By Joby Warrick and John Mintz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, April 20, 2003; Page A01
Link to webpasge:
First of two articles
PRETORIA, South Africa -- Daan Goosen's calling card to the FBI was a vial of
bacteria he had freeze-dried and hidden inside a toothpaste tube for secret
passage to the United States.
From among hundreds of flasks in his Pretoria lab, the South African
scientist picked a man-made strain that was sure to impress: a microbial
Frankenstein that fused the genes of a common intestinal bug with DNA from
the pathogen that causes the deadly illness gas gangrene.
"This will show the Americans what we are capable of," Goosen said at the
On May 6, 2002, Goosen slipped the parcel into the hands of a retired CIA
officer who couriered the microbes 8,000 miles for a drop-off with the FBI.
If U.S. officials liked what they saw, Goosen said he was prepared to offer
much more: an entire collection of pathogens developed by a secret South
African bioweapons research program Goosen once headed.
Goosen's extraordinary offer to the FBI, outlined in documents obtained by
The Washington Post and interviews with key participants, promised scores of
additional vials containing the bacteria that cause anthrax, plague,
salmonella and botulism, as well as antidotes for many of the diseases.
Several strains, like the bacterial hybrid in the toothpaste tube, had been
genetically altered, a technique used by weapons scientists to make diseases
harder to detect and defeat. All were to be delivered to the U.S. government
for safekeeping and to help strengthen U.S. defenses against future
U.S. officials considered the offer but balked at the asking price -- $5
million and immigration permits for Goosen and up to 19 associates and family
members to come to the United States. The deal collapsed in confusion last
year after skeptical FBI agents turned the matter over to South African
authorities, who twice investigated Goosen but never charged him.
Participants in the failed deal differ on what happened and why. But they
agree that the bacterial strains remain in private hands in South Africa,
where they have continued to attract attention from individuals interested in
The episode throws new light on the extraordinarily difficult task of
preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. South Africa,
which built nuclear, chemical and biological arsenals under apartheid,
renounced its weapons in 1993, and sought to destroy all traces of them,
including instruction manuals and bacterial seed stocks. But like other
countries that have attempted such a rollback, such as Ukraine and
Kazakhstan, South Africa finds itself in a gray zone where weapons of the
past pose serious dangers for the present.
"The weapons programs were ostensibly terminated, yet clearly they weren't
able to destroy everything," said Jeffrey M. Bale of the Center for
Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies,
which is carrying out a study of South Africa's weapons programs. "The fact
that Goosen and others are providing samples and being approached by foreign
parties suggests that these things never really went away."
To disarmament experts, the case is especially troubling because of the kinds
of terrorist-ready weapons produced by Project Coast, a top-secret biological
and chemical program created by South Africa's white-minority government,
which came to light in the late 1990s. Unlike U.S. and Soviet programs that
amassed huge stockpiles of bombs and missiles for biological warfare, Project
Coast specialized in the tools of terrorism and assassination -- including
"stealth" weapons that could kill or incapacitate without leaving a trace.
The program's military commanders also researched anti-fertility drugs that
could be clandestinely applied in black neighborhoods, and explored -- but
never produced -- biological weapons that would selectively target the
country's black majority population.
Even if all of Project Coast's bacterial strains are secured, the know-how
and skills acquired by dozens of its scientists may be impossible to
contain, South African officials acknowledged in interviews. Several key
scientists have pursued business interests overseas since the program was
disbanded shortly before South Africa's transition to democracy. Others,
including Goosen, have acknowledged they were approached by recruiters
claiming to represent foreign governments or extremist groups. While the
United States has spent tens of millions of dollars to re-train and
re-employ weapons scientists in the former Soviet Union, many Project Coast
scientists have been shunned by their peers and left to try to support
themselves any way they can.
"It would have been galling to most South Africans to see their government
take care of these scientists, after all the revelations about them," said
Chandre Gould, an investigator for South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation
Commission in the late 1990s and now the co-author of an official United
Nations study on Project Coast. "They were part of a program that tried to
kill people in this society."
The failed deal with the South African scientist is documented in hundreds of
pages of memos, contracts and reports. Many of the documents were provided by
Don Mayes, a former CIA operative who acted as go-between in the deal, and
helped arrange for the bacterial sample to be brought to the United States
for testing. Mayes, Goosen, and several other South African participants were
also interviewed at length for this article.
