4  Post-World War II Programs


            The amount of space devoted to the four programs discussed below – the US, USSR/Russia, Iraq, and South Africa – is not proportional to their respective magnitudes.  A crude and subjective estimate of their relative proportions might be:


USSR:              1,000    (1945 to 1993….?)

US                      100    (1945 to 1969/72)

Iraq                         1    (1975 to continuing)

South Africa            0.1 (1980 to 1993)


Table A summarizes the parameters of these programs, and also that of the UK.  The tables that follow list the agents that were developed and/or weaponized in the four programs.  I have omitted any separate discussion of the UK; remarks concerning its program are included in the section on the United States.



The United States


            Like much else regarding US military R&D, development did not begin until the onset of the Korean War, although in the case of BW, the first report prepared by a government advisory committee that suggested a critical policy re-evaluation was concluded on June 30, 1950.[1]  The first agent to be prepared, wheat rust, an anti-plant agent intended to be used against the USSR, became available in late 1951.  However, the US Strategic Air Command showed little interest in BW, stating its preference for nuclear weapons.  The first production facility, the X-201 plant at Pine Bluff Arsenal for the production of aerobic bacterial agents, took over four years to design and build.  Agent production, of an unconcentrated slurry of Brucella suis, began only in December 1954.  Production capacity installed at this facility eventually reached 650 tons per month, but this production capacity was never utilized.  Production facilities for spore-forming organism, toxins, viruses, ricketsiae, and anti-plant fungi were only built later. 

Table B displays the BW agents that were developed in the US program.  Despite research, no offensive capability was developed for anti-animal BW agents.  At the time that the decision was taken to end the US program in 1969, stocks of anti-personnel and anti-crop agents were the only ones that existed, and there were no munitions filled with anti-crop agents.[2]  Between 1951 and 1969, the US reportedly produced and stockpiled 36,000 kilograms of wheat stem rust, and between 1951 and 1957, an additional quantity of stem rust of rye.[3]  Only 900 kilograms of rice blast were produced and stored by 1968.  (This raises questions as to whether there was actually a sufficient quantity of the latter available to have permitted significant operational use.)

One of the more interesting points regarding both the British and the post-WWII US BW program was that they were carried out without any concrete evidence that the USSR was similarly engaged in a comparable program.  Both the US and the UK produced routine intelligence reports on scientific research and development in the USSR and WTO member states, but in the early postwar years, information dealing with BW in the USSR was repeatedly based on


…presumption and not real facts.  Fairly sound information was available as to what equipment the Russians had at the present moment, but there was little reliable intelligence about the position in the scientific and technical fields.[4]


Another British assessment in 1950 noted that ‘knowledge of BW developments in Russia was ‘extremely meagre’.”[5]

“we have no firm evidence concerning any BW organization in Russia.  There are, however, indications suggesting that a small group of scientists and technicians is carrying out BW research under the control of the Soviet Army, that their work is only on a small scale, and that the scientific and technical abilities of the group are not of a high order.”


“There is no firm indication of the use by saboteurs of BW agents by the Russians.  There are numerous reports from German and Russian sources attributing outbreaks of disease to Russian saboteur action, but in no case can these charges be regarded as having been substantiated.”[6]


As for the US, the 1950 “Stevenson Report” had briefly – and inaccurately – stated

There are indications that the Soviet Union is prepared in the BW field and will not hesitate to use BW if she deems it to her advantage to do so.

The Committee has been informed that the Soviets have been engaging in BW research at least as long as has the United States (since 1942) and that the Soviets have a research and development program on BW that has probably progressed as far, if not further, than the Anglo-American one….

It is believed that military considerations alone will determine whether or not the Soviet Union would employ BW in a future conflict.[7] 


However, the following is a much more typical example of US intelligence assessments until the early 1970s, that is, after the US offensive BW program had been terminated. 



To assess the capabilities and intentions of the USSR to employ biological warfare agents over about the next five years.



