Saturday, September 17, 2011
Saturday, November 6, 2010
Mr. Jan Medema wrote a letter to the editor of CBRNe World (http://www.cbrneworld.com/pdf/09_autumn_Letters_to_the_Editor.pdf ) about my book State Secrets: Insider’s Chronicle of the Russian Chemical Weapons Program in the style and tone of a typical old time Soviet bureaucrat. He doesn’t like anything in my book and hates the author with the passion of a jealous and abandoned husband. Sure, I can’t help him, because I did exactly what he and his colleagues from Washington didn’t want – revealed the distortion of the goals of the CWC by hiding the novel Russian chemical weapons of the Novichok series in secrecy. Unfortunately, these goals were pursued in Washington and Moscow, clearly not with good intent but for their unknown goals, even though they’re pretending to justify them by alleged terrorist threats. I already explained in my blog www.russianchemicalweaponsprogram.com why terrorists cannot to develop and produce these chemical agents (CA). Ultimately, Mr. Medema contradicted himself, first by denying the Novichok agents preeminence in comparison with VX gas. Then without any reason he is trying to say that they could be used by terrorists. Probably Mr. Medema knows that the technologies of production of all known phosphororganic CA were already published in many books, and even the method of production was given of the binary version of VX gas from safe components. It is logical to ask why terrorists would prefer to choose Novichok agents for their crimes, if they are not so good - as Mr. Medema is stating - and one of their binary components is as poisonous as typical CA.
Mr. Medema made some other interesting remarks. First, he is trying to give the impression that I am inappropriately rambling on about the “drinking habits” of my teachers. This is an absolute lie from the same Soviet arsenal. Nobody who read my book could find such a thing. If I wrote about the drinking habits of some of my bosses, there was no exaggeration and I don’t regret it. If I wrote how one of the chiefs of GosNIIOKhT, carrying secret papers in his briefcase, fell down in the underground street crossing without any consequences, my goal was to demonstrate how the system of secret holding in GosNIIOKhT was hypocritical and not effective.
I wrote about General M. Dubinin, based on critical study of his work and, as I pointed out in my book, on the basis of my own experiments - the results of which are absolutely not consistent with his equations. I honestly told Dubinin all this and he didn’t try to argue with me. On the contrary, he noted that an experiment is more significant than any theory. Mr. Medema is sorry that people in GosNIIOKhT didn’t know Dubinin’s work, and because of that they made mistakes with work on the breakthrough of gasmasks. Ironically this work was initiated by Dubinin’s former graduate student E. Bogomazov and supported by Dubinin’s assistants. Moreover, an interdepartmental scientific council was organized with their participation for the coordination of this work in GosNIIOKhT. I never wrote in my book, but I have to add here, that a “theory” was developed exactly in the Chemical Defense Academy’s Department of Adsorption under Lieutenant General and Academician M. Dubinin, which predicted that in some unidentified conditions it is possible for CA to go through gas mask filters even in aerosol condition. Sure, my respect for the scientists is based on their works, but not on the alleged services of the scientific bosses.
Next, he quips “Two years later (1970) he ran a laboratory full of modern equipment – even including a US-made GC-MS, which in my memory came onto the market about decade later”. Probably anger misled Mr. Medema. I never wrote such nonsense. I ran the Technical Foreign Counterintelligence Department in 1985 and equipped my laboratory there in 1986-87.
Later on, Mr. Medema is blaming me for not detailing the toxicity of Novichok agents. It is known that the characteristics are given in diapason of intravenous, inhalation and skin-resorption toxicity. I preferred not complicate by my book with more technical details. Further, Mr. Medema is going with another baseless statement as “Even worse are the remarks that the agents would not be detected by available detectors”. This is in the best case a misunderstanding. I never stated such a stupidity. I wrote that nobody can detect unknown CA, especially if it is from the class of phosphates, since there are a lot of agricultural pesticides – phosphates in waste waters, soil and other environs.
Next, he says “A suggestion is made that the detectors missed very low agent concentrations in Kuwait when the Iraqi CW stockpile (including Novichoks) was destroyed, and this could have caused the health problems with the Gulf War veterans.” This statement is the next lie of Mr. Medema. I never ever told that Novichok agents were among the Iraqi CW. Substance 33 is not a Novichok agent. If Mr. Medema saw the chemical formulas of these CA he apparently couldn’t write such nonsense.
