably try a vaccine strain and hope that it would kill people.
NARRATOR: Two years later members of Aum Shinrikyu tried again with something easier, the chemical agent Sarin. This time they killed 12 people in the Tokyo subway. If it had been a successful biological rather than chemical weapon the death toll could have been far greater.
JACK MCGEORGE: Many years ago the U.S. Army investigated this and determined that, yes, you could do this with a biological agent. This being, 'attack the people transiting a city on a subway with a biological agent released in the subway system.' Whether it was released on the platforms, in the trains, on the tracks, these things all worked. A munition can be designed, an agent can be formulated that facilitates such an attack. I think I have to be careful to not say how you formulate the agent, or how you might develop the munition to release these things.
NARRATOR: The New York Times reporters didn't want to know how to make biological weapons. But they did need to know how hard it is.
BILL PATRICK: It is second nature to me, you know? We made agents. We made all sorts of agents: liquid agents, dry agents, agents for unique targets of opportunity.
WILLIAM BROAD: Right.
BILL PATRICK: And it is easy for me, but I believe it is a little bit more difficult for Tom, Dick and Harry type of terrorists in this country.
NARRATOR: Microbes are grown in fermenters, creating a sort of germ soup. But to make germ soup into a weapon, you somehow have to get it into the air where people can inhale it. This aerosol spray pump was developed by Soviet doctors to deliver vaccines, which are biological agents. They've used it to vaccinate rooms full of animals and bioweapons scientists without needles.
ANDY WEBER: That technology is being explored by our pharmaceutical industry now; however, not in a...a room this size, but in...in simple inhalers. But it's the same. It's the same principle of delivering the vaccine into your...deep into your lungs.
NARRATOR: Biological aerosols work best if germs are clustered in particles between two and five microns, less than a hundredth of the width of a human hair.
ANDY WEBER: My hand isn't even wet because it's such a fine particle.
NARRATOR: Between two and five microns is small enough to go deep inside the lungs, and big enough to lodge there.
ANDY WEBER: It's ideal for aerosol vaccinations or for offensive biological weapons.
NARRATOR: Many liquid weapons have been developed, but the U.S. Army preferred dried ones.
BILL PATRICK: Dry agents are much more difficult to prepare than liquid agents, but once you get them, they're very easily disseminated. You can see it doesn't take very much energy to make a very small particle aerosol.
WILLIAM BROAD: And, wow. And it sails.
BILL PATRICK: And it just sails away.
WILLIAM BROAD: It looks like smoke.
NARRATOR: Bill Patrick himself patented one method of freeze-drying germs to make a powder.
WILLIAM BROAD: The astonishing thing to me is that this is alive. You get freeze-dried coffee? Well, here you have freeze-dried bacteria.
NARRATOR: The U.S. military devised many ways to convert living microbes into aerosol. Soviet scientists came up with their own methods and others might have developed still more. All such techniques are considered military secrets.
JACK MCGEORGE: To create a biological aerosol that will in fact drift a significant distance is not simple. The size of the particle pretty much regulates how far it will go.
NARRATOR: Large particles fall to the ground. Small particles float in the air, and travel invisibly on the wind.
BILL PATRICK: This is a simulant composed of about two micron particles.
WILLIAM BROAD: Yes.
BILL PATRICK: And two micron particles will go downwind a long, long way.
NARRATOR: When it was learned that Mohammed Atta and several other September 11th hijackers had tried to obtain crop dusters, many feared they had biological terrorism in mind.
JACK MCGEORGE: Bacillus thurangiensis is a pesticide that we spray in a huge quantity in this country, and it's actually a very, very close relative of Bacillus anthracis, the organism that causes anthrax. One might presume that if you could spray Bacillus thurangiensis you could spray Bacillus anthracis. And that's true. You could. The difference being, where does the aerosol cloud go? The crop duster, by and large, is meant to put the pesticide on Farmer Brown's field, and it should stay on farmer Brown's field. Farmer Brown is paying for it and he'd like it to stay there. So a crop duster, of necessity, is not meant to produce a cloud that drifts a long way.
