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Old October 21st, 2001, 23:49
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Congressional Testimony on Bioterrorism

Reprinted from NewsMax.com

Testimony Before Congressional Hearing on Terrorism
Dr. Kenneth Alibek
Monday, Oct. 22, 2001

On Oct. 12 Dr. Kenneth Alibek testified before a special congressional hearing entitled "Combating Terrorism: Assessing the Threat of a Biological Weapons Attack."
Dr. Alibek is the former head of Russiaís biological warfare program.

Here are excerpts from Dr. Alibekís remarks before the House Subcommittee on National Security, Veterans Affairs, and International Relations, chaired by Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn.

Rep. Shays:

What I want you to know is that I believe, as many of you do, perhaps, that the Cold War is over and the world is a more dangerous place, sadly. And I also want you to know that as far as I am concerned on the hearings that I have conducted and that the work I have conducted on this task force that it is not an issue of if there will be biological or chemical attacks, it is a question of when, where and of what magnitude. And we are seeing that happen, we are seeing attacks occur, and while we canít be certain they are done by the terrorists, I suspect they are, I believe they are, and there will be many reasons why I think you will as well, but the issue is of what magnitude. . . .

So, I believe that if they have the ability to deliver chemical and biological weapons, they will do it. If they have radioactive material, they will put it in a bomb and explode it. And if they have a nuclear bomb, they will use it. Part of my reason for believing this is from the very speaker that you are going to hear from, that will be introduced.

This is a gentleman who basically has the access, was the deputy director the program within the Soviet Union, he had 30,000 employees, and he basically was in charge of their biological program, within the former Soviet Union, for offensive and defensive weapons. That was his responsibility. In our hearings, he has made it very clear to us that the Soviet Union has done, and now the Russian Federation and their various independent republics have done, a pretty pathetic job of securing these weapons of mass destruction.


Dr. Kenneth Alibek:

Thank you. I am very honored. Of course, it is very difficult to cover the entire field of biological weapons threat and biological weapons defense in such a short discussion here, but I realize that today we are not going to cover everything.

We know now, everybody knows, what is going on here in the United States, what kinds of cases we are having using some biological pathogens. And you know, when I wrote my book "Biohazard" two years ago, I believed that something would happen in the future, but I didnít believe it would happen so soon. And you know, in, I would say in the late '80s and '90s, I decided to spend more time analyzing biological weapons threat, not from the standpoint of biological weapons use in the case of war, but in so-called possible cases of biological terrorism. But even analyzing this issue, developing medical defense, I couldnít imagine the first case we were going to see would be the cases using our postal system.

But we have got what we have got today, and we know that there are several cases of anthrax, and there are some cases of exposure to anthrax. What I would like to say in this specific case is maybe a couple words about anthrax. People donít know much about anthrax.

Anthrax

Generally speaking, anthrax is an infectious disease, itís a very unusual disease, it belongs to Bacillus species. Usually it doesnít cause significant outbreaks among humans. It usually causes the infection of livestock. Some people who work with livestock, who work with contaminated livestock, they can contract this infection.

Many countries, unfortunately, in the beginning of the last century, 20th century, they started studying the probability to research and develop biological weapons based on this agent. This agent became very attractive because of some important reasons.

First, this agent is capable of forming spores; spores are a very dormant form of this agentís survival. They are very stable in aerosols, they are very stable in the environment, and they can survive in soil for years, or even for decades.

The second reason was it was infectious to humans and would cause a very significant level of pathology. Specifically, we knew if you are not able to start treatment of anthrax immediately after exposure, the probability of survival becomes lower and lower.

These factors led many countries to a conclusion to use anthrax as a possible weapon to conduct wars. And you know, when we talk about anthrax, we need to keep in mind many countries have been involved in these programs; some countries started these programs many years ago. . . .

Anthrax has two clinical manifestations: so-called inhalation anthrax, sometimes we call it systemic anthrax; second form of anthrax is called gastrointestinal form of anthrax; and third form is cutaneous anthrax, or skin form of anthrax.

Cutaneous form of anthrax is not usually ... if it is treated, the number of casualties is unbelievably low, I would say less than 1 percent.

Second form, gastrointestinal form of anthrax, usually results from consuming contaminated food, uncooked meat, something like this.

The most, I would say, threat and dangerous form is inhalational anthrax. Inhalational anthrax usually results in very high level of casualties if we are not able to detect this infection on time, and [by the time] we see first signs of this infection a probability to treat is getting very low. ...

Donít Focus on Anthrax Alone

But the general explanation of anthrax, why I decided to focus on anthrax, [is] because it has absolutely the same situation as all other infections. We know many other infections will be used for biological weapons. We know about plague, we know about others. We know about many viral infections, we discussed smallpox.

We know some governments, specifically the Soviet Union, [were] developing Ebola biological weapons, biological weapons based on Marburg virus and many others. What Iíd like to say, we shouldnít be focused just on this one infection. Now, for today, itís anthrax, we need to study anthrax, we need to find solutions. And we will be able to find the solution, but the problem is this: If we just focus our attention on two or three infections/ diseases, we are going to lose much.

What we need to do, in my opinion, our understanding of biological threat is still not complete. I would maybe say even incorrect. A number of biological agents would be used in a biological attack. Dozens of agents, several dozens of biological agents would be used in biological weapons.

