7.1 Germ Warfare / Biological Weapons


There are two basic ingredients used in biological weapons:

The targets of biological agents include soldiers, civilians, crops, and livestock. Biological weapons are lethal, ideal for surprise attack, and have tremendous psychological impact. We seem to have an almost primal fear of germ warfare. Above all, such weapons are exceedingly cheap. They are therefore very attractive to terrorists or belligerent nations.



Many nations, including the USSR and Iraq, signed the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention which committed the signers to not develop or use them. Rumors abound that many nations have them, including those weapons that we mentioned. Libya, Israel, China and Taiwan are often mentioned as nations with biological weapons. There are others. North Korea is suspected of having its own stockpile of smallpox viruses.

Has the United States used them? Rumors persist that it has. In 1971, several animal and plant diseases mysteriously appeared in Cuba. African swine fever broke out in two places. Blue mold devastated its tobacco crop. Cane smut struck the sugar crop. Some accused the CIA.

A rule of a thumb in warfare is this: it is better to disable enemy population than to kill it. It is far more expensive for the enemy to care for the sick than bury the dead. To cope with African swine fever, Cuba killed 500,000 hogs.

(My note: biologicals have been considered for dealing with the international drug trade. Britain and the United States joined in a study to develop a virulent fungus that destroys opium poppies, the raw material for heroin. See "Fungus to kill drug poppies under study" Chicago Tribune June 29, 1998.)



The first reported 'biological missiles' were deployed in 1346 when the Tartars catapulted plague-ridden corpses into the city of Kafka. According to popular lore, Native American Indians were deliberately infected with smallpox by way of blankets. In World War I, a fourth of American troops who died in France were killed by another bio hazard: poison gas.

Methodical research into germ warfare was done by Japan in Manchuria during the 1930s. They investigated the effects of bubonic plague, anthrax, botulins, brucellosis, cholera, dysentery, smallpox, and typhus. They also experimented with battlefield applications. Air-born delivery via ceramic 'bombs' which released their contents above ground worked best.

Chocolates for an air drop were prepared, laced with plague-infected fleas. The Japanese tried the weapons when retreating in China; Chinese losses were described as 'incalculable', but a major risk of germ warfare ensued: 10,000 Japanese soldiers died following accidental exposure when the wind changed.

The US was alerted to Japanese intent when the Japanese tried to buy yellow fever viruses just before World War II. At the end of the war, the Japanese scientists were given immunity from war crimes punishment in exchange for their information.



During World War II, Britain prepared anthrax animal food cakes to infect German cattle. They also stockpiled vaccines should the Germans strike first. The Scottish research isle of Gruinard was rendered unsafe as a result of escaped anthrax spores until 1987.

The Soviets set up research programs and production lines for lethal biologicals. In 1979, the infamous research/production facility at Sverdlovsk blew up. Up to a thousand people died, suffering fevers as high as 108 F. The KGB also used biological agents in a James Bond fashion. In 1978, a hated Bulgarian exile was stabbed in the leg with an umbrella while walking to a radio studio. He died in hours. The wound contained a metal pellet coated with ricin, a toxic biological substance from the castor oil plant. Reports as of 1994 are that Russian biological warfare programs are still underway: they had developed a strain of 'super plague' untouchable by any known antidote.


In the spring of 1998, germ scientists 850 miles east of Moscow were ordered to undertake their most crucial mission. Working in great haste and secrecy, scientists at Sverdlovsk transferred hundreds of tons of anthrax bacteria (enough to destroy the world many times over) into stainless steel canisters, poured bleach onto the bacteria, and sent them to a remote Vozrozhdeniye island in the Aral sea. There, they poured the sludge into pits and buried the stuff. As of June 1999 the spores were still alive. See "Soviets' anthrax legacy haunts remote isle" Chicago Tribune June 2, 1999.



In 1977, CDC virus hunters met four Soviet 'scientists' in Liberia who were there to investigate Lassa fever, one of the dreaded hemorrhagic fever viruses that include Marburg and Ebola. The US team learned that least one of them didn't know any biology at all. They explained that they wanted Lassa antibodies, reagents and virus samples. They pestered the CDC officials for a year afterwards, but CDC scientists were suspicious. It is therefore evident that virulent diseases such as Lassa and Ebola have been sought for their military application.