He continues, “In addition, it assumes that some of the detectors based on cholinesterase inhibition would not have worked, despite the fact that Novichoks are cholinesterase inhibitors.” No, Mr. Medema, I didn’t assume such foolishness. I’d like to see where you extracted that from. Intentionally misleading, Mr. Medema is mixing the problem of the poisoning of Gulf War veterans by the explosion of Iraqi CW storages with the problem of hidden Russian Novichok agents. Such confusion is not acceptable in any discussion. I wrote in my book that the explosion of CW is not a good method of destroying them, because it doesn’t eliminate them to a safe level. Moreover, residues of CA and their byproducts, which are still dangerous for people, mixed with dust and sand getting adsorbed on them and could be transported long distances by air. Sure I didn’t know the direction of the wind as Mr. Medema did. Still, if he is following the chemical literature, he could know about finding traces of some pesticides used in Africa on islands in Atlantic Ocean. In the 1970-s, Finnish scientists performed experiments on the transportation of model CA in northern Europe and proved that these substances were found at distances of 400-500 miles from the source of emission. I’d like to bring to your attention, Mr. Medema, you cannot detect adsorbed molecules of CA with the electron mobility detectors of the American Army. I am also very doubtful that you can detect them with detectors based on cholinesterase without special preliminary extraction procedures. So, it is clear to me that the barbaric explosion of Iraqi chemical weapons storage led to the poisoning of American troops with residues of CA adsorbed on solid particles, even though you don’t want to accept this sad conclusion. Ignorance multiplied by the arrogance of the chemical bosses is the real reason for this disaster.
Next, he claims, “I will not reveal any details, but with some skilled researchers it is not too difficult to find out what the Novichoks are.” I have no doubt that it is possible. There is just one question: why didn’t anyone do this job before my publications in 1990-s?
Here is another misleading statement, “The Aum Shinrikyo hired a skilled Russian chemist to produce their nerve agent.” Isn’t this pure deception? So far it is known that the Aum Shinrikyo chemical engineers were trained in Russian military units and they built their own factory for the production of sarin. It is known that this sarin was practically garbage, about 7-10 % of the main component. A skilled Russian chemist couldn’t do that at all if he was a real chemist. Why didn’t the Japanese officials throw this bastard in jail or ask Russia to send him back to Japan for trial? Isn’t it strange that nobody in whole world knows about this information and it is released right now by an angry intelligence officer from Netherlands? Or he is pretending to be intelligence to give to his inconsistent argument more weight? Distracting from my point that only high level specialists in advanced countries in extreme safe laboratories can reproduce Novichok agents, Mr. Medema is trying to sell the tale that terrorists right now are getting more skillful. It is just nonsense. Why would “terrorists gourmets” in the field of CA, choose exactly the Novichok agents without any technological secrets for their production when there are more cheap and simple ones with published technological protocols in many books?
He also says, “In addition, most of the experts knew those formulas for nearly two decades.” If this is true why did people from the CIA and Mr. Medema’s friends from Washington lie and try to persuade me to give them the Novichok formulas? I refused because I didn’t and don’t trust them. It is also possible that they are working together with the KGB, trying to compromise me instead of solving the real problem. Sure, it is also possible that Mr. Medema is lying again, because I don’t believe that a serious intelligence officer would reveal the sources of this information. There are only two persons who could do that. One of them is the late Lieutenant General Anatoly Kuntsevich and the other one – my late colleague from GosNIIOKhT. The first one was not capable of memorizing any chemical formulas, because of his ignorance and alcoholism. The second person was a very capable chemist and he definitely could do it.
To blame me as a helper to terrorists is a typical tool of impotent intelligence officers. Their goal is known: to silence me and to destroy my credibility. If Mr. Medema wants to burn my book it is his right. I think it is more appropriate for him do it in modern Russia. Their rulers, in true Bolshevik tradition, love to destroy books, as it was going in Nazi Germany. In return, it is my right is to send him where I sent his colleagues on first page of my book. Satisfaction guaranteed.
Probably the organizers named me the Godfather of Novichok agents for a reason. Of course, I’m not their inventor, but it’s likely that no one would know about them now, if not for my actions from 1991-94. Many people in Washington, in Hague and Moscow would be happy if I hadn’t raised this problem at all.
I couldn’t do that because I feel strongly about this issue, and I will continue to warn people about the dangers of hidden, uncontrolled and unpredictable chemical agents. Right now let me to tell you how this evil was created and managed to remain hidden up to the present day.
