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More facts about biological weapons:

 

Biological weapons are disease germs – bacteria, viruses and other micro-organisms – which are made and used to deliberately cause illness and death.   Diseases such as anthrax, glanders, plague and smallpox have been tested, weaponized, and stockpiled for use as biological weapons. 

 

Before most bacteria and viruses can be used as biological weapons, they must be weaponized – treated or altered in some way so that they will spread efficiently and infect as many people as possible.  

 

However, weaponization is a fairly recent practice, while history records many instances since ancient times when sick animals (or people) and their bodies were used by warring parties to make their enemies ill.

 

No large-scale use of biological weapons has occurred to date.  However, both the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (which no longer exists) have been accused of using biological weapons covertly.  There is some evidence to support claims that the Soviets tested several chemical and biological weapon systems in Yemen in the 1960s and in Laos in the late 1970s and early-to-mid 1980s. 

 

The United States of America, the United Kingdom of Great Britain, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and many other countries signed the Biological Weapons Convention in the early 1970s, agreeing not to use or manufacture biological weapons in the future. 

 

While the US and UK honored their obligations under this treaty (the US and UK both dismantling their biological weapons programs immediately), the USSR took advantage of the opportunity to immediately INCREASE their efforts to develop biological weapons, creating a new agency called “Biopreparat” to manufacture huge amounts of biological weapons such as anthrax and smallpox to be used on the United States in the event of a war.  These disease agents were weaponized and made ready to be placed in warheads, then delivered to the United States on intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

 

Biopreparat scientists also created new strains of bacteria (such as anthrax and plague) which were resistant or even immune to antibiotics – the idea being to prevent people exposed to these agents from getting well, even if they got medical care.  Diseases such as Ebola and Marburg viruses, which cause their victims to bleed to death in several days and kill up to 9 out of 10 people who fall ill with them, were also studied, developed, and weaponized by Biopreparat for the Soviet Union. 

 

Finally, genetic engineers at Biopreparat created whole new forms of life, new diseases that never existed before, as terror weapons.  A particularly bad example was a genetically – engineered form of the organism that causes Legionnaire’s Disease, changed by Soviet weapons scientist Sergei Popov to also contain genes for myelin, the fatty substance that coats nerve tissue.  Rabbits on whom this new biological weapon was tested first came down with Legionnaire’s Disease; the surviving rabbits died in convulsions when their own immune systems began to make antigens to destroy both Legionnaire’s Disease and their own nerve tissue.


The only reason we know about Biopreparat is that two deputy directors of Biopreparat left Russia, one going to the United States, the other to the United Kingdom after the end of Communism in Europe and Central Asia.  These men proceeded to tell the intelligence agencies of the US and UK everything they knew about the Soviet/Russian biological weapons program – which was much bigger, with several huge plants to make tons of biological weapons each. 

 

Confronted with this knowledge, the Russian government closed down most of Biopreparat, although parts of the agency were privatized in post-Communist Russia.  Reports are that some of the huge fermentation plants once used to make huge quantities of biological weapons have been converted to make antibiotics, vaccines and even vodka (under the trade name “Siberian Sunshine”).  There are some indications that the Russian government’s research into biological weapons hasn’t stopped, including recent scientific papers Russian scientists have published on genetic engineering work with the monkeypox virus, which is a close relative of smallpox and can also make humans ill.  However, the Republic of Russia is an ally of the United States and has said that it will honor the Biological Weapons Convention in the future.

 

The end of Biopreparat as a mass-producer of biological weapons has thrown about a thousand scientists who know how to make biological weapons out of work.  Some of these men, such as Dr. Sergei Popov and Dr, Ken Alibek (Dr. Alibek was the number-two man in charge of Biopreparat and the man who defected to the United States) got jobs inside the United States – Dr. Alibek works with a former US biological weapons scientist to develop defenses against biological weapons, while Dr. Popov does basic research in disease treatment and prevention here in the United States. 

 

But many former Soviet biological weapons scientists may have been hired by countries like Iraq, Libya, and North Korea, all of whom have tried in the past to develop biological and other special weapons.  The severe economic problems in Russia add to the likelihood that some of the thousand or so newly-unemployed Russian biological warfare scientists may have decided to continue working in their old field, but for new employers.  It’s not impossible (and this idea has been used in several adventure and science-fiction stories) that the Russian mafiya or other criminal syndicates may be developing and marketing biological weapons to the highest bidder. 

 

One or two of these scientists may have gone to work for Al-Qaeda or other terrorist organizations. 

 

Terrorists used letters with weaponized anthrax spores in late September and October 2001 as part of the terrorist offensive against the United States.  Specifically, several news organizations and two United States Senators’ offices received letters with anthrax in them.  Several people died from these attacks, including postal service workers who were infected when anthrax spores fell out of letters and entered the air in mail-sorting facilities, or who simply handled infected mail. 

 

The size of the anthrax particles in the letters was close to the best size possible for a biological weapon, leading investigators to believe that someone with biological weapons knowledge was involved with the terrorists.

 

Dr. Steven Hatfill, an American expert on anthrax who had worked at the Army’s biological defense laboratory in Fort Detrick, Maryland was briefly accused of being involved with the terrorists – however, an FBI investigation remarkable mainly for its lack of professionalism failed to find any evidence to support the accusation, but not before the scientist accused in the investigation lost his job and been identified by the FBI and the US Attorney General as a suspect in the anthrax attacks.

 

David Tell of The Weekly Standard wrote an article outlining the case against Hatfill, a diaphanous and stained fabric of halftruths, lies, sensationalism, and official indifference to Hatfill's civil rights. And should we be surprised that the New York Times has run some of the most scurillous material against Hatfill on its op-ed pages?

A copy of the Weekly Standard article "The Hunting of Steven J. Hatfill" on the UCLA Department of Epidemiology Web site.

 

The only other large-scale terrorist attack in the United States involving biological weapons was the use of the salmonella bacteria by the Rajneeshi cult in the state of Washington in the United States.  The salmonella organism was sprayed or droppered onto salad bars in restaurants to make large numbers of people ill in a nearby town and the surrounding county.  All this was done so that the Rajneeshis could win a local election aimed at allowing them to incorporate their cult’s farm as a city government.  The people directly responsible for this attack went to jail and the wealthy Rajneeshi cult was made to pay damages to the people who were made ill, as well as some expenses associated with the criminal and medical investigations of the incident.