Which biological attack agent scares you most of all?|
Probably anthrax because a lot of the information about it is out there and
public. As I said, you don't have to smuggle a thing, you don't have to get
anything from a laboratory. It's extremely lethal. It's been around a long time
and a lot of people know a good deal about it.
When you were Director of the Central Intelligence, did you war game any of
DCIs normally don't participate in war games. We manage collection and
analysis, but I think it's fair to say the Pentagon was already starting, back
three or four years ago, to run some war games. For example, I know there was
one, two or three years ago, that hypothesized a biological terrorist attack
against the marshaling areas in the United States, ports and airfields and so
forth, in the event of a crisis in the Middle East. It turns out that it makes
it very difficult, to put it mildly, to reinforce the Middle Eastern crisis.
Were the conclusions that it would be successful?
Conceivably could be. This one that I remember reading about used non-lethal
biological agents, but even then, one could be terribly disrupting to our
ability to reinforce.
When we talk about bio-terrorism and domestic bio-terrorism in the United
States, are we looking at the profile of a new kind of terrorist?
That's a big part of the problem. It wasn't too long ago that terrorists wanted
to principally have a place at the table. Take ETA, the Basque terrorists in
Spain, for example. Yes, they blow things up, they kill people and they're a
terrible terrorist organization, but they are after something specific.
Whereas, some of the religiously motivated terrorists from the Middle East or a
group like Aum Shinrikyo from Japan and some of our home grown people here,
such as the Identity Movement ... they rather want to kill everyone who's
sitting at the table and maybe blow the table up and that's a different kind of
thing. [This] highly ideological and fanatically religious basis for some of
the terrorist groups these days adds to the risk that something as terrible as
biological weapons could be used.
How easy is it for them to acquire the knowledge of a) the biological agents
and b) basic primitive weaponization?
It's not as hard as any of us would wish. A good deal of the information about
how to do this sort of thing is out there on the Internet. Anthrax can be
cultured from what you can get from a lot of cow pastures in the world. Making
it is a little bit harder than running a micro brewery attached to a restaurant
and making beer, but it's not radically harder. There are ways of killing
yourself while you're doing it and that helps deter people to some extent. But
it is nothing like the difficulty, for example, of obtaining fissionable
material and building even a primitive nuclear weapon and it's not nearly as
bulky as trying to do something with chemicals.
Recently there was a table top exercise, which simulated a biological attack
on the Mexican-Californian border using a genetically engineered weapon. This
exercise showed that the United States appeared quite unprepared to meet such a
threat. What is your sense of the degree of preparedness in the country?
If there is a specific threat at a specific time and place that one is dealing
with, for example, protecting Atlanta during the summer of '96 Olympics, the
U.S. government is reasonably well organized to do that. Now there is a
presidential decision directive that allocates responsibilities to the Justice
Department and to the Emergency Management Agency, they are set up to work with
state and local officials. That sort of crisis response, in that limited way,
is reasonably well structured for the U.S. government. What is not well
structured is long-range planning; allocation of resources; forming a
partnership with the life sciences industry to get the right types of research
done on the right kinds of vaccines and antibiotics; and designing programs to
train state and local officials to stock pile medicines.
For example, a biological attack with anthrax is different in one very
important way that gives the defender something of an advantage from an attack
using chemicals or nuclear weapons. Once there's a detonation with nuclear
weapon or chemical weapon, the damage is done. With anthrax, there is a period
of one to two days before people become symptomatic, when almost all of the
people who had been exposed could be treated and treated successfully. If one
had the right types of antibiotics distributed around the country and people
trained to administer them quickly and the right types of sensors so that you
knew that a biological attack had occurred even before people became
symptomatic, you could save a vast share of lives. But that takes a good deal
of social discipline and commitment in peacetime before you're ready to get
something like that to happen.
That's a lot of "ifs," isn't it?
Well, let me use an example. If we were organized in peacetime with the same
degree of discipline with say block managers and the like that Britain had
during the Blitz, we could probably deal with an anthrax attack, assuming we'd
done the research and development, had the medicine stockpiled and the like.
But that's a very high degree of social discipline in the face of a clear
threat. We, in this country, are quite good at mobilizing once the enemy has a
face and a name. We've done that several times in different ways in this
century. We're not quite so good, indeed, in some ways we're rather bad, at
doing peacetime planning when the threat to most people is hypothetical and
that's the situation you're in with biological weapons now.
