Thursday, September 17, 2009

Biohazard: A Review

Frankly, Biohazard terrified me. It was not the detailed descriptions of biological weapons facilities nor of the massive, faceless Soviet political machine that drove the development of this immense program that chilled me. It was Ken Alibek himself. Admittedly, he wrote the book in conjunction with another author, but the voice he established for himself as a narrator was flat and emotionless. As Alibek describes his development of exciting new technologies to weaponize tularemia, his tone is that of a detached scientist. Throughout the work, one of the consistent themes is his focus on the importance of his career and advancement above all else. Several times, he mentions the potential to have moral qualms about the work he was doing—but that he himself did not feel it—at the time. Each time he says something like this, my expectation of his soon-to-come complete change of heart increased. In the final chapters, anticipating his defection to the United States, I expected him to have some sort of moral crisis and understand the potential consequences of his scientific breakthroughs. Yet when the time came, Alibek’s defection seemed to be more of a function of his desire for control over his career than any other more humanitarian motivation. As his boss, Kalinin’s overbearance increased and the Soviet government’s control became more tenuous, Alibek’s frustration over the instability of his situation became palpable. His desire to leave the country came to a head when he found himself about to be forced into a job he did not want.

Now, he works as a consultant in the United States. He gains valuable defense contracts through his biological weaponry know-how. Throughout his book, he expressed no real remorse for his role in the creation of the weapons; simply for the existence of the weapons themselves, as though they emerged out of thin air. Alibek’s motivation in writing this book, then, if one assumes that it is not an apologia for his time in the USSR’s biological weapons program, seems solely self-promoting. Bolstering his image as a bioweapons expert is likely to raise his profile and augment the preexisting culture of fear surrounding biological weapons. Both of these things are likely to benefit Alibek’s career in the United States, something with which he seems to have remained consistent in pursuit of.

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