Top Russian BioWeapons
Expert Warns Of Coming
Attacks On West
This sobering insight into the Soviet Union's deadly biowar research program - conducted, you'll notice in passing, under the overall supervision of Mikhail Gorbachev - comes from the Soviet expert directly responsible for it.
Note his chilling warning that: "Bioweapons are no longer contained within the bipolar world of the Cold War. They are cheap, easy to make, and easy to use. In the coming years, they will become very much a part of our lives."
Now, why were we reminded, upon reading that, of the ominous statement in the elite's 1994 Report, OUR GLOBAL NEIGHBOURHOOD: THE REPORT OF THE COMMISSION ON GLOBAL GOVERNANCE", that global citizens of the future would be "granted limited rights in exchange for guaranteed security."
Granted "limited rights" BY who, in exchange for "guaranteed security" FROM who? If you checked the box alongside the answer "The same people", and had globalist groups like the Bilderbergers in mind, we rather suspect that you'll soon be considered too independently well-informed to be permitted to stay on the planet!
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Toronto Star, June 26th, 1999
An inside look at how the Soviet Union developed lethal germ weapons, and why the end of the Cold War has made the threat of biological warfare even worse
By Ken Alibek
An edited excerpt from the chilling new book, Biohazard, by Ken Alibek, a former biological weapons expert in the Soviet Union, with The Star's Stephen Handelman.
ON A BLEAK island in the Aral Sea, 100 monkeys are tethered to posts set in parallel rows stretching out toward the horizon. A muffled thud breaks the stillness. Far in the distance, a small metal sphere lifts into the sky then hurtles downward, rotating, until it shatters in a second explosion.
Some 25 metres above the ground, a cloud the colour of dark mustard begins to unfurl, gently dissolving as it glides down toward the monkeys. They pull at their chains and begin to cry. Some bury their heads between their legs. A few cover their mouths or noses, but it is too late: They have already begun to die.
At the other end of the island, a handful of men in biological protective suits observe the scene through binoculars, taking notes. In a few hours, they will retrieve the still-breathing monkeys and return them to cages where the animals will be under continuous examination for the next several days until, one by one, they die of anthrax or tularemia, Q fever, brucellosis, glanders, or plague. These are the tests I supervised throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. They formed the foundation of the Soviet Union's spectacular breakthroughs in biological warfare.
Between 1988 and 1992, I was first deputy chief of Biopreparat, the Soviet state pharmaceutical agency whose primary function was to develop and produce weapons made from the most dangerous viruses, toxins and bacteria known to man. Biopreparat was the hub of a clandestine empire of research, testing, and manufacturing facilities spread out over more than 40 sites in Russia and Kazakhstan. Nearly every important government institution played a role in the Soviet biological weapons program. The System, as Biopreparat was often called, was more successful than the Kremlin had ever dared to hope.
Over a 20-year period that began, ironically, with Moscow's endorsement of the Biological Weapons Convention in 1972, the Soviet Union built the largest and most advanced biological warfare establishment in the world. Through our covert program, we stockpiled hundreds of tons of anthrax and dozens of tons of plague and smallpox near Moscow and other Russian cities for use against the United States and its Western allies.
What went on in Biopreparat's labs was one of the most closely guarded secrets of the Cold War. Before I became an expert in biological warfare I was trained as a physician. The government I served perceived no contradiction between the oath every doctor takes to preserve life and our preparations for mass murder. For a long time, neither did I. Less than a decade ago, I was a much-decorated army colonel, marked out for further promotion in one of the Soviet Union's most elite military programs. If I had stayed in Russia, I would have been a major general by now, and you would never have heard my name. But in 1992, after 17 years inside Biopreparat, I resigned from my position and fled with my family to the United States. In numerous debriefing sessions, I provided U.S. officials with their first comprehensive picture of our activities. Most of what I told them has never been revealed in public.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the danger once posed by our weapons work has sharply diminished. Biopreparat claims that it no longer conducts offensive research, and Russia's stockpile of germs and viruses has been destroyed. But the threat of a biological attack has increased as the knowledge developed in our labs - of lethal formulations that took our scientists years to discover - has spread to rogue regimes and terrorist groups. Bioweapons are no longer contained within the bipolar world of the Cold War. They are cheap, easy to make, and easy to use. In the coming years, they will become very much a part of our lives.
