Was it based on intelligence that was acquired through the State Department?
What was it that gave it away to you?|
It came from many sources, it's what we would call, "all source analysis,"
where you have bits and pieces, you're looking at lots of facilities, you have
people coming out and talking a little bit about the program, but it was highly
classified, very compartmented. There were very few people talking about it or
coming out of the program, no-one that you could describe as a defector or
anything like that in those days ... the 60s, 70s and 80s, up until the end
of the 1980s.
Presumably you fired memoranda off, but nothing very serious happened from
the diplomatic point of view.
Actually, it was quite serious in 1975 because there were people who were
unhappy with this treaty, because it didn't have verification.... So there is a
lot of writing about the facilities and the program in that time frame and
there were accusations about them having an illegal program ... it was a
subject that was being talked about, they were being accused, but they were
just totally denying it. It's when you get to 1979 [when] that changes with the
accident at Sverdlovsk. That changes everything really, in terms of high-level
focus, because there is an accident, people have been killed, and the U.S.
government is saying that it is from a release of anthrax spores.
The accident at Sverdlovsk proved what?
We had been looking at this facility in Sverdlovsk, it had been listed as a
suspect facility for a very long time and when we get information that people
have been killed downwind from this facility, and other information is put
together, as we monitor what is going on, how they are reacting in the city of
Sverdlovsk, it becomes clear this is not some kind of medical problem, it's not
contaminated meat, because we're watching the way they're reacting to it. It
takes place over quite a few months and our conclusion is very firm, and as we
don't really state it until April 1980 publicly, but we're very firm this could
be a biological weapons facility, they had a release of anthrax spores and
people were killed.
After Sverdlovsk, how did more confirmation arrive that you had been right
Well, there's several things that happened. One of them was the use in
Afghanistan, which again caught people's attention that chemical weapons were
being used, but also toxins and the whole subject of them having a toxin
program, particularly micro-toxins ... both Secretary Haig, Secretary Schultz
are writing documents to the UN and Congress saying they are in violation of
the BWC, and said so to the Congress when asked, "Yes, they are in violation of
convention because they have used agents that you're not even supposed to
make." In contrast to chemicals--you could have them, but you couldn't use
them. In the biological field, you couldn't even make them according to the
What you're saying is that there was a pattern of Soviet deception all the
way through from the signing of the treaty to the end of Soviet
Did everything changed with Gorbachev?
Well, we would hope so, but this was still a very highly classified,
compartmented program within the Soviet Union. We couldn't get access. We
weren't really in an arms control agreement with them in the biological field,
like we were in nuclear. We were over there inspecting missiles, inspecting
conventional forces, but biological and chemical weapons weren't handled that
way ... they don't admit until '87 that they had chemical weapons. They still
don't admit that they produced biological weapons to this day. They said
everything was defensive.
Were you surprised at Gorbachev's lack of transparency about this program?
Why did he choose to lie about it, do you think? You can only guess at
I can only guess ... but it could well be that he himself didn't have the
ability to bring this program down. He was tiptoeing through this democracy
business and into this new world and somewhat cautiously. He could have angered
a lot of people on the defense side and people who believe that they have to
defend the homeland. That's the best way I'd put it--is that he couldn't be
that dramatic or take that drastic step.
Then Boris Yeltsin achieves power and the démarches continue.
Yes. Yeltsin, I think, in the beginning, was caught here, himself, by his own
words, by not understanding the ramifications of the program and what he
inherited from the Soviet Union ... but the action he takes is to be
cooperative. I would say that he made a decision that he needed to co-operate
with the UK and with the U.S., with the tri-lateral program. I think under very
difficult political circumstances, Yeltsin did the best he could in trying to
arrange some way to allay everybody's concerns, even to the point by '92 he
says, "Yes, Sverdlovsk was an offensive biological weapons facility and anthrax
was released and that's what killed the people." He made that public
announcement. He made a couple of other statements, both to President Bush and
President Clinton, that he wanted to get this thing stopped and get on with it.
And I would even go so far as to say ... he is very interested in medicine and
was somewhat, I'm putting a little into his thinking here, appalled that you
have this huge investment, talking thousands of people, facilities and yet they
didn't have medicine in Russia and they needed medicine desperately. All of
this effort over the years could have produced enough medicine to supply the
world, with that kind of investment.
Did Boris Yeltsin admit that he had been told less than the full truth by
I don't remember anything where he said something about Gorbachev, but
certainly he made some public statements, particularly in '92 ... that he had
been fooled, but he was now getting a handle on it, something along those
lines, that he was finding out about the program and he wanted to do everything
possible to have a process where he could assure us that it was gone.
What was the tri-lateral process, what was it meant to achieve?
