If the threat is so serious, why do you think it hasn't happened yet?|
Well, it's not for want of trying. We saw the situation in New York City for
example, where the terrorists tried to destroy one of the [World] Trade Towers
and they had contemplated setting off cyanide in the process. It failed to
ignite and therefore the great catastrophe did not take place. We did see the
sarin gas attack that took place in Tokyo a few years ago. So there are groups
who are, in fact, planning to use these types of devices and will probably do
Do you think, personally, a biological attack is inevitable?
Well, nothing is inevitable until it happens ... however, as more information
is shared and more countries start developing and experimenting with biological
weapons, the probability is much greater that it will take place.
What is the defense against the so-called apocalyptic groups, and what is
the defense against state-inspired threats?
Well, with respect to any of these groups, be it apocalyptic or state inspired,
greater information is going to be required--greater intelligence and a sharing
of that intelligence among states. It will require not only professional
intelligence gathering, but also a well-educated citizen rate. We want citizens
to be aware of the nature of the threat, to be observant in terms of what they
might see, to be willing to come forward with information to the appropriate
authorities and then for the authorities to share that information. Certainly
on a national level, but on an international level as well, should it be a
state-sponsored type of operation.
Isn't it really, in a sense, the counsel of despair, because what will the
ordinary citizen know about biological warfare or who represents the
No, but one could help identify, for example, if someone is working on a
biological weapon. It could be someone who is developing a brewery. We have a
lot of small micro breweries in this country today and any sort of activity
which strikes an individual as being odd or somewhat different or somewhat
suspect could be helpful to communicate that information to intelligence
authorities who could then make a much more thorough and professional
investigation. I think citizens are going to be aware of what is going on in
their neighborhoods and elsewhere.
You authorized an increase in defense intelligence funding to track possible
Yes, we have added roughly $1 billion to the future year's funding for our
defense budget to deal with biological and chemical types of weapon threats and
that's in addition to the $3.5 billion. So it's almost $4.5 billion dollars
we've dedicated to this type of research development of providing protective
uniforms and suits for our military personnel, providing for types of
instruction to communities. We have about 120 cities that we are now
cooperating with to help train their first responders to a biological or
chemical type of attack. We are devoting considerable resources to this
You really take it seriously, don't you?
We take it very seriously. We have developed a biological identification
detection units as such. They will be deployed in regions where there might be
a conflict. We deployed them to the Gulf region and to the most recent Iraq
crisis. We are putting a lot of money and effort into research. The president
is very concerned about this. I attended a meeting at the White House a few
weeks ago in which he gathered a number of his key scientific advisors to give
him some idea of the scope of the threat--what is going to be required as far
as research in the scientific community, what sort of vaccines will have to be
developed to provide the protection for our citizens. And the scope of it is
quite enormous. I know he was very impressed and he continues to really
concentrate on this issue a great deal.
One could argue that the best form of defense is a version of mutually
assured destruction by which it is guaranteed that you will respond with
nuclear weapons. Can you define what is understood by the Presidential Decision
We have always taken the position that should we be attacked by any power with
a nuclear weapon, certainly we have the capacity to respond accordingly. We
have also indicated to any country who would threaten our forces or our people
with chemical or biological weapons that they would be met with a devastating
response that would be quite swift and overwhelming. There's no designation of
what that might entail, but it's very clear that it would be a very destructive
force that they would be met with.
We're talking nuclear here.
We're talking to the extent that any country were to attack us with nuclear
weapons then we obviously have a nuclear response. With respect to biologicals
and chemicals, we have indicated it would be a swift, devastating response and
overwhelming force. We have not indicated what that might entail. We've left
that deliberately open.
But one doesn't have to use too much imagination as to what it might
I think any country that would seek to use chemicals or biologicals against the
United States would regret it.
What problems are posed by the genetic engineering of some of these
Well, to the extent that these various biological organisms can be genetically
engineered, they can be engineered in a way that precludes any effective
vaccine, so there'd be no protection, and no ability to help people recover
from the disease they'd be suffering from. So the very same technology that is
being used and developed to combat specific types of diseases can also be used
to create them.
Do you think these are the weapons of the future?
I think these are the weapons of the future, but the future is coming closer
and closer to today ... this is something that I think it's hard for most
people to imagine that people are actually planning and trying to develop a
plague that would wipe out millions of people.
This year, there was an operation, called table top, which was reported in
the papers, in which a genetically engineered version of smallpox and Marburg
virus was used in a war game on a Californian town. The results were
catastrophic. Can you tell me more about that exercise?