A.  We have no doubt that the USSR has seriously considered the potential of BW as a supplement to its other military capabilities.  We believe that a BW research program exists in the USSR, but we know of no facility devoted exclusively to offensive BW research and we have no evidence of field testing.  Soviet military training in BW concerns itself exclusively with defense, as do the discussions of BW in those Soviet military writings to which we have access.


B.  We believe that the Soviets have no present intention to employ BW in military operations.  They probably consider BW to be less efficient than other available weapons and uncertain in its effects.  The USSR, however, will continue to develop defensive means consistent with its estimate of the Western BW threat, and to consider the offensive potential of BW.


C.  While we have no positive indications of any Soviet effort to produce and stockpile BW weapons, BW research alone would provide the USSR with the capability for clandestine employment of BW.  Further, we believe that if they decide to do so, the Soviets could produce large quantities of a number of BW agents for military operations within a few months after such a decision.  Delivery could be accomplished by a variety of existing means.[8]  


In 1969, the following brief modification in this statement was added:


The Soviets are conducting research and development programs on the possible military applications of biological agents.  In previous years, virtually all available evidence could be related to Soviet work in epidemiology, public health, and sanitation, and defensive aspects of biological warfare (BW), but recent evidence points to the development of BW weapons. [9]


    The US and UK programs involved extensive open-air testing of both live pathogens and bacterial or fluorescent chemical simulants.




 The UK offensive program gradually dissipated, and by the late 1950s it had essentially evolved into a defensive program.  As remarkably described in the studies of Brian Balmer, the program was never able to match the military requirements set for it. 

The evolution of the US offensive BW program was even more remarkable.  In 1969, the US government was being pressured by a complex set of policy concerns, including the following:






The outcome was an historic decision by the US government in 1969 to end its BW program, to destroy its existing agent stockpiles and munitions, and to convert its BW R&D and production facilities.[13]  This was not done, as is frequently claimed, because it was decided that BW was “a poor and unreliable weapon.”  Exactly the opposite was the case.  The policy argument made was an analogue to the “nth country problem” which concerned the US government in terms of nuclear weapons in 1961-62.  An extensive BW US test series that had been carried out in the Pacific had demonstrated the quite dangerous potential of BW, and it was argued that it was in the national security interest of the United States not to continue to advance the technology and to try and halt further development while the technology was still only in the hands of a very few nations.[14]

            There was no knowledge at the time concerning Soviet BW weapons or stockpiles.  The move very likely led to the Biological Weapons Convention of 1972.  Information has recently become available about an impossibly mindless and irresponsible disinformation effort carried out by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that supplied disinformation to the USSR to the effect that the US had maintained a covert BW program beyond the November 1969 Presidential announcement of its termination.  When the counterproductive potential of this disinformation effort was realized, it was terminated in mid-1971.




            In the decades after WWII the USSR built the largest, most ambitious, and most advanced offensive BW system that the world ever saw.[15]  But it was not seen.  Contrary to the US (and UK) programs, it was a totally secret, covert program.  After 1972/75, it was also a program that was in absolute violation of the Biological Weapons Convention, a treaty for which the USSR was a co-depository.  The Soviet program was begun directly after World War II.  A new facility was built at Sverdlovsk in 1946 and a second in Kirov in 1953.  Eventually, four BW institutes were established under the Ministry of Defense.  But the program was far larger than that.  BW R&D was carried out in the institutes of a substantial number of ministries:



Altogether, these may have involved 40 to 50 different institutions, with a total working staff, at all levels of competence including support staff and technicians of all kinds, of approximately 60,000 people.  But the most incongruous aspect is that the USSR embarked on its major expansion of this system following a decision in 1972, exactly at the time that the Biological Weapons Convention came into being.  It was at that time that the Biopreparat group of institutes was decided upon, which included the construction of as many as eight “mobilization capacity” production facilities, standby BW production factories of enormous capacity, which were proof-tested for the agents that they would have produced if directed to during wartime.  Open-air testing of the pathogens produced at these sites was carried out at Vozrozhdeniye Island, in the Aral Sea. 