GEORGE W. BUSH (President of the United States): We knew full well that in order for a crop duster to become a weapon of mass destruction would require a retro-fitting. And so we talked to machine shops around where crop dusters are located.
NARRATOR: One necessary step to a good germ weapon is to make the powder free-flowing, so that it won't clump up or stick to the bottle.
BILL PATRICK: This is a small particle size but it has an electrostatic charge and you couldn't disseminate this.
NARRATOR: Electrostatic charge is an inherent property of small, dry particles. How to get rid of it has been one of the more closely held secrets of germ warfare. Now it seems that a terrorist has figured it out, or has somehow obtained some high-quality powder. Letters containing strange powders have recently been sent to broadcasters, politicians and newspapers. Judy Miller was one of the first to get one.
JUDITH MILLER: I opened the letter quickly and out came all of this powder. And it kind of went all over me. And I got some in my face and I had it all over my hands. And I said something that I wouldn't be able to repeat in the New York Times.
And at that moment a source called and said, "Have you heard about what's gone on at NBC?" And I said, "No." And they said, "They've just received a letter and it has anthrax. I mean there really was a letter and it's made someone sick with cutaneous anthrax." And at that point, I said, "I'll get back to you."
NARRATOR: The powder in Judy's letter stuck to her clothes and hands. It was a hoax, talcum powder. But the powder that was mailed to Senate Majority leader Tom Daschle was different.
JUDITH MILLER: The sources that we trust the most tell us that what he got was aerosolized. And that is, there were no traces found on the floor, on the computer, no surface traces, which means that all of the anthrax in that letter was aerosolized, wafted into the air and floated. And that suggests very pure, very fine particles that were handled by someone who knew what he was doing.
NARRATOR: Twenty people in Daschle's suite of offices breathed in the airborne particles. Two others were exposed when the powder somehow floated to neighboring offices down the hall. Capital police officers inhaled microscopic specks in the air 15 minutes after the letter was opened.
Samples from Daschle's office were analyzed at Fort Detrick, where Bill Patrick used to work. Detrick is now the home of the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. Scientists here discovered that each particle in Daschle's sample had been processed to the most dangerous size, between one point five and three microns. All electrostatic charge had been removed.
Whoever produced the powder might also have mastered the secret, black art of secondary aerosol. Even after settling on a surface some of the dust can take to the air again, and become dangerous a second time.
In this home video, Bill Patrick demonstrates this quality with powdered simulant.
BILL PATRICK: Not all freeze-dried powders have secondary aerosol characteristics. You have to build that characteristic into the powder. This one was designed for that purpose. So I want you to observe how the little amount of energy here will continue to aerosolize when you have a little energy from the air. Look how that material is going.
NARRATOR: But where did the anthrax in the letters come from? There are only two laboratories that can do the necessary genetic analysis to answer that question. One of them is here at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
WILLIAM BROAD: Hey Paul. Hi. Good. Thank you very, very much for letting us barge in on you and...
NARRATOR: Human tissue, soil, water and other samples suspected to contain biological weapons are often sent to this lab.
PAUL JACKSON (Los Alamos National Laboratory): We asked for it blind. We don't want to know about what it is before we get it. We ask for the sample blind and we may know where it came from, but we don't want to know any more about it than that because we don't want to bias our analysis.
WILLIAM BROAD: And you would get these samples typically from whom?
PAUL JACKSON: Well, we've gotten samples from UNSCOM...
WILLIAM BROAD: The U.N. inspectors?
PAUL JACKSON: ...the U.N. inspectors in Iraq. We get samples from Russia, from people I can't tell you about.
NARRATOR: Jackson can neither confirm nor deny whether he is analyzing anthrax from the letters. But his lab is one obvious choice.
WILLIAM BROAD: They are building a database that will allow them to real quickly zero in and figure out, you know, "where did this bug come from? Was it played with? Is it more dangerous than a wild strain? Has it been manipulated in a way to require special precautions for treatment?" This is world-class research addressing the biology of the threat.