The creation and production of Agent 33 in Russia was a milestone breakthrough in chemical arms development (Slide 1). I’d like to emphasise that Agent 33 is not VX-gas, which you can see from slide 2. It is one of a series of well-known V–gases but certainly the worst one in its stability and volatility. Probably it was chosen as the means to give the top echelon of military chemical complex the chance to receive the Lenin Prize and various medals. The factory that produced Agent 33 was quite retarded technologically. All the ventilated exhaust air was thrown into the atmosphere through ozonators, which could not destroy chemical agents and their precursors, up to necessary safety levels. Never! The water supply used a recirculation system and ozonators with the same flaws for decontamination. To make things worse, this water was used for worker laundry and showers. If I tell you that this factory was a disastrous source of permanent poisoning, not only for its workers but also for the environment and people living nearby, it would not be any exaggeration.
Anyway, for this service GosNIIOKhT, the main developer of chemical agents in Russia, was granted the right to the unlimited purchase of advanced foreign scientific equipment through some KGB- dummy companies in Germany and South Africa. A KGB officer became a Deputy Director of GosNIIOKhT, and the KGB battalion started to guard the campus.
Encouraged by success with Agent 33, the military chemical complex designed a huge new factory for the production of sarin and soman in Pavlodar, Kazakhstan. Later it was also to produce agents of the Novichok series.
The Novichok series discovered by Petr Kirpichev and his team in Shikhany, was a huge breakthrough for CW development in Russia. They were a new series of chemical agents with the P-N bond instead of a P-S- bond (Slide 2). At first he synthesized agent A-230, with the chemical formula shown on this slide. Medical biological assessment of this agent was performed at the polygon and laboratories of Military Unit 61469, and it produced positive results with a toxicity 5 to 8 times greater than Agent 33. Then Kirpichev synthesized the phosphate version of A-230 – Agent A-232 (Slide 3) with the same toxicity as Agent 33 but more volatility than the later and Agent A-230. There you can see the more potent agents of the Novichok series agent 242 and agent 262. Most notably (slide 3), Agents A-232 and A-234 are phosphates, which are not listed in the CWC list of chemicals subject to international control.
After this business was accomplished, Director Martynov of GosNIIOKhT took the Novichok problem under his personal control, giving his son the theme of Agents A-232 and A-234 with all the rights, and to that purpose he organized a special laboratory for his scion. The Central Committee of Communist Party of the Soviet Union adopted top secret Resolution 3509-123 dated April 24, 1977 for the accelerated development these agents. Kirpichev never received even a penny for his achievements, neither a laboratory nor a higher scientific degree.
Not everything was going so smoothly in Russia in the chemical weapons establishment. (Slide 4) The military openly sabotaged the promotion of Novichok agents for broader testing, which was needed for them to be accepted as chemical weapons of Soviet Army. Ultimately, the VPK (Military Industrial Commission of The Central Committee of the Communist Party) decided in 1980 to carry out the interdepartmental testing of Agent A-230 in GosNIIOKhT. I was appointed the senior analytical chemist for these experiments. The result of this work confirmed that Agent A-230 was found to be 5-8 times more potent than Agent 33.
GosNIIOKhT knew the scale of work on binary weapons in the US, and proceeded to design and test a new binary chemical weapon based on Agent 33. I was also the senior analytical chemist for this project. Those tests were unsuccessful. After that, the military chemists secured the end of funding for creating any binary weapons.
Shortly after that, Drs. Drozd and Revelskii found that during 5 years of storage, the concentration of Agent 33 in munitions dropped to the level less than 70 % (Slide 4). A panic erupted among the GosNIIOKhT leadership, but it was carefully smothered by the decision to destroy the scientific report of these two experts. To protect the situation from entirely collapsing, the decision was made to accelerate work on the promotion of Novichok agents.
In 1986-87 Agent A-230 was tested at the Nukus Polygon, using GC methods developed by my graduate student Valerij Djuzhev-Maltsev for analysis of the field samples. The results were very successful, and Agent A-230 was accepted as a chemical weapon agent of the Soviet Army. GosNIIOKhT’s Director Petrunin declared this an achievement of historic scale. (Slide 4).
