How to Catch a Lab Leak

How to Catch a Lab Leak

"Hey boss, I've just managed to kill a whole bunch of people here"

In April and May 1979, between 66 and 300 people died from anthrax in the Russian city of Sverdlovsk, now called Yekaterinburg. The Soviet authorities seized doctors’ records and quickly rolled out an explanation: the deaths were an accident caused by contaminated meat.

But American intelligence agencies suspected a more nefarious explanation: the Soviets were secretly developing biological weapons.

Last week, we interviewed Matthew Meselson about his key role in convincing Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon to ban biological weapons research in the early 1970s. After the Sverdlovsk incident, Meselson was brought in by the CIA to help assess the potential explanations. For more than a decade, he led scientific investigations into the incident. In 1992, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the truth finally came out: the Sverdlovsk incident was a bioweapons lab leak, the most deadly confirmed lab leak in history.

Meselson (center) with Russian investigators, mapping anthrax victim grave sites

Meselson’s paper confirming the lab leak is an epidemiological classic. For the first time on Statecraft, we’ve doubled up on a guest: the 94-year-old Meselson is back for round two.

What You’ll Learn

  • How closely does the Sverdlovsk lab leak parallel incidents in Wuhan?

  • How close are we to genetically targeted biological weapons?

  • Why didn’t the Soviets know the location of their own research facilities?

I'll start by telling you how I got involved in the Sverdlovsk anthrax outbreak. 

I was asked by a man at the Central Intelligence Agency named Julian Hoptman, who was in charge of a small unit dealing with biological threats, to come down and become part of this small working group. They had just learned about this anthrax epidemic and naturally wanted to know what it was. I got very close to Julian because at Langley, in Virginia, where the CIA is, there was no hotel. He invited me to stay at his house, because his daughter's bedroom was not being used. I got to talk to Julian a lot, both in the office and also at home, where we didn't talk about classified stuff. 

And the kinds of evidence we had were: first, there was a particular hospital, Number 40 in Sverdlovsk, which had anthrax patients. Now, how did we know that? There was a physician who was in Sverdlovsk during the anthrax outbreak who then emigrated to Israel, and in Israel, he made contact with the agency.

He was one source of information, because he had actually been there and had friends in the medical community. He himself did not attend any of the patients, but his view was that it was inhalation and not gastrointestinal. Whereas the Russians were saying, “Yes, there has been an outbreak,” but they claimed it was gastrointestinal. They published one article with a lot of information in a law journal called Chelovek, which means “Man and the Law.” It was about a lady who lived south of Sverdlovsk whose cow got anthrax, and she had committed a crime by dumping this dead cow into a well. 

There was another article in a veterinary journal about the outbreak of anthrax in sheep and cattle, and it named some villages. I don't think anybody but me tried to find out where these villages were, because they're little teeny nothing villages, but somehow I found out. And I noticed four of them were all in a straight line. At the time I thought it might be because there's a highway that goes from down south to Sverdlovsk.

From Meselson’s unclassified memo for the CIA in 1980

Were you the first person to notice that line pattern? 

Yes, as far as I know — except for an admiral at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. He and I both thought that maybe the Russian explanation was plausible, the explanation that the anthrax outbreak was from rotted meat. The textbooks said the incubation time for anthrax was 5-7 days, but we knew that cases were coming in over six weeks, from early April until middle May. That would be inconsistent with an aerosol cloud, because the cloud goes by and then it's gone, but it could be explained by bad meat that sits in the refrigerator. 

Anyway, I thought that the Soviet explanation was at least plausible. I concluded that the only way to find out is to go there. And I wrote an unclassified memo in April 1980. It gives my impressions, and there's some mathematical calculations on cloud travel, with some graphs that I made to calculate what the dosage would be downwind given various initial release sizes and all that. 

But I concluded that I had to go there, and the first chance I had was in Geneva. Have you ever heard of the Pugwash Conference? It was created by Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein. The idea was to have high-level scientists from Russia and the United States meet to try and cool down the nuclear arms race.

It's called Pugwash because a rich Canadian railway magnate named Cyrus Eaton had a resort place at Pugwash, Nova Scotia, where it used to meet. I had a cousin named Martin Kaplan, a leader of Pugwash, also the science advisor of the World Health Organization. He introduced me to a Russian who was visiting Geneva for Pugwash, Kiril Dumayev. 

