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Colonel Kanatzhan "Kanat" Alibekov (Kazakh: Қанатжан Әлібеков; Russian: Канатжан Алибеков; born 1950) – known as Kenneth "Ken" Alibek since 1992 – is a former Soviet physician, microbiologist and biological warfare (BW) expert. He rose rapidly in the ranks of the Soviet Army to become the First Deputy Director of Biopreparat, where he oversaw a vast program of BW facilities.
In 1992, he emigrated to the United States; he has since become an American citizen and made his living as a biodefense consultant, speaker, and entrepreneur. He had actively participated in the development of biodefense strategy for the U.S. government, and between 1998 and 2005 he testified several times before the U.S. Congress and other governments on biotechnology issues.
Youth and early career
His academic performance while studying military medicine at the Tomsk Medical Institute and his family’s noted patriotism led to his selection to work for Biopreparat, the secret biological weapons program overseen by the Soviet Union’s Council of Ministers. His first assignment (1975) was to the Eastern European Branch of the Institute of Applied Biochemistry (IAB) near Omutninsk, a combined pesticide production facility and reserve biological weapons production plant intended for activation in a time of war. At Omutninsk, Alibek mastered the art and science of formulating and evaluating nutrient media and cultivation conditions for the optimization of microbial growth. It was here that he expanded his medical school laboratory skills into the complex skill set required for industrial level production of microorganisms and their toxins.
After a year at Omutninsk, Alibek was transferred to the Siberian Branch of the IAB near Berdsk (another name of the branch was the Berdsk scientific and production base). With the assistance of a colleague, he designed and constructed a microbiology research and development laboratory that worked on techniques to optimize production of biological formulations.
After several promotions, Alibek was transferred back to Omutninsk, where he rose to the position of Deputy Director. He was soon transferred to the Kazakhstan Scientific and Production Base in Stepnogorsk (another reserve BW facility) to become the new Director of that facility. Officially, he was Deputy Director of the Progress Scientific and Production Association, a manufacturer of fertilizer and pesticide.
At Stepnogorsk, Alibek created an efficient industrial scale assembly line for biological formulations. In a time of war, the assembly line could be used to produce weaponized anthrax. Continued successes in science and biotechnology led to more promotions, which resulted in a transfer to Moscow.
Work at Biopreparat-Moscow
In Moscow, Alibek began his service as Deputy Chief of the Biosafety Directorate at Biopreparat. He was later promoted (1988) to First Deputy Director of Biopreparat, where he not only oversaw the biological weapons facilities but also the significant number of pharmaceutical facilities that produced antibiotics, vaccines, sera, and interferon for the public. Though he had limited time, he took this additional responsibility for public health seriously.
In response to a Spring 1990 announcement that the Ministry of Medical and Microbiological Industry was to be reorganized, Alibek drafted and forwarded a memo to General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev proposing the cessation of Biopreparat’s BW work. Though Gorbachev approved the proposal, an additional paragraph had been secretly inserted into Alibek’s draft, resulting in a presidential decree that ordered the end of Biopreparat’s BW work but also required them to remain prepared for future production.
Though disappointed by the double dealing, Alibek used his position at Biopreparat and the authority granted to him by the first part of the decree to begin destruction of the BW program. Specifically, he ordered the dismantling of BW production and testing capabilities at a number of research and development facilities, including Stepnogorsk, Kol’tsovo, Obolensk and a number of others. He also negotiated a concurrent appointment to a Biopreparat facility called Biomash. Biomash designed and produced technical equipment for microbial cultivation and testing. He planned to increase the proportion of its products sent to hospitals and civilian medical laboratories beyond the 40% allocated at the time.
Life in the United States
Alibek was subsequently placed in charge of intensive preparations for inspections of Soviet biological facilities by a joint American and British delegation. When he participated in the subsequent Soviet inspection of American facilities, his growing suspicion that the United States did not have an offensive BW program was confirmed before his return to Russia (the Soviet Union dissolved while he was in the US). In January 1992, not long after his return from the US, Alibek, protesting against the continuation of BW work, resigned from both the Soviet Army and Biopreparat and became jobless. In October 1992 he emigrated with his family to the US, despite being forbidden to do so by the KGB.
Long before my emigration, I resigned from the Soviet Army, left my administrative and scientific positions in Moscow, refused to accept a Russian citizenship, informed Russian security officials that I would be leaving for the United States, became jobless for more than 9 months and, after I got my parents’ blessing, I left the former Soviet Union (it was not Russia). I do not think it can be considered defection even though Russian physicians did not want me to go overseas. But it was a different time, I was not a Russian citizen and they could not have done anything officially. Only after that I emigrated with all my family.
