Military / CBW

Alibek, Ken with Handelman, Stephen. Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World -- Told from the Inside by the Man Who Ran It. New York: Delta (Random House), 2000. 319 pages.

In 1992, Kanatjan Alibekov defected to the U.S. and changed his name to Ken Alibek. He had been a biowarfare scientist in the Soviet Union for seventeen years. Between 1988 and 1992, he was first deputy chief of Biopreparat, the state agency whose primary function was to "develop and produce weapons made from the most dangerous viruses, toxins, and bacteria known to man." U.S. intelligence basically had no idea that this was going on until the Cold War was over. The first revelations came from Vladimir Pasechnik's defection to Britain in 1989 -- but as a civilian scientist, Pasechnik had no direct access to military secrets. Alibek, on the other hand, was an army colonel. He said the Soviets had 52 different biological agents that could be used as weapons. They even had new germs unknown in the West, all tested and battle-hardened, with delivery systems ready to go.

Soviet stockpiles have reportedly been mostly destroyed, but detailed recipes for making these weapons still exist. During the early 1990s there were secret agreements between Russia and the U.S. that allowed inspections of facilities. A few years later the truth about the Soviet program started leaking out in books and articles.


Endicott, Stephen and Hagerman, Edward. The United States and Biological Warfare: Secrets from the Early Cold War and Korea. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1999. 275 pages.

This book presents a massive amount of evidence that the U.S. used biological warfare during the Korean War. What's stunning about this is that so many Western scholars have dismissed such accusations for the last fifty years, following the lead of the U.S., which has consistently lied to Congress and the public on this issue. Despite an International Scientific Commission that interviewed hundreds of witnesses, and concluded in 1952 that the charges were credible beyond a reasonable doubt, Western scholars have always insisted that this Commission was a front for Red propaganda.

With newly declassified documents from the U.S., Canada, and Britain, and after interviewing key people in China who were on the scene in North Korea in 1950-1951, and with the cooperation of the Chinese Central Archives, the authors make a very persuasive case. They show that the U.S. program in germ warfare began when Japan's records of experimentation on prisoners were appropriated after World War II. By the time Korea started, the U.S. had an offensive capability. The effort in Korea was more experimental than strategic, but it was definitely offensive rather than defensive, and was part of an ongoing development program within the bowels of the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence establishments.


Harris, Robert and Paxman, Jeremy. A Higher Form of Killing: The Secret Story of Chemical and Biological Warfare. New York: Hill and Wang, 1982. 306 pages.

With this book, BBC reporters Robert Harris and Jeremy Paxman have put together the best history of CBW available. Other books in this field tend to concentrate exclusively on CBW research in the U.S., or the use of chemicals in Vietnam. By contrast, this book begins with the first World War and includes the Japanese in the 1930s, the Nazi research program, and British secret experiments with anthrax in the 1940s. Churchill wanted to gas Germany during the war, and Britain actually produced five million anthrax cakes at Porton Down, designed to be dropped on Germany to infect the food chain. This may have been the world's first mass-produced biological weapon. Today germ warfare is outlawed, but chemical weapons are still a matter of international concern.

Using previously-classified documents and interviews with scientists and soldiers in Britain, Europe, America and Russia, the authors continue this history with chapter titles such as "The Search for the Patriotic Germ" (post-war biological weapons research), "The Rise and Rise of Chemical Weapons" (Vietnam), and "The Tools of Spies." In the epilogue, the authors warn that genetic manipulation and synthetic viruses have opened new prospects for biological warfare, and could someday remove concepts such as ethnic and cross-generational warfare from the exclusive domain of science fiction.


Hersh, Seymour M. Against All Enemies: Gulf War Syndrome -- The War Between America's Ailing Veterans and Their Government. New York: Ballantine Publishing Group, 1998. 103 pages.

The videos from nose-cone cameras in laser-guided smart bombs were certainly impressive, and since the Pentagon censored reporting from the front, there wasn't much else to watch. The Gulf War, with 147 deaths out of 600,000 mobilized, marked the end of that accursed "Vietnam Syndrome."

