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Richard Preston Discusses Biological Warfare in his New Novel.

Writer Richard Preston talks with Barbara Bogaev about the emerging threat of biological weapons. In this week's The New Yorker magazine, Preston writes about the former Soviet Union's research into biological weapons. His new novel "Cobra" (Random House) explores the use of bio-weapons in a civilian setting. Preston also wrote the international bestseller "The Hot Zone." (Interview by Barbara Bogaev)


Other segments from the episode on March 9, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 9, 1998: Interview with Richard Preston; Interview with Jonathan Tucker; Review of Fred Hersch's and Umberto Petrin's albums "Fred Hersch Plays Monk: Thelonious" and…


Date: MARCH 09, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 030901np.217
Head: Biological Threat
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:06

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev sitting in for Terry Gross.

Science writer Richard Preston has been covering infectious diseases and emerging viruses for nearly a decade. His 1992 book "The Hot Zone" told the story of the Ebola virus, a highly-contagious and in most cases lethal illness which causes massive hemorrhaging in its victims.

Preston is also the author of a new novel called "The Cobra Event," about biological terrorism. It's speculated that Iraq, Russia and many other nations around the world are researching and developing viral and bacterial strains, including Ebola, as weapons of mass destruction.

Richard Preston has a new article in this week's New Yorker magazine on biological weapons and the scientists who are researching them. In the piece, he profiles Ken Allibeck (ph), an anthrax specialist who defected from the Russian biological weapons program in 1992. Allibeck claims that under his tenure, the Russians were developing smallpox, Marburg virus, and anthrax for use in offensive weaponry despite an international ban on their production.

These bio-weapons come under the heading of germ warfare, which includes chemical weapons. I asked Richard Preston how biological and chemical weapons differ.

RICHARD PRESTON, SCIENCE WRITER, AUTHOR, "THE COBRA EVENT": There is a profound difference -- a world of difference -- between chemical weapons and biological weapons. Chemical weapons are poison gasses. They act locally and generally they touch your skin and they cause instantaneous death. Biological weapons are germs. They're organisms and they're alive. They may be specially engineered for purposes of warfare and terrorism. They can spread in an infectious process.

So the biological weapon can be a strategic weapon. That is to say, it can have a terrible impact on a large human population very suddenly. There are only two kinds of strategic weapons in the world. One is nuclear weapons and the other is biological weapons. The difference is that biological weapons are alive and know how to replicate in the human body. A nuclear bomb is not alive and doesn't know how to make copies of itself.

BOGAEV: Does that mean that bio-weapons are much more effective than nuclear weapons?

PRESTON: In certain significant respects, a contagious biological weapon may be more powerful than the hydrogen bomb because it can spread. It may also be more control -- uncontrollable. However, it should be pointed out that many biological weapons are, in fact, not contagious, such as anthrax.

You can't catch anthrax from a person who's infected with it. This means that they act in very controllable ways. You can do a release of a biological weapon on a human population, and you know it isn't going to spread. You know it's merely going to kill the people who have breathed it.

BOGAEV: What effect does anthrax have on the body?

PRESTON: Anthrax is interesting. Anthrax is a bacterium, of course, that forms spores. They can drift for many miles in the air. If they lodge in the human lung, they cause something that resembles a kind of flu or the common cold. Now, you can imagine, for example, a terrorist attack on a city using anthrax.

For three days, people who had been in the plume of anthrax particles and had become infected would be walking around thinking they had the common cold. People would be saying to one another: "there's something new going around town" -- around New York, Washington, or wherever.

On about day three, you suddenly die of anthrax pneumonia. The death is precipitate and it's an absolute crash. Doctors in the Soviet Union who observed patients dying of anthrax during an accident in 1979 reported that they would be talking to a patient at bedside, and the patient would be explaining how he felt, and he would die in mid-sentence. He would die between breaths.

The anthrax spores produce a toxin as they multiply -- a toxin which actually causes a breathing arrest.

BOGAEV: There's a vaccine for anthrax, but is there a cure for anthrax?

PRESTON: The vaccine is in fact a cure. You can get the vaccine after you've been exposed to anthrax and it will save your life, in the same way that the rabies vaccine will save you after you've been bitten by a dog -- a mad dog.

