The U.S. Government’s Secret Experimentation with Biological and Chemical Warfare

The U.S. Government’s Secret Experimentation with Biological and Chemical Warfare

by Mitchel Cohen

Part One

The integrated federal, state and local response to the “health situation” in New York City brought on, supposedly, by infected mosquitoes smacks more and more of a military operation, at least insofar as the manner in which the mass-spraying of dangerous insecticides on the entire population and environment has taken place.

The operation has been coordinated out of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s anti-terrorist bunker he recently installed on the 22nd floor of the World Trade Center. Helicopters buzz below the treeline spraying Malathion over children playing in parks, people walking their dogs or walking about their neighborhoods and parks, and even over the NY City subway system. No effort at all is made to provide health services for people made sick from the spray. Increasingly, we the residents of New York City have become “collateral” damage in this simulated “war”, one designed with full battle plans to plot out how quickly and effectively every street in the City could be covered by official helicopters and trucks, while residents are sprayed with at least 3 different insecticides acting synergistically to generate a far greater health emergency than anything indicated in the original reports of encephalitis-infected birds and mosquitoes.

Now, as media reports raise the ludicrous spectre of Iraq’s president, Saddam Hussein — the designated Hitler-of-the-month once again –releasing the infected mosquitoes into New York City as part of foreign biological warfare experiments, those of us who oppose the spraying are called “eco-terrorists”, among other choice perjoratives issuing from the Mayor and his henchmen. Given panic whipped up against other countries to divert attention from the real culprits, I thought it may be of importance to review some of the history of biological warfare in and by the US.


On July 1, 1997, the Cuban government officially charged the United States with intentionally introducing a bacteriological plague into Cuba. The disease  —  Thrips Palmi Kami  —  is transmitted by a tiny insect and devastates a number of different crops. This marks the first time a country has called for an official consultive meeting of the 1991 Convention on Bacteriological Weapons.

But it certainly is not the first time biological weapons have been used.

In the mid 1960s, the CIA and the Army Special Operations Division flooded the New York City subway system with biological “agents,” ostensibly to chart the direction and pace the spread of disease. The once classified Army report on the matter also noted the existence of subways in the Soviet Union, Europe and South America. Was the Army using U.S. subway riders as guinea pigs in planning biological and chemical warfare attacks abroad?

On March 8, 1977, after many legal battles and court orders, the first release under the Freedom of Information Act of what would become a very slow seepage of secret documents began. They recorded how, from 1949 through 1969, Army Intelligence practiced germ warfare at 50 locations within the U.S., including San Francisco, the O’Hare and Kennedy Airports, and the Pennsylvania turnpike. In 1950, the U.S. Navy even sprayed a cloud of bacteria over San Francisco. The Navy claimed the bacteria were harmless, but many residents came down with respiratory ailments, and at least one person died.

In 1952 and 1953, the U.S. military sprayed clouds of zinc cadmium sulfide over Minneapolis, Minnesota; Winnipeg, Manitoba; St. Louis, Missouri; Fort Wayne, Indiana; the Monocacy River Valley in Maryland; and Leesburg, Virginia. A military report noted that the spraying caused many respiratory problems, while still fraudulently claiming the sprays were harmless.

In 1955, the CIA released a virus believed to cause whooping cough in Palmetto, Florida (near Tampa). The area experienced a sharp rise in whooping cough cases; 12 people died from the disease.

From 1956 to 1958, the Army Chemical Corps released millions of mosquitoes infected with yellow fever (by 1960, they were being bred at a rate of 130 million per month at Fort Detrick, Maryland) over Savannah, Georgia, and Avon Park, Florida. Residents of Carver Village, an exclusively Black area, were swarmed by mosquitoes and developed fevers, bronchitis, typhoid, encephalitis and still births. Some died. After each release, Army agents posing as public health officials photographed and tested victims, and then vanished.

****Human Guinea Pigs****

In December, 1993, a second set of secret documents was released by the federal government, this time by the new Energy Secretary Hazel O’Leary. They confirmed some of the worst fears of those who had been labeled “paranoid” and “conspiratorialist” just a short time earlier. Experiments on unwilling and frequently uninformed test subjects    often African Americans and other minority groups    were performed by agencies as diverse as the CIA, the Department of Veterans Affairs, NASA, the Pentagon, and the Public Health Service.<1> Some subjects were injected with plutonium; others were intentionally placed in close proximity to nuclear bomb tests and monitored to observe the effects.

