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Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program

Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program PDF

Author: Ken Alibek

Publisher: Delta


Publish Date: April 11, 2000

ISBN-10: 0385334966

Pages: 336

File Type: Epub

Language: English

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Book Preface

On a bleak island in the Aral Sea, one hundred 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 seventy-five feet above the ground, a cloud the color 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.

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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 forty sites in Russia and Kazakhstan. Nearly every important government institution played a role in the Soviet biological weapons program: the Ministry of Defense, the Ministries of Agriculture and Health, the Soviet Academy of Sciences, the Communist Party Central Committee, and, of course, the KGB. The System, as Biopreparat was often called, was more successful than the Kremlin had ever dared to hope.

Over a twenty-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. We were among the 140 signatories of the convention, pledging “not to develop, produce, stockpile or otherwise acquire or retain” biological agents for offensive military purposes. At the same time, 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 seventeen 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.



Title Page




Map: Soviet Biological Warfare Installations

1 Army Headquarters
2 Rebirth Island
3 Military Medicine
4 The Enzyme Project
5 Lab Work
6 Building 107
7 Accident at Sverdlovsk
8 Progress
9 Smallpox
10 Vector
11 The Institute of Ultra-Pure Biopreparations
12 Bonfire
13 The First Main Directorate
14 Inside the Kremlin
15 Visitors
16 Three Days
17 Fort Detrick
18 Communist Prospekt
19 Debriefing
20 Buyers and Sellers
21 Biodefense

Appendix 1: Chart of Soviet Biological Warfare System

Appendix 2: Soviet Biological Warfare System


About the Authors

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