weaponizing smallpox

As I have said before, it seems likely to me that the Soviet Union put so much effort into treaty-violating biological warfare because the guys at the top believed in it – because they had seen it work, the same reason that they were such tank enthusiasts. One more point on the likely use of tularemia at Stalingrad: in the summer of ’42 the Germans had occupied regions holding 40% of the Soviet Union’s population. The Soviets had a tularemia program: if not then [“Not One Step Back!”], when would they have used it? When would Stalin have used it? Imagine that someone intent on the destruction of the American republic and the extermination of its people [remember the Hunger Plan?] had taken over everything west of the Mississippi: would be that too early to pull out all the stops? Reminds me of of an old Mr Boffo cartoon: you see a monster, taller than skyscrapers, stomping his way through the city. That’s trouble. But then you notice that he’s a hand puppet: that’s serious trouble. Perhaps Stalin was waiting for serious trouble, for example if the Norse Gods had come in on the side of the Nazis.

Anyhow, the Soviets had a big smallpox program. In some ways smallpox is almost the ultimate biological weapon – very contagious, while some strains are highly lethal. And it’s controllable – you can easily shield your own guys via vaccination. Of course back in the 1970s, almost everyone was vaccinated, so it was also completely useless.

We kept vaccinating people as long as smallpox was still running around in the Third World. But when it was eradicated in 1978, people stopped. There seemed to be no reason – and so, as new unvaccinated generations arose, the military efficacy of smallpox has gone up and up and up. It got to the point where the World Health organization threw away its stockpile of vaccine, a couple hundred million units, just to save on the electric bill for the refrigerators.

Consider that the Soviet Union was always the strongest proponent of worldwide eradication of smallpox, dating back to the 1950s. Successful eradication would eventually make smallpox a superweapon: does it seem possible that the people running the Soviet Union had this in mind as a long term-goal ? Potentiation through ‘eradication’? Did the left hand know what the strangling hand had in mind, and shape policies accordingly? Of course.

D.A. Henderson, the man that led the eradication campaign, died just a few days ago. He was aware of this possibility.

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47 Responses to weaponizing smallpox

  1. Frau Katze says:

    But the Soviets would have had to keep vaccinating after eradication. Could they disguise that?

    • gcochran9 says:

      No, but you can do it shortly before you intend to use it.

    • Janet says:

      Well, I did a quick search and found this report from WHO: http://www.who.int/csr/don/2000_06_20e/en/

      Eight children in Vladivostok died in a disease outbreak blamed on handling discarded smallpox vaccine ampoules, as stated by the Russian Ministry of Health. Two things jump out at me: first, the fact that discarded smallpox vaccine ampoules are (apparently easily) available to groups of 8-year-olds means that smallpox vaccinations were still routine in Russia in 2000. By contrast, the US stopped vaccination in 1972, and the last transmission in the wild was in 1977. Officially, smallpox vaccination was not required anywhere in the world from 1982 onward… so what were “smallpox vaccine ampoules” doing there (presumably in the trash following a vaccination drive involving kids in 1st grade)?

      More interesting is fact #2: it’s not possible for the official story to be true. The smallpox vaccine contains no smallpox at all. It’s true that the smallpox vaccine has a much higher rate of adverse effects than “normal” vaccines, but to get eight life-threatening reactions would require a million or so 8-year-olds to be playing with discarded ampoules in Vladivostok… a physical impossibility. So… what DID happen?

      • Frau Katze says:

        I’m positive that Putin would have hung on to their vials in the freezer. I hadn’t heard of the story you mention but it doesn’t surprise me. Standards for everything are low in Russia (a legacy of Communism).

        Still, I’m inclined to think that Putin (at the moment) just has local plans, not involving germ warfare. It wouldn’t surprise if he snatched the Baltic countries, for example.

        In any case, the smallpox will never be destroyed. Even if it has no obvious value at the moment, it might in the future.

