About the Author
Jeanne Guillemin is a senior fellow in the Security Studies Program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in the Center for International Studies. She is the author of Anthrax: The Investigation of a Deadly Outbreak and Biological Weapons: From the Invention of State-Sponsored Programs to Contemporary Bioterrorism.
Guillemin’s best-known previous research was the epidemiology she contributed to solving the mystery of the April-May 1979 Sverdlovsk (USSR) outbreak, during which some 66 people died of inhalational anthrax. Until the end of the Cold War, Soviet officials claimed that the deaths were due to the consumption of infected meat sold through the black market. This explanation was plausible; the city of Sverdlovsk (now Ekaterinburg) was in a region known for anthrax animal outbreaks. In June, 1992, a team of investigators, led by Harvard biochemist Matthew Meselson, went to Ekaterinburg to find evidence for the cause of the epidemic. Using a KGB list of victims which included their home addresses, Guillemin began conducting interviews with their families to determine their daytime whereabouts just prior to the initial cases. Those interviews allowed the construction of an epidemiological map, with a red dot for every victim, that showed a clear distribution of fatal cases just south of the city’s secret military compound 19. Wind data for April 2, 1979 provided the final piece of evidence: the victims had been killed by an accidental emission of anthrax spores from that military facility, where, it was later admitted, anthrax research and production was ongoing. The details of this medical detective adventure are recounted in Guillemin’s 1999 book, Anthrax: The Investigation of a Deadly Outbreak (University of California Press.)
This research also showed that anthrax infections could be delayed as long as 47 days after an initial exposure, one of the reasons why, in the aftermath of the anthrax letter attacks, people who were exposed were encouraged to take Cipro or other antibiotics for as long as three months. Deaths of animals from the same “plume” of spores demonstrated that the bacillus could be lethal as far as 50 kilometers from its point of release.
Guillemin has also done research and published on the history of biological weapons. Her widely praised 2005 book, Biological Weapons: From State-sponsored Programs to Contemporary Bioterrorism (Columbia University Press) recounts the history of the major national programs of the 20th century. It is a unique overview, based on archival research and interviews regarding the French, Japanese, British, US, and Soviet programs that used the biological sciences to invent mass, anti-civilian weapons. The Japanese use of germ weapons against Chinese civilians during World War II is also one of her research interests, leading to the issue of how war crimes politically erased, as these were during the Tokyo war crimes tribunal.
Biological Weapons: From the Invention of State-Sponsored Programs to Contemporary Bioterrorism, 2005
“The book ranks high as a historical introduction to the subject and a handbook on contemporary remedies.”
“Guillemin’s account of biological weapons is lucid and concise, providing an excellent guide through the evidence on the past and issues for the future.”
Anthrax: The Investigation of a Deadly Outbreak, 1999
” An absorbing first-person account of an investigation into a mysterious 1979 anthrax epidemic in the Soviet Union, the worst ever recorded in a modern industrial nation….Guillemin makes palpable the virulence of anthrax as a biological weapon, raises important accountability issues, and questions our own country’s leadership in arms control.”
” A beautiful book….It offers vivid insights into how scientists actually work – the ceaseless questioning from every conceivable angle whose goal is to eliminate doubt.”
David Warsh, Boston Globe
“Guillemin’s fascinating account includes an exploration of how anthrax is being used in biological warfare from groups as diverse as religious fundamentalists in the Middle East to white supremacists in the U.S.”
Vanessa Bush, Booklist