When you were Director of Central Intelligence, between '93 and '95, did
anything cross your desk which indicated that there might be a hemorrhage of
biological warfare talent and expertise from Russia to rogue states?
A hemorrhage, no, but we have been suspicious for some time that the old Soviet
biological weapons program was never really dismantled. That it continued on
under other guises, disguised perhaps as defensive work. Some of the recent
material that's now been published about Biopreparat and the like, confirms
some suspicions and notions that we've had about the Soviet and the Russian
program for some years.
Is there any evidence that there could have been a leakage of men, material
or knowledge to countries like Iran?
Well, I'm out of date for the last three plus years, but the thing that makes
one quite concerned about this is two things. First, of all the degree of
sophistication inside the old Soviet Union and still inside Russia and it's
military industrial complex about these matters is very great. Probably greater
than it is in the United States, because we stopped our biological weapons work
back in the Nixon administration and the Soviets did not. The second thing is
the somewhat chaotic structure of Russian society these days. The degree to
which parts of the old military industrial complex have gone off as
freelancers, setting up industrial and consulting operations, providing
material for sale to the highest bidder. It's not entirely clear, in a number
of these cases, what is the government, what is not the government, what is
organized crime, what is an independent group of consultants. We gave the
Russians, for example, a great deal of information about this steel that was
going to Iran and they couldn't figure out how to stop it or wouldn't stop it.
It finally was stopped in Azerbaijan a short time ago. So, unfortunately, much
of this Russian expertise is for sale to the highest bidder, sometimes on the
black market and a lot of it is very difficult to track. It's especially
difficult to track in the case of something like biological weapons, because
you don't have to have large truck loads of specialty steel or vast logistical
enterprises. Biologicals are small and relatively easily transported,
manufactured and made into weapons.
In that sense then, we were talking earlier about the problems of domestic
grown terrorism, could there potentially be a threat from a third party through
Yes, there's a whole spectrum of ways a threat could arise. If you take some of
the terrorist incidents we've had here in the United States, you could either
have something that's entirely home grown like Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma
City bombing, but something that also involved a biological weapon. You could
have something that was domestic, but inspired by individuals from abroad,
perhaps Americans who are committed to an ideology, such as the blind sheikh in
New York espoused. Or you can have foreign individuals, perhaps agents of a
foreign government, or a terrorist group, or perhaps simply freelance operators
getting together and doing something. For example, Mr. bin Laden, the Saudi
expatriate, who is fanatically anti-American, anti-Western, anti-Israel, has a
great deal of money and has been sponsoring work in a number of terrorist areas
for some years throughout the Middle East ... you could have Hezbollah or some
other terrorist group that's funded by Iran undertake an operation and you
might not know whether it were supported by the Iranian government or not.
There's a whole spectrum, from individual action to action by a foreign
government, and lots of gradations in between gray areas.
Do you think a biological attack within the United States is inevitable?
No, I don't think it's inevitable, but I think the chance that it could occur
is far higher than I or almost anyone would wish.
Do you fear the prospect of genetically engineered weapons being used in a
Well, the reason to do genetic engineering on a biological agent would be to
make it more difficult for a vaccine or an antibiotic to deal with it, but one
doesn't need to get into that. Anthrax, ricin, plague, or any of a whole range
of possible biological agents, can be used without there being available
vaccines and antibiotics today. If the United States developed a major program,
perhaps together with our allies, to work on vaccines and antibiotics that
would deal not with just a strain of an anthrax, but with all strains of
anthrax--that takes some work, we don't have that yet. And if we had dispersed,
deployed and trained people to give people inoculations in the case of an
attack, then a terrorist group might at that point say, "Ah-ha, we have to get
some really sophisticated genetic biologist in here to do some genetic
engineering so we can get a strain that the defenses don't deal with." But
we're not nearly at that point yet. There's no reason to do much of any genetic
engineering to have some unique, plague bacillus or anthrax strain. We're
unprepared to deal with the naturally occurring ones.
When you were running the CIA and trying to work out what the Russians were
up to with their biological warfare program, did you sense there was a certain
lack of transparency?
Well, there's always a lack of transparency in any country surrounding it's
highly protected and secure military programs. I would not say that the Russian
biological program was transparent at all. No.
Do you think that there's a danger that critics might argue that biological
warfare is the new stick with which to beat Russia, it's the new Cold War
stick, or do you believe the threat is very real?
