Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Biological Warfare in the Twentieth Century

     Early in the 20th century, as microbiology developed, the etiologic agents of many diseases were identified, and many of these were grown and studied in laboratories allowing biological warfare to become more sophisticated.
Horses and Cavalry in WWI

     In the First World War, German and French agents used glanders (also known as EquiniaFarcy, and Malleus),a bacterium (Burkholderia mallei) which occurs in horses and donkeys as well as another animal bacterium called anthrax against enemy forces.
     The German Army also developed cholera to spread in Italy and a wheat fungus specifically for use as biological weapons. They spread plague in St. Petersburg, Russia, infected mules with glanders in Mesopotamia, and attempted to do the same with the horses of the French Cavalry.
Dr. Anton Dilger

     Bioweapons espionage also had its debut in WWI.  A German-American, Dr. Anton Dilger, grew cultures of anthrax as well as glanders bacteria (supplied by the German government), in his Washington, D.C. laboratory. The biological agents were meant to be given to sympathetic dockworkers in Baltimore, Maryland with the goal of infecting some 3000 horses, mules, and cattle being shipped to the Allied troops in Europe.
     Other German secret agents carried out similar campaigns in Romania (infected Romanian sheep were designated for export to Russia) and the US (1915-1916), Argentina (1916-1918) and Spain and Norway. The Germans are also alleged to have dropped biological bombs over Britain.
     On June 17, 1925, the Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare (Geneva Protocol of 1925) was signed then registered through the League of Nations.  A total of 108 nations signed the agreement but the Geneva Protocol did not address verification or compliance, making it unenforceable.

     But the Geneva Protocol did not prohibit research or development of these agents and several countries that were parties to the Geneva Protocol of 1925 (Belgium, Canada, France, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Japan, and the Soviet Union) began to develop biological weapons even after its ratification.
     The USA did not ratify the Geneva Protocol until 1975.
     In the years which preceded WWII, Japan conducted biological weapons beginning in 1932 and continuing until the end of World War II. The Japanese military practiced biological warfare against China, mostly through the division of the Japanese Imperial Army known as Unit 731 (see post: Death by Physician).
'Work' at Unit 731

     Unit 731 was established in occupied Manchuria  near the town of Pingfan, in 1936 (another, Unit 100 operated out of the city of Changchun) and used human subjects to test the lethality of disease agents such as anthrax, cholera, typhoid, syphilis, meningitis and plague.
     Experiments were also carried out with terodotoxin, an extremely poisonous fungal toxin. In active military campaigns during World War II, several hundred thousand Chinese civilians fell victim to biological attacks by the Japanese.
     In October 1940, the Japanese dropped paper bags filed with plague-infested fleas and grain over the cities of Ningbo and Quzhou in Zhejiang province. The grain attracted rats, which became infected from the fleas, and subsequently spread the disease further into the nearby human population.
     On several occasions, the fleas were released from aircraft over Chinese cities to initiate plague epidemics.
     But, Japanese officials had not adequately prepared, trained, or equipped their own military personnel for the hazards of biological weapons. An attack on the city of Changteh in 1941 reportedly led to approximately 10,000 casualties due to biological weapons - 1700 of them among Japanese troops. The 'field trials' were terminated in 1942.
     During the war, the Japanese Imperial Army used over 3000 American, Korean, British, Australian, Soviet, and Mongolian prisoners of war as guinea pigs.
Gruinard Island

      It was not only the Japanese who looked into the use of biological weapons. In England, scientists experimented with biological agents testing anthrax bombs on Gruinard Island off the northwest coast of Scotland in 1942 and 1943 and then prepared and stockpiled anthrax-laced cattle cakes for the same reason.
     These experiments resulted in severe contamination of the island with persistence of viable spores. In 1986, the island was finally decontaminated by using formaldehyde and seawater. The United States, the army developed Camp Dietrick (now Fort Detrick), Maryland, into a site for biological research and development.
     German medical researchers infected prisoners with disease-producing organisms such as Rickettsia prowazekii, hepatitis A virus, and malaria. Supposedly, Hitler had issued orders prohibiting the development of biological weapons, but all the same, German scientists did establish a biological weapons research.
Dr. Joseph Goebbels

     High-ranking Nazi, Dr. Joseph Goebbels accused the British of attempting to introduce yellow fever into India by importing infected mosquitoes from West Africa.
In 1942, the United States formed the War Research Service under the authority of which anthrax and botulinum toxin were investigated for use as weapons and large quantities of both were stockpiled by June 1944.
     During the Second World War, many countries operated programs focused on the development of biological weapons.
     In the UK, aside from anthrax, research looked at animal and crop diseases and foot and mouth disease (Aphtae epizooticae).
     In Canada, the focus was on anthrax and rinderpest.
     In the Soviet Union, experimenters concentrated their efforts on typhus and plague and in the USA, most research  focused on anthrax and chemical herbicides.
Foot and Mouth Disease