The -- the downside here is that if a major release of anthrax were to occur in an American city, say, it's quite conceivable that 50,000 or more people would be exposed to the plume of anthrax particles. It would be necessary to fly in, overnight, maybe three tons of antibiotics or a similar amount of vaccines, just to get them into that 50,000 people. If people were aware that they'd been exposed to a biological weapon, there would be a terrible public outcry for medicines immediately, to help calm the population and save lives.

At the present time, the federal government is totally unprepared to do this. There isn't any stockpile of three tons of antibiotics anywhere in the United States and there isn't any system to get vaccines or antibiotics into an American population.

BOGAEV: Is there any protection from them? Say, are you safer if you're inside or if you're doing the old duck and cover routine?

PRESTON: No, you're not safer indoors. The United States conducted huge strategic tests of real live biological weapons in the Pacific Ocean during the 1960s. These tests went on from 1964 to '69. And they involved huge elements of the U.S. Navy. The number of ships was equivalent to about a fifth of the U.S. Navy.

These ships -- the tests were as extensive as any hydrogen bomb test in the Pacific. One of the things they found out was that when they release these things into the air, they tested them on monkeys that were in barges stationed downwind from the releases. And monkeys that were in rooms below decks, closed off from the outside air, died at the same rate as monkeys that were outdoors. The particles can simply seep through cracks and drift into a room.

BOGAEV: My guest is Richard Preston. He's the author of a number of books on science, including "First Light" and The Hot Zone on the Ebola virus. He's also the author of a novel about biological terrorism called The Cobra Event.

He's written an article about bio-weapons -- the bio-weapons industry in the Soviet states and here in the U.S., for the New Yorker magazine that's currently on newsstands.

Now what -- what we know about the Soviet biological weapons program has mainly come from two sources -- two scientists who defected in the last decade from Russia. You've talked extensively to one of them, Ken Allibeck. What was his job in the Soviet bio-weapons organization?

PRESTON: Dr. Ken Allibeck was the chief scientist in the Soviet biological weapons program. He was a scientific administrator and a researcher who worked out of the offices of "Bio Preparat" (ph) in Moscow. Bio Preparat then was the umbrella organization for this huge, sprawling bio-warfare program.

BOGAEV: I'd like you to tell us more about these infectious biological weapons, starting with smallpox. You write that in the early '90s, the Soviet bio-weapons program engineered a new smallpox. Tell us about it.

PRESTON: Yes, Ken Allibeck has made the claim, and it is supported by some evidence, that in the early 1990s just before the Soviet Union broke up, researchers at a place called "Vector" (ph), which is a huge laboratory in Siberia that was primarily dedicated to the development and production of virus weapons, did genetic engineering on the smallpox virus.

Now, smallpox virus, it turns out, may be quite amenable to genetic engineering. It's rather easy to open up the genome or the DNA of smallpox and put other things in there -- other types of viruses for example. The claim is that they developed a brain virus out of smallpox. They added something called V.E.E. (ph), or Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis, which causes a sudden massive infection of the human central nervous system. The idea is by putting this into smallpox, you would have, in effect, a brain pox -- a type of smallpox that races through the human brain.

Whether they actually did this and whether they tested this is a matter of debate. But I think the -- the bottom line is that genetic engineering is rather easy to do, and there's plenty of circumstantial, but troubling evidence, that a number of countries worldwide now are using genetic engineering to create new viruses for the purposes of weapons.

BOGAEV: You write that it's possible that the smallpox has left Russia for destinations all over the world. Who's carrying it? And -- and are they carrying it in a -- in an easily engineerable form that would be effective?

PRESTON: The Russian biological weapons program has hit hard times. And many scientists -- no one knows the number -- appear to have gone abroad to other countries. The world may be entering a kind of quiet biological arms race. And the Soviets had the most advanced and successful bio-weapons program on Earth. They may well have sent people -- I should say that people may have just simply left Russia and gone to foreign countries, maybe carrying strains with them.