Well, I don't think that Russia should be the sole or, necessarily, the prime
focus here. The fact that the Russians have had a biological program for a long
time and may have some expertise that would be available to the highest bidder,
either criminal groups, terrorist groups or Middle Eastern countries, is
important and interesting but it's not the main point. The main point is that
biological weapons are easy to do if you didn't know a single Russian. You
simply sit down on the Internet and figure out how to do something that's a
little more difficult than making beer, using domestically grown agents. So
there are lots of places in the world where people are able to put together
what would be needed for a biological terrorist attack. One doesn't need the
How vulnerable is the United States to biological attack?
Well, I think not only the United States, but all Western countries are
extremely vulnerable to terrorist biological attacks. They don't need to be
nearly as vulnerable as they are. Because of the delay in after most biological
attacks before people become symptomatic and therefore, it's lethal one can do
a great deal if sensors are deployed, designed and deployed to pick up first
indications of a biological attack. If antibiotics are widely distributed,
people trained to inoculate others, large numbers of people and the like. So in
the sense that none of that exists now we're quite vulnerable. Do we have to be
as vulnerable as we are? No. In some ways biological weapons are far more
susceptible to effective defense than something like say a primitive nuclear
What about the problems that would be presented by panic in the streets, the
breakdown of the infrastructure--that's quite specific to a biological attack,
It certainly could happen and the way to avoid that is training and
information. And also, I think, the development of the right types of vaccines
and antibiotics, the distribution of them would give people, if it were handled
properly by the government, a sense of confidence. It's like anything else,
people are afraid of things they don't understand and that they believe are
going to be overwhelming. If they are given something to do and the social
organization takes over, again I refer to London during the Blitz. It was
probably pretty frightening to have German bombs dropping on you all night, but
people coped and did amazing things.
But there is a difference between an attack by explosives which has a set
time line and a set amount of damage and an attack by biological weapons, which
can continue unseen for a long time.
Yes, but [with] the right types of sensors and models of wind direction and the
rest, one could do a rather good job of knowing where there were
concentrations. A lot of this is subject to being dealt with by technology,
cleverly managed, developed and deployed.
What is the nightmare scenario in your mind? What is the one thing that
keeps you awake at night when you think about biological attack?
Well, I think the use of biological weapons by terrorists without it being
detected initially and large numbers of deaths in a city starting to occur from
something that looked like perhaps terrible cases of the flu and gradually
comes to be seen as anthrax. And then people not knowing where it'd come from.
Not knowing whether it was a domestic terrorist group or a foreign terrorist
group, one government blaming another. The Iranians blaming the Iraqis, the
Iraqis blaming the Iranians, the uncertainty together with the destruction
would be a particularly terrible thing.
Do you believe that President Boris Yeltsin has always been in control of
the people who were involved in his biological warfare program? Or, do you
think there's a possibility that there has been and still exists a group of
revanchist generals who maintain that program in what they perceive to be
It's a very good question. Did Henry II know that the men he spoke to about the
Archbishop of Canterbury were going to kill him in the Cathedral? That's always
been a fascinating bit of ambiguity in history of that period. I don't know
what President Yeltsin knew. I do have a general opinion though that if we
apply to Russia our Western model of what a prime minister or a president knows
about what his military is doing we may be rather far off.
When I was an advisor on the Salt I Nuclear Talks Delegation in Helsinki in
1969 ... the U.S. government made a presentation to the Soviets that dealt with
the possibility of beginning to discuss command and control arrangements in
order to avoid an accidental use of nuclear weapons and to avoid a launch on
warning. General Logarkof, later Chief of the General Staff, pulled our
three-star general aside after that American presentation and through an
interpreter expressed his great anger and concern that these issues were being
discussed before civilians. Logarkof didn't mean before the American civilians,
he meant before the Russian civilians. So there is a history in the Soviet and
now the Russian General Staff of not letting the civilians in on everything.
But you don't know what President Yeltsin or his civilian appointees ... what
they knew, what they discussed with the Security Council, is just very
difficult to say.
Your best bet would be he does know or maybe he doesn't know?
I don't know and I don't want to speculate.
Is the risk of biological attack real or theoretical?
I think the risk of a biological terrorist attack is quite real. I think a
state-sponsored attack with a ballistic missile or something like that is most
unlikely, at least against the United States ... the risk of a terrorist attack