ADVANCED BIOSYSTEMS, INC
ON INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to discuss the issues of biological weapons and biological terrorism with you. I am in a rather unique position to discuss these issues, since I developed biological weapons for the Soviet Union for nearly twenty years, until my defection in 1992. Since arriving to the United States, my personal and professional goal has been to make the greatest contribution I can to eliminating the danger of biological weapons.
WHAT ARE BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS?
weapons are weapons of mass destruction (or mass casualty weapons, to be
precise, since they do not damage nonliving entities) that are based on
bacteria, viruses, rickettsia, fungi, or toxins produced by these organisms.
Compared to other types of weapons (nuclear, chemical or conventional),
biological weapons are unique in their diversity.
Dozens of different agents can be used to make a biological weapon, and
each agent will produce a markedly different effect.
These differences in effect are shaped by various properties of the
particular agent, such as its contagiousness, the length of time after release
that it survives in the environment, the dose required to infect a victim, and
of course the type of disease that the agent produces.
weapons formulations are of two types: a
liquid or a dry powder. For most
agents, the liquid form is easier to produce, but the dry form stores longer and
disperses better when deployed. The
basic steps for creating a liquid biological weapon are:
Obtaining a sample of the
microorganisms to be used
the microorganisms until there is enough for a weapon
the culture to make it strong enough for a weapon
certain ingredients to stabilize the culture.
a dry weapon formulation, this liquid culture is dried out and then ground up
into microscopic particles. For
toxin weapons, the toxin must first be extracted from the source—either the
liquid bacterial culture or a plant or animal—and then concentrated.
weapons can be deployed in three ways:
Contamination of food or water
supplies, which are then ingested by the victims
of physical objects (e.g. books, mail), leading to inhalational or contact
of infected vectors, such as mosquitoes or fleas, which then bite the victims
of an aerosol cloud, which is then inhaled by the victims (or, if the targets
are plants, the cloud then settles on and infects the plants).
By far, the most efficient and
effective mode for applying biological weapons is creation of an aerosol cloud. Such a cloud is made up of microscopic particles and is
therefore invisible. It can be
produced in several ways, all of which involve either an explosion (a bomb or a
bomb within a missile) or spraying (usually involving a special nozzle on a
spray tank). The effectiveness of
the cloud is determined by numerous factors, such as the amount of agent that
survives the explosion or spraying, and the wind and weather conditions.
The primary result of an effective cloud is simultaneous infections among
all those who were exposed to a sufficiently dense portion of the cloud.
In addition, agents that can survive for a long time in the environment
will eventually settle, contaminating the ground, buildings, water and food
sources, and so on. In some cases,
these sediments can form another dangerous aerosol cloud if they are disturbed.
Following the breakup of the Soviet
Union and the end of the Cold War, the threat of proliferation of mass casualty
weapons has grown dramatically. In some ways, the danger posed by the
proliferation of biological weapons and biotechnology is greater than that of
nuclear proliferation. For example, the acquisition, manufacture, deployment,
and movement of nuclear components or weapons is much more expensive and
difficult to achieve than that of biological agents. A freeze-dried vial of
anthrax can easily be obtained and concealed, and the knowledge of how to turn
that vial of anthrax into a biological weapon is in the possession of hundreds
of scientists and technicians. The recent incidents of anthrax dissemination
through the Postal Service have only served to demonstrate the reality of this
The growing frustrations among
scientists within the former Soviet bioweapons community add to the risks of
proliferation. Despite initiatives directed by the United States government to
employ some of these scientists and to shift the focus of their research to
peaceful projects, more needs to be done. Many of these scientists are highly
trained in biotechnology and their talents could be directed toward finding new
methods of preventing or treating the diseases caused by these pathogens.
Several former bioweapons scientists have emigrated to the West and are
currently under-employed. We fear that in order to feed their families, others
may offer their technical skills on the open market, which could provide our
enemies with technical expertise or ready-made, engineered organisms. Some
Russian microbiologists are reportedly teaching students from rogue states that
are interested in this expertise. Other
prominent scientists have simply dropped out of sight.
In a report to the Senate Permanent
Subcommittee on Investigations in 1995, the U.S. Office of Technological
Assessment identified 17 nations believed to possess biological weapons. It is
estimated that at least 20 countries, including China, Iraq, North Korea, and
Israel, either have active research programs or were formerly involved in
biological weapons research and production. In many cases, these are nations
that are also engaged in chemical and nuclear programs, since they feel the
necessity to protect themselves from hostile neighbors by any means necessary.
The use of anthrax as a biological
weapon has gained a great deal of attention in the last 2 months.
Anthrax is a bacterial infection caused by Bacillus anthracis, and has long been seen as one of the most likely
candidates for weaponization, having been studied by the Soviet Union, United
States, United Kingdom, Iraq, and others.
The infection can take one of three
forms, characterized by the route of entry into the body:
cutaneous, gastrointestinal, and inhalational. Cutaneous anthrax, the form seen in newsrooms in New York
City, is characterized by a formation of a skin lesion, or eschar, at the site
of infection. This is the most
common form of infection, caused when anthrax spores gain entry to the skin via
a cut or scrape while the person is handling anthrax-contaminated material,
normally an infected animal carcass. Cutaneous
anthrax is easily treatable with antibiotics and has a low mortality rate.
Gastrointestinal anthrax is
associated with consuming food contaminated with anthrax spores.
This is the rarest form of infection, and is also treatable with
antibiotics if seen early enough.
