111. Intelligence Assessment1

Intelligence Community Assessment of Disease Outbreak in Sverdlovsk (C)

The Weapon and Space Systems Intelligence Committee has reviewed all available intelligence to determine if a reported disease outbreak in the Soviet Union in April 1979 was associated with a biological warfare program and has determined the following: (C)

An extraordinary outbreak of a disease, probably pulmonary anthrax, occurred at Sverdlovsk in April 1979. (S)

The number of deaths and the virulence of the disease were significant enough to force the Soviets to impose a quarantine in the area. The situation was not brought under control until late May 1979. (S)

The outbreak in the city was a result of an accident in southwest Sverdlovsk at the military facility that has long been suspected of being engaged in research and development on biological warfare agents. (S)

The nature of the accident and the resultant number of disease victims strongly indicate that the quantity of infectious agent exceeds that reasonably expected to be required for prophylactic, protection, or other peaceful purposes. (S)

The official silence on this incident is in sharp contrast to usual public announcements of naturally occurring disease epidemics in the USSR. (U)

[less than 1 line not declassified] has provided consistent information regarding time, location, and a disease outbreak associated with a military biological warfare facility and has been supported by [less than 1 line not declassified] Specific details provided by these sources are technically accurate and does provide a plausible explanation for what happened. (S)

We have considered explanations of this incident other than the release of a large quantity of disease-producing agent from a biological warfare facility. None of these alternatives, including an improperly conducted vaccine testing or production program, adequately explains what occurred. Therefore, the Weapon and Space Systems Intelligence Committee, with the exception of State Department, concludes that there is a high probability that the Soviets still have an active biological warfare agent program at this Sverdlovsk facility. (S)

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State Department believes that the April 1979 accident provides evidence that biological warfare stocks were involved; but that there is not adequate evidence to conclude that the facility is involved in current biological warfare production. (S)

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files, Box 110, SCC 288, USSR CBW Convention, 3/14/80. Secret. The Department of State forwarded the assessment to Moscow and the Mission in Geneva in telegram 68653, March 15. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P880025–0592)