U.S. officials have told the American public that they are prepared to respond to a biological weapons attacks. But, a Russian scientist who once worked on the former Soviet Union's secret Biological weapons program says the U.S. government is far from being able to assure Americans they are safe.
February 1993 and now September 2001. Twice during the past decade, the United States has been unable to stop separate attacks on New York's World Trade Center by the same terrorist network.
"The next event could be much more devastating," said Ken Alibek. For nearly two decades, he was a top scientist in the Soviet Union's secret germ weapons program, which produced tons of anthrax, smallpox and other deadly bacteria for use in wartime. He defected to the United States nine years ago and is now helping the United States develop an improved strategy for defending against a bioweapons attack, something President Bush has said may already be underway. "These terrorist groups understand that they've got something in their hands which could devastate the entire country for a long period of time," added Mr. Alibek.
Tom Ridge, the man President Bush has put in charge of homeland security acknowledges investigators have no idea who is behind these latest anthrax attacks which have killed four people and set much of the country on edge. "We have not ruled out whether this was the act of an individual or a collective act, whether it was a domestic source or a foreign source," he says.
Iraq's use of poison gas against thousands of its own Kurdish civilians in 1988 has shown the world that chemical and biological agents have not been kept confined to laboratories or destroyed in accordance with international treaties.
Former deputy chief United Nations weapons inspector Charles Duelfer says Iraq was well on its way to developing weapons far deadlier than anthrax as recently as 1998. "Particularly in the biological weapons area, Iraq has to be assumed to have a fairly sophisticated approach to this and probably stocks on hand," he said.
During the trial of those implicated in the U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa three years ago, testimony emerged about how Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network was trying to obtain nuclear and biological weapons. It's for all of these reasons that the man who oversaw Moscow's secret bioweapons program suspects these latest anthrax attacks in the United States may show that terrorists have now succeeded in acquiring and using a weapon of mass destruction.
"In my opinion," said Mr. Alibek, "it's still the same type of terrorist activity and probably we need to look for possible perpetrators amongst people who were involved in the September 11 attack."
Perhaps more worrisome is the fact that the former Russian military colonel is unsure where all of the 7,000 or so low paid scientists who he used to supervise have gone. What concerns him most is who they might now be working for. "A lot of them are overseas, abroad," he said. "Many people are in Europe, some are in the United States. We've heard something about some people who left for Iran. There was some rumor about involvement in some work with Iraq."
Various programs have been put in place to find jobs for out of work weapons scientists from the former Soviet Union. But Ken Alibek believes the recent anthrax attacks should serve as a warning to the U.S. government that it needs to do more to locate these people, bring them to the United States and provide them with jobs here. That would keep them from working for countries or groups in search of the kind of weapons that if used, could make the recent anthrax attacks seem mild by comparison.