109. Memorandum From the Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (Earle) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Possible Soviet Biological Weapons Activities

There is a growing body of evidence—[less than 1 line not declassified]—pointing toward the occurrence of a serious accident in April 1979 at a facility in Sverdlovsk which has long been suspected of being involved in biological warfare (BW) activities.

One interpretation of the accident is that a large amount of dry BW agent was released into the air as a result of an explosion at the facility. The presence of a large amount of BW agent would raise a question regarding Soviet compliance with the BW Convention’s prohibition on production and stockpiling of BW agent.

Given the potential seriousness of this situation, and the fact that the BW Convention Review Conference is underway in Geneva,2 I believe we should review this matter on an urgent basis. The first step would be the preparation as quickly as possible of a thorough all-source intelligence assessment of the incident. We have asked CIA to expedite publication of such an assessment, and I understand that a coordinated report should be available in the next few days.

Depending on the intelligence assessment, we should consider whether it would be appropriate to bring this matter up with the Soviets—and whether to do so before the Review Conference concludes around March 21st. In this connection, I note that Article V of the Treaty provides for direct consultations between Parties, while Article VI provides for a formal process for complaints being lodged with the UN after a Party “finds” that any other Party is in violation. We may also have to decide what position to take on past compliance in the final document of the Review Conference.

Ralph Earle II3
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files, Box 110, SCC 288, USSR CBW Convention, 3/14/80. Secret.
  2. The Biological Weapons Convention met in Geneva from March 3 to March 21.
  3. Earle signed the memorandum “Ralph.” Under his signature, he wrote “I have discussed the substance of this memo with Cy, who agrees and suggests that we have an SCC meeting as soon as possible after receipt of the intelligence assessment. RWE.”