NARRATOR: In the same way that a forensics lab can identify a murderer using the DNA in a single hair, Jackson can analyze the DNA in bacteria.
Different strains of anthrax will have almost identical DNA. But in a handful of locations along the DNA strand, there are known to be differences. By examining these differences, Jackson can distinguish one strain of anthrax from another.
PAUL JACKSON: It is not good enough to know that it is Bacillus anthracis that causes anthrax. We need to know what strain it is because with that information we can tell sometimes where it came from. We can do other analyses. We can tell if it is resistant to certain antibiotics. And this is based on the DNA, not on growing the organism. And we are getting to the point...we can now determine if it has been genetically manipulated to some extent.
NARRATOR: After analyzing DNA in an unknown sample, he tries to find a match in his database.
PAUL JACKSON: Bacillus anthracis, we have over 1000 different...a little over a 1000 different samples of Bacillus anthracis from around the world. We have about 600 or 700 close relatives that we can compare to. And then we have a battery of unknowns that we get from around different places. And of course, as soon as we get an unknown, that goes in our database.
NARRATOR: Jackson can't talk about what he's learned, but officials have stated that the anthrax in Daschle's letter and other letters, all belong to the same strain, a particularly deadly strain, first isolated by veterinarians in Ames, Iowa.
Silica was added, a substance used by the U.S. Army in the 1960s to reduce electrostatic charge and to make it aerosolize more readily. Apparently, someone has used an American strain of anthrax and America's own biological research to kill Americans.
JUDITH MILLER: In the scale of things, it's nothing compared to Sept. 11th, when we lost 6,000 people in New York and the Pentagon, but there's something about germs that just unhinges people. Having experienced this at the New York Times and watching the impact it's had on Capital Hill and throughout America, I realize that this really is a weapon of mass disruption as opposed to a weapon of mass destruction, and that the disruption can be just as debilitating to a society psychologically and logistically as actual deaths.
NARRATOR: If mass disruption is the primary goal, there is, unfortunately, no shortage of means. Once obtained, some germs require very little expertise to use as a weapon.
STEPHEN ENGELBERG: Contemplate the havoc that could be wreaked in this country or in any country by the introduction of a small number of highly contagious people with smallpox. I mean just think about that. I mean it is a very, very, very contagious disease.
JUDITH MILLER: Smallpox martyrs, instead of those people who want to go into a building and blow themselves up, somebody who wants to walk into our country infected with something that could kill us all.
NARRATOR: The hijackings of September 11th proved the power of suicidal terrorists.
CHRISTOPHER SHAYS: Not just one isolated person was willing to blow themselves up, but 19. Now, you need a sophisticated delivery system for biological or chemical weapons if you don't want to go up with it. But if you're willing to die with a chemical agent or the biological agent, you don't need as sophisticated a delivery system.
WILLIAM BROAD: A really nasty germ like smallpox, it's a snap, right? It doesn't take any technical knowledge. I mean you can just spread it and start a devastating epidemic.
RICHARD SPERTZEL: It would be unlikely that a smallpox patient would be able to get on a closed system, such as an airplane, at the time that they would be most infectious, because the infection would be obvious: with a rash and developing lesions on the hands...face first and then the trunk.
JONATHAN TUCKER: You have to remember that the early phase of smallpox infection, it produces high fever and prostration, extreme exhaustion. So these scenarios, while possible I think, have to be examined very closely.
NARRATOR: It is often assumed that each smallpox victim can infect 10 or more people. But a new study by the CDC indicates that the real number is much lower, perhaps only one or two secondary cases. Smallpox may not be such a perfect biological weapon after all.
MATTHEW MESELSON: To make a dependable large-scale biological attack requires an enormous number of problems to be solved. I won't go into them, but they're very, very many. On the other hand, it's always possible that a much smaller effort might...in the hands of a terrorist...might work.
NARRATOR: In fact, small-scale biological attacks are the only ones that have worked so far.
RICHARD ENGELBERG: In our book research, we discovered exactly one terrorist group, uh, the Rajneeshis who carried out a successful terrorist attack using germs in Oregon.