Well, basically, we're always trying to anticipate the worst possible scenario
to the extent that a particular type of virus would be used against the United
States and its citizens, what would be the initial response and if one could
detect that it appeared to be a certain type of virus, do we have the kind of
vaccine that would be available to provide the kind of protection for the
American people. But if you then start to mix them and complicate the response
that would be available, then you can see what could result, so we are
constantly looking at various types of schemes and mischievous activities that
could be undertaken to kill a lot of innocent people.
Do you believe in the threat of the chimera virus?
I believe that there are a number of threats that are posed today and there'll
be many more tomorrow.
Are there dangers from pathogens that may soon be engineered to take out
just certain types of people, depending on their genetic makeup?
There's been a good deal of speculation about that. We have no scientific
evidence that would confirm that, and as a matter of fact, it poses a number of
engineering feats that would have to be made possible through great research
and development. Even if you were to have an entire class of people, a race, an
ethnic group, there's enough diversity genetically within that group that would
pose a number of problems that would have to be overcome ...
The whole concept is horrible isn't it?
The whole concept is horrible and Richard Preston who has written two books
now, The Hot Zone and The Cobra Event has also called upon the
scientific community, the biotechnology community to adopt a very strict code
of ethics [because] the community has not spoken out about this type of
potential that awaits mankind.
We're reasonably certain that Mr. Gorbachev didn't quite know what was going
on with the Soviet Union's biological warfare program. We know that Boris
Yeltsin, may inadvertently have not been told the truth about the extent of the
program when he inherited it. Do you believe that Mr. Yeltsin is currently in
control of the people who may be running Russia's biological warfare
Well, we do know that President Yeltsin has made a number of statements, a
number of commitments that this type of activity had to stop. Whether or not
there are individuals in his government or outside of his government who are
continuing this capability, I think, remains to be determined. It's not so much
whether or not there is an intent to manufacture or develop these types of
weapons, but whether there is the capacity. That's something we have to
continue to work at and to continue to cooperate with our Russian
From the intelligence that crosses your desk, do you believe personally that
some form of offensive biological warfare research and development continues in
Well, I never comment on any intelligence report that comes across my desk.
What I have to be concerned about is whether or not there is a capacity on the
part of any country to develop these kinds of weapons and as I've indicated in
a report that was filed in this past year, more and more countries are devoting
their resources to developing biological weapons.
Do you believe the possibility that President Yeltsin may not have total
control over what's going on and perhaps that some revanchist generals continue
with this program in what they may regard are the best interests of
That's always a possibility. What we also have to assume is that President
Yeltsin is dedicated to eradicating this problem, dealing with it effectively
and we will continue to work with him as we have a number of meetings that take
place at the highest levels between President Clinton and President Yeltsin,
between the vice president, myself, other individuals in the administration and
in our scientific community. We work very closely to deal with this problem.
Could there be rogue elements within any government? The answer is, obviously
it could take place, but we have to continue to work at it on a cooperative
Are you and do you believe President Clinton is concerned at a certain lack
of transparency in the Russian program? You haven't been able to visit any of
the military sites that are working on this.
I think we're all concerned about the lack of transparency with any of the
countries who are, in fact, engaging in this type of research. We looked at
countries like North Korea, a total lack of transparency there. Libya, Iraq,
Iran, Syria. Those countries I think clearly have raised great obstacles to any
discovery of what they're doing.
Are you slightly concerned at the lack of destruction at the huge biological
warfare facilities at Stepnagorsk in Kazakhstan?
Well, we are working with the Russians and Kazakhstan to eliminate those
facilities that were, in fact, used to construct biological weaponry in the
past. That's one of the reasons why we have the so-called Nunn-Lugar Program.
It has been very helpful, not only dealing with the destruction of nuclear
weapons, but also dedicated to building facilities that'll help the destruction
of biological weapon facilities.
Many people I have spoken with are puzzled at why the Russians would do
research on such viruses as Ebola and Marburg at the Vector Laboratories at
Koltsovo. Neither of these viruses pose any public health threat in the world.
Why do you think the Russians are working on this?
I really don't have a good answer as far as why they're doing this. The Ebola
virus was written about by Richard Preston in his book, The Hot Zone, so
it's not something that would be minor to the extent that the Russians are
trying to make sure that they have a defensive capability against the outbreak
of Ebola or Marburg. That may be understandable. To the extent that efforts are
made to use this in an offensive way, it would be a matter of concern if that's
Do you see a danger of proliferation continuing as the technology becomes
more widespread and do you believe there is any evidence of Russian scientists
having moved out of Russia into rogue states to help them with biological
The short answer is that it is my opinion that the threat is likely to increase
as the technology becomes more available and widespread. With respect to
Russian scientists, I really don't have any information that I could
communicate ... we're always concerned whenever you have individuals who have
this kind of expertise and knowledge traveling or visiting countries that seem
dedicated to acquiring that kind of capability.