Dumayev was on something called the Military Industrial Committee in the Soviet Union. That's a high-level committee that decides how much money to spend on major projects, both military and civilian, and he was the chemistry guy. So Martin got us together, and I told Dumayev, “I want to go to Sverdlovsk.” He said, “Why not?”

So I sent him a letter for Moscow, describing exactly where I wanted to go. Now, how did I know where I wanted to go? Dating back to WWII, it was known that the Russians had a military microbiological laboratory in Sverdlovsk. German intelligence knew about it. There was something called “the Stern Report” in Germany under Hitler, translated in English, a great big thick thing, and it listed everything German intelligence knew about Soviet chemical and biological weapons, much of it quite correct, and it listed this place at Sverdlovsk.

I talked with John McMahon, who later became the deputy CIA director. He was all for it. He said, “We would love you to go there. We'd like to have an American go there.” He gave me a map, because he said, “When you're there, they may take you somewhere in Sverdlovsk, and they'll tell you it's this place, and it'll be nothing. It'll be a chocolate factory or something. So I will give you the exact longitude and latitude.”

And he gave me directions: you get on the trolley car at the center of town, and you get off at this certain stop, and you walk on this street, and then you turn, etc.

So that you wouldn't be hoodwinked. 

It turned out the directions were a little bit wrong. The coordinates were correct, but the street directions would not have got me there. There were a couple of wrong turns. 

Anyway, I'm all ready to go, and then the Russians shoot down, probably by mistake, a Korean jet, and everybody died. I get a letter from Dumayev, and he says, “In view of events with this jet, it's not a good time. Unfortunately I cannot invite you.”

Then a little bit later, this group called International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War gets the Nobel Peace Prize, and specifically they give the Peace Prize to an American and a Russian. The Russian was their secretary of health, and the American was a cardiologist here in Boston named Bernie Lown, who I knew. In fact, I think he's some distant relative. 

Then I learned somehow that Bernie was going to go see his friend, the health minister in Moscow, in a few weeks, so I asked Bernie if he would take a message from me to the minister, which was, “Can I go to Sverdlovsk?” 

A little while later, I get a telex — we didn't have email yet in those days — with a guy named Fedorov, the assistant to the minister of health who handles foreign relations, and he says, “I've gone to Sverdlovsk to save you the trouble, and there's nothing there, don't bother, you can't go.”

Then I got a call from Sergey Kislyak, who later became the ambassador to the United States, He says, “We'd like you to come to Moscow to talk with us about Sverdlovsk, we'll fly you there on Aeroflot. You don't need any passports or anything, just come on, we'll take you to Moscow.”

So I met a bunch of people who were involved in this, including former minister of health Pyotr Burgasov

Where were you hosted for these meetings? 

It was a great big hotel near the big athletics stadium. And we met at the hospital, which was called the Botkina, a very famous, great big hospital. European hospitals in those days were like villages, for example the Children's Hospital in Paris. There'd be a wall around many buildings.

So we met there, and I went to the American Embassy to keep them informed with what was going on. I met with a Soviet general, who told me that the outbreak was caused by bad meat, and I wrote down exactly what they told me, and published it in the Bulletin of the Federation of American Scientists.

At the beginning of my article, I said, “This is what the Russians said to me.” Unfortunately, I should have made it clear that this is not what I believe, necessarily. Maybe it was true, maybe it was not. But a lot of people reading that thought that this was my belief. I had no great belief at the time. I thought maybe they were telling the truth, maybe not. I didn't know. It's still essential to go there. 

So I come home, and now I'm accused of being a Soviet apologist by a lot of people because I wrote this article. I caught hell from a bunch of people for that. And it's true, I still thought that maybe they were telling the truth. [Under the Reagan administration, the intelligence community came to a consensus in the early 1980s that the Sverdlovsk anthrax was released from a bioweapons facility.]

Finally, the Soviet Union goes away, and we have Yeltsin and the Russian Federation. I'm in Washington doing some political thing, and I get a call from my secretary at Harvard: “You have a call from the Soviet embassy in Washington. They want you to greet a member of the Soviet embassy who is a physician, and he's coming from Washington into Logan Airport in Boston. And they wonder, because he doesn't know his way around, if you would meet him at the airport and help him out.” 

So they gave me his name, and his American Airlines flight and arrival time. They thought I was at Harvard, but actually I'm in Washington. So I decide, “I'll find out if I can meet this guy on the airplane.”