JACK MCGEORGE: They were the followers of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. There was quite a lot of them. It was over 10,000 of these folks had gathered together and settled on a ranch that they had purchased. Their goal was to take and incorporate the ranch as a city. They could count votes ahead of time, as well as any politician, and it didn't look good for them apparently.
NARRATOR: Afraid they would lose the election, some Rajneeshees tried to make townspeople too sick to vote against them.
MA ANAND SHEELA: If they want to show that bigotry, they're going to pay for it.
STEPHEN ENGELBERG: They used Salmonella to poison a salad bar and got seven hundred people sick, which is pretty good. I mean if they had used a worse germ, they would have gotten people dead.
WILLIAM BROAD: That was a trial, a test run to see if they could skew the election. Well, you know, it's easy. It depends on what your goal as a terrorist is.
NARRATOR: If mass disruption is the goal, human deaths may not be necessary. Look at the foot and mouth epidemic that hit the United Kingdom in February, 2001. This disease cost over $3.5 billion in lost animals, lost farm income, and lost tourism. There is no evidence this was bioterrorism, but it's an example of the economic chaos an attack on the food supply could create.
BRIAN HAYES: This is the outer perimeter. All this concertina wire wasn't here before. This razor wire wasn't there before. They've got two...
NARRATOR: The Pentagon is now trying to make it as hard as possible for terrorists to get their hands on germs that cause devastating agricultural diseases.
BRIAN HAYES: Now, as we walked up here, we were being observed by a video camera. This signal is sent to the main guard point.
ANDY WEBER: That's the room we're going to enter in a minute where you can see the freezers that hold the actual virus collection.
JUDITH MILLER: The most highly dangerous pathogens are stored here, like rinderpest, foot and mouth disease, some of the things that would easily destroy American livestock.
ANDY WEBER: The first step a terrorist would have to make to be able to mount a terrorist attack on American livestock would be to obtain the...the actual sample of the virus.
NARRATOR: The U.S. bio-warfare program experimented with plant and animal weapons in its Plum Island facility on Long Island sound. The Army also devised more technically sophisticated ways to cause mass disruption. For example, in the 1950s and '60s the Army stockpiled non-contagious germs carefully selected to avoid killing the enemy but making him too sick to fight.
Bill Broad has discovered that America came closer to using these so-called "incapacitating agents" than has ever been made public.
WILLIAM BROAD: We have also learned that there was interest in using these kind of things that were weapons that were under development at Detrick, possibly as a contingency for possible war against Cuba. What can you say about any or all of that?
BILL PATRICK: I have nothing to say about that.
WILLIAM BROAD: Not a damn thing?
BILL PATRICK: Not a thing. No.
NARRATOR: Bill Patrick wouldn't talk on camera about secret war plans against Cuba. But he's been very forthcoming in his lectures to military personnel, such as this 1999 lecture at Maxwell Air Force Base.
BILL PATRICK: For example, when we were having trouble with the Soviet Union and Cuba, we produced about 3,000 gallons of Q-Fever and about 2,500 gallons of VEE virus, Laurie. Both liquid. And the concept was, if we got into a shooting war, that we would spray these organisms concomitantly. And by combining these two organisms we would incapacitate that Cuban population from three days to about a little over two weeks. And the concept is that we didn't destroy the infrastructure. We just made a lot of people sick. Very few of them were going to die. We can move our forces in and take over the country and that would be it. That was the concept.
NARRATOR: In order to confirm what was said on this videotape, Bill Broad visited Patrick's old boss.
WILLIAM BROAD: We are going to go see Riley Houseright, who was...I believe he was the last scientific director of Fort Detrick during its days when it made germ weapons. And he is an old guy. He'd been there for a long time.
The Cuban missile crisis was a special time of super-high tension. What do you remember from it?
RILEY HOUSERIGHT (Detrick Science Director, 1956-70): Well, I remember the very first day that I was aware of such a thing. I had information on my desk and a map that big of Cuba. You can be sure we were quizzed on what type of agents should be used under certain circumstances.
