Director, Chemical and Biological Weapons Nonproliferation Program, and Senior Scientist
Zilinskas is one of the world’s foremost experts on chemical and biological weapons. He is frequently called upon to answer questions about such topics by journalists, other academics, historians, governments, and even Hollywood writers. Zilinskas recently served as an advisor to the FX television show The Americans during its 4th season, helping its writers and producers grasp plot lines involving lethal pathogens.
Starting in 1999, he spent 11 years conducting dozens of interviews with former Soviet scientists, and combing through documents and intelligence files to coauthor, along with Milton Leitenberg at the University of Maryland, The Soviet Biological Weapons Program, a book published in 2012 by Harvard University Press. It uncovers a large-scale offensive biological weapons program, detailing how the USSR amped up its research facilities to weaponize bacteria and viruses. Soviet scientists created new strains of pathogens, such as genetically engineering Legionella pneumophila (which causes Legionnaires’ disease) to secrete certain peptides that stimulate humans’ immune defense system—leading to the destruction of myelin sheets in the human body, thus inducing multiple sclerosis. In July 2017, Zilinskas finished a sequel to 2012 book that will be called Biosecurity in Putin’s Russia that will be published by Lynne Rienner Publishers in late 2017.
Courses offered in the past two years.
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During the last 35 years, accusations have been made that various nations and terrorists have employed biological, chemical, and toxin weapons in international warfare, internal conflicts, or terrorist operations. Most prominently, in the 1980s the UN found conclusive evidence that Iraq has used chemical weapons against Iran and, eventually, Iran answered in kind. Twenty-seven years later, Syria used chemical weapons against insurgents and civilians. Returning to Iraq, in addition to its chemical weapons, Iraq had a sizeable biological weapons program; and the Soviet Union secretly instituted the world’s largest and most sophisticated biological warfare program before its dissolution in late 1991. As for terrorism, the Aum Shinrikyo developed and used both biological and chemical weapons during 1991-1995; while scientist Bruce Ivens appears to have sent envelopes containing Bacillus anthracis spores to various public figures during September-October 2001; and the al Qaeda leadership has made clear that it seeks to acquire all types of weapons of mass destruction. In view of these developments, security experts active in the international arena ought to be familiar with the health and environmental effects of these weapons, circumstances which favor their use, the international laws that seek to prevent these weapons from being used and, when laws fail, how to determine whether one of these three weapon systems has indeed been used and the appropriate response to their use.
Spring 2018 - MIIS
Areas of Interest
My major interest is to do whatever possible to prevent the use by nations or terrorists of biological and chemical weapons and should this fail, have done what I can to assist local, state, federal, and international authorities to be well prepared to meet the challenges posed by such events.
At MIIS, I enjoy working with highly motivated students to get them to become deeply involved in what I am passionate about and who therefore tend to enter professions in which they can use their newly acquired knowledge and skills to realize biological and chemical arms control.
- Ph.D. in International Relations at University of Southern California
- Filosofie Kandidat in Organic Chemistry at University of Stockholm, Sweden
- BA in Biology at California State University at Northridge
Professor Zilinskas has been teaching at the Institute since 1999.
Dr. Zilinskas' book Biological Warfare: Modern Offense and Defense, which provides a definitive account on how modern biotechnology has qualitatively changed developments related to biological weapons and defense, was published in 1999 by Lynne Rienner Publishers. He also is co-editor of the Encyclopedia of Bioterrorism Defense, the first edition was published in the summer of 2005 by Wiley and Sons, and the second edition in 2011. He is a co-author of a book on the former Soviet Union's biological warfare program, including its history, organization, intent, and accomplishments, which was published by Harvard University Press in July 2012.