Federation of American Scientists Module 1.0: Introduction
Biosecurity: Why Should We Care? What is Biosecurity and Why Should We Care?

In 1979, what was seen as a "rare outbreak" of anthrax in the Soviet city of Sverdlovsk killed at least 66 people. While the Soviet government attributed the outbreak to contaminated meat, defectors, and later international investigators pointed to an accidental release of aerosolized anthrax spores from a secret bioweapons production plant. In 1992, then Russian president Boris Yeltsin finally admitted that the release was from a military facility and ordered the dismantlement of the offensive bioweapons program.

The full scope of the Soviet bioweapons program was divulged by high-placed defectors, such as biologists Vladimir Pasechnik, Ken Alibek, and Sergei Popov, who documented a vast operation involving tens of thousands of scientists. Under the civilian organization "Biopreparat" and its military counterpart "Vector", the program developed and produced genetically altered "superplague," antibiotic-resistant anthrax, and modified long-range missiles capable of delivering bioweapons payloads. Following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990, there has been growing concern over the fate of the bioweapons scientists, whose knowledge and skills would be valued by terrorist organizations and nation-states who wish to develop biological weapons.

One of the more advanced programs was South Africa's clandestine "Project Coast," conceived and directed by Dr. Wouter Basson in the 1980's. In charge of the South African army's Roodeplaat Research Laboratories, his team grew strains of anthrax, cholera, and botulinum, as well as researched the use of various illegal narcotics for crowd control. The unit was disbanded after a decade of operation once Nelson Mandela was elected president.

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