The Anthrax Diaries
This hour-long video documentary explores the social and ethical context of weapons-making and how the military-industrial complex shapes the lives of scientists that conduct defense work. The documentary will use the former Soviet biological weapons program and its scientists as the lens through which to examine these issues. The film will explore the ethical paradox surrounding how these scientists conducted and considered their work.
The central figure in the film is Gennady Lepioshkin, a much decorated officer in the Russian armed forces. He began his career in the Soviet military in 1969, when, fresh out of medical school, he was sent to do research in microbiology at a Defense Ministry facility in Kirov, a city of 500,000 people some 500 miles north-east of Moscow. In 1984 he was made head of a department at a newly built bio-weapons production plant in Stepnogorsk, Kazakhstan; from 1987 to 2001, he directed the plant. His principal responsibility was to make sure that ten fermentation tanks, some three stories high, were producing anthrax spores in a safe and efficient manner. The plant’s goal was to be able to produce over 300 tons of anthrax per year, when necessary. Gennady, his wife, and their children lived in the small town of Stepnogorsk, where few people knew any details about the plant due to the extreme secrecy that surrounded the plant’s weapons activities.
In addition to anthrax bacteria production, Dr. Lepioshkin and other researchers in Kirov and Stepnogorsk worked on a variety of other biological agents that cause Ebola, smallpox, pneumonic plague, and other diseases. Due to its scale and technological sophistication, the Soviet bio-weapons program is said to have been twenty to thirty years ahead of what the United States was able to accomplish in its bioweapons program, which ended in 1969. After the break-up of the Soviet Union, some of these biologists came to work in the United States. For example, Lepioshkin’s former boss Kanatjan Alibekov (now known as Ken Alibek) was hired to conduct biodefense research for the U.S. government, while colleague Sergey Popov was contracted to continue his biological research at an academic university in Virginia.
In 2010, Gennady Lepioshkin was appointed to a leadership position at a new research center that is now under construction in Dubna, one of Russia’s largest scientific communities. The mission of the center is to develop techniques, guidelines, and legislation for safe pharmaceutical research and manufacturing. The U.S. government has supported Dr. Lepioshkin to re-direct his former weapons-related research to peaceful, civilian research activities.