Satellite photographs of SS-11 silos in October 1988 showed refrigerator units
attached to SS-11 warheads. The conclusion was inescapable - the Soviets had
developed biological weapons
In November 1987, intelligence analysts noticed that the flight paths of some
Soviet SS-11 "SEGO" test missiles launched from Kamchatka, deviated from the usual
trajectories. These minor deviations could be signaling new warheads, new guidance
systems, or other important changes. A CIA report of the missile flight profiles
was disseminated to all relevant US intelligence agencies. The CIA was asking the
intelligence community for explanatory data or opinions on the deviations.
No one had any answers, and an especially close watch was kept on the SEGO program.
Almost a year later the intelligence community's diligence was rewarded. Satellite
photographs of SS-11 silos in October 1988 showed refrigerator units attached to SS-11
warheads in silos and in storage areas. The conclusion was inescapable - the Soviets had
developed biological weapons (BW), and had put them in warheads on missiles aimed at the
United States! The story of these discoveries by US intelligence is most important to
anyone thinking about the nature of future terrorist attacks against the United States.
Secrecy and Diplomacy Rule
The report of this deployment of BW weapons was sent to the NSC, which could not believe
the Soviets, signatories to the 1972 Biological Warfare Convention (BWC), would dare to
put BW warheads on ICBMs. The NSC felt the CIA estimate had to be wrong. Nevertheless,
President George Bush, Sr. created "Juniper," a top-secret reporting system to handle all
information on the Soviet BW program and all diplomatic exchanges on that subject. Only
26 administration officials, and 10 CIA analysts, were cleared to read what became known
as "Juniper Channel" documents, and none of the information was initially shared with
Britain or other allies. This extraordinary level of secrecy contributed to delay, and
it was September 1989 before a policy was established to deal with the Soviet BW threat.
The policy decision: the US would simply include BW issues in the arms control dialogue
with Gorbachev. No public statements were made about any of these developments.
Why was the vitally important BW issue kept so quiet? The reason was that cautious
diplomats were fearful that news of BW terror weapons would instigate "Soviet bashing"
that might harm arms control negotiations. A rift rapidly developed between intelligence
analysts and policy makers in Washington and, ultimately, in London.
Another barrier to challenging the Soviets about their BW program was the friendship
between Secretary of State James Baker and Eduard Shevardnadze, the Soviet Foreign
Minister. Baker and Shevardnadze had signed an agreement on chemical weapons at Baker's
Wyoming ranch in September 1989, and Baker was convinced that Shevardnadze was honestly
trying to support arms control. But things went wrong for those who believed Shevardnadze
and Gorbachev were telling the truth about Soviet BW activities.
"BIOPREPARAT" & Ferment
In October 1989, just one month after the Wyoming agreement, Dr.Vladimir Pasechnik, a
scientist in the Soviet BW program, defected. We now had the truth, straight from the
horse's mouth, and the truth was horrifying. Pasechnik described a huge Soviet BW program
and the disinformation designed to hide it. Under the guise of a civilian company,
"BIOPREPARAT," the Soviets employed 30,000 workers and spent hundreds of million of
dollars every year since signing the 1972 BWC - right through the Gorbachev years! The
military organizations that handled and deployed the BW weapons raised the BW personnel
level to 60,000 and annual BW expenditures to nearly $1 billion. The Soviet code word for
this enormous effort was Ferment. Juniper was now bursting with confirmed information.
According to Pasechnik, the Soviet BW arsenal included new strains of Anthrax, Plague,
Tularemia, Glanders, Brucellosis and other pathogens, more lethal than ever known before,
and resistant to all Western antibiotics and medicines. This arsenal of disease had been
weaponized in aerosol form, and was now stockpiled and deployed on ICBMs and in battlefield
bombs and rockets. Not only the SS-11, but the big SS-18 was loaded with a super strain of
Anthrax, and could easily wipe out the population of a major city.
