THE BIOWEAPONEERS "mercenary biologists" ??
From: kathleen (kathleen.dickson_at_snet.net)
Date: 19 Mar 2005 14:54:30 -0800
Hmmm. I don't know what to think.
Plum Island things:
"Moreover simian AIDS (SAIDS) occurred spontaneously at several primate
centers in USA; a retrovirus partially related to Mason Pfizer monkey
virus appears to be the etiologic agent of SAIDS."
And something of an explainer on the "antibiotic resistance"
hysteria wrought by the Lyme criminals. Although such
makes no sense. Again, we're dealing with deranged
"do-nothing" NIH microbiologists.
An outbreak of American-Russian tularemia. Interesting.
At least *some* seem to be accidents related to
deliberate experimentation... Hmmmm.
- - - - - -
Highly recommended reading. A true story.
- - - - - - -
17 July 1999: Link to "The Demon in the Freezer," by Richard Preston on
2 March 1998
Source: Hardcopy of The New Yorker, March 9, 1998, pp. 52-65
Thanks to Richard Preston and The New Yorker
ANNALS OF WARFARE
In the last few years, Russian scientists have invented the world's
plagues. Have we learned about this too late to stop it?
By Richard Preston
KEN ALIBEK is a quiet man, forty-seven years old, with youthful looks
and an attractive, open face. He lives in a rented condominium in
Arlington, Virginia, a five-minute walk from his office at a private
consulting firm. Alibek has dark hair and Asian features, and a dimpled
scar on his nose, which he got in an accident that was "not heroic," he
says, involving a machine in a biowarfare plant.
Before he arrived in the United States, in 1992, Ken Alibek was Dr.
Kanatjan Alibekov, the first deputy chief of research and production
for the Soviet biological-weapons program. He was the top scientist in
the program, a sprawling, clandestine enterprise known as Biopreparat,
or The System, by the scientists who worked in it. Biopreparat
research-and-production facilities were flung all across the Soviet
Union. As Dr. Alibekov, Ken Alibek had thirty-two thousand scientists
and staff people working under him.
Alibek has a Doctor of Sciences degree in anthrax. It is a kind of
superdegree, which he received in 1988, at the age of thirty-seven, for
directing the research team that developed the Soviet Union's most
powerful weapons-grade anthrax. He did this research as head of the
Stepnagorsk bioweapons facility, in what is now Kazakhstan, which was
once the largest biowarfare production facility in the world. The
Alibekov anthrax became fully operational in 1989. It is an amber-gray
powder, finer than bath talc, with smooth, creamy particles that tend
to fly apart and vanish in the air, becoming invisible and drifting for
miles. The Alibekov anthrax is four times more efficient than the
Ken Alibek is part of a diaspora of biologists who came out of Russia
following the breakup of the Soviet Union. Government funding for
research decreased dramatically, and scientists who were working in the
biowarfare program found themselves without jobs. Some of them went
looking abroad. A few have come to the United States or Great Britain,
but most went elsewhere. "No one knows where they are," Alibek says.
One can guess that they've ended up in Iraq, Syria, Libya, China, Iran,
perhaps Israel, perhaps India -- but no one really knows, probably not
even the Russian government. No doubt some of these biologists have
carried the Alibekov formula in their heads, if not master seed strains
of the anthrax and samples of the finished product in containers. The
Alibekov anthrax may be one of the more common bioweapons in the world
today. It seems plausible that Iraqi biologists, for instance, know the
Alibekov formula by now.
One day, Ken Alibek and I were sitting in a conference room near his
office talking about the anthrax he and his research team had
developed. "It's very difficult to say if I felt a sense of excitement
over this. It's very difficult to say what I felt like," he said. "It
wouldn't be true to say that I thought I was doing something wrong. I
thought I had done something very important. The anthrax was one of my
scientific results -- my personal result."
I asked him if he'd tell me the formula for his anthrax.
"I can't say this," he answered.
"I won't publish it. I'm just curious," I said.
"Look, you must understand, this is unbelievably serious. You can't
publish this formula," he said. When I assured him I wouldn't, he told
me the formula for the Alibekov anthrax. He uttered just one sentence.
The Alibekov anthrax is simple, and the formula is somewhat surprising,
not quite what you'd expect. Two unrelated materials are mixed with
pure powdered anthrax spores. It took a lot of research and testing to
get the trick right, and Alibek must have driven his research group
hard and skillfully to arrive at it. "There are many countries that
would like to know how to do this." he said.
UNTIL last week, when Ken Alibek was interviewed on "PrimeTime Live,"
he was known in this country only to a few government officials and
intelligence experts and defense-industry figures. What he told the
C.I.A. and other people with national-security clearances was usually
classified. Sometimes the information was so secret that even he
couldn't look at his reports once they were issued. "The first report I
wrote, I only saw it once from across a room. It was sitting on a
table. They wouldn't let me go any closer to it," Alibek says, with a
What Alibek describes is shocking, even to those who thought they had a
pretty good idea of what bioweapons are out there and who has them. But
it is particularly timely now that the public's attention has suddenly
focussed on the possibility of biological terrorism, which gained a
peculiar intensity in late February, when Larry Wayne Harris and
William Leavitt, Jr., were arrested by the F.B.I. outside Las Vegas
with what was thought to be weapons-grade anthrax in the trunk of a
car. The repeated news reports -- which turned out to be a false alarm
-- that they were planning a terrorist attack on the New York City
subway system clarified what had seemed to be a vague threat hidden in
Iraq. Bioterror had come home.
I first heard about Ken Alibek in 1995, although at that time none of
my contacts would tell me his name. He was referred to only as No. 2.
(Biodefector No. 1 had come out in 1989.) Last fall, when I finally
figured out that No. 2 was Alibekov, I called up a source who has
connections to British intelligence and told him I thought I knew who
No. 2 was. He cut me off. "Don't say a name," he said. "I can't confirm
anything. Have you forgotten that we are talking on an open telephone
line?" That source went nowhere, but then I had an idea. For several
years, I have known a man named William C. Patrick III, who in certain
important respects is the leading American expert on biological
weapons. Before 1969, when President Richard Nixon shut down the
American biowarfare program, Bill Patrick was the chief of product
development for the United States Army's biological-warfare
laboratories at Fort Detrick, Maryland. The "products" that Patrick and
his research group developed were powdered spores and viruses that were
loaded into bombs and sophisticated delivery systems. Patrick was
arguably the top bioweaponeer in the United States. He and several
hundred other scientists and research-staff members lost their jobs
when the biowarfare facilities at Fort Detrick were closed down.
