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V. Pasechnik, 64, Is Dead; Germ Expert Who Defected
By WOLFGANG SAXON ( Obituary (Obit); Biography ) 660 words
Dr. Vladimir Pasechnik, a senior Soviet biologist
whose defection in 1989 alerted Western intelligence to the scope of
Moscow's clandestine efforts to adapt germs and viruses for military use,
died on Wednesday in Wiltshire, England. He was 64 and lived in a nearby
The cause was a stroke, said Dr. Christopher J. Davis of Great Falls,
Va., formerly in British intelligence.
It was Dr. Pasechnik who provided a first glimpse of Biopreparat, a
network of secret laboratories, each focused on a deadly agent. His
revelations were confirmed in 1992 with the defection to the United
States of Dr. Ken Alibek, the No. 2 scientist for the program.
The picture that emerged was of a system of centers scattered chiefly
around European Russia. There, a small army of scientists and technicians
were developing potential biological weapons like anthrax, Ebola, Marburg
virus, plague, Q fever and smallpox.
Dr. Pasechnik was in charge of one known as the Institute of Ultra
Pure Biochemical Preparations in St. Petersburg, then Leningrad. Once in
England, he told interviewers that he had no inkling that his work
violated the 1972 treaty under which the United States and the Soviet
Union were to halt such activities.
Once revealed, the Soviet government insisted that the research was
intended to defend against acts of biological warfare by an enemy and
that the program had been stopped, two claims doubted by Western
Dr. Pasechnik defected on an official trip to the West, but little was
known about his background until early 1993 when the British government
permitted him to speak.
He said he had become ''disgusted'' with the biological weapons
program, which had been denied by Presidents Mikhail S. Gorbachev and
Boris N. Yeltsin, or had been hidden from them. Dr. Pasechnik said he
defected in an effort to help stop it. (His own laboratory had been
working on a strain of plague.)
James Adams, in his 1994 book ''The New Spies,'' described Dr.
Pasechnik as ''one of the brightest stars at the Leningrad Polytechnical
Institute.'' A native of Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad, he graduated in
physics at the top of his class.
He specialized in the study of polymers for biological uses at the
Institute of High Molecular Compounds in St. Petersburg. His interest,
Mr. Adams wrote, was in developing new antibiotics and methods to treat
diseases without known cures.
At age 37, Dr. Pasechnik was invited to start his own institute, Mr.
Adams wrote, with an unlimited budget to buy equipment in the West and
recruit the best staff available. The laboratory he created was part of
the countrywide Biopreparat.
He later reported that the institute, with a staff of 400, did research
on modifying cruise missiles to spread germs. Flying low to foil
early-warning systems, the robot craft were intended to spray clouds of
aerosolized pathogens over unsuspecting enemies.
Dr. Pasechnik said his team succeeded in producing an aerosolized
plague microbe that could survive outside the laboratory.
Increasingly distressed, Dr. Pasechnik had begun to plan his defection
in 1988, he but had never been permitted to travel abroad, Mr. Adams
wrote. Meanwhile, Western intelligence agencies had been poring over bits
and pieces of information for years, trying to assess the state of Soviet
efforts in his field.
Dr. Pasechnik got his chance to travel in the summer of 1989. He
volunteered to wrap up a pending deal with a French maker of chemical laboratory
equipment. In recognition of past performance, he was allowed to travel
to Toulouse to sign the contracts.
Instead, he called the British Embassy in Paris.