Since leaving Moscow I have encountered an alarming level of ignorance about biological weapons. Some of the best scientists I've met in the West say it isn't possible to alter viruses genetically to make reliable weapons, or to store enough of a given pathogen for strategic purposes, or to deliver it in a way that assures maximum killing power. My knowledge and experience tell me that they are wrong. I have written this book to explain why.
There are some who maintain that discussing the subject will cause needless alarm. But existing defenses against these weapons are dangerously inadequate, and when biological terror strikes, as I'm convinced it will, public ignorance will only heighten the disaster. The first step we must take to protect ourselves is to understand what biological weapons are and how they work. The alternative is to remain as helpless as the monkeys in the Aral Sea.
The windows in the administrative offices at Vector were covered with thick sheets of ice. It was midway through the Siberian winter, and the temperature outside had plunged to minus 40 degrees Celsius. The scientists crowding into the tiny room were bundled in sweaters and thick jackets. They grumbled about the cold and the peculiarities of the Soviet food-supply system.
I smiled good-naturedly. It was February, 1988, and I was on one of my frequent commuting trips to the Vector Institute. By then I knew the scientists well enough to enjoy their bleak sense of humor.
The man whose joke provoked so much laughter was a hardy example of our Siberian species of scientists. His name was Nikolai Ustinov. A gregarious, well-built man with an easy smile and a sharp wit, Ustinov led a research team working on Marburg, a hemorrhagic fever virus we had obtained in the 1970s. Marburg was set to become one of the most effective weapons in our biological arsenal. The project had become as important as our work with smallpox.
Ustinov loved his job. He had been at Vector for many years and was one of the most well liked members of the community. His wife, Yevgenia, worked as a lab scientist in another part of the institute, and the couple had two teenage sons. He was 44 when I met him.
Two months later, in mid-April, I was sitting in my Moscow office one morning when a call came in from Lev Sandakchiev, Ustinov's boss and the head of Vector.
``Something terrible has happened,'' he said.
``An accident?''
``Yes. It's Ustinov. He injected Marburg into his thumb.'' Sadness and frustration were palpable in his voice.
``Right into his thumb,'' he repeated. ``He was in the lab working with guinea pigs when it happened.''
``Wait,'' I interrupted him. ``You know the regulations. Send me a cryptogram. Don't say any more.''
I felt heartless ordering Sandakchiev to stop talking, but the mere mention of Marburg was too sensitive for an open line.
Marburg was the most dangerous virus we were working with at that time - dangerous because we knew so little about it as well as because of its terrible impact on humans.
The first recorded outbreak of the virus occurred in 1967 at the Behring pharmaceutical works in Marburg, an old university town 110 kilometres north of Frankfurt. An animal keeper died two weeks after he contracted a mysterious illness from green monkeys sent to the Behring lab from central Africa. The lab was culturing vaccines in kidney cells extracted from the monkeys. Other workers soon fell sick, and similar cases were reported at laboratories in Frankfurt and Belgrade, both of which had received shiploads of green monkeys from central Africa at the same time.
The filoviruses were already multiplying by the billions inside Ustinov's tissues, sucking out their nutrients in order to clone copies of themselves
Twenty-four lab technicians came down with the unknown disease, along with six of the nurses caring for them. Of the 31 people infected, seven died. This kind of undiagnosed outbreak would be alarming enough, but it was the horror of their deaths that caught the attention of biologists and tropical disease specialists around the world.
