The History of
How it began. The Soviet germ weapon program began in the 1920s and gradually grew into a mammoth operation. The objective was to develop weapons capable of infecting people with anthrax, typhus, and other diseases. Stalin spent large amounts of money on the project.
We get involved. Back then, the United States had no germ weapons. By the late 1930s, with intelligence agencies warning that Tokyo and Berlin had biological weapons, Washington began to mobilize against germ attacks in 1942. President Franklin D. Roosevelt publicly denounced the germ warfare plans of the enemy, even while preparing to retaliate with similar ones. George W. Merck, president of the drug company, Merck & Co., was placed in charge of the new project.
Fort Detrick. The army base at Fort Detrick, Maryland, was selected as the place where the research should begin. It would eventually become an immense U.S. biological weapons center.
When World War II ended. Meanwhile, in 1946 at Sverdlovsk, the Soviets set up a factory that specialized in anthrax. The next year, outside Zagorsk, they built a complex for making weapons out of viruses, including smallpox.
The outbreak of the Cold War and the Korean War, in 1951, led Washington to put new emphasis on planning for germ battles; and rapid expansion of facilities took place at Fort Detrick. Nuclear testing was already occurring both in the Soviet Union and the United States.
Spraying San Francisco. In one experiment, U.S. scientists sprayed mild germs (Sarratia marcescens) on San Francisco, to assess the ability of pathogens to spread through urban centers. The germs were meant to be harmless. However, they were not harmless enough. Eleven patients were admitted to Standard University Hospital with sarratia infection. One patient, Edward J. Nevin, died. The physicians were so astonished at the outbreak of a totally rare disease that they wrote it up in a medical journal. Years later, in 1981, the government denied any responsibility and the judge dismissed a lawsuit (Cole, Clouds of Secrecy, pp. 52-54, 75-104).
Clusters of anthrax. Another U.S. project consisted of cluster bombs, each of which held 536 bomblets. Upon hitting the ground, each bomblet would emit a little more than an ounce of anthrax mist. This terrible disease, if untreated, kills nearly every infected person (a very high mortality rate, even compared with the Bubonic Plague and most other pathogens).
Practice runs. A substance, something like anthrax, was used in practice sessions against St. Louis, Minneapolis, and Winnipeg (cities whose climates and sizes were considered similar to Kiev, Leningrad, and Moscow). Code named Project Saint Jo, the clandestine tests involved 173 releases of noninfectious aerosols (CBW Conventions Bulletin, June 2000, pp. 16-19).
In 1956, the Soviet defense minister, Georgi Zhukov, told a Communist Party Congress that any modern war would certainly include the use of biological weapons (Sidell et al., Medical Aspects, p. 54). When American intelligence learned of that statement, it energized our bioweapons program even more.
The same year, American U-2 spy planes began flying over the Soviet Union. By that time, the Russians had built many secret bases throughout the nation, which were developing and producing germ weapons.
Island in the Aral Sea. Shortly afterward, an American U-2 spy plane, flying high over a desolate island in the Aral Sea, photographed dense clusters of buildings and odd geometric grids which CIA agents recognized as belonging to a biological weapons base (Mayday: Eisenhower, Khrushchev and the U-2 Affair, p. 121).
The bull’s eye ring pattern was identical to one at our Utah desert biological testing base, where roads, sensors, electrical poles, and test subjects were placed at increasing distances from germ sprayers.
Germ factories. By the late 1950s, the U.S. was building factories capable of producing enough pathogens and biological toxins to fight wars. But, officially, they were only doing that which was needed to defend against such attacks.
Q fever. In 1956, the Pine Bluff Arsenal, an army base in the woods of northern Arkansas, was turned into a weapons factory producing bacteria, including tularemia. Soon it expanded into virus production. Before long, it was also producing Q fever (Sidell, et al., Medical Aspects, pp. 50-51, 429).
Q fever is a relatively mild disease which was meant, not to kill enemy troops, but cripple them with chills, coughing, headaches, hallucinations, and fevers of up to 104° F. It was thought that sick soldiers would cause more problems to the enemy in a war than dead ones. Another virus was Venezuelan equine encephalitis (VEE), a horrible disease.