How did it operate? Who was involved, as far as the United States and where
did you go?|
I was a representative from USAMRIID [US Army's Medical Research Institute of
Infectious Diseases]. We had CIA people, NSA people, other DOD intelligence
people, and State Department representatives. We were the U.S. portion compared
to the UK portion, which included their ministry people and their scientific,
primarily, intelligence community people. And we sort of had equal
representation as a group to go. ...We went to London in mid-December,
expecting that a day or two later we would go to Moscow. We met in London with
a group from the Soviet government, and they essentially stonewalled us for two
weeks, to the point where it was closing in on the holiday. So we all came back
here, the UK people stayed there, and again another level of diplomatic
exchanges occurred, and we were invited to come back in January.
How many people made up the investigative team and what were the
There were 12 of us and our goal was to visit these facilities, get a thorough
tour, understand how Biopreparat was involved, understand what was going on at
the scientific level, and to actually see the facilities and give our own
estimate of what these facilities were capable of and committed to.
Finally when you got over, after being stonewalled, how did it go?
It was a struggle at every turn. There was resistance to anything and
everything we wanted to do. Things like the scheduling of the visits, we
essentially had two days at every facility. We traveled from Moscow to Siberia
and then back to St. Petersburg (then Leningrad). It was just a very tense and
intense whirlwind tour of four facilities in which we were trying to determine
what was going on at these facilities and what their true use of the facilities
That's not easy to do.
No. It is not at all.
So, how does one do that?
First, the medical preparation. We had no idea what to expect. We had expected
and planned for the worst. We had every immunization that we could think of for
the team. We brought every medication we thought we might or might not need. We
brought containment suits. We had a large trunk of materials and supplies and
medicines, in case anyone were to get sick. We prophylaxed people with, not
only vaccines, but antibiotics, because we weren't sure our vaccines were going
to be effective if we encountered something. And we just got everybody geared
up for going in and doing this. It was not easy. We had to make sure people
were getting the rest, that when people were getting tense, that we got things
resolved quickly. And we stayed together very well as a team, in spite of the
fact that it was a US-UK team. It was truly one team.
It sounds like you were expecting to find something. Why was that the
Well, there was Sverdlovsk. We knew of that facility, and we had good evidence
that ... the Soviets had a program. And the information we had from Dr.
Pasechnik about the program and what we might find was sufficient that
we had to prepare ourselves for the worst case.
Why did we think that the Russians had an offensive biological weaponry
Primarily, we had the defector, Dr. Pasechnik, come out and tell us about the
involvement of Biopreparat in the offensive ... biological weapons program. He
detailed sufficiently the extent of that involvement, that it was clear they
had been doing a number of things in violation of the treaty. His information
was confirmed by what our intelligence community had gathered from a number of
different areas over time.
Within the community, there seemed to have been a difference of opinion
amongst intelligence, scholars, scientific, and political circles about the
possibility of a program like this. Explain why this would have prevented us
Well, I would in one simple term and that's "marketing." I don't think the
intelligence community marketed the information that it had--about the
existence of the program, the extent of the program, who was involved, what
their objectives were--to the scientific community or to the American public.
It was compartmentalized, and it had to compete with other programs. It had to
compete with concerns about nuclear and chemical, other threats in the
What are the long-term effects of the existence of the Soviets'
I would say, the long-term effects of the existence of the program are that
they were able to amass a great deal of information. They were able to, most
likely, produce large quantities of a number of pathogens. They were able to
improve the pathogenicity, improve the illness-inducing capacity of organisms
across that time, and potentially to create new threats that don't exist in
But we're not worried about the Russians attacking us. What are other
Well, I would debate about whether we worry about the Russians attacking us,
because the same people that ran the program during the Soviet era are still in
power in the current program. The other effects are the fact that the
scientists who existed in these facilities, today, with the problems in Russia,
are available as a commodity, and their information in their minds is available
to potentially the highest bidder outside of Russia. So other governments,
other organizations, who are interested in very cheap and effective weapons
certainly have the opportunity to siphon off this knowledge, and potentially,
if somebody's got access to the stockpiles, siphon off the actual organisms.
