The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy

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9780307387844: The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy

WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE

The first full account of how the Cold War arms race finally came to a close, this riveting narrative history sheds new light on the people who struggled to end this era of massive overkill, and examines the legacy of the nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons that remain a threat today.
 
Drawing on memoirs, interviews in both Russia and the US, and classified documents from deep inside the Kremlin, David E. Hoffman examines the inner motives and secret decisions of each side and details the deadly stockpiles that remained unsecured as the Soviet Union collapsed. This is the fascinating story of how Reagan, Gorbachev, and a previously unheralded collection of scientists, soldiers, diplomats, and spies changed the course of history.

"Sinopsis" puede pertenecer a otra edición de este libro.

About the Author:

David E. Hoffman is Contributing Editor at the Washington Post and author of The Oligarchs: Wealth and Power in the New Russia. He lives in Maryland.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

 
 PROLOGUE
I. Epidemic of Mystery 

"Are any of your patients dying?" asked Yakov Klipnitzer when he called Margarita Ilyenko on Wednesday, April 4, 1979. She was chief physician at No. 24, a medium-sized, one-hundred-bed hospital in Sverdlovsk, a Soviet industrial metropolis in the Ural Mountains. Her hospital often referred patients to a larger facility, No. 20, where Klip­nitzer was chief doctor. Klipnitzer saw two unusual deaths from what looked like severe pneumonia. The patients, he told Ilyenko, were "two of yours." No, Ilyenko told him, she did not know of any deaths. The next day he called again. Klipnitzer was more persistent. "You still don't have any patients dying?" he asked. Klipnitzer had new deaths with pneumonia-like symptoms. "Who is dying from pneumonia today?" Ilyenko replied, incredulous. "It is very rare."
     Soon, patients began to die at Ilyenko's hospital, too. They were brought in ambulances and cars, suffering from high fevers, headaches, coughs, vomiting, chills and chest pains. They were stumbling in the hall­ways and lying on gurneys. The head of admissions at Hospital No. 20, Roza Gaziyeva, was on duty overnight between April 5 and 6. "Some of them who felt better after first aid tried to go home. They were later found on the streets—the people had lost consciousness," she recalled. She tried to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to one ill patient, who died. "During the night, we had four people die. I could hardly wait until morning. I was frightened."
     On the morning of April 6, Ilyenko raced to the hospital, threw her bag into her office, put on her white gown and headed for the ward. One patient looked up at her, eyes open, and then died. "There are dead bod­ies, people still alive, lying together. I thought, this is a nightmare. Some­thing is very, very wrong."
     Death came quickly to victims. Ilyenko reported to the district public health board that she had an emergency. Instructions came back to her that another hospital, No. 40, was being set up to receive all the patients in an infectious disease ward. The word spread—infection!—and with it, fear. Some staff refused to report for work, and others already at work refused to go home so as not to expose their families. Then, disinfection workers arrived at hospital No. 20, wearing hazardous materials suits. They spread chlorine everywhere, which was a standard disinfectant, but the scene was terrifying, Ilyenko recalled. "There was panic when people saw them."(1)
     Sverdlovsk, population 1.2 million, was the tenth-largest city in the Soviet Union and the heartland of its military-industrial complex. Guns, steel, industry and some of the best mechanical engineering schools in the Soviet Union were Sverdlovsk's legacy from Stalin's rush to modernize during World War II and after. Since 1976, the region had been run by a young, ambitious party secretary, Boris Yeltsin.
     Hospitals No. 20 and 24 were in the southern end of the city, which slopes downward from the center. Streets lined with small wooden cot­tages and high fences were broken up by stark five-story apartment buildings, shops and schools. The Chkalovsky district, where Ilyenko's hospital was located, included a ceramics factory where hundreds of men worked in shifts in a cavernous building with large, high windows.
     Less than a mile away, to the north-northwest, was Compound 32, an army base for two tank divisions, largely residences, and, adjacent to it, a closed military microbiology facility. Compound 19, which comprised a laboratory, development and testing center for deadly pathogens, includ­ing anthrax, was run by the 15th Main Directorate of the Ministry of Defense. On Monday April 2, 1979, from morning until early evening, the wind was blowing down from Compound 19 toward the ceramics factory.(2) 
     
