'Dr. Death' And His Accomplice

Wallace Investigates

Dr. Larry Ford was, by most accounts, a mild-mannered gynecologist in Irvine, California, a respected physician with an interest in AIDS research. But after he hired a hitman to try to kill his business partner, and then committed suicide once police were closing in on him, Dr. Ford's double life was revealed.

As soon as the sensational story hit the local news in Southern California, police began receiving warnings that Dr. Ford had guns and C-4 plastic explosives buried in his yard, and he kept dangerous biowarfare germs in his home.

Sure enough, police found the guns, ammunition and explosives when they dug up the yard, and they found cholera, botulinum, salmonella and typhoid in vials in his refrigerator.

Under a false floorboard in his house, police found files on 83 women, complete with photos, personal effects and medical records. Mike Wallace interviewed two of those women, Shane Gregory and Tami Tippit, who both have mysterious neurological symptoms. Police have evidence that Dr. Ford threatened to infect Ms. Gregory with something that would ruin her life after she called off her relationship with him.

In Dr. Ford's home and office, there was indication this gynecologist had some connections to both the army's biowarfare program and to the CIA. The CIA would not confirm this connection.

Irvine police, however, did confirm that they found evidence that Dr. Ford was working with the apartheid government in South Africa in the 1980s, helping them develop chemical and biological weapons to fight opponents of the white-ruled government. So Wallace traveled to South Africa to conduct the first-ever televised interview with the man who ran that apartheid-era program, Dr. Wouter Basson, whom the South African press has dubbed "Dr. Death."

Project Coast, as Dr. Basson's secret state program was called, was dismantled along with the white-ruled apartheid government. Wallace's report reveals some of the types of germs studied by Project Coast and the ways in which they could have been used against black enemies of apartheid in the 1980s.

The report also traces the mysterious connection between Dr. Basson and that California gynecologist. Dr. Basson tells Wallace that he did send money to an offshore bank account for Dr. Ford, but he insists it was payment for some AIDS work Dr. Ford was conducting. However, documents uncovered by the 60 MINUTES investigation indicate that some of the AIDS work done in South Africa in the 1980s was used as a cover for biowarfare research, under the auspices of the South African Medical Service, which oversaw Project Coast.

A phrase from one of the AIDS document reads, "The acquisition of any relevant chemical and biological weapons literature from Dr. Ford." Dr. Basson bristles when Wallace confronts him with this document. "I have no knowledge of this document...that's not my document," Basson contends, "[It] has nothing to do with Project Coast."

Among the alleged weapons hatched in the South African labs were anthrax-laced envelopes, cigarettes and chocolates, botulinum toxin in beer bottles and salmonella-laced sugar. There were more technical delivery devices, such as an altered umbrella that injected a poison called silatrane. Dr. Ford is alleged to have worked on silatrane for Dr. Basson, during research disguised as hair re-growth experimentation.

"Larry had brought two or three formulas along that he wanted made," Dr. Basson tells Wallace, but Dr. Ford never worked on silatrane. In fact, says Dr. Basson, "Let me correct you. Silatranes were not developed to kill [Nelson Mandela's African National Congress] officials, any officials or to kill anybody," he says.

But South African scientists testified that, not only was silatrane used as a poison; they even created devices like the altered umbrella to deliver the poison. And according to the FBI, an umbrella like the one created by Project Coast was found in Dr. Ford's house. Dr. Basson says that couldn't be. "I have no knowledge... in actual fact, I would say that is impossible... You have a different FBI source than I do. I spoke to them last week," he tells Wallace. "I don't know who your FBI guy was. Mine's a senior FBI guy," he boasts.

Wallace asks Dr. Basson whether he had any help from the U.S. government in his endeavors. "No...I can't answer that question," he tells Wallace. But he may be helping other governments.

Once Project Coast was dismantled, Dr. Basson made five trips to Libya. "We'd like to know more about what he was doing in Libya," says Dr. Helen Purkitt, who co-authored a U.S. Air Force Academy report on Project Coast. "The U.S. government was very concerned about [whether] he was selling secrets from Project Coast." Dr. Basson told the South African government that the CIA threatened to kill him if he continued his trips to Libya, and the South African government arranged for round-the-clock security for Dr. Basson as a result of that and other threats.

Nevertheless, according to U.S. intelligence sources who spoke with 60 MINUTES and shared classified reports with Wallace, there is concern that Dr. Basson and some former colleagues have attempted to make contact with Iran and Iraq.

After a two-year-long bench trial before an apartheid-era judge, this past summer Dr. Basson was acquitted of dozens of murder charges. Many in South Africa and in the international community have expressed outrage that yet another alleged apartheid-era "war criminal" has eluded justice and is walking free.
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