     During the years following World War II, newspapers were filled with articles about disease outbreaks caused by foreign agents armed with biological weapons.
     In the USA, an offensive biological warfare program was started in 1942 under the direction of a civilian agency, the War Reserve Service.
     The program included the research and development facility at Camp Detrick, Maryland (renamed Fort Detrick in 1956) known today as the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), testing sites in Mississippi and Utah, and a production facility in Terra Haute, Indiana.
     About 5000 bombs filled with anthrax spores were produced at Camp Detrick. At Fort Detrick, biological munitions were detonated inside a hollow 1-million-liter, metallic, spherical aerosolization chamber known as the eight ball.
     Volunteers inside this chamber were exposed to Francisella tularensis and Coxiella burnetii. The studies were conducted to determine the vulnerability of humans to certain aerosolized pathogens.
     During the Korean War, the Soviet Union, China, and North Korea accused the USA of using agents of biological warfare against North Korea.
     The US program into bioweapons expanded during the Korean War (1950–1953) with the establishment of a new production facility in Pine Bluff, Arkansas and, by the late 1960s, the US military had developed a biological arsenal that included numerous biological pathogens, toxins, and fungal plant pathogens that could be directed against crops to induce crop failure and famine.

The Mau Mau Uprising
     The Mau Mau, protesting British rule in Africa used plant toxins to kill livestock in 1950.
     During the Vietnam War, Viet Cong guerrillas used needle-sharp punji sticks dipped in feces to cause severe infections after an enemy soldier had been stabbed and set up contaminated 'spear traps', impaling unsuspecting victims who fell in.
     In the post-WWII period, there have been several allegations of biological weapon use.
     In 1957, the Eastern European press accused Great Britain of using biological weapons in Oman.
     The Chinese alleged that the USA caused a cholera epidemic in Hong Kong in 1961.
Captured Viet Cong Guerrillas

     In July 1964, the Soviet newspaper Pravda asserted that the US Military Commission in Columbia and Colombian troops had used biological agents against peasants in Colombia and Bolivia.
     In 1969, Egypt pointed a finger at 'imperialistic aggressors' and their use of biological weapons in the Middle East, causing an epidemic of cholera in Iraq in 1966.
     Biological weapons, as they became more sophisticated, grew into an 'industry', funded by many different countries. The increased production of these weapons, however, spawned biological accidents and biological terrorists.
Logo of the Weather Underground
     In 1970, members of the Weather Underground (the Weathermen), a left-wing group in the USA opposed to American imperialism and the Vietnam War, attempted to obtain biological weapons from Fort Detrick, Maryland to contaminate the water supply systems of US cities.
     Members of the right-wing group Order of the Rising Sun were arrested in Chicago in 1972 and had, in their possession 30 to 40 kg of typhoid cultures they had intended to use to poison the water supply in Chicago, St. Louis.
The Aral Sea

     In 1972, police arrested two teenagers who had visions of eliminating humanity so that the group's members could start a new master race. The teens already gathered biological agents, including the typhus bacillus.
     The first example of state-supported bioterrorism in recent history occurred on September 7, 1978. In a James Bond style slaying, Bulgarian exile Georgi Markov, while in London, was injected in the leg with a steel ball impregnated with ricin via a specially constructed umbrella (the 'umbrella killing'). Within 5 hours, Markov became extremely ill and died within 4 days. The communist Bulgarian government had carried out the assassination with technology supplied by the Soviet Union.
   Renaissance Island in the Aral Sea

     Ricin is a highly toxic, naturally occurring protein derived from the seeds of the castor bean plant. A dose as small as a few grains of salt can kill an adult human.

     Ricin is poisonous when inhaled, injected or ingested and acts as a toxin by the inhibition of protein synthesis (type 2 ribosome inactivating protein). Because the symptoms are caused by failure to make protein, they emerge only after a delay of a few hours to a full day after exposure.
     In April 1979, an epidemic of anthrax occurred among the citizens of Sverdlovsk (today known as Ekaterinburg), Russia, killing 66 people.
Emblem of the Order of the Rising Sun

     The epidemic occurred among people who lived and worked near a Soviet military microbiology facility (Compound 19) in Sverdlovsk. In addition, many livestock died of anthrax in the same area, out to a distance of 50 km.
     Investigations revealed that victims died of 'inhalational anthrax', an accidental release of anthrax spores from a biological weapons program, dispersed in an aerosol cloud, downwind from Compound 19.