Inside Compound 19, three shifts operated around the clock, experiment­ing with anthrax and making it in batches. Anthrax bacteria were grown in fermentation vessels, separated from the liquid growth medium and dried before they were ground up into a fine powder for use in aerosol form. Workers at the compound were regularly given vaccinations. The work was high risk.
     Anthrax is an often-fatal infection that occurs when spores of the bac­teria Bacillus anthracis enter the body, either through the skin, ingestion or inhalation. The bacteria germinate and release toxins that can quickly bring on death if untreated. In Russia, the disease was known as Sibirskaya yazva, or Siberian ulcer, because of the black sores that form when it is contracted through cuts in the skin. In nature, the disease most commonly spreads through contact with infected animals, usually graz­ing animals such as cows, goats and sheep, which ingest the spores from the soil. The inhalation variety is dangerous to humans. Breathing the spores into the lungs can kill those infected if not treated. A single gram of anthrax contains around a trillion spores. Odorless and colorless, the spores are extremely stable, and can remain dormant for as long as fifty years or more. For these reasons, anthrax was well suited for a biological weapon. According to one estimate, 112 pounds of anthrax spores released along a 1.2-mile line upwind of a city of 500,000 residents would result in 125,000 infections—and kill 95,000 people.(3)
What exactly happened at Compound 19 is still unknown. By one account, a filter was removed and not properly replaced, and anthrax spores were released into the air.(4)
     To the south, sheep and cattle in villages began to die. Anthrax had been present in rural areas in the past, although it was not common. At the same time, people started getting sick. The first records of those admitted to hospitals came on Wednesday, April 4, when Ilyenko got Klipnitzer's phone call. "What was strange for us, it was mainly men dying, not many women, and not a single child," she said.(5) Ilyenko began keeping records of names, ages, addresses and possible reasons for the deaths, but she didn't know what was happening, or why.
     On April 10, as the crisis deepened, Faina Abramova, a retired pathol­ogist who had been a lecturer at the Sverdlovsk Medical Institute, was summoned to Hospital No. 40 and asked to autopsy a thirty-seven-year­old man who died over the weekend. He had been at Compound 32, the army base with the tank divisions, for reserve duty, gone home to a nearby village and, for no apparent reason, became suddenly ill. Abram ­ova, a spirited professional, was puzzled by the case. The man did not show classic signs of influenza and pneumonia. But the autopsy showed infection of the lymph nodes and the lungs. Abramova had also noticed the man suffered from cerebral bleeding, a distinctive red ring around the brain known as "cardinal's cap."(6)
     "We started thinking what other diseases may cause this pathology," she recalled. "We looked up the books, and we went through them all together, and it looked like anthrax."
     That evening, Abramova attended a reception, which was also attended by Lev Grinberg, her protégé, a young pathologist with thick glasses, black hair and a beard. As they danced at the reception, Abramova whispered to him that she had autopsied the man earlier that day, and diagnosed his death as anthrax. Grinberg was stunned. "I asked, where in our godforsaken Sverdlovsk can we have anthrax?" he recalled.
     The next day, Grinberg saw the evidence for himself. He was instructed to go to Ilyenko's hospital. "I saw a horrible picture," he recalled. "It was three women, they had identical changes, sharp hemor­rhagic changes in their lungs, in the lymph nodes, and the tissue of lymph nodes was hemorrhaging." Abramova took samples and materials from the autopsies.
     Word of the outbreak reached Moscow. Late on April 11, Vladimir Nikiforov, a chief of the infectious diseases department at the Central Postgraduate Institute, located within the Botkin Hospital in Moscow, arrived in Sverdlovsk. Also arriving in the city was Pyotr Burgasov, the Soviet deputy minister of health, who had once worked at Compound 19, in the 1950s. On April 12, at 2 P.M., Nikiforov assembled all the doctors who had been involved and asked for their observations and the autop­sies. Abramova was last to speak. She told him: anthrax.
     Nikiforov, an eminent, courtly scientist who had studied anthrax throughout his career, announced that he agreed with her. He reassured the doctors it could not spread from human to human. But from where had it come? Burgasov declared the source was contaminated meat from a village located 9.3 miles from the city. No one spoke up. No one knew for sure; the uncertainty was frightening.
     In Chkalovsky's neighborhoods, residents were told to watch out for contaminated meat. A widespread vaccination program began; accord­ing to Ilyenko's notes, 42,065 people were vaccinated in the days that fol­lowed. Broadsheet leaflets dated April 18 were distributed warning people not to buy meat outside the stores, to watch out for anthrax symp­toms such as headaches, fever, cold and cough followed by abdominal pains and high temperatures, and not to slaughter animals without per­mission.(7) Buildings and trees were washed by local fire brigades, stray dogs shot by police and unpaved streets covered with fresh asphalt.
     Ilyenko wrote in her notes on April 20, "358 got sick. 45 died. 214 in Hospital 40." She was not asked to relinquish her notes, and kept them at home. The 45 who died at her hospital were only part of the story; the total number of deaths from anthrax was more than 60 people.
     Carried by the steady wind, the spores floated through the ceramics factory, south of Compound 19. Vladlen Krayev, chief engineer, was present when the outbreak began among his 2,180 employees. He recalled that the factory had a ventilator that sucked air from outside, pumping it into furnaces, and provided ventilation for the workers. In the first weeks, about eighteen factory workers died. The crisis stretched on for seven weeks, much longer than might be expected, given the two-to-seven-day incubation period for anthrax described in textbooks at the time.(8)
     Grinberg recalled that Nikiforov made an unusual decision, ordering that all the dead be autopsied even though government regulations pro­hibited autopsy for anthrax victims because the spores can spread. As Grinberg and Abramova worked through the long days, the two pathol­ogists began to take notes out of sight. They wrote these notes on cards, and sometimes they wrote the official reports on carbon paper and kept the copies. "No one checked," Abramova recalled. The head of the regional health department came and told them "not to talk too much about it, and don't discuss it on the phone."
     They conducted forty-two autopsies. They saw anthrax had damaged the lungs and lymph nodes. Grinberg said he suspected inhalation anthrax but didn't know for sure. "Perhaps we didn't know definitely, but we were not talking about it much. Honestly speaking, we were very tired, it was hard work, we had a feeling, myself for example, as if we were working under war conditions. They were feeding us, bringing us meals, to the center at No. 40. There was a huge amount of chlorine. Dis­infection was done every day. And we were going home on the trams after the working shift, and people were rushing away because we smelled of chlorine. The way I remember it, on the 10th day, about the end of the second week, we were thinking about keeping this material, that it should be preserved and studied."
     Although it was prohibited, Grinberg persuaded a friend who was a photographer to secretly take color photographs of the autopsies using East German slide film. Abramova also preserved tissue samples.
     In May, as the crisis eased, Nikiforov assembled all those who had par­ticipated in the hospital work and told them: the anthrax had come from tainted meat. But quietly, he told Abramova to keep investigating. He played a double game. In public, he was an official of the state, and loyal to the official story. But he also gave the pathologists a private signal to hide and protect their evidence. Nikiforov later died of a heart attack. "We are certain that he knew the truth," Grinberg said.(9)
     But the people of the Soviet Union and the outside world did not.
II. Night Watch for Nuclear War