Since moving to the US, Alibekov – who simplified his name to Kenneth (Ken) Alibek – has provided the government with a detailed accounting of the former Soviet BW program and has testified before the US Congress on numerous occasions (see also Sverdlovsk anthrax leak). He has provided guidance to the intelligence, policy, national security, and medical communities and has returned to the pure biomedical research that captured his interest as a medical student.
He was the impetus behind the creation of an innovative biodefense graduate education program at George Mason University (GMU) that drew students from across the country and has served in the program as both a Distinguished Professor of Medical Microbiology and as the Director of Education. He also developed the plans for GMU’s biosafety level three (BSL-3) research facility and was instrumental in obtaining $40 million of grants from the federal and state governments for construction of the facility.
In 1999, Alibek published an autobiographical account of his work in the Soviet Union and his defection.
Entrepreneur and researcher
On 11 March 2006, Alibek announced that, owing to substantive differences between himself and GMU over the future of the Graduate Programs in Biodefense, he would not be teaching classes beyond the Spring semester and was resigning from GMU effective 27 August 2006. In an agreement with his students, he volunteered his time from Spring 2006 through Spring 2007 to help them earn their doctoral degrees.
Alibek was the President, Chief Scientific Officer and Chief Executive Officer at AFG Biosolutions, Inc in Gaithersburg, Maryland, where he and his scientific team continued their development of advanced solutions for antimicrobial immunity. Motivated by the lack of affordable anti-cancer therapies available in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, AFG was using Alibek’s biotechnology experience to plan, build, and manage a new pharmaceutical production facility designed specifically to address this problem.
Alibek created this new pharmaceutical production company, MaxWell Biocorporation (MWB), in 2006 and served as its CEO and President. Based in Washington, D.C., with several subsidiaries and affiliates in the United States and Ukraine, MWB’s main goal is said to be the creation of a new, large-scale, high-technology, ultra-modern pharmaceutical 'fill-and-finish' facility in Ukraine. Off-patent generic pharmaceuticals produced at this site are supposed to target severe oncological, cardiological, immunological, and chronic infectious diseases.
MWB was said to be the most modern pharmaceutical production facility in all of the former Soviet Union. It was intended to serve as the flagship of a larger healthcare complex at a campus in the town of Boryspil, just outside the Ukrainian capital city of Kiev. Construction of the Boryspil facility began in April 2007 and was completed in March 2008; initial production was scheduled to begin in 2008. The stated intention was that high quality pharmaceuticals would be produced and become an affordable source of therapy for millions of underprivileged who currently have no therapeutic options.
The main focus of Alibek's current research is to develop novel forms of therapy for late stage oncological diseases and other chronic degenerative pathologies and disorders. He focuses on the role of chronic viral and bacterial infections in causing age-related diseases and premature aging. Additionally, he develops and implements novel systemic immunotherapy methods for late stage cancer patients.
Alibek has a wife and 5 children (2 sons and 3 daughters); one of his daughters suffers from autism.
Work in Kazakhstan
In 2010, by invitation he began working in Kazakhstan as an educator and researcher at Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan. During his stay, he published a number of articles in research journals and taught various courses in various fields of biology and medicine. He focuses on a possible role of chronic infections, metabolic disorders and immunosuppression on cancer development. In 2011, he was awarded by a prize from the Deputy Prime Minister for his contribution in the development of educational system in Kazakhstan. In 2014, he was awarded with a medal by the Minister of Education and Science of Kazakhstan for his contribution in research in Kazakhstan. He continues his work as a physician and research and educational professor. He keeps his American citizenship and residence and his family lives in the United States.
Some observers have questioned the scientific credibility of Alibek's recent work and his motivations:
- In a September 2003 news release, Alibek and another professor suggested, based on their laboratory research, that smallpox vaccination might increase a person's immunity to HIV. The work was touted by GMU but was rejected after peer-review by the Journal of the American Medical Association and The Lancet and is no longer being pursued. According to smallpox expert and former White House science advisor Donald A. Henderson, "This is a theory that… does not hold up at all, and it does not make any sense from a biologic point of view…This idea ... was straight off the wall. I would put no credence in it at all." However, in 2010 an article appeared in the prestigious scientific journal, Biomed Central - Immunology, [Weinstein, et al. BMC Immunology 201011:23 DOI: 10.1186/1471-2172-11-23] that outlined the results of their research showing that prior immunization with vaccinia (Dryvax) does, in fact, confer significant resistance to HIV replication. This article has since become the most requested and downloaded article in the history of that journal. Subsequent published articles have also added support to their hypothesis.