I called American Airlines, and I said, “My partner and I both been doing business in Washington and we become separated, but I know that we're both going back on the same flight. Could you tell me the seat number with Mr. Bourdin? I'd like to sit next to him so we could conduct our business together and save a little time that way. They gave me the seat number, so I get to the airport real early, one of the first passengers there, and I'm sitting in this seat.

Pretty soon down the aisle comes a big, heavy guy, and I say nothing. He sits down next to me, I let him get settled, I wait till the plane starts down the runway. And I say in a perfectly calm voice, “Very nice to meet you, Dr. Bourdin.” He was stunned! Of course, I imagine back home that wouldn't be such a big surprise, but I like doing things like that. 

Then he said, “I have a surprise for you, Dr. Meselson.” His surprise was to tell me that an American physicist is living in Sverdlovsk under a United States/Soviet exchange agreement between the two academies: their RAC and our National Academy of Sciences. He’s a guy named Don Ellis, a solid state physicist, he was there during the epidemic. He's a member of the National Academy, and so am I. So I go down to Washington.

Now, normally, trip reports are privileged, but the archivist gives me the trip report. Ellis records that he's there for several weeks, doing solid-state physics with his colleague, a Mr. Gubanov. When he came back to the States, he learned about the anthrax epidemic. He knew nothing about it while he was there, even though he's driving his kids to school every day on weekdays, going right past the police. 

So I want to go to Sverdlovsk and nothing is working. Sometime in the 1980s, our National Academy of Sciences invited the Soviets to send a delegation, so we could show them that Fort Detrick was no longer doing anything with biological weapons, because in 1969, President Nixon had renounced biological weapons, and there was no bioweapons work going on at Fort Detrick. [For an account of Meselson’s role in Nixon’s biological weapons ban, see our first interview with him.] 

I'm on the welcoming team, and each American was assigned a particular Russian to help them. I was assigned a guy named Alexei Yablokov, Yablokov is a Russian word for apple. This is Mr. Apple. 

Have you ever been in Baltimore? They bring a big bucket of crabs to your table, and they put down a sheet of brown paper and they dump the crabs. I thought he might like that, and we went to a jazz bar where we couldn't talk because it was too loud. So I got to know this guy. 

In those days, the CIA published something called FBIS, the Foreign Broadcast Information Service, unclassified translations of things from the Russian radio and press [the FBIS was dissolved in 2005]. There I saw an entry that Mr. Yablokov, my crab jazz friend, had become Yeltsin's Advisor for Environment and Health. So he's like a secretary of the Department of Environment and Health. It said that he had been asked by Yeltsin to look into this anthrax outbreak and figure out what happened. 

So I sent him a telex saying, “I see that you've been asked by your president to go do this. Could I come and help you?” He said, “You can come to Sverdlovsk, but only if you're invited.”

Bear in mind, this is the former Soviet Union. Everything was loose at this time. Americans were greatly welcomed. People loved Americans. How am I going to get invited? Who do I know in Sverdlovsk? Only one name, this Mr. Gubanov who worked with the American. 

Now the next thing will absolutely astonish you. I called Don Ellis. There he is in his office. And I say, “I need to get in touch with your colleague, Gubanov. Could you tell me how to reach him?” 

And Don says, “Yes, I'll hand him the telephone. He's sitting right here, he's visiting me.” 

That's incredible. 

So Gubanov comes on the phone. I tell him I want to be invited, and he said, “Oh, I'm very interested in that outbreak, I'll get you an invitation.” By the way, Gubanov comes back to the United States sometime later, and he ends up as a stockbroker in Florida. 

Anyway, pretty soon I get a telex from Mr. Suetin, who's the rector of the local university, which is named after Maxime Gorky. In the Middle Ages, universities taught what was called the trivium and the quadrivium. Do you know what I mean? 

I was homeschooled with a classical education, so we did the trivium, yeah. 

This university in Soviet Russia was teaching the trivium and quadrivium as well as physics and chemistry. But I get this telex from the rector, who says the city is yours, and he assigns to me two guys: a physicist named Borisov, and a younger man who's a physical chemist. So I form a team, including my wife, Jeanne Guillemin, who is a medical anthropologist. And the success of what we did, which proved that it was airborne and not foodborne, was because of her. 

So we go to Russia. 

Can I interrupt? Yeltsin comes to power and asks for an investigation.