BOGAEV: Our guest is Richard Preston. He's the author of a number of books about industry and science, including The Hot Zone on the Ebola virus and a novel about biological terrorism called The Cobra Event. Richard Preston is also a contributor to the New Yorker. He has an article in the current edition of the magazine about biological weapons and the history of the bio-weapons industry in the Soviet states and also in the United States.

We'll be back after this break and then we'll talk some more.

This is FRESH AIR.

If you're just joining us, I'm talking with science writer and novelist Richard Preston. He has a piece in the New Yorker magazine on the newsstands now about biological weapons -- what they are, how they're produced, and who's working on them.

Ken Allibeck also told you about a number of different weapons that the Soviet scientists were developing during his tenure in the program. One of them was Marburg virus. First of all, what -- what is that? Where does it come from?

PRESTON: Marburg virus -- Marburg virus is a close cousin of the Ebola virus. It first came to the attention of the world in 1967 in Marburg, Germany. It causes a kind of biological meltdown of the human being, the same way that Ebola does, and it looks like Ebola under a microscope.

One of the standard reference strains of the Marburg virus is known as the "pop" strain. And it came from the body of a monkey worker in Germany in 1967 named Heinrich Pop. He survived, apparently. The Soviets obtained the strain and in 1988 they were working on it with the idea that they could create a strategic biological weapon out of it for loading into their intercontinental ballistic missiles targeted on the United States.

A researcher at the Vector Laboratory in Siberia by the name of Dr. Nikolai Ustinov (ph), who was working with Marburg in a level-four lab, and he pricked his finger with a needle. This got Marburg into his bloodstream. And over the court of about 14 days, he proceeded to die an incredibly gruesome death of the Marburg virus.

He was a scientist, Dr. Ustinov, and he kept a scientific journal or a diary. And in the end, his journal is smeared with blood. He apparently sweated blood directly from the pores of his skin during the final hemorrhagic phase as he died.

Afterwards, there -- on April 30th, 1988, there was an autopsy conducted in the level four hospital. The researchers at Vector removed Dr. Ustinov's liver and spleen and a quantity of his blood. They used this as the reference material for a strain of virus of Marburg which they then called "variant U" -- "variant U" -- after Ustinov.

Variant U was extensively tested and by about 1990, they had developed a manufacturing process to make it in fairly large quantities -- kilogram quantities -- of pure, powdered variant U Marburg virus, which had particles that were extremely fine, like bath talc. They were treated with certain special materials, and they were what is known as a strategic operational biological weapon, ready for loading into warheads. It was right at that time that the Soviet Union fell apart.

I speculate and wonder whether the variant U strain of Marburg, which began with a humble monkey worker in Germany named Pop -- has now gone abroad to other countries around the world and may be a focus of military development of biological weapons. For all anybody knows, variant U of Marburg may be one of the most dangerous and disturbing biological weapons that exists today.

BOGAEV: In the late '60s and early '70s, a number of nations, including the U.S., Great Britain, and the Soviet Union all agreed to -- to ban the development and the stockpiling and the use of biological weapons. Now, you write that the fallout at least for the United States in shutting down its bio-weapons program is that scientists here don't really know how these biological weapons work. And in fact, don't think that they're effective.

What do scientists, or the scientists that you've talked to here in the U.S., base their distrust of bio-weapons on?

PRESTON: That's really interesting. One of the unexpected results of the ending of the American biological weapons program was a virtually total loss of technical knowledge of biological weapons. And a generation of experts in biological weapons came along -- scientists -- who firmly believed that Russia was not violating the biological weapons treaty. They insisted on this passionately. They were absolutely wrong. It's now known in the science community how wrong they were.

But in the meantime, there was a sense of confidence about the treaty -- confidence that the treaty was working; confidence that in any case biological weapons, it was believed, had never been thoroughly tested and never been demonstrated to work, and in fact might not be usable as weapons. They would either be simply ineffective -- they wouldn't kill people -- or they would have this tendency to go so wildly out of control that they would blow back and destroy anybody who used them.

While these beliefs, and they were only beliefs -- not based on fact -- were circulating in the American scientific community, a generation of talented and skilled researchers in the Soviet Union was moving forward rapidly with a highly successful biological weapons program.

