Sunday, July 01, 2007

ALIBEK DISSECTED LIKE FROG: Russian defector pimped bioterror threat says newspaper. No kiddin'!

In today's Los Angeles Times, your friendly neighborhood GlobalSecurity.Org Senior Fellow was pleased to read "Selling the threat of bioterrorism: A scientist defected, helped shape policy and sought to profit." Written by David Willman, it adds to the literature putting a spike through the reputation of the famous ex-Commie-turned-capitalist bioweapons expert, Ken Alibek.

In doing so, it travels over ground covered by DD and familiar to readers of this blog and GlobalSecurity.Org's National Security Notes over the past couple of years.

Alibek has been far from the only scientist to pimp the threat of bioterror and wind up gaining from the conflict-of-interest. But he is certainly one worth addressing on the pages of a big daily newspaper like the Times.

DD knows if you plugged "Ken Alibek" into Lex-Nex before today, there was no shortage of mainstream pressmen acting as rote stenographers for whatever Alibek had to say concerning bioterrorism. Alibek is present everywhere, preaching oncoming doom, the presence of proliferating tools of bioterrorism, hundreds -- maybe thousands -- of times. The occasional stories which held curious Alibek items up for critical inspection were generally consigned to obscure publications.

The Times collects Alibek's lobbying efforts for government money and some of his less well known embarrassments including not-particularly-reproducible science and distinctly unusual proclamations.

Notably among these was the Alibek claim in 2003, made along with colleagues at George Mason University, that the AIDS virus either did not grow or was inhibited to a certain degree in cells isolated from people immunized against smallpox. This suggested to Alibek and George Mason University that smallpox vaccination could be adopted to provide protection against the AIDS virus. Subsequently, it was claimed that patents had been filed for “therapeutic use of the smallpox vaccine and its application to HIV vaccine research.”

No such patents could be found by this analyst. And a paper based on this by Alibek and a colleague were rejected by the Journal of the American Medical Association and, later, the Lancet.

In news articles which appeared a couple of weeks after Alibek's startling AIDS/smallpox announcement, other scientists dismissed the research on the basis of a “lack of evidence” and criticized its delivery via press release, ostensibly done to gin up financial interest. Alibek claimed he was “offended by claims that research produced by his university and the National Center for Biodefense may be tainted by financial conflicts of interest."

This leads one to imagine Alibek's head blowing up after reading today's Times frontpage story.

Nevertheless, Charles Bailey, another bioterror expert whose reputation and history originally extended from work in the biodefense establishment at Ft. Detrick, as an Alibek crony and director of George Mason's National Center for Biodefense claimed, “This is evidence of the caliber of bioscience research out-of-the-box thinking that is going on at George Mason.”

Keep Charles Bailey in mind because the Times used him in today's article to impeach Alibek.

While the two became friends and began collaborating when Alibek defected to the US,
the Times got Bailey to remark critically on its subject.

"Does the inconsistency [over Alibek's statements and his other activities] cause [Bailey] to reassess Alibek's earlier statements regarding global biological threats?" asks the Times.

"Bailey answered quietly. 'Definitely, it does.'"

While Bailey's utterance may be honest, it's a bit like witnessing two fellows drowning side-by-side. Then one clambers on top of the other so he might survive a little longer.

Bailey has also been in on the bioterror gravy train with Ken Alibek.

In today's Times article, the newspaper mentions Aethlon Medical Inc., a San Diego company actively involved in getting money from the US government for a blood-purifying widget said to be just right for fighting bioterror.

As reported by DD in January of this year, Alibek was on Aethlon's science advisory board. Today, the Times reported Alibek touting the company's product which "could be rapidly deployed even against genetically altered biowarfare agents." The Times added "Aethlon said that Alibek served without pay on the advisory board but 'may be compensated in the future for his advisory work.'"

However, the Times did not mention that Alibek's long-time business partner and colleague, Charles Bailey, was also on Aethlon's advisory board.

Aethlon has been fairly obscure in the news. However, its blood-purifying bioterror-curing device was pitched in an issue of Army Times. It is advertised as a one-size-fits-all answer for bioterror, in effect, a silver bullet cure.

The article was entitled, "Firm creates 'kidney' for first responder, device may help troops during bioterror attacks," and was published in February 2006.

"Imagine being infected with a deadly germ like anthrax or the Ebola virus and never feeling any ill effects - or even having to slow down," wrote Army Times. The bacterium which causes anthrax and the Ebola virus, readers are reminded, are two utterly different beasties.

"A small biotech company based in San Diego thinks it has the answer for troops and other first responders who need protection against the kinds of biological agents that can kill them in their line of work. It's a small device that can be worn on an arm or leg as it cleans toxins from your blood - and allows you to keep working without missing a beat, company officials say."


On hand for Army Times was Charles Bailey.

The blood purifier ". . . shows significant promise and needs to be developed further," said Bailey to the magazine. "There are a lot of advantages that this procedure would have."

Wrote Army Times, " . . . Bailey said he has no stake in the financial future of the company."

Ha-ha. Such poor journalism that was!