It's somewhat different because biological weapons are different ... London and
Washington made the right decision to quietly deal with the new government, the
new democracy and see if we could very quietly go and visit their facilities. I
say visit, not inspect. It was visits ... there were no hard and fast rules
here ... they came to visit our facilities and ... certainly we learnt a lot by
going to facilities and they learned a lot coming here. This process went on
for several years. Finally, a formal agreement was reached in September of '92
to have a formal process on how we were going to solve this problem.
What did the British and the Americans learn from their visits to the old
Soviet and Russian facilities?
We underestimated how big this program is. That's, to me, the most important
thing I got out of all this, is that we thought we had a pretty good handle on
it, and we were certainly more right than others who said they didn't have a
program, but it was so massive, such capacity that it's unimaginable. Industry
people who have visited these facilities can't believe you would build that
much fermentation capacity, for example. That they had worked on so many agents
... we'd known about plague, anthrax, botulism toxin, various fevers, different
things, but not that many and that they had genetically engineered them, that
they had gone to extensive lengths to study them ... I think that's the main
thing that came out to me, was this was a huge program, thousands of scientists
and engineers and a lot more facilities than we knew.
Did you realize that they had weaponized bacteriological and viral agents so
that they could be sent successfully and efficiently by inter-continental
I can say back, in over 20 some years, only a few people ever talked about that
and they were considered weird or out of their mind.
And you found ...
The reality is that they had weaponized and actually carefully thought out how
they would use these and worked on them, and how to use them, and looking at
agents and cocktails (as they describe them) that'll be effective even if there
were inoculations, for example, but particularly targeting against populations
that are not inoculated. That's very serious. I've worked on this back since
'74, '75, I'm still appalled, even programs by other countries including our
own, that man would think about spreading the plague ... this plague that wiped
out so many people in Europe, or spreading smallpox or dropping of poisons.
That whole thing always appalled me and it's something that has driven me over
the years that, whether it's chemical or biological weapons, this is something
awful that man should not make in the first place and certainly not use on
other human beings.
When the West inspected their facilities, did the Russians try to maintain a
deception, did they try to hide things from us?
I would say the visits which were all to civilian facilities were pretty open
and intrusive. I think they saw everything that was at the facility, pretty
much, talked to some people. In some cases, learned about even what agents were
developed there, but always the official response has been this was for
defense. In '92, '93, a lot of their generals made comments, "Yes, we did this,
we made cocktails, we made weapons but we had to make them in order to test
them [for] our own protective means."
Well, maybe, that was true.
In a way, it is true. That's the problem. A missile is an offensive system,
you're going to shoot it. There's no doubt that's what that is. But you go into
a biological facility or chemical facility, but mostly biological, and there is
a fermenter sitting there. That's the same one you use to make the vaccine and
it's the same one you use to make the agent, botulism toxin ...you could put
it in a horse, make vaccine or you could put it in a warhead. So ... it's a
very difficult problem that the U.S. has pointed out many times in trying to
come up with verification, how difficult it is, that a facility for defensive
or for making vaccines is the same as the one that makes the agent for weapons.
So that makes it extremely difficult.
You showed your facilities to them. They went to Pine Bluff in Arkansas.
What judgment did they reach about your program?
Well, I can't be positive ... there is not one answer ... but some walked
away, it seems to me, the ones that I've talked to, absolutely convinced that
we had eliminated our program in 1969 when President Nixon ordered it. But, I
think there were those that either never were going to believe it anyway or who
were so interested in saying, "Yes, the Americans still have a program, and
yes, the British still have a program," that they were able to derive that
probably more likely from either visits or knowledge of our bio-technical
capability. We have a lot of companies, we can do marvelous things with
Then are you saying that they lied in their reports to the Kremlin?
I've never seen a report, I'm making a judgment here that some of the more
hard-line people who came along, and we have known these people over time, I
mean there's been a lot of contact, we're not talking about the old days, this
is lots of discussions, the meetings ... that they remain convinced ... or they
said, "There's not program here but we need to go back and tell them there is
so that we can continue ours." That's sort of your other scenario, that they go
back and create a story in order to justify the Russian program.
What's your best guess based on everything that you have learned. Do you
think they're still at it to this day in one form or another?
I think it's possible. It was big investment, I think there's a lot of people
left over from the Soviet days and some of them still in the program ... who
very seriously believe there's a threat and if you turn that right around and
talk to people in the UK and people in the U.S., if there is a threat you have
to, by direction of your parliament, do something about it. You can't just sit
there. So I think there are those that believe there is still a threat and you
have to be prepared. Now, it could only be defense ... that's legal to still do
defensive work. That's perfectly all right to do that.