BOGAEV: And what is the fallout for that? I mean, what -- what are the dangers of us not really understanding how these weapons work in a very practical hands-on manner?

PRESTON: Well, you know I think it's translated into a belief -- a widespread belief -- in the American government, which by the way is now changing rapidly, that biological weapons are not really a problem. They're not a problem in diplomacy, really. They're not really a threat to national security; not really. They're not anything that has to be put on the front burner and dealt with intellectually or technically.

BOGAEV: The U.S. military is currently moving up on its anthrax vaccination program. I mean, they're taking this -- this threat, at least of anthrax, pretty seriously. Now, some of the -- the biological weapons that you're describing make anthrax sound like nothing. Are we on the wrong track? And are we on the wrong track because of this misunderstanding of how these weapons work and what their effectiveness is?

PRESTON: No, we're not on the wrong track. We're getting onto the right track. The fact of the matter is that sure, there are a lot of absolutely terrible biological weapons out there. There's a wide variety of them, apparently, and some of them -- the genetically engineered types -- we don't -- may not even know about or know how to deal with.

But you know, you fight diseases one step at a time -- natural diseases. When measles is going around, you vaccinate for measles. When smallpox was going around in its natural form, we fought it. Each one of these weapons or diseases has to be dealt with as an entity or an individual -- as an organism. And it makes a big difference to go ahead and try to prepare for anthrax; to try to prepare for smallpox.

If you do that, you've denied a potential enemy the use of these kinds of weapons either on American troops or even on the American population as a whole. Just to give you an example about that, if the United States is vaccinating its armed forces for anthrax, that means that there will be a factory available for making large amounts of anthrax vaccine. The vaccine will be stockpiled somewhere in the United States, and it will also be usable on a civilian population in an emergency.

This is a good idea to do this kind of thing.

BOGAEV: Is the United States currently researching or creating bio-weapons?

PRESTON: Not to my knowledge, and it's a great question. I think there really is actually -- there are actually two answers to that question. First of all, I've seen no evidence of it. And in fact, I go around and I find that the people who have been most knowledgeable about biological weapons are these old people who are retired now -- the veterans of the old American program.

There is a stark lack of knowledge of these weapons among people who are in government now. That would indicate that we don't have a program. And in addition, I just haven't seen the evidence.

The second part of the answer is that what's scary to me is that the United States could have a program overnight if there was a decision to do it. We have the most advanced biotechnology industry in the world. I think that what keeps us from doing this is, in fact, the American people. The public has to kind of keep up a vigilance about this and I think that in the United States secrets don't stay secrets for very long.

If we had a program or one was beginning to develop, it would be revealed quickly enough. And then it would be, I feel, the responsibility or the duty of the American public to put a stop to it.

BOGAEV: Well, given what you know about the Soviet bio-weapons program and also what -- the research that you've done into the Iraqi situation, what can you say with any certainty is the Iraqi arsenal?

PRESTON: I think this is a very good question, and I think clearly the UN was kicked out of Iraq because they were finding out what the arsenal is in Iraq. Whether the Iraqis are really good at using their biological weapons -- how much do they really know about biological weapons -- isn't at all clear.

But I think we can speculate that the Iraqi arsenal would include anthrax, which may well be genetically engineered for antibiotic resistance; smallpox perhaps; camel-pox, yes, which is a close relative of smallpox; black plague, maybe; botulism or botulinum (ph) toxin, definitely -- the Iraqis said they had it. And there may be other agents -- infectious organisms -- in the Iraqi arsenal.

BOGAEV: Richard Preston, I want to thank you very much for talking with me today on FRESH AIR.

PRESTON: Nice to be with you, Barbara.

BOGAEV: Richard Preston's article on biological weapons is featured in this week's New Yorker magazine. His new novel about biological terrorism is The Cobra Event.

