Defector: Russia Had Anthrax

The former Soviet Union had "hundreds of tons" of anthrax bacteria and lesser amounts of the smallpox and plague viruses ready to launch by missile in case of a world war in the 1980s, a high-level defector says.

Dr. Kanatjan Alibekov, who now uses the name Ken Alibek, headed a branch of the Soviet biological weapons program before he defected to the United States in 1992. He believes a vestige of the cold war-era program still exists in Russia, he said in The New York Times Wednesday.

"They continue to do research to develop new biological agents," he said. "They conduct research and explain it as being for defensive purposes."

He said hundreds of tons of anthrax bacteria and scores of tons of smallpox and plague viruses could have been mounted on intercontinental ballistic missile warheads on several days' notice in the early 1980s.

Alibek flew to the U.S. from Kazakhstan in 1992, and has written a classified study of the Soviet biological weapons program for the U.S. government.

"It scared the hell out of me when I first talked to this fellow," said Bill Patrick, who helped run the U.S. biological weapons program from 1948 to 1969 and debriefed Alibek for the CIA after he defected.

President Nixon canceled the U.S. program nearly 30 years ago, but the U.S. continues to do research on programs to defend itself against biological attack.

Alibek, 47, said the Russian military still had a working biological weapons program in 1991.

Neither the Russian government nor the Russian Embassy in Washington commented to the Times on Alibek's allegations.

U.S. officials believe he is credible about the structure of the Soviet biological weapons program from 1975 to 1991, but less reliable on the political and military issues he knew secondhand, the Times said.

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