The effects of the program are the proliferation of the information to other
organizations, the fact that we could not trust the Russians and the Soviets to
adhere to a treaty, that the actual organisms could be disseminated to other
countries. On a positive side, we've realized that verification is a critical
issue in any treatment. The fact that a treaty existed from '72 and there was
no verification element to it meant that their program could go on while after
they had signed a treaty, and we had no firm evidence until '89 that they were
actually violating it.
Why is there still a concern about what is going on in Russia? Why is there
even a belief that there's a possibility that there's an offensive program that
There's still a concern about the existence or the persistence of a biological
weapons program in Russia, because you have to understand, we visited four
facilities that were the civilian component of a much larger military program,
and access to those military facilities has not been forthcoming, and there has
not been full disclosure of everything that the Russians did and were capable
of doing in other segments of their weapons program.
I thought they were our allies. Why is it that we're still having problems
in ascertaining what the program was, or more importantly, what the program is
I believe one of the reasons we haven't had full disclosure is, one, that the
people who were in the program before ... are still in place. Secondly, there
are many other allies that have had programs that we haven't known about.
Biological weapons can be a superior type of weapon, and it's not something
you're going to share with someone unless you believe they need the information
as much as you do.
Wouldn't you expect the United States government, at this point, to be
pushing to ascertain more information about this program? This is scary
It is. And I agree, we should be in a position to be able to push them. They
need money. They need food. They need stabilization of their markets. And we
haven't done so. And that was one of the frustrations after the visits in 1991,
that things became stalled. One of the reasons they became stalled was [that]
the Russians were very good at the diplomatic side of this, and they turned
everything around at that point and said, "Okay, we want reciprocity. It's time
for the U.S. to show us their program, because we believe you have a program."
So we got pushed back on our heels, and we never went forward again. And we
haven't had the people in place with the commitment to force this issue. It's a
How surprising is that?
It's not surprising, with all the other things that are going on in the world.
We were inspecting in Russia when our troops were going into Iraq. We were not
the highest priority in the U.S. government. Coming out of that inspection and
preparing our reports, there were other things that were more important to
George Bush and his administration at the time, relative to Kuwait and Iraq. We
suffered competing events, if you will, or competing priorities.
What worry do we have that former scientists from the Soviet program will
end up working for rogue countries, or will disseminate their information
outside of Russia?
I think there's a very real concern that the people who were involved in the
biological weapons program in Russia have moved to other countries. They were
faced, after the changes in the Soviet Union in Russia, with earning about $100
a month, and the information in their head was worth thousands and tens of
thousands, if not millions, of dollars to someone who wanted to develop
weapons. So it is very possible. And without a full accounting of what happened
to the people who worked in these institutes (and there were thousands of
people in just the civilian institutes), we're not going to know.
The United States is donating loans and helping the former Soviet Union out
quite a bit. Why haven't we gone to them and said, "Please, give us a list of
these former scientists. We would like to track them."
I don't know that we haven't asked that question. It should have been asked if
it wasn't. But another piece of that is [that] it took an awful long time for
that money to get there. And these people needed to feed themselves and to be
secure in that period of time. And there was a lot less bureaucracy than
someone from another country asking one of these scientists to come and work on
their program, than there was in getting U.S. aid to Russia. So I think that
part of the problem is the time, and how the money was going to filter to the
individual, as well. I don't know where all the money the U.S. put together has
gone ... did it get to those scientists?
In your opinion, could the proliferation problem have been lessened by
trying in some way to find those scientists?
Absolutely. I believe if the U.S. and UK governments had taken advantage of our
position in 1991, to demand further action by the Soviet and then Russian
governments to stop the work at these facilities, to give a full listing of the
scientists and what they were doing, we could have prevented the potential for
proliferation outside of the Russian borders.
So we blew it, to some extent.
In my estimation, yes. At the time of our inspection, we came back from that
very proud of what we had accomplished. We had taken the information from the
defector and visited these facilities, and we had the Russians on their heels.
We knew more about what was going on in their programs than had ever been known
before, and I think we convinced them that we knew. We had seen enough evidence
to say, "You have an active program, and these partially civilian institutes
were participating in that." The direction at that time should have been to get
them closed, to get those people out of there, and to move forward. It didn't
happen. Why it didn't happen, I can't answer.
When you got there in '91, what did you find?