A quick look by DD blog into the great Internet archive, however, showed George Mason's Charles Bailey on the scientific advisory board of the company in February of 2006, the same month as publication of the Army Times piece.

A common thread running through Alibek's pitches for bioterror funding has been the fashioning of a silver bullet cure.

This is always dressed up as a search for a common agent, or cocktail of agents, which could be administered to protect against a wide spectrum of bioterror threats, even against organisms which are completely dissimilar, like viruses and bacteria.

One infamous Alibek patent application, one which never came to fruition, was 20040018193, entitled “Rapid acting broad spectrum protection against biological threat agents.” Dated from January of 2004, it was the embodiment of a silver bullet cure, a therapy to treat smallpox – a viral infection, and anthrax, a bacterial one, with a large uncharacterizable admixture of materials including antibodies, antibiotics and the cell walls of bacteria -- the “peptidoglycan, lipoteichoic acid, or muramyl peptide fraction of bacterial cell walls.”

The latter are the chemical names for components found in the cell walls of bacteria. They are, coincidentally, also the components found in an OTC nostrum attributed to Alibek. The working idea here is that the eating or into-nose-spraying of bacterial cell wall fragments acts as a boost to the immune system or a bioterror prophylactic, whichever one prefers.

“This invention was made with Government support under MDA972-01-C-0084 awarded by [Defense Advanced Research Progam Agency – DARPA] and DAMD17-01-C-0033 awarded by the Department of the Army,” stated the original Alibek bioterror defense patent application.

Through the years, DARPA funding has been instrumental in propping up Alibek.

And so for the LA Times, reporter Willman went to Tony Tether, that agency's director, a man known to have great enthusiasm for really bad ideas no one else will fund.

Pushed by Republican congressman Jim Saxton, Tether bankrolled Alibek. For the Times, Tether describes himself as reining in the bioterror expert but, according to the paper, "[Tether] preserved the funding ... Some of Alibek's subsequent work with mice has shown promised, [he] said."

In 2002, Alibek had his name on bottles of pills called “Dr. Ken Alibek's Immune System Support Formula,” sold off the website (Since lapsed, the website, along with and, can be found in the Wayback Machine,

A brief for Science magazine wrote that Alibek “says the pills have nothing to do with his research on how the body can fight off bioterrorist agents.” For Science, Alibek said he was acting as a consultant to Vital Basics, the company marketing “Dr. Ken Alibek's Immune System Support Formula.” Another scientist, from the US biodefense establishment, called it snake oil.

A close look at the Alibek pill bottle back label (displayed at the foot of this article) displayed by shows that in addition to vitamins, there is listed a “proprietary blend,” an admixture of ingredients, including “peptidoglycans, teichoic and lipoteichoic acids” from billions of bacterial cell walls. One difference, among others, between Alibek's DARPA-supported patent application is that the potential bacterial cell wall mixtures as anti-bioterror therapies underwritten by DARPA and the Army are to be administered nasally while the pills were offered as a nutritional supplement.

The anti-bioterror nasal spray/inhaler is an idea Alibek continues to pursue.

The Times also mentioned Alibek's venture into OTC pills. Alibek denied he was paid by the company selling the pills although the company said he was, reported the Times.

Curiously, in November of last year, the Los Angeles Times ran a story entitled "Many Fear FBI's Anthrax Case is Cold." For it, reporters Richard B. Schmitt and Josh Meyer trotted out Alibek.

Ken Alibek wanted to help in the anthrax case, was the message the reporters tried to convey. And FBI men, those shirkers, were not interested.

" . . . Alibek said he had written to [Robert] Mueller to volunteer," reported the newspaper. " ' I said please keep in mind, I have expertise and would like to help you resolve this case,' he said. Alibek said he got a 'thanks, but no thanks' letter.

At the time of the anthrax mailings, Alibek also became known for a rather ludicrous proclamation. You could protect yourself by ironing your letters, he claimed.

"We need to calm down this situation. We've got the ideas we need.... We need to see how to deliver these ideas to our people to reduce this level of fear," said Alibek, as reported in an October 2001 edition of the Christian Science Monitor. "[Alibek] is now a private consultant in the US on biological weapons defense. 'Simple things help. If you steam-iron these letters, they become harmless,' [Alibek] said, responding to a question about what to do about suspicious mail at home."

The Times astutely boxes out other infamous Alibek proclamations.

"Attempts to wipe out Iraq's biological weapons capability were probably not successful" -- from Alibek testimony to Congress in October of 2001.

"There is no doubt in my mind that [Saddam] Hussein had WMDs," attributed to Alibek, from an on-line discussion in 2003.

The Times reported Alibek was no longer a faculty member at George Mason University. (To date, the school's National Center for Biodefense, of which Alibek was a key part, has produced very little, if anything, of note.)

The newspaper described Alibek's departure from the George Mason center in August of last year as the result of "an internal controversy."

Currently, Alibek formed AFG Biosolutions, another small company aimed at developing cures for bioterror. In April of this year, a paper local to Alibek printed a story entitled, "Bioterror scientist cites lack of funds: Dead end for research into antidotes."

