In these primitive labs Dr. Bakhtiyar Suleimenov has preserved hundreds of samples of the most hazardous bacteria or pathogens known to man - all collected from natural outbreaks of the disease in this former Soviet republic.
How dangerous are the pathogens that are housed in the lab’s refrigerator?
“The diseases we work with are very dangerous, foremost among them the plague,” says Dr. Suleimenov.
And how much damage would it cause if these pathogens were released? How many people could it kill?
“This is a purified strain of plague,” says Suleimenov. “If it was stolen, it could start an epidemic.”
Suleimenov is referring to the same germ that causes bubonic plague. And it’s not the only deadly bacteria stored here. The room also contains cholera and anthrax.
“This is the most dangerous room in Kazakhstan,” says Suleimenov.
It’s the most dangerous room with the most inadequate security. Wax seals and simple padlocks are hardly enough to keep deadly diseases out of the hands of terrorists, and Dr. Suleimenov knows it.
“We know it’s not enough but that’s all we can afford,” says Suleimenov. “Without American help, we wouldn’t have even that.”
There is a wall made of concrete and barbed wire that is an example of the kind of security American money can buy. It may not look like much, but it has kept intruders out. Before that, there was nothing separating would-be terrorists from the dangerous biological agents inside.
The people responsible for funding this security system are former Sen. Sam Nunn and Sen. Richard Lugar, who established the U.S. program in 1991 that helps former Soviet republics get rid of their weapons of mass destruction and keep them out of the hands of terrorists and rogue states.
“We’re in a race, we’re in a race with terrorists,” says Nunn. “They’re trying to get chemical-biological-nuclear weapons, we’re trying to prevent it. They’re running; we’re walking. We’re not doing enough.”
What’s even more frightening than Kazakhstan’s germ storehouse is what’s kept in a former bio-weapons lab in Obolensk, Russia. That’s where deadly germs like those collected in Kazakhstan were genetically altered to become even better killers. Here, too, Nunn and Lugar stepped into a dangerous vacuum.
“We put security around the place where we found it,” says Lugar. “First of all, just barbed wire fencing and one guard, and deadly pathogens on the third floor that would have killed about everybody in the world. So this is dangerous stuff.”