In order to facilitate a surprise attack, cruise missiles were developed with multiple
canisters that would dispense a "cocktail" of different infectious pathogens on multiple
targets along its flight path. Only one such missile launched from a submarine, like the
SS-N-21 "SAMPSON" missile, requiring much less BW agent than an ICBM, would devastate the
highly populated US eastern seacoast before the US even knew it was attacked. These weapons
were tested, deployed, and the BW warheads were stockpiled.
Some officials cleared for Juniper doubted Pasechnik's story, and others were still
concerned it might impact adversely on arms control discussions and détente with the
progressive Soviet leader, Gorbachev. And, they asked reasonably, how could the CIA
have missed a huge program employing 60,000 people with an annual budget of $1 billion?
Of course, the answer was the clever Soviet disinformation program, which shrouded Ferment
in the cloak of a civilian company. Again, secrecy prevailed, Gorbachev and Shevardnadze
denied everything, and the public knew nothing.
In June 1990, Bush privately pressed Gorbachev to end the Soviet BW program and honor the
BWC. In reply, Gorbachev asked Bush to "trust him." A week later Thatcher bluntly warned
Gorbachev that she would put Pasechnik on TV if there was no progress in shutting down
the Soviet BW program. Gorbachev simply denied the existence of such a program. Then, the
second hammer blow fell. The CIA recruited an agent in Moscow who confirmed Pasechnik's
story, and who said that Gorbachev and Shevardnadze knew about the BW program. Gorbachev
and Baker's friend, Shevardnadze, had lied all along.
Increasingly embarrassed by the mounting intelligence, the Soviets agreed to inspections
of suspected BW facilities in the Soviet Union, and we agreed to reciprocate. In January
1991 a US/UK team inspected four Soviet facilities. Worst fears were realized as they
toured hastily disguised laboratories and factories designed for production of
bacteriological weapons. It would be months before they would know the full magnitude of
what they had seen, but they reported "disturbing evidence" of a "massive, offensive
warfare program" The Soviet military, however, advised Gorbachev that their
deception had been successful, and the disinformation story about BIOPREPARAT would
On 7 December 1991, a 13 man Soviet team arrived to conduct reciprocal inspections of
Fort Detrick, the Dugway Proving Grounds, Pine Bluff Arsenal, and the Salk Institute in
Pennsylvania. They found no evidence of a US BW program because there is no US BW
Another Russian Defector: Alibekov
The US/UK and Russian inspections were under a mutual cloak of secrecy, so what was
accomplished? The most tangible result was the subsequent defection of one of the Soviet
inspection team, the second ranking official in BIOPREPARAT itself, Dr. Kanatjan Alibekov.
With him the last, and largest, hammer blow fell against Soviet and Russian denials of the
In October 1992, Dr. Alibekov and his family arrived in Washington, spirited out of chaotic
Russia by US intelligence agents. Alibekov had experienced a crisis of conscience triggered
by seeing the absolute lack of evidence that the US was conducting a covert offensive BW
program, as he had been told by the Soviets as well as the new Russian government. His
talents had been used to create monstrous doomsday weapons. He said, "I did a lot of very
bad things. God will forgive me." One of the things he did to earn that forgiveness was to
tell intelligence officers of his new country everything he knew, and the story was
Dedicated and talented scientists like Alibekov had reached unheralded milestones. Machines
had been developed to mill new and more deadly strains of anthrax spores down to 1-5 micron
size, optimum for infection by inhalation. Only 10 pounds of these new "anthrax 836" spores
would kill half the people living in a square kilometer. Dozens of other pathogens had been
weaponized or were under intense research. Besides Anthrax, Plague, Tularemia, glanders,
and Brucellosis, the list included Smallpox, the Marburg and Ebola viruses, hemorrhagic
fevers like Machupo and Junin, Lassa fever, Yellow fever, and Japanese and Russian
encephalitis. The Russians have an astounding arsenal of fifty-two BW pathogens! Even
with that armory of death, they investigated AIDS and Legionnaire's Disease, but found
them unsuitable for warfare.