The experiments were top secret, run by the government in conjunction with private institutions. Involved were 44 colleges and universities, 15 research foundations, 12 hospitals and clinics and at least three prisons.

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, U.S. government scientists and university researchers in San Francisco, Rochester and Chicago, among other cities, injected more than 40,000 patients with high doses of radioactive plutonium. They were curious about the effects of radiation “in case of nuclear war.” They found out. Most of the patients died of cancer.

Among the guinea pigs was one Elmer Allen. Allen was a 36 year old railroad porter at the time. The government injected radioactive plutonium into his leg. He was never told of the risks. The plutonium rapidly destroyed his left leg, and it was amputated.

Energy Secretary Hazel O’Leary stated that “Mr. Allen appeared so utterly incapable of taking care of himself. My sense was nobody was looking out for Mr. Allen before the testing.

“He seemed like somebody who had been caught up in a giant machine. Those are the people who ought to be protected by the Government from ourselves.”

During the same period, government doctors in Oregon and Washington zapped the testicles of 131 prisoners with X rays to test the effects of radiationon the production of sperm. The prisoners were never informed that the radiation could cause cancer.

From 1932 through 1972, in the now infamous Tuskegee, Alabama syphilis experiments, 400 black men with syphilis were not only denied treatment by the U.S. Health Service (later to become the Center for Disease Control), even though treatment was readily available, but were forbidden from seeking help elsewhere, in order to allow the untreated disease to run its course. They were never told the nature of their condition or that they could infect their wives and children. The disease ravaged their bodies and eventually killed many, as white medical experts “studied” the black men’s agony and refused to intervene  — in the name of “science.”<2>

At every juncture, ideologues developed new justifications for the tremendous suffering they inflicted on American Indians, prisoners, soldiers, mental patients, unsuspecting civilians at home and around the world; all were simply guinea pigs in what can only be described as American Nazi experiments. Currently, the U.S. federal penetentiary system continues to peform experiments, using sensory deprivation and other techniques on political prisoners at Florence, Colorado, Marion, Illinois and Lexington, Kentucky.

Although the creation of biological weapons for offensive purposes has been outlawed by international treaty, the U.S. maintains that it is developing such weapons for “defensive” purposes. Areas of investigation include: bacteria that can resist all antibiotics; extra hardy, more virulent bacteria and viruses that live longer and kill faster; and new organisms that can defeat vaccines or natural human or plant resistance. Also being studied are the development of pathogens that can disrupt human hormonal balance enough to cause death, and the transformation of innocuous bacteria (such as are found in human intestines) into killers. Genetically engineered pathogens that can target specific racial groups are being developed as well. (I discuss these below.)

Nazi doctors in Germany had performed similar experiments. But in their case, their rule was relatively short lived. In the case of the U.S., however, these sorts of “medical experiments” grew into an entire biochemical warfare industry and mindset; they have gone on without let up since the first recorded instance in 1763, when British General Jeffrey Amherst ordered the commander of Fort Pitts to give smallpox infected blankets to the unsuspecting native American Indians with whom they were “negotiating.” Eighty years later, the U.S. military continued the assault, knowingly wrapping hundreds of smallpox ridden blankets around American Indians on their Trail of Tears, murdering hundreds of desperate Cherokee.

****Ancient History?****

In 1993, new evidence of experimentation was revealed when dissident members of the Oglala Sioux nation, the majority, filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government for its ongoing spraying of previously untested pesticides on their corn and injection of an experimental Hepatitis vaccine into their bodies    neither of which had been approved for use in the United States. Conveniently considering the reservations independent “nations”  —  perhaps one of the few occasions the U.S. government accepted the “autonomous territory” claimed by American Indians  —  the government continues to use reservations as handy testing grounds for all sorts of dangerous products banned or not yet approved in the official United States, in much the same way as it has, over the years, used Puerto Rico and other colonies.

The native peoples of the South Pacific islands have also been forced to serve as a virtual laboratory for U.S. and French nuclear weapons and radiation tests. Their once pristine paradise has been, since the end of World War 2, turned into atom bomb testing grounds and radioactive dumps. Ancient sea tortoises have been obliterated. Vegetation has been wiped out. And the cancer rates among the native peoples, even though shuttled from island to island to avoid being in the epicenter of atomic bomb blasts, has gone through the roof while life expectancy has plummeted.