(Today, to the best of my knowledge, the scientists at the United
States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, or
USAMRIID, at Fort Detrick don't make offensive bioweapons. They develop
vaccines and treatments to defend against them. As far as I can tell,
the United States has no bioweapons, and one piece of evidence for this
is that government officials today are remarkably ignorant of them.)
Bill Patrick, who is now seventy-one years old, is one of only two or
three scientists still alive and active in the United States who have a
hands-on technical understanding of bioweapons. As he explained to me,
"There's a hell of a disconnect between us fossils who know about
biological weapons and the younger generation." In 1991, on the eve of
the Gulf War, he was summoned to the Pentagon to take part in a
discussion of anthrax. Patrick sat in silence while a group of
intelligence analysts, young men and women dressed in suits, discussed
anthrax in knowledgeable-sounding voices. "I reached the conclusion
that these people didn't know what the hell they were talking about,"
Patrick recalls. He said, "Have any of you fellows actually seen
anthrax?" and he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small jar of
amber-brown powder, and chucked it across the table. It rattled and
bounced toward the analysts. They jerked away, some leaping to their
feet. The jar contained anthrax simulant, a biopowder that is
essentially identical to anthrax except that it doesn't kill. It is
used for experiments in which properties other than infectivity are
being tested. "I got that through security, by the way," Patrick
Later, Bill Patrick was the oldest United Nations weapons inspector in
Iraq. The Iraqis knew exactly who he was -- the former top scientist in
the former American bioweapons program. Iraqi intelligence people
started calling his hotel room in Baghdad at night, hissing, "You son
of bitch, Patrick," and then hanging up. "It was kind of an honor, but
it kept me awake," he says.
Today, Bill Patrick is a consultant to many government agencies -- the
C.I.A., the F.B.I., the Defense Intelligence Agency, the City of New
York -- on the use of biological weapons in a terrorist attack. Jerome
Hauer, who is the head of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's Office of Emergency
Management -- the group that would handle a bioterror event in New
York, should one ever happen -- said to me once, "Bill Patrick is one
of the only guys who can tell us about some of these biological agents.
We all wonder what we're going to do when he decides to light up a
cigar and go sailing." Patrick is able to tell emergency planners what
will happen if a biological weapon is released in an American city --
how many people will die, where they'll die, what the deaths will look
like. His reports are classified. Bill Patrick and Ken Alibek were
counterparts. They had been two of the top scientists in what had been
the best biowarfare programs on the planet. I speculated that Patrick
might know Alibek.
"Do I know Ken?" Patrick boomed over the telephone. "We're close
friends! My wife and I had Ken over for Christmas this year with our
family, because we think he's kind of lonely."
Then I thought I understood: Patrick must have participated in the long
government discussions with Alibek -- the debriefing -- that would have
taken place after his arrival in the United States. No one else in the
U.S. government, not a single soul, would have understood so clearly
what Alibek was talking about. The two scientists had become friends
during the process.
I DROVE down to Bill Patrick's house, in Maryland, on a misty day in
winter, when leafless white-oak trees and poplars lay in a haze across
the slopes of Catoctin Mountain. The clouds pulled apart and the sun
appeared, gleaming through cirrus like a nickel. Patrick's house is a
modern version of a Swiss chalet, with a view of Fort Detrick and
"Come in, young man," Patrick said genially. A small dog was yapping
around his feet. Patrick has a gentlemanly manner, a rather blocky
face, with hair combed over a bald head, and penetrating greenish eyes.
He glanced at the sky and seemed to sniff the air before ushering me
into the house. He is exquisitely sensitive to weather.
Alibek arrived a short while later, driving a silver BMW. After lunch,
we settled down around the kitchen table. Patrick brought out a bottle
of Glenmorangie Scotch whiskey, and we poured ourselves a round. It
seemed a very Russian thing to do. The whiskey was smoky and golden,
and it moved the talk forward.
"You know, I'm disappointed the agency didn't do better by you, Ken,"
Patrick remarked. He turned to me. "They let him sign up for all these
Alibek smiled wryly. "This was a problem." The C.I.A. had introduced
him to Visa. "I could buy things with the cards, but it didn't seem
like money. Then I found out you have to pay for it later."
Alibek speaks English with a mild Russian accent that makes his serious
manner seem almost gloomy. He often has a cigarette smoldering between
his fingertips, but he works out at a health club, and he has broad,
firm shoulders. His brown eyes seem sombre, and he wears black
wire-rimmed eyeglasses. He favors linen shirts with band collars, and
soft wool-pique jackets in dark, muted colors. He has a calm
expression, with a downward-glancing gaze, and he looks vaguely
Chinese. Ethnically, he is a Kazakh. He was born and raised in
Kazakhstan. In Russia, he was twenty-five pounds heavier, really quite
stout, but he says that he is a different person now, even physically.
I asked Alibek how he feels about living here. "I'm happy I'm not doing
the work," he said. He paused. "I'm not one hundred per cent happy. I
know how people feel about me in Russia. Some of my scientific
colleagues feel I am a betrayer." Alibek keeps his emotions well
hidden, perhaps even from himself. He does not laugh easily. When he
does laugh, he is clearly enjoying himself, but his body is slightly
rigid. He quit Biopreparat in 1991, left Russia with his family, and
abruptly ended up in the United States. According to Alibek, some of
his former colleagues at Biopreparat -- which was privatized -- sent
word through intermediaries that "if you ever come to Russia you can
expect some problems."
"I've got no desire to go to Russia," Alibek said, shrugging. He
recently separated from his wife, although they enjoy a cordial
relationship. She lives near him with their two boys, whom he sees
almost every day. His oldest child, a daughter, is studying
architecture at an Ivy League university. At times, Alibek has suffered
from loneliness and a sense of dislocation, and he has had some
concerns about how he will support his wife and children in the United
States. The Alibeks had a privileged life in Russia, with drivers to
take them everywhere and all the money they could use. The United
States government paid him consulting fees while he was briefing
scientists and officials but now he is on his own.
KEN ALIBEK was raised in Alma-Ata, then the capital of Kazakhstan.
Alma-Ata is in central Asia, not far from the Chinese border, on the
medieval silk route. His first language was Kazakh, and he learned
Russian at school. He got a medical degree at the military medical
institute at Tomsk. His special interest was infectious-disease
epidemiology. At some point while he was still in medical school, he
was chosen to work for Biopreparat. Since it was a secret system, you
didn't really apply; you were approached and brought in. He rose fast.
In 1982, at the age of thirty-one, he became the acting director of the
Omutninsk bioweapons-production plant, a major facility in the Kirov
region of Russia. Eventually, he ended up working in Biopreparat's
headquarters, a large building in Moscow -- the same building where
Biopreparat is situated today.