Inhalational anthrax is the most
serious form of anthrax infection, seen in the cases in Florida and Washington
DC. The disease begins when
aerosolized anthrax spores are inhaled. Once
in the lungs, immune systems cells called macrophages, whose normal function is
to ingest, kill, and degrade invading pathogens and activate other immune system
cells. However, instead of being
killed, the spores reactivate and grow into live bacterial cells.
The macrophages transport the bacteria to the lymph nodes, where they
proliferate and spread, eventually breaking out of the lymph system into the
bloodstream. During this period of
lymphatic replication, the patient only displays non-specific symptoms much like
the flu. Once in the bloodstream,
the bacteria proliferate further and begin producing anthrax toxin.
Eventually the bacteria spread through the entire circulatory system at
high concentrations. Death from
inhalational anthrax is associated with shock and multiple organ failure.
When untreated, inhalational anthrax is almost 100% fatal, and though
antibiotics (such as ciprofloxacin) can have an effect if administered early
enough (as has been the case for the recent survivors of anthrax exposure), once
the patient shows specific symptoms of anthrax infection, it is usually too
late. Cases of inhalational
anthrax were much more numerous at the end of the 19th century, when
the disease was associated with occupational exposure to contaminated animal
hides and wool (leading to its being termed woolsorters’ disease).
Soviet biological weapons research program lasted for over fifty years until its
official dissolution by Boris Yeltsin in 1992.
In that time, the Soviet program not only caught up with the U.S. program
(which was halted in 1969), behind which it had lagged by about five years, but
it became the most sophisticated biological weapons program in the world by far.
However, there are still questions as to the true status of research at
the laboratories formerly involved in the program.
Therefore, it would not be prudent to consider that Russia presents no
military threat whatsoever. In
addition, as noted above, biological weapons technology can possibly proliferate
from Russia to other countries less friendly to the U.S.
For these reasons, it is important that we continue to collaborate with
Russia to reduce the threat of proliferation.
are three main reasons that I am concerned about possible biological weapons
research and development in Russia today. First,
many of Russia’s former biological weapons facilities have never been
subjected to international inspections. Second,
Russia continues to publicly deny the size or even existence of many aspects of
the former Soviet program. And
third, among Russian scientists’ published work, there are many studies I feel
are dual-purpose or even outright offensive biological weapons work.
gain insight into the extent and sophistication of the weapons research
performed in the Soviet Union, consider the following excerpt from an interview
published in the 3 March 1998 issue of the Russian newspaper Izvestiya with
Lieutenant General Valentin Yevstigneyev, head of the 15th
Directorate of the Russian Ministry of Defense until 1992.
At that time, this directorate was the military arm of Russia’s
biological weapons program. He was
the Deputy Director of the Ministry of Defense’s NBC Defense Directorate. The interviewer is questioning Yevstigneyev about the 1979
anthrax incident in Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg), which is now widely known to
have been the result of an accidental release of anthrax spores from a military
production facility there. At that
time, the Sverdlovsk facility was producing and stockpiling scores of tons of
anthrax biological weapon formulation annually. Yevstingeyev describes the weaponized anthrax being developed
at Sverdlovsk at that time as possibly being 100% lethal:
Interviewer: Do you claim, as before,
that in 1979 on the Sverdlovsk-19 military base, no explosions of munitions with
a “biological” filling nor massive deaths occurred?
Yevstigneyev: People who don’t know
much about bacteriology might be able to believe the newspaper stories (which,
by the way, is indeed happening now). The
professionals simply laugh.
experts found four different strains (of the virus culture—author’s note) of
anthrax. Four different bacteria!
Different, you understand? If
a bomb exploded, would there really be four strains?
How can you explain that people fell ill 50 kilometers away, but on the
military base, where this explosion supposedly occurred, no one fell ill? Next door to the base is a tank division—two fatal
cases…Believe me, if this was a single military release, two or three days and
everyone would be finished!
Peter Burgasov, former Chief Sanitary Physician of the Soviet Union and a
researcher in the biological weapons program, became the first official in the
program to admit to the development and testing of weaponized smallpox in a
November 2001 interview in the Russian newspaper “Courier.”
Burgasov describes a 1970’s test of a smallpox weapon on Vozrazhdenie
(Rebirth) Island, a biological testing site in the Aral Sea:
On Vozrazhdenie Island in the Aral Sea, the strongest recipes of smallpox
were tested. Suddenly I was
informed that there were mysterious cases of mortalities in Aralsk. A research ship of the Aral fleet came 15 km away from the
island (it was forbidden to come any closer than 40 km). The lab technician of this ship took samples of plankton
twice a day from the top deck. The
smallpox formulation – 400 g of which was exploded on the island – “got
her” and she became infected. After
returning home to Aralsk, she infected several people including children.
All of them died. I suspected the reason for this and called the Chief of
General Staff of Ministry of Defense and requested to forbid the stop of the
Alma-Ata – Moscow train in Aralsk. As
a result, the epidemic around the country was prevented.
I called Andropov, who at that time was Chief of KGB, and informed him of
the exclusive recipe of smallpox obtained on Vozrazhdenie Island.
This is a
real biological weapon! The minimum radius of contamination was 15 km.
One could imagine what would have happened if instead of one lab
technician, it was 100-200 individuals. Also,
in Manchuria in 1912, 110,000 people died of smallpox at one time.
The above can be considered evidence that a new assessment of the biological weapons and defense capabilities of the former Soviet republics is long overdue.