Yes ... the initial approaches were very superficial. [Since] I was involved in
medical research at the university, I initially was involved only in research
projects on non-human primates. Then I was asked if I could assist in supplying
him with some toxins or poisons coming from bacteria, that they had specific
targets in mind, and what would my feeling be in this. So, initially, the
involvement was just out of my presence, of my civilian position, and when
things progressed, I wasn't really surprised.|
What were the targets?
The targets were not specific at the time because we were in a war situation.
We know that ... the terrorists and political figures were the targets on the
Did you realize that you were involved in helping Basson in a biological
warfare program that would be used to kill people?
Yes, when the program and the negotiations between him and myself progressed it
was spelled out that it would be a biological chemical weapons program [and
that] it would be offensive. We initially spent a lot of time on the ethical
use of these things, and I was convinced that the products would be used in a
war sense, very ethically. There isn't much of a difference if you use a gun to
kill someone or if you use a more refined product to do that.
What products are we talking about? Can you name them?
We were suppose to establish a complete biological and chemical weapons ability
for the South African government. This included [not only] offensive programs,
but also defensive programs. On the offensive nature, we were supposed to cover
the whole range of developing some chemical products and some biological
products. The program was to design new biological projects in two
categories--one was for more sophisticated mass destruction weapons and the
other one was what we called a "dirty tricks" sort of program, where products
could be supplied for individual assassinations. These were composed out of
toxins in chemical and in plant and in biological nature.
Can you name, first of all in the official program, what kind of agents you
were working with?
The agents we worked with were mostly standard toxins ... there wasn't much
sophistication in it, and this is for the dirty tricks sort of operation where
products were developed to take out individuals ... the bacteria we were
working on was very run-of-the-mill bacteria, but it's commonly known in the
bacterial warfare field. It was anthrax, cholera, the food poisoning ones, the
salmonellas, tetanus, many of those bacteria.
Did you work with anthrax?
On the biological side we worked with toxins, not so much anthrax, but on
individual organisms producing specific toxins which can be very toxic to an
individual. This was the food poisoning type of drugs ...botulism ... all the
standard type of organisms which grow quite easily. We were involved with
working with a wide variety of bacteria, and anthrax was one of them, [however]
it was not really produced on a scale for biological weapons.
Did you work on HIV?
No, we did not work on HIV although we planned to do some work, but that was
legitimate work for a European pharmaceutical company.
When you say you were working with them, were you testing them, and who were
you testing them on?
We basically established teams of scientists of very high quality, standards
and abilities, and we supplied these scientists with very sophisticated
laboratories to do sophisticated programs on biological products. These
laboratories were capable of growing specifically bacteria, we didn't really
develop any viruses. It could extract toxins from plants, and it could
sensitize chemicals on its own. And we were involved in developing or producing
these substances and then testing them. There is specific ethical and dosages,
etc., [to be used] on animals.
We used basically non-human primates, baboons and monkeys, but also the normal
laboratory rodents were used in this.
These animals were sacrificed in the tests were they?
These animals were sacrificed in the tests. As I've said the level of
sophistication of this work was really high. We believed that if you are
involved in using biologicals for weapons then you need to do it properly, and
to do it [with] below standard facilities and below standard scientists, is in
fact, very unethical and could lead to misuse of the products.
Did you do any tests on humans at all?
Was that ever discussed or planned?
No, that was definitely not for us.
You worked on a drug that would induce infertility in people. Tell me about
that and who were supposed to be the targets.
The targets were supposed to be the black population because the most serious
problem as told to us [was] the birth rate of the black population and that it
would outgrow the resources of the country and it was very important that this
be brought under control. There was no doubt about that. This was given to us
by Basson, by the surgeon general ... it was very clear that this was the most
important project we had to work on.
And what was it?
We tackled the problem from various sides ... developing a vaccine for males
and, on the other hand, [one] for females. This contraceptive research is
worldwide research, so it was an easy area to tap into and get basic
But the vaccine would have been given to these people surreptitiously or
Yes, we had to work on a product that could have been given without the
knowledge of the person receiving it, either orally or in some sort of
Did you have a view about that?
As I have said, our views were the ones being indoctrinated ... that it was the
biggest problem for the white South Africans in South Africa.
Was that your personal view, too?
That was my personal view at the time, yes.
Was General Knobel, the Surgeon General, aware of this?
Yes ... General Knobel was aware of this when we started [or] soon after we
started. General Knobel was taking over from me and he was fully aware of the
How did you know he was fully aware?
I had personal discussions with him several times ... I briefed him on this.
Was General Knobel aware of the assassination dimension of the biological
I can't be too sure about that. He was certainly aware that we were developing
some of the projects. He was present at scientific meetings where this was
discussed. The specific application in the field had specific targets, and how
much he was aware about that, I can't say.
But if General Knobel were to say, or if he has already said, that this was
a purely defensive program aimed at defending the Republic of South Africa in
case of the event of biological warfare attacks, that would not be according to
you the full truth?
