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The September 11th Sourcebooks

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 61
Edited by Robert A. Wampler and Thomas S. Blanton
November 15, 2001
The September 11th Sourcebooks - Index
In the coming days the Archive will release subsequent volumes on lessons from the Soviet war in Afghanistan, U.S. policy and planning for "Low-Intensity Conflict," CIA guidelines on the recruitment of inteligence "assets," and the use of assassination in U.S. foreign policy.
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As noted in Biowar: The Nixon Administration's Decision to End U.S. Biological Warfare Programs, public attention has become intensely focused upon the threat of attack by biological agents, as the continuing reports of anthrax-contaminated mail facilities and congressional offices appear in the news. The effort to determine who sent the anthrax-laced letters, how they have managed to become so widely dispersed, and to come to grips with the health threat posed have revealed the uncertainties surrounding any such outbreak. These uncertainties regarding the cause, pathology and vectors of an anthrax outbreak are mirrored in the case of the most deadly anthrax epidemic known, which occurred at a Soviet biological weapons facility located in Sverdlovsk (now Ekaterinberg, Russia) in 1979, where at least 68 people died. This incident was a focus of intense controversy and heated exchanges between Washington and Moscow during the 1980s, which would only come to a conclusion with the end of the Soviet Union and a more open Moscow leadership in the 1990s. Still, the heritage of the Soviet biological warfare effort, which was unparalleled in scope and potential lethality, remains a problem today and tomorrow. The documents provided here give a unique perspective on the Sverdlovsk anthrax issue as it unfolded and the questions it provoked, which remain relevant today.

    The first reports emerged in October 1979 by way of a Russian-language newspaper in Frankfurt, West Germany that was close to the Soviet emigre community, which ran a brief report lacking any details about a major germ accident leading to deaths estimated in the thousands taking place in Russia.(1)  New details emerged in this same paper in early 1980, with reports of an explosion in April 1979 at a secret military installation near Sverdlovsk that released a large amount of anthrax spores into the air, again with a thousand people estimated dead from the disease. There were also reports that the area had been placed under Soviet military control with extensive decontamination efforts implemented. (For these early reports, see Documents No. 1-3) The story gained world attention as major British and West German news papers ran stories on the catastrophe. As these reports emerged, U.S. intelligence began to look more carefully at satellite imagery and signals intercepts from the spring of 1979 and found possibly corroborative signs of a serious accident such as roadblocks and decontamination trucks around Compound 19, a military installation in Sverdlovsk, as well as a visit by Soviet Defense Minister Ustinov to the city. The anthrax explanation also seemed plausible, given the past history of U.S. and Soviet efforts to develop the deadly microbe into a biological weapon.

    The reports of a possible anthrax outbreak in Sverdlovsk linked to an incident at a suspected Soviet biological warfare facility served to further deepen already worsening U.S.-Soviet relations, which were heading back toward a new Cold War in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In the 1980s during the Reagan administration, Sverdlovsk would become one of the major points in the U.S. indictment of the USSR, joining with accusations that Soviet allies were using a mycotoxin known as "yellow rain" against troops in Southeast Asia, to build the case that the Soviets were violating the ban on the use of biological weapons imposed by the 1972 Biological Warfare Convention, which both the U.S. and the USSR had signed (see Documents 20 and 21).

    The Soviets replied angrily to these accusations, claiming that the deaths in Sverdlovsk were the result of eating tainted meat. A Tass article entitled "A Germ of Lying," which was published on March 24,1980, was typical, in combining the Soviet argument that a natural outbreak of anthrax, which was endemic to the area, with condemnation of the U.S. accusations as part of a plan for "spurring up the arms race and] intensifying tensions in the relations between states," calling into question the validity of the 1972 biological arms convention, and waging psychological warfare against the USSR.(2)  U.S. intelligence analysts quickly dismissed the Soviet explanation as not in accordance with the evidence. The consensus in the U.S. government, as seen in CIA and DIA reports (see Documents 4-11), quickly came to focus on the more sinister explanation of an accident releasing anthrax spores into the air, producing a number of deaths from inhalation anthrax soon after the release, and later deaths from consumption of meat from anthrax-contaminated cattle. The analysts felt this explanation better fit the fact that the series of deaths continued for nearly two months, thus requiring the two different vectors for transmission of the disease to humans.

    To help develop the case against the Soviets, the CIA asked Harvard biologist Matthew Meselson, a long-time proponent of a ban on biological weapons, to examine the evidence. After reviewing the intelligence reports, Meselson was skeptical of the emerging consensus that an accidental anthrax release was the cause of the deaths, pointing to the absence of any evidence for intestinal anthrax, which he felt cast doubt on the veracity of the intelligence sources, (mostly second-hand reports from Soviet doctors), and thus upon their expertise in assessing the origin and pathology of the Sverdlovsk deaths. Meselson's doubts were increased by the account given by an American professor, fluent in Russian, who was living in Sverdlovsk at the time on a fellowship, who reported he had not seen anything extraordinary happen there in April 1979. (See Document No. 27 for a report on a meeting between Meselson and U.S. officials to discuss his views on the Soviet explanation of the accident and his doubts about the U.S. explanation.)