I'm Barbara Bogaev and this is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Barbara Bogaev, Philadelphia
Guest: Richard Preston
High: Writer Richard Preston talks with Barbara Bogaev about the emerging threat of biological weapons. In this week's The New Yorker magazine, Preston writes about the former Soviet Union's research into biological weapons. His new novel "Cobra" explores the use of bio-weapons in a civilian setting. Preston has also written the international bestseller "The Hot Zone."
Spec: Books; Authors; Science; Health and Medicine; Violence Military; Bio-Weapons
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Biological Threat
Date: MARCH 09, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 030901np.217
Head: Nonproliferation Project
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:30

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev sitting in for Terry Gross.

The UN Security Council today is considering Secretary General Kofi Annan's plan for inspecting sensitive presidential sites in Iraq. Inspection teams have successfully visited two of these sites since the secretary general's negotiations with Saddam Hussein last week.

Jonathan Tucker is the director of the Chemical and Biological Weapons Nonproliferation Project at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California. He's also served as an arms control fellow at the U.S. State Department and as a member of a UN weapons inspection team in Iraq in 1995.

He inspected a large facility in the desert outside of Baghdad which the UN found suspicious. I asked him why the UN targeted this site.

DR. JONATHAN TUCKER, DIRECTOR, CHEMICAL AND BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS NONPROLIFERATION PROJECT, MONTEREY INSTITUTE OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: The plant in question was known as Al Haqem (ph). It was 55 kilometers southwest of Baghdad, or about an hour and a half by bus. This facility was -- had been linked to Salman Pak (ph) through -- an organizational link.

And the Iraqis actually declared it when they provided a list of all of their fermentation sites throughout Iraq. But they claimed that it was engaged in strictly civilian activities -- the production of a bacterial pesticide to kill caterpillars on crops and of a single-cell protein material which was, they claimed, being used as a supplement for animal feed to feed chickens.

And in fact, all of the equipment at this site was dual use, which means that it was legitimately engaged in production of civilian products, but could also be used to make biological weapons in the very same fermentation vessels. And in fact, this is a problem with -- with verification of any treaty to ban biological weapons because much, if not all, of the equipment does have potentially civilian applications.

So there's a great -- great deal of ambiguity involved. But there were a number of suspicious factors, but it was not until the defection of Hussein Kamal -- that's Saddam Hussein's son-in-law -- who was the mastermind behind the biological weapons program, that the UN Special Commission was able to find compelling evidence that this facility, Al Haqem, was in fact Iraq's premier biological weapons production site.

BOGAEV: It sounds as if the tricks that Iraq or other countries use to camouflage biological production facilities -- that they're not very easy to see through. Is that true?

TUCKER: Yes, that's true. That is the dilemma in detecting and eliminating biological weapons programs because they can be very easily concealed in civilian facilities. And developing countries do have a legitimate need to produce vaccines to make single-cell protein; to produce biological pesticides. And in fact, biotechnology has provided many benefits to the developing world in terms of improved public health and improved agricultural yields.

But at the same time, it does have a dark side. The same technology that is providing real benefits can also be used to produce biological weapons and can be -- can provide a cover and a seemingly legitimate civilian cover -- for a military program.

So, this is not only a problem that is unique to Iraq. It is a problem that is quite pervasive in the developing world.

BOGAEV: How do you clean up a biological weapons facility if you want to avoid being found out in one of these inspections?

TUCKER: Well, the -- the best way, actually, of -- of finding clandestine biological weapons production at a facility like Al Haqem, which is ostensibly commercial, is to take samples. And sometimes a producer is careless and is sloppy in the production techniques and may leave tell-tale indicators of illicit production.

In a more sophisticated facility, it is easier to clean up the fermentation vessels, for example. In the most sophisticated fermentation facilities, there is what's called "clean in place" technology where the fermentation vats can actually be sterilized in place, rather than disassembling them over a period of hours or days.

This facility at Al Haqem was not that sophisticated, and so that the -- the inspectors took samples from the production line, and although they did not find anthrax or other obviously incriminating indicators, they did find some anomalies that suggested to them that illicit production might be taking place.

And those anomalies were found in the biopesticide production line. Iraq was producing a bacterium known as bacillus thuringensis (ph), or BT. This is a bacterium that is produced throughout the world as an insecticide. It contains -- the bacterium contains tiny protein crystals that kill insects.