Tables C to F indicate the agents that were weaponized and produced by the USSR. (Table C, Soviet Biological Weapons – Developed and Approved for Use; Table D, Types of Biological Weapons; Table E, Biological Weapons Being Researched and Developed – Natural Strains; Table F, Biological Weapons Being Researched and Developed – Genetically Engineered Strains) Contrary to US (and UK) doctrine not to weaponize any contagious anti-human agent, the USSR weaponized and allegedly maintained stockpiles of both plague and smallpox.  Stockpiles in the tens of tons of three agents were allegedly maintained during peacetime.  The 1972 decision to establish the Biopreparat system also turned the direction of the Soviet BW toward genetically modified agents, as well as viral hemorrhagic pathogens.  However, the USSR’s stockpiled agents remained of the classical kinds.

During the 1980s, intelligence indicators of a substantial Soviet offensive BW program began to accumulate, leading the US government to officially allege that the USSR was in open contravention of the Biological Weapons Convention.  Finally, in 1989 and 1992, revelations by defectors from the USSR who had been in quite senior management positions in the USSR’s BW program led to a concerted effort by the US and UK to get the Soviet program closed down.[16]  Nevertheless, this entire process, from early 1990 until the September 1992 Trilateral Agreement signed by Russia, the US, and the UK, in which Russia admitted that the USSR had maintained an offensive BW program in violation of the BWC, and in which Russia also admitted to the maintenance of the BW mobilization production facilities, was carried out outside of the framework of Articles 5 and 6 of the Biological Weapons Convention.  It was always considered more likely to lead to obtaining the end of the Soviet-era program if the effort to get the USSR and then Russia to renounce it were not held in an international forum.  (See the references in footnote 17 for further detail on all these issues.)




The Iraqi BW program began in 1975 and was a part of Iraq’s effort to obtain all three weapons of mass destruction – nuclear, chemical, and biological – as well as longer range ballistic missile delivery systems.[17] 









There is little doubt that Iraq has maintained and continued its offensive BW program in the years since 1990, despite United Nations efforts to eradicate it.  (See Section 10.)


South Africa


            From the information currently available, the South African BW program was highly idiosyncratic.  The documents stating the mission for which the program was established are available, and contrary to the government’s public assertions, they explicitly state that both the chemical and biological weapon programs were from their initiation planned to be both offensive and defensive in nature.[18] 








A Word About Defense


            Stand-off capability for aerosol cloud detection was developed in the 1960s.  However, the problem of near-real time identification of airborne organisms has bedeviled investigators since the efforts in the early 1960s to develop devices based on fluorescent antibody techniques.  Attempts to perfect such detection and identification devices – “detectors” – have continued for four decades, with an enormous boost in those endeavors since 1995. 

I will use an example from the chemical weapons field, however, to indicate the lag that has frequently existed between offensive and defensive efforts.  A study prepared in 1985 for the US Department of Defense noted the following:

First, the threat, i.e. enemy capabilities and the potential for employment of chemical weapons in support of military operations.  The study group did not develop an independent intelligence analysis of the threat posed by the Soviet and other Warsaw Pact chemical warfare capabilities.  They did, however, review current intelligence information and synthesize their findings into a compilation of facts and estimates which provided a common base for the other parts of the study….We need more information to determine the scope and range of Soviet capabilities, and certainly of Soviet intentions.  Nevertheless, we know enough to be extremely concerned that the threat is serious, that potential for use is likely, and that the consequences of use will be significant.[21] 


Soviet chemical weapon stocks had been certain since 1945 and were fielded with Soviet forces.  The above was written in 1985, after 40 years, and nevertheless, six years later, an analyst testified to the US Congress that


the Army apparently spent nearly 20 year and tens of millions of dollars developing a new mask; only a few hundred of these masks, the M40, were available for use in the Gulf; development work on a remove sensing chemical alarm, the M-21, began in 1978 and has cost over $200 million; units will not start to take delivery of the new alarm until 1997 according to GAO, although a handful of prototypes were available in the Gulf;

eight years passed before the army decided to procure a nuclear, chemical, biological reconnaissance vehicle, the FOX, from the Federal Republic of Germany; as a consequence of this delay, 60 FOX reconnaissance vehicles had to be obtained from Germany for use in the Gulf.[22]


The US had also spent half a billion dollars on biological defense between FY 1984 and FY 1991.


