Government Report Says 3
Nations Hide Stocks Of Smallpox
By William J. Broad and Judith Miller
New York Times

A secret Federal intelligence assessment completed late last year concludes that Iraq, North Korea and Russia are probably concealing the deadly smallpox virus for military use, Government officials say.
The assessment, the officials say, is based on evidence that includes disclosures by a senior Soviet defector, blood samples from North Korean soldiers that show smallpox vaccinations and the fairly recent manufacture of smallpox vaccine by Iraq.
The officials say the warning was an important factor in President Clinton's recent decision to reverse course and forgo destruction of American stocks of the virus.
Besides the United States, only Russia retains openly declared stocks of the virus now, nearly 20 years after the disease was declared to be eradicated. The intelligence assessment concludes that Russia is most likely hiding additional stocks of the virus at military sites.
Although the United States has about 56,000 troops stationed near Iraq and North Korea and is periodically bombing Iraq, the officials say there appears to be no imminent military threat involving the virus.
The steps to turn a microbe into a biological weapon are many, they say, and the Government sees no signs of smallpox arms or planned attacks by the suspect countries.
The virus that causes smallpox is known as variola. One of history's great killers, it ravaged the globe, killing millions and crippling many survivors. Victims had high fever, nausea and a pronounced rash that left many survivors with permanently pocked skin. The disease was highly contagious and quick to attack anyone without immunity.
The United States unilaterally renounced germ warfare in 1969 and lobbied for a 1972 international treaty banning such arms that more than 100 nations, including the Soviet Union, signed.
Iraq and North Korea have repeatedly denied that they have ongoing programs to develop germ weapons. Both signed the 1972 treaty. And Mikhail A. Shurgalin, a spokesman at the Russian Embassy in Washington, denied that Russia maintained secret military stocks of smallpox. "We always observe our international commitments," he said, "including those relating to bacteriological weapons."
The American warning was based on an analysis of years of accumulated data, say the officials, and was prompted by a White House review of whether American stocks of the smallpox virus should be destroyed by the end of this month, as a panel of the World Health Organization recommended in 1996. The United States had previously sided with many other nations in urging that destruction.
The new assessment, officials said, helped persuade a team of Presidential advisers to urge Clinton unanimously to delay the virus's destruction, a reversal the White House announced on April 22.
A senior Defense Department official familiar with the assessment said destroying the virus at the two official repositories, in Russia and the United States, and declaring it abolished globally would be "perpetrating a fraud."
Another deciding factor in Clinton's decision, officials said, was a report by the National Academy of Sciences concluding that keeping the virus would speed the development of new anti-viral treatments.
In recent years, American experts have clashed bitterly over whether the virus exists outside the two official repositories, with intelligence experts tending to argue that it does. Covert stocks would undermine the global plan to exterminate the microbe, and the very existence of hidden stockpiles would be a signal that the countries holding them are interested in the development of germ weapons for war or terrorism.
New Vaccine Program May Be Accelerated
The American military stopped routinely vaccinating troops against smallpox in the late 1980's and would be hard-pressed to resume. The nation's civilian store of smallpox vaccine has quality-control problems, experts say, and the process that was used to manufacture it would not meet modern standards.
The Pentagon has a program under way to develop a new vaccine, but its testing and development are usually projected to take until 2005 at the earliest. The Defense Department official said the new intelligence assessment and the President's reversal could end up accelerating the Pentagon's program.
Clinton's decision has been seen as likely to give the declared stocks of the virus a new lease on life. Officially, however, possible destruction has simply been put off while the world health authorities research and debate the new arguments for keeping the stocks. They have given themselves until June 2002 to do so. Russia has long opposed the virus's destruction.
Outside of the lab, variola thrives only in the human body. After the world health authorities declared humans free of smallpox in 1980, plans were made to destroy laboratory stocks. The cause of the ancient pestilence was to be the world's first species made extinct by design rather than accident.
Today, declared stocks exist only in guarded freezers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and the Russian State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology (known as Vector) near Novosibirsk, in Siberia.
The officials who discussed the new intelligence warning refused to divulge it in its entirety. But in a series of interviews, they disclosed some details and pointed out supporting evidence scattered among declassified intelligence reports.
Considerable weight, they said, was given to the disclosures by a Soviet defector, Ken Alibek. Alibek came to the United States in 1992, after serving as a top official in the Soviet Union's illicit germ warfare program, now known to have been the world's largest and most advanced. The Russian President, Boris N. Yeltsin, ordered it to end in 1992.