    Other scientists also harbored doubts about the official U.S. accusation, noting that an accidental release of anthrax spores could have been in connection with a defensive biological warfare research program, which was allowed under the 1972 convention. As Miller, et. al. note in Germs, at the heart of the controversy could be seen the differing standards of proof governing scientific and intelligence analyses. For Meselson, the fact that the U.S. accusations regarding the "yellow rain" toxins were eventually found to be unsubstantiated (in part through investigations with which Meselson was associated) likely only bolstered his doubts about the anthrax hypothesis coming from the same intelligence agencies. Other key questions for which there were no clear answers also served to create doubts: How much anthrax was involved, if there was a release: was it a gram or less, or did it range into the kilograms? How many people actually died: was it between 60 and 100, or closer to 1,000? What was the nature of the release, accidental or deliberate, and through what mechanism?

    Obtaining clear and definitive answers to these questions was hindered by the continued Soviet adherence to the tainted meat story and refusal to allow investigators to visit Sverdlovsk, which was off-limits to foreigners as a restricted military area. (See Documents Nos. 22-25 for examples of the type of information which continued to trickle in to U.S intelligence during the early 1980s about the accident.) Soviet scientists again presented this explanation along with examples of the autopsy data at scientific meetings in Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Cambridge in April 1988 arranged by Meselson, who gave his view that the tainted-meat explanation was "completely plausible and consistent" with current knowledge about anthrax. Also lending plausibility to the Soviet version was the fact that veterinarians had reported animal deaths from anthrax before doctors reported human fatalities at Sverdlovsk. Though Meselson agreed there was need for a thorough investigation of the U.S. accusations, Meselson testified before a Senate hearing in 1989 that the evidence supported the Soviet explanation, not an explosion at a Soviet biological weapons facility. U.S. intelligence for its part continued to find the Soviet "fabrications" about the accident unconvincing. (See Document No. 28)

    The Reagan administration for kept up the steady drumbeat of accusations, putting the Sverdlovsk anthrax outbreak within the larger picture of an alleged full-scale Soviet biological warfare effort, which continued to be a major concern for the subsequent Bush White House. (See Document Nos. 26 and 29) In retrospect, these allegations understated the problem, as U.S. intelligence and later the world found out from the Russian defector and former Deputy Director of the Soviet biological warfare operation Biopreparat named Kanatjan Alibekov, now known as Ken Alibek.(3)  (See Document No. 32) New calls for a thorough investigation of the Sverdlovsk anthrax outbreak began to appear in Russia under Mikhail Gorbachev's call for glasnost. Articles such as "Military Secret: Reasons for the Tragedy in Sverdlovsk Must be Investigated," by Natalya Zenova in Literaturnaya Gazeta, and "The Secret of the 'Sarcophagus'," by Sergey Parfenov in Rodina, both published in 1990, began the drumbeat of public pressure upon Moscow to come clean about the accident.(4)  (See Documents Nos. 30 and 31)

    The final breakthrough did not come until after the Soviet Union had ceased to exist at the end of 1991, and Boris Yeltsin came to power as the new head of the Russian government. Yeltsin had a personal connection to the Sverdlovsk issue, as he had been Communist Party chief in the region at the time of the anthrax outbreak, and he believed the KGB and military had lied to him about the true explanation. At a summit meeting with President George Bush in February 1992, Yeltsin told Bush that he agreed with U.S. accusations regarding Soviet violation of the 1972 biological weapons convention, that the Sverdlovsk incident was the result of an accident at a Soviet biological warfare installation, and promised to clean up this problem. In a  May 27th interview, Yeltsin publicly revealed what he had told Bush in private:

    "We are still deceiving you, Mr. Bush. We promised to eliminate bacteriological weapons. But some of our experts did everything possible to prevent me from learning the truth. It was not easy, but I outfoxed them. I caught them red-handed. I found two test sites. They are inoculating tracts of land with anthrax, allowing wild animals to go there and observing them..."(5)

    In a subsequent interivew, Yeltsin expanded on the deception he says the Soviet military had played upon him and the world concerning the Sverdlovsk outbreak:

Interviewer: You knew about the development of bacteriological weapons in Sverdlovsk. But it was only recently that you first talked about it publicly. Why did you keep quiet all this time?

Yeltsin: First, nobody asked me about it. And, second, when I learned these developments were under way, I visited [the KGB chairman Yuriy] Andropov. . . . When there was an anthrax outbreak, the official conclusion stated it was carried by some dog, though later the KGB admitted that our military development was the cause. Andropov phoned [Minister of Defense Dimitriy] Ustinov and ordered these production facilities to be completely scrapped. I believed that this had been done. It turned out that the laboratories were simply moved to another oblast and development of the weapons continued. And I told Bush, [British prime minister John] Major, and [French president Francois] Mitterand this, that the program was under way. . . . I signed a decree setting up a special committee and banning the program. It was only after this that experts flew out specially and stopped the work.(6)