Back to Contents                                                                                                                                  Forward to Section 5



[1]   This was the “Stevenson Report,” Chemical, Biological and Radiological Warfare.  For sources on the post-1945 US BW program, see the following:

C          Dorothy L. Miller, History of Air Force Participation in [the] Biological Warfare Program, 1944-1951, Historical Study no. 194, Wright-Patterson AFB, September 1952, Declassified.

C          Dorothy L. Miller, History of Air force Participation in the Biological Warfare Program, 1951-1954, Historical Study no. 313, Vol. 1 and 2, Wright-Patterson AFB, January 1957.

C          Alastair Hay, “A Magic Sword or A Big Itch:  An Historical Look at the United States Biological Weapon Programme,” Medicine, Conflict, and Survival, Vol. 15 (1999): 215-234.  (Based almost exclusively on declassified US documents.)

C          Alastair Hay, “Simulants, Stimulants and Diseases:  The Evolution of the United States Biological Warfare Programme, 1945-1960,” Medicine, Conflict and Survival, Vol. 15 (1999): 198-214.

C          Edward Regis, The Biology of Doom:  The History of America’s Secret Germ Warfare Project, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1999.

C          Vol. I, The Rise of CB Weapons, in the SIPRI volumes.


[2]Pentagon Press Briefing on the Biological Demilitarization Program, Office of Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), December 18, 1970, 38 pages.


[3]   Julian P. P. Robinson, “Environmental Effects of Chemical and Biological Warfare,” War and Environment, Stockholm:  Environmental Study Council, 1981, Table 7.


[4]   PRO DEFE 10/37, Minutes, DRP(49) 18th meeting, December 6, 1946.  Cited in John Agar and Brian Balmer, “British Scientists and the Cold war…,” HSPS 28:2 (1998): 232.


[5]   Brian Balmer, private communication; quoting from two separate declassified UK reports.


[6]   PRO, WO188/663, BW(49)38, BW Subcommittee, Defense Research and Development Policy, “Intelligence and Russian Development,” October 14, 1949,  Declassified.


[7]   Report of the Secretary of Defense Ad Hoc Committee on Chemical, Biological and Radiological Warfare, June 30, 1950, p. 15, Declassified.


[8]   Soviet Capabilities and Intentions with Respect to Biological Warfare, National Intelligence Estimate, No. 11-6-64, Director of Central Intelligence, August 21, 1964, Declassified.


[9]   For the post-1945 UK BW program, see the following:

C          G.B. Carter, Chemical and Biological Defence at Porton Down, 1916-2000, London:  The Stationary Office, 2000.

C          Brian Balmer, “The Drift of Biological Weapons Policy in the UK, 1945-1965,” The Journal of Strategic Studies 20:4 (December 1997):115-145.

C          Gradon Carter and Graham Pearson, “North Atlantic Chemical and Biological Research Collaboration: 1916-1995,” The Journal of Strategic Studies 19:1 (March 1996):74-103.

C          Gordon B. Carter, “The Microbiological Research Establishment and its Precursors at Porton Down: 1940-1979,” ASA Newsletter, 1991:6, Issue No. 27 (December 11, 1991), pp. 1, 8-11, and Part II (1946-1979), ASA Newsletter, 1992:1, Issue No. 28 (February 5,1992), pp. 8-10.


[10] Brian Balmer, private communication; Brian Balmer, “Using the Population Body to Protect the National Body: Germ Warfare Tests in the UK After WWII,” (Conference Paper, September 3-4,1998.