Keep in mind that negotiations were ongoing in Geneva on the Chemical Weapons Convention, parallel to this chemical arms race. In order to guide the course of the Soviet delegation in Geneva in right direction, the Ministry of Chemical Industry created a special Commission of experts for the development of measures to circumvent the upcoming Convention. I was a member of this Commission, which reported its results to the Deputy of the Chief of Chemical Troops on Scientific Matters, Lieutenant General Anatoly Kuntsevich. He was precisely the main supervisor of all negotiations from the Russian side. When I was asked in the Senate hearings on November 1995 whether we can trust the Chemical Weapons Convention negotiated with Russians under the supervision of this General, who by this time had become famous by sending to Syria up to 600 kilograms of di-chloranhydride of methylphosphonic acid, the basic precursor for the production of modern chemical agents, I didn’t give an adequate answer. I greatly regret that.
On December 31, 1985 Michael Gorbachev signed top secret Resolution N 1584-434 on the development of binary chemical weapons (Slide 5), and GosNIIOKhT and the scientific industrial company Basalt intensified their work on them. At the same time, the testing the next agent of the Novichok series – Agent A-232 was successful, and it was also adopted as a chemical weapon of the Soviet Army.
Concurrently, (Slide 5) Dr. Igor Vasiliev began the intensive job of developing a binary chemical weapon based on Agent A-232 in GosNIIOKhT.
The bright prospects of this work led to Resolution N 844-186, authorizing the development of a binary weapon based on agent A-232, which was signed by Gorbachev on October 6, 1989. I’m sure that the main compelling argument for this binary was the possibility of that weapon to circumvent the upcoming CWC.
At the same time Russian leadership was careful to demonstrate good will and Glasnost, by organizing some kind of Potemkin village in Shikhany in October of 1988, exibiting decoy chemical weapon examples in front of foreign diplomats and journalists. No weapons with Agent 33 were presented among these faked models. The reaction of the Western media was very enthusiastic. It seemed that Glasnost was in action. Unfortunately, nobody in the West knew that GosNIIOKhT and the Novocheboksary Factory were busy at the same time falsifying all technological documentation, in order to demonstrate to the future CWC inspections that they had developed and produced VX-gas not agent 33. Probably, there were some loopholes which allowed that in the Convention’s procedures.
Then GosNIIOKhT (slide 5) became busy with another affair. According to the American-Russian agreement, the American experts were to visit GosNIIOKhT. In preparation for this delegation, a special commission was organized, which I was a member of, serving as the Chief of the Foreign Technical Counterintelligence Department. To that end, all laboratory equipment that was purchased abroad was removed from the rooms designated for visitors. Almost immediately, GosNIIOKhT started the production of phospho-poliols with the C-P bond for civilian purposes.
I was ordered to develop an analytical method for the determination of Novichok agents at the fantastic level of 1/100th of a part per trillion or 0.01 ppt. At that time nobody in the whole world was analyzing anything even at the level of 1 ppt. I told them that it was an impossible task and asked why we needed it. The answer of Deputy Director on Science, Konstantin Guskov, was even more surprising: “The American experts could accidentally wipe their handkerchiefs on the surfaces of stairway rails and analyze them at home”. Naturally, I couldn’t develop the method required of me, and the visit of the American delegation was cancelled.
In any case, the leadership of the military chemical complex didn’t lose much, because in 1990 GosNIIOKhT and NPO Basalt succeeded in the development and testing of a new binary weapon based on Agent 33, according to this reaction (Slide 6). Its production began at the Novocheboksary Factory. Then, on April 21, 1991 Gorbachev, who was already a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, awarded the top echelon of the military chemical complex with Lenin Prizes for the development, design and production of a new binary chemical weapon. In Russian terms, this was perfectly understandable, as on June 1, 1990 the US and Russia had signed the bilateral chemical weapons destruction agreement. Why not, when Russians were ready to eliminate their old garbage such as agent 33 disguised as VX gas, while keeping their new binary weapons intact? Do you see how they wrapped their work up in a shroud, when they falsified the technical documentation?
To make things more ideal, GosNIIOKhT and NPO Basalt (Slide 6) accelerated work on the development, design and testing of a new binary chemical weapon based on agent A-232, designed to circumvent any provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention. It was based on this reaction shown on slide 6. Not a single one of these binary components are included in the list of chemicals to be controlled. Also it developed several pesticides with analogical chemical formulas for more fundamental masking of this weapon under “agricultural pesticides”. So, it became possible to produce the binary components at non-secret civil factories, where nobody could guess that they were producing weapons.