But if I'm reading this old Washington Post story correctly, Yeltsin was told by the KGB in the early 1980s that the anthrax outbreak was a lab leak. He already knew. 

That's largely true. Almost completely true. We did not know, because when he acknowledged this, we were on transit. We did not know that he had said it, which of course took some of the wind out of our sails, but we had a scientific proof. 

In Yeltsin’s book, he says that at the time of the outbreak, he contacted Yuri Andropov, who was the head of the KGB, and he asked him to tell him the cause.

At that time, Yeltsin was the Communist Party leader in Sverdlovsk itself. He says he contacted Andropov, but he never heard back from Andropov. Later, after he became president and could get whatever he wanted, he came to the conclusion that it was not bad meat, that it was a military activity.

Anyway, we arrive in Sverdlovsk, and we have the names of the pathologist and her assistant, a Jewish man who had done the autopsies, and we knew how to reach them. We called on all these people, but they had nothing that would have really given us proof of a lab leak. But Borisov the physicist was a great help.

There was a woman who he knew very well named Larisa Mishustina, who was a member of the Duma. She had been elected to their House of Representatives. She had written a letter to Boris Yeltsin, and she gave me a photocopy: “Dear Boris, my constituents would like to know if the anthrax epidemic of 1979 was the result of government activity. If it was, they are entitled to double pension money.” 

Now, I don't know if any money ever got paid out. But what did happen was she receives a letter from the KGB with, I think, 68 million dollars, and it has a list of constituent names, dates of birth, and their addresses.

So my wife Jeanne goes knocking on those doors. She goes straight down the list. We were there twice, 1990 and 1991, and then Jeanne goes back a third time to complete these interviews. Jeanne would go to each of these little houses, knock on the door: “We are from the university,” which is true. “We are studying health,” that's true. “We understand that you lost a husband or a child or a wife during the anthrax outbreak. May we talk with you?” In every case but one, Jeanne told me they were invited in. And the one was an elderly lady who had just come out of the bath and said she wasn't dressed. In all the other cases, they were invited in. 

Jeanne Guillamin and a Russian researcher with a Sverdlovsk family
Meselson and Guillamin (second and third from right) with their Russian hosts

And Jeanne had a questionnaire, which I had written, but which she refined — now remember, she's an anthropologist, she knows how to do this — and she asked a whole bunch of questions. But the question that we were most interested in is, “Where did they work,” or were they pensioners who stayed home? So we could plot a map. In those days, you could buy a nice satellite map of Sverdlovsk from Spot Satellite, a high-res map showing individual houses, a high-resolution map, and I could plot each of these locations on my computer.

After Jeanne left, two professors in Sverdlovsk kept on doing the interviews, and data kept dribbling in. Little by little, it became more like a picture that's appearing when you develop a film. You could see more and more of these locations were in a narrow zone that goes from the military facility down toward the southwest, outside the city, to the villages where the sheep and cows had died. There were two exceptions, but they were the deaths of two men who were truck drivers. So they could have been driving through that band at the time of the lab leak.

The deaths all followed this line, every one of them. The most distant was 50 kilometers. 

Also, the World Meteorological Organization has headquarters in Geneva, and many countries belong to it, including the Soviet Union, and every three hours, from all the major airports, they're supposed to report wind direction, wind speed cloud cover, humidity, and so on. All that data is there in Geneva. If you want it, you can buy it. It's expensive, but there was a guy there who was a graduate student and we made pals over the phone. So he sent me this data, I didn't have to pay for it. 

And it turns out there's one day and one day only when the wind is in exactly that direction all day long. That's clearly what happened. No question. 

Our paper is a classic in epidemiology, quite aside from the subject. I guess I'm bragging, but what could be more clear-cut?

It's a beautiful image. 

They're beautiful images. I'm very proud. And the credit really goes to my wife, who died in 2019. 

Now, let's talk about what happened later. 

Let me interrupt. I do want to hear what happened later. But I know throughout the 1980s, you were trying to figure this out. This was your intellectual project for more than a decade. Was it just running in the background for you during the 1980s? 

Yeah. It’s a remarkably long-term project, I was busy teaching genetics, and a lot of diplomacy. Although President Nixon had renounced biological weapons, there was still the problem of negotiating an international treaty, both for them and for chemical weapons, and the problem of influencing the diplomats to include some sort of verification protocol. I was very deeply involved in that, going back and forth to Washington and the meetings of the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. Sverdlovsk was definitely on the back burner, but it was an active back burner. 