In early April of 1988, Ken Alibek received a telephone call in his
office in Moscow. It came from his friend and colleague Lev
Sandakhchiev, the director of a Biopreparat facility called Vector, a
huge, isolated virology-research campus in the larch forests outside
Novosibirsk, a city in western Siberia. In the late nineteen-eighties,
Vector was devoted largely to the development and production of virus
weapons. (Dr. Sandakhchiev denies this.) Dr. Sandakhchiev reported that
there had been an accident. He was reluctant to discuss it on the
"Send me the details in a cryptogram," Alibek said. Once a day for the
next fourteen days, Alibek received a new cryptogram about the victim
of the accident, Dr. Nikolai Ustinov.
Dr. Ustinov was forty-four years old. Alibek recalls him as a
fair-skinned man with light-brown hair, ethnically a Russian. He had a
wife and children. Alibek thought of him as a good guy and a talented
scientist, easy to talk with, receptive to new ideas. Ustinov had been
doing basic military research on the Marburg virus, studying its
potential as a weapon. The long-term goal was to see if it could be
loaded into special biological warheads on the MIRV missiles that were
aimed at the United States. (A MIRV has multiple warheads, which are
directed at different targets.) At the time, the Soviet biological
missile warheads were designed to be loaded with strategic/operational
smallpox virus, Black Death, and anthrax. The Marburg virus had
potential for weaponization, too. Marburg is a close cousin to the
Ebola virus, and is extremely lethal. Dr. Ustinov had been wearing a
spacesuit in a Level 4 hot lab, injecting guinea pigs with Marburg
virus. He pricked himself in the finger with a needle, and it
penetrated two layers of rubber gloves.
Nikolai Ustinov exited through an air lock and a chemical decon shower
to Level 3, and used an emergency telephone to call his supervisor. The
supervisor decided to put Ustinov into a biocontainment hospital, a
twenty-bed unit with steel air-lock doors, like the doors of a
submarine, where nurses and doctors wearing spacesuits could monitor
him. He was not allowed to speak with his wife and children. Ustinov
did not seem to be afraid of dying, but, separated from his family, he
became deeply depressed.
On about the fourth day, Ustinov developed a headache, and his eyes
turned red. Tiny hemorrhages were occurring in them. He requested a
laboratory notebook, and he began writing a diary in it, every day. He
was a scientist, and he was determined to explain how he was dying.
What does it feel like to die of Marburg virus? What are the
psychological effects? For a while, he maintained a small hope that he
wouldn't die, but when his skin developed spontaneous bruises he
understood what the future held. Dr. Sandakhchiev's cryptograms to
Alibek were dry and factual, and didn't include the human details.
Alibek would later learn that perhaps twice Ustinov had broken down and
Alibek was frantic to get help to Ustinov. He begged the Ministry of
Defense for a special immune serum, but bureaucratic delays prevented
its arrival in Siberia until it was too late. When Ustinov began to
vomit blood and pass bloody black diarrhea, the doctor gave him
transfusions, but as they put the blood into him it came out of his
mouth and rectum. Ustinov was in prostration. They debated replacing
all the blood in his body with fresh new blood -- a so-called
whole-body transfusion. They were afraid that that might trigger a
total flooding hemorrhage, which would kill him, so they didn't do it.
ALIBEK did not know exactly which strain of Marburg had infected his
colleague. It had been obtained by Soviet intelligence somewhere, but
the scientists were never told where strains came from. The Marburg
virus seems to live in an unknown animal host in East Africa. It has
been associated with Kitum Cave, near Mt. Elgon, so the Soviet strain
could have been obtained around there, but Alibek suspected that it
came from Germany. In 1967, the virus had broken out at a vaccine
factory in Marburg, a small city in central Germany, and had killed a
number of people who were working with monkeys that were being used to
produce vaccine. One of the survivors was a man named Popp, and Alibek
thought that Ustinov was probably dying of the strain that had come
from him. I have seen a photograph of a Marburg monkey worker taken
shortly before his death, in late summer, 1967. He is a stout man,
lying on a hospital bed without a shirt. His mouth is slack, his teeth
are covered with blood. He is hemorrhaging from the mouth and nose. The
blood has run down his neck and pooled in the hollow of his throat. It
looks spidery, because it's unable to clot. He also seems to be leaking
blood from his nipples.
The final pages of Dr. Nikolai Ustinov's scientific journal are smeared
with unclotted blood. His skin developed starlike hemorrhages in the
underlayers. Incredibly -- the Vector scientists had never seen this --
he sweated blood directly from the pores of his skin, and left bloody
fingerprints on the pages of his diary. He wept again before he died.
Ken Alibek is nearly hypnotic when he speaks of these things in his
flat voice. We sat around the kitchen table as if we were old friends
sharing a story. A gray light shone through the kitchen window, and I
saw the red flash of a cardinal near the Patricks' bird feeder, almost
a flicker of blood. The dog noticed a squirrel, and started barking.
"Go get him, Billy," Patrick said, rising to let the dog out.
Dr. Ustinov died on April 30, 1988. An autopsy was performed in the
spacesuit morgue of the biocontainment hospital. If this was indeed the
Popp strain of Marburg virus -- and who could say? -- it was incredibly
lethal. It produced effects in the human body that were stunning,
terrifying. Alibek says that a pathology team removed Ustinov's liver
and his spleen. They sucked a quantity of his destroyed blood out of a
leg vein using large syringes.
They froze the blood and the body parts. They kept the Ustinov strain
alive and continually replicating in the laboratories at Vector. They
named the strain Variant U, after Ustinov, and they learned how to
mass-produce it in simple bioreactors, flasks used for growing viruses.
They dried Variant U, and processed it into an inhalable dust. The
particles of Variant U were coated to protect them in the air so that
they would drift for many miles.
In late 1990, Biopreparat researchers tested airborne Variant U on
monkeys and other small animals in special explosion-test chambers at
the Stepnagorsk plant. Marburg Variant U proved to be extremely potent
in airborne form. They found that just one to five microscopic
particles of Variant U lodged in the lungs of a monkey were almost
guaranteed to make the animal crash, bleed, and die. With normal
weapons-grade anthrax, in comparison, it takes about eight thousand
spores lodged in the lungs to pretty much guarantee infection and
Alibek said that by the fall of 1991, just before Boris Yeltsin came to
power, Marburg Variant U was on the verge of becoming a
strategic/operational biological weapon, ready to be manufactured in
large quantities and loaded into warheads on MIRVs. These warheads are
sinister things. Ten separate cone-shaped warheads, each targeted on a
different location, sit atop a missile. Special cooling systems inside
each warhead keep the virus alive during the heat of reentry through
the earth's atmosphere. "If we can land a cosmonaut to earth alive, we
can do the same with a virus," Alibek explained. "We use parachutes."