At this time, already a democratically minded scientist, I asked myself, “Can someone in this world stop this craziness, when the Chemical Weapons Convention is already getting circumvented before it enters into force, and has taken on the future role as just a tool to eliminate old garbage?” I looked around and couldn’t find any such person. Then I asked myself, “Why can’t you try to stop it?” So, in October 1991 I published my article “Inversion” in the Moscow newspaper Kuranty, which outlined my concerns without fleshing out any details. (Slide 6)
Surprisingly, nobody in the whole world paid any attention to my article. Even the KGB couldn’t prosecute me at this time, because it had lost its main tool, the secret regulations. The Supreme Soviet had canceled them earlier in 1991, but nothing changed in the chemical military complex. Work on testing a new binary chemical weapon based on Agent A-232 continued. (Slide 7) I later found out that President Boris Yeltsin illegally restored all secret regulations on state secrets on January 14, 1992 by secret order.
I was fired from my job and found it difficult to follow events in the chemical weapons area. Still, I knew through my friends that GosNIIOKhT was continuing tests on the Nukus Polygon. (Slide 7) This time I decided to go to the public again, and on September 16, 1992, I co-authored an article “A Poisoned Policy” which was published in Moscow News, and I interviewed with the Baltimore Sun about the continuing development and testing of a new generation of chemical weapons in Russia. At first there was not too much public attention generated by these publications either.
During that time the governmental newspaper “Rossijskaya Gazetta” (Slide 7) published a formal list of chemicals prohibited for export from Russia. All known chemical agents and their precursors were listed there, but not Agent 33 and the Novichok agents and their precursors. It looked like they were permitted for sale. What was going at this time abroad? On September 3, 1992 the Conference on Disarmament submitted the text of the CWC to the United Nations, and on November 30 it was approved by the General Assembly. There was no mention of Agent 33 and the Novichok agents in the schedules.
On October 22, 1992 I was arrested and sent to notorious KGB Lefortovo Prison and charged with revealing state secrets. (Slide 7) I was deprived of my lawyer, and a public uproar arose in the Russian and International media. The American Association for the Advancement of Science, The New York Academy of Science, the National Academy of Science, the American Chemical Society, many prominent senators, congressmen and organizations sent letters to President Yeltsin. The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and others published articles about my case. Together with human rights problems, concerns had risen about the new chemical weapons. As a result of these actions, within eleven days the Moscow District Court released me from prison.
The investigation of my case continued for two and a half years. During this time the Expert Commission (Slide 8) released its top secret Resolution stating that Mirzayanov wrote the truth, and because of that he is guilty. The government’s case was based on a top secret retroactive Resolution signed by Prime Minister Chernomyrdin. My colleagues Andrei Zheleznyakov and Vladimir Uglev corroborated my statements about the new chemical weapons in their interviews.
Ultimately (Slide 8) in January 1994 they held a closed kangaroo-court trial. I refused to participate voluntarily in such a mockery of the new Russian Constitution and was sent to a maximum-security prison. Under the pressure of international and the Russian public, the Attorney General of Russia released me from prison, and on March 11th my case was dismissed for lack of crime in my actions.
Nevertheless, the main issue here – the new generation of Russian chemical weapons – was left without any solution. Russia felt free under these circumstances to keep going with its deceptions, distorting and subverting the intent of the Chemical Weapons Convention. Not surprisingly, the Duma Defense Committee in its October 11, 1994 Resolution confirmed this and revealed the real goals of the military chemical complex, saying, quote and quote “…destroying old and obsolete chemical weapons is in Russia’s interest and … Convention’s ratification should be contemplated”. (Slide 8)
What is the result of ratification by the United States and Russia of the Chemical Weapons Convention? Both countries are destroying their old and obsolete weapons. This Convention doesn’t control the new Novichok Russian chemical weapons. Under these circumstances (slide 9), I didn’t have any choice but to appeal to people by publishing my new book, State Secrets: An Insider’s Chronicle of the Russian Chemical Weapons Program, where I gave all their chemical formulas, which I have showed here (slides 2 and 3). I am categorically refusing to buy into the tricks of my critics who are trying to blame me as a person who can help terrorists and proliferators. It is an impossible task for terrorists to produce any of the new chemical agents and weaponize them, because it requires very high-level scientists, engineers and good experience in this field, as well as extreme safety conditions. All of these could be achieved only in technologically advanced countries. Any attempt to produce chemical agents by terrorists would lead to their immediate death. Why do my opponents think that terrorists are such fine gourmets in the field of chemical weapons? It is known that the skillful and well-funded chemical engineers of the Aum Shinrikyo sect were trained in Russian military chemical units, and after that were able to use the carelessness of Japan’s government for their sarin attack. Even these educated bastards used a simple and cheap chemical agent, which has a technology of production already published in many books. What about the proliferators? Which ones are connoisseurs in area of chemical weapons? North Korea? This state is the worst knock-off version of the Soviet Union. It took more than 10 years for the last one to completely start up the production of sarin, at a factory brought from the Germany after World War II. Other two states (Syria and Egypt) don't have significant chemical industry. Of course there is also Israel. This state can probably produce any weapon that it wants, without any formulas from my book. While I was imprisoned and under house arrest in Russia just for writing in general terms about the Novichok agents, five of my colleagues (all Ph.Ds) from GosNIIOKhT escaped to Israel. They did not raise the Novichok problems in the media, as I had. Nevertheless, nobody prevented them from sharing their knowledge with the government of their new country.
