Skip to comments.C.I.A. Hunts Iraq Tie to Soviet Smallpox
Posted on 03/27/2003 7:16:02 PM PST by vannrox
he C.I.A. is investigating an informant's accusation that Iraq obtained a particularly virulent strain of smallpox from a Russian scientist who worked in a smallpox lab in Moscow during Soviet times, senior American officials and foreign scientists say.
The officials said several American scientists were told in August that Iraq might have obtained the mysterious strain from Nelja N. Maltseva, a virologist who worked for more than 30 years at the Research Institute for Viral Preparations in Moscow before her death two years ago.
The information came to the American government from an informant whose identity has not been disclosed. The C.I.A. considered the information reliable enough that President Bush was briefed about its implications. The attempt to verify the information is continuing.
Dr. Maltseva is known to have visited Iraq on several occasions. Intelligence officials are trying to determine whether, as the informant told them, she traveled there as recently as 1990, officials said. The institute where she worked housed what Russia said was its entire national collection of 120 strains of smallpox, and some experts fear that she may have provided the Iraqis with a version that could be resistant to vaccines and could be more easily transmitted as a biological weapon.
The possibility that Iraq possesses this strain is one of several factors that has complicated Mr. Bush's decision, expected this week, about how many Americans should be vaccinated against smallpox, a disease that was officially eradicated in 1980.
The White House is expected to announce that despite the risk of vaccine-induced illness and death, it will authorize vaccinating those most at risk in the event of a smallpox outbreak ? 500,000 members of the military who could be assigned to the Middle East for a war with Iraq and 500,000 civilian medical workers.
More broadly, the Russian government's refusal to share smallpox and other lethal germ strains for study by the United States, or to answer questions about the fate of such strains, has reinforced American concerns about whether Russia has abandoned what was once the world's most ambitious covert germ weapons program.
A year ago in Crawford, Tex., Mr. Bush and Russia's president, Vladimir V. Putin, issued a statement vowing to enhance cooperation against biological terrorism. But after an initial round of visits and a flurry of optimism, American officials said Russia had resisted repeated American requests for information about the Russian smallpox strains and help in the investigation into the anthrax attacks in the United States in October 2001.
"There is information we would like the Russians to share as a partner of ours," William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said in an interview. "Because if there are strains that present a unique problem with respect to vaccines and treatment, it is in the interests of all freedom-loving people to have as much information as possible."
Cooperation on biological terrorism was not discussed at the meeting last week between Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin in St. Petersburg, American officials said, mainly because administration officials are not certain just how willing Mr. Putin is to enhance cooperation in this delicate area. They wonder if he is not doing more because of the military's hostility to sharing the information.
"The record so far suggests he is either unable or unwilling to push the military on this front," an administration official said. "We think it may be a little of both, but we're not really sure at this point or what to do about it."
Administration officials said the C.I.A. was still trying to determine whether Dr. Maltseva traveled to Iraq in 1990, and whether she shared a sample of what might be a particularly virulent smallpox strain with Iraqi scientists.
World Health Organization records in Geneva and interviews with scientists who worked with her confirmed that Dr. Maltseva visited Iraq at least twice, in 1972 and 1973, as part of the global campaign to eradicate smallpox.
Formerly secret Soviet records also show that in 1971, she was part of a covert mission to Aralsk, a port city in what was then the Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, north of the Aral Sea, to help stop an epidemic of smallpox. The Soviet Union did not report that outbreak to world health officials, as required by regulations.
Last June, experts from the Monterey Institute of International Studies, drawing on those Kazakh records and interviews with survivors, published a report saying the epidemic was a result of open-air tests of a particularly virulent smallpox strain on Vozrozhdeniye Island in the Aral Sea.
The island, known as Renaissance Island in English, is between Kazakhstan and another Central Asian country, Uzbekistan. The United States recently spent $6 million to help both countries, which are now independent, to decontaminate anthrax that the Soviet military buried in pits on the island.
Alan P. Zelicoff, co-author of the Monterey report and a scientist at Sandia National Laboratories, said the Aralsk outbreak was a watershed because it demonstrated that the smallpox virus was more easily spread than previously thought and that there may be a vaccine-resistant strain.
The organism can indeed be made to travel long distances, city-size perhaps, and there may be a vaccine-resistant strain or one that is more communicable than garden-variety smallpox, he said in an interview.
The Monterey report led American officials to question whether America's smallpox vaccine would be effective against the Aralsk strain or whether new vaccines or drugs might be needed if the strain was used in an attack. American concern increased in recent months after the White House was told that Dr. Maltseva might have shared the Aralsk strain with Iraqi scientists in 1990, administration officials said.