In 1988, you were pivotal in getting Soviet health officials to come to Washington, D.C. to present on the Sverdlovsk case.

Yes, that's right. 

How did you get them to come? 

So that group included the minister of health, Pyotr Burgasov. He had invited Jeanne and me to his dacha outside of Moscow. And he tells us how he became Minister of Health. During the revolution, in Moscow, if you wanted certain kinds of jobs, you had to queue: if you wanted to be a carpenter, you wait in the long line, you get to the table, you sign up. So he and his friend wanted to become blow torch welders, but they got in the wrong line by mistake, into the line to become doctors. They say, “So what the hell? We'll become doctors instead of welders.” That's how he becomes a doctor, and eventually minister of health. 

Now, I wanted to visit General Karechko, who's in charge of this closed military microbiological facility called Compound 19. I write a letter saying, “I want to meet with your scientists, and nothing but good could come from it.” And I got a letter back, and he says, “My scientists are not here right now. We can't do it.” 

Now let's think about this. You are the general in charge of this facility. You have just managed to kill nearly a hundred Soviet citizens. Do you think you're going to call Moscow and say, “Hey boss, I've just managed to kill a whole bunch of people here, and I've managed to let the whole world know that there's a big anthrax outfit here.” You know what happened to him? 

He killed himself, right? 

No, I don't know that, but certainly he's going to deny everything, right? He's going to say it was bad meat. 

So when we say the Soviets were lying, it’s true that sooner or later Andropov knew. We know from Russian publications that later the GRU, military intelligence, put microphones and listened to what people were talking about. But initially, I'm sure that the people at Compound 19 [where the anthrax leak originated] were the source of the lie. 

I'm looking at the Washington Post story from 1992 about Yeltsin, acknowledging that it was from a lab leak. The very last line of this piece quotes Izvestiya, the Russian outlet, that the chief of the military base committed suicide.

Now, whether he actually did, or if something happened to him, I don't know.

Wow. Would you send that to me? 

Of course. 

Is his name there? Was his rank given?

No, it's not. All they say is “the chief of the military base.” There's a lot of details missing. 

Yeah, I'll bet it was this poor guy. 

In November of 1991, Izvestiya printed allegations from a retired general who said he learned from the KGB that “Someone from the laboratory arrived early in the morning and began to work without turning on safety filters and other protective mechanisms.”

But it doesn't say when this retired general learned that from the KGB.

I can't shed any light on that. I just don't know, and I don't know if the filter story is true or not either. All I know is that it was an airborne release of an aerosol, not just a spill of a liquid. It had to be an aerosol. 

Now, why would they be generating an aerosol? Because just like we were doing, they were trying to determine the effective dose via inhalation for monkeys. If you're going to make an anthrax weapon, you're not going to spray liquid anthrax. You're going to disseminate an aerosol.

When you were invited down to Langley in 1980, the Sverdlovsk incident was a major concern for the CIA, because we didn't previously have any idea that the Soviet Union was developing biological weapons, right? 

There were suspicions. Even in 1963, when I first went to the CIA, I believe I was shown a satellite photograph of the Sverdlovsk facility. I think that we were watching this facility for years, but we weren't sure what was going on there. 

We also knew about that island in the Aral Sea. We knew that was a chemical weapons testing ground because you could see on the satellite photographs, as I remember, what looked like test grids, markings for measuring how many kilometers from a central point.

In 1989, you testified before Congress and said that, to the best of your knowledge, “no country has stockpiles of biological weapons or toxins.” Do you believe there are countries with stockpiles today?

I'm not connected to any intelligence channels anymore. 

But you have the benefit of a long career thinking about this, even if you don't have hard intelligence.

What would go through my mind is, if a country does have this stuff, try to imagine how that might have come about. That means that there's somebody or a group of people involved, but not the main leaders of their defense establishment, because this stuff is really shit. It’d be some guys who have a bee in their bonnet, to use an old expression, and they’re nagging and nagging, and sooner or later, they manage to persuade somebody who has the authority to develop them.

If I were in the intelligence business, I would try to get a list of the cast of characters in their Ministry of Defense. I know this is a very remote way to start out, but this is how I would start: are there people there who look like they're not being listened to, maybe even have training in this kind of stuff from the defensive point of view, who have maybe written about it? 

