Biological Weapons Said More Devastating Than Nukes


SYDNEY (AFP) - Effective germ-laden weapons have been developed and have the potential to cause far greater devastation than nuclear arms, an international bio-terrorism symposium was told Sunday.
Ken Alibek, a former Soviet bio-weapons scientist who defected to the West seven years ago, told the symposium at the world congresses on virology and bacteriology that the Soviet Union had successfully developed warheads filled with anthrax, smallpox, plague and the Ebola virus.
The experiments went on into the early 1990s despite the Soviet Union signing the international treaty banning toxin weapons in 1972, along with 140 other nations.
Alibek said that unlike the United States, whose biological weapons program ended in 1969, the Soviets had no compunction about developing weapons using bacteria or viruses for which there was no treatment or preventive vaccines.
In fact, the weapons considered to have the most potential were those using biological agents for which there was no treatment -- such as Ebola, the related Marburg virus, and smallpox.
In addition, they developed weapons based on germs which had been genetically engineered to be resistant to antibiotics and vaccines, he said.
"I'm 100 percent sure that some biological weapons have greater killing capability than nuclear weapons," he told the symposium.
Alibek, who is now chief scientist at a US company researching biological weapons protection, said he had worked out how much biological material was required to devastate a population.
He estimated three kilograms (6.6 pounds) of anthrax sprayed over one square kilometre would be enough to kill 50 percent of people in its path.
For Marburg, the formula was just one kilogram per square kilometre.
Former US presidential adviser Donald Henderson said the biological weapons threats in order of concern were smallpox, anthrax, plague, botulin toxin, haemorrhagic fever viruses and tularaemia.
Chris Davis, a former British defence intelligence and disarmament adviser, pointed out thousands of scientists dispersed with the break-up of the Soviet Union, taking their skills and possibly biological material with them.
The Soviet enterprise employed more than 60,000 people in 200 laboratories, producing multi-tonne volumes of deadly germs, he said.
In 1995, the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo created chaos on the Tokyo subway when it released the nerve gas sarin, killing 12 and injuring at least 3,000 people.
Western governments are devoting billions of dollars to bio-terrorism preparedness, the symposium heard.