There have been several reports that look at the vulnerabilities both of the
United States and here at the Department of Defense. Vulnerabilities such as
supply bases overseas being subjected to a sneak attack and the Defense Science
Board spoke of a notable shortfall in U.S. technology and troop equipment. Can
that be remedied or must we remain vulnerable?
There'll always be some degree of vulnerability. What we're doing is moving as
quickly as we can to reduce the level of that vulnerability. As I indicated
before, we have now appropriated large sums of money dedicated to providing
defensive equipment; detection equipment so that it can be quickly detected in
the field; and protective clothing for our soldiers who have to deal with this
in a wartime scenario. We provided anthrax vaccinations to all of our forces,
but principally those who were deployed in the Gulf region because of the
crisis with Iraq. We will have all of our men and women in our military
vaccinated over a relatively short period of time. We're also taking steps to
protect our civilian populations, to educate them, to have response teams in
place, to stand up our National Guard, to have ten specialized units as such
that could be rapidly deployed to any region in the country to deal with a
chemical or biological attack.
So we're taking a number of measures. Will they ever be 100% sufficient? The
answer is, no. But, in addition to that, we have our deterrent capability. We
need greater intelligence ... information so that we can detect those who may
be planning a terrorist attack or those countries who are developing weaponry
that could be used against us. We're trying to pre-empt those individuals in
those countries from taking action.
There are about 48 organisms that could be used offensively--25 viruses, 13
bacteria, 10 toxins. Is it impossible to defend against all of these?
It would be a task, yes, defending us all. I think what we have to do is, once
again, unite the world community against the countries who are thinking of
using chemical or biological weapons. We have to educate the public in all of
our countries about the dangers in transferring dual use technology to those
countries that appear to be committed to developing their capability. We have
to gather more intelligence against individuals who may be part of the groups
who are simply non-associated with states that are acting on their own from
whatever malevolent motives or mad motives they might have. So, yes, it's a
great task, but one we have to address. We can't simply throw our hands up and
say all is lost.
You are the first secretary of defense who has made biological
warfare almost a private fiefdom. Is that a personal revulsion or what else
lies behind it?
It's simply coming to accept the reality of the world today. There are very few
countries who are going to be willing to take the United States head on in a
conventional type of conflict and therefore it goes back to the day of Sun Tzu
and The Art of Warfare. You seek the weaknesses and strength of your
opponent and if you look at our Achilles' Heel and that of any Western nation
you would say, "How would I expend very little effort and get a very
significant result." If you look at the impact that a biological weapon can
have, in terms of its cost and consequence, you will find that it does not take
a great deal to develop it in terms of money. It has a major consequence if you
were to, for example, take roughly a 100 kilograms of anthrax and you were to
properly disperse [it], that would have the impact of something like two to six
times the consequence of a one megaton nuclear bomb. So we're looking at
something that could be dispersed properly and have an impact far beyond our
imagination at this point.
But that would require optimum conditions, it would require a light plane
flying here over Washington. Isn't that just a little bit in the future?
I don't think so. It doesn't take a great deal to have an aerial spray hooked
up, you could have a crop sprayer and have a plane flying over, it doesn't have
to be Washington DC, [it can be] any city in America. A small plane virtually
unnoticed, lays down a very thin mist of biological substance, flies off, lands
in either another part of the United States or another country and several days
later you have a major plague that breaks out. That's not something for
tomorrow, that's something that's here today.
How vulnerable is the United States today?
Well, the United States is probably less vulnerable than most other countries.
I would say the world at large is vulnerable to biological weaponry, but the
West and the United States especially, we are taking a number of measures in
order to protect our soldiers in the field and also to educate and help protect
our citizens at home. We are devoting billions of dollars to research and
development for protective equipment for our soldiers, detection equipment for
them in the field, but also to train the first responders, those who would have
to respond at the local level. Plus, we have vaccines for anthrax for our
military personnel and undoubtedly we'll be required in the future to develop
various types of vaccines for other types of threats that we're likely to face
in the future.
But you clearly see this as the West's Achilles' Heel?
I do as a matter of fact. We could reasonably anticipate that all the other
countries who are developing biological weapons are doing so because they see
it basically as a poisoned arrow into the Achilles' Heel of the West.