Of course, I’d look at the communications information we have, and task the people from overhead reconnaissance to look around and the people who look at the incidence of various diseases worldwide to look for anything anomalous. If people from foreign governments who might know about this stuff are coming to this country, you’d want people from the intelligence community to take them out to dinner very skillfully. Maybe they would like to give us intelligence — or maybe they don't care or they'd like not to — but if we think they're highly placed and we take them to dinner, we’re skillful, maybe we can learn something. 

I’d do all these things. The first paper I wrote at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency was a proposal to detect distant outdoor tests of biological weapons, because, with a suitable fluorescent antibody, you can detect even a single organism. 

By the way, long ago, the Israelis had a special guy: he would shoot birds flying out of Egypt, and then they would wash down the feathers and look for pathogens. They probably did it by culturing on petri dishes. I don't know that they've ever found anything. The Israelis had a big biological weapons program. I don't know if they still do. 

You mentioned looking at any literature that officials may have published. Last year, it came out that a Chinese general had written about the possibility of genetically targeted biological weapons. How realistic do you think genetically targeted biologicals are as a threat? 

I think there's no way you could do this rapidly. On the other hand, if it's something you're willing to spend years and years, we know that some genetic polymorphisms are more frequent in one group than in another group. 

Let's say we want to kill all the Armenians. Please don't, because I love the Armenians, my grocer is Armenian. So don’t do it. Anyway. A gene that's more frequent in Armenians will also be in other people: after all, Armenians marry other people.

If you find a hundred genes that are more frequent in Armenians, somebody who's got all 100 of them is probably Armenian. Now, that doesn't tell you how to make him sick or kill him, but now that you know what those genes are, maybe you could — in other words, it's theoretically not totally ridiculous. It would have to be based on multiple genetic targets. But it's crazy. 

You spoke to the New York Times a couple of years ago about parallels between the Sverdlovsk lab leak and the potential origins of COVID-19. What’s your view today on that parallel?

It looks more and more as though at least at one point they were not using an adequate high containment facility. If that's true — and they were certainly working on viruses from bats, they don't deny that, in fact, they're proud — and if in addition to that they were using NIH money to do gain of function research, it’s plausible, certainly very plausible.

I couldn't help but notice this parallel between the Soviet response to Sverdlovsk and the Chinese response to the COVID outbreak: both of them suggested they would welcome an investigation from the World Health Organization. 

Tell me a little bit more. I didn't know that the Russians ever said we would welcome anybody coming in. Did they say that? 

There's a document here from the U.S. State Department team in Geneva, that “Ambassador Hellman received several reports of a possible Soviet initiative to invite the WHO to look into the Sverdlovsk incident.” One report credits Dr. Kaplan with the idea. 

That's my cousin, the head of the Pugwash conference.

One report credits him, but another describes an incident in a Pugwash meeting in which “[Soviet diplomat] Valentin Falin suggested that the WHO be asked to look into the true causes of the spread of anthrax at Sverdlovsk. [Soviet general] General Milstein reportedly was present and did not demur.” 

The memo says, if the Soviets are actually proposing a WHO investigation, “Presumably it would be to allow the Soviets to stage-manage the event in such a manner as to make an impossible finding.”

I have no memory of this at all. 

But I'll tell you another story about the Soviet diplomats that you'll like. Under the confidence-building measures of the Biological Weapons Convention, every country is supposed to say where their high containment facilities are located, longitude and latitude. The Soviet Union is supposed to give the longitude and latitude of the laboratory in Sverdlovsk — They never denied that they had a high containment lab there, they just didn't say it was doing weapons work. 

So now the Soviet foreign ministry has to share the location of this facility to the United Nations. But the ministry of defense doesn't want to give their own foreign ministry the longitude and latitude. 

So I meet with Nikita Smidovich in Geneva. I remember there was snow on the ground, and he asked me to come out onto the porch with him. He says, “We need to know the longitude and latitude so we can report it, but we can't get it from the Ministry of Defense. Could you get it for me?” 

That's incredible. 

I did. I gave it to him. When the Soviets reported the location of Compound 19, they got it from us. They couldn't get it from their own guys. 

All of these things are full of stories of human beings and all the nutcakes and crazy things that happened. You've got to make allowance for that in nearly everything.

An archive of Meselson’s papers can be found here.

In this podcast, we interview top appointees and civil servants about how they managed to achieve a particular policy goal.
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Santi Ruiz