        In their favour, the Russians have endured invasion far worse than those of us in North America can imagine (three centuries under the Mongols, various local wars (invaded by groups like Swedes), and finally the nightmare of WW II.)

        I can’t blame them for having a more paranoid outlook than us.

      • gcochran9 says:

        The kids didn’t die, as far as I can tell.

  2. Bies says:

    I was vaccinated. Russians won’t get me this way. Probably.

  3. magusjanus says:

    The Hunger Plan is slightly overrated, a sort of post-war rationalization of “see what they had planned!”. that’s not to say a German dominated Eastern Europ/Russia would have been Disneyland, but the numbers thrown around of 20-50 mio dead in occupation are not too credible. It’s basically based off some wild assumptions by Backe and others of A- how much ‘surplus’ food they’d be able to extract, and B- the impact of such extraction.

    Leaving aside the assumptions being woefully off (look at the numbers), it also totally ignores geopolitical reality of a post-War europe settlement, the likely need for labor in a post-war boom (heck this was happening during the war itself towards the end, Polish work camps in Germany even had brothels), the likely end of a blockade from Allies allowing resumption of trade, the very different conditions of war versus peace, etc. Keep in mind that during the horrors of the war over three years in occupied SU Snyder estimates something on the order of 4-5 mio dead by starvation, so the wild numbers thrown around for an actual occupation post-war should be viewed with a very skeptical eye indeed.

    I’m sure in some alternate “Fatherland” like reality the German scholars are debating the planned death of 20-30 mio Germans by Allies if they’d won under the “Morgenthau” Plan for ‘deindustrialization’, which of course ended up not happening.

  4. dearieme says:

    It won’t have been only those darn Russians, will it?

    • gcochran9 says:

      The Russians were the ones pushing hardest for smallpox eradication. They were the ones with a big treaty-violating biowarfare program, the ones building ICBM warheads with smallpox. ” Annualized production capacity for weaponized smallpox, for example, was 90 to 100 tons. ”

      That said, the end of vaccination now makes smallpox a potential superweapon for many countries and organizations.

      • Jim says:

        How likely some group of terrorists could use smallpox to kill a lot of people?

        • gcochran9 says:

          Hard to say. It wouldn’t be impossible to find a sample: the CDC thought they’d destroyed all but one of theirs, but found one left on the shelf (in Bethesda) in 2014. There are two known repositories, CDC at Atlanta and one at VECTOR in Novosibirsk. But others likely exist. Growing large quantities is not very easy for amateurs ( tissue culture is required) but even a bit might be enough to spark an epidemic.

          Smallpox might run wild globally, with low levels of immunization and rapid travel [jets]. Even mad-dog terrorists would have to worry about blowback against their own population.

      • Weltanschauung says:

        How many countries and organizations? A stealthy advance immunization of all of one’s own would require a tight organization, both secretive and capable. That rules out Muslims and Russians. Looking around you in Utah, does anybody come to mind?

  5. pyrrhus says:

    Playing the long game…It’s somewhat difficult to believe that such a policy could be intentionally pursued by a major government, but it’s very believable that the eradication campaign was noticed by people who realized the potential, likely both in the USSR and USA.

  6. josh says:

    Remind me not to share this post with my germophobe wife. Yikes.

  7. inertial says:

    So the USSR had this big bacteriological weapons program but, in the hour of the direst need, they didn’t use it. Applying Occam’s Razor might suggest that the USSR did not in fact have this diabolical program. But when it comes to Russia Occam’s Razor does not apply. Instead, we must apply Ivan’s Razor, which says that any assertion about Russia or USSR is true, no evidence needed. You can see the application of the Ivan’s Razor in anything from computer hacks to doping accusations.

    “Successful eradication would eventually make smallpox a superweapon: does it seem possible that the people running the Soviet Union had this in mind as a long term-goal ?”


    • gcochran9 says:

      I have talked about this before: there was a tularemia epidemic at Stalingrad – which isn’t easy, considering that there is no person-to-person transmission. It looks as if it was used at Stalingrad.