But when the UN inspectors took samples from the Iraqi BT production line, they determined that the bacteria did not contain those crystals, so that Iraq was ostensibly producing a bacterial pesticide that had no pesticidal activity. That was the first anomaly.

And the second anomaly was when the inspectors took samples from a spray dryer at the end of the production line, which was producing a dried bacterial product that could then be spread on crops. They determined that the particle size of the powder was too fine, actually, to be applied to crops because it would not settle out of the air. It would just remain suspended in the air. Yet that particle size was ideal for production of a biological weapon, which would be disseminated by creating an aerosol or a suspension of microscopic particles that could then be breathed in by the victims.

So it -- it seemed there was at least a strong suspicion on the part of the inspectors that Iraq was trying to develop the technology at Al Haqem to produce a dried anthrax that could then be disseminated as an aerosol. So under the very noses of the inspectors, and as a ostensibly civilian activity, Iraq was apparently developing a new form of anthrax that would be even more deadly.

BOGAEV: What do you think of the recent agreement that UN Secretary General Kofi Annan negotiated with Iraq? It set up a special inspection team, which includes diplomats, and they'll allegedly have access to the disputed sensitive sites in the country. It sounds from everything you've said that this is a highly, highly technical specialty and that including diplomats in the inspection process somewhat politicizes the issue.

TUCKER: Well, that has clearly been Iraq's goal, is to weaken the role of the UN Special Commission, which is a scientific and technical organization, and to give an increasing role to the UN Security Council because Iraq does have some friends on the Security Council and they would like to play off those friends against the United States and the UN Special Commission, and basically weaken the role of the technical inspectors under -- under Mr. Butler.

But that having been said, it -- it all depends on the actual arrangements that are negotiated for the participation of diplomats in the inspection teams. And of course, the diplomats would only participate in inspections of so-called "presidential sites," of which there are eight declared in Iraq. These are really a small minority of the sites of interest to the UN Special Commission.

I mean, there is some potential concern about setting a precedent -- that Iraq might try to extend the special arrangements negotiated for the presidential sites to other sensitive sites. But the UN Special Commission has -- has made it very clear that it would strongly, strenuously resist any effort by Iraq to do so.

BOGAEV: What lessons do you draw from the UN experience in Iraq about how to go about monitoring and inspecting biological and chemical weapons production in non-cooperative nations around the world?

TUCKER: The UN Special Commission has engaged in extensive detective work, particularly -- and they've been particularly effective in the auditing, for example, of import and export data; in using interviews with Iraqi officials to uncover discrepancies; and to home in on defective cover stories and force the Iraqis to -- to admit these programs over a period of time.

I think the primary lesson is that one isn't -- generally not going to find a smoking gun -- you know, unequivocal evidence of biological weapons. In fact, the UN Special Commission has not found a single filled biological munition. But at the same time, they've been able to use, for example, discrepancies in Iraqi imports of culture medium used to grow bacteria, of which there was a -- there were 17 tons of culture media that the Iraqis could not explain; discrepancies in the Iraqi cover stories which began to crumble.

And all that forced the Iraqis to begin to admit the existence of a large-scale production program, although they denied weaponization. And it was not until the defection of Hussein Kamal that the Iraqis finally decided to come clean or were forced to come clean and admit a very large-scale production of biological weapons.

BOGAEV: Jonathan Tucker is the director of the Chemical and Biological Weapons Nonproliferation Project in Monterey, California. He served as a UN weapons inspector in Iraq in 1995.

We're going to take a short break and then we'll talk some more.

This is FRESH AIR.

Back with Jonathan Tucker. He served as a UN weapons inspector in Iraq in 1995. He directs the Chemical and Biological Weapons Nonproliferation Project in Monterey, California.

Ken Allibeck is a defector from the Soviet biological weapons program. Our guest -- our other guest in this show, Richard Preston, talked to him extensively. He claims that the Russians continue to develop new biological agents. How credible do you think his information about the Soviet's biological weapons program is?

TUCKER: Well, Mr. Allibeckov defected from the former Soviet Union in 1992. So I think his information up to 1992 is quite accurate. I don't know what his sources are with respect to the current status of the program, and I would be somewhat cautious in terms of that information.

