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There are those who argue that the United States could never have used biological agents in Korea because it would have contravened a "no-first-use" policy. But Endicott and Hagerman contend that such a formal national policy was not adopted until 1956; during the Korean War, the authors argue, the use of biological weapons was at the discretion of the President. More than that is hard to determine from US archival material, because relevant documents on biological warfare have been destroyed, lost or are still classified. In their exhaustive search, for example, the authors found that at least nineteen relevant "secret" category communications during 1952 are missing.

About the Author

Peter Pringle
Peter Pringle is the author, with Philip Jacobson, of Those Are Real Bullets: Bloody Sunday, Derry, 1972.

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Those who deny that the United States resorted to biological warfare suggest that Chinese and North Korean medical teams, backed by Soviet advisers, simply made up the charges. Chinese teams claim to have found sudden deaths from plague, anthrax and encephalitis, a deadly virus that invades the cerebral cortex. The Chinese investigators also reported eyewitness accounts of US aircraft dropping strange objects, including tree leaves, soybean stalks, feathers and cardboard packages containing live insects, rotten fish, decaying pork, frogs and rodents. Fleas said by the Chinese to have been found after these airdrops tested positive for plague, which, though endemic in northeast China, had not been reported in Korea since 1912. Insects, spiders and feathers were reported to be carrying anthrax. All these insects appeared out of season, in deepest winter--including heaps of locusts found inexplicably near railway stations.

If the Chinese medical teams fabricated their scientific evidence, they haven't changed their story with the passage of time. Endicott and Hagerman went to China and interviewed members, who stood by their original reports that the United States had engaged in some kind of biological warfare.

The International Scientific Commission, which looked into the charges in 1952, concluded that the United States had used biological weapons in China and North Korea, in part because it adjudged the testimony of the hundreds of witnesses interviewed "too simple, too concordant, and too independent" to be doubted. But the commission, led by Britain's Dr. Needham, came under fire because several members were known sympathizers of the Chinese Revolution. The authors of The United States and Biological Warfare argue that with the circumstantial evidence now available, the Needham Report should be seen in a different light, not through the gloom and suspicion of the early cold war.

In the end, if the Air Force didn't do it, the authors suggest that perhaps germ carriers were dropped in a covert CIA mission. Endicott and Hagerman note that in 1952 the Air Force special operations division, which "directed and supervised" covert biological warfare operations, sent a specially trained air wing to the Far East. And that same year the division "entered into agreements with the CIA to manufacture and test biological weapons for aggressive applications." However, here again the authors run into an evidentiary dead end: Former Director of Central Intelligence William Colby told Congress in 1976 that records of the CIA's biological warfare activities going back to 1952 were "very incomplete" because at least some documents had been destroyed.

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