I think that a proposal by my friend Mr. Tucker to include the mass-specters of the Novichok agents into the chromato-mass spectrometer library of the OPCW would be a useful measure in right the direction. At the same time, Mr. Tucker points out that the Russians did not feel the need to stockpile Novichok-5 precursors. Their plan was to mobilize the production lines of existing civilian facilities in wartime. Isn’t it is logical to ask, “Who came up with this idea? The Russians?” If so, there are not too many people who would trust them in this area. I told and am repeating it again: The Russians developed binary weapon A-232 to circumvent the CWC and didn't promise to produce it “only in wartime.” I think that once we are cheated, we should not try to justify the manipulator's actions, but instead try to fix the situation. Right now the ball is in the court of the OPCW.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
I would like to thank Mr. Porteous for his very thoughtful and comprehensive book review. Mostly it is very positive and the attention paid was refreshing after long time efforts by some to try to silence my story. Just one small comment to your remarks:
"...is a reminder of how complicated and contrary a creature human beings can be."
If this is about me, my reply would be that I devoted 20 years of my life to put the chemical agents of Novichok series under international control. I never gave up. I decided to go public only after exhausting all other possible means. When the formulas and even the technological methods of production of all known chemical agents are already known and published, why would the publication of the formulas of the Russian Novichok chemical agents in my book be considered excessive?
There is no rational explanation for this restriction. To try to portray terrorists as gourmets in field of chemical weapons, who allegedly select exactly the Novichok agents for their goals, while passing up more simple and cheaper ones, is also not logical.
To suppose that "proliferators" can use Novichok formulas to make their chemical arms is also not convincing. Exactly which of these proliferators are big connoisseurs in field of chemical weapons? North Korea? This state is the worst knock-off version of the old Soviet Union, which took more than 10 years to completely start up the production of Agent 33. Two other states (Syria and Egypt) don't have significant chemical industry. Sure, there is Israel. This state can probably produce any weapon that it wants without any formulas from my book. While I was imprisoned in Russia for just writing in general terms about Novichok agents, several of my colleagues from GosNIIOKhT escaped to Israel. They didn't raise Novichok problems in media. Nevertheless, nobody restricted them from sharing their knowledge with the government of their new country.
Probably, an idea to put Novichok series under international control proposed by my friend Mr. Tucker, by including the mass-specters of them into chromato-mass-spectrometers electronic library of OPCW is not so bad one. Even, in reality, this would be the same as open publication of chemical formulas of them in media.
As Jonathan Tucker points out in his excellent, War of Nerves: Chemical Warfare from World War I to al-Qaeda, the Soviets did not feel the need to stockpile Novichok-5 precursors. Their plan was to mobilize the production lines of existing civilian facilities in wartime area."I couldn't find this sentence in Tucker's book. Nevertheless, it is logical to ask: who suggested this idea? The Russians? If so, there not too many people who trust them in this delicate area. If someone invented this, it does not even make good science fiction. I wrote many times and will continue to repeat: Russians developed binary weapon A-232 to circumvent the CWC, and they never promised to produce it only “in wartime”. I think that once we have been cheated, we should not try to justify the manipulator's actions, but to fix the situation.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Vil Mirzayanov’s self-published autobiography, State Secrets: An Insider’s Chronicle of the Russian Chemical Weapons Program, is a reminder of how complicated and contrary a creature human beings can be. Mirzayanov is best known as the brave chemical scientist who went public in September 1992 with what he knew about Russia’s ongoing and clandestine efforts to develop a new and decidedly more lethal class of binary nerve agents code-named Novichok. He says he spoke up primarily out of concern for the environment and the health of Russian citizens who were being unwittingly exposed to chemical toxins at concentration far exceeding acceptable limits. Tasked to capture environmental samples outside facilities where Novichok agents were being tested and produced, work being undertaken for counter-intelligence purposes not public protection, Mirzayanov was in position to know the harm being visited upon his fellow citizens.