Most certainly not. There's no doubt in my mind about that.
Tell me about Basson ... what kind of man is he?
Basson is a very interesting individual. He is clever ... and he is very
knowledgeable about a wide range of subjects, but he has the ability of
manipulating people for his own specific goals. He has the ability to influence
and speak easily with people from very high rank and high
standing--politicians, army officials, scientists, and even the lower ranks of
operators within the army. He's very capable of influencing people and
manipulating people to do whatever he wants them to do.
Some people say he should receive a medal for the work he did for the
Republic of South Africa, other people compare him to Dr. Josef Mengele. Was
the Basson you knew something in between?
The Basson I knew was something in between. Of course, initially when we
started our associations we had very positive associations, and he always
seemed to be a very sophisticated and patriotic type of person. Later on in the
program I learned differently and at the very least, became aware that he had
very hidden agendas ... and he was very hard on people, he tended to use
people, discarding them when he had finished with them and had no real feeling
What was it about Basson that suddenly turned you off him? You were prepared
to work for him and with him and then suddenly you weren't. What was it that
... Basson was really the central figure in coordinating the funds and the
whole program. He was the contact between us, the scientists, and the
authorities, which was the army and the government sponsoring it. We operated
on a basis of trust and initially this trust, seemed to be, after some time,
more one-sided and that they started to mistrust me. And this developed ...
when I wanted to implement high standards in the development in the research we
were doing and they were not interested in that. They only were interested in
obtaining superficially produced and concocted products, which I was very much
against. We had a dispute around that, which led subsequently to a breakdown in
our relationship, and I experienced the other side of Basson, which was very
Did you get official visits from Britain and from the United States, and did
any of those people help the Republic of South Africa with its biological
No. When I was managing director we were still establishing this stuff and we
had contact with consultants, some of whom were from Europe and from the United
Kingdom, and even some of them from America. We had no direct assistance and no
aboveboard assistance that I know of.
Do you think the British visitors knew that you were working on a biological
I doubt it.
Did you try to disguise it from them?
I doubt [that] we tried to disguise it from them, we were busy before this
program on the same type of laboratories--P4 laboratories--and it might have
been a continuation of this.
Did you work on a project that would possibly induce heart attacks in
That was some of the toxins extracted from plants [that] could have caused
heart attacks in people ...
Were they tested on the baboons?
Yes ... they were tested on the baboons.
Did the baboons have heart attacks?
Some of them had slight effects.
Did you ever know who the targets might be for biological warfare
No, I never knew the exact targets. We had a lot of discussions around the
leadership of the ANC at that time, and the discussions always included to get
some[one] to take Mandela out, etc. But it was always nonspecific sort of
Did you ever feel a personal moral repugnance about what you were doing? Did
there come a moment when you thought, "This is not for me?"
We had many thoughts about this and doubts about what we were doing, but the
politicians of the time had created the climate. I think the politicians need
to be blamed for a lot of the misuses of the program because they created the
climate in South Africa of the total onslaught and take-over by communism and
the overwhelming enemy and desperat[ion] for the survival of the South Africa
that we do extraordinary things.
Why did you decide to blow the whistle on the whole thing?
What worried me in the beginning and in the end was when I saw that Basson and
the contacts we had were not interested in using properly designed and
developed products. Then I realized that if they are using products that are
not refined and properly tested it could be very harmful to innocent
bystanders. I then became convinced that they were not serious about the
ethical side of biological warfare as we understood to be doing it.
People hearing that answer may accuse you of some hypocrisy given that there
is really an ethical dimension to biological warfare assassination. You seem to
have made a distinction, which was that if biological warfare assassination
were ethical it was OK, if it was done in an unscientific and messy way it
Yes ... that's if it were done in an unscientific and messy way it was
completely out for us, and as I've said we were worrying [that] what we were
doing should be controlled and used only in a controlled manner at the very
least, and when it became clear to me that this was not the case, then I was
unhappy about the situation.
Are you saying that you were ethically happy to take part in a biological
warfare offensive assassination program, but when it got messy, or when it
didn't go the way you wanted it to go, you blew the whistle? Can you give me
one example of what it was that was offending you?
Yes ... I think in the late 70s and early 80s, biological weapons were not as
controlled as in the 90s. It was a new area and everybody was in the
post-atomic area. Biological weapons was a new field, and it was done all over
by all the countries, even England at Porton Down, and the Americans at Fort
Detrick. We know they were doing it and we had contact with all that work and
the weapons that were developed. So, it was not that much of an ethical issue
as we know today it is because of the dangers of the misuses.
But Porton Down and Fort Detrick weren't targeting politicians for murder
with biological agents.
That is true, but we were in a war situation ... and our people were part of
it, and ... the environment we operated in that time we were all in South
Africa ... that was the environment.
