Originally called Kanatjan Alibekov, Ken Alibek changed his name when he defected to the US in 1992. He was born in 1950 in the Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan. At 17 he went to the medical institute in Alma-Ata to train as a doctor. After four years he specialized in military medicine, enlisted in the army and went to be a cadet at the medical institute in Tomsk, Siberia. There he specialized in infectious diseases and epidemiology.
His first job after graduating in 1975 was with Biopreparat - an organization established in Russia in 1973 which was ostensibly a state-owned pharmaceutical facility developing drugs and vaccines, but in fact was a front for the USSR's secret offensive bio weapons program.
He quickly rose through the ranks and in 1983 became director of a huge bio-weapons research and production facility in Stepnogorsk. In 1987, when he was only 37, Alibek went to Moscow to become chief scientist and first deputy director of Biopreparat. During this time he supervised the development and production of an “improved” smallpox weapon.
Alibek says he felt justified at the time in being involved in the Soviet bio-weapons program, although it violated the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, because he had believed that the US and Britain were engaged on clandestine bio-weapons programs of their own. Alibek began to have grave doubts following an inspection visit to the US in 1991 in which, contrary to his expectations, he saw no evidence of an active biowarfare program. The visit lasted from December to January 1992.
While he was away, Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as President and the Soviet Union became 15 independent republics. After his return to Russia Alibek resigned from Biopreparat and returned to Kazakhstan. He was asked by the new Kazakhstani government to establish a bio-weapons program but refused. He went to the US in October 1992 and spent most of the next year being debriefed by the CIA.
Dr Alibek is now a US citizen and Chief Scientist at a private company in the US that specializes in researching and developing medical defenses against biological weapons.