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FERMENT UNDER THE JUNIPER BUSH
Chet Nagle
J.D., Military Officer (Ret.)
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


The Refrigerators
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. SS-N-21 SAMPSON SLCM

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 biological

warfare program" The Soviet military, however, advised Gorbachev that their deception had been successful, and the disinformation story about BIOPREPARAT would stand.

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 program.

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 BW program.

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 chilling. IRAQI CHEMICAL WARHEAD

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 options?

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.

Sources

  • 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)


  • The Author
    CHET NAGLE 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.
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