The biowarheads are parachuted over a city, and at a certain altitude
they break apart. Out of each warhead bursts a spray of more than a
hundred oval bomblets the size of small cantaloupes. The cantaloupes
fly out a distance and then split in overlapping patterns, releasing a
haze of bioparticles that quickly becomes invisible.
Variant U never became part of the Soviets' strategic arsenal, which
was stocked with Black Death, Alibekov anthrax, and powdered smallpox.
(Never less than twenty tons of weapons-grade dry smallpox was
stockpiled in bunkers.) But it seems quite possible that when the
Russian biowarfare facilities fell on hard times and biologists began
leaving Russia to work in other countries, some of them carried
freeze-dried Variant U with them, ready for further experimentation.
Variant U started, perhaps, with a monkey worker named Popp, but its
end in the human species is yet to be seen.
A GENERATION ago, biological weapons were called germ-warfare weapons.
Biological weapons are very different from chemical weapons. A chemical
weapon is a poison that kills upon contact with the skin. Bioweapons
are microorganisms, bacteria or viruses, that invade the body, multiply
inside it, and destroy it. Bioweapons can be used as strategic weapons.
That is, they are incredibly powerful and dangerous. They can kill huge
numbers of people if they are used properly, and their effects are not
limited to one place or a small target. Chemical weapons, on the other
hand, can be used only tactically. It is virtually impossible to put
enough of a chemical in the air in a high enough concentration to wipe
out a large number of people over a large territory. And chemicals
aren't alive and can't spread through an infectious process.
There are two basic types of biological weapons, those that are
contagious and those that are not. Anthrax is not contagious: people
don't spread it among themselves; you can't catch anthrax from someone
who is dying of it. Smallpox is contagious. It spreads rapidly,
magnifying itself, causing mortality and chaos on a large scale.
Like any weapon, a biological weapon can be released accidentally, but
when a biological accident happens, the consequences can be
particularly insidious. I talked about this with Ken Alibek that day in
Bill Patrick's kitchen, while we drank whiskey in the soft light of a
winter afternoon. Alibek spoke about how bioweapons have a disturbing
tendency to invade nonhuman populations of living creatures -- thus
finding a new niche in the ecosystems of the earth, apart from the
human species. When he was the acting director of the biowarfare
facility at Omutninsk, his safety officers discovered that wild rodents
living in the woods outside the factory had become chronically infected
with the Schu-4 military strain of tularemia -- a bacterium that causes
a type of pneumonia -- which was being made in the plant. It was a hot,
lethal strain that came from the United States: an American biological
weapon that the Soviets had managed to obtain during the
nineteen-fifties. Now, unexpectedly, the wild rodents were spreading
Schu-4 among themselves in the forests around Omutninsk. The rodents
were not the natural host of tularemia, but it had apparently
established itself in them as new hosts. People catch tularemia easily
from rodents, and it can be fatal. Alibek mounted an investigation and
found that a pipe running through a basement area had a small leak and
was dripping a suspension of tularemia cells into the ground. The
rodents may have come in contact with the contaminated soil in that one
The staff tried to sterilize the forest of rodents near the plant. That
didn't work, because rodents are impossible to eradicate. "We could not
get rid of the rodents. We tried everything," Alibek said. "Nobody
knows today, but we can assume that the tularemia is still there in the
rodents." Nobody knows if anyone has died of the American-Russian
tularemia around the Kirov region.
"Could it have spread across Russia in rodents?" I asked.
"This I don't know."
BIOPREPARAT, or The System, was set up in 1973, just a year after the
Soviet Union signed the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, an
agreement banning the development, use, and stockpiling of biological
weapons. The United States, which had ended its offensive-bioweapons
program in 1969, also signed the treaty, as did Great Britain. (Some
hundred and forty nations have signed the convention by now.) The
Soviets continued to believe, however, that the United States had not
ended its bioweapons program but simply hidden it away, turning it into
a "black" weapons program. "The notion that the Americans had given up
their biological weapons was thought of as the great American lie," a
British intelligence officer recalls. "In fact, most of the Biopreparat
scientists had never even heard of the Biological Weapons Convention."
Biopreparat consisted of some forty research-and-production facilities.
About a dozen of them were enormous. Perhaps half of the employees
developed weapons and the other half made medicines. Biopreparat worked
both sides of the street: it cured diseases and invented new ones. An
island in the Aral Sea, curiously named Rebirth Island, was used for
open-air weapons testing. Large numbers of animals, and perhaps some
humans, died there. Biopreparat was modelled to some extent on the
Manhattan Project, [the program that led to the first atomic bomb.
Military people administered the program and scientists did the
research-and-development work.] Somehow, Biopreparat's weapons program
remained invisible to the American scientific community. There was a
commonly held belief among many American scientists, supported by the
strong, even passionate views of a handful of experts in biological
weapons, that the Soviet Union was not violating the treaty. This view
persisted, despite reports to the contrary from intelligence agencies,
which were often viewed as being driven by right-wing ideology.
One of the side effects of the closing of the American bioweapons
program was that the United States lost its technical understanding of
biological weapons. There has long been a general feeling among
American scientists -- it's hard to say just how widespread it is, but
it is definitely there -- that biological weapons don't work. They are
said to be uncontrollable, liable to infect their users, or unworkable
in any practical sense. A generation ago, leading physicists in this
country understood nuclear weapons because they had built them, and
they had observed their effects in field tests and in war. The current
generation of American molecular biologists has been spared the agony
of having created weapons of mass destruction, but, since these
biologists haven't built them, or tested them, they don't know much
about their real performance characteristics.
Sitting in Bill Patrick's kitchen, I said to Alibek, "There seems to be
a common belief among American scientists that biological weapons
aren't effective as weapons. You see these views quoted occasionally in
newspapers and magazines."
Alibek looked disturbed, then annoyed. "You test them to find out. You
learn how to make them work," he said to me. "I had a meeting yesterday
at a defense agency. They knew absolutely nothing about biological
weapons. They want to develop protection against them, but all their
expertise is in nuclear weapons. I can say I don't believe that nuclear
weapons work. Nuclear weapons destroy everything. Biological weapons
are more . . . beneficial. They don't destroy buildings, they only
destroy vital activity."
"People," he said.
THE first defector to emerge from Biopreparat was Vladimir Pasechnik, a
microbiologist, who arrived in Great Britain in 1989, just as the
Soviet Union was beginning to crumble. (He was No. 1 to Alibek's No.