WILLIAM BROAD: One of the fascinating documents that Steve found, you know, is this whole high-level briefing to Eisenhower in which these weapons, " incapacitants," take on sort of a dreamy, humane, sort of, you know, "they don't kill."
STEPHEN ENGLEBERG: They say, "Mr. President, here is this neat weapon that is an incapacitant and it's not really a biological weapon. It just kind of knocks you down for a while and then we win the war and everybody goes home happy." And he said, "Well, if we use this, what would stop the other side from retaliating with a real biological weapon in which they kill us all?"
NARRATOR: The reporters found no evidence that the U.S. ever used biological weapons in Cuba or anywhere else. There is no conclusive evidence that the Soviet Union ever used their biological weapons either. But the weapons they had ready to use were more advanced than anything the Americans developed.
ANDY WEBER: Well, by the time Nixon closed our program in 1969, we had developed a fairly effective biological weapons program. But the Soviet Union, exploiting the revolution in genetic engineering and molecular...molecular biology that happened in the...in the 1970s, the 1980s, went 10, 20, 30 years beyond what we ever achieved in the sophistication and lethality and variety of biological weapons.
NARRATOR: In laboratories like this one, Vector in Siberia, Soviet scientists were able to use modern biotechnology to combine traits from several organisms into one, even to create entirely new diseases unknown to nature.
WILLIAM BROAD: There's a guy named Serguei Popov who did this research for a long time for the Soviets, and you know, what he did was scary. He scares himself and yet at the same time you see it when you talk to him, you see him still fascinated. You know he can't help himself, it's like Oppenheimer and the atom bomb. You know it's so technically sweet. Well you talk to Serguei and he is still infused with this sense of possibility, you know, "Gosh, if I just took one from Column A and one from Column B and one from Column C and put them together in a new way, eureka. You know what crazy things could we concoct?" And some of them are crazy. Some of them are terrifyingly crazy.
SERGUEI POPOV: I was in charge of a relatively large team, the biggest team probably in the history of the Soviet Union dealing with synthetic DNA.
NARRATOR: Serguei Popov is now working in Virginia, under a U.S. Defense Department contract to do biomedical research.
SERGUEI POPOV: Right now we protect people from biological agents, but in the former Soviet Union, we've developed for more than 15-17 years, we've tried to develop more dangerous biological agents. The process is quite similar. It could protect people and it could be used to create more dangerous biological agents.
NARRATOR: Popov is now studying how to help the human immune system fight disease. But as a bio-warrior he turned the immune system into a killer. He did it with genetic engineering.
SERGUEI POPOV: So these are bacterial cells. They're ready to take up new genetic information, which is encoded in plasmid DNA.
NARRATOR: A plasmid is a small ring of DNA found in many bacteria. This DNA provides instructions for certain traits, including production of toxins, or resistance to antibiotics. Each trait is encoded in a segment of DNA called a gene. This clear liquid contains gene fragments.
SERGUEI POPOV: So we mix this small amount of DNA with cells.
NARRATOR: Using techniques developed since the 70s, scientists are able to take genes from one organism and transfer them to another. If done properly the inserted gene will take up residence within the DNA of its new home.
In this demonstration for NOVA, Dr. Popov transferred an animal gene, one that makes a sea anemone red, to a colony of bacteria, which turns red in the process.
SERGUEI POPOV: Essentially, we used the same technique in the former Soviet Union to create new biological weapons, new biological agents with essentially new properties and higher virulence.
NARRATOR: In the Soviet Union, Popov isolated a gene that produces the protein myelin, which helps conduct nerve signals. He extracted the myelin gene from a small mammal and inserted it into the bacteria that causes Legionnaire's disease.
WILLIAM BROAD: One of his projects at Obolensk was to take Legionella, this sort of mild flu bug in humans, and make it worse, right?
SERGUEI. POPOV: It is better to say it is mild pneumonia.
WILLIAM BROAD: Mild pneumonia, yes, like flu pneumonia, yes.