The FBI and CIA, which were jointly involved in the encounter with Goosen,
declined to speak about it on the record. However, U.S. government officials,
who asked not to be identified by name, have provided details of the
negotiations. They say the agencies were troubled by Goosen's claims but
suspected the scientist and his partners were more interested in cashing in
than helping out. They viewed Goosen and his partners as naive, at best, for
expecting to be rewarded for turning over what they viewed as 1990s-vintage
biological material -- products that could be duplicated in any
well-equipped, modern microbiology lab.
"If they thought we were going to put out good money for that kind of stuff,
they came to the wrong group," said one U.S. law enforcement official who
reviewed Goosen's proposal. "Thanks for being good citizens, but no thanks."
Goosen acknowledged that he had hoped to benefit financially, and sought
permission to work in the United States, where he wanted to start a new
business. But he says the FBI misjudged both his intentions and his ability
to help them defend against future bioterrorism.
"At minimum, they should have copies and DNA fingerprints for each of the
strains from Project Coast," he said. "If one of the strains were to turn up
in Iraq, at least they would know where it came from."
Goosen, an affable 51-year-old who became a veterinarian like his father, was
picked in 1981 as the founding director of Roodeplaat Research Laboratories,
the bioweapons research arm of Project Coast.
Project Coast's notorious military commander, Wouter Basson, used the lab to
create novel weapons for use against anti-apartheid activists and the black
communities that supported them, according to documents and testimony in a
murder and fraud case that ended last year in Basson's acquittal. One of
Goosen's first assignments, he has said, was to harvest highly lethal venom
from the black mambo snake for use in secret assassinations. Fangs from a
dead snake were used to make impressions in the victim's skin so the death
would appear accidental.
A widening rift between Goosen and Basson over the lab's direction ended with
Goosen's resignation in 1986. But he continued to work as a consultant for
the lab and maintained close ties with its scientists, some of whom would
later work for him in his private laboratory. After Project Coast was
disbanded, Goosen was among the first scientists to publicly acknowledge and
condemn its offensive weapons research.
South African officials claimed to have destroyed all of Project Coast's
biological materials in 1993, several months before the outgoing government
of Frederik W. de Klerk revealed the secret program to Nelson Mandela, the
first president of post-apartheid South Africa. But Goosen says many
scientists kept copies of organisms and documents in order to continue work
on "dual-use" projects with commercial as well as military applications.
Goosen's vaccine production lab ended up with hundreds of strains, at least
half of which were from Project Coast. At his home in Pretoria, he showed a
visiting reporter two trays of what he described as vaccine strains that he
kept in a freezer.
"The products should have been destroyed. The products were not destroyed,"
After the U.S. anthrax attack in October 2001, at the urging of American
friends, Goosen approached the U.S. Department of Defense with an offer of
"open cooperation" in sharing Project Coast's extensive research in anthrax
vaccines and novel antidotes known as antiserums. The Pentagon was
sufficiently interested to arrange a meeting in January 2002 between Goosen
and Bioport Corp., the Michigan company that produces anthrax vaccines for
the military. But interest from the U.S. side evaporated quickly, to Goosen's
"At that time there was a massive amount of good will toward the United
States, and a feeling that we could contribute," Goosen said. "My thinking
was: If George Bush had contracted anthrax, our technology could have cured
The two men who finally brought Goosen to the FBI's attention knew little of
germ warfare but were old hands in the shadowy world of arms trading and
secret deals. Goosen had met neither until May 4, 2002, just two days before
the toothpaste tube filled with genetically-altered bacteria began the
journey across the Atlantic.
One of the men, retired South African Maj. Gen. Tai Minnaar, was a former
military intelligence officer who had worked undercover for the CIA in Cuba
in the 1970s, according to his resume. After Goosen's unsuccessful meeting
with Bioport, Minnaar phoned Goosen, offering to put him in touch with U.S.
officials who would appreciate the value of his work. And, Minnaar said, the
Americans might be willing to pay money -- perhaps tens of millions of
dollars, Goosen recalled.
Minnaar's first call was to Mayes, the former CIA operative, whom he had met
and befriended during Mayes' frequent business trips to South Africa in the
1980s and 1990s. On March 4, Minnaar wrote to Mayes warning that dangerous
biological material from Project Coast still existed in South Africa and
posed unacceptable risks.
"With the current situation here at present, we need to ensure that the
technology as well as 'stock in hand' (at present stored safely in a private
facility) are safeguarded from finding its way to the people on the wrong
side of the fence," Minnaar wrote in an e-mail to Mayes. "This is a very real
danger, as some of the other technology we fear has already been sold."