2.) Pasechnik frightened British intelligence, and later the C.I.A.,
when he told them that his work as director of the Institute of
Ultrapure Biopreparations, in Leningrad, had involved
offensive-biowarfare research into Yersinia pestis, a pestilential
microbe that causes plague, or Black Death an airborne contagious
bacterial organism that wiped out a third of the population of Europe
around the year 1348. Natural plague is curable with antibiotics. After
listening to Dr. Pasechnik, the British concluded that the Soviet Union
had developed a genetically engineered strain of plague that was
resistant to antibiotics. Because the Black Death can travel through
the air in a cough from person to person, a strain of
multi-drug-resistant Black Death might be able to amplify itself
through a human population in ever-widening chains of infection,
culminating in a biological crown fire in the human species. No nuclear
weapon could do that. What was the Soviet Union doing developing
strategic contagious biological weapons? "I couldn't sleep at night,
thinking about what we were doing," Pasechnik told his British
handlers. Even though Western intelligence agencies had known that the
Russians had a bioweapons program, they had not known what was being
developed, and that the United States was a so-called deep target, far
enough away so that the Soviet Union wouldn't be contaminated.
President George Bush and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher were briefed
on Pasechnik's revelations, and they put direct personal pressure on
Mikhail Gorbachev to open up the biowarfare facilities in the U.S.S.R.
to a team of outside inspectors. Eventually, he agreed, and a joint
British-American weapons-inspection team toured four of the main
Biopreparat facilities in January, 1991. The inspectors visited Vector
(the virology complex outside Novosibirsk, where Ustinov died) and a
giant, high-security facility south of Moscow called the State Research
Center for Applied Microbiology at Obolensk, where they found fermenter
tanks -- forty of them, each two stories tall. They were maintained at
Biosafety Level 4, inside huge ring-shaped biocontainment zones, in a
building called Corpus One. The facility was dedicated to research on a
variety of bacterial microbes, especially Yersinia pestis. The Level 4
production tanks were obviously intended for making enormous quantities
of something deadly, but when the inspectors arrived the tanks were
sparkling clean and sterile.
As the British and American weapons inspectors toured the Biopreparat
facilities, they ran into the same problems that recently faced the
United Nations Special Commission inspectors in Iraq. They were met
with denials, evasions, and large rooms that had been stripped of
equipment and cleaned up. A British inspector said to me, "This was
clearly the most successful biological-weapons program on earth. These
people just sat there and lied to us, and lied, and lied."
The deal was that after the Americans and the British had peeked at
Biopreparat a team of Soviet inspectors was to visit the United States.
In December, 1991, Ken Alibek and a number of leading Biopreparat
scientists and military people visited USAMRIID, at Fort Detrick, the
Army's Dugway Proving Ground, in Utah, and the Army's old bioweapons
production facility in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, which had been abandoned
and partly dismantled in 1969. The Russians stumbled around the weeds
in Pine Bluff and saw rusting railroad tracks, buildings with their
roofs falling in, and nothing that worked. Alibek was pretty well
convinced by the time he got home that the United States did not have a
bioweapons program. But when the final report was issued by the
inspectors to the government of Boris Yeltsin it stated that they had
found plenty of evidence for a program. Alibek refused to participate
in the writing of that report, and he decided to quit Biopreparat.
"It was a confused situation," he said. "It was at the exact time when
the Soviet Union collapsed. I told all these people I didn't agree with
their politics." For a few months, he hung on in Moscow, supporting his
family by trading -- "It was easy to make money in those days, you
could trade anything" -- but he found that his telephone was tapped,
and that the K.G.B. had set up a so-called gray unit to watch him, a
surveillance team stationed near his apartment. He decided to move his
family to Alma-Ata, in Kazakhstan. What happened next Alibek refuses to
talk about. He will not tell me how he got his family to the United
States. Once here, he dropped completely out of sight. It is pretty
obvious that he was holed up with American intelligence people,
discussing his scientific and technical knowledge with them. Several
years went by, and Dr. Alibekov morphed into Ken Alibek.
THE most powerful bioweapons are dry powders formed of tiny particles
that are designed to lodge in the human lung. The particles are amber
or pink. They have a strong tendency to fly apart from one another, so
that if you throw them in the air they disperse like a crowd leaving
Yankee Stadium. As they disperse, they become invisible to the human
eye, normally within five seconds after the release. You can't see a
bioweapon, you can't smell it, you can't taste it, and you don't know
it was there until days later, when you start to cough and bleed, and
by that time you may be spreading it around. Bill Patrick holds five
patents on special processes for making biodusts that will disperse
rapidly in the air and form an invisible sea of particles. His patents
are classified. The U.S. government does not want anyone to obtain
The particles of a bioweapon are exceedingly small, about one to five
microns in diameter. You could imagine the size this way: around fifty
to a hundred bioparticles lined up in a row would span the thickness of
a human hair. The particles are light and fluffy, and don't fall to
earth. You can imagine motes of dust dancing in a shaft of sunlight.
Dust motes are mostly bits of hair and fuzz. They are much larger than
weaponized bioparticles. If a dust mote were as thick as a log, then a
weaponized bioparticle would resemble a child's marble. The tiny size
of a weaponized bioparticle allows it to be sucked into the deepest
sacs of the lung, where it sticks to the membrane, and enters the
bloodstream, and begins to replicate. A bioweapon can kill you with
just one particle in the lung. If the weapon is contagious in
human-to-human transmission, you will kill a lot of other people, too.
So much death emergent from one particle. Given the right weather
conditions, a bioweapon will drift in the air for up to a hundred
Sunlight kills a bioweapon. That is, a bioweapon biodegrades in
sunlight. It has a "half-life," like nuclear radiation. This is known
as the decay time of the bioweapon. Anthrax has a long decay time -- it
has a tough spore. Tularemia has a decay time of only a few minutes in
sunlight. Therefore, tularemia should always be released at night.
For many years during the nineteen-fifties and sixties, Bill Patrick
had his doubts that bioweapons work. Those doubts were removed
decisively during the summer of 1968, when one of the biggest of a long
series of open-air biological tests was conducted over the Pacific
Ocean downwind of Johnston Atoll, a thousand miles southwest of Hawaii.
There, in reaches of open sea, American strategic tests of bioweapons
had been conducted secretly for four years. Until very recently, these
tests remained unknown to people without security clearances.
"We tested certain real agents, and some of them were lethal," Patrick
said. The American strategic tests of bioweapons were as expensive and
elaborate as the tests of the first hydrogen bombs at Eniwetok Atoll.