      As for the Soviet Union not having such a program: silly. Such programs were widespread. Weaponized smallpox escaped at Aralsk in 1971, anthrax in Sverdlovsk in 1979.

      Any country facing the same level of threat as the Soviet Union in the summer of 1942 would have used every damn thing they had. You seem to think that I am anti-Russian: not particularly. I am interested in how things work.

      The Soviets had a big biological warfare program well after the treaty that banned such. That’s known, not least from those leaks in Aralsk and Sverdlov.

      • People flat don’t care if there was a tularemia epidemic at Stalingrad which was artificially introduced by Uncle Joe. But they should, Stalingrad was an incredible turning point in World War 2. It took me an hour of researching the transmission of tularemia to be completely convinced that the Russians did in fact weaponize tularemia and set it loose on the Germans. Tens of thousands of Germans and Russians contracted this disease at this time and at this place via lung inhalation. Very few people have caught it since then this way and to catch it they need to do something like vaporize a dead rabbit that died of this disease with a lawn mower or weed wacker and then inhale it.

        Some of the less dim bulbs in the US government know this and have actively lied about this event. Why? Biological weaponry is a hell of an effective terrorist weapon and they don’t want people to even consider it.

  8. TWS says:

    How long would it take for the Russians to spin up the old programs? I mean if they just wanted to ‘show their teeth’ could they?

  9. Greying Wanderer says:

    Reading between the lines Putin hinted at something that could negate encirclement by anti-missile batteries at a press conference a few years back.

  10. dux.ie says:

    From the NatureIndex http://www.natureindex.com/ of life sciences weighted journal paper output WFC, Russia does not have any institutions in the top 100 for years 2015, 2014, 2013. In comparison,
    USA WFC2015=5371.01
    UK WFC2015=661.53
    JP WFC2015=253.09
    CN WFC2015=242.41

  11. Frank says:

    I don’t think this is as bad as it sounds.

    First, a smallpox vaccine can not be concealed. It has to be stabbed into your skin with a little fork of needles to be effective. It is a living vaccine.

    I got vaccinated in a test done by the US Government right after 9/11 to see how far down they could dilute vaccine stocks. Even old vaccine actually works at a 1 to a million dilution at a reasonable rate, with high levels of antibodies produced in just a few days. Repeated vaccination every day for a week brings it up close to 100%. And vaccination after exposure might even reduce fatalities (but that can’t test that).

    Also, you can physically ‘share’ the vaccine with your friends and family right after blisters appear. It is alive, and new ‘stocks’ are living in the skin of people who got their first dose.

  12. melendwyr says:

    Even ignoring the ecological concerns, the more effectively you eradicate smallpox, the more potentially valuable the last remaining samples become. In a world in which it was truly believed smallpox was gone forever – with all prevention abandoned and vaccines discarded – a single vial of the organism would be an immensely powerful weapon.

    If you really want to protect people from smallpox, trying to destroy it is the last thing you want to do. The best outcome would be a world in which smallpox was an acknowledged threat, but an uncommon one, which posed a risk to very few people but was still feared.

  13. Inscrutoroku Japamoto says:

    Who killed Vladimir Pasechnik?

    One good thing about the Hatfill investigation is that it gave him a 24/7 FBI tail at such an uncertain time. But now we know that one lone scientist can produce one trillion colony forming units per gram powder, just not Hatfill.

  14. sansdomino says:

    “D.A. Henderson, the man that led the eradication campaign, died just a few days ago. He was aware of this possibility.”

    An interesting claim. Where’s it coming from?

    • gcochran9 says:

      DA Henderson agrees that this is a plausible scenario and is upset by the legacy it leaves. ‘If the [Russian bio-weapons] programme had not taken place we would not I think be worrying about smallpox in the same way. One can feel extremely bitter and extremely angry about this because I think they’ve subjected the entire world to a risk which was totally unnecessary.’

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