- Alibek and colleagues have sought to develop a product that would protect against an array of deadly viruses and bacteria, rather than just a single organism. In his lab, mice had survived doses of smallpox and anthrax. His "cocktail approach" – mixing more than one drug with other ingredients – was touted at news conferences in 2002 and 2004 by U.S. Representative H. James Saxton (R-N.J.), as "a potential new defense against bioterrorism". This scientific approach is very difficult to assess accurately and has not withstood scientific peer review.
- Alibek has used his notoriety to promote "Dr. Ken Alibek's Immune System Support Formula," a dietary supplement sold over the Internet. This concoction of vitamins, minerals, and a proprietary bacterial mix – a month's supply of which costs $59.95 plus tax and shipping – will purportedly “bolster the immune system”.
- Alibek resigned as executive director of GMU’s National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases in September 2006, despite his position as a tenured Distinguished Professor. A University spokeswoman confirmed his resignation, but declined to comment on the circumstances surrounding his departure. According to a 2007 Los Angeles Times article, “Alibek said the college administration had grown displeased with his company's role in sharing grant-funded research. The university, he said, requested that he dismantle or leave AFG Biosolutions. He chose to resign from George Mason.”
- Some experts question Alibek's characterizations of bioterrorism threats. Some have asserted that Alibek has a vested interest in raising fears, since he profits from government contracts related to countering bioterrorism. Retired Army major general and physician Philip K. Russell, while impressed by Alibek’s knowledge of the former Soviet Union's production of anthrax, "began to think that Ken was more fanciful than precise in some of his recollections" where genetically engineered smallpox was concerned. Russell also remarked on “…the issue of putting Ebola genes into smallpox virus. That was viewed, at least in many of our minds, as somewhat fanciful. And probably not true."
- 2014 Received a medal of the Ministry of Education and Science for his contribution in research in Kazakhstan
- 2012 Began a clinical work as a physician and researcher to develop new therapies for oncology issues
- 2011 Received award by Deputy Prime Minister of Kazakhstan for his contribution for establishing educational system in Kazakhstan
- 2010 Invited as an expat to help establish a new university in Astana, Kazakhstan according to international standards
- 2009 Founder, International Medical Research Center Maxwell (US) for therapy of late stage onclological and other chronic diseases
- 2008 Chairman, Department of Medical Biotechnology and Immunotherapy, the Institute of Ecology and Medicine
- 2007 Professor of the Institute of Ecology and Medicine, Ukraine and Lecturer for the National University of Ukraine
- 2006 CEO and President of MaxWell Biocorporation LLC (US/Ukraine)
- Served on over 35 doctoral committees (PhD) and two Doctor of Sciences committees both in Russia and the United States
- From 2000 to 2006 among BBC’s “Historic Figures”
- 2005 Lecturer for Russian-American Security Program of Harvard University’s John Kennedy Center for Government Studies
- 2005 Senior Fellow, Center for Advanced Defense Studies, Washington DC
- 2004 Outstanding faculty member, George Mason University
- 2003 Consultant to the government of Singapore on BW threats and defense
- 2002 Distinguished and tenured Professor of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, George Mason University
- Multiple written appreciations from various branches of the United States government for continued work in the field of national security
- Multiple invitations to speak for national and international symposia and conferences
- 2002 Business Forward Magazine Award: “Deals of the Year”, for one of the biggest federal contracts for small businesses
- 2001 President of AFG Biosolutions, Inc. (formerly “Advanced Biosystems, Inc”)
- 2000 Corporate vice president of Analex Corporation
- 2000 Authored the “Biohazard” book – published in more than 20 countries, including US, UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Russia, Japan, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Taiwan, etc.
- 1999 Chief Scientist of Analex Corporation (formerly Hadron, Inc)
- 1994 Barkley Medal – awarded by the US government in recognition of distinguished public service and contribution to world peace
- 1990 Colonel of Soviet Armed Forces (May 5)
- 1990 Doctor of Sciences in Biotechnology
- 1988 First Deputy Director of Main Directorate Biopreparat – chief scientist of BW threat program
- 1987 Director of Scientific Directorate of Main Directorate Biopreparat
- 1984 Medal “For Battlefield Services” to Soviet Armed Forces
- 1984 PhD in Medical Microbiology
- 1983 Military commander of BW threat research and development base, USSR
- 1975 Doctor of Medicine – Military Medicine.
