NBC Weapons: February 24, 2002


Data captured in al Qaeda safe houses and offices in Afghanistan has shown that Bin Laden's organization was frantically trying to obtain weapons of mass destruction, and had zeroed in on Ex-Soviet Central Asia as the place to get them. The labs and bases in the formerly Soviet republics have numerous nuclear warheads, biological weapons stocks, and chemical munitions. Of these, the biological weapons are the least protected. Vials of anthrax stored in the Anti-Plague Institute in Alma Atta are kept not in deep vaults but in an ordinary refrigerator with a padlock on the door. Until recently, that lab didn't even have a fence around it; the omnipresent power of the Soviet State had protected it for decades. The US has since paid for a fence. Criminals in the mid-90s broke into the lab to steal equipment they could melt down and sell as scrap, ignoring bioweapon samples stored in (then-unlocked) refrigerators. The Soviet Union had a staggering ability to produce bioweapons. One facility was built to produce 1.5 tons of antibiotic-resistant anthrax every 24 hours. Now, at least 7,000 scientists and technicians employed in the Soviet bioweapons program are unemployed. The US is paying $30 million to dismantle the largest bioweapons plant (Stepnogorsk) and put its scientists to work producing vaccines.--Stephen V Cole


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