In This Review

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

Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World -- Told from the Inside by the Man Who Ran It
By Ken Alibek and Stephen Handelman
336 pp, Random House, 1999
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Biological Weapons: Limiting the Threat

Biological Weapons: Limiting the Threat
Edited by Joshua Lederberg
300 pp, MIT Press, 1999
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Anyone who can describe the Marburg virus -- a hideous organism that liquefies body organs -- as "promising material" clearly has an unusual job. And Biohazard, a chilling confessional memoir of a former senior scientist in the Soviet biological weapons program, shows just how unusual this job was. Alas, this book also has the usual irritating conventions of its genre, such as elaborately quoted conversations that occurred 15 years ago and a hairbreadth escape from the KGB, provided no doubt by Alibek's ghostwriter Handelman (the former Moscow correspondent of The Toronto Star) and Alibek's American handlers. Still, this fascinating and disturbing work shows how seriously the Soviets took biological warfare. Almost as alarming is Alibek's assertion that his American counterparts were far less interested in learning what their enemies had achieved than in how much of their stockpile they had destroyed.

Equally important, although far less dramatic, is Biological Weapons. A Nobel laureate in medicine and a former president of Rockefeller University, Lederberg has long warned those who would listen of the threat posed by biological weapons. These dense, scholarly essays make compelling reading. They include broad policy analysis by the secretary of the navy, Richard Danzig, who has focused government attention on this subject, as well as historical and legal accounts and case studies on the acquisition and detection of the use of biological agents. The editor concludes by reproducing his remarkably prescient 1970 speech to the U.N. Committee on Disarmament, whose warnings have been only partially heeded.