SERGUEI POPOV: It is pneumonia-like symptoms, and the agent which incorporated new genes was capable to induce absolutely new symptoms which resembled in animals multiple sclerosis.
NARRATOR: Exposed to Popov's genetically engineered bacteria, rabbits became ill with Legionnaire's disease. Then something strange happened: their immune systems attacked the myelin around their own nerves, as if it were an invading pathogen.
SERGUEI POPOV: The majority of animals died of unusual symptoms because pneumonia went away. At the time symptoms developed, there was no bacterial agent inside the animals.
WILLIAM BROAD: So if you were a physician trying to figure out what happened...
SERGUEI POPOV: That would be impossible to find any kind of disease.
WILLIAM BROAD: No trace?
SERGUEI POPOV: So the animals were completely healthy, but several weeks later...it is better to say two weeks later, the first symptoms appeared. And those symptoms were severe paralysis and final death.
WILLIAM BROAD: The terrifying thing for me as a science reporter is that, you know, he turned this theory of bad bugs, you know of designer bad bugs, and made it real.
ALAN ZELICOFF: Certainly, the work and the writings and the testimony of people like Ken Alibek and Serguei Popov suggest that there was a massive program that was very up-to-date in modern tools of molecular biology and using those tools really at the edge of the science, right at the state-of-the-art for exploiting or exploring the possibility of designer bugs.
AMY SMITHSON: They were trying to cross the properties of diseases to create superbugs—to mix smallpox, which is very contagious, with other agents. We need to understand what they did because if something like that ever got out of the laboratory, if there were an accident, or if that seed culture were shared with another government or a terrorist group, then that is a doomsday type of a scenario.
NARRATOR: Sophisticated genetic engineering is difficult even with the resources of a large country like the former Soviet Union. Bioterrorists are unlikely to possess the means or the need to create such advanced weapons themselves. For the time being, they are much more likely to try the standard agents, the so-called "oldie moldies," such as anthrax, botulinum, or plague.
So is the U.S. government prepared for an aerosol attack using these?
AMY SMITHSON: In May of 2000, the U.S. government conducted a major drill to simulate these types of disasters, and in Denver the simulation was a plague outbreak.
NARRATOR: Participants in this drill, called Operation Topoff, acted out what might happen after a terrorist released an aerosol of contagious plague into a crowded theater.
When the plague bacteria yersinia pestis is inhaled, the result is rapid pneumonia and bleeding in the lungs. In just three years during the fourteenth century, one plague epidemic killed a third of the population of Europe. In the drill, plague spread to 4,000 people within four days. Two million citizens were under quarantine.
CHRISTOPHER SHAYS: They had to basically incarcerate, in some cases quarantine, people and deny them their civil liberties. You had question marks: What did the Federal government have the right to do? What did the Governor have the right to do? It spread to other cities because some people traveled by plane to other places and it wasn't a pretty story.
AMY SMITHSON: The Federal system kind of fell apart because there were so many federal agencies jostling for control of who was making the decisions and which agency would provide the requested assistance.
RICHARD DANZIG: The Department of Defense, Health and Human Services, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Centers for Disease Control. When it's an investigative matter associated with criminality the FBI, and then state and local governments, local fire departments. Local fire departments are the first responders for many emergencies. They don't normally work with the Pentagon.
AMY SMITHSON: They had a teleconference call, any time they needed to make a decision, that linked up 100 people. And if that's not a ridiculous set of circumstances for decision-making, I don't know what is.
NARRATOR: Since the mid-1990s, roughly five billion dollars have been spent on bioterror countermeasures. In this drill it came down to scenes like this: soldiers counting pills.
SOLDIER: At the one minute mark they did one set per minute.
SOLDIER: Pagers don't work in bunkers.
POLITICIAN: You think you're going to actually take leadership in that?
MARGARET HAMBURG: The kinds of scenarios that have been played out as quote-unquote "war games," have been very useful in terms of pointing to where the gaps are in what we need to do. All of them have demonstrated, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that current systems aren't adequate, and that we do need to do a great deal more to prepare.