When someone says it is very difficult to deploy biological weapons, again, itís a matter of comparison. When we say difficult, we need to explain what we mean by difficult. You know, was it difficult to contaminate these letters? I donít think so. Would it be difficult to contaminate a salad bar? I donít think so. When we say that itís difficult to contaminate these agents, yes, you would say without some sophisticated techniques, it is difficult.

But when we talk about primitive techniques -- and theyíre known -- itís not so difficult. Another point, now we know about several cases of anthrax, we know that CDC and FBI are studying these cases.

We talk about what is the nature of the strain, some people say it was the Ames strain, originated from one of the universities in the U.S., I believe, ... 50 years ago. But it doesnít mean this actual substance was developed here in the U.S. For the last 50 years weíve had a significant number of changes, you know, it was permitted to exchange strains. And let me say the actual origin of strain is not U.S., it could come from Malaysia or Middle East, it doesnít mean that it originated here.

Another issue, when we talk about these actual cases, whether or not these letters were prepared by professionals, we donít know and we canít answer this question until we start paying attention to completely different issues. For example, we know that anthrax has several stages of development. We need to understand, first, what is the stage of development of the spores -- for example, whether or not this powder contains vegetative cells and spore cells. Sophisticated methods would never use a combination of spore forms.

Another issue, what is the particle size of this powder? It would tell us what equipment they used, whether it was sophisticated or not.

What additives were in this powder? Because, for example, [if] it was just a simple powder, we can say it's not the work of professionals, sort of amateur, let me say, attempt; but specific additives, we know what additives they use in these powders.

We can say at least whether or not it was done by professionals, amateurs, or we can say at least how to prepare for strains coming from this region. In many things like this we need to study, many things we can do in the field of protection of our population.

When we see significant fear, people are fearful and they donít know what to do. They are scared to open the mail. Even some simple things would help people to understand that itís not something unbelievably scary. For example, if we develop some sort of instructions for people, just how to deal with these letters, what is coming to my mind right away, we decided not to open letters.

But a simple technique to use, if youíve got an iron and youíre scared, just iron these letters before opening. They become harmless. There are many many things we can do and things we need to do just to start explaining to people what can be done.

Soviets Developed Antibiotic-resistant Anthrax

The Soviet Union developed several kinds of biological weapons, some were based on natural strains, and specifically ... a hydrogen strain, it was not resistant to antibiotics. In '70s the Soviet Union started developing antibiotic-resistant biological weapons.

First attempts were not very successful in the '70s, then in the '80s there was a significant breakthrough. The Soviet Union started developing antibiotic-resistant biological weapons.

At first it was three, then five, antibiotics and then finally we developed a strain that was resistant to 10 antibiotics, including Cipro and quinolines. If Russia or some scientists in the former Soviet Union donít sell this strain to terrorist groups or some rogue countries, it would take some significant time for them to develop such antibiotic-resistant strains.

Russia Shared Knowledge With Others

Itís very difficult to say how much information was given to different countries, because nobody is advertising such information.

But when you read Russian scientific journals, thatís what scares me to death.

If you take Russian scientific journals from 1992-1998, start reading what kind of articles they published throughout this period of years. You will be able to find everything. How to create genetically engineered anthrax, antibiotic-resistant anthrax, how to develop protection of the martupa virus using simple techniques, how to manufacture the martupa virus using simple techniques, and so on and so forth. It is available, unfortunately, now.

I cannot and I donít want to accuse the country, but unfortunately one day many years ago a significant mistake was made when this information was permitted for publishing. Now what youíve got for today, this information from the Soviet Union that in the '70s and '80s spent billions of rubles or billions of dollars on, now is available for the cost of a translator. ...

I would say that the number of publications is huge and if somebody is interested in finding some new ways to develop biological weapons, this information is available, you can go to any library in the U.S., and I believe any library around the world, and get this information.

Smallpox

Itís not just vaccine; we knew for sure that North Korea was researching smallpox in the late '80s and beginning of '90s. This information was obtained while I was in the Soviet Union. It was published by the Russian Intelligence Services; in 1993 they confirmed again North Korea was involved in research of smallpox. ...

No, I would say that we shouldnít be naÔve to think that there are just two depositories in the world stockpiling smallpox. In Russia, in U.S. when this decision was made, it didnít mean that it was an obligatory requirement for all countries. ...

North Korea is a fact. You know, everything started in Iraq. We knew that Iraq in '80s and early '90s was experimenting with squamous camel pox virus. Camel pox virus is a surrogate for the smallpox virus.

These viruses are from the same family.

Iron Your Mail

If you use a regular iron, steam iron, taking the mail, using a piece of fabric with high temperature and moisture would kill anthrax spores. ...

One of the possible ways [is using a microwave], but what we need to keep in mind is there is a problem. If you use some moisture and steam and high temperature you can kill the spores easily, but if you use just high temperature, in some cases the spores could survive. The best way is to have iron, with moisture and steam and high temperature.

Smallpox Is Highly Contagious

Smallpox is highly contagious infection. We know that [with] somebody introducing smallpox we could see a very significant number of casualties, very large outbreak, an epidemic.

Plague is not so contagious as smallpox, but if a number of people infected in pneumonic form of plague is high, it would start a significant outbreak. What we need to keep in mind, in these specific cases, it would be a completely different situation. It comes back to our issue of lost knowledge. We need to retrieve this knowledge. We need to start analyzing what we knew in the '60s and '50s about these infections. It would give us a new understanding of what kind of protection we need to develop.
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