Russian Bio-Chem Weapons
Technology Ready And
Waiting - And Being Exported
By John Diamond
Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) Russia has the ability to revive its once massive chemical and biological warfare capability and Russian firms weakly policed by the government are exporting weapons technology, according to a U.S. intelligence assessment.
The CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency told lawmakers in newly released written responses to questions that the basic building blocks of the former Soviet Union's chemical and biological weapons capability are being maintained by Moscow. In addition, the intelligence agencies said certain elements of the Russian government may be seeking to circumvent arms control agreements that limit offensive chemical and biological weapons.
"Key components of the former Soviet biological warfare program remain largely intact and may support a possible future mobilization capability for the production of biological agents and delivery systems,'' the DIA reported in its written responses to questions posed by the Senate Intelligence Committee. "Moreover, work outside the scope of legitimate biological defense activity may be occurring now at selected facilities within Russia.''
If that activity is geared toward developing offensive biological weapons, the DIA said, Russia would be violating the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention.
The CIA cited evidence from Russian "whistleblowers'' who have "alleged that Moscow is hiding a program designed to ensure a continuing offensive chemical weapons capability despite arms control commitments,'' including the Chemical Weapons Convention, which took effect in 1995. Some of these allegations have long been publicly aired. In 1992, Russian chemical weapons scientist Vil Mirzayanov said in the Moscow press that Russia was developing a new generation of binary chemical agents called "Novichok'' or "Newcomer.''
"These allegations, when combined with other information give rise to concerns that at least some factions within the Russian government desire to circumvent the Chemical Weapons Convention,'' the CIA concluded.
The CIA said that some biological weapons facilities have been deactivated in recent years but that other facilities remain able to produce biological weapons.
"We cannot establish that Russia has given up this capability and remain concerned that some of the individuals involved in the old Soviet program may be trying to protect elements of it,'' the CIA said.
Both the chemical and biological treaties require signatory countries to eliminate biological and chemical weapons stockpiles and production capabilities. The export of biological or chemical weapons technology is also forbidden by the pacts.
The limits on biological capability leave some wiggle room, according to Spurgeon Keeny, director of the Arms Control Association, an arms control advocacy group based in Washington. The treaty allows research and development of vaccines used in protecting people from biological weapons attacks, and some of these treatments involve diluted versions of the same lethal substances banned by the treaty. As a result, Keeny said, it can be difficult to be sure that a vaccine production lab is not being used for weapons development.
"There has been considerable suspicion over the years that their biological program, which was a separate activity, was moving slowly to be brought in compliance,'' Keeny said. For both the chemical and biological programs, a major problem facing cash-strapped Russia is the high cost " in the tens of billions of dollars " of dismantling huge weapons stockpiles. "The Russians don't have a ghost of an idea where they're going to get the money to do all this,'' Keeny said.
The CIA also reported that private or quasi-governmental organizations in Russia are assisting other countries in weapons development with little oversight by law enforcement agencies seeking to prevent illegal arms technology exports.
"The financial position of defense industries in the countries of the former Soviet Union continues to be shaky, prompting many entities to seek foreign contracts to keep operating,'' according to the CIA. "Government oversight of the activity of these firms appears to be spotty.'' Law enforcement "remains a major problem, given high levels of corruption, limited expertise and resource shortages.''
In addition, the CIA said, "Increasingly, scientists from the former Soviet Union appear to be providing their expertise and know-how to solving weapons development problems for foreign countries.''
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