In secret debriefings, Alibek said that Russia had grown vast quantities of the smallpox virus for war and that as Russian scientists sought new ways to support themselves when the Soviet system collapsed, samples of the virus might have been sold or hidden.
A May 1994 report by the Defense Intelligence Agency, citing an unidentified source whose credibility has been questioned by some experts, echoed Alibek's worry. It said some of the Russian smallpox had been sent to Iraq and North Korea, naming no other nations. The transfers, it said, apparently occurred in the late 1980's and early 1990's.
"There is concern that the virus was transferred," a top intelligence expert said in an interview.
Provocative Details From an Iraqi Soldier
raq is well known to have worked hard at using germs in unconventional arms, which could most easily be spread by some form of spraying. But the United Nations, which investigated Iraq after the Persian Gulf war in 1991, never listed smallpox as a focus of Iraq's biological weapons programs.
An Iraqi soldier told the allied authorities during the gulf war that he had been immunized against smallpox as a warfare safeguard around 1985 or 1986 during the Iraq-Iran conflict, which ended in 1988.
The soldier, a Defense Intelligence Agency report said, told of having seen "smallpox casualties" and "acne-type skin inflammations, eating into body tissue." Just who suffered the casualties was unclear, as was whether the soldier could diagnose smallpox accurately.
The officials who discussed the warning said the soldier's claims were supported by widespread evidence of immunizations in blood taken from Iraqi prisoners during the gulf war, although some experts said such immunity could come from routine vaccinations years earlier.
Evidence for the warning also came from the United Nations, which shared its findings about Baghdad's weapons programs with Washington. In interviews, United Nations arms inspectors said they discovered that the Iraqis were making the smallpox vaccine as late as 1989, a decade after the disease had been eradicated and long after the United States had stopped doing so.
Another discovery prompted even stronger suspicions that Iraq was working on smallpox weapons, experts said. In the mid-1990's, inspectors found a special apparatus, a freeze-drier, labeled "smallpox" at the maintenance shop of the State Establishment for Medical Appliances Marketing, an arm of the Ministry of Health, which was involved in germ warfare.
Freeze-driers, experts said, have applications in both vaccine production and preparing germs for dissemination in war.
Finally, suspicions about Iraq increased further when a senior Iraqi virologist involved in making germ weapons, Hazem Ali, told arms inspectors that Iraq was working on camel pox, which causes fever and skin rash in camels but which rarely infects humans. An inspector said Baghdad's germ scientists were suspected of using the disease as a less deadly surrogate for smallpox to perform research and refine production methods.
A Central Intelligence Agency report echoed that, saying in May 1996 that camel pox "could possibly serve as a research model for smallpox."
In contrast to Iraq, North Korea has long been publicly accused of keeping secret stocks of smallpox.
Russia made the charge forcibly in the early 1990's when its Foreign Intelligence Service, the successor to the Soviet Union's K.G.B., wrote a report on the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Among other things, the report said North Korea, a former ally, was working on smallpox weapons.
The Senate Committee on Government Affairs, headed by John Glenn, then a Republican Senator from Ohio, obtained a copy of the Russian report, had it translated and made it public in February 1993. At an open hearing, a Central Intelligence Agency expert said he believed that the report was "not a bad summary," but he declined to address specifics.
Hints of Data From North Korea
Adding new clues about North Korea, Federal officials said in interviews that they had inferred from the meetings with intelligence officials that key parts of the warning were bolstered by disclosures from a North Korean defector.
They also said that recent blood samples from North Korean soldiers showed evidence of immunizations, and that other information indicates some vaccinations were fresh.
"The vaccinations are as close to a smoking gun as you can come," the Defense Department official said.
Senior intelligence analysts presented their warning to the Presidential advisory team early this year in oral and written form, the Defense Department official said, helping persuade them, in combination with the Academy report, that it was prudent for the United States to forgo smallpox destruction.
But other officials said some members of the advisory team debating the virus destruction had doubts about some of the data, especially blood evidence about vaccinations.
The strongest suspicions of secret smallpox work described in the intelligence warning, they said, surround Russia's military labs, which, unlike Vector, remain closed to outsiders. But the officials would not give further details.
That finding is politically sensitive because the Clinton Administration is helping former Russian germ warriors find civilian work, despite Republican assertions that such aid can foster secret military strides. Backers of the Clinton approach say it provides the best window into all Russian germ work, both civilian and military.