Nor is experimentation on people of color a thing of the past. “Beginning in 1989, 1,500 children in West and East Los Angeles and Inglewood were given an experimental measles vaccine as part of a government-sponsored trial. Most of the subjects were Latino or African-American. The parents of these children were never told that they were part of an experiment with an unlicensed drug, and thus had a less than adequate basis for giving their consent.

“The Edmonston-Zagreb, or E-Z vaccine, was also tested in Senegal and Guinea-Bissau and Haiti, Guinea, and more than a dozen other Third World countries. Trials in Los Angeles, conducted with the cooperation of Kaiser Permanente, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Johns Hopkins University, were stopped two years later after questions were raised about the vaccine’s relationship to an increased death rate among female infants.

“When use of the experimental drug came to light, CDC Director Dr. David Satcher noted, `A mistake was made. It shocked me. … But things sometimes fall through the cracks.'”<3> Apparently, things fall through the cracks particularly when experiments are being done on people of color.

In the 1950s, the U.S. Army and the CIA also performed experiments with LSD and other newly concocted mind altering drugs on hundreds of unsuspecting subjects through federally funded programs. One such program was MKULTRA, in which a number of recipients were driven insane because they did not know what was happening to them. Several committed suicide.<4>

But the Army’s involvement, like the CIA’s, was kept secret. It was only in 1975, for example, that the daughters of Harold Blauer, who had died 20 years earlier while receiving treatment for depression at the New York State Psychiatric Institute in Manhattan, learned that their father’s death was caused by five injections of a highly potent mescaline derivative supplied by the Army, as part of the experiments. A lawsuit, which took 12 years and culminated in a 109 page decision by Judge Constance Baker Motley on May 5, 1987, was then brought. The Judge called the incident “a sad episode in the conduct of the United States Government,” a cover up “to avoid embarrassment and adverse publicity.”<5>

Philadelphia based activist John Judge sees the CIA’s MKULTRA and other mind control programs as a systematic component of ongoing chemical and biological warfare experiments. Judge exposed the links between the CIA MKULTRA program and the tragedy at Jonestown, Guyana.<6> Contrary to news accounts of mass suicide by drinking cyanide laced Kool Aid, the Guyanese medical examiner testified that 80 percent of the 900 Black North American bodies he examined showed signs of forcible injections.

In addition, Judge continues, Jim Jones, the self proclaimed leader of the “People’s Temple” which had moved to Guyana from San Francisco, and one of his aides, had CIA connections. The father of Jonestown leader Larry Layton was head of CBW [Chemical Biological Warfare] Research at the Army’s Dugway Proving Grounds in the 1950s. The elder Layton admitted contributing $25,000 to the People’s Temple. According to Judge, “Public exposure [in the mid 1970s] of experiments in U.S. prisons and mental institutions was, in all likelihood, a major impetus for relocating this testing to the jungles of a virtually unknown country.”<7>

Other revelations abound. Investigative journalist Bob Lederer enumerates some of the salient features of the released documents:

“In 1968 and 1969,” Lederer writes, “the CIA experimented with the possibility of poisoning drinking water systems by injecting a chemical substance into the water supply of the Food and Drug Administration building in Washington.

“In 1976, the Humane Society of Utah questioned the mysterious deaths of 50 wild horses who had drank from a spring near the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Ground, a CBW research center. [Twenty years earlier, ranchers in Utah asserted in a lawsuit that radioactive fallout had killed 4,500 sheep.]

“Besides the tests directly related to CBW, there has been a notorious history of deadly `civilian’ medical experiments, often practiced on Third World people, and usually without their consent. Numerous new drugs have been tested on people in Third World nations long before such tests would be permitted in this country. For example, the birth control pill was first used on Puerto Rican and Haitian women in trials by the G.D. Searle pharmaceutical company in 1956. (Searle is now owned by Monsanto.) The women were neither told about what they were taking nor warned about the possible side effects, which the company knew to be potentially severe.”<8>

In 1993, scores of Haitian women interned at the U.S. run HIV concentration camp at its Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, reported being forcibly injected with Depo Provera, an experimental drug with dangerous side effects. At the time, Depo Provera had not been approved for use in the U.S. Tracking studies show Haitian women living in the U.S. have a much higher rate of cervical cancer than other women in the general population; some believe that Depo Provera might be part of the cause.