David Kelly, a former United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq, said there was a "resurgence of interest" in smallpox vaccine in Iraq in 1990, "but we have never known why."
A spokesman for the Russian Research Institute for Viral Preparations declined to comment on Dr. Maltseva or her work. Her daughter, a physician in Moscow, said she had no recollection of her mother's ever going to Iraq.
Svetlana Sergeyevna Marennikova, Dr. Maltseva's deputy in the Moscow laboratory, said in an interview that Dr. Maltseva had never gone to Iraq as far as she knew.
"She worked, and then when she got sick, she took a sick leave when she was no longer able to work," she said. "I don't know about Iraq. I didn't know about a trip there. I don't think she was there. I would know."
Donald A. Henderson, a senior adviser to the Department of Health and Human Services and a leader of the smallpox eradication campaign, described Dr. Maltseva as an "outgoing, hard-working scientist." He said she had traveled widely for the W.H.O in the eradication campaign.
While the organization's records show that she visited Iran, Iraq and Syria, Dr. Henderson recalled that he had also sent her to Pakistan to follow up on an outbreak there. "She clearly enjoyed the international travel circuit," he said.
Scientists and American officials have speculated that Iraq may have tried to buy the Aralsk strain from Dr. Maltseva, whose institute, like so many other scientific labs in Russia, has fallen on hard times since the Soviet Union's collapse.
Dr. Henderson said he was deeply disappointed that Dr. Maltseva and other Russian scientists with whom he had worked closely had helped cover up outbreaks of infectious diseases that should have been reported to the W.H.O.
The Russian government has never publicly acknowledged that Aralsk outbreak or that it tested smallpox in the open air. At a World Health Organization meeting in Lyon, France, last August, officials said, Russian virologists argued privately, in response to the Monterey report and news accounts, that there was no reason to believe that the Aralsk incident was anything other than a natural outbreak and that the strain was not particularly virulent ? assertions with which some American experts concur.
American officials familiar with discussions about Aralsk said Russians scientists had confirmed that Dr. Maltseva took tissue samples from Aralsk back to her Moscow lab in 1971. But Russians have insisted that the material was destroyed when Russia quietly moved its smallpox strain collection from the Moscow lab to Vector, where the collection is now stored.
Many American scientists and officials, even those who doubt that the Aralsk strain is unusually potent, are deeply skeptical that the strain was destroyed. Former Soviet germ warfare scientists have privately told American officials that the military took control of these strains when the collection was moved.
American health and defense officials have tried without success to press Russia for help in securing a sample of the strain from the Aralsk smallpox outbreak.
The American officials have also been unable to obtain information that they believe could help federal investigators with their stalled inquiry into the anthrax attacks of October 2001, in which 5 people died and at least 17 were infected.
"What I just heard from a highly placed source here is that they've discovered, they've captured chemical warheads, they're Russian, they have Russian writing all over them and they are chemical warheads."
In late March, the Moscow newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported that Russian intelligence agents were holding daily meetings with Iraqis, possibly with the intent of gaining control of the Mukhabarat archives if Saddam Hussein's regime falls.
The newspaper said the archives could be highly valuable to Russia in three major areas: in protecting Russian interests in a postwar Iraq; in determining the extent to which Hussein's regime may have financed Russian political parties and movements; and in providing Russia access to intelligence that Iraqi agents conducted in other countries.
The close relationship between the two countries is largely economic. Iraq and Russia are major trading partners and Russia has billions of dollars tied up in deals with Iraqi businesses -- including debts Iraq has owed to the Russians since the Soviet era.
In addition, the two countries were parties to an agreement that gave Russia a stake in developing new Iraqi oil fields as well as electricity generation facilities and other types of crucial infrastructure.
Finally, the Iraqis were a major consumer of Russian military equipment and material before 1991. Most of Iraq's weapons systems are Russian, from its tanks and missiles to the assault rifles issued to its infantry troops.
Marashi, who has written a detailed study of the Iraqi security apparatus for the Monterey Institute, said Russia's training of Iraqi intelligence agents started in 1973.
"That was when the first exchanges were made. The level of cooperation increased in 1981 after the Israelis bombed the Iraqi nuclear facility," Marashi said, referring to Osirak, a French-built atomic power plant outside Baghdad.
1. Nov. 12, 2001:
Benito Que was said to have been beaten in a Miami parking lot and died later.
2. Nov. 16, 2001:
Don C. Wiley went missing. Was found Dec. 20. Investigators said he got dizzy on a Memphis bridge and fell to his death in a river.
