In Ekaterinburg, Russia (now Sverdlovsk), people began falling ill mysteriously on 02 April 1979. At least 66 people died in the world’s first anthrax epidemic. The first died four days later; the last died six weeks later.
The Soviet government claimed the deaths were caused by intestinal anthrax from tainted meat, a story some influential American scientists found believable. However, officials in the Carter administration suspected the outbreak was caused by an accidental release of anthrax spores from a suspected Soviet biological weapons facility.
Any biological weapons research should have stopped on 26 March 1975, when the international Biological Weapons Convention (signed in Geneva, Switzerland) became effective. This was the first multilateral disarmament treaty to ban an entire category of weapons of mass destruction.
How did the anthrax escape?
In 1992, President Boris Yeltsin acknowledged that the anthrax outbreak was the result of military activity. Researchers determined that a faulty, “crucial” filter allowed anthrax spores to reach outside world. Wind carried spores that would infect people and livestock.
“Had the town been downwind from the plant at the time of the release, the death toll might have been considerably higher,” according to History.com.
In 2016, researchers, led by led by geneticist Paul Keim of Northern Arizona University, sequenced the anthrax strain.
All of this is highly suggestive of a weapons program that identified a suitable strain, maintained master cell stocks to avoid extensive passage, and per- formed minimal manipulations in order to maintain virulence,” Keim and his colleagues concluded. “This strategy must have been used to produce large quantities of highly virulent material, as evidenced by the anthrax deaths in 1979.”
“One must assume that whatever genetically engineered bacterial and viral forms were created… remain stored in the culture collections of the Russian Federation Ministry of Defense.”
After 9-11, the US experienced domestic terrorism when anthrax spores were mailed to locations in four states in Washington, DC. The FBI issued a report in 2010 idenfigying one scientist as acting alone. National Academy of Sciences, which issued a study in 2011 criticized the report; the Governmental Accountability Office also cast doubt upon in 2014.