"Although he expects there to be another deadly anthrax attack, a top biodefense expert said yesterday he is shifting to cancer research because he cannot get funding to develop antidotes to biological weapons," read the news article.

" 'Unfortunately, the likelihood is very high' of a follow-up to the anthrax mailings of 2001, Ken Alibek told a seminar at Princeton University. 'And the agent very likely is still anthrax.'"

"[Alibek] has been working on ways to trigger the body's 'nonspecific' immune system -- which repels countless microbes every day -- as an all-purpose shield against many biological agents at once," continued the article, showing Alibek was still pursuing the silver bullet cure dreamt of in his 2004 patent application. "[Alibek] envisioned inhalers, like those used by asthma sufferers, to boost immunity at the first sign of bioterrorism."

"Alibek said his Maryland company, AFG Biosolutions Inc., achieved some success in animal tests of antibodies to protect against avian influenza and a virus similar to smallpox."

AFG Biosolutions is currently the recipient of a small business research grant from the National Institute of Health, entitled: "Nisin as a decontaminant for B. anthracis spores on human skin." Funding amounts to $311,603.00, according to the agency.

In the past, Alibek has been the chief officer for Hadron Advanced Biosystems, a subsidiary of a defense contractor now known as Analex. In 2001, Analex announced Alibek's Advanced Biosystems had been funded by DARPA to the tune of three million dollars. The Army, said Analex press releases, had pitched in an additional 3-4 million.

In 2002, Analex announced it and Alibek had filed another fistful of broad-ranging patents.

These "provisional patent applications cover novel treatments of Anthrax and Filovirus [Ebola] infections, a new approach for the identification of Smallpox drug candidates, a medical device design with many potential uses including for cancer treatment and biodefense, and a new use of biodefense research for possible cancer treatment," claimed the company.

"The United States Army Research Command supported three of the nine patent applications," claimed the company. None of these patent applications panned out.

Also that year, Analex announced Charles Bailey had been brought on board to assist Alibek.

" Dr. Bailey is well known for his exemplary contributions to our national security, and we are honored that he has joined Hadron to support our biological warfare defense and anti-terrorism programs," reported Analex in a press release.

"I am pleased to join Dr. Alibek and his team of excellent scientists," said Dr. Bailey. He added, "I look forward to contributing to the enormous growth we anticipate in these vital scientific and national security programs."

Analex Corporation (nee Hadron) eventually divested itself of Alibek's Advanced Biosystems. The latter failed while Analex continues as a defense contractor not apparently tied to the business of providing defenses for bioterror.

Alibek rhymes with Yechh:

Alibek expose at the LA Times.

Blogroll: BugsnGasGal reflects on Alibek and considers other even more deserving targets.

Aethlon's blood-purifier. Alibek and Bailey on advisory board.

You can't steam iron out the anthrax, Ken Alibek.

The remarkable patent applications and pills of Ken Alibek at GlobalSecurity.Org. A modern Dr. Ironbeard!

Product label from Dr. Ken Alibek's Immune System Support Formula pills.


Anonymous BGG said...

He pimped it all right. For a good bit of what he did (does) regarding dire predictions of billions dying from amazing new superweapons, the guy just rode the conflict-of-interest train the government practically begged him to get on. Congress continued to have him testify about biological threats (that supported the "need" for his research ventures) even after IC analysts generally held a number of his claims to be suspect, not to mention the research inconsistencies you & the Times mention. Personally, I have to lay the blame at our lawmakers' feet for giving Alibek too much credibility, too much funding, and not enough of the right questions. As for Bailey, I've had some dealings with him and I didn't come away with the impression he was really smart enough to carry off a good scam...but it doesn't take much in Washington I guess.

4:33 PM  
Anonymous Kurt9 said...

The Soviet Union was a complex bureaucracy. Ken Alibek was about to goose it enough to get them to finance his bio-weapons program (biopreperat) in the late 70's and 80's. The Soviet Union collapses and there is no more gravy train. So, what do you expect him to do. Of course he came over in order to work our bureaucracy to make money developing countermeasures for all of bio-weapons stuff he developed for the Soviet Union.

Its likely his bio-preperat never made anything substantial in the USSR, except for maybe some botox (which is easy to make) in industrial quantities in order to impress the commisars during their occasional visits.

Dr. Alibek's skill is in goosing bureaucracy to get money to flow. Not in making bioweapons or countermeasures to those bioweapons.

8:59 AM  
Blogger Bob Calder said...

Dr. Ironbeard! - "Twilly Willy Wit, Boom Boom!"
One shouldn't leave William Gray out of the pandering scientists category. In the early 90's his predictions on the number of hurricanes became an annual event and I wondered if he was right to do it. But when he turned up beside Senator Inhoffe, I knew I had him pegged the first time.Twilly willy wit, boom boom!

10:07 AM  
Blogger Russophile said...

Did anyone else who posted anything negative about Ken Alibek receive a response from Debra Anderson like I did?

6:34 PM  
Anonymous Debra Anderson said...

Hello Russophile,
The response did go to many places where people were commenting on the LA Times article.

2:00 PM  

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