3. Nov. 21, 2001:
Vladimir Pasechnik, former high-level Russian microbiologist who defected in 1989 to the U.K. apparently died from a stroke.
4. Dec. 10, 2001:
Robert M. Schwartz was stabbed to death in Leesberg, Va. Three Satanists have been arrested.
5. Dec. 14, 2001:
Nguyen Van Set died in an airlock filled with nitrogen in his lab in Geelong, Australia.
6. Feb. 9, 2002:
Victor Korshunov had his head bashed in near his home in Moscow.
7. Feb. 14, 2002:
Ian Langford was found partially naked and wedged under a chair in Norwich, England.
8. 9. Feb. 28, 2002:
San Francisco resident Tanya Holzmayer was killed by a microbiologist colleague, Guyang Huang, who shot her as she took delivery of a pizza and then apparently shot himself.
10. March 24, 2002:
David Wynn-Williams died in a road accident near his home in Cambridge, England.
11. March 25, 2002:
Steven Mostow of the Colorado Health Sciences Centre, killed in a plane he was flying near Denver.
12. David Kelly, the British microbiologist who was found dead this morning,
13. Perhaps #13 will die by lethal injection.
Scientists' Deaths are Under the Microscope compiled by Alanna Mitchell, May 4, 2002
MARCH 20, 2003 : (RUSSIAN PRESIDENT PUTIN DENOUNCES US-LED "AGGRESSION" AGAINST IRAQ) On March 20, Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced the U.S.-led "aggression" against Iraq as "unwarranted" and "unjustifiable." - "Russian Collusion in Iraq," By Ion Mihai Pacepa, Washington Times , August 22, 2003
MARCH 23, 2003 : (RUSSIAN NEWSPAPER PRAVDA SOURCE CLAIMS THE US WOULD FAKE THE FINDING OF IRAQI WMD) Three days later [after Russian President Putin denounced US-led "aggression" against Iraq], Pravda said that an anonymous Russian "military expert" was predicting that the United States would fabricate finding Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov immediately started plying the idea abroad, and it has taken hold around the world ever since - "Russian Collusion in Iraq," By Ion Mihai Pacepa, Washington Times , August 22, 2003
MARCH 26, 2003 : (IRAQ : RUSSIAN CHEMICAL WARHEADS FOUND WITH LAUNCHER- CHEMICAL WEAPONS SPECIALIST CAPTURED) On March 26th, US troops south of Baghdad claimed to have found Russian chemical warheads with a launcher and a chemical weapons specialist. A reporter with the Third Infantry Division confirmed the incident.-- WorldNetDaily.com, March 26, 2003.
MARCH 26, 2003 : (RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER INSISTS HIS COUNTRY'S FIRMS HAVE NOT VIOLATED SANCTIONS ON IRAQ) Russia's foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, was decidely testy yesterday, saying that his country's firms have not violated sanctions on Iraq. "There is no evidence confirming violations by Russian firms of existing sanctions," he stated, before aiming sharp words at the U.S. He has reason to be so defensive. Russia's involvement in the arming of Iraq goes beyond supplying radar-jamming systems and the personnel to maintain them. Moscow has supported Iraq's development of weapons of mass destruction and connived with Baghdad in hiding its role as a main supplier of the materials and know-how to weaponize anthrax, botulism and smallpox. - "The Russian strain," By Robert Goldberg The Wall Street Journal, 27 March 2003 via the Center for Security Policy, http://www.centerforsecuritypolicy.org/index.jsp?section=static&page=wsj327.
APRIL 2003 : (RUSSIA IS IRAQ'S MAIN SUPPLIER OF MATERIALS ; ALSO PROVIDES KNOW-HOW ON BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS; RUSSIA GAVE IRAQ FERMENTATION EQUIPMENT IN THE PAST) The Wall Street Journals Robert Goldberg has cited a bioterrorism expert explaining that Russia was Iraqs main supplier of materials and technical know-how to make anthrax, smallpox and botulism. Former UN inspector Richard Spertzel reports that Russia gave Iraq some fermentation equipment to produce biological weapons, and that Russians on his UN inspection team were paranoid about his efforts to uncover Iraqs smallpox production. Goldberg explained that no nation has helped Iraq rebuild WMDs more than Russia.-- Newsmax.com, April 4, 2003.
