After having worked as a clinical microbiologist for over 15 years, Zilinskas studied at the University of Southern California, graduating with a Ph.D. in 1981. His dissertation addressed policy issues generated by recombinant DNA research, including genetic engineering techniques for military and terrorist purposes. He has worked for the U.S. Office of Technology Assessment (1981-1982), United Nations Industrial Development Organization (1982-1986), University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute (1987-1998), and the School of Hygiene and Public Health at The Johns Hopkins University. Twice he was a biological weapons inspector in Iraq in 1994. During 2003-2004 he managed three Cooperative Threat Reduction projects at former Soviet biological weapons institutes in Russia.
Zilinskas was a consultant to the U.S. Department of State (before 1999, the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency), January 1995 – September 2014, on matters pertaining to biological and toxin arms control, UNSCOM operations, and Cuban allegations of U.S. biological warfare against its human, animal, and plant populations. He has been a consultant to the Center for the Study of Weapons of Mass Destruction, National Defense University, since 1998 to the present. Together with Dr. W. Seth Carus he completed the project “Assessing Possible Applications of the Advanced Biotechnologies for Terrorist and Criminal Purposes” in 2002 and is now finishing the project “The Soviet Union’s Decision to Regenerate Its Biological Warfare Program, 1972.”
Zilinskas currently directs the Chemical and Biological Weapons Nonproliferation Program at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California. His research encompasses achieving effective biological arms control, assessing the risks posed by the remnants of the former Soviet Union’s biological warfare program in today’s Russia, and addressing the threats of biological and chemical terrorism. He has more than 120 publications including the important reference work Encyclopedia of Bioterrorism Defense 2010 (co-edited by Rebecca Katz), the encompassing book The Soviet Biological Weapons Program: A History by Milton Leitenberg and Zilinskas in 2012, and Biotechnology E-commerce: A Disruptive Challenge to Biological Arms Control March 2015 (co-authored with Philippe Mauger). Zilinskas is writing a book on the Putin administration’s views on biodefense and biosecurity that will be finished during summer 2016.