As with every group, the Haitian experience has its antecedents. In the 1980s, many Haitian male refugees incarcerated at Krome, in Miami and Fort Allen, in Puerto Rico reported a strange condition callyed gynecomasia, in which they developed full female breasts. Ira Kurzban, attorney for the Haitian Refugee Center, managed to pry free government documents via a lawsuit by the refugees. These contained the startling information that  prison officials had ordered the refugees sprayed repeatedly with highly toxic chemicals never designed for such generic use. The documents go on to say that lengthy exposure to the particular chemicals can cause hormonal changes that induce development of female breasts.

****Prisoners of the American Nightmare****

Nor are Haitians the only group receiving the blessings of U.S. biological experimentation. “Within the U.S. and its direct colonies,” Lederer reports, “there is a long history of experiments on prisoners, using drugs —  especially psychotropic ones  —  and toxic chemicals. Early in this century a North American doctor infected several prisoners with plague in the then U.S. colony of the Philippines. He also produced beriberi in another group of 29 prisoners, two of whom died as a result of the experiments.

“In 1915, a doctor produced pellagra in twelve white Mississippi inmates in an attempt to discover a cure for the disease.

“In the 1940s, over 400 Chicago prisoners were infected with malaria as part of a wartime crash program to develop new drugs against this infection. In 1947, Nazi doctors on trial at Nuremberg for crimes against humanity cited some of these cases as precedents for their own genocidal experiments.

“From 1965 to 1968, 70 prisoners, mostly Black, at Holmesburg State Prison
in Philadelphia, were the subjects of tests by Dow Chemical Company of the
effects of dioxin, the highly toxic chemical contaminant in Agent Orange. Their skins were deliberately exposed to large doses and then monitored to watch the results. According to the doctor in charge, Albert Kligman, a University of Pennsylvania dermatologist, several subjects developed lesions which `lasted for four to seven months, since no effort was made to speed healing by active treatment.’ At a 1980 Federal Emergency Protection Agency hearing where the experiment came to light, Kligman testified that no follow up was done on subjects for possible development of cancer. This was the second such experiment commissioned by Dow, the previous one carried out on 51 `volunteers,’ believed also to have been prisoners.”<9>

Clearly, prisoners’ lives are seen as worthless and anything done to them is okay with the government. In fact, prisons serve as a socially accepted means of providing a continuous supply of bodies on which to experiment. Currently, at the Marion prison in Illinois, for instance, prisoners are forced to drink and shower in contaminated water, which is drawn from Crab Orchard Lake. The lake is surrounded by a toxic waste dump. The pollution is so severe that it has been placed on the Superfund Priority Cleanup list. The town of Marion itself had long ago switched from using this water, but prisoners are nevertheless forced to drink it. This has led to dizziness, nausea and lipomas (small tumors).<10> With 25 percent of all black males in the U.S. between the ages of 19 and 30 mired in one facet or the other of the criminal justice system, experiments on prisoners horrible enough as it is    becomes even worse. It is a coded term for experimenting on young black males.

****Foreign Mosquitoes?****

With the U.S. government poised to once again bomb Iraq, the administration and media are at it again, lying through their teeth and manipulating the American public into a bloodlust chorus for war. This time, the issue is Iraqi biological warfare.

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people were murdered outright by the U.S. bombardment in 1991. A million more were killed by U.S. destruction of Iraq’s drinking water and hospitals. Children continue to die from malnutrition and curable ailments that go untreated due to the U.S./U.N. embargo and sanctions. Whatever one thinks of Saddam Hussein (or George Bush, or Bill Clinton for that matter), when did the people of Iraq become our enemy?

President Clinton is now revving up the engines to justify the continued bombing of Iraq, which actually hasn’t stopped for the past 8 years. Why? Last year, the propaganda centered on forcing Iraq’s President, Saddam Hussein, to allow the U.S. to be represented on U.N. teams inspecting Iraq’s alleged chemical and biological weapons facilities. (Apparently Canadian and Dutch inspectors weren’t good enough.) Whitewashed in all the orchestrated hysteria and mumbo jumbo is the fact that it was the U.S. and its allies that provided Iraq with nerve gas and all sorts of chemical and biological agents to begin with.

Saddam Hussein bought what nerve gas exists there on the world market. Most of it was sold to him by US corporations, with the approval of the United States government.

Even as he condemned the threatened use of chemical and biological weapons by Saddam Hussein, U.S. President George Bush knew full well the extent of Iraq’s biological and chemical arsenal. After all, it was Bush himself, in his former capacity as head of the CIA (and later as Vice President and President), who had approved U.S. shipments of material needed to make biological and chemical weapons to Iraq.