   Yeltsin took steps in the spring of 1992 to address the long-standing Soviet denial of a biological weapons program and the Sverdlovsk anthrax outbreak.  On April 4, 1992, Yeltsin issued a decree promising pensions to the Sverdlovsk families which had suffered deaths from the 1979 anthrax outbreak.(7)  Then, on April 11th, he issued a decree promising that Russia would adhere to the 1972 biological weapons convention. Soon after, Meselson led a team to Sverdlovsk in June 1992 (with a follow-up visit in August 1993) to investigate the incident, after Moscow had finally acquiesced in the visit. Here, they were allowed to see autopsy slides of a key area between the lungs of the Sverdlovsk victims, which clearly showed the characteristic signs of damage found in cases of inhalation anthrax. This joined with other new evidence: the rediscovery of information from 1950s anthrax studies that indicated inhalation anthrax could take weeks to become symptomatic, not just days, and data on wind patterns and the clustering of anthrax victims around Sverdlovsk, which supported the airborne vector explanation.The 1993 visit allowed Meselson to fill in the final gaps, placing the identified victims clearly within the plume of deadly anthrax spores that the data on wind patterns at the time indicated. As Meselson's partner and spouse recounts:

    "We have now circumscribed the time of common exposure to anthrax. The number of red dots we can plot on our spot map places nearly all of the victims within a narrow plume that stretches southeast from Compound 19 to the neighborhood past the ceramics factory. . . . we have clarified the relation of the timing of animal and human deaths and believe the exposure for both was nearly simultaneous. All the data – from interviews, documents, lists, autopsies, and wind reports – now fit, like pieces of a puzzle. What we know proves a lethal plume of anthrax came from Compound 19."(8)

    Meselson had finally came around to the view long held by the intelligence community when he published his final findings on the case in November 1994 in the journal Science.(9)  Meselson was prepared to conclude that the cause of death was airborne anthrax spores released from a military installation, He also concluded the size of the release was between a few milligrams and a gram, leaving open the possibility it was the result of defensive biological warfare research, a conclusion contested by U.S. intelligence analysts, who argued the release must have involved pounds of anthrax, based on prior studies into the dispersal of biological agents. As Dr. William C. Patrick, the veteran of over 30 years as a biological weapons researcher at Fort Detrick, Maryland and expert on anthrax dispersal noted later, he and other experts "hooted" when Meselson presented his release estimates.(10)  The U.S. intelligence position was also supported by Ken Alibek, who said Compound 19 was involved in the "industrial" production of anthrax. Regarding the actual cause of the release, information later obtained from people involved with the Soviet biological warfare effort revealed that the cause of the anthrax release in Sverdlovsk was the failure by maintenance personnel to replace a critical filter in a vent serving the anthrax production facility.

Though Yeltsin promised to "clean up" the toxic heritage of the Soviet biological warfare program, a decade later his successor, Vladimir Putin, and the United States are still coming to grips with the environmental and security consequences of this effort. The Sverdlovsk survivors have apparently never received the increased pensions promised by Yeltsin's degree of April 1992, and the Russian defense establishment still denies the Sverdlovsk story.  In a 1998 newspaper interview, Lieutenant General Valentin Yevstigneyev, deputy director of the Russian defense ministry’s directorate for nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, responded to Sverdlovsk questions as follows:

Interviewer: Do you claim, as before, that in 1979 on the Sverdlovsk-19 military base, no explosions of munitions with a "biological" filling nor massive deaths occurred?

Yevstigneyev: People who don't know much about bacteriology might be able to believe the newspaper stories (which, by the way, is indeed happening now). The professionals simply laugh.

International experts found four different strains (of the virus culture—author's note) of anthrax. Four different bacteria! Different, you understand? If a bomb exploded, would there really be four strains? How can you explain that people fell ill 50 kilometers away, but on the military base, where this explosion supposedly occurred, no one fell ill? Next door to the base is a tank division—two fatal cases…Believe me, if this was a single military release, two or three days and everyone would be finished!

Meanwhile, no one writes that several carcasses of cows with anthrax were brought into the brick factory to be burned in the furnace. But anthrax does not burn in a fire! The spores could have been carried off to anywhere through the chimney. The spores themselves live hundreds of years. As an example, no one has been able to live on the English island of Gruinard since the second world war. Biological weapons were tested there, including anthrax…

I was not yet at Sverdlovsk-19 in 1979. But in 1985 I was appointed the deputy director of the institute for scientific work. Of course, I tried to analyze the situation. I did a computer analysis using image recognition theory and mathematical modeling, and I tried three versions: the institute was responsible, a natural epidemic, and a diversion with the aim of compromising the institute. Strangely enough, the latter version got the highest score.

Interviewer: In the documentary film, "The Generals and Anthrax," a worker speaks on camera about the existence of a section for manufacturing biological munitions. The Ministry of Defense regards this film as truthful. Does this mean that there was an underground factory after all?

Yevstigneyev: There was a shop where we really did make 4 samples of the American one-pound, two-pound and four-pound bombs. The worker, literally on his knees, made these "toys". But there was no other way—we had to learn how to evaluate the biological situation, if such weapons would be used. We assembled munitions, went out to an island in the Aral Sea, set up biological reconnaissance equipment, observed what kind of cloud formed, and so on…Now we have magnificent calculations which everyone is using, beginning with the Ministry of Defense itself and ending with the Ministry for Emergency Management.

