- The most senior defector from the Soviet
germ-warfare program says in a new book that Soviet officials concluded
that China had suffered a serious accident at one of its secret plants
for developing biological weapons, causing two major epidemics.
- The book also reports that Soviet researchers
tried to turn HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, into a weapon and that even
as the last Soviet president, Mikhail Gorbachev, pursued peace openings
with the West, he ordered a vast expansion of the deadly effort to turn
germs and viruses into weapons of mass destruction.
- The defector, Kanatjan Alibekov, now
known as Ken Alibek, says in the book that as deputy director of a top
branch of the Soviet program, he knew of the disaster in China because
he saw secret Soviet intelligence reports twice a month.
- Spy satellites peering down at China
found what seemed to be a large biological-weapons laboratory and plant
near a remote site for testing nuclear warheads, he wrote. Intelligence
agents then found evidence that two epidemics of hemorrhagic fever swept
the region in the late 1980s. The area had never previously known such
diseases, which cause profuse bleeding and death.
- "Our analysts," Alibek said,
"concluded that they were caused by an accident in a lab where Chinese
scientists were weaponizing viral diseases." Viral scourges that cause
intense bleeding include Marburg fever and the dreaded Ebola virus. Both
are endemic to Africa.
- China has signed a 1972 treaty banning
biological weapons. During World War II it became one of the few modern
countries to experience their horrors when Japanese attackers sowed epidemics
there, killing thousands of Chinese.
- U.S. intelligence agencies have long
suspected that China harbors a biological-weapons program. Early in 1993,
shortly after Alibek fled to the United States, the outgoing Bush administration
accused Beijing of having an active germ-warfare effort, which it has denied.
The United States unilaterally ended its own germ-weapons program in 1969.
- Last week, the Chinese Embassy in Washington
did not return several telephone calls seeking comment, and an American
expert who tracks germ intelligence said he did not know of any such epidemics
- The allegation is one of several in Alibek's
new book, "Biohazard," which was written with a journalist, Stephen
Handelman, and is being published by Random House this week. It was made
available to The New York Times in advance.
- U.S. intelligence officials who know
what Alibek said in secret debriefings after his defection in 1992 give
his new account considerable credence. They have called him highly believable
about the subjects he knows firsthand, like the Soviet biological-weapons
program from 1975 to 1992, when he served as one of Moscow's top germ warriors.
He is less reliable, they say, on political and military issues that he
- The book asserts that Gorbachev, in his
"characteristic scrawl," signed a five-year plan for 1985 to
1990 that ordered the most ambitious effort ever for the development of
deadly germs and viruses, including smallpox, as weapons. In 1980, world
health authorities declared the ancient scourge eradicated from all human
- "Gorbachev's Five-Year Plan -- and
his generous funding, which would amount to over $1 billion by the end
of the decade -- allowed us to catch up" with the American biological
weapons program, which was making great strides, Alibek writes.
- In 1988, as Gorbachev's glasnost and
perestroika reform campaigns were in full swing and the Russians and Americans
were negotiating new arms-control treaties, officials "at the highest
levels," Alibek said, ordered the arming of giant SS-18 intercontinental
ballistic missiles aimed at New York, Los Angeles, Seattle and Chicago
with anthrax and other deadly germs.
- The secret move came as Soviet leaders
publicly waged a peace offensive. In his book "Perestroika: New Thinking
for Our Country and the World" (Harper & Row, 1987), Gorbachev
argued that for decades Western experts had falsely accused Moscow of weapon
horrors and that the real engine of the arms race was the United States.
- Contacted through his office in Moscow,
Gorbachev sidestepped Alibek's charges and questions about the germ program.
His spokesman said that Gorbachev did not know Alibek, and that there was
"no sense in getting involved in an endless process of commenting."
- William C. Patrick III, a key figure
in the United States' former germ-warfare program who helped debrief Alibek
after his defection in 1992, said many of the book's assertions were consistent
with what Alibek had told U.S. officials in secret sessions at the time.
He called the information Alibek had provided "critical" to Washington's
understanding of the Soviet program.
- "He laid it all out for the first
time," Patrick said.
- Among the book's new disclosures are:
- -- Moscow mastered the art of rearranging
genes to make harmful microbes even more potent and harder to counteract.
Anthrax, a top biological warfare agent that causes high fever and death,
was genetically altered, he says, to resist five kinds of antibiotics.
- -- The top-secret program obtained a
sample of HIV, the AIDS virus, from the United States in 1985 and tried
unsuccessfully to turn the slow killer into a weapon.
- -- A senior military official told him
that the Soviet Union had waged germ warfare in Afghanistan from planes,
spraying armed rebels with glanders in an unsuccessful bid to subdue them.
Glanders is a chronic bacterial disease of horses that can be highly lethal
- -- Under a top-secret project known as
Bonfire, Soviet scientists in 1989 discovered "a new class of weapons"
-- now called bioregulators -- that could "damage the nervous system,
alter moods, trigger psychological changes and even kill." The KGB
secret police agency was particularly interested in them because they "could
not be traced by pathologists." A Soviet program called Flute worked
on germs and other agents that could be used mainly for political assassinations.
- -- While directing about half of the
Soviet biological-warfare work force, he says, he discovered that an abandoned
factory in Kazakhstan where he and his childhood friends had played after
school had once made noxious germs meant to kill enemy crops and livestock.
- In his book, Alibek, a Kazakh by birth,
says the Soviet state devoted a considerable part of its treasury to readying
deadly germs for war. At its peak in the late 1980s, he writes, the program
had 60,000 employees working at scores of sites throughout the Soviet Union.
- "The Americans had just two specialists
in anthrax," he wrote of his observations during his first tour of
U.S. sites as part of a Soviet-American inspection agreement in 1991. "We
had two thousand."
- About a dozen of the 40 institutes that
were part of Biopreparat, the civilian cover group that Alibek helped run,
were used "exclusively" for offensive agents and weapons for
the military, he wrote.
- After he fled Russia and took up residence
in the United States, Alibek says, he was approached by intermediaries
of emissaries of several countries that courted him for his deadly expertise,
including South Korea, France and Israel. The work for which he was to
be hired was defensive, the intermediaries said.
- At least 25 people who used to work in
the Soviet germ-warfare program now work in the United States in nonweapons
work, he writes. It is impossible to know how many have been recruited
overseas. But there is no doubt, he adds, "that their expertise has
been attracting bidders," including countries unfriendly to the United
- The germ warriors staying behind apparently
can be dangerous as well. He said he had recently received a disconcerting
flier from a Moscow-based company, Bioeffekt Ltd. "It offered, by
mail order, three genetically engineered strains of tularemia," Alibek
- The disease, spread by a highly infectious
germ, causes chills, fever, muscle aches, fatigue and pneumonialike symptoms,
and can be fatal. The altered bacteria, he said, reportedly have new genes
that increase the disease's virulence. The flier, Alibek said, boasted
that the germs were produced by "technology unknown outside Russia."
- Alibek has said he decided to speak out
publicly to fight the spread of biological weapons and to seek absolution
for having made them.
- He described himself as once a "staunch
patriot" who believed until his tour of U.S. biological sites while
still a Soviet official that the United States had not unilaterally renounced
offensive germ-weapons programs in 1969 as President Nixon had asserted.
He said he had decided to write about the weapons program that was for
decades one of Moscow's deepest secrets.
- Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company