Bush approved shipping to Iraq toxic varieties of E.coli and Salmonella bacteria, and agents causing anthrax, gas gangrene and brucellosis.(11)  The U.S. had been experimenting with anti toxins for these diseases and had yet to test them in the field.

In the course of restructuring the production and control of world oil, the U.S. military was able to test new depleted uranium weapons, protective devices and anti biological warfare medications in the field, on its own soldiers. Inoculations  —  some genetically engineered and completely experimental  —  were mandatory and generally done without the consent, and often against the will, of the soldiers. As it turns out, these inoculations most likely have contributed to the development of Gulf War Syndrome, mysterious ailments afflicting hundreds of thousands of American veterans of the Gulf. In February 1998, the U.S. began shipping large containers of anthrax vaccine to Israel in preparation for the expected war.

The Bush administration also signed 700 licenses worth $1.2 billion for so called “dual use” technology to Iraq. As exposed by the Simon Wiesenthal Center in California and House of Representatives Banking Committee Chair Henry Gonzalez (D, Texas), hundreds of U.S. and European corporations such as Hewlett Packard, Honeywell and others provided Iraq with such “dual use” technology as computers for weapons guidance, fuel air explosives, imaging circuitry for missile warheads, vaccum pumps and bellows for nuclear power plants, and live cultures for bacteriological research (which was sent directly to the military).(12)

In early February, 1998, the Russian government warned the U.S. not to bomb Iraq. A few days later word suddenly “leaked” that three years before (and the government “just” discovered it! What a coincidence!) Russia sent “dual purpose” technology to Iraq which could be used for bacteriological warfare. In actuality, this “dangerous” equipment sold by Russia was nothing more than a 5,000 liter vat for fermenting yeast. Could such a product be used for making, say, anthrax? Yes. So could any pressure cooker or, for that matter, any bathtub. It could also be used for making beer, and, more likely, antibiotics (which Iraq desperately needs). Meanwhile, the press has yet to question why the U.S had exported to Iraq far more ominous biological agents and military technology, with Reagan’s and Bush’s approval. What did the press, let alone Bush and Reagan, expect those agents would be used for?

The U.S. used the existence of Iraqi nerve gas  —  weapons, let me repeat, that were shipped to Iraq by the U.S. and its allies, primarily Britain, France and Germany  —  as a basis for vilifying Iraq. This enabled the U.S. government to get away with atrocity after atrocity in a war more properly called the “Gulf Massacre.” Civilian casualties? No problem. They’re just “collateral damage.”

Most people assume that if any nerve gas had been used it would have had to have been Saddam’s doing. No corporate paper or tv newscast has yet dared suggest the possibility that it was the U.S., not Saddam, that used dangerous biological and chemical warfare agents in the Gulf.

That thought remains beyond the pale even today, despite the U.S.’s long history of biological and chemical warfare and experimentation.(13) Saddam, after all, was portrayed as the war criminal, “worse than Hitler,” not George Bush. The U.S. President, upholding democracy and peace, ordered use of thousands of tons of napalm, air fuel explosives, phosphorous bombs, cluster bombs, and uranium encased shells, raining holy terror upon Iraq in 1991. As though all of that’s not enough, President Clinton has signed a top secret directive authorizing first use of nuclear weapons against Iraq under certain circumstances. By March, 1998, two Los Angeles class submarines carrying nuclear warheads atop Tomahawk missiles had arrived in the Gulf.

Since the end of the Gulf war, the US has repeatedly bombed Iraq’s infrastructure. UN inspectors have combed the country, searching for any sign of biological and chemical weapons. Can anyone truly believe that, under such conditions, Iraq could manufacture and sneak out of the country and into the US mosquitoes filled with the encephalitic virus? And if they were to go through all that trouble, why the relatively mild West Nile-like virus, which has purportedly killed only 4 people in a city which normally has triple that number of deaths from encephalitis every year?

The reality is that the City, State and Federal administrations have seized upon a minor health situation in New York City to coordinate efforts and plot out a militarized response to it. The foxes of imperialism and world domination use every trick in the book to guard their multi trillion dollar oil and pharmaceutical henhouse.

End Part One


1. Richard Beuth, “More Details Released on Plutonium Tests,” Lower East Side Rose, Jan. 7, 1994.

2. For an in-depth discussion of the Tuskegee experiments, see James Jones, Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment (New York: The Free Press, 1981).

3. David Gilbert, “AIDS: Conspiracy or Unnatural