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Here™s the dirty truth: from the dawn of biology™s ability to isolate
pathogens, people have pursued hostile applications of disease. To ignore
this extensive history and presume that today™s villains are not fervent
about weaponizing disease is very dangerous. As bioviolence becomes
easier and more lethal, we ignore this penchant for making people sick at
our peril.
The ¬rst section of this chapter portrays the historical experience
with biological weapons. The second section focuses on existing State
bioweapon programs. The ¬nal section turns to terrorist and fanatic biovi-
olence “ today™s most critical threats.


Disease has been entwined with war and violence for millennia. Plagues
in¬‚icted on Egyptians compelled the Exodus. Greek swordsmen coated
their blades with feces. Tartar besiegers of Caffa “ a port city on the Black
Sea “ hurled plague-ridden corpses over city walls possibly beginning the
Black Death that killed almost one in three Europeans.1 Centuries later
in the American colonies, General Jeffrey Amherst, commander of British
forces at Fort Pitt, responsible for “the Total Extirpation of those Indian
Nations,”2 gave blankets previously worn by smallpox patients at nearby
hospitals to Native Americans.


With the onset of gunpowder weapons in the late 1400s, disease receded
from overt military use. It was too slow and incapable of direction to
have much battle¬eld relevance. Yet, with the ability to isolate and classify
micro-organisms in the late 19th Century came the possibility that disease
could be harnessed for weapons purposes.

The Road to Geneva
By World War I, a few pathogens could be cultured, but bioweapons were
not substantially used. German secret agents infected Allied forces™ horses
and cattle with bacteria and attempted to spread plague in St. Petersburg.
They are also alleged to have poisoned wells with corpses and dropped
bacteria-infected fruits and chocolates over civilian areas. Yet, moral con-
straints might have curbed use of disease against humans. German scien-
tists who recommended use of antipersonnel bioweapons received neg-
ative instructions: “All respects to your courage and patriotism, but if we
undertake this step we will no longer be worthy to exist as a nation.”3
Into the 1920s, bioweapons were not viewed as militarily credible. The
U.S. Chemical Warfare Service asserted that bioweapons “would have little
effect on the actual issue of a contest in view of the protective methods
which are available for circumscribing its effects.”4 It was Auguste Trillat,
director of the French Naval Chemical Research Laboratory, who initiated
research on anthrax and other diseases as potential weapons, seeing them
as effective against enemy reserves, civilians, livestock, and water sup-
plies. Thereafter, concerned that the Nazis were pursuing bioweapons, the
French military actively pursued bioweapons production but met sub-
stantial technical dif¬culties that precluded success before the Germans
In 1925, international diplomats agreed to prohibit bioweapons as well
as chemical weapons. However, their agreement, the Geneva Protocol, did
not address research, production, development, or stockpiling of banned
weapons; neither did it ban their use in internal or civil con¬‚icts. Many
States reserved the right to retaliate in kind for an adversary™s use of chemi-
cal or bioweapons. These shortcomings notwithstanding, the Geneva Pro-
tocol expressed a widely shared repugnance for chemical and bioweapons.

Mid-20th Century Bioweapons Programs
The proliferation of bioweapons programs during the mid-20th Cen-
tury was not the fault of the Geneva Protocol™s limitations. Likely, more

proliferation would have occurred had there been no internationally rec-
ognized prohibition. The Protocol™s humanitarian norms deserve credit
for convincing some States to shun bioviolence, but the profusion of
bioweapons programs undercut con¬dence that a norm can be effective
by itself.

Unit 731
Japan used bioweapons (plague, cholera, epidemic hemorrhagic fever,
and even some sexually transmitted diseases) in China, causing perhaps a
quarter of a million casualties. The infamous Unit 731 laboratory complex
employed over three thousand scientists and technicians to develop and
disseminate diseases including typhoid and cholera. Plague-infected ¬‚eas
were dropped over Manchuria from high altitude aircraft. As their war
fortunes soured, the Japanese contaminated water sources and food to
slow down advancing Chinese troops.
Near the war™s end, plague was unsuccessfully deployed against Amer-
ican forces in the Paci¬c. Rather than exacting retribution, U.S. military
planners were intrigued. Upon armistice, they granted immunity from
prosecution to Japanese scientists associated with Unit 731 in exchange
for their research data. As one of¬cial noted, these valuable ¬rst-hand
accounts of human experiments “could not be obtained in our own labora-
tories because of scruples attached to human experimentation.”6 Secrecy
shrouded both Japanese criminality and the burgeoning U.S. bioweapons
program. “Professional deference was accorded the Japanese scientists,
with whom the Americans from Detrick and G-2 had tea and dined. Japan
was no longer the enemy; the enemy was the Soviet Union.”7 National
security took precedence over criminal prosecution.