APRIL 2003 : (IRAQ : REPORT SAYS THAT RUSSIAN MILITARY ADVISORS WERE IN IRAQ) It is also well-known that retired Russian generals have gone to Iraq to help guide Saddam Hussein on defending the country from invasion. They were there right up to the days before war. A Russian diplomat in New York in early April 2003 confirmed that several Russian military advisors were in Iraq, and that Putin knew about it. The Russian advisors were teaching the Iraqis how to fight urban warfare, and not to engage on open fields. -- Newsmax.com, April 3, 2003.
60 Minutes' Mike Wallace reported this evening that Saddam Hussein acquired some of the smallpox virus from a laboratory in Russia.
"Five Russian defectors have reported on a massive 25-year effort to create qualitatively new families of CBW agents using the most advanced biotechnology. Arms control treaties were disregarded by both the Soviets and the Russians. The Soviet program, code named Biopreperat, is roughly 10 times larger than U.S. CBW intelligence specialists had estimated prior to the Soviet breakup. .... By mid-1994, U.S. authorities began to realize that the Russian leadership either would not, or could not, stop the programs, whose total magnitude is still unknown.
OCTOBER 3, 2003 : (KAY SAYS AFTER SPEAKING WITH INVESTIGATORS IN IRAQ; ONE SCIENTIST DIED, ONE WAS SHOT SIX TIMES AND SURVIVED - THIS SCIENTIST'S NEPHEW HAD ALSO BEEN SHOT) WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two Iraqi scientists were shot in Baghdad after they talked to the U.S.-led team hunting weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and others believe they will be in danger if they collaborate in the search, Washington's chief weapons inspector David Kay said on Friday. Kay, who is directing the WMD hunt as an adviser to the CIA, presented an interim report to U.S. lawmakers this week that said no banned weapons had yet been found. Some Iraqi scientists have sought relocation in the United States out of fear for the safety of their families, and others who want to stay in Iraq seek security guarantees, Kay told reporters on a conference call. "They believe they are in genuine danger ... if they collaborate with us," he said.
One scientist was "assassinated literally hours after meeting" with a member of the WMD-hunting team, killed by a single shot to the back of his head outside his apartment, Kay said. There were no signs of robbery.
Another scientist, who was "really golden for us," was shot six times but survived, he said. Kay declined to name them. "The scientist who took six bullets was ... key to starting our understanding of the biological weapons program and pointing us in the direction of others," he said. His nephew was also shot in the incident a month and a half ago, Kay said.
"We engaged in a lot of conversations with him. We perhaps were not as sensitive to his security needs as now in retrospect we realize we should have been," he said. "It's very difficult to conduct clandestine meetings in Iraq when you have to go pick people up because ... transport was hard to come by."
But Kay said cooperation from Iraqis, inside and outside detention, has increased. "This is an intelligence-led operation, we are absolutely dependent on the cooperation of Iraqis to help us discover the complete truth about the WMD programs," he noted. - "Kay: Two Iraqi WMD Scientists Shot for Helping U.S.," by Tabassum Zakaria, Reuters , 10/3/03
The scientists who were subjects of assassination attempts mentioned above may very well be these two referred to earlier:
NOVEMBER 16, 2003 : (DR. DAVID KAY COMMENTS ON IRAQI SCIENTISTS' NEW 'SHOCKING' INFO ON IRAQ'S MILLING AND DRYING PROCESSES NEED TO WEAPONIZE ANTHRAX - SCIENTISTS CHARLIE & ALPHA) Two top Iraqi scientists, codenamed Charlie and Alpha, are helping the coalition to learn more about Iraq's anthrax programme, Kay said. The Iraqis had made shocking innovations in the milling and drying processes needed to weaponise anthrax. Almost every week there is a new discovery that boggles your mind, Kay said. - "Spies close in on Saddam's ailing terror mastermind," Sunday Times, London, UK see also "Alpha and Charlie Reveal Secrets of Iraq's Anthrax Weaponization Techniques ," a blog (* My note: were these the ones targeted in the assassination attempts on scientists?)
Russia Would Oppose Attack on Iraq 12/02/01
And even earlier in Afghanistan:
Russia today rejected participation in any U.S.-led retaliatory strike against terrorists and said the United States should not use countries in Central Asia as a staging ground for an assault against neighboring Afghanistan.
Although Russia has officially pledged cooperation in fighting what President Vladimir Putin called a "common enemy," today's statements by top Russian military officials could have the effect of restricting U.S. options as President Bush considers whether and how to proceed against those responsible for Tuesday's attacks in New York and Washington. Tajikistan and several other countries in former Soviet Central Asia are among the few obvious launching pads for an attack against the Afghanistan-based organization of leading terrorism suspect Osama bin Laden.