The mysterious virus appeared to liquefy body organs. One of the survivors went mad after the organism chewed away his brain cells. Before the victims died, every inch of their bodies was wet with blood.
Following tradition, the virus was named after the place where it was first identified. It would alter forever the image of a city that has been a centre of European philosophy, science and religion for centuries.
A similar virus surfaced nine years later on the banks of the Ebola River in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo. By the time that epidemic died out, 430 people were dead in Zaire and nearby Sudan. The virus responsible for that outbreak was called Ebola, after the site where it was isolated. Ebola struck again in the same area in 1995.
The viruses isolated in Africa differed slightly in genetic composition from the strain found in Germany, but they were closely related. Under an electron microscope, both organisms seemed to proliferate by shooting out tiny filament-like threads, like the lines cast by fishermen, from the cells they had already scoured for the food they needed to grow. The threads were often bent at the top, like fishing hooks, and as they prepared to invade a new cell they curled into rings, like microscopic Cheerios. Marburg and Ebola were deemed to belong to a new family of viral organisms. They were called filoviruses.
We still know very little about where filoviruses come from and how they are transmitted to humans. In some cases an animal or insect bite has delivered the organism into the bloodstream. In others, sexual contact has been a source of infection, and some scientists believe the virus may even be located in plants. Both Ebola and Marburg can spread from one person to another with no direct physical contact.
The natural reservoirs of filoviruses are unknown. Although recent research suggests that they have been lurking on the fringes of human activity for centuries, Marburg and Ebola joined a new category of ``emerging viruses'' threatening to eclipse more familiar infectious diseases.
A strain of Marburg arrived in the Soviet Union a decade after it was first isolated, during one of our periodic global searches for promising material. It wasn't clear from the records whether we obtained it from the United States or directly from Germany, but it was immediately added to our growing collection of viral warfare agents. We were already investigating a number of micro -organisms that weaken blood vessels and cause hemorrhagic fevers, such as Junin from Argentina and Machupo from Bolivia. Marburg quickly proved to have great potential.
Ustinov had been conducting a series of experiments with guinea pigs and rabbits to monitor the effects of increasingly higher concentrations of Marburg. The injection of such a highly concentrated dose directly into his thumb meant that he now had hundreds, perhaps thousands of times more particles of the virus coursing through his body than any of the victims in Germany. I thought his chances of survival were near zero.
I called our biosafety department and asked them to send technicians at once to the viral centre of the Ministry of Defence in Zagorsk, where scientists had isolated a Marburg antiserum. Then I instructed the Ministry of Health to send a team of physicians to Siberia with the antiserum.
It was a shot in the dark. The team was four hours away by plane and the next flight from Moscow wasn't until later that night. Even if they made the flight, they would arrived nearly two days after the initial infection - an eternity for Marburg.
Zagorsk had only a few hundred millilitres of antiserum on hand.
Yury Kalinin, the head of Biopreparat, was in a meeting when I asked to see him. His secretary, Tatyana, took one look at me and hurried me into his office. He dismissed his visitors, and I gave him the scanty details I had of what had happened.
Kalinin turned pale.
``You don't think he can be saved?'' he asked.
``I can't be too optimistic.''
``We'll have to tell the higher levels,'' he said with a grimace.
I couldn't blame him for being as preoccupied with our superiors' reaction as with Ustinov's well-being. We both knew that any major accident would put Biopreparat at risk.
Yet the state shared the blame for Ustinov's accident. My visits to Vector had shown me under what pressure we were placing our best scientists. Sandakchiev had never ceased to complain about the inhuman pace at which his workers were being driven. It was dangerous, as well as scientifically unsound. No technician should have worked long hours with such a contagious organism. People tired easily in the heavy protective suits required for Zone Three. Their reflexes slowed down, and it was easy to become careless.
Ustinov's illness lasted nearly three weeks. Throughout that time, none of his colleagues was allowed to stop working.