The U.S. Offensive Bioweapons Program
Soon after Pearl Harbor, Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson recommended
pursuit of bioweapons research. The U.S. program, run jointly by the War
Research Service and the Chemical Warfare Service, prepared various anti-
personnel, anti-animal, and anti-crop agents primarily at Camp Detrick,
Maryland. Two open-air testing facilities were established near Dugway
Proving Grounds (Utah) and at Horn Island (Pascagoula, Mississippi). Sec-
retary of War, George Merck, proudly pointed to the program™s successes:
pilot and large-scale production facilities for human and agro pathogens;
mass production of anthrax and virulent brucellosis for ¬lling bombs; and
¬eld testing new cluster bombs for biological munitions. Near the end of
the war, production of anthrax munitions began with plans to drop over

four million four-pound anthrax bombs on six major German cities to
in¬‚ict three million civilian deaths. These weapons were not supplied to
Allied forces and thus never used.
Created in 1948, the Committee on Biological Warfare found that the
United States was highly vulnerable to attack and recommended that the
U.S. Research and Development Program be enhanced in order to: 1)
detect and identify biological agents; 2) decontaminate, protect, and treat
exposed victims; and 3) test dissemination of innocuous organisms in
ventilation systems, subway systems, and public water supplies as well as
“stamps, envelopes, money, biologicals, and cosmetics . . . contamination
of food and beverages” as a primary means of spreading biological
agents.8 For twenty years, pathogens such as brucellosis, tularemia, Q fever,
Venezuelan equine encephalitis, anthrax, and botulinum, along with anti-
personnel and anti-crop cluster bombs were produced without much pub-
lic attention.
Most distressingly, humans and animals were exposed to aerosolized
agents to test the effectiveness of experimental munitions. In 1950, the
¬rst open-air sea tests released an anthrax simulant (Bacillus globigii)
from naval vessels near Norfolk, Virginia. Near San Francisco, a U.S. Navy
minesweeper dispersed aerosolized bacteria to see what would happen
in a possible bioweapons attack; several people reported urinary tract
infections which the military claimed were coincidental. After the experi-
ments and testing were declassi¬ed, family members of a victim who died
allegedly as a result of the experiments ¬led a wrongful-death suit against
the U.S. government. The case was dismissed because the experiments
were part of national defense planning.9
In other experiments, human volunteers were injected with harmful
anthrax simulants or exposed to fungal agents. In 1955, Army Operation
CD-22 (“Operation Whitecoat”) released Q fever a half-mile upwind from
animals and people to test dissemination techniques. In 1956 throughout
Georgia and Florida, uninfected mosquitoes were released over ¬fty times
to test the feasibility of using them as dissemination vectors; residents were
later canvassed to determine how many people were bitten. In 1966, the
Army conducted an open air test at Washington D.C.™s National Airport:
“Traps were placed throughout the facility to capture the bacterium as it
¬‚owed in the air. Laboratory personnel, dressed as travelers carrying brief
cases, walked the corridors and without detection sprayed the bacterium
into the atmosphere.”10 In a Manhattan subway, light bulbs ¬lled with
bacteria were dropped onto tracks to measure the bacteria™s spread. Thus,

to prepare biological agents to use against an enemy, they were aimed at
In November 1969, however, President Nixon, concerned that biolog-
ical weapons offered little value to the American arsenal, but their pro-
liferation might undermine nuclear deterrence, unilaterally cancelled the
U.S. offensive program. He declared that the United States would destroy
its entire bioweapons stockpile. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Army Medi-
cal Unit ceased developing bioweapons and began developing vaccines.
The U.S. Army Medical Unit was renamed the U.S. Army Medical Research
Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID).11 The decision quickly led to
negotiations for the Biological Weapons Convention.
It must be noted that the United States has the world™s largest and most
advanced biodefense programs. There is a very ¬ne line that distinguishes
biodefense from bio-offense. Whether the United States has crossed that
line is discussed thoroughly in Chapter 8.

The Soviet Biological Weapons Program
The Soviet Union™s program began in 1928 by weaponizing typhus. By
World War II, the Soviets could produce and disseminate typhus, tularemia,
and Q fever via insects. In 1946, with data from the Japanese Unit 731,
the Soviet Ministry of Defense began research, development, testing, pro-
duction, and delivery of numerous agents. Bioweapons facilities, of¬cially
known as Scientific Field Testing Laboratories, were built around Moscow
and on the Aral Sea. By the late 1960s, the Soviet bioweapons arsenal
included smallpox (with a strain received from India), ebola, lassa fever,
and monkey pox.
Shortly after the Soviet Union rati¬ed the Biological Weapons Con-
vention in the early 1970s, Biopreparat (the Chief Directorate for Biolog-
ical Preparations) was formed. Altogether, ¬fty-two biotechnology sites
employing over ¬fty thousand scientists and technicians were concealed
as civilian biotechnological and pharmaceutical research laboratories. Its
offensive objectives were: 1) to develop pathogen strains that could resist
vaccines and antibiotics and could degrade victims™ natural defenses, and
2) to discover methods of weaponization. A high priority was to mass
produce exceptionally viable agents with short incubation periods. Soviet
scientists spliced ebola and Venezuelan equine encephalomyelitis (VEE)
genes into smallpox to create a so-called chimera virus that would have
synergistic effects and be resistant to vaccines or antiviral treatments. In
the late 1980s, the Soviets combined a strain of mousepox (a close relative