The major points we found were that this was a massive program involving the
civilian company Biopreparat. They had secrecy of that program. They had
security of these facilities that you wouldn't expect in a "civilian facility."
They were doing aerosol testing. They were doing aerosol modeling. They had
production capacity that was on a scale that no one in the U.S. or the UK would
expect to be necessary if you were in a defensive posture. They provided us
with obstacles to every question. Every turn that we took, there was something
in our way. The fear was that they were hiding additional things.
Explain what it was like walking into some of these huge facilities, and
just tell us what it looked like.
This was not a futuristic Hollywood type polished steel and glass set of
facilities. They were immense in size. One of the buildings at Obolensk was an
eight-story building, and each story was essentially two floors. They had three
floors dedicated to work on plague. So it was an immense undertaking at all of
these facilities. The facilities were a little rough on the edges. They did not
look like they were built for producing commercial or medicinal products for
It was the middle of winter. They were short days. It was dark outside, and it
was oppressive inside as well. [We] came away with a sense of smallness, a
sense of: This is a massive program, and there are people committed to the
development of very serious pathogens.
As you were going through, what did they tell you these facilities were for?
Why did that not feel correct?
First, we'd go into facilities and see that there were voids. There were rooms
with equipment removed. [We] walked into one walk-in cold room that was
two-stories high and about 40 feet square. And there was nothing in there. When
[we] ask[ed], "What did you keep in here, what did you do in here?" --we got
very vague and unhelpful answers. So we saw a lot of emptiness where equipment
had been removed. When we were in areas [where] there was equipment present,
fairly trivial answers were provided in terms of the intent of that
But what they were saying was: This was all defensive. What did they tell
They would say, "We had an effort in biological weapons defense," that some of
their aerosol testing was to work on detectors; that they had larger scale
fermentation than we might expect, but that's just the way they did things.
Everything was couched in terms of: "This is a defensive program, and you
shouldn't be worried about it."
What was the proof that was not true?
Clearly, the major proof was the information we had gathered in the
intelligence community previously, the information from the defector, the fact
that our own program in defensive measures against biological weapons did not
have to be on the scale that they had. We were doing a fairly good job with two
buildings at Fort Detrick. And here was, again, one portion that covered four
different cities, one portion of their program that covered four different
cities, and buildings that were eight, nine-stories high, and multiple
buildings on these sites.
What was it like to walk through some of these facilities?
Let me ask you to imagine that at the end of World War II you were given the
opportunity to inspect one of the death camps, and your guides were telling you
as you went through these facilities that they were designed for the well being
of the people who were there. I don't think you could believe that, knowing
what we know about the Holocaust. I'm not saying that the Soviets used these
facilities to execute people, but I am saying that the facilities, the
research, and the people that were in those facilities were dedicated to as
much death and destruction as was seen in the Holocaust.
Visually, did you walk through halls that were mammoth and full of equipment
that you knew could be used for production? Describe it for us.
These facilities were the typical Russian construction, which were sort of
blocks within blocks, or rooms within rooms. And on the floors we were allowed
to go into, there were a mixture of things we were exposed to. We were exposed
to rooms that had all the equipment removed. So a massive room; [we] couldn't
understand what it was used for; never got an explanation. In other areas, like
areas where there were fermenters and rows of fermenters, the explanations were
that "Yes, we can produce large quantities of materials, but they're all for
defensive purposes." It was just hard to believe that you needed that amount
of material, that amount of facility, that commitment to facility, to produce
defensive measures. We could do things in the U.S. with much less.
How big were the fermenters?
... These fermenters were surprisingly big in just simple size. You'd walk up
next to them ... these were a story and a half high fermenters that were
controlled by panels and series of fermenters that were used in some of these
Were you surprised to learn how they were dealing with smallpox?
Absolutely. These people were working with smallpox in Siberia when the virus
was to be contained, not worked with, in only two laboratories: the CDC in
Atlanta and a laboratory in Moscow. And during the visit to Koltsovo we were
told that they were working with smallpox. And that is entirely in breach of
what had been agreed upon through the World Health Organization for the
containment of smallpox.
How surprising was that and why is that important to understand?