Coming just as Russia was poised to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention, these revelations should have caused a widespread stir. They didn’t. As Mirzayanov describes it, “The only result was I lost my job”. The KGB would have dearly loved to throw the book at him, but no such book existed. Given the Supreme Soviet’s 1990 declaration that unpublished regulations (including unpublished lists of state secrets) were unlawful, the KGB’s hands were effectively tied.
When the determined Mirzayanov co-authored “A Poisoned Policy”, in the Moscow Times and provided an in-depth interview to the Baltimore Sun in January (September – V.M.)1992, the result was somewhat more dramatic. This time, having convinced Prime Minister Chernomyrdin to sign a retroactive secret decree providing a detailed list of information considered state secrets, Mirzayanov’s opponents thought they had he means to prosecute him. They believed this despite the new Russian Constitution’s prohibition against use of secret decrees as the basis for criminal charges. Mirzayanov was thus arrested for revealing state secrets and incarcerated at Lefortovo prison in Moscow, where many political dissidents have spent time. But, if state prosecutors thought Mirzayanov would meekly accept his fate, they had another thing coming. Turning a Kafkaesque situation to his favor, Mirzayanov understood that, in accusing him of treason, Russian authorities were essentially admitting they have something to hide, that these agents existed. Arguing that he could not have possibly revealed state secrets, as the existence and composition of the agents was already publicly known, due in no small part to his earlier publication, Mirzayanov – backed by an equally tenacious lawyer and a growing international following – eventually won his freedom. For his courage, Mirzayanov was honored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1995.
But State Secrets also reveals a less noble side to Mirzayanov, who now resides in Princeton, New Jersey. Frustrated that his activism has thus far failed to push Novichok precursor chemicals onto the Chemical Weapons Convention Control List, Mirzayanov decided that he needed to draw attention to the issue by including purported Novichok formulas in his book. On his blog, Mirzayanov dismisses those who say publicizing these formulas is tantamount to putting chemical weapons in the hands of terrorists. Noting the ghastly fates of some of his Soviet colleagues, he argues that – even with the right facilities, equipment, and know-how – developing, manufacturing, and weaponizing chemical weapons is beyond the reach of existing terrorist groups. Point taken. But what about proliferator states that have sufficient facilities and equipment or who are willing to sacrifice lives along the way? By Mirzayanov’s own account, Russia certainly wasn’t overly preoccupied with the well-being of its scientists.
Even if no real harm has been done, one cannot help but question what has been accomplished.
Does Mirzayanov really believe that the failure to place controls on these substances, which have legitimate civilian applications, is down to a lack of insight into their potential weaponization? There are many possible reasons why controls have not yet been placed on these chemicals or the facilities where they are produced. One obvious one may be that the scale and expense of verification may completely eclipse any arms control value of the measure. As Jonathan Tucker points out in his excellent, War of Nerves: Chemical Warfare from World War I to al-Qaeda, the Soviets did not feel the need to stockpile Novichok-5 precursors. Their plan was to mobilize the production lines of existing civilian facilities in wartime. More importantly, Tucker suggests the United States and Britain have thus far refrained from adding Novichok compounds to the CWC’s declarable chemicals due to fears that proliferation or terrorists could exploit this knowledge (p. 380).
Overall, this book is worth reading but the reader must be patient with the author’s tendency to wax on about petty office politics (although fellow bureaucrats will be amused to find they have so much in common with their Soviet/Russian counterparts) and bigotry against Tartars (Tatars – V.M.) (Mirzayanov hails from the Republic of Tartarstan (Tatarstan – V.M.). No doubt, State Secrets reveals more than its author probably intended.
Journal of Slavic Military Studies, v.23, 2010, pp. 537-539.
Library of Parliament, Canada