Monday, July 23, 2007

The Threat, Part I: Old Soviet Programs

The size of the old Soviet biological weapons (BW) program is staggering. Dr. Amy E. Smithson explained:

In blatant violation of the international treaty outlawing biological weapons… the USSR redefined the horizons of germ warfare with a massive bioweapons effort that involved approximately 65,000 scientists and technicians at over fifty research, development, testing, and production sites. The Soviets harnessed over fifty diseases for military purposes.
Though the Russian government has professed to have ended the old Soviet BW program, a considerable offensive capability remains, in addition to the estimated 7,000 scientists who “would pose a grave proliferation risk were they to cooperate with other governments or terrorist groups.” Likewise, the chemical weapons (CW) stockpiles in Russia are extensive. Former Assistant Secretary of State Carl W. Ford testified in 2002 that
Moscow has declared the world's largest stockpile of chemical agents: 39,969 metric tons of chemical agent, mostly weaponized…. US estimates of the Russian stockpile generally are still larger.
Moreover, “this program employed thousands of scientists, engineers, and technicians throughout the former Soviet Union.” Smithson noted that “of that number, the US government conservatively estimates that 3,500 would pose a serious proliferation risk if they were to collaborate with proliferating governments or terrorists,” creating a pool of knowledge that is virtually impossible to monitor or contain. Ford went on to explain,
Given that Russia still faces serious economic and political challenges and the large number of weapons involved, the possibility that some Russians might sell chemical and biological materials, technologies and knowledge to other countries or groups continues to exist.
For the right price some of these personnel, “many of whom either are unemployed or unpaid for an extended period,” could be recruited by criminals or terrorists.

2 comments:

Aaron said...

The full extent of the biological weapons program was only understood by American officials after they were allowed to visit the Stepnogorsk Scientific Experimental and Production Base in Kazakhstan – the only Soviet germ warfare plant located outside of Russia – in 1995. This plant alone could produce enough anthrax to kill the entire American population; at least five comparable plants existed in Russia. See Judith Miller, et al., Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001), 165-7.

Aaron said...

Iran is known to have made advances at desperate scientists at the Stepnogorsk plant in Kazakhstan in the 1990s., with Iraq and North Korea engaging in similar activities. See Miller, et al., 176, 207.