In 1992, the favorites in the Russian BW stockpile were the new Anthrax (with a 90%
mortality rate), the new Pneumonic Plague (100% lethal unless treated before symptoms
appear) and a new strain of Tularemia (300% more lethal than other strains). Research
was underway to combine diseases like Ebola or Marburg with Smallpox, creating a
"chimera virus" possessing incredible speed of infection and mortality. The release of
even one such highly infectious "doomsday" virus would cause unimaginable devastation
to the world's entire population.
Status of the Russian BW Program
We have heard little more about the Russian BW program since the Pasechnik and Alibekov
defections. Even as late as the Clinton-Yeltsin summit of 1995 the Russians balked at
further inspection of their BW facilities. We do know that in 1998 there were
10,000 scientists still in BIOPREPARAT, and of that number over 1,000 were skilled BW
researchers. How many have lost their Russian paychecks and are now working for Iran,
Iraq, or somewhere in Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network?
Why does Russia cling to its BW program? Is it a prop to some remaining claim to superpower
status? Ominously, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he had "other response options"
to counter the proposed US National Missile Defense system beside an expensive upgrade of
Russian nuclear missiles. Are Russian bacteriological warfare weapons part of those
A Terrorist Biowar Attack?
On 17 September, the AP wire carried an article examining a possible "bioterrorist
assault." In it, Dr. Margaret Hamburg, former New York health commissioner said,
"The biological threat is one we are not adequately prepared for." She went on,
"The biological threat has to be very, very high on the priority list." Referring to
the possibility of a BW terrorist attack, Donald Henderson, a biodefense expert at
Johns Hopkins University said, "I am very, very alarmed." In contrast to these very,
very alarmed experts, the AP article notes that other experts say terrorists would have
great difficulty mounting a complex feat like a BW attack. That view, however, flies in
the face of four coordinated aircraft hijackings, the destruction of the World Trade
Center and an attack on the Pentagon. In fact, it would take very little to mount a
successful BW attack on the US homeland: 90 kilos of smuggled Anthrax sprayed downwind
from a boat cruising the Hudson River (the sprayer available from a good agricultural
co-op store) would kill most of Manhattan. The terrorists won't even have to commit
suicide. The AP article did not even mention the ease with which our livestock and
agricultural industries could be attacked with hoof and mouth disease, wheat rust and
other seemingly natural disease agents.
If the debilitating secrecy about BW intelligence is lifted, and if a public debate
finally informs the American public and Congress about BW, we should keep General
Kuntsevich in mind. In 1994, Yeltsin fired Kuntsevich, then the head of the Russian
committee supposedly investigating Russian BW. His offense? Committee chairman General
Kuntsevich sold 5 tons of nerve gas to Syrian agents - the suspected final destination
was Iraq. One can only speculate about what biological warfare weapons were for sale
in 1995, and to whom. One can only worry about the sale of BW weapons by Russians and
Iraqis today - and who is buying them.
Jane's US Chemical-Biological Defense Handbook (1997)
T. Mangold & J. Goldberg, Plague Wars, St. Martins Press (1999)
K. Alibek & S. Handelman, Biohazard, Delta (1999)
J. Keith, Biowarfare in America, IllumiNet Press, (1999)
Chet Nagle is a graduate of the US Naval Academy and a former naval
aviator. He was a senior desk officer in the Department of Defense,
International Security Affairs, and is also a graduate of the Georgetown Law
Center. As a Special Advisor to the Sultanate of Oman, he was awarded the
Order of Oman. He now lives in Central Virginia with his lovely wife
Dorothy, and his Weimaraner wonder dog, Mosby.
This page may be reproduced. Use of this article should credit Chet Nagle
and note The Palmer Press.
Return to Palmer's WELCOME PAGE