Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World--Told from Inside by the Man Who Ran It

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9780375502316: Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World--Told from Inside by the Man Who Ran It

Imagine a hot zone in which Ebola is being spliced--using the latest techniques of genetic engineering--with smallpox, the most infectious disease known to man. Now imagine that cocktail is meant for you.
        
For fifty years, while the world stood in terror of a nuclear war, Russian scientists hidden in heavily guarded secret cities refined and stockpiled a new kind of weapon of mass destruction--an invisible weapon that would strike in silence and could not be traced. It would leave hundreds of thousands dead in its wake and would continue to spread devastation long after its release. The scientists were bioweaponeers, working to perfect the tools of a biological Armageddon. They called it their Manhattan Project. It was the deadliest and darkest secret of the cold war.
        
What you are about to read has never before been made public. Ken Alibek began his career as a doctor wanting to save lives and ended up running the Soviet biological weapons program--a secret military empire masquerading as a pharmaceutical company. At its peak, the program employed sixty thousand people at over one hundred facilities. Seven reserve mobilization plants were on permanent standby, ready to produce hundreds of tons of plague, anthrax, smallpox, and Venezuelan equine encephalitis, to name only a few of the toxic agents bred in Soviet labs. Almost every government ministry was implicated, including the Academy of Sciences and the KGB.
        
Biohazard is a terrifying, fast-paced account of tests and leaks, accidents and disasters in the labs, KGB threats and assassinations. The book is full of revelations--evidence of biowarfare programs in Cuba and India, actual deployments at Stalingrad and in Afghanistan, experiments with mood-altering agents, a contingency plan to attack major American cities, and the true story behind the mysterious anthrax outbreak in Sverdlovsk. But beyond these is a twisted world of lies and mirrors, and the riveting parable of the greatest perversion of science in history.
        
No one knows the actual capabilities of biological weapons better than Dr. Alibek. Many of the scientists who worked with him have been lured away from low-paying Russian labs to rogue regimes and terrorist groups around the world. In our lifetime, we will most likely see a terrorist attack using biological weapons on an American city. Biohazard tells us--in chilling detail--what to expect and what we can do. Not since Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon has there been such a book--a report from inside the belly of the beast.

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Review:

In this fast-paced memoir, Ken Alibek combines cutting-edge science with the narrative techniques of a thriller to describe some of the most awful weapons imaginable. The result will remind readers of The Hot Zone, Richard Preston's smart bestseller about the Ebola virus. That book focuses on the dangers of a freak accident; Biohazard shows how disease can become a deliberate tool of war. Alibek, once a top scientist in the Soviet Union's biological weapons program, describes putting anthrax on a warhead and targeting a city on the other side of the world. "A hundred kilograms of anthrax spores would, in optimal atmospheric conditions, kill up to three million people in any of the densely populated metropolitan areas of the United States," he writes. "A single SS-18 [missile] could wipe out the population of a city as large as New York."

Chilling passages like these, plus discussions of proliferation and terrorism, make Biohazard a harrowing book, but it also has a human side. Alibek, who defected to the United States, describes the routine danger of his work: "A bioweapons lab leaves its mark on a person forever." An unending stream of vaccinations has destroyed his sense of smell, afflicted him with allergies, made it impossible to eat certain kinds of food, and "weakened my resistance to disease and probably shortened my life." But it didn't take away his ability to tell an astonishing story. --John J. Miller

From the Back Cover:

Advance praise for Biohazard

"As the top scientist in the Soviet biowarfare program and the inventor of the world's most powerful anthrax, Ken Alibek has stunned the highest levels of the U.S. government with his revelations. Now, in a calm, compelling, utterly convincing voice, he tells the world what he knows. Modern biology is producing weapons that in killing power may exceed the hydro-gen bomb. Ken Alibek describes them with the intimate knowledge of a top weaponeer."--Richard Preston, author of The Hot Zone

"An important and fascinating look into a terrifying world of which we were blissfully unaware. While we all grew up with the anxiety of the threat of a nuclear winter, little did we know there was an equally horrific menace from biotechnology. Biohazard takes you behind the scenes of the Soviet Union's clandestine bioweapons program. Read and be amazed. . . ."--Robin Cook, author of Contagion

"This is a gripping book. The hum of machines that kept deadly airborne germs away from the scientists and their families can be heard in the background. The technical details are vivid and terrible even as the human story unfolds. It was fascinating--and chilling--to peer inside this awesome war machine. I worked for a dozen years to develop defenses against a Soviet threat that was largely unknown. To see its full scope made me realize how overpowered we would have been if it had ever been used. Military casualties would have been incredible, but civilians would have suffered equally as contagious diseases raced through cities and towns. Some of the Soviet 'advances,' such as inducing antibiotic resistance in classical pathogens like plague, would have changed the practice of medicine forever."
--C. J. Peters, author of Virus Hunter, former deputy commander of USAMRIID, now at the CDC

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