But this was done considerably before the epidemic. In 1979, in a refrigerator of the laboratory of Sverdlovsk-19, only a few ampoules of anthrax bacteria were stored for vaccine testing. All of the powers that be knew this, which is incidentally why they pointed the finger at us.(11)

Following the accident at Sverdlovsk, Moscow had established a new biological warfare R&D facility in the isolated city of Stepnogorsk in Kazakhstan, to fill the potential production gap after the Soviets had to stop producing anthrax at Sverdlovsk. Here, an even more-virulent strain of anthrax, known as Alibekov anthrax, after Ken Alibek, who developed it, was produced that was three times as lethal as that produced in Sverdlovsk. The full extent of the Stepnogorsk operation – which had an estimated production capacity of 300 tons of anthrax spore in 220 days - and the environmental remediation challenge it presented did not become known to the U.S. until after Kazakhstan became an independent republic following the breakup of the Soviet Union and a U.S. team of scientists and officials were permitted to visit the facility in 1995.(12)  The effort to clean up the Soviet biological warfare installations continues today, as does the effort to determine if any of the sinister expertise or the products of this hellish operation has made its way into the hands of hostile powers or groups in the world.

Note: The following documents are in PDF format.
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Document 1
CIA Intelligence Report, BIOLOGICAL WARFARE – USSR: Additional Rumors of an Accident at the Biological Warfare Institute in Sverdlovsk. 10/15/79. Top Secret. 2 pp.
Source: CIA FOIA
This document summarizes new rumors regarding the reports of a biological warfare accident in Sverdlovsk involving between 40 and 60 deaths in May 1979, based on information provided by a Soviet emigre. At this point, the CIA is viewing a biological warfare accident as just one possible explanation for the continued rumors, noting it would be surprising if the Soviets were working with a biological agent without an effective antidote or vaccine available. The report notes the possibility that anthrax may be involved, and that there is a suspect biological warfare installation in Sverdlovsk, but concludes there is insufficient evidence to attribute the alleged deaths to "unlawful storage of a BW agent."
Document 2
Cable, DIA to [Addressee Deleted], Defense Intelligence Notice – USSR: Possible Accident, 10/29/79, Top Secret. 2 pp.
Source: DIA FOIA
This cable also reports on information obtained from a Soviet emigre about an accident in May 1979 at the Soviet biological warfare institute in Sverdlovsk, resulting in 40 to 60 deaths. Other reports of a quarantine imposed by the military in the city in mid-May tends to support these rumors, but there is no evidence that the events were linked to BW storage activities. As with the CIA report (Document 1), this cable says there is no conclusive evidence that a Soviet BW accident caused these deaths.
Document 3
DIA Weekly Intelligence Summary, Excerpt: Soviet Biological Accident Rumored, 11/9/79, Secret, 5 pp.
Source: DIA FOIA
This report summarizes the current thinking on the reported accident in Sverdlovsk within the Defense Intelligence Agency. As with the two previous documents, the emphasis is on the lack of hard information to back up the rumors of deaths linked to an accident at the unnamed BW institute in Sverdlovsk, and reiterates much of what is found in Documents 1 and 2.
Document 4
CIA Intelligence Memorandum, Soviet Biological Warfare Agent: Probable Cause of the Anthrax Epidemic In Sverdlovsk, n.d. (ca. 1980), Classification Deleted, 14 pp.
Source: CIA FOIA
This undated document (which postdates February 1980, based on internal evidence) demonstrates the case that the U.S. intelligence community is beginning to make that the reported deaths in Sverdlovsk are probably linked to the release of anthrax from a Soviet BW facility in the city. As this memorandum puts it, "Evidence that the accident involved a BW agent, though circumstantial, is compelling." Among this evidence is the fact that the Soviets used military forces almost exclusively to deal with the outbreak, and that they concealed the exact nature of the disease. The memorandum concludes that "The release of large quantities of anthrax spores, a candidate BW agent, offers the most logical explanation for the sequence of events that occurred in Sverdlovsk during April and May 1979." Though heavily redacted, the memorandum summarizes what was now known about the Soviet response to the outbreak – blaming the outbreak on anthrax-contaminated meat - and the nature of the accident that release the infectious agent, providing criticisms of the Soviet explanations.
Document 5
CIA Intelligence Report, USSR: Bilogical Warfare (BW) Accident in Sverdlovsk, 1/16/80. Classification Deleted. 1 p.
Source: CIA FOIA
This document notes that reent intelligence had strengthened the allegations that it was an accident at a Soviet BW installation that caused the civilian deaths in Sverdlovsk. The earlier reported emigre accounts are now seen as consistent with the early rumors and other supporting information about a BW accident, though the magnitude and exact causitive BW agent remain subject to conjecture. The report notes that the Soviets were unable to bring the situation under control until late May or early June, and that both Defense Minister Ustinov and Health Minister Petrovskiy came to Sverdlovsk, likely to oversee the decontamination effort.
Document 6
CIA Intelligence Report, BIOLOGICAL WARFARE – USSR: Biological Warfare (BW) Accident in Sverdlovsk, 1/28/80. Secret, 2 pp.
Source: CIA FOIA
This document is apparently an updated version of Document No. 5, containing much of the same information, with new data regarding the nature of the accident – including claims an explosion at the secret Soviet BW laboratory led to the deaths - and the Soviet response, which included barring civilian doctors from treating the victims.
Document 7
DIA Report, Trends and Developments: Foreign Technology Weapons and Systems, Excerpt: Biological Weapons – USSR, 3/3/80, Top Secret.
Source: DIA FOIA