Mayes, 64, a missiles expert who had built a career out of making clandestine
deals to acquire foreign-built weapons and air-defense systems for the CIA,
said he became quickly convinced that Minnaar was right. Within three weeks,
he arranged the first of a series of meetings with FBI and CIA officials to
discuss the feasibility of bringing Goosen and his bacterial collection to
the United States.
Mayes said that he sought "not a penny" of compensation for himself because
"it didn't seem like the patriotic thing to do." Mayes acknowledged he was
hoping to shore up his reputation with the U.S. intelligence community
following a series of highly publicized legal troubles in the late 1990s.
Mayes had been investigated for alleged offenses ranging from the mishandling
of classified documents to violating export regulations. Two separate grand
juries found no evidence that Mayes had broken the law. His ex-wife made the
allegations during a difficult divorce.
To remove the bacterial strains from South Africa, Mayes and an associate,
Robert Zlockie, a former CIA officer, drew up an extraction plan in the event
an agreement was reached to sell the pathogens to the United States.
A private aircraft would land at a remote airfield 600 miles from coastal
city of Durban. From a waiting camper-trailer on the runway, the bacteria in
two cryogenic canisters would be loaded onto the plane along with two of the
South African scientists. The canisters were to be labeled "oxygen" to avoid
suspicion. One of the canisters was to contain more than 20 liters of
antiserum and other antidotes, documents show. The other would contain 200
glass vials of biological material described as "extremely harmful to people
and the environment." An inventory later provided to the FBI listed the
contents of those vials as more than 150 strains of bacteria, including six
that were marked as "genetically modified."
Before the large transfer of pathogens could be made, Goosen first sent a
sample to the FBI, which they insistently sought. It was meant to ice the
deal and dispel any doubts about Goosen's credentials. Goosen recalled that
he thought carefully before selecting a strain and settled on "Escherichia
coli 078:K80 (+K60 GM)," a common intestinal bacterium that had been spliced
with a toxin-producing gene from Clostridium perfringens. C. perfringens
causes several potentially fatal conditions including gas gangrene, a rare
and severe form of gangrene in which in bacteria aggressively attack living
Biodefense experts have long worried about the implications of genetic
modification for biological warfare or terrorism. The kind of engineering
accomplished by Project Coast could theoretically be used to transfer lethal
properties to ordinary bacteria. Or, conversely, it could be used to
inoculate people and animals against disease.
The problem of how to transport the sample to the United States was quickly
solved by Goosen himself. Microbes can easily be transported, he said, in a
sealed glass cylinder inserted inside an ordinary toothpaste tube. A few
grams of cooling gel squirted into the tube would ensure a stable temperature
for a trip of up to several days.
"I can take it all over the world," Mayes quoted the scientist as saying.
At 5 p.m. on May 9, 2002, Robert Zlockie, the retired CIA officer who had
couriered the toothpaste tube across the Atlantic, delivered the package to
an agent at the FBI's office in Key West, Fla. In return, he was given a
hand-written receipt on FBI letterhead. "One toothpaste tube containing one
ampul of E. coli genetically coded with epsilon toxin," it read.
Within days, the bacteria arrived at the Army's top biodefense laboratory at
Fort Detrick, Md. for scientific analysis. Government biodefense scientists
were consulted about the findings, and helped the FBI in assessing the
implications. By May 15, the FBI arrived at several conclusions, according to
officials who participated in the discussion.
They decided that Goosen's altered bacteria was precisely as the scientist
had described it and that the pathogens listed in his collection were likely
"legacy" materials from Project Coast, just as Goosen claimed. They also
decided that the FBI would not offer a penny for any of it.
"The material was just as advertised, but the hands-down reaction was, 'So
what?' " said one law-enforcement official familiar with the assessment.
U.S. officials involved in the decision say they saw no compelling reasons
for paying Goosen or for excluding the government of South Africa, a U.S.
ally, from an operation affecting the security of biological material in
that country. Mayes, in an urgent note to the FBI, pleaded against alerting
South African authorities, saying the scientists "have no faith that the
material would ever reach" the United States government. But within days of
the note, the FBI reported the matter to South Africa in an official letter
relayed through the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria. "From that point on, it became
a police matter for South Africa," the law enforcement official said.
The FBI also was not convinced that buying Goosen's vials would make
Americans safer, the official said. Deadly anthrax and c. perfringens can be
found in nature, the official noted. And, while Project Coast's experiments
in genetic engineering were state-of-the-art at the time, technology had
advanced so rapidly that similar kinds of genetic alterations are now
performed by microbiology students "at the graduate or even undergraduate
level," the official said.