of smallpox) and VEE genes to cause symptoms of both diseases. If a victim
were to seek antibiotic treatment for the symptoms of one agent, the other
agent in the “cocktail” could still ¬nish him off.
Biopreparat produced and stockpiled hundreds of tons of plague,
tularemia, glanders, anthrax, smallpox, and VEE. Within two decades,
nearly sixty pathogens had been genetically modi¬ed into more potent
diseases. To deploy these agents, the Soviet Army had twenty specially
equipped crop duster planes, medium-range bombers, intercontinental
ballistic missiles, and cruise missiles capable of delivering agents to mul-
tiple cities. Tularemia and VEE were the principal agents designated for
battle¬eld use; anthrax and marburg virus were nominated for attacking
rear areas.
Smallpox was produced in liquid form and loaded into submunitions
that SS-18 intercontinental ballistic missiles could deliver against enemy
population centers. The Soviet program also explored very sophisticated
dissemination methods including modi¬ed ICBM warheads with refrig-
eration equipment and special heat-venting ¬ns enabling the warhead
to re-enter the atmosphere without broiling its pathogenic cargo. Near
the target, the warhead was programmed to release numerous aerosol
bomblets that would gently descend by parachute until reaching a preset
altitude where they would release their contents in a ¬ne mist.
There are no of¬cially con¬rmed reports of the Soviet Union delib-
erately testing bioweapons on its own people. Yet, in Kazakhstan in
1971, accidental civilian exposure to smallpox killed two children and a
young woman; nearly ¬fty thousand residents received emergency vac-
cinations, and hundreds of civilians were quarantined. A small explosion
at a military laboratory on an island in the Aral Sea released 400 grams
of smallpox; a few passengers on a ship that sailed impermissibly close
to the island became infected and died. Outbreaks of plague in Central
Asia also have been attributed to bioweapons testing on the Aral Sea.
The most infamous incident occurred in 1979 in Sverdlovsk (now Yeka-
terinburg) where a plume of anthrax escaped from a testing facility killing
from sixty-eight to one hundred people as well as animals in a 30 mile
In 1992, President Boris Yeltsin of¬cially announced that Biopreparat™s
offensive weapons program had ended with the Soviet Union™s demise. Yet,
the quantity and condition of pathogen stockpiles remains highly worri-
some. Conversion of bioweapons facilities to peaceful uses and employ-
ment of former bioweapons scientists has progressed, but there are reports
of at least four former Soviet military facilities that have not opened their

doors to inspection.13 Other reports suggest that former Biopreparat-
trained scientists and technicians are now working abroad, possibly for
Iran and North Korea.
The Soviet program, in retrospect, de¬es strategic justi¬cation. It may
be that Soviet bioweapons were intended to cause casualties among
American survivors of a nuclear war. In the event of the ¬nal con¬‚ict with
the United States, however, the Soviet Union™s nuclear weapons carried
more than enough destructive power to obliterate American war-¬ghting
capabilities. Moreover, as Biopreparat was kept secret, it had no deter-
rent effect “ an adversary cannot be deterred by something it does not
know about. Perhaps the weapons were designed for use in a con¬‚ict with
China. Disease agents could annihilate the numerical superiority of Chi-
nese forces without crossing the nuclear threshold that might provoke a
U.S. nuclear response. More likely, the Soviet bioweapons program was
self-justifying “ as the program™s infrastructure grew and proved that it
could construct awesome weapons, it became a juggernaut that had to
ful¬ll unbounded demands for more experimentation and production
regardless of the product™s military utility. The pursuit of new and more
destructive bioweapons evolved into its own justi¬cation.
The imperial disintegration of the Soviet Union denuded control of its
bioweapons program leaving a horrifying legacy of environmental con-
tamination, thousands of highly trained bioscientists, and thousands of
weapons to destroy before they become a reservoir for any madman capa-
ble of gaining access. According to Dr. Gerald Poste:

The fate of the personnel and pathogens from the FSU [Former Soviet
Union] bioweapons programme is of particular concern. The Biopreparat
effort in the civilian sector employed at least 70,000 people in its illicit
bioweapons programme. Concern persists that elements of the military
programme may not have stopped. There are also reports of FSU scien-
tists working in Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. Security at FSU bioweapons


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