They involved enough ships to have made the world's fifth-largest
independent navy. The ships were positioned around Johnston Atoll,
upwind from a number of barges loaded with hundreds of rhesus monkeys.
Late one afternoon, Bill Patrick went out to Johnston Atoll and stood
on the beach to watch a test. At sunset, just as the sun touched the
horizon, a Marine Phantom jet flew in low, heading on a straight line
parallel to the beach, and then continued over the horizon. Meanwhile,
a single pod under its wings released a weaponized powder. The powder
trailed into the air like a whiff of smoke and disappeared completely.
This was visual evidence that the particles were flying away from one
another. Patrick's patents worked.
The scientists call this a line-source laydown. The jet was
disseminating a small amount of biopowder for every mile of flight (the
exact amount is still classified). One can imagine a jet doing a
line-source laydown over Los Angeles, flying from the San Fernando
Valley to Long Beach, releasing dust from a single pod under the wing.
It would take a few minutes. The jet would appear on radar, but the
trail of bioweapon would be invisible. In Iraq, United Nations
inspectors found a videotape of an Iraqi Phantom jet doing a
line-source laydown over the desert. The technique looked precisely
like the American laydowns, even to the Iraqis' use of a Phantom jet.
The one difference was that the Iraqi Phantom had no pilot: it was a
At Johnston Atoll, the line of particles moved with the wind over the
sea, somewhat like a windshield wiper sweeping over glass. Stationed in
the path of the particles, at intervals extending many miles away, were
the barges full of monkeys, manned by nervous Navy crews wearing
biohazard spacesuits. The line of bioparticles passed over the barges
one by one. Then the monkeys were taken back to Johnston Atoll, and
over the next few days half of them died. Half of the monkeys survived,
and were fine. Patrick could see, clearly enough, that a jet that did a
laydown of a modest amount of military bioweapon over Los Angeles could
kill half the city. It would probably be more efficient at causing
human deaths than a ten-megaton hydrogen bomb.
"What was the agent you used?" I asked Patrick.
"I don't want to tell you. It may still be classified. The real reason
is that a lot of countries would like to know what we used, and not
just the Iraqis. When we saw those test results, we knew beyond a doubt
that biological weapons are strategic weapons. We were surprised. Even
we didn't think they would work that well."
"But the agent you used was curable with antibiotics, right?" I said.
"So people could be cured -- "
"Well, think about it. Let's say you hit the city of Frederick, right
here. That's a small city, with a population of about fifty thousand.
You could cause thirty thousand infections. To treat the infections,
you'd need -- let me see." He calculated quickly: "Eighty-four grams of
antibiotic per person . . . that's . . . oh, my heavens, you'd need
more than two tons of antibiotic, delivered overnight! There isn't that
much antibiotic stored anywhere in the United States. Now think about
New York City. It doesn't take a mathematician to see that if you hit
New York with a biological weapon you are gonna tie things up for a
TODAY, Biopreparat is a much smaller organization than it was during
the Soviet years, and it is ostensibly dedicated entirely to peaceful
research and production. You can buy face cream and vodka made by
Biopreparat. Vector, where Variant U was developed, is no longer part
of Biopreparat. The Vector laboratories are undergoing an extremely
painful and perhaps incomplete conversion to peaceful use, and the
Vector scientists are secretive about some of their work. Dr. Frank
Malinoski, who was a member of the British-American team that inspected
Vector in the early nineteen-nineties, told me that it is now generally
believed that the weapons program has been taken over by the Russian
Ministry of Defense. "If Biopreparat was once an egg, then the weapons
program was the yolk of the egg," he said. "They've hard-boiled the
egg, and taken out the yolk and hidden it."
If, in fact, the yolk exists, what can Western governments do about it?
After years of avoiding confrontation with the Russians over
bioweapons, American officials are still uncertain how to proceed.
Twenty million dollars or so -- no one seems sure of the amount -- has
been budgeted by a hodgepodge of agencies to offer financial support to
Russian biologists for peaceful research (so they won't go abroad). The
National Academy of Sciences, for example, spent a million and a half
dollars on research funding for the Russians this past year. But the
agencies are in a quandary, and fear the scandal that would ensue if it
turned out that their funds had been diverted for weapons research.
The yolk of the bioweapons program may now be hidden away in military
facilities run by the Russian Ministry of Defense, which are off limits
to Americans. The largest of these is a complex near Sergiyev Posad, an
old town about thirty miles northeast of Moscow. It's not clear how
much real control Boris Yeltsin has over the Russian military. If the
Ministry of Defense wanted to have a bioweapons program, could anyone
tell it to stop? One prominent American scientist said to me, "All of
our efforts in touchy-feely relationships have certainly engaged the
former Biopreparat people, but we've been turned down flat by the
military people. No doubt they're hiding something at Sergiyev Posad,
but what are they hiding? Is it a weapons program? Or is it a shadow
that doesn't mean anything, like the shadow on the shade in 'Home
Alone'? We just don't know."
Meanwhile, there is strong suspicion that at some of the more visible
laboratories weapons-related genetic engineering is being conducted.
Genetic engineering, in military terms, is the creation of genetically
altered viruses and bacteria in order to enhance their power as
weapons. This work can be done by altering an organism's DNA, which is
the ribbonlike molecule that contains the organism's genetic code and
is found in every cell and in every virus particle. Three months ago,
researchers at the Center for Applied Microbiology at Obolensk -- the
place south of Moscow where Biopreparat once developed and
mass-produced hot strains of Black Death for Soviet missiles and
weapons systems -- published a paper in the British medical journal
Vaccine describing how they'd created a genetically engineered anthrax.
The Obolensk anthrax, they reported, was resistant to the standard
Ken Alibek thinks that the Russians published information about their
research because"they are trying to get some kind of 'legalization' of
military genetic engineering," and because they are proud of their
work. The Biological Weapons Convention is vague on exactly what
constitutes research into an offensive weapon. Alibek said that the
Russian biologists are trying to push the envelope of what is
permissible. Then, "if someone other than Boris Yeltsin was in power,
they could re-create their entire biological weapons program quickly."
Western biowarfare experts don't know if the new engineered anthrax is
as deadly as normal anthrax, but it may be, and it could fall into the
wrong hands, such as Iraq or Iran. The real problem may lie in those
countries. Genetic-engineering work can be done in a small building by
a few Ph.D. researchers, using tabletop machines that are available
anywhere in the world at no great cost. In high schools in the United
States today, students are taught how to do genetic engineering. They
learn how to create new variants of (safe) bacteria which are resistant
to antibiotics. One genetic-engineering kit for high-school students
costs forty-two dollars and is sold through the mail.