Other biological weapons experts have criticized the FBI's decision, saying
the agency missed the point. While genetic engineering has become
increasingly common, there are few known instances where scientists have
deliberately tried to adapt organisms for germ warfare. Soviet bioweapons
scientists were beginning to produce genetically altered prototypes when
their program was shut down in 1992, according Ken Alibek, a former Soviet
scientist who defected to the United States.
Back in Pretoria, Goosen heard not a word from the United States after
sending his toothpaste tube. But he assumed the deal was off when local
authorities obtained a warrant to search his laboratory. Nothing was
confiscated, said Goosen, who has never been charged with a crime.
The experience left Goosen embittered and disillusioned, but otherwise little
has changed in his circumstances -- except that more people are aware of his
bacteria collection and are inquiring about it. In the past nine months, the
scientist has been offered money by a German treasure-hunter and a man
claiming to be an Arab sheik. Goosen says he turned the offers down, but
worries about future bioterrorism.
"A small container of pathogens could kill a million people," he said. "It's
hard enough to secure fissile materials, which are large and easy to detect.
How do you begin to control a substance that looks like nothing more than
Bale, the Monterey Institute researcher, believes U.S. officials should have
jumped at the opportunity to secure the South African strains. "Here was a
guy who had worked in a former chemical and biological program and was
willing to provide information and assistance to the United States," Bale
said. "That's worth following up on. If a person like Goosen decides to
collaborate with a foreign party, it's far better that he collaborates with
us and not with rogue elements in other parts of the world."
Washington Post staff writer Joby Warrick will answer reader questions about
this series in a video interview Monday. Submit questions for Warrick at
© 2003 The Washington Post Company
By Joby Warrick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 21, 2003; Page A01
Link to webpage:
Second of two articles
PRETORIA, South Africa -- In three days of secret meetings last July, the man
known throughout South Africa as "Doctor Death" astounded U.S. law
enforcement officials with tales of how the former white-minority government
carried out unique experiments with chemical and biological weapons.
Wouter Basson, the bearded ex-commander of South Africa's notorious 7th
Medical Battalion, spoke candidly of global shopping sprees for pathogens and
equipment, of plans for epidemics to be sown in black communities and of
cigarettes and letters that were laced with anthrax. He revealed the
development of a novel anthrax strain unknown to the U.S. officials, a kind
of "stealth" anthrax that Basson claimed could fool tests used to detect the
But most disturbing was the question Basson could not answer: Who controls
the microbes now?
Nearly a decade has passed since the last South African president under
apartheid, Frederik W. de Klerk, dismantled the top-secret biological and
chemical weapons program known as Project Coast, of which Basson was the
director. In 1993, South Africa declared all the weapons, pathogen strains
and documents destroyed. Since then, South Africa has been held up as a model
-- an example for Iraq and other nations of "what real disarmament looks
like," as Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said in a speech in January.
But in reality, Project Coast's legacy continues to haunt South Africa in
ways that bode poorly for countries seeking to roll back programs for
weapons of mass destruction, according to government officials and weapons
experts. South Africa is still struggling to answer basic questions about
the kinds of weapons developed in the program, how they were used and what
happened to them, the officials said. Bacterial strains that supposedly were
destroyed continue to turn up in private hands. Law enforcement officials
remain concerned that former weapons scientists may share secrets with
extremist groups or foreign governments.
The lingering threats from Project Coast attest to the existence of a gray
zone, the combination of weak states, open borders, lack of controls and a
ready market of buyers and sellers for weapons of mass destruction.
"So many of the past problems occurred because there weren't enough checks
and balances in the system," said Torie Pretorius, one of two lead
prosecutors in the state's case against Basson on murder and fraud charges
stemming from Project Coast, of which he was acquitted. "Are those checks
and balances any better today? I don't think so," he said.
"The rollback in South Africa is incomplete," said Milton Leitenberg, an arms
control expert and senior research scholar at the University of Maryland's
School of Public Affairs. "It's unclear that the government ever wrapped
these programs up, and they need to wrap them up. The fact that you've got a
guy with a walking collection of bacteria traveling around the world is just
more evidence of that."
Project Coast was a closely guarded state secret, created as a unit of the
South African National Defense Force (SADF) in 1981, at a time when the
white-minority government saw itself under siege from all sides -- from
communist-led insurgencies in neighboring countries and from an increasingly
restive majority black population within its borders.