Has there ever been a single inspection of the Russian military biological
Not by us. The only one I know of was in '93, a Moscow TV crew walked through
Sverdlovsk. That's about all I know.
Do you believe that today there is real transparency on the Russian
No, ... there is still an issue that we need to allay these concerns. That's
still an issue.
Why do you think the weaponization facilities and the huge fermenter at
Stepnagorsk have not been publicly dismantled?
It's a good question. Probably the answer is because there's not treaty here.
There's no legal arrangement that says they need to dismantle Stepnagorsk nor
that we need to go to the old Pine Bluff facility and bulldoze it over.
But that's what you've done.
But we got out of the business a long time, in '69. There's still no
arrangement ... well I should step back. They have done dismantling ... as a
part of this tri-lateral process and the agreement signed in '92, they have
dismantled in some cases. There were a number of people ... authorities that
were saying they'd dismantled Sverdlovsk ... that by '86 they had dismantled
the production lines and pulled everything out of there.
But what about Stepnagorsk? What about those huge fermenters?
It's a large facility. I don't have the rationale other than ... they've got a
big investment and they want to try and save it and make something else there.
That's possible, we have encouraged conversion. There's even been some
statements that Nunn-Lugar money might be available for conversion and there've
been companies looked at conversion and you can convert some of these
facilities to make useful products
Could there be a benign reason for all the things that give the West
Yes, oh sure.
Could Yeltsin be telling the truth?
How would you characterize the Soviet biological warfare program?
In the old days, we knew it was fairly large, but we were mainly looking at a
military program. So we sort of sized it and based what we could see in terms
of the military program and somewhat mirror imaging back even to our own past
programs that were military. What surprised us is we find there's a huge
civilian component called Biopreparat, so it's much bigger than we had
estimated in that there are thousands of scientists working on a civilian side,
a research and development side, which supports the military program ... there
are many more institutes than we thought. Many more people involved. Then we
find out they're working on a wide range of agents. So back in '86 we would
have said plague, anthrax, botulism toxin, tularemia, several of the fevers,
different kinds of agents ... we didn't have real evidence, but from what we
could see, that's what they were working on and that was our best call. Then
you come to find out as the evidence mounts that they're working on a lot of
agents and cocktails of genetic engineered agents. So it's a big program that
is beyond what we thought. Plus, they have a serious weapons program. They are
making weapons to put these agents in. It's not that we were wrong, it's that
we underestimated it.
What was the capacity in terms of offensive strategic use, what could it
have done to us?
It could have been devastating. You're talking about plague, something we have
no protection against. These are agents that could wipe out cities with a
fairly small amount. It could have been devastating.
As you learned more about their program what was the one thing that
concerned you most of all?
That they were making things like plague. That plague was the agent of choice,
one they concentrated on. Here's a terrible disease that wiped out so much of
Europe, that man would think, let's make plague to use, put it in missiles and
use it in war. It's dreadful it seems to me ... the earnestness of this
program. We had a program, the British had a program, others have been in it.
We're out. But this, to me, is much more serious. They had really thought about
using these weapons and how to use them and their effects and how to beat
defenses and how to beat immunization. It was a very serious effort here and
the part of the planning. That's very scary. ...
Do you think that from the very beginning of their program in the 70s until
now, there has been a consistent lack of honesty and truthfulness by the
Soviets and then the Russians about this biological warfare program, and if so,
It's very different than nuclear and conventional weapons ... they don't admit
chemical [until] 1987 and they don't admit to this day that they produced
offensive weapons. They say that they had production lines, but they never
turned them on and that it's for wartime, in a crisis and all they made was for
defensive and testing purposes and that's still their line today.
It is quite an admission and it seems to be difficult for them. We went through
it and it was a bit painful actually. I remember, and I think this answers the
question why this subject's so different, I've worked on it for 30 years,
there's something different about chemical and biological weapons and a
country's ability to face up because the Russians aren't the only ones that
haven't been able to face up to their history on this. And that includes use
and having it. It seems to be something that is so compartmented and secret
that they don't even want their own population to know. I went to visits to
chemical facilities and they didn't want the population to know. "You can come
and see it but we don't want the people to know about it. It'll bother them, we
don't want to talk about this."
Is there a element of moral repugnance in biological weapons which prevents
them from telling the truth?
It's part of it, not only Russians, but others. It seems to me, [it is] very
difficult to admit that you were in this business and making diseases that you
were going to spread around the world if you went to war, or use if somebody
else used them on you. I think it's tough ... in my discussions with Russians
over the years, I found some who were able to come out of the closet. They had
been doing these things for many years, and they'd say, "I'm so happy. I can
talk about it now and I can tell my family and now I can help destroy them ...
now I can finally do something good and we can get rid of this stuff that I
have been making."