A VIRUS that seems particularly amenable to engineering is smallpox.
According to Alibek and others, it is possible that smallpox has left
Russia for parts unknown, travelling in the pockets of mercenary
biologists. "Iran, Iraq, probably Libya, probably Syria, and North
Korea could have smallpox," Alibek said. He bases his list partly on
what Russian intelligence told him while he was in the program, for the
Russians were very sensitive to other countries' bioweapons programs,
and watched carefully. Bioweapons programs may exist in Israel (which
has never signed the bioweapons treaty) and Pakistan. Alibek is
convinced that India has a program. He says that when he was in
Biopreparat, Russian intelligence showed him evidence that China has a
large bioweapons program.
The deadliest natural smallpox virus is known as Variola major. Natural
smallpox was eradicated from the earth in 1977, when the last human
case of it appeared, in Somalia. Since then, the virus has lived only
in laboratories. Smallpox is an extremely lethal virus, and it is
highly contagious in the air. When a child with chicken pox appears in
a school classroom, many or most of the children in the class may go on
to catch chicken pox. Smallpox is as contagious as chicken pox. One
case of smallpox can give rise to twenty new cases. Each of those cases
can start twenty more. In 1970, when a man infected with smallpox
appeared in an emergency room in Germany, seventeen cases of smallpox
appeared in the hospital on the floors above. Ultimately, the German
government vaccinated a hundred thousand people to stop the outbreak.
Two years later in Yugoslavia, a man with a severe case of smallpox
visited several hospitals before dying in an intensive-care unit. To
stop the resulting outbreak, which forced twenty thousand people into
isolation, Yugoslav health authorities had to vaccinate virtually the
entire population of the country within three weeks. Smallpox can start
the biological equivalent of a runaway chain reaction. About a third of
the people who get a hot strain of smallpox die of it. The skin puffs
up with blisters the size of hazelnuts, especially over the face. A
severe case of smallpox can essentially burn the skin off one's body.
The smallpox vaccine wears off after ten to twenty years. None of us
are immune any longer, unless we've had a recent shot. There are
currently seven million usable doses of smallpox vaccine stored in the
United States, in one location in Pennsylvania. If an outbreak occurred
here, it might be necessary to vaccinate all two hundred and seventy
million people in the United States in a matter of weeks. There would
be no way to meet such a demand.
"Russia has researched the genetic alteration of smallpox," Alibek told
me. "In 1990 and 1991, we engineered a smallpox at Vector. It was found
that several areas of the smallpox genome" -- the DNA -- "can be used
for the introduction of some foreign genetic material. The first
development was smallpox and VEE. VEE, or Venezuelan equine
encephalitis, is a brain virus. It causes a severe headache and
near-coma, but it is generally not lethal. Alibek said that the
researchers spliced VEE into smallpox. The result was a recombinant
chimera virus. In ancient Greek myth, the chimera was a monster made
from parts of different animals. Recombination means the mixing of
genes from different organisms. "It is called smallpox-VEE chimera,"
Alibek said. It could also be called Veepox. Under a microscope, Alibek
said, the Veepox looks like smallpox, but it isn't.
According to Alibek, there was one major technical hurdle to clear in
the creation of a workable Veepox chimera, and he says that it took the
Vector researchers years to solve the problem. They solved it by
finding more than one place in the smallpox DNA where you could insert
new genes without decreasing smallpox's ability to cause disease. Many
researchers feel that the smallpox virus doesn't cause disease in
animals in any way that is useful for understanding its effects on
humans. Alibek says that the Russians tested Veepox in monkeys, but he
says that he doesn't know the results.
More recently, Alibek claims, the Vector researchers may have created a
recombinant Ebola-smallpox chimera. One could call it Ebolapox. Ebola
virus uses the molecule RNA for its genetic code, whereas smallpox uses
DNA. Alibek believes that the Russian researchers made a DNA copy of
the disease-causing parts of Ebola, then grafted them into smallpox.
Alibek said he thinks that the Ebolapox virus is stable -- that is,
that it will replicate successfully in a test tube or in animals --
which means that, once created, Ebolapox will live forever in a
laboratory, and will not uncreate itself. Thus a new form of life may
have been brought into the world.
"The Ebolapox could produce the form of smallpox called blackpox,"
Alibek says. Blackpox, sometimes known as hemorrhagic smallpox, is the
most severe type of smallpox disease. In a blackpox infection, the skin
does not develop blisters. Instead, the skin becomes dark all over.
Blood vessels leak, resulting in severe internal hemorrhaging. Blackpox
is invariably fatal. "As a weapon, the Ebolapox would give the
hemorrhages and high mortality rate of Ebola virus, which would give
you a blackpox, plus the very high contagiousness of smallpox," Alibek
Bill Patrick became exasperated. "Ken! Ken! I think you've got overkill
here. What is the point of creating an Ebola smallpox? I mean, it would
be nice to do this from a scientific point of view, sure. But with
old-fashioned natural smallpox you can bring a society to its knees.
You don't need any Ebolapox, Ken. Why, you're just gonna kill
"I suspect that this research has been done," Alibek said calmly.
Lev Sandakhchiev, the head of Vector, strongly denies this. "In our
center we developed vaccinia-virus recombinants with VEE viruses and
some others," he says. Vaccinia is a harmless virus related to
smallpox. It is used for making vaccines.
"How much do you think it would cost to create genetically engineered
smallpox?" I asked Alibek.
"This is not expensive." He paused, thinking. "A few million dollars.
This is what it cost us for making the smallpox-VEE chimera at Vector
in 1990 and 1991.
KEN ALIBEK's statements about the genetic engineering of smallpox are
disturbing. I felt a need to hear some perspective from senior
scientists who are close to the situation. Dr. Peter Jahrling is the
chief scientist at USAMRIID, and he has visited Russia four times in
recent months. ("It seems as if all I do these days is visit Russia,"
he said to me.) He knows the scientists at Vector pretty well. He has
listened to Alibek and questioned him carefully, and he doesn't believe
him about the Ebola-smallpox chimera. "His talk about chimeras of Ebola
is sheer fantasy, in my opinion,"Jahrling said. "This would be
technically formidable. We have seen zero evidence of the Vector
scientists doing that. But a smallpox chimera -- is it plausible? Yes,
it is, and I think that's scary. The truth is, I'm not so worried about
governments anymore. I think genetic engineering has been reduced to
simple enough principles so that any reasonably equipped group of
reasonably good scientists would be able to construct a credible threat
using genetic engineering. I don't think anyone could knock out New
York City with a genetically engineered bug, but someone might be able
to knock out a few people and thereby make an incredible panic."