The shift change began at 7 P.M. on September 26, 1983. Stanislav Petrov, a lieutenant colonel, arrived at Serpukhov-15, south of Moscow, a top-secret missile attack early-warning station, which received signals from satellites. Petrov changed from street clothes into the soft uniform of the military space troops of the Soviet Union. Over the next hour, he and a dozen other specialists asked questions of the outgoing officers. Then his men lined up two rows deep and reported for duty to Petrov. Their twelve-hour shift had begun.(10)
     Petrov settled into a comfortable swivel chair with arms. His com­mand post overlooked the main floor of the early-warning station through a window. In front of him were telephones to connect to head­quarters and electronic monitors. Out on the floor, beyond the specialists and their consoles, a large map covered the far wall. At the center of the map was the North Pole. Above the pole and beyond it—as it might be seen from space—were Canada and the United States, inverted. Below the pole stretched the vast lands of the Soviet Union. This was the path that nuclear missiles would take if ever launched. The map showed the location of Minuteman missile bases in the United States. Petrov knew those bases held one thousand intercontinental ballistic missiles carrying nuclear warheads that could cross the Arctic and reach the Soviet Union in thirty-five minutes. On the main floor, a dozen men monitored elec­tronic consoles with a singular mission: using satellites to spot a launch and give the leaders of the Soviet Union an added margin of ten minutes' warning, or maybe twelve minutes, to decide what to do.
     Petrov, forty-four, had served in the military for twenty-six years, ris­ing to deputy chief of the department for combat algorithms. He was more of an engineer than a soldier. He liked the logic of writing formu­las, often using English-based computer languages. On most days, he was not in the commander's chair but at a desk in a nearby building, working as an analyst, responding to glitches, fine-tuning the software. But twice a month, he took an operations shift in order to keep on top of the system.
     When Petrov first arrived eleven years earlier, the station was new, with equipment still in crates and the rooms empty. Now, it had grown into a bristling electronic nerve ...

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