[11] SIPRI, The Problem of Chemical and Biological Warfare, Volume II, 1971, p. 215.


[12] Eileen Choffness, “The Environmental Legacy of Biological Weapons Testing,” unpublished manuscript, 2000; Eileen Choffness, “Germs on the Loose,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 57:2 (March/April 2001): 57-61.


[13]   “Statement by President Nixon on Chemical and Biological Weapons,” November 25, 1969, Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents (WCPD), December 1, 1969, pp. 1659-1660, and “News Conference Remarks by President Nixon on Chemical and Biological Weapons,” November 25, 1979, WCPD, p. 1661.  Both are also available in Documents on Disarmament, 1969, United States Arms control and Disarmament Agency, Washington, DC.


[14]   “US Policy on Chemical and Biological Warfare and Agents, Report to the National Security Council in Response to National Security Study Memorandum 59,” November 10, 1969, (Declassified.)


[15]   Ken Alibek, with Stephen Handelman, Biohazard, New York:  Random House, 1999; Ivan Domaradski, The Troublemaker [in Russian], Moscow, 1995 (published privately); Ivan Domaradski, “The History of One Risky Venture,” (Part I), [in Russian], Znaniye Sila, November 1996, pp. 60-72, and (Part II), December 1996, pp. 54-64.



C          Milton Leitenberg, “The Conversion of (Soviet) Biological Warfare Research and Development Facilities to Peaceful Uses,” in E. Geissler and J.P. Woodall, Control of Dual Threat Agents, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press for SIPRI, 1994, pp. 77-105.

C          Milton Leitenberg, “The Biological Weapons Program of the former USSR and Russia,” in Biological Weapons Arms Control, PRAC Paper #16, College Park, MD:  CISSM/University of Maryland, May 1996, pp. 3-16.

C          Milton Leitenberg, “The Possibilities and Limitations of Biological Weapons Conversion,” in E. Geissler et al, eds., Conversion of Former BTW Facilities, Amsterdam: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1998, pp. 119-133 [re USSR/Russia].


C          Petra Lilja et al., Disarmament or Retention:  Is the Soviet Biological Weapons Programme Continuing in Russia, FOA-R-99-01366-865-SE, Umea: FOA, December 1999.


[17]  See the section on Iraq in Milton Leitenberg, Biological Weapons Arms Control, PRAC Paper #16, CISSM/University of Maryland, May 1996, pp. 23-39, which contains extensive references to other studies.  The references to a series of 24 UNSCOM reports beginning in 1992, as well as the UNSCOM final report of January 1999 are in the section on UNSCOM which follows.  See also, Milton Leitenberg, “Deadly Unknowns About Iraq’s Biological Weapons Program,” Asian Perspectives 24:1 (2000): 217-223.


[18]   Chandré Gould and Peter I. Folb, “The South African Chemical and Biological Warfare Program: An Overview,” The Non-Proliferation Review 7:4 (Fall-Winter 2000): 10-23.  Before the end of 2001, UNIDIR (Geneva) is scheduled to publish a 300-page volume which will compile all available information on the South African biological and chemical weapons programs.


[19]   The destruction of project documentation and materials was placed in the hands of two or three long-time participants of the program, and there is ample evidence that this was not carried out as directed.


[20]   The South African CBM submission lists an unusually high proportion of organisms allegedly developed as simulants in comparison to pathogens.  It is possible that several of those ostensible simulants, such as various salmonella or E.coli strains, may however, have been intended for use as intestinal incapacitants (such as occurred in the Rajneesh events in the United States.


[21]   Gen. Frederick J. Kroesen et al., Chemical Warfare Study:  Summary Report, Institute for Defense Analysis Paper P-1820, Bethesda, MD: Burdeshaw Associates, Ltd., February 1985.  Underlining in the original.


[22]   Elisa D. Harris, Committee on Armed Services, Subcommittee on Readiness, US House of Representatives, April 16, 1991.