"The SADF viewed the liberation movements as terrorist organizations, a view
that held that every white South African was a potential target," South
African researchers Chandre Gould and Peter Folb wrote in a major study on
Project Coast released in January for the United Nations.
The first authoritative accounts about Project Coast surfaced only in 1998
when Basson and other top scientists were called to testify before South
Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings. In 1999, state
prosecutors began a 21/2-year trial of Basson on murder and fraud charges,
alleging that he had directed the use of weapons in assassinations and
misused state money. The trial resulted in the release of thousands of pages
of documents, and produced sensational disclosures about South Africa's use
of chemicals and pathogens. In a stunning rejection of the state's case, a
South African judge acquitted Basson on all counts last April, finding that
Basson did not break any laws. Prosecutors are appealing the case.
Testimony in the trial portrayed Basson as a skillful and wily manager who
built a sophisticated weapons program on a modest budget with little
oversight from the country's political and military leadership. Unlike the
vastly larger Soviet weapons program, Project Coast produced no warheads or
missiles and no "weaponized" agents that would be considered militarily
significant. Instead, it focused entirely on small-scale, custom-made weapons
intended to terrorize, weaken and kill opponents of the apartheid government,
testimony and documents showed.
"The most characteristic feature of the South African program was the
development, testing and utilization of a wide array of hard-to-trace toxic
agents to assassinate 'enemies of the state,' " said Gary Ackerman, a South
African weapons expert with the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the
Monterey Institute for International Studies.
Project Coast scientists collected hundreds of strains of deadly pathogens,
including 45 types of anthrax and the bacteria that cause cholera,
brucellosis and plague, according to documents released by the government.
They also developed novel methods for distributing toxins. A 1989 sales list
released by the government provided a partial inventory: sugar cubes laced
with salmonella, beer bottles and peppermint candies poisoned with pesticide,
cigarettes and letter-size envelopes sprinkled with anthrax spores.
More sinister were the attempts -- ordered by Basson -- to use science
against the country's black majority population. Daan Goosen, former
director of Project Coast's biological research division, said he was
ordered by Basson to develop ways to suppress population growth among
blacks, perhaps by secretly applying contraceptives to drinking water.
Basson also urged scientists to search for a "black bomb," a biological
weapon that would select targets based on skin color, he said.
"Basson was very interested. He said, 'If you can do this, it would be very
good,' " Goosen recalled. "But nothing came of it."
When South Africa announced destruction of its nuclear weapons program in
1993, teams of international observers were flown in for verification that
the warheads as well as thousands of pages of blueprints and documents were
destroyed. But the process was different for biological and chemical weapons
-- the only witnesses to the destruction at Project Coast were the program's
top managers. Their claims came into question as early as 1997, when steamer
trunks filled with Project Coast documents belonging to Basson turned up in
the home of an associate. The trunks contained financial and scientific
records as well as a sales list of clandestine weapons.
When questioned by U.S. officials in July, Basson said he could offer no
assurances about the possible existence of other documents, or bacterial
strains and chemicals that he previously claimed were incinerated or dumped
"His suspicion was that people working in the labs had probably taken things
with them," said a knowledgeable U.S. law enforcement source. "As the program
ended, an effort was made to destroy or sell off as many assets as possible.
That's because the white leadership didn't relish the prospect of this
technology ending up in the hands of the new black government."
Goosen acknowledged in an interview that scientists had retained copies of
bacterial strains to continue work on vaccines and antidotes with commercial
applications. Goosen said he ended up with scores of such strains in his
private laboratory, a collection he attempted unsuccessfully to sell to the
United States last May. Goosen did not destroy them, he said, because he
considered them vital to his continued research and vaccine business.
Documents and e-mails generated as part of that attempted sale to U.S.
officials suggested that additional "replica" copies of Project Coast strains
existed. Tai Minnaar, a retired South African general who represented Goosen
in the attempted sale, wrote to a retired CIA official describing one such
replica that "is in fact a copy of the original in every way." Goosen said he
had no knowledge of such a replica.
Reconstructing what happened to Project Coast materials is made more
difficult because of uncertainties over the identities of outside companies
and institutes that may have provided assistance. Most of Project Coast's
scientists worked for one of two front companies, Roodeplaat Research
Laboratories and Delta G Scientific. But based on interviews with former
South African military leaders, some U.S. researchers have concluded that
other entities were deeply involved.
