129. Summary of Conclusions of a Mini-Special Coordination Committee Meeting1


  • Soviet Compliance with Biological Warfare Convention


  • State
  • Reginald Bartholomew Dir., Pol-Mil Affairs Bureau
  • Jerome Kahan Dep. Dir., Pol-Mil Affairs Bureau
  • Stephan Ledogar Dir., Regional Pol-Mil Affairs European Bureau
  • James Michel Dep. Legal Advisor
  • Defense
  • Walter Slocombe Dep. Under Sec. for Policy
  • Sheila Buckley Dir. Negotiations Policy Office of Dep. Under Sec. for Policy
  • ACDA
  • Spurgeon Keeny, Jr. Dep. Director
  • Admiral Thomas Davies Assistant Director
  • Robert Mikulak Physical Science Officer Multilateral Affairs Bureau
  • White House
  • David Aaron
  • NSC
  • Major General Jasper Welch
  • Marshall Brement
  • OSTP
  • Ben Huberman
  • Peggy Finarelli
  • DCI
  • Ray McCrory Dir. Arms Control Intel. Staff
  • JCS
  • Lt. General John Pustay Asst. to the Chairman

It was noted that since the SCC meeting of March 14, 1980,2 we have made two requests to the Soviet Union for information that might alleviate our concerns as to whether the incidents of anthrax in Sverdlovsk in April 1979 pointed to Soviet non-compliance with the Biological Warfare Convention. The Soviet replies were brusque,3 asserting that though there were deaths due to anthrax, they arose through the consumption of diseased meat, and denied categorically that the Soviet Union was engaged in any activity which was not in compliance with the Biological Warfare Convention. (S)

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The Soviet characterization of the event is not consistent with intelligence information which points to infection by the inhalation of anthrax spores (a well-known biological warfare agent) and to a quantity of agent that exceeds that permissible to be held for public health purposes under the Biological Warfare Convention. Moreover, the comportment of the Soviet Union has not been in accord with their responsibilities under Article V of the Biological Warfare Convention which provides for consultation and cooperation between parties to the Convention. (S)

The United States Government’s disappointment with the substance and form of the Soviet replies has become public knowledge. Both the Congress, through resolutions by both houses, and the press have called for a more vigorous prosecution of our concerns to the Soviets. In recent weeks we have completed a thorough review of the intelligence data, consulted with the top experts in biological warfare and medical aspects of anthrax, and delivered to the Soviets the Congressional Resolutions.4 (C)

It was agreed that the task at hand is to convince the Soviet Union that our concerns are real, that the issue will not go away, that our purpose is not to take advantage of them through propaganda as they claim, but to establish a constructive consultation to resolve the matter. (S)

The Director of Central Intelligence’s representative pointed out that the Soviets have reason to suspect our motives: Our original démarche was almost a year after the incident, during a time of deteriorating US-Soviet relations over Afghanistan, and during the Biological Warfare Convention Review Conference, but within a week after the intelligence community came to a formal determination based on evidence that dribbled in over the year. Our démarche was leaked before the Soviet response could be formulated. (U)

There is some evidence from US-Soviet conversations that they realize it is to their advantage to resolve the issue. But they are now stuck with their infected meat story which is also the story they used at the time with their own people. It is entirely possible that the infected meat story is true but that something else happened as well. (S)

Most of our information is derived [2 lines not declassified] is reasonably self-consistent, logical, and in accord with known medical features of anthrax. However, [less than 1 line not declassified] is in all cases at least second-hand, in some cases clearly fed by a commonly held body of rumor in Sverdlovsk; [2 lines not declassified]

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It was agreed that the Soviets have probably not yet told us the whole truth, but that we will have some difficulty in establishing a violation of the terms of the Biological Warfare Convention related to holding those stocks of biological warfare agents for two reasons. First, the Convention provides a loophole by allowing stocks for public health purposes. The amounts allowed under this provision were not nailed down during the Convention negotiations, and the amounts needed to produce the deaths in Sverdlovsk are uncertain because of our uncertainty as to number and geographical distribution of the victims, meterological conditions and the details of the release of anthrax spores. Second, we will be inhibited in the way in which we can use our intelligence information, some of which is sensitive. (S)

It was agreed that our appropriate next step is to approach the Soviets at a high level and tell them that their current stance is unsatisfactory, that the problem will not go away unless they change, but it is our desire to resolve this in consultation with them, and that we are obliged to pursue the matter outside bilateral channels unless they are forthcoming. (S)

It was agreed, ad referendum to Secretary Christopher, for Christopher to give Dobrynin the political message tomorrow, July 10, 1980, with the detailed démarche by Ralph Earle to Dobrynin as a follow-up. (S)

It was agreed that: (1) we would not commit ourselves at this time to approach the UN Security Council as provided by the Biological Warfare Convention as a fall-back to bilateral consultation; (2) we would focus our démarche on the lack of consultation and cooperation rather than any accusation of non-compliance; (3) we would prepare a white paper for possible public use and circulation to other parties to the Biological Warfare Convention if the Soviet response is unsatisfactory. (S)

It was agreed that our objectives are to demonstrate our support for arms control and to deter violations of even weakly verifiable arms control agreements by demonstrating our willingness to raise questions of non-compliance when we have them. (U)

It was noted that our current efforts to publicize our concerns about the possible use of chemical warfare agents by the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and by their allies in Southeast Asia will inevitably be coupled, by timing if nothing else, with our handling of this biological warfare issue. It was nonetheless agreed that we should pursue the course outlined above. (C)

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harold Brown Papers, Box 82, Brown Files—General #1, Biological Weapons. Secret. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room.
  2. See Document 112.
  3. See Documents 121 and 128.
  4. See Document 127. Christopher discussed the Sverdlovsk incident with Dobrynin on July 10 (see Document 130) but did not mention the two congressional resolutions.