     After the anthrax incident in Sverdlovsk, the Soviets continued bioweapons research at a remote military facility in the isolated city of Stepnogorsk in Kazakhstan, producing an even more virulent strain of anthrax. In 1980, the former Soviet Union expanded its bioweapons research program and was eventually able to weaponize smallpox  conducted at remote facilities in Siberia.
Georgi Markov

     A primitive laboratory was found in 1980 in Germany in a Red Army Faction (a 1980s terrorist organization) safe house in Paris, reportedly containing a bathtub filled with flasks of Clostridium botulinum.
     In September and October, 1984 in Oregon, members of the Rajneeshee religious cult contaminated restaurant salad bars with Salmonella typhimurium to prevent townspeople from participating in local elections. Over 750 were poisoned and 40 hospitalized.
Castor Bean Plants (Source of Ricin)
     In 1985, Iraq began an offensive biological weapons program producing anthrax, botulinum toxin, and aflatoxin. Aflatoxins are naturally occurring fungal toxins, produced by many species of the fungus, Aspergillus. High-level exposure to aflatoxin produces an acute liver disease and/or liver cancer.
     During Operation Desert Storm (see post: Gulf War Syndrome), allied forces expected the threat of chemical and biological agents. Following the Persian Gulf War, Iraq disclosed that it had indeed fabricated bombs, Scud missiles, 122-mm rockets, and artillery shells armed with botulinum toxin, anthrax, and aflatoxin. They also had spray tanks fitted to aircraft capable of distributing agents over a specific target.
Insignia of the Red Army Faction

     At the end of the First Gulf War in August 1991, representatives of the Iraqi government announced to representatives from the UN Special Commissions Team 7 that Iraq had conducted research into the offensive use of B.anthracis, botulinum toxins, and Clostridium perfringens. Iraq had extensive research facilities at Salman Pak, Al Hakam, and other sites, only some of which were destroyed during the war.
     In the early 1990s, members of the Minnesota Patriots Council , a right-wing extremist militia group, attempted to poison an Internal Revenue Service official, local law enforcement, and a US deputy marshal with ricin.
Aspergillus Fungus

     Bioterrorism resurfaced on March 18, 1995, when the Aum Shinrikyo (see post: Death Cults) attacked the Tokyo subway system with sarin gas. Investigations disclosed evidence of a rudimentary biological weapons program.

     Before March 1995, the cult had attempted unsuccessful biological attacks in Japan using botulinum toxin - April 1990, cult members outfitted a car to disperse botulinum toxin through an exhaust system and drove the car around the Japanese parliament building; March 1995, cult members planted 3 briefcases designed to release botulinum toxin in a Tokyo subway.
Aum Shinrikyo Logo

     In June 1993, Aum Shinrikyo members attempted, over a 4-day period, to spread anthrax in Tokyo via a sprayer system from the roof of a downtown building. Q fever was also acquired by the group - Q fever is a disease caused by infection with Coxiella burnetti, a bacterium which affects humans and other animals. Cult members had also attempted to acquire Ebola virus in Zaire during a trip to that country in 1992.
     In 1996, an Ohio man attempted to obtain bubonic plague cultures through the mail. and in the fall of 2001, anthrax was delivered through the US Postal Service to U.S. media and government offices. The anthrax-contaminated letters resulted in 22 cases of anthrax - 11 confirmed as inhalation anthrax and 11 confirmed as cutaneous with six people dying from the disease.
An Anthrax Letter

     In December 2002, six people were arrested in Manchester, England, their apartment was serving as a 'ricin laboratory'. On Jan. 5, 2003, British police raided two residences around London and found traces of ricin, which led to an investigation of a possible Chechen separatist plan to attack the Russian embassy with the toxin.
     On Feb. 3, 2004, three U.S. Senate office buildings were closed after the toxin ricin was found in a mailroom that served the office of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.
     Almost since the beginning of human 'civilization' and especially during the past century, the progress made in biotechnology and biochemistry has simplified the development and production of 'germ' weapons. Indeed, in certain circumstances and regions, biological warfare agents may be more potent than conventional or chemical weapons.
     Biological weapons are unique in that they are invisible and often have delayed effects. These factors allow those who use them to instill fear and cause confusion among their victims and to escape undetected. A germ-warfare attack would cause sickness and death in a large number of victims but would also create fear, panic, and paralyzing uncertainty.
Genetic Engineering?

     Genetic engineering with the potential to develop 'designer' germs holds perhaps the most dangerous potential.
     Today, even 'third world', developing countries often have the desire to possess their own biological 'defences' and ease of production as well as the broad availability of biological agents and technical know how have led to a further spread of these weapons of mass destruction.
     *Biological Weapons in the Twentieth Century: subject of research for the novel Vaccine - Amazon Kindle.

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