A decade ago, Alik Galiyev had a promising career as one of the Soviet Union's leading biological weapons scientists. Together with his colleagues, he helped design and construct the world's largest anthrax production plant, capable of churning out enough biological agents to destroy all urban life on the planet.

Today, despite a $100 million U.S. program to defuse the Soviet biological weapons threat and engage former germ scientists in peaceful pursuits, Galiyev is angry and disillusioned. He feels that his onetime American enemies have devoted a lot of time and energy to dismantling his extraordinary workplace but have done little to convert the factory to peaceful use or provide long-term employment for hundreds of highly skilled scientists.

"The Americans just want to destroy; they don't want to create anything," complained Galiyev, in comments echoed by other senior scientists at the sprawling bioweapons plant on the outskirts of this crumbling Soviet-era town on the plains of northern Kazakhstan.

While U.S. officials insisted that such remarks are unfair, the comments reflect widespread skepticism both here and in Russia about the benefits of cooperation with the United States on eliminating weapons of mass destruction. Senior Russian officials complained that much of the American money earmarked for retraining former weapons scientists has been frittered away on administrative expenses, and they have retaliated in tit-for-tat games with Washington over access to top secret weapons facilities.

The bitterness felt by Galiyev and his fellow bioweapons makers could pose a significant new proliferation threat for the United States, independent experts say. If the weapons makers conclude that America has nothing further to offer them, they could be tempted to sell their knowledge to countries such as Iran which, according to the Pentagon, has been attempting to recruit Russian scientists to assist with its own clandestine biological weapons program.

The backlash at Stepnogorsk comes when the Clinton administration's cooperative threat reduction program--one of the centerpieces of America's post-Cold War diplomacy--is also under attack at home. Congress has forbidden the Pentagon to spend any money on Soviet military conversion and has sharply cut funding for the Department of Energy's nuclear cities initiative, which was designed to find alternative employment for Russian weapons designers, in part because of lack of access to top secret facilities.

U.S. officials point out that they have spent $4 million on "redirection projects" in Stepnogorsk, including the creation of an environmental monitoring center that employs several dozen scientists, in addition to $5 million on dismantling the anthrax plant. At the same time, they concede that converting Soviet weapons facilities to civilian use has proved much more difficult than expected. A $5.8 million plan to use part of the Stepnogorsk factory for civilian pharmaceutical production ended in failure in 1997, touching off bitter recrimination between the American and Kazakh partners.

Andrew Weber, the Pentagon official in charge of the Stepnogorsk project, insists that the United States will not abandon the 200 or so scientists with critical proliferation knowledge who remained at the plant after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. "We have to deal with their frustration and continue to work with them," he said. "We want these former bioweaponeers working with us, and not with those who would exploit their knowledge for evil."

With towering fermenters that were capable of churning out two tons of anthrax a day, enough to wipe out an entire city, Stepnogorsk is the most visible evidence of a vast biological weapons program that was a key part of the Soviet Union's strategic arsenal. Although the United States suspected the Kremlin was developing bioweapons in defiance of the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, the scale of the effort became apparent only after 1991, with the emergence of 15 new independent countries, including Kazakhstan.

Even today, much less is known about the Soviet biological weapons program than the nuclear weapons program. While the Kazakh government has been cooperating with the United States on the dismantling of places like Stepnogorsk, Russian officials continue to conceal the full extent of their Cold War bioweapons program. This huge facility--hundreds of times the size of any comparable bioweapons plant anywhere in the world--remained undetected by U.S. satellites for almost two decades.

One consequence of this lack of knowledge has been a delay in responding to the Soviet-era bioweapons threat. The $100 million earmarked for bioweapons counter-proliferation programs--some of which has been spent on cleaning up a former testing ground at Vozrozhdeniya Island in the Aral Sea--is minuscule compared with the $2.4 billion spent since 1991 on locking up loose nukes and providing work for Soviet nuclear scientists.

Isolated from the changes that have been sweeping big cities, such as Moscow and the former Kazakh capital of Almaty, the crumbling, half-abandoned town of Stepnogorsk provides an eerie flashback to life in the Soviet Union. Heating pipes are patched together with pieces of fabric; concrete bunkers are covered with weeds; sidewalks and basketball courts are disappearing back into the steppe. The bioweapons plant, which cost an estimated $1 billion to build, looks like an abandoned junkyard full of rusting equipment.

The mood of the scientists who used to work here matches the wretched circumstances of the city in which many of them spent their careers. It is a complicated and potentially explosive mixture of shame, wounded pride, dependence on outside assistance and blind anger at the forces that have reduced them to this state.

In July, the Pentagon organized a conference in Stepnogorsk to showcase its anti-proliferation program's successes and encourage American private investment in Kazakhstan. But none of the dozen or so U.S. businessmen invited to attend the conference showed up; there is little private sector interest in investing in such a remote and undeveloped place. To the embarrassment of U.S. officials, the meeting quickly turned into a forum for the airing of bottled-up grievances by the Kazakh and Russian participants.

"We need real assistance, not just lessons in marketing," exploded Yuri Rufov, head of an enterprise called Biomedpreparat that was hoping to produce medicines here under a Pentagon-sponsored joint venture. "We gave up everything we had before, and we haven't got anything in return."

