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Colonel Kanatzhan "Kanat" Alibekov (Kazakh: Қанатжан Әлібеков, Qanatzhan Älibekov; Russian: Канатжан Алибеков, Kanatzhan Alibekov; 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.
During his heyday as a Soviet bio-weapons designer, in the late 1970s and 1980s, Alibekov oversaw projects that included weaponizing glanders and Marburg hemorrhagic fever, and created Russia's first tularemia bomb. Perhaps his signal accomplishment was the creation of a new "battle strain" of anthrax, known as "Strain 836", later hailed by the Los Angeles Times as "the most virulent and vicious strain of anthrax known to man".
In 1992, he defected 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. In the lead up to the war between the US and Iraq, he testified before Congress, without direct knowledge or evidence, that "attempts to wipe out Iraq's bioweapons capability were probably not successful." In the ensuing years of war, no evidence has been found in Iraq to back up his claims.
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.
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 bioweapons 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 bioweapons work, resigned from both the Soviet Army and Biopreparat and became jobless. In October 1992 he emigrated with his family to the US.
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.
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. Abilek stepped down as President of MWB in the summer of 2008 shortly after the facility opened.
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 five children (two sons and three daughters); one of his daughters is autistic.
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.
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"
- Jacobsen, Annie (2015), The Pentagon's Brain: An Uncensored History of DARPA, America's Top Secret Military Research Agency; New York: Little, Brown and Company, pg 293.
- Willman, David (2007), "Selling the Threat of Bioterrorism", The Los Angeles Times, 1 July 2007.
- Jacobsen, Op. cit., pg 293.
- 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
- MaxwellUSA Archived 2010-10-07 at the Wayback Machine
- "Interview Dr. Ken Alibek", Journal of Homeland Security (September 18, 2000)