But I think he does have excellent information about what actually went on in the so-called "Bio-Preparat" (ph) complex, which was an ostensibly civilian production complex for vaccines and other legitimate pharmaceuticals that was also engaged in clandestine military research and development and production.

BOGAEV: What does your organization now believe is the Soviet stockpile of biological and chemical weapons?

TUCKER: I don't think that there is strong evidence that there is an actual stockpile. I think the concern is more about the capability to produce these agents in wartime. The -- we know, for example, that during the Russian -- the Soviet-Russian program, there were a number of moth-balled production facilities that the most -- the best-known one was known as "Stepnagorsk" (ph) in what is today Kazakhstan, that had the capability to produce very large quantities of anthrax and other lethal agents, if given the order, within six months. So that in case of war or a crisis, these facilities could easily gear up for a large-scale production of biological agents.

But one thing about biological agents is that they don't store very well indefinitely; that they would generally be produced to order shortly before a conflict. The United States, for example, when we had an offensive program, we had to continually replenish our stockpile of biological agents because after a while, the agents themselves lost their virulence or just died and had to be replaced.

So these are not -- unlike chemical weapons, which if they're produced in pure form can be stored almost indefinitely. So for that reason, it's more likely that a biological program would -- would have a capacity to produce the agents, all the research and development, and the seed cultures will have -- would have been done, and the agents would be produced to order in a crisis or a wartime situation.

BOGAEV: Do you have concerns that the United States might be involved in researching and developing biological weapons?

TUCKER: There -- I -- I don't think that the United States is actively involved in offensive biological weapons research and development. However, we do have a very active defensive program; that is, a program to develop vaccines and protective gear to protect troops against biological weapons. And there is some level of ambiguity.

I mean, to develop effective defenses one has to do research and development to some extent on offensive agents and test the defenses against the offensive agents. So, there is some potential level of ambiguity. And perhaps some of the research and development involved in developing defenses would provide additional information about offenses.

And that is somewhat unavoidable. I think the only way around that ambiguity is to increase openness and transparency with respect to such defensive activities.

BOGAEV: Are the methods at our disposal for dealing with a chemical or biological weapons accident or attack effective?

TUCKER: Well, there is now much greater concern, ever since the Aum Shinrikyo incident in March of 1995, that terrorists might actually acquire these weapons and use them. And in recent years, there has been a program on the part of the U.S. government to increase our preparedness for dealing with these incidents. The program is just getting up and running, so if there were an an incident tomorrow, we would not be -- not be prepared.

But I think there is a -- there's a very comprehensive effort underway to improve the preparedness of not only the federal government and the various federal agencies to deal with these contingencies, but also local and state governments. There is a training program by a number of U.S. government agencies at the 120 largest cities in the country to train first responders -- these are the police, fire and emergency medical services -- that would really be the people on the frontlines in trying to deal with the consequences of a chemical or biological attack.

But a lot more needs to be done. And the chemical -- the effects of the chemical attack would be very different from a biological attack. In a chemical attack, there would be immediate casualties. It would be very clear that something terrible had happened. And the main problem would be to protect the first responders from being -- becoming casualties themselves; decontaminating the victims; administering antidotes and getting them to hospitals.

In the case of a biological attack, because there is a delay -- an incubation period before people come down with symptoms -- one might not even know that an attack had occurred for several days. And the only indicator would be a lot of people suddenly come down with non-specific symptoms and start showing up at hospital emergency rooms or personal physicians -- complaining of flu-like symptoms.

So one would have to develop sophisticated disease surveillance techniques, or epidemiological surveillance mechanisms to detect an outbreak at the early stages when the disease is treatable, and then have stockpiles of antibiotics in place so that large numbers of people could receive therapy in time to save them from the illness. So that -- I think the problem of dealing with biological terrorism is much more complex than dealing with a chemical incident.

BOGAEV: I want to thank you very much for talking with us today on FRESH AIR.

TUCKER: Oh, I enjoyed it. Thank you.