"There were a number of different research and testing centers at
universities and companies, and scientists in various parts of South Africa
assisted," professors Helen E. Purkitt and Stephen F. Burgess wrote in a
June 2002 article in the Journal of Southern African Studies. Over time,
Basson was able to acquire or develop "pathogens that had never before been
seen," they wrote.
During his trial, Basson boasted of logging many tens of thousands of miles
visiting foreign capitals, from Taipei to Tripoli. According to his own
testimony, his trips included a visit to Iran to acquire samples of chemical
weapons used in the Iran-Iraq war, and a trip to Russia to purchase
sophisticated equipment used in genetic engineering. Along the way he built a
network of foreign contacts who later became business partners.
Although weapons experts dismiss many of Basson's claims, travel records
confirm that he made at least five trips in the 1990s to Libya -- a country
the CIA believes is attempting to establish a biological weapons program. The
State Department became so concerned about his visits that a formal complaint
was made to the South African government in 1995.
Other former Project Coast officials have made extended visits to Libya as
well as China, and still others have received visitors from countries
regarded by the United States as proliferation concerns. Gould and Folb, in
their U.N.-sponsored study, describe a visit by a group of Syrian businessmen
to meet with former Project Coast scientists Andre Immelman and Jan Lourens
some time after the program was shut down.
One of the visitors was "quite open in his request for technology in the form
of documentation or skills," Lourens was quoted as saying. He said the
Syrians returned home empty-handed, and no further contact was made.
Deciphering the intent of the foreign contacts was a key objective of U.S.
officials who met with Basson during a secret three-day session last summer.
Basson, who did not respond to requests for an interview for this story, has
kept a relatively low profile while awaiting the outcome of the state's
appeal of his acquittal. But in July, he offered himself to U.S. government
officials for questioning at the fortress-like U.S. Embassy in Pretoria, the
Officials knowledgeable of the meeting agreed to discuss some of the
revelations on the condition they not be identified. They recalled Basson had
requested the meeting, saying he wanted to clear his record with U.S. law
enforcement officials who had tracked his movements in recent years to
determine whether he was trying to sell biological agents or secrets to other
countries. During three days of questioning, Basson answered questions and
told stories with the assurance that none of his statements could be used
against him in any criminal or civil court, the officials said.
In past statements, Basson told extraordinary tales that later turned out to
be either fabricated or unverifiable. The U.S visitors were not convinced of
his candor on many points, particularly about his foreign travels. Basson
acknowledged the trips but offered innocuous explanations. For example, he
said that in Libya he consulted with senior government officials about plans
to construct a hospital and a railway.
"He was having one hell of a time going all over the world," said a law
enforcement official familiar with details of the embassy meetings. "He told
us about Libya, Iran, Syria, Egypt and Israel. He mentioned meeting officials
from North Korea. And of course, we're convinced he only told about the
things he thought we already knew."
The officials did find disturbingly credible Basson's account of an unknown
"stealth" anthrax strain. South Africa's most tightly guarded anthrax weapon
was a native bacterial strain, known to be lethal to humans and animals --
one of 45 anthrax types in Project Coast's collection. But the strain
achieved a whole new significance, he said, when his scientists were able to
induce a change that rendered the microbe invisible to standard field tests
commonly used in South Africa and neighboring countries.
"They ended up with an organism that would confound conventional detection,"
said one U.S. law enforcement official who reviewed Basson's claim. "That
way, the spread of the disease is not stopped, and more people would become
ill." The official said more sophisticated anthrax tests commonly used in the
United States would not be fooled by the stealth microbe.
Anthrax experts who learned details of Basson's claim said the reported
accomplishment was possible, but likely not very effective as a weapon. The
alterations described by Basson would likely have severely reduced the
virulence of the strain, said Martin Hugh-Jones, an anthrax specialist at
Louisiana State University.
"It might make a few goats sick but it wouldn't do very well at killing
people," Hugh-Jones said. "It appears he turned a pathogenic organism into a
Basson acknowledged to U.S. officials that the modifications stripped the
microbe of some of its virulence, but said Project Coast scientists remained
interested because of the strain's ability to sicken and debilitate targets
without leaving a trace.
Basson also told U.S. officials he had learned the technique from Israeli
government scientists, a claim that could not be independently verified.
Israel has persistently denied having biological or chemical weapons
programs, although many U.S. weapons experts believe such programs exist.