Over the next seven years, the myths crumbled one by one. The smart- bomb accuracy was about the same as conventional bombing, according to the GAO, and by 1998 some 90,000 veterans complained of symptoms that became known as "Gulf War Syndrome." The Pentagon insisted for years that it was simply stress-related, but by now there are three strong candidates for other causes: 1) low-level chemical exposure (including nerve and other gases), either from destruction of Iraqi arms depots by uninformed U.S. forces, or by (unconfirmed) Iraqi use in offensive warheads or shells; 2) the 630,000 pounds of depleted uranium shells that U.S. and British forces fired at Iraqi tanks (troops were not advised about DU hazard control or decontamination); and 3) the untested PB pills (pyridostigmine bromide) that GIs were required to take (this was an antidote against soman, one of several types of nerve gas believed to be in the Iraqi arsenal, and some GIs got sick after taking them). Perhaps there's no such thing as an easy war.


Hersh, Seymour M. Chemical and Biological Warfare: America's Hidden Arsenal. Garden City NY: Anchor Books, 1969. 307 pages.

Just as he began a stint as Eugene McCarthy's press secretary, this ace investigative reporter finished his first book. It remains his most obscure work, but that's only because Seymour Hersh is by now a household word in Washington. This is an excellent and thorough treatment of what was then a $300-million-a-year CBW weapons program. Included are chapters on chemical agents, biological agents, secret bases, CBW in Vietnam, the university-corporate research nexus, and policy and disarmament issues.

Hersh has over a dozen journalism prizes and numerous scoops to his credit: the My Lai massacre (1969), the secret bombing of Cambodia (1973), CIA domestic spying (1974), Edwin Wilson and Libya (1981), and Manuel Noriega (1986). In 1972 he began working for the New York Times from Washington. On rare occasions his byline still appears on their front page or in their Sunday magazine, but these days he mostly free-lances.


Miller, Judith; Engelberg, Stephen; and Broad, William. Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War. New York: Simon & Schuster (Touchstone Edition), 2002. 407 pages.

This scare book is by New York Times reporters. Miller is a senior reporter specializing in anti-Arab stories, Engelberg covered intelligence for the NYT during Iran-contra and deftly sidestepped all the big stories, and Broad doesn't do spin because he's a science reporter. Mix and shake, and you get a book that is one-third technically interesting and two-thirds hysteria. In fact, just as this book was hitting the bestseller lists, Miller was pumping out anxious reports on Iraq's (nonexistent) weapons of mass destruction, based on rumors from Iraqi exiles and defectors.

The best part of this book is the description of Soviet biowarfare research, which was revealed gradually during the 1990s as Cold War secrecy crumbled further. There are also fascinating portraits of two cults, one in the U.S. and another in Japan, that used germ attacks. The worst part of this book is the assumption that U.S. biowarriors all have white hats, and everyone else in the world wears black hats. For example, a book of this scope should have covered the U.S. biowarfare program during the Korean War, which has been so well documented by Canadians Stephen Endicott and Edward Hagerman. But alas, you lose spin control if you practice objectivity, and New York Times reporters never lose control.


Mangold, Tom and Goldberg, Jeff. Plague Wars: The Terrifying Reality of Biological Warfare. New York: St.Martin's Press, 2000. 477 pages.

This book is probably the most comprehensive account to date of incidents, issues, and defensive efforts concerning biological warfare from the 1930s to 1999. Most of the material is from the last twenty years. Although the U.S. printing of this book got little attention, it is more interesting and more detailed than "Germs" by Judith Miller, Stephen Engelberg, and William Broad, which appeared two years later.

Two topics are covered especially well in this book. One is the nature and extent of the Soviet program in biological warfare. Ken Alibek (a.k.a. Kanatjan Alibekov), who had a high position in the Soviet program, defected in 1992. Also, there have been official inspections of biological facilities by U.S. experts since the end of the Cold War. All of this is recounted in great detail. The other topic is the secret South African program in biological warfare during the 1980s, which involved one Dr. Wouter Basson. In recent years the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has brought much of this story to light, and we now know that the apartheid security services actively used biological warfare against their enemies around the world. Other chapters concern the UNSCOM weapons inspection programs in Iraq, the situation in North Korea, and the Aum Shinrikyo cult in Japan. These chapters are much less detailed and seem somewhat alarmist.


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