This document summarizies DIA intelligence regarding the Soviet biological weapons program. Included is a discussion of the probable biological weapons accident in Sverdlovsk, which summarizes the accumulating evidence from various sources that the incident involved the release of anthrax from the Soviet BW laboratory, including new details on the Soviet medical response, the casualties, many of which occurred among workers at a ceramics factory adjoining the Soviet military installation in the city, and the subsequent decontamination efforts. While no exact figure is used, this document also estimates that, based on reported "infective doses" for people, the anthrax release had to be significant. This would contradict any argument the research was for peaceful, medical purposes. The report concludes that, while production of biological weapons could not be confirmed, "the evidence points strongly to an illegal store of biological agents and probably biological weapons development or production," in Sverdlovsk.
Document 8
DIA Intelligence Information Report, Possible BW Accident near Sverdlovsk, 3/21/80, Unclassified,  5 pp (Best Copy Available)
Source: DIA FOIA
This DIA report provides copies of two Bild Zeitung articles from February 13 and March 20, 1980, along with translations,  reporting on the accident in Sverdlovsk and the possibility that a Soviet biological weapons facility was involved. The report notes new information found in these articles regarding the nature of the infectious agent involved, which supported the conclusion that a biological agent, such as anthrax, was the cause of the deaths.
Document 9
DIA Intelligence Appraisal. USSR: Biological Warfare, 3/25/80, Top Secret. 6 pp.
Source: DIA FOIA
This DIA report provides an updated summary of the strong circumstantial evidence indicating that the USSR possessed an illegal store of biological warfare agents and was involved in the likely development or production of biological weapons. Among this evidence is the accumulating body of information that an incident at a Soviet BW facility in Sverdlovsk caused the anthrax outbreak and casualties in May 1979, which "flies in the face of the provisions of the [1972] Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxic Weapons..."
Document 10
Department of State Cable No. 81691, Secretary of State to U.S. Embassy, Moscow, Subject: Sverdlovsk Incident, 3/28/80, Secret, 2 pp.
Source: State Department FOIA
This State Department telegram provides the U.S. response to the Soviet explanation of the anthrax outbreak in Sverdlovsk. As the cable makes clear, the U.S. is unconvinced and not satisfied by the Soviet story that tainted meat caused the fatalities, and wants to arrange for confidential discussions among U.S. and Soviet medical, public health and veterinary specialists in the near future to clarify the situation. The U.S. also rejects the Soviet accusation that Washington is using the Sverklovsk issue to complicate and weaken disarmament efforts.
Document 11
Department of State Cable No. 6229, U.S. Mission, Geneva to Secretary of State, Subject: WHO: Possible Initiative on BW Weapons, 4/24/80, Confidential, 1 p.
Source: State Department FOIA
This cable discusses the likely motivations behind a possible Soviet effort to have the World Health Organization investigate the Sverklovsk anthax outbreak. The State Department speculates that Moscow may want to arrange for an investigation which would be on its terms, in particular ruling out any visits by foreign specialists to Sverdlovsk, and avoid any conclusion suggesting the outbreak resulted from an explosion at a Soviet BW storage facility.
Document 12
DIA Cable, Addressee and Signator and Deleted,  Subject: Sverdlovsk [deleted] ...Rumor about Illness and Fatalities, 7/14/80, Confidential, 2 pp.
Source: DIA FOIA
Reports on information obtained from two dentists who had learned from Sverdlovsk doctors, who were friends, about deaths in the city that resulted from an accident with some unidentified biochemical weapon.
Document 13
Department of State Cable No. 215321, Secretary of State to U.S. Embassy, London, Subject: US/UK Consultations-Sverdlovsk, 8/14/80, Secret, 3 pp.
Source: State Department FOIA
This cable reports on a meeting between ACDA Deputy Assistant Director Neidle and British Embassy Officer Pakenham to discuss the U.S. desire to begin bilateral discussions, which might be later extended to other allies, about the Sverdlovsk incident, in light of the unsatisfactory Soviet replies to the requests for more information.
Document 14
State Department Cable No. 227352, Secretary of State to U.S. Embassy, London, Subject: US/UK Consultations – Sverdlovsk, 8/26/80, Secret, 1 p.
Source: State Department FOIA
In a follow-up to the meeting reported on in Document No. 13, the British Embassy informs ACDA that London had agreed to the requested bilateral discussions on Sverdlovsk.
Document 15
Document compiled by U.S Air Force from classified U.S. Air Force Records, "The Accidental Explosion at a Secret Biological Weapons Plant at Sverdlovsk," Unclassified, n.d. (ca. 9/80) 3 pp.
This document, pieced together by U.S. Air Force officials from currently classified USAF documents, provides a good summary of the known facts about the Sverdlovsk anthrax outbreak as of Fall 1980. Greater details are provided on the course of the anthrax outbreak, including symptoms, casualties, and the range of death estimates, going from the official total of 200 to unofficial estimates reacing as high as 2000. Details on the decontamination procedures are also summarized, including destruction of area wild life, pets and livestock, provision of antibioitics and vaccines, and treatment of corpses and topsoil with chloramine.
Document 16
DIA Intelligence Information Report, Urban Area Data on Sverdlovsk City (UR), Confidential NOFORN, 10/2/80, 5 pp.
Source: DIA FOIA
This DIA report from an on-site observor in Sverdlovsk indicates that the cover stories still circulating refer to a gas explosion killing 100 people occuring in or about April 1979, and that veneral disease and the so-called "Siberian Anthrax" were reportedly prevalent in the city. Of interest is a map with a key to major structures is included with the map.
Document 17
DIA Cable, Addressee and Signator Deleted, Subject: Sverdlovsk [deleted] Biological Accident, Confidential, 1/23/81, 3 pp.
Source: DIA FOIA
This cable provides further information on the anthrax outbreak in Sverdlovsk. According to this document, the outbreak began in the southern part of the city, the Chkaloskiy City district, and lasted until mid-summer 1979. According to rumors, the disease agent had originated in a military installation in the Chkalovskit District, which was still being used. Death had come quickly for those suffering from the symptoms, which included heart falire, respiratory failure, or diarrhea. The quarantine, vaccination and antibiotic treatment, and deconatamination efforts are also described, in terms similar to earlier documents.