Israel also is widely believed to have assisted South Africa with the
development of its former nuclear weapons program, a claim Israeli officials
also deny. Basson and at least one other member of South Africa's biological
and chemical weapons team made extended trips to Israel in the 1980s,
according to testimony and documents cited by authors Gould and Folb.
"The two countries at the time shared a similar mind-set: Both saw groups
inside their own borders that threatened the country's survival," said a U.S.
government weapons analyst with first-hand knowledge of Project Coast and its
aftermath, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "The enemy wasn't another
nation-state but pockets of individuals within their own population."
Washington Post staff writer Joby Warrick will answer reader questions about
this series in a video interview that can be viewed online this afternoon.
Submit questions for Warrick at www.washingtonpost.com.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company
A civilisation torn to pieces ================================
Baghdad, reports Robert Fisk, is a city at war with itself, at the mercy of thieves and gunmen. And, in the city's most important museum, something truly terrible has taken place
The Independent 13 April 2003
They lie across the floor in tens of thousands of pieces, the priceless antiquities of Iraq's history. The looters had gone from shelf to shelf, systematically pulling down the statues and pots and amphorae of the Assyrians and the Babylonians, the Sumerians, the Medes, the Persians and the Greeks and hurling them on to the concrete. Our feet crunched on the wreckage of 5,000-year-old marble plinths and stone statuary and pots that had endured every siege of Baghdad, every invasion of Iraq throughout history - only to be destroyed when America came to "liberate" the city. The Iraqis did it. They did it to their own history, physically destroying the evidence of their own nation's thousands of years of civilisation. Not since the Taliban embarked on their orgy of destruction against the Buddhas of Bamiyan and the statues in the museum of Kabul - perhaps not since the Second World War or earlier - have so many archaeological treasures been wantonly and systematically smashed to pieces. "This is what our own people did to their history," the man in the grey gown said as we flicked our torches yesterday across the piles of once perfect Sumerian pots and Greek statues, now headless, armless, in the storeroom of Iraq's National Archaeological Museum. "We need the American soldiers to guard what we have left. We need the Americans here. We need policemen." But all that the museum guard, Abdul-Setar Abdul-Jaber, experienced yesterday was gun battles between looters and local residents, the bullets hissing over our heads outside the museum and skittering up the walls of neighbouring apartment blocks. "Look at this," he said, picking up a massive hunk of pottery, its delicate patterns and beautifully decorated lips coming to a sudden end where the jar - perhaps 2ft high in its original form - had been smashed into four pieces. "This was Assyrian." The Assyrians ruled almost 2,000 years before Christ. And what were the Americans doing as the new rulers of Baghdad? Why, yesterday morning they were recruiting Saddam Hussein's hated former policemen to restore law and order on their behalf. The last army to do anything like this was Mountbatten's force in South-east Asia, which employed the defeated Japanese army to control the streets of Saigon - with their bayonets fixed - after the recapture of Indo-China in 1945. A queue of respectably dressed Baghdad ex-cops formed a queue outside the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad after they heard a radio broadcast calling for them to resume their "duties" on the streets. In the late afternoon, at least eight former and very portly senior police officers, all wearing green uniforms - the same colour as the uniforms of the Iraqi Baath party - turned up to offer their services to the Americans, accompanied by a US Marine. But there was no sign that any of them would be sent down to the Museum of Antiquity. But "liberation" has already turned into occupation. Faced by a crowd of angry Iraqis in Firdos Square demanding a new Iraqi government "for our protection and security and peace", US Marines, who should have been providing that protection, stood shoulder to shoulder facing them, guns at the ready. The reality, which the Americans - and, of course, Mr Rumsfeld - fail to understand is that under Saddam Hussein, the poor and deprived were always the Shia Muslims, the middle classes always the Sunnis, just as Saddam himself was a Sunni. So it is the Sunnis who are now suffering plunder at the hands of the Shia. And so the gun-fighting that broke out yesterday between property owners and looters was, in effect, a conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims. By failing to end this violence - by stoking ethnic hatred through their inactivity - the Americans are now provoking a civil war in Baghdad. Yesterday evening, I drove through the city for more than an hour. Hundreds of streets are now barricaded off with breeze blocks, burnt cars and tree trunks, watched over by armed men who are ready to kill strangers who threaten their homes or shops. Which is just how the civil war began in Beirut in 1975. A few US Marine patrols did dare to venture into the suburbs yesterday - positioning themselves next to hospitals which had already been looted - but fires burnt across the city at dusk for the third consecutive