NARRATOR: The confusion seen in practice drills is eerily similar to reality during the anthrax-letter crisis of 2001. Coordination and communication among government agencies have been in short supply. The need to test a growing number of suspicious substances has overwhelmed public health laboratories.
AMY SMITHSON: It is only with the rising concern about bioterrorism that finances and fiscal support has finally begun going back into the Public Health Service. There is a long way to go because it's been neglected since the 1950s.
NARRATOR: There is a growing realization that defending against bioterror means defending against all disease.
RICHARD DANZIG: If I build a bomb shelter against nuclear attack, it has no utility unless we happen to be attacked by a nuclear weapon. But if I create a good medical system, able to defend against bacteria or viruses, if I strengthen the ability of our laboratories to diagnose what is going on, if I increase our supplies of vaccines, if I strengthen the ability of doctors and others to recognize an epidemic when it occurs and work with one another to deal with it, I get big bonuses in terms of the actual operation of our health system. And in an everyday way, that's an extremely high reward.
NARRATOR: Under President Clinton, some defense dollars began to be diverted to biomedicine. Here at the Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico, the Department of Energy is funding a computer-based epidemic surveillance system.
ALAN ZELICOFF: To do good counter-terrorism you must, of necessity, be doing excellent real-time public health. And that's what the system, we think, will provide.
NARRATOR: Today only half the country's 6,000 state and local health departments have full-time access to the internet. Dr. Zelicoff wants to see them all online and interconnected. Any doctor who sees suspicious or unusual symptoms in a patient would enter the details into this network.
ALAN ZELICOFF: Then you hit "done." And if you pick those combinations of signs and symptoms, it will page, e-mail and fax immediately, in 10 seconds, the state epidemiologist on call. It brings the epidemiologist into the loop from the very beginning, not three or four days later. And those days make all the difference in the world.
WILLIAM BROAD: Time is saving lives in this case?
ALAN ZELICOFF: No question about it.
NARRATOR: Zelicoff's is only one of thousands of small and large projects now being funded by the Federal government in the name of bioterrorism defense. They range from training programs for doctors working on highly infectious patients to high-tech equipment designed to travel anywhere and test the air for a dangerous, biological aerosol, and cutting-edge research into novel ways of understanding and combating deadly microbes. Hopefully, some of these new investments in biodefense will start paying off soon.
JUDITH MILLER: We will get through this. The government will ultimately do what it needs to do to develop the vaccines and the drills and the procedures and the investment in public health, I hope. That really means civil defense for Americans and protection, but until that time there's going to be a gap and we all have to face that.
STEPHEN ENGELBERG: People shouldn't overreact, shouldn't be panicked. On the other hand, these people don't have a country. They have an ideal: hatred—and hatred of us, to be specific. And so, are they constrained from using biological or chemical weapons? No.
WILLIAM BROAD: People out there, whoever they are, are interested in producing as many deaths and as much terror as possible. They don't care about slaughtering innocents. They don't care about things that we care deeply, deeply, deeply about and that we consider right down in the fabric of our moral beliefs and our society. They don't care. They want to shred it. And to me that raises the notch a level.
MATTHEW MESELSON: It's everybody who's at threat. It's all traditions, all cultures, everybody. Not just the rich, not just the poor, everybody. This is a technology the human species should dread as a species.
GENNADY LEPYOSHKIN: I don't think it's possible to get rid of biological weapons completely. And the reason why is human nature. From the beginning of mankind there has been no more than three days of peace. The higher our technical capabilities, the more sophisticated our biological weapons will be.
SCOTT SIMON: Hi, I'm Scott Simon of NPR. You've just heard about the dangers of bioterrorism. Now find out what you and those who you love need to know about living with this new threat. Join us for Bioterror, Coping With A New Reality. Coming up next.
Visit NOVA's Web site for in-depth interviews with bio-weapons experts who were on opposite sides during the Cold War and learn more about the many lethal agents that could be used for bioterrorism today, on PBS.org or America Online, keyword PBS.
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