Document 18
DIA Intelligence Information Report, Subject: Leningrad [Deleted] Civilian Health Care Organization (Excerpts), Confidential, 3/6/80. 2 pp.
Source: DIA FOIA
This excerpt, from a longer document reporting on the Leningrad Civilian Health Care Organization, refers, as part of a discussion of how the Soviet system reacted to serious health threats, to the serious outbreak in Sverklovsk two years ago which was rumored to have been caused by an accident in a bateriological warfare facility.
Document 19
DAMO [Department of the Army, Military Operations?] -NCC Report, Alleged Biological Warfare Agent Incident at Sverdlovsk, Classification deleted, 10/23/81, 1 p.
Source: FOIA
This document provides an updated summary of U.S. knowledge about the Sverklovsk anthrax outbreak and efforts to obtain further information from the Soviet government. Repeating some information from earlier summaries, this memorandum also estimates it would have taken the release of tens of kilograms of anthrax spores to explain the large number of deaths associated with the Sverdlovsk incident. Using the same hedging language, the document says that "compelling circumstantial evidence" indicates the Soviets had maintained an active biological warfare program at Sverdlovsk since at least 1972. It notes that the Biological and Chemical Warfare Working Group, Weapon and Space Systems Intelligence Committee had reviewed all the available evidence and had concluded there was a "high probability" that the Soviets still had some anthrax for biological warfare purposes and it was "possible" they still had an active biological warfare agent program at the Sverdlovsk facility.
Document 20
Memorandum, Legal Issues Associated with Formally Charging the Soviet Union with Violation of the BWC (as well as the Geneva Protocol of 1925 and Related Rules of Customary International Law, Secret, ca. 1982, 15 pp.
Source: State Department FOIA
This document sets out the legal issues surrounding any possible U.S. decision to accuse the USSR of violating the 1972 Convention prohibiting biological warfare. As it makes clear, the U.S. assessment of the Sverdlovsk incident and its possible roots in an illegal Soviet biological warfare program, is closely linked to the U.S. suspicions that Russia was using toxins in Afghanistan and Southeast Asia. These suspicions would play an increasingly important role as the Reagan administration took on a harder line against the Soviet Union. The document examines in detail such issues as what would constitute violations of the biological warfare convention, in terms of the Sverdlovsk and the Afghanistan/Southeast Asia cases, and the procedural aspects of bringing formal charges before the relevant world bodies.
Document 21
CIA Special National Intelligence Estimate, Use of Toxins and Other Lethan Chemicals in Southeast Asia and Afghanistan, Volume I – Key Judgments. Classification deleted, 2/2/82, 23 pp.
Source: CIA FOIA
This document presents the key findings of a CIA analysis of "all available evidence on chemical warfare activities in Laos, Kampuchea, Vietnam and Afghanistan" by the Soviet Union and its allies. It also includes a briefer assessment of the Soviet chemical-biological warfare program. The study concludes that the best hypothesis that fits all the evidence is that the Soviet Union developed trichothecene toxins that were then provided to the Law and Vietnamese forces and weaponized with Soviet aid in Laos, Vietnam and Kampuchea, where thousands of deaths have occurred since at least 1976. Regarding Afghanistan, the study concludes Soviet forcs have used lethal and casualty-producing agents on Mujahedin resistance forces and Afghan villages since the December 1979 invasion.
Document 22
DIA Cable, Addressee and Signator deleted, Subject: USSR/Sverdlovsk, Alleged Chemical Accident, Classification deleted, 2/17/82, 2 pp.
Source: DIA FOIA
This document reports on another personal account of the incident in Sverdlovsk, this time with respect to the explanation that a chemical factory had exploded. This account suggests there was no wide-spread restrictions placed on movement within the city following the incident, noting only certain specific restricted areas.
Document 23
DIA Cable, Addressee and Signator deleted, Subject: USSR/Biocehm Dept Tng [Training] for Bacteriological Researchers, Classification deleted, 4/3/82, 3 pp.
Source: DIA FOIA
This cable provides information on the Moscow Biochemical Department of Moscow Medical University, and reported links between some of its faculty and students with biological warfare activities in Sverdlovsk.
Document 24
DIA Cable, Addressee and Signator deleted, Subject: USSR/Sverdlovsk Resident Confirms 1979 Incident at Special Factory, Classification deleted, 4/25/82, 2 pp.
Source: DIA FOIA
This heavily redacted cable forwards details of another personal account of the accident in Sverdlovsk, which is characterized here as an incident in a special factory that had necessitated closing off part of the city.
Document 25
DIA Cable, Addressee and Signator deleted, Subject: Sverdlovsk [deleted], Classification deleted, 6/17/84, 2 pp.
Source: DIA FOIA
This cable provides new information on a possible biological research facility in Sverdlovsk and hearsay information on the 1979 "Siberian ulcer" (anthrax) outbreak. The information provided is further personal observations of the suspected biological warfare facility.
Document 26
DIA Report, Soviet Biological Warfare Threat, Unclassified, 1986, 36 pp.
Source: DIA Public Release
This publicly-release document, based on DIA intelligence estimates, was part of the Reagan administration's campaign to underscore the threat posed by the Soviet biological warfare programs, and how this program violated the 1972 biological warfare convention as well as the 1925 Geneva Protocol (which are reproduced in this report). The key findings of the study, which are backed up by more detailed discussion, are that the Soviets had gone far beyond what is permitted by these treaties because:
  • The size and scope of their efforts are not consistent with any reasonable standard of what could be justified on the basis of prophylactic, protective or peaceful purposes.