Ustinov had been injecting Marburg into guinea pigs with the help of a lab technician, working through a glove box. He was not in a full space suit and was wearing two thin layers of rubber gloves instead of the thick mitts normally required for such work in Zone Three. The gloves provided the flexibility to control the animals, who otherwise squirm and try to wriggle out of a technician's grip.
Our rules required that animals targeted for injection be strapped to a wooden board to hold them securely in place. That day, Ustinov wasn't following procedure. He decided to steady the guinea pigs with his gloved hand. Perhaps he thought it would help calm them. Or perhaps he was in too much of a hurry.
The technician became distracted and nudged him accidentally. Ustinov's hand slipped just as he was pressing down on the syringe. The needle went through the guinea pig and punctured his thumb, drawing blood.
The needle went in no farther than half a centimetre, but the faint spot of blood indicated that liquid Marburg had entered his bloodstream. As soon as he realized what had happened, Ustinov called the duty supervisor from the telephone inside the lab
From then on, the procedures established for such emergencies were followed to the letter. Doctors and nurses dressed in protective suits were waiting for him as he emerged from the disinfectant shower. They rushed him to the small hospital in the Vector compound, a 20-bed isolation facility sealed off from the outside with thick walls and pressure-locked doors.
Physicians did what they could to make Ustinov feel comfortable while waiting for the antiserum to arrive from Moscow. He was in no doubt of the danger he faced, but there were periods when he believed he could escape alive. He was lucid enough to describe what had happened in precise scientific detail and to calculate the exact amount of Marburg coursing through his veins. His wife hurried over from her lab, but neither she nor their children were permitted inside the hospital. She was later allowed a few private visits, until the sight of her suffering husband became too much to bear.
Ustinov at first maintained his sense of humor, joking with nurses and occasionally planning his next experiments aloud. Within a couple of days he was complaining of a severe headache and nausea.
Gradually, he became passive and uncommunicative, as his features froze in toxic shock. On the fourth day his eyes turned red and tiny bruises appeared all over his body: capillaries close to his skin had begun to hemorrhage.
Ustinov twitched silently in his bed while the virus multiplied in his system. Too tired to speak, or to turn over, or to eat, he would drift in and out of consciousness, staring for long periods of time at nothing. Occasionally, lucidity would return. He called for paper during those brief moments to record the progress of the virus as it foraged through his body. Sometimes he burst into tears.
On the tenth day, his fever subsided and he stopped retching. As brilliant a scientist as he was, Ustinov began to entertain the delusion that he was improving. He started smiling again and asked about his family.
But by the 15th day, the tiny bruises on Ustinov's body had turned dark blue, and his skin was as thin as parchment. The blood pooling underneath began oozing through. It streamed from his nose, mouth, and genitals. Through a mechanism that is still poorly understood, the virus prevents normal coagulation: The platelets responsible for clotting blood are destroyed. As the virus spreads, the body's internal organs literally begin to melt away.
Shuddering bouts of diarrhea left rivers of black liquid on his sheets. The scraps of paper on which he had been scribbling his symptoms and which the nurses had gingerly carried out to transcribe each day no longer littered the floor. There was nothing more to write. Everything was unfolding before his doctors' eyes.
The filoviruses were already multiplying by the billions inside Ustinov's tissues, sucking out their nutrients in order to clone copies of themselves. Each viral particle, or virion, forms a brick that pushes against the cell walls until they burst. The cells then sprout wavering hair-like antennae that home in on their next target, where the process of foraging and destruction blindly repeats itself.
Ustinov lapsed into long periods of unconsciousness.
The doctors from the Ministry of Health arrived early in the first week with the antiserum. To no one's surprise, it proved useless. Antiviral drugs such as ribavirin and interferon were also tried.
A long cryptogram arrived in my office on April 30, describing Ustinov's condition that day. I noticed that the symptoms appeared worse than usual. I sat up in my chair when I reached the final line: ``The patient died. Request permission to conduct an autopsy.''