day. The municipality building was blazing away last night, and on the horizon other great fires were sending columns of smoke miles high into the air. Too little, too late. Yesterday, a group of chemical engineers and water purification workers turned up at the US Marine headquarters, pleading for protection so they could return to their jobs. Electrical supply workers came along, too. But Baghdad is already a city at war with itself, at the mercy of gunmen and thieves. There is no electricity in Baghdad - as there is no water and no law and no order - and so we stumbled in the darkness of the museum basement, tripping over toppled statues and stumbling into broken winged bulls. When I shone my torch over one far shelf, I drew in my breath. Every pot and jar - "3,500 BC" it said on one shelf corner - had been bashed to pieces. Why? How could they do this? Why, when the city was already burning, when anarchy had been let loose - and less than three months after US archaeologists and Pentagon officials met to discuss the country's treasures and put the Baghdad Archaeological Museum on a military data-base - did the Americans allow the mobs to destroy the priceless heritage of ancient Mesopotamia? And all this happened while US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, was sneering at the press for claiming that anarchy had broken out in Baghdad. For well over 200 years, Western and local archaeologists have gathered up the remnants of this centre of early civilisation from palaces, ziggurats and 3,000-year-old graves. Their tens of thousands of handwritten card index files - often in English and in graceful 19th-century handwriting - now lie strewn amid the broken statuary. I picked up a tiny shard. "Late 2nd century, no. 1680" was written in pencil on the inside. To reach the storeroom, the mobs had broken through massive steel doors, entering from a back courtyard and heaving statues and treasures to cars and trucks. The looters had left only a few hours before I arrived and no one - not even the museum guard in the grey gown - had any idea how much they had taken. A glass case that had once held 40,000-year-old stone and flint objects had been smashed open. It lay empty. No one knows what happened to the Assyrian reliefs from the royal palace of Khorsabad, nor the 5,000-year-old seals nor the 4,500-year-old gold leaf earrings once buried with Sumerian princesses. It will take decades to sort through what they have left, the broken stone torsos, the tomb treasures, the bits of jewellery glinting amid the piles of smashed pots. The mobs who came here - Shia Muslims, for the most part, from the hovels of Saddam City - probably had no idea of the value of the pots or statues. Their destruction appears to have been the result of ignorance as much as fury. In the vast museum library, only a few books - mostly mid-19th-century archaeological works - appeared to have been stolen or destroyed. Looters set little value in books. I found a complete set of the Geographical Journal from 1893 to 1936 still intact - lying next to them was a paperback entitled Baghdad, The City of Peace - but thousands of card index sheets had been flung from their boxes over stairwells and banisters. British, French and German archaeologists played a leading role in the discovery of some of Iraq's finest treasures. The great British Arabist, diplomatic schemer and spy Gertrude Bell, the "uncrowned queen of Iraq" whose tomb lies not far away from the museum, was an enthusiastic supporter of their work. The Germans built the modern-day museum beside the Tigris river and only in 2000 was it reopened to the public after nine years of closure following the 1991 Gulf War. Even as the Americans encircled Baghdad, Saddam Hussein's soldiers showed almost the same contempt for its treasures as the looters. Their slit trenches and empty artillery positions are still clearly visible in the museum lawns, one of them dug beside a huge stone statue of a winged bull. Only a few weeks ago, Jabir Khalil Ibrahim, the director of Iraq's State Board of Antiquities, referred to the museum's contents as "the heritage of the nation". They were, he said, "not just things to see and enjoy - we get strength from them to look to the future. They represent the glory of Iraq". Mr Ibrahim has vanished, like so many government employees in Baghdad, and Mr Abdul-Jaber and his colleagues are now trying to defend what is left of the country's history with a collection of Kalashnikov rifles. "We don't want to have guns, but everyone must have them now," he told me. "We have to defend ourselves because the Americans have let this happen. They made a war against one man - so why do they abandon us to this war and these criminals?" Half an hour later, I contacted the civil affairs unit of the US Marines in Saadun Street and gave them the exact location of the museum and the condition of its contents. A captain told me that "we're probably going to get down there". Too late. Iraq's history had already been trashed by the looters whom the Americans unleashed on the city during their "liberation". "You are American!" a woman shouted at me in English yesterday morning, wrongly assuming I was from the US. "Go back to your country. Get out of here. You are not wanted here. We hated Saddam and now we are hating Bush because he is destroying our city." It was a mercy she could not visit the Museum of Antiquity to see for herself that the very heritage of her country - as well as her city - has been destroyed. http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/story.jsp?story=396743