  • The Soviets continue to evaluate the military ulitity of biological and toxin weapons

  • The Soviets are rapidly incorporating biotechnological developments into their offensive BW program to improve agent utility on the tactical battlefield.
  •     Included in this report is a section devoted to the Sverdlovsk biological warfare facility and the events of 1979, which summarizes the U.S. case that the anthrax outbreak was the result of an accident at the facility. This report concludes that as much as 22 pounds (10 kilograms) of dry anthrax spores had been released during the accident.
    Document 27
    Department of State Cable No. 291907, Secretary of State to U.S. Mission, Geneva, Subject: Sverdlovsk – Visit to Washington of Professor Meselson, Secret, 9/17/86, 1 p.
    Source: State Department FOIA
    This cable reports on a meeting held between State Department, ACDA, Defense and CIA officers and Harvard biocehmistry Professor Matthew Meselson, at the latter's request, to receive a briefing on Meselson's discussions with Soviet Ministry of Health officials about the 1979 Sverdlovsk incident. Meselson was doubtful about the thoroughness of a 1980 U.S. study on the incident, but also felt the Soviets had not provided a satisfactory explanation, either. Still, he felt the Soviet story  "seemed to hang together" and he wanted follow-up efforts to see if it is in fact true. To do this, Meselson was organizing a team of experts to return to Moscow for further talks. The State Department comment on this meeting was that Meselson had failed to pursue "tough questions" with the Soviets during his visit.
    Document 28
    CIA Directorate of Intelligence Report, Soviet Explanatino of Anthrax Accident in Sverdlovsk: The Deception Continues, Top Secret, 5/12/88, 9 pp.
    Source: CIA FOIA
    This heavily-redacted document summarizes the evolving Soviet explanation of the Sverdlovsk anthrax outbreak – the tainted meat hypothesis - and provides a critique of the Soviet "fabrication'" which, among other things, sought to explain the high number of reported male casualties by reference to the fact that the male head-of-household always got the largest portion of meat, and that they were more susceptible because of ulcers or gastritis resulting from alcohol consumption.
    Document 29
    DIA Defense Science and Technology Study: Biological Warfare Capabilities – Warsaw Pact, Secret, 3/90, 72 pp.
    Source: DIA FOIA
    This heavily-redacted DIA report, prepared by the Armed Forces Medical Intelligence Center, provides a fairly detailed assessment of the Warsaw Pact's ability to wage biological warfare. Among the topics discussed are the historical background to the pact's biological warfare programs; Soviet and Pact research, development and acquisition procedures, and evidence of Soviet development and use of biological agents and/or toxins in warfare, including a summary of the evidence regarding the Sverdlovsk incident.
    Document 30
    DIA Cable, Addressee and Signator deleted, Subject: Unraveling the Sverdlovsk BW Disaster, Confidential, 8/30/90, 4 pp.
    Source: DIA FOIA
    This cable reports on the August 22, 1990 article in the Russian weekly paper, Literaturnaya Gazeta, that concludes that the April 1979 anthrax outbreak in Sverdlovsk was due to an accident at "Garrison 19," a secret Soviet military biological warfare facility. The article also says that, based on local reports during the spring of 1990, the military is continuing to try to coverup this incident, and the paper calls for a legislative inquiry to get at the truth.
    Document 31
    CIA Intelligence Report, USSR: BW Accident Exposed, Classification deleted, 9/4/90, 1 p.
    Source: CIA FOIA Database
    This CIA document also summarizes the article in the Russian weekly Literaturnaya Gazeta that reports the 1979 anthrax epidemic at Sverdlovsk was caused by an accident at a secret military biological weapons facility, not by contaminated meat as claimed by the Soviets. The CIA report makes the case that Russian Republic President Boris Yeltsin's long association with Sverdlovsk may force a new explanation of the outbreak, though the recent Soviet efforts to clean the Sverdlovsk BW facility may prevent any thorough investigation.
    Document 32
    Memorandum re Soviet Biological Weapons Programs, no classification, 9/17/92 (according to source), 10 pp.
    Source: State Department FOIA Database
    This unsigned document, found in State Department records and according to them dating from September 1992, summarizes information the author had been gathering for years from former Soviet citizens who had been involved with the Soviet biological warfare program since the 1970s. According to these accounts, the USSR in the early 1970s began to develop new biological warfare agents using genetic engineering techniques to enhance their weapons characteristics (such as by adding increased resistance to antibiotics); that at around the same time Moscow initiated a program to transfer biological weapons research to civilian institutions and to create new institutions to pursue this research; and that these facilities were organized under a special directorate called BIOPREPARAT, which had recently come under the Ministry of Health.


