From the UK's Independent
Russian military suspected as source of
By Anne Penketh
18 October 2001
The hunt for the source of the
weapons-grade anthrax that shut down the heart of the American political
establishment yesterday has already produced many false trails.
Much of the focus has been on Iraq, but
according to the world's leading germ warfare experts the finger of suspicion
points more directly at Russia's broken-down military industrial complex.
If the finger of suspicion falls on any
one country "the obvious one is Russia, it's a league ahead of Iraq",
said David Kelly, a senior adviser to UN weapons inspectors for Iraq.
Other countries that are thought to be
working on a biological weapons programme include Iran, North Korea, Libya,
Cuba, Egypt and Pakistan.
Unemployed top Russian scientists who
helped to run the Soviet Union's illegal and secret germ warfare programme
appear to be a likely source of the anthrax outbreak in the United States. It is
known that Osama bin Laden's al-Qa'ida network has tried to buy ingredients for
weapons of mass destruction in Russia in recent years.
The secret Russian germ warfare programme
was set up in the 1970s to allow Moscow to cheat on its treaty commitments to
destroy all its anthrax and other germ warfare stocks. Experts believe parts of
the programme are still operating today.
Moreover, the scientists who worked on the
programme until it was officially disbanded in 1992 may have sold their secrets
on the open market. Mr Kelly said that of the 30,000 people who worked for the
Soviet agency known as Biopreparat, "between three and four thousand were
professional scientists. Some would be available to go elsewhere."
The al-Qa'ida network is known to be awash
with funds, thanks to the fundraising activities of Saudi-based charities and Mr
bin Laden's personal fortune.
The full extent of Russia's cheating was
revealed to the CIA by Ken Alibek, the deputy director of Biopreparat, when he
defected in 1992.
Mr Alibek has described how the Soviet
Union churned out two tons of anthrax a day at Stepanagorsk in Kazakhstan and
said the Russians covered up an outbreak of anthrax in the Urals in 1979. He
told a United States congressional committee last week: "There are pieces
of Biopreparat that are still running, some with a very high level of
No one knows where up to 50 Russian
scientists possessing secrets on weapons-grade anthrax may be today, he added.
The strain found to have affected the 34
staff members of the US Senate yesterday was a highly potent, finely milled
Dick Spertzl, a biowarfare expert in
America, said: "Any dedicated individual can learn how to make
weapons-grade anthrax. If they had an adviser, it would be easier."
But turning the laboratory-produced liquid
into the powder spores is much harder. "The knowledge of drying is not that
common," Mr Spertzl said.
According to the experts, Iraq had
concentrated on the liquid variety of anthrax, which could infect its victims
via so-called "drop tanks" or aerosols.
Only three countries, Iraq, the United
States and Russia, have turned anthrax into a weapon. Britain announced in 1956
that it was ending its offensive anthrax programme.
The US abandoned its own programme in
1969, and says it is concentrating on biodefence. But Russian scientists at
Biopreparat continued to work clandestinely on the secret anthrax weapons.
Iraq is believed to possess at least 8.4
tons of concentrated liquid anthrax, despite telling United Nations weapons
inspectors that all stocks had been destroyed in 1991. Ewen Buchanan, the
spokesman for the UN inspectors responsible for disarming Iraq, says: "We
had concerns that Iraq was attempting to store it as a dry product, but no hard
Mr Kelly also said that "we know that
Iraq went to the British patents office in the dissemination area in the 1980s,
or wet dissemination", but he cautioned against assuming that
state-sponsored terrorism lay behind the outbreaks.
Three of the 19 hijackers of the 11
September attacks have been linked to Russia's rebellious republic of Chechnya
and the ringleader, Mohamed Atta, twice met an Iraqi intelligence agent in
Prague. American officials say, though, that such meetings did not prove Iraq's
involvement in any terrorist acts.
Mr Kelly said Iraq, which has won support
from Arab states for its efforts to break out of the 10-year-old UN sanctions,
has "too much at stake" to take part in such action.
The use of the term "high grade"
anthrax could mean that it iseither more potent or easier to disseminate.
British experts in biowarfare said the term probably means that it is of a
genetic strain that is more infectious or that its powdered spores are in a form
that is easier to inhale, so causing the most lethal form of anthrax.
The anthrax mailed to the Florida
newspaper belonged to the standard Ames strain, which is not known to be
significantly more virulent than others.
Professor Alastair Hay, a biowarfare
specialist at Leeds University, said "high grade" anthrax suggests
that it might be a strain that is more infectious, with a relatively small
number of spores capable of causing a lung infection.
It normally takes between 2,500 and 10,000
spores to be inhaled to cause pulmonary anthrax, so a strain that could result
in disease with fewer spores would be sought by biowarfare terrorists.
The other way of making anthrax more
deadly is to grind it into a fine powder that easily floats in the air.
One of the greatest concerns is that
anthrax, which is not contagious, may be genetically altered so that it is.
Send mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
with questions or comments about this web site.
©2004 The Police Policy Studies Council. All rights reserved. A Steve Casey design.