Though I had been expecting it, the news came as a shock. I walked into Kalinin's office and told him the ordeal was over.
``They want to conduct an autopsy,'' I added.
Kalinin was expressionless.
``I'll inform everyone,'' he said, and turned back to the file he was reading. He didn't ask after Ustinov's widow or his colleagues at Vector. It was time to move on.
I don't know how the senior levels of our bureaucracy reacted to Ustinov's death, but no condolence letter was ever sent to his widow. Sandakchiev asked us for 10,000 rubles as special compensation for his family in addition to the normal pension survivors were entitled to. It was a princely sum in those days, and Kalinin balked at first, but he finally approved the request.
Even after death, Ustinov was imprisoned by the virus that had killed him. The risk of contagion made normal interment impossible, so his corpse was covered with chloramine disinfectant and wrapped in plastic sheeting. The remains were placed inside a metal box, welded shut, and fitted into a wooden coffin. Only then was it safe to lay him in the ground.
The funeral was over quickly. Sandakchiev delivered a brief eulogy beside a marble gravestone, which, in the Russian tradition, bore an engraved image of Ustinov and the dates of his birth and death. The small group of mourners included Ustinov's immediate family, his closest colleagues, and a cordon of KGB agents who had worked frantically to keep the circumstances of his illness secret. No one came from Moscow.
Regulations prohibited the circulation of any reports about accidents, fatal or otherwise, but news of the tragedy spread quickly through The System. An investigation by the Ministry of Health and the KGB concluded that the principal person at fault was the victim himself, who had not followed proper safety rules. _________________________________________________ A virus grown in laboratory conditions is liable to become more virulent when it passes through the live incubator of a human or an animal body. Orders went out immediately to replace the old strain with the new __________________________________________________
A virus grown in laboratory conditions is liable to become more virulent when it passes through the live incubator of a human or an animal body. Few were surprised, therefore, when samples of Marburg taken from Ustinov's organs after his autopsy differed slightly from the original strain. Further testing showed that the new variation was much more powerful and stable.
No one needed to debate the next step. Orders went out immediately to replace the old strain with the new, which was called, in a move that the wry Ustinov might have appreciated, ``Variant U.''
At the end of 1989, a cryptogram from Sandakchiev arrived in my office with the terse announcement that Marburg Variant U had been successfully weaponized. He was asking for permission to test it.
Construction at Vector was running far behind the schedule set out in Gorbachev's last decree, and test chambers were still not ready. There were only three other spots where Marburg could be tested: Omutninsk, Stepnogorsk, and a special bacteriological facility at Obolensk, in the Moscow region. Obolensk had to be ruled out because it was too close to the capital, and Omutninsk was just embarking on tests for a new plague weapon. That left Stepnogorsk
The facility had never been used to test viral agents before. Colonel Gennady Lepyoshkin, who had replaced me as the director of Stepnogorsk, reminded me of that heatedly when I ordered him to prepare the facilities for a Marburg test run.
``It's just too dangerous,'' he insisted.
I respected his views, but orders were orders. ``Don't argue with me,'' I said. ``It has to be done, so do it.''
A brace of bomblets filled with Marburg and secured in metal containers was sent on the long journey by train and truck from Siberia to Kazakhstan, accompanied by scientists and armed guards. It took nearly 27 hours.Another caravan with 12 monkeys followed shortly afterward.
I went to Stepnogorsk twice to supervise the test preparations. It was less than two years since I'd left there for Moscow, but the facility had expanded so much that it was almost unrecognizable. After testing the weapon in explosive chambers, we applied it to the monkeys. Every one of the 12 contracted the virus. They were all dead within three weeks.
In early 1990, Marburg Variant U was ready for approval by the Ministry of Defence.
[From ``Biohazard'' by Ken Alibek, with Stephen Handelman, The Star's former Moscow bureau chief. Copyright. Published by Random House.] __________________________________________
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