The Soviet Union began building this macabre death factory in 1982, at the height of the Cold War, a time when many Soviets were convinced that superpower conflict was inevitable. Mobilization plans called for the storage of up to 500 tons of anthrax--a powder-like substance that turns to froth inside victims' lungs, depriving them of oxygen--and its storage in nuclear-proof underground bunkers. In the event of mobilization, the anthrax would have been loaded into bomblets and shipped out of here on reinforced railroad cars to be placed onto SS-18 missiles aimed at the United States.

Stepnogorsk was part of a vast toxic archipelago that included research centers and testing sites, such as Vozrozhdeniya Island. "It was madness of course, but it reflected the madness of the times," said Vladimir Repin, a bioweapons scientist at the Vector research institute in Siberia. "Remember we had nuclear weapons that could destroy the world 100, 200 times over. We were convinced that the Americans were doing the same things we were."

Weber, a former U.S. diplomat in Kazakhstan, has a vivid memory of his first visit to the Stepnogorsk complex in 1995. By that time, Washington had a good idea of what had been going on here, thanks to the testimony of a former plant director, Ken Alibek, who defected to the United States in 1992. Even so, the sight of the four-story-high fermenters and airtight testing chamber, where gruesome experiments were performed on dogs and monkeys, was "chilling to the bone," Weber said. "It was then that I understood for the first time at an emotional level what Ronald Reagan had meant by the words 'evil empire.' "

While other countries, including the United States, Iraq and Japan, have experimented with biological weapons, none came remotely near the production capacity of Stepnogorsk. The United States says it halted its offensive bioweapons program in 1972.

At first, the Stepnogorsk scientists insisted in interviews that the plant had been built for "defensive purposes," to produce vaccines in the event of an American bioweapons attack. But, after a few drinks and saunas, they began to loosen up. "We have been hanging noodles on your ears," acknowledged Gennady Lepyoshkin, Alibek's successor as director of Stepnogorsk, using the Russian equivalent of "we have been pulling the wool over your eyes."

Determined to prevent "rogue states" or terrorists from gaining access to such a killing machine, the Pentagon launched in 1996 what became known as the "Stepnogorsk initiative" in cooperation with Kazakh authorities. The implicit bargain at the heart of the deal was that the United States would assist in the retraining of former Soviet weapons scientists in return for the total dismantling of Kazakhstan's offensive bioweapons capability.

The conversion side of the strategy soon ran into difficulties. The Washington entrepreneur chosen by the Pentagon to run the American side of the joint venture to manufacture pharmaceuticals, John Allen, had good political connections but little practical experience. His Kazakh partners say he failed to deliver on his promises and purchased outdated equipment. Under heavy pressure from congressmen sympathetic to Allen, the Pentagon ended up paying the contractor $2.1 million after he accused the U.S. government of breach of contract.

Allen, a former U.S. Army intelligence agent in Laos and Cambodia and Reagan campaign operative, blames both the U.S. government and Lepyoshkin, the facility's director, for the failure of the joint venture. "It was a disaster," he said. "They had no idea what their needs were. They had never made a pill in their life."

Vladimir Bugreyev, director of a biotechnology institute that employs many former Stepnogorsk scientists, said Allen failed to deliver on promises of turning the plant into a major pharmaceutical center. "With money the Americans gave Allen, we could have built a big factory producing medicines," he complained.

In the meantime, U.S. nonproliferation experts were busy playing a cat-and-mouse game with Iran for the hearts and minds of Soviet weapons scientists. According to Pentagon officials, Iranian representatives launched an intensive effort to recruit Russian bioweapons makers, beginning in the spring of 1997, after the Russian ministry of science participated in a biotechnology exhibit in Tehran.

One place targeted for Iranian recruitment efforts was the Vector Institute in Novosibirsk, where scientists experimented with such contagious viruses as smallpox and Marburg, which causes its victims to bleed to death. According to Russian officials, the Iranians made a sophisticated pitch, insisting that their biotechnology program was strictly civilian. The approach was rejected, in large measure because the Russians understood that cooperation with Iran would mean an end to cooperation with the United States.

Weber said he understands the frustration of the former bioweapons makers. "Just 10 years ago, these people were a pampered elite, the recipients of extraordinary resources. Of course they feel a sense of dislocation." At the same time, he added, some of the "whining" may have been aimed at putting pressure on the U.S. to come up with more funds.

Pentagon officials said most Stepnogorsk scientists with critical proliferation knowledge are receiving assistance from the United States through academic grant programs administered by the State Department and the Department of Energy. Galiyev, the former bioweapons maker, described the American programs as "miserly." The programs pay an average of $35 a day for original scientific research, a reasonable wage by Russian standards.

For the time being, the Americans seem to be keeping the Iranians and others at bay. The Stepnogorsk plant will be torn down completely by the end of next year, but the long-term future of the scientists who work here and in other parts of the old Soviet bioweapons establishment remains uncertain.

"We don't want to cooperate with Iran. We're not stupid. We know what that would mean," said Repin, of the Vector Institute. But he added: "Of course, people need to feed themselves and their families. They will go to wherever the money is."