112. Summary of Conclusions of a Special Coordination Committee Meeting1


  • Soviet Compliance with Biological Warfare Convention


  • State
  • Warren Christopher
  • Jerome Kahan Dep. Dir., Pol-Mil Affairs
  • Defense
  • Harold Brown
  • Walter Slocombe Dep. Under Secretary for Policy
  • ACDA
  • Ralph Earle
  • Spurgeon Keeny Deputy Director
  • JCS
  • Gen. David Jones
  • Lt. Gen. John Pustay
  • DOE
  • John Deutsch Under Secretary
  • White House
  • David Aaron
  • NSC
  • Maj. Gen. Jasper Welch
  • Marshall Brement
  • OSTP
  • Frank Press
  • Ben Huberman
  • CIA
  • Stanfield Turner
  • [name not declassified] Office of Strategic Weapons Research
  • OMB
  • Randy Jayne Assoc. Dir., NSIA

It was agreed that the [less than 1 line not declassified] data in hand ([less than 1 line not declassified] Soviet official silence) supports that there was a major accident in Sverdlovsk in April 1979 in which a cloud of agent escaped from a military facility long suspected to be a biological warfare facility and subsequently infected people in the local vicinity of the facility, causing between [numbers not declassified] deaths [less than 1 line not declassified] due to anthrax, a known biological war[Page 244]fare agent. The number and distribution of victims, the military jurisdiction over the subsequent quarantine, the inspection of materials leaving the city during the quarantine, and the visit of a high-level commission from Moscow early in the quarantine [less than 1 line not declassified] that the quantity of agent involved exceeds that permissible under the Biological Warfare Convention2 for public health purposes. No other hypothesis has been advanced which could reasonably explain the [less than 1 line not declassified] reports. (FYI: These reports have been trickling in since the summer of 1979, but only on 10 March did the Intelligence Community come to a formal determination of the conclusions outlined above. End FYI) (S)

It was noted that the BW Convention negotiating record on what quantity is allowed for these purposes is somewhat ambiguous: the U.S. used the phrase “laboratory quantities,” whereas the Soviets stuck to “certain quantities.” Therefore, there is no numerically defined quantity for the permissible amount. (S)

Nonetheless, it was agreed that the incident raises serious issues of compliance by the Soviet Union of the Biological Warfare Convention. Further, although the evidence contains some ambiguity, it is sufficiently persuasive that it cannot be ignored and is sufficient to merit raising with the Soviet Union under Article V of the Biological Warfare Convention, which provides for direct consultation in such circumstances. It was further agreed that the evidence in this case is about as good as we can expect to have for monitoring compliance with this BW Convention, and testimony at the time of ratification so indicated. (S)

It was agreed that the appropriate channel for approaching the Soviets was from Ambassador Watson to the Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister in Moscow. State will prepare an appropriate cable whose purpose will be to get a serious and businesslike response, to indicate the seriousness with which the U.S. Government takes the matter, and to indicate we believe a satisfactory resolution has bearing on the success of other arms control negotiations. (S)

It was noted that there is currently on-going in Geneva a Review Conference on the Biological Warfare Convention which is scheduled to finish on 21 March. Accordingly, the approach to the Soviets should be made as soon as possible. (S)

With regard to instructions to our Delegation at the Review Conference, it was agreed that: (1) we should inform the Soviet Delegation of our approach in Moscow; (2) we should seek to avoid any language in the Review Conference report which might indicate that there had been full compliance with the Convention; (3) we should brief appro[Page 245]priate allied Delegations on the reasons for our reservation on compliance; (4) we would not seek to accuse the Soviets directly or to overly dramatize the situation pending any Soviet response; and (5) we should not support a recent Swedish initiative to amend the BW Convention to provide for a Consultative Commission but consider support for a UK response to the Swedes which suggests some consultative arrangements within the UN. (FYI: The Convention now provides for private consultation and cooperation under Article V and provides for raising unresolved issues in the UN Security Council under Article VI. The thrust of the Swedish proposal is to provide an international body of inquiry which would not be subject to major power veto; this non-veto aspect has made the Swedish proposal attractive to many non-aligned members of the Convention. End FYI) (S)

It was noted that the extant intelligence information was briefed to the intelligence communities yesterday. It was agreed that our approach to the Soviets should be communicated to the Foreign Relations Committees forthwith. (S)

It was noted that the Sverdlovsk incident was alleged in the German press and brought forth a strong denial by Tass. It was agreed that there is a high probability that the matter will shortly come out in the U.S. press. It was also agreed that a working group will prepare material suitable for briefing the U.S. press on background if that is later decided to be useful. (S)

It was agreed that a number of technical and intelligence points should be followed up with some urgency. (C)

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files, Box 110, SCC 288, USSR CBW Convention, 3/14/80. Secret. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room.
  2. See footnote 4, Document 81.