At the time of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1991, Iraq had already spent $100 million on botulism toxin and anthrax for use in weapons of war. Among the most sensational pictures of that war were images on CNN of reporters with gas masks and civilians sealing their residences with duct tape. How real was the threat? After the war, it was revealed that an Iraqi Scud missile warhead filled with nerve gas had exploded inside Israel on 18 January 1991. This incident had been kept secret.

(My comment: my memories of military 'news' when I was in VietNam was one of total mistrust. Only the BBC and the New York Times seemed to 'tell it like it was.' It seemed that 'lies were told when the truth would do.' The term propaganda reflects the military/political use of the media as instruments of governmental policy, not as vehicles of truth. My apologies to you for being so cynical.)

When US troops were deployed to Operation Desert Shield (Do you recall your history? Desert Shield came before Desert Storm), the United States did not have any operational capability to detect biological agents. The first likely indication of an attack was ill and dying soldiers. How's that for tossing our own people into the breech?!



Is it real? Is there such a thing as 'Gulf War Syndrome? What are the facts and are we being told the truth? Here are a few statistics for your consideration. I don't know the final truth, but here are some documented reports for you.

Most countries that sent troops to Desert Storm now have veterans suffering from undiagnosable, debilitating illnesses. Of 690,000 troops, 6500 have died and more than 80,000 report GWS as of late 1996. Symptoms include respiratory and stomach illnesses, nerve damage, rashes, joint pain, short term memory loss and stress. Most daunting is that it seems transmissible: newborn children have been affected also.

Saddam Hussein's son-in-law has admitted that Iraq possessed a carcinogen called aflatoxin; ricin which leads to liver and kidney failure plus genetic problems, and enteroviruses that can lead to blindness. One hundred ninety-one missiles had been equipped with biological agents. They had experimented with a new type of shrapnel designed to release germs into open wounds. Iraq had enough biological agents to kill the world population several times over.

(Another suspected culprit for GWS was uranium used in armor piercing warheads. I heard this on the radio. Sorry, I don't have a reference.)

(My note: The Viet Cong used shrapnel bombs infected with human feces against US forces and civilians during the war in VietNam. The medical costs and human suffering were staggering.)



During the 1950s and 1960s, the Army simulated biological attacks in or over US cities, including Minneapolis, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C. In one of the biggest tests, the Army sprayed 'simulant' bacteria into the air from a boat off of San Francisco. They used Serrata marcescens, an organism that is easy to detect. Several civilians became sick; one died. Two important things emerged from these experiments. One was that nearly everyone downwind acquired the bacteria. Secondly, it was learned later that it causes a variety of GI disorders. Even 'innocent' microorganisms can have unforeseen consequences.

In 1966, another bacterial agent was intentionally released into the New York subway by the CIA. Quickly, the entire system was infected by the piston action of trains moving air about the subway system. Elsewhere, the British had conducted a similar test with identical results in London two years earlier. The ease of spreading agents this way was graphically illustrated by Ted Koppel, ABC News, the week of October 4, 1999 (I saw only portions of the program).



Anthrax is a livestock disease and man is the accidental host. Its spores resist destruction and remain viable in soil for decades. Penicillin and tetracyclines are effective against the disease.

Brucellosis is an animal disease distributed world wide. This disease is an occupational risk of meat packers and other workers in food processing. Rigorous combination antibiotic therapy is necessary.

Botulins are more familiar to you a food poisoning. Botulism is neuromuscular poisoning from Clostridium botulinum toxin. It is spread by food or wound infection. Antitoxins for some forms of botulism are available from the Center for Disease Control.

Hemorrhagic Diseases such as Ebola and Marburg are possible new candidates for germ warfare.



Five new technologies for biological warfare had emerged by 1992. They are:

Indeed, biological warfare is the ultimate example of interaction between culture and disease.

..... CJ '99


Brookesmith, P. Biohazard The Hot Zone and Beyond. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1997.

Haynes and Coates "2 held in anthrax scare" Chicago Tribune Feb 20, 1998.

Kotulak, R. "Anthrax called 'a poor man's nuclear weapon" Chicago Tribune Feb 20, 1998.