BOGAEV: Jonathan Tucker directs the Chemical and Biological Weapons Nonproliferation Project at the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

This is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Barbara Bogaev, Philadelphia
Guest: Jonathan Tucker
High: Dr. Jonathan Tucker is the director of the Chemical & Biological Weapons Nonproliferation Project based in California. In 1995, Tucker was a member of a biological weapons inspection team in Baghdad for the United Nations. He'll talk about obstacles facing the newest round of inspections in Iraq. Tucker has also served on the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses.
Spec: Health and Medicine; UN; Middle East; Iraq;
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Nonproliferation Project
Date: MARCH 09, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 030903np.217
Head: Thelonious Monk Tributes
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:55

BARBARA BOGAEV, HOST: Sixteen years after the death of Thelonious Monk, tribute albums keep coming from musicians as diverse as West Coast arranger Bill Holman (ph) and loud East Coast drummer Ralph Peterson (ph).

Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says more and more of these albums give you some reason to listen to them, as well as to Monk's own recordings. He reviews two new solo piano records -- the first by New York's Fred Hersch.


KEVIN WHITEHEAD, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: Fred Hersch playing "Let's Cool One," from his new album "Thelonious" featuring Monk tunes. When Thelonious Monk was alive, few jazz musicians played his music, except for the ballad "'Round Midnight" which even he got sick of.

To most folks, the ingenious little bunched up chords he played sounded like the blunders of a beginning piano student. That something so deliberately clunky was harmonically very sophisticated was a big part of his appeal. Monk trusted history to make his reputation, and sure enough as soon as he was dead, well, you never saw such a popular composer.

The problem was, a lot of musicians who recorded his tunes then still missed the point. They tried to normalize his material -- smoothing out his quirks. But now, things begin to look up.



Fred Hersch playing two Monk themes, "Prepiscule With Nelly," with authentically Monk-ish little stammers; and "Reflections," sounding like a music box that wants to be a blues piano. Hersch's taste runs to pretty chords and a light and subtle touch -- hardly the stuff of Monk's own playing. But because Hersch has such a good ear for harmony and knows the history of jazz piano, he understands well enough where Monk comes from. And like Monk, he has a feeling for leaving space in; for letting silence be an equal partner with sound.

The centerpiece of his album is "Five Views of Mysterioso" (ph), in which he plays the notes of Monk's skeletal blues more or less as written, but through variations in phrasing and attack, gives it a few different faces. One view of Mysterioso is as spacious and restful as the chamber music of John Cage (ph) or Morton Feldman (ph), who, come to think of it, blossomed in the same New York that Monk did.


That piece speaks to Fred Hersch's sensitivity, of course, but his fine new CD also shows how jazz eventually digests its most troublesome innovators. There are lots more players around now who phrase Monk's start and stop melodies correctly than there were 15 years ago. One advantage of modern jazz being obsessed with its own past is: musicians listen to a lot of good old music until even the weird guys like Monk start to make sense.

Another good new solo record of his tunes is by the Italian pianist Umberto Petrin. His "Monk's World" is on Italy's terrific Splasc label. Petrin zeros in on a few less-revived Monk tunes like "Played Twice."


Umberto Petrin's piano sound is a little heavy, and there are moments when his fingers seem to outrun him. Yet like Fred Hersch, he gets something very like the jocular effect of Monk's own playing. He does it not by replicating Monk's licks, but by imitating the tone of his voice on piano -- the almost mumbled little asides; the skittery runs like frightened mice; the split second hesitations -- all the very mannerisms which made Monk sound like a hopeless amateur to some of his contemporaries.

That's why so few people could play his pieces back then. The things they ran away from were the things that really made him Monk.


BOGAEV: Kevin Whitehead is currently based in Amsterdam. He reviewed Fred Hersch Plays Monk and Monk's World by Italian pianist Umberto Petrin on the Splasc label.

For Terry Gross, I'm Barbara Bogaev.

Dateline: Kevin Whitehead, Amsterdam; Barbara Bogaev, Philadelphia
High: Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews "Fred Hersch Plays Monk: Thelonious" and "Monk's World" by Italian pianist Umberto Petrin.
Spec: Music Industry; Thelonious Monk; Tributes
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Thelonious Monk Tributes
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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