Joshua Lederberg is a member of a working group of scientists at the
National Academy of Sciences who advise the government on biological
weapons and the potential for bioterrorism. He is a professor at
Rockefeller University, in Manhattan, and is considered to be one of
the founders of the biotechnology revolution. He received the Nobel
Prize for discovering -- in 1946, when he was a young man -- that
bacteria can swap genes with each other. It was apparent to him even
back then that people would soon be moving genes around, for evil as
well as for good.
I found Lederberg in his office, in a modest building covered with
vines, in a green island of grass and trees on Manhattan's East Side.
He is in his seventies, a man of modest size and modest girth, with a
trim white beard, glasses, intelligent hazel eyes, and careful
sentences. Lederberg knows Alibek and Pasechnik. He said to me, "They
are offering very important evidence. You have to look carefully at
what they're saying, but I offer high credibility to their remarks in
general." He seemed to be choosing his words. As far as what was going
on at Vector, he says that "with smallpox, anything could have
happened. Lev Sandakhchiev is one of the world's authorities on the
smallpox genome. But there are all kinds of reasons you'd want to
introduce modifications into smallpox." He said that you might, for
example, alter smallpox in order to make a vaccine. "You have to prove
intent to make a weapon," he said.
Researchers normally introduce new genes into the vaccinia virus.
Vaccinia doesn't cause major illness in humans, but if you're infected
with it you become immune to smallpox. When the new genes are
introduced into vaccinia, they tend to make the virus even weaker, even
less able to trigger disease. Putting new genes into smallpox
presumably might make it weaker, too. Alibek insisted that the Russians
have found places in the genome of smallpox where you can insert new
genes, yet the virus remains deadly.
I said to Lederberg, "If someone is adding genes from Ebola to smallpox
virus, and it's making the smallpox more deadly, as Alibek says is
happening in Russia, isn't that evidence of intent to make a weapon?"
"No," he said firmly. "You can't prove intent by the experiment itself.
It's not even clear to me that adding Ebola genes to smallpox would
make it more deadly. What troubles me is that this kind of work is
being done in a clandestine way. They are not telling us what is going
on. To be doing such potentially evil research without telling us what
they are doing is a provocation. To do an experiment of this kind in
the United States would be almost impossible. There would be an
extensive review, and it might well not be allowed for safety reasons.
The experiment is extremely dangerous, because things could get out of
Lederberg agreed that Russia does have a clandestine biological-weapons
program today, though it's not at all clear how much Vector and
Biopreparat have to do with it, since they are independent entities. As
for the biological missiles once aimed at the U.S., it doesn't surprise
him: "You can put anything in a ballistic missile."
Lederberg seems to be a man who has looked into the face of evil for a
long time and hasn't blinked. He is part of a group of scientists and
government officials who are trying to maintain a dialogue with Russian
biologists and bring them into the international community of science.
"Our best hope is to have a dialogue with Sandakhchiev," he said
quietly. "There is no technical solution to the problem of biological
weapons. It needs an ethical, human, and moral solution if it's going
to happen at all. Don't ask me what the odds are for an ethical
solution, but there is no other solution." He paused, considering his
words. "But would an ethical solution appeal to a sociopath?"
TERRORISM is the uncontrolled part of the equation. A while ago,
Richard Butler, who is the head of the United Nations Special
Commission weapons-inspection teams in Iraq, remarked to me, "Everyone
wonders what kinds of delivery systems Iraq may have for biological
weapons, but it seems to me that the best delivery system would be a
suitcase left in the Washington subway."
Could something like that happen? What would it be like? The truth is
that no one really knows, because lethal bioterror on a major scale has
not occurred. At one point in my talk with Ken Alibek in Bill Patrick's
kitchen that winter afternoon, we took a break, and the former master
bioweaponeers stood on the lawn outside the house, looking down on the
city of Frederick. The view reaches to the Mt. Airy Ridge, a blue line
in the distance. Clouds had covered the sun again.
Patrick was squinting east, with a professional need to understand the
nuances of wind and cloud. "The wind is ten to twelve miles an hour,
gusting a bit." He pointed to smoke coming from a building in the
valley. "See the smoke there? It's drifting up a little, but see how it
hangs? We have sort of an inversion today, not a good one. I'd say it's
a good day for anthrax or Q fever."
Alibek lit a cigarette and watched the sky. He appraises weather the
same way Patrick does.
Suddenly Patrick turned on his heel and went into his garage. He
returned in a few moments carrying a large mayonnaise jar. He unscrewed
the cap. The jar contained a fine, creamy, fluffy powder, with a
mottled pink tinge. The pink was the dried blood of chicken embryos, he
explained. "This is a simulant for VEE." It was a fake version of the
weaponized brain virus. It was sterile, and had no living organisms in
it. It was harmless.
The VEE virus can-be grown in weapons-grade concentration in live
chicken embryos. When the embryos are swimming with virus particles,
you break open the eggs (you had better be wearing a spacesuit), and
you harvest the sick embryos. You freeze-dry them and process them into
a powder using one of Patrick's secret methods.
He shook the jar under my face. The blood-tinged powder climbed the
sides of the jar. A tendril of simulated bioweapon reached for my nose.
Instinctively, I jerked my head back.
Patrick walked across the lawn and stood by an oak tree. Suddenly he
extended his arm and heaved the contents of the jar into the air. His
simulated brain-virus weapon blasted through the branches of a dogwood
tree and took off in the wind, heading straight down a meadow and
across the street, booming with celerity toward Frederick. Within
seconds, the aerosol cloud had become invisible. But the particles were
there, moving with the breeze at a steady ten to twelve miles an hour.
Alibek watched, tugging at his cigarette, nonchalant, mildly amused.
"Yeah. You won't see the cloud now."
"Some of those particles'll go eighteen to twenty miles, maybe to the
Mt. Airy Ridge," Patrick remarked. The simulated brain virus would
arrive in Mt. Airy in less than two hours. He walked back and put his
hand on Alibek's shoulder, and smiled.
"What are you thinking?" I asked Alibek.
He pursed his lips and shrugged. "This is not exciting for me."
Patrick went on, "Say you wanted to hit Frederick today, Ken, what
would you use?"
Alibek glanced at the sky, weighing the weather and his options. "I'd
use anthrax mixed with smallpox."
Note: Richard Preston was featured in the ABC "PrimeTime" television
program on Alibek and bioweapons. He is author of two best-selling
books on biological hazards, The Hot Zone, a non-fiction account of the
Ebola virus, and The Cobra Event, a novel.
See also The New York Times report on Alibek, Patrick and Soviet