It was a complete surprise that they were working with smallpox in Novosibirsk,
because the intention of the smallpox eradication program was first to
eradicate every case of human disease, and then when we were sure that the
world was free of smallpox, to eliminate any remaining stores of the virus so
that we could have a world that was free forever from smallpox. So to find that
this virus had been secretly moved to another laboratory, that research was
being conducted with that virus in this other laboratory, and it was being
conducted in a laboratory that was also working on things like Ebola and
Marburg and other hemorrhagic fevers, was just unbelievable. It broke down
every idea in my mind that we could achieve an eradication of smallpox in this
world. What it means to me is that we'll never be able to be sure that we can
eliminate smallpox. And best case is, smallpox will come again only as
smallpox. Worst case, there may be some other more common and some other
chimera virus that has been developed that could come out of this, that would
be even worse than smallpox.
How big a scourge was smallpox?
Smallpox was a devastating disease in this world ... it had high mortality; it
was spread rapidly through aerosol, through contact; and it was only a human
disease. So if you could eliminate this disease from humans, it was eliminated
from nature, and all of the morbidity and mortality associated with that
disease would be eliminated. One of the reasons it's a major problem today is
that we have a whole generation in this world, not just in the U.S., who have
not been immunized. So they're totally susceptible.
Ken Alibek says they produced tons of smallpox. Why is that
The scale of their production again points to the fact that this was an
offensive program, not a defensive effort. And the fact that there may be tons
of this material available, smallpox is a very hardy organism. If they had
developed ways to preserve the organism through time, through environmental
insults like UV radiation or drying or moisture, humidity, it's just going to
persist and wait until it has a host to infect. Nothing is going to happen to
it. It will be sitting there waiting to infect someone who gets a sniff of
What was the demeanor of your hosts? How did they treat you and did they
seem to be lying?
Well, first, the host group was limited in size. We went to facility with
thousands of people, and we saw maybe ten to thirty people. So we didn't see
all of the people. They were defensive in terms of hiding their program. And
at the same time, there was an arrogance about what they did and, I think, an
eagerness to actually tell us how far behind we were, to actually say, "We know
an awful lot more about these pathogens than you do, or may ever know."
Any examples of that, specific stories?
Well, the fellow who was (and probably still is) in charge of Obolensk, Dr.
Yurakov, made comments about how we didn't know how virulent plague really
could be. There were comments like: "If you'd like to come back and work on
aerosol testing, we could probably show you things." This type of boasting.
But if they were trying to hide the fact that they had an offensive
operation, why would they be saying those things?
Well, .. these things were not said in the general meetings where the tape
recorders are going, but they were done in the corridor discussions as we were
going to and from different places. They weren't official statements of the
government, if you will.
Dr. Ken Alibek, who was one of your hosts, what was his demeanor and what
was his role?
Dr. Alibek was from the central offices of Biopreparat. He accompanied us to
our visit to all four facilities. He answered most of the questions that
related to central issues, but he also had a very good, in-depth knowledge of
the programs that were ongoing at each institute, and showed himself to be
probably superior to all of the people who were on the Russian side of the
inspections. He was at times arrogant about his knowledge, in terms of, we
should understand what they know, and [he] tried to answer our questions when
he had a safe answer. When he didn't have a safe answer to our question, we got
rhetoric or no answers.
Why do you think that was? Was it because they believed that we had a
similar program? From further conversations with some of these people
afterwards, what was the mentality?
There are several things to the mentality. One is that we had fallen for one of
their stories before, with respect to Sverdlovsk, so they might as well try
something fanciful and see if we bite that time. I think they also realized
that we had time constraints, and so if we got muddled down in an issue, we
wouldn't get to see the next facility. They could just slow things down and
keeping from moving forward.
Do you believe that there was also a belief that we had the same type of
That's a good question. Certainly, I believe that they may have had their own
workers in the institutes convinced that we had a system in the U.S. Otherwise,
I can't imagine how someone would agree to violate a treaty in that way. I'm
not convinced that people that took us on our tour believed we had a program.
There are several reasons. One is that it's easy to see what the U.S. was
doing. It's hard to hide something in the U.S. Secondly, they had access to
people in our intelligence community who could have told them about that.