When you blew the whistle, what did you do, who did you go to and what was
It was not so much of running out ... to the press at large and telling them
what's going on. I tried to change this internally and tried to get some
control back into the program because [I saw that] this program was now getting
out of control. I tried to make contact with the surgeon general again and even
his superiors. [Contact with them] was denied to me, or when I got to them they
were not really happy to listen to what I had to say.
You met General Knobel. What did you complain about and what did he
Well, before I could complain about anything, I had been framed ... and
victimized by Basson and his associates of being psychologically unstable ...
they in fact threatened to put me in jail [if I didn't] leave quietly. In those
years, 1988-89, the nationalist government was still very much in power to do
anything they wished to do. When I confronted Knobel with this, he said it was
out of his hands and he could do nothing about it, which made me realize at
that stage that if the second or third highest officer in the defense force was
not able to control this, then it is really out of hand. At that stage, I then
decided, for my own safety and for my family's safety, that I had to
disassociate myself from the program as far as possible, which is what I did in
I was, in fact, forced to quit. But in the end I stopped blowing the whistleu ... and I quit voluntarily.
Were you surprised when Basson was caught dealing in the street in Ecstasy
and when top secret biological warfare papers were found in trunks at his
Yes, I was surprised ... I had seen money spent on the project that wasn't used
for the purpose it should have been used for, and they were skimming off some
of the money of the project, so I know they had been financially gaining
personally from the project to the extent of millions. So I was surprised that
he was still dealing with drugs to sort of make some extra money.
Do you regard him now as a loose cannon in South Africa? A man with great
knowledge, a man who is alleged to be a criminal?
No, I don't regard him as a loose cannon. I regard him as very much a fake. He
has no real knowledge, I know exactly where he got all the knowledge from
because that was our department, and I know who has the knowledge and who
doesn't have the knowledge, and it's not Basson. He had to keep the files to
have something, on his own he has nothing and I think he is blackmailing some
people into some false sort of protection.
How successful, efficient and sophisticated was the biological warfare
program, to the best of your knowledge?
The interesting phenomena about the program was that it had the ability to be
very, very sophisticated. We established the ability to do genetic engineering
and all the fancy type of stuff that would produce good biological products,
but nothing was really produced.
But you don't have to produce it, do you? You just have to have the
knowledge, the production is easy. You and I could do it in a laboratory in 48
Yes ... this is one of the so-called myths surrounding biological warfare
products, that is to a large extent misinformation. Any vaccines in any normal
laboratory are producing tons and tons of the highest potent toxins, and it can
be misused. So there wasn't any super biological weapons developed and produced
by the program.
What then was it about the program that so worried the British and Americans
that on two occasions they went to see F. W. de Klerk, on one occasion they
went to see President Mandela, and said "Give this program up." Why were they
I wish I knew. But as I said again, it had the potential. The facilities were
the state-of-the-art facilities. The laboratories, the P4 containments,
everything. The scientists assembled there had the potential of developing
really new and fancy biological weapons. But it was never done. When we got to
the point that we should have produced, there was no support for the scientists
to produce. It was very ineffective.
But you produced the knowledge ...
We've produced some of the knowledge, yes.
And some people were assassinated?
Yes ... but the assassinations were of the crude off the shelf products, and
that is my point, and this was the sort of thing that worried me, that they
were not interested in proper sophisticated products.
How secret was the project?
This project was regarded the most secret project of the then government, a
very top secret project.
A lot of people didn't actually know they were working on it did
Yes, as I've said earlier, the need to know principle was applied at all levels
and lower down it was diluted so much that people don't know the broader
How appropriate was the nom de guerre for Dr. Basson, Dr. Death?
I wasn't really involved with that side of him, but from the other side, yes he
wouldn't have had any scruples [about] killing anyone. That was told to me by
Is Dr. Basson currently being protected? Do you have a sense of that at
Well, he was definitely being protected after the so-called dismantling of the
program in '92 and '94 and even by the new government of the new South Africa
... Project Coast has been investigated by the Office of Serious Economic
Offenses for some time and they were investigated for two years by the new
Why do you call it "so-called" dismantling of the program?
The existence of the program was denied for many years, and even in the
transition period of government it was denied and even now by the Surgeon
General Knobel, it is denied to have been an offensive program. So, as long as
they're denying it, there's the possibility that it's not being completely
dismantled. That's one aspect. The other aspect I've already explained [is]
that the products are easily available, but it's people that must use it and as
long as the people are not under control then the program is not under control.
And as long as Basson and his associates are still operating in hospitals and
in the medical environment, the program can be revived or can still be active
Do you think the full truth will ever come out?
That is a good question. Honestly, I don't know and that is my concern, that
the full truth won't come out.
It hasn't come out yet, has it?
It hasn't come out yet.
How do you believe now a biological warfare program should be
I think it's very difficult to control biological warfare. It's a very
controversial subject at the moment. It is no use controlling scientists and
laboratories etc., the real control lies in controlling the people who decide
where to apply it or not, and that is the politicians. And as long as there is
no agreements that can be enforced then you won't control this.