    1.  This overview of the Sverdlovsk anthrax outbreak, subsequent U.S. efforts to determine the facts about the incident and the continued Soviet efforts to cover it up, draws primarily upon the account found in Judith Miller, Stephen Engelberg and William Broad, Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War, Simon & Schuster, 2001, specifically pp. 76-78, 79-80, 93-94, 134-135, 143-144, 175, 178, 221. Two other valuable treatments of the incident are Jeanne Guillemin, Anthrax: The Investigation of a Deadly Outbreak, University of California Press, 1999, which is an account by the spouse of Matthew Meleson, the Harvard biologist, of the investigation he made into the outbreak, including the  1992 trip to Sverdlovsk, in which Guillemin took part, and which provided the final conclusive evidence tha inhalation anthrax was the cause of many of the deaths; and Tom Mangold and Jeff Goldberg, Plague Wars: A True Story of Biological Warfare, Macmillan Publishers Ltd, 1999, Chapter Nine: Incident at Sverdlovsk, which is critical of Meselson's role in providing initial scholarly support for the Soviet explanation of the incident.

    2.  "Anthrax Propaganda Used to Poison World Situation," translation of "A Germ of Lying" by Leonid Kraskov, Tass, March 24, 1980, in FBIS, USSR International Affairs – Disarmament/SALT/MBFR, 25 March 1980.

    3.  See Ken Alibek, with Stephen Handelman, Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World – Told from Inside by the Man Who Ran It, Random House, 1999; and Statement by Dr. Kenneth Alibek, Program Manager, Battelle Memorial Institute before the Joint Economic Committee, United States Congress, Wednesday, May 20, 1998, available at url: http://www.house.gov/jec/hearings/intell/alibek.htm.

    4.  "Urals Bacteriological Accident Suspected in 1979," translation of Natalya Zenova,"Military Secret: Reasons for the Tragedy in Sverdlovsk Must be Investigated," Literaturnaya Gazeta, August 22, 1990, in FBIS-SOV-90-172, 5 September 1990, pp. 87-90; and "Consequences of Alleged 1979 Sverdlovsk Anthrax Outbreak Explored," translation of Sergey Parfenov, "The Secret of the 'Sarcophagus'," Rodina, October 25, 1990, in JPRS-TEN-91-001, 4 January 1991, pp. 84-89.

    5.  Quoted in "Biological Weapons Program, Violations Viewed, " containing English translation of V. Umnov, "After 20 Years of Silence the Soviet Microbes Are Talking," Komsomolskaya Pravda, April 30, 1992, in FBIS-SOV-92-087, 5 May 1992, p. 5. 

    6.  Quoted in Guillemin, Anthrax, p. 163. Original Russian source: Komsomolskaya Pravda, May 27, 1992, p. 2.

    7.  “On Improvement of Pensions for Families of Citizens Who Died as a Result of Becoming Sick with the Siberian Ulcer in Sverdlovsk in 1979, Law of the Russian Federation N 2667-1, signed by Boris Yeltsin, April 4, 1992 (to come into force May 1, 1992). On file at INION Library for Social Sciences, Moscow, Profsoyuznaya Street.

    8.  Guillemin, Anthrax, pp. 233-234.

    9.  Matthew Meselson, et al., "The Sverdlovsk Anthrax Outbreak of 1979," Science, Volume 266, Issue 5188 (November 18, 1994), pp. 1202-1208.

    10.  Miller, et al., Germs, p. 144. While Germs does not come down on one side of the release question, Mangold and Golberg in Plague Wars clearly come down on the side of the U.S. military experts, citing a release of "several kilograms" of anthrax spores; see p. 67.

    11.  From “Terrorist and Intelligence Operations: Potential Impact on the U.S. Economy,” Statement by Dr. Kenneth Alibek, Program Manager, Batelle Memorial Institute, before the Joint Economic Committee, United State Congress, Wednesday, May 20, 1998.

    12.  See the description of the Stenogorsk facility and the revelations during the American teams visit in Miller, et al., Germs, pp. 165-176.

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