Third, and this is subtle, but as far as I know, none of the people on our team
were ever approached about coming over to the other side. If you thought
someone on an inspection team might be involved in an offensive program,
wouldn't you want to make an offer to say, "Why don't you come over?" to get
them to tell you what was really going on? Nothing like that ever happened. So
I believe they knew we didn't have a program, and that their efforts to direct
us to reciprocity of visits were merely stalling tactics, and merely a way to
put us on the defensive.
Out of all the stockpiles, was everything destroyed?
I have no idea. Why would it be? These are ultimate weapons. The people who
know that answer are in the Ministry of Defense.
What's the fear?
The fear is that these stockpiles exist, that they developed a way to preserve
those stockpiles for long periods of time, that these stockpiles could be
loosely controlled and available to other people.
What do you think is really going on in the Soviet Union today, as far as
I'm not convinced that there's additional research to refining weapons. But I'm
convinced that the people who were there producing the weapons previously are
still there, and still have the same prejudices, the same information, and the
same commitment to maintaining those weapons.
Why do you believe that?
I've been to meetings where these people are still present. They still have
the positions they had. I believe you don't change your spots overnight just
because there's somebody else who's running the government.
Why don't you believe them now?
I haven't seen any evidence of the disclosure of what the previous program was.
They have admitted they had a program, but they haven't gone as far as to say,
"Here's what we did, here are the weapons we made, and here's what the plans
were. And now why don't you (the western civilization) come in and watch us
destroy all of this? And you can look anyplace you want, at anything you'd
like." We haven't seen that.
Is it concern that they lied to us once, and so why should they be telling
us the truth now? And if so, what do you believe?
There is certainly a credibility gap. These people have lied to us before. Why
should they be telling us the truth now about the program? Biological weapons
are such that you have to see and verify that they are not there.
Where are we, as far as defending ourselves against this threat?
Unfortunately, we're behind. We're behind, because when we stopped our
offensive program at the end of the 60's into '70, the Soviets carried on full
speed ahead with developing, improving weapons, biological weapons of
destruction. We have vaccines. They are not the best vaccines. But we know the
Russians knew what our vaccines were. They could have developed and may have
developed strains that would not be affected by our vaccines. So they may have
gone to the next step.
What does this threat call for? What should we be doing?
I think we need a re-evaluation of the defensive program. We need to
understand and acquire the weapons that they actually had, to understand what
those organisms were, whether that's through some international body (because
this is now a global issue), where we can understand the pathogens that were
developed and so we could have counter-measures to those pathogens. We need an
immense effort to improve our vaccines. We need to look at the effectiveness of
new antibiotics and new anti virals for some of these problems. We need a
treaty that's verifiable, and that people commit to, and that will remove this
threat, if that's possible.
Can we now defend against the threat that exists because of this
I believe we can't, because this program was not only directed at your troops
in the battlefield; this program was designed to be able to attack civilians,
to be able to attack the U.S. We've never had an effective defense for that
kind of an attack. The only defense we've had has been the deterrence of a
What do we need to do to grow a defense?
We need a commitment to understanding how to detect an attack, how to mass
produce the vaccines we need, and to have those available. We need a public
health commitment to be able to quarantine areas when we have evidence of an
outbreak. We need the money and support, the infrastructure that will allow
those things to happen.
Does it look like that's going to happen?
There are rumblings of efforts to make this happen. Is it too little, too late?
That's the question.
You've also been involved in one inspection in Iraq. Can you give us your
thought on the fact that this is not one isolated program, and that
proliferation has occurred, and why you think that has happened?
I've seen what the Russians were doing in terms of a biological weapons
program, and saw on the first inspection to Iraq what the Iraqis claimed to be
doing. I'd say that the Iraqis were in a much more primordial state, if you
will, than the Russian program. The Russian program had gone on for years and
had time to build a large infrastructure. The Iraqis must have realized, as
many countries have realized, that these are inexpensive weapons, that it is
difficult to detect that you're doing work in this area. A satellite flying
overhead can't tell you what a biological weapons facility looks like. You have
to see them up close and personal to know.
And what was disturbing about the Iraqi experience was the fact that they were
only interested in these organisms as weapons. They weren't interested in
defending their own population. And ... knowing the unpredictability of
biological weapons, it's a very large concern to me that they would not even be
interested in protecting their own people against these pathogens.