Also in the Arabic and Russian press:
The Kuwaiti daily al-Seyash issued on Sunday quoted sources at the British house of commons as saying that the British prime minister Tony Blair asked the Jordanian King Abdullah II during his visit to Amman to convey a final warning from the US administration to Iraq on the need of accepting the return back of the UN inspectors to Baghdad within three weeks, otherwise the next station of the war against terrorism after Afghanistan will be Iraq.
The sources indicated that Iraq was told about the warning through an envoy in the Jordanian royal court.
The sources also told the paper about information reported from Moscow that the Russian foreign minister Igore Ivanov conveyed to the Russian administration following his meeting with the US secretary of state Colin Powell about a conviction formed within himself that a British- American attacks at Baghdad has become very near.
And why has the disease broken out in the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia - all primary targets for Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein since the end of the Gulf War? (The disease has also broken out in Algeria in 1994, Romania in 1996-1997, the Czech Republic in 1997, the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1998, and Russia in 1999.)
Experts agree that Saddam's bioweapons people might be brewing up God-knows-what in a French-built virology facility near Baghdad that has been closed to inspectors from the United Nations since Saddam threw them out years ago.
The facility, called the Foot and Mouth Vaccine Plant, was used for making botulinum toxin, or BTX - one of the most lethal biotoxins known.
In 1992, the United Nations tore down the buildings in which the BTX was made and destroyed equipment, but left standing the bulk of the facility, part of which was for virus research. (In 1985 the CDC sent samples of West Nile virus to a researcher in Iraq, stirring controversy in the media five years later, on the eve of the Gulf War, when reports came out that Iraq had a significant biowarfare program.)
All but missing in action on the front lines of the anthrax attacks, controversial U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher told the Jerusalem Post last year that the genetic strain of the West Nile virus found in Israel was the same as the one found in New York.
And, of course, there remains the sinister shadow of "In the Shadow of Saddam," the infamous book by Saddams reputed former bodyguard and look-alike, Mikhael Ramadan. Published by a small press in the United Kingdom in 1999, the authors sensational allegations about Saddams plans to wreak bioterror on the U.S. were featured that same year in the New Yorker Magazine: "West Nile Mystery by Richard Preston.
Preston quoted from the Ramadan account:
"In 1997, on almost the last occasion we met, Saddam summoned me to his study. Seldom had I seen him so elated. Unlocking the top right-hand drawer of his desk, he produced a bulky, leather-bound dossier and read extracts from it... The dossier holds details of his ultimate weapon, developed in secret laboratories outside Iraq... Free of U.N. inspection, the laboratories would develop the SV1417 strain of the West Nile virus-capable of destroying 97 pc [percent] of all life in an urban environment... He said SV1417 was to be "operationally tested" on a Third World population centre..." The target had been selected, Saddam said, "but that is not for your innocent ears."
Author Preston questioned, "Why would a man presenting himself as an Iraqi defector predict that Saddam would unleash a virus just months before the same one broke out unexpectedly in New York? And, of all the thousands of viruses in the world, why West Nile?"
Adding another twist to the bizarre story, it turns out that, said Preston, "the fatality rate for West Nile is not remotely near ninety-seven per cent, and "SV1417" is not a standard designation for any known strain of West Nile virus.
At the same time that Ramadan was being discussed in the CIA, Dr. Ken Alibek,a defector and the former deputy chief of research for Biopreparat, the Soviet Union's main biowarfare program, spoke to lawmakers on Capitol Hill, voicing his concern that the West Nile outbreak was "suspicious.
In his article Preston reported a conversation with an anonymous FBI agent, who told him that West Nile might be a good choice for a terrorist. He said, "If I was planning a bioterror event, I'd do things with subtle finesse, to make it look like a natural outbreak. That would delay the response and lock up the decision-making process."
An Army expert interviewed by Preston in the article told him that the military knew that Soviet biologists working for the Soviet Unions biowarfare program had evaluated the West Nile virus for use as a biological weapon.
Interesting. Where might I read about that?
...I did find a reference on a wacko site to an article in the regular press which is familiar and may be what I was hearing about then- evidently these were British engineers and techs in the EW field. The reference is to an AP article called "Demand government explanation of deaths, disappearance" but I cannot find the article and verify if it is what I read or something someone just cooked up to make readers thing there are real references. If a verifiable real article still exists it might be interesting to read- anything printed before the LaRouche folks got a hold of the story should be interesting.
There may be info in Aviation Week archives regarding Marconi Underwater Systems and submarine EW in the eighties in the UK which may be helpful.
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