Alibek published more than 80 articles in classified journals on the development of new types of biological weapons and on medical aspects of biodefense prior to his defection to the United States.
- Alibek, Ken and Steven Handelman (1999), Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World – Told from Inside by the Man Who Ran It, Random House, ISBN 0-385-33496-6.
- "The Anthrax Vaccine: Is It safe? Does it Work?" (2002), Reviewer. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., Institute of Medicine.
- Biological Threats and Terrorism: Assessing the Science and Response Capabilities (2002), Workshop Summary, Contributor. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., Institute of Medicine.
- Weinstein, R.S. and K. Alibek (2003), Biological and Chemical Terrorism: A Guide for Healthcare Providers and First Responders, Thieme Medical Publishing, New York.
- Alibek, K., et al. (2003), Biological Weapons, Bio-Prep, Louisiana.
- Fong, I. and K. Alibek (2005), Bioterrorism and Infectious Agents: A New Dilemma for the 21st Century, Springer.
- Fong, I. and K. Alibek (2006), New and Evolving Infections of the 21st Century, Springer.
- Book chapters
- ”Firepower in the Lab: Automation in the Fight Against Infectious Diseases and Bioterrorism” (2001), Chapter 15 of Biological Weapons: Past, Present, and Future, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., Institute of Medicine.
- Jane's Chem-Bio Handbook (2002), Second Edition, F. R. Sidell, W. C. Patrick, T. R. Dashiell, K. Alibek, Jane’s Information Group, Alexandria, VA.
- K. Alibek, C. Lobanova, "Modulation of Innate Immunity to Protect Against Biological Weapon Threat" (2006). In: Microorganisms and Bioterrorism, Springer.
Alibek began publishing research and review articles in 1999. Since then he published more than 40 articles in peer-reviewed journals on various aspects of biomedical research.
- The New York Times
- “Russia’s Deadly Expertise”, March 27, 1998.
- “Smallpox Could Still Be a Danger”, May 24, 1999.
- The Wall Street Journal
- “Russia Retains Biological Weapons Capability”, February, 2000.
- “Bioterror: A Very Real Threat”, October, 2001.
- The Washington Post
- “Anthrax under the Microscope”, with Matthew Meselson, November 5, 2002.
- Selected Congressional Testimony
- Testimony before the Joint Economic Committee, May, 1998: "Terrorist and Intelligence Operations: Potential Impact on the US Economy"
- Testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, June, 1999
- Testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, October, 1999
- Testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, May, 2000
- Testimony before the House Subcommittee on National Security, Veterans Affairs, and International Relations of the Committee on Government Reform, October, 2001: "Combating Terrorism: Assessing the Threat of a Biological Weapons Attack", House Serial No. 107-103
- Testimony before the House Committee on International Relations, December, 2001: "Russia, Iraq, and Other Potential Sources of Anthrax, Smallpox, and Other Bioterrorist Weapons"
- Testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies of the Committee on Appropriations, November, 2001
- Testimony before the Subcommittee on Prevention of Nuclear and Biological Attack, Committee on Homeland Security, US House of Representatives, July 28, 2005: "Implementing a National Biodefense Strategy"
- House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, March 1999 Biological Warfare Threats
- Testimony before the House Subcommittee on Prevention of Nuclear and Biological Attack, July, 2005: "Engineering Bio-terror Agents: Lessons Learned from the Offensive US and Russian Biological Weapons Programs"
- Anderson, D. (2006), Lessons Learned from the Former Soviet Biological Warfare Program; UMI Dissertation Services, UMI NO. 3231331
- Anderson (2006), Op. cit.
- Alibek, Ken and Stephen Handelman (1999), Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World – Told from Inside by the Man Who Ran It, Delta (2000) ISBN 0-385-33496-6
- AFG Biosolutions
- Willman, David (2007), “Selling the Threat of Bioterrorism”, The Los Angeles Times, 1 July 2007.
- "Random Samples", Science, 11 October 2002: Vol. 298. no. 5592, p. 359
- Willman, Op. cit
- Willman, Op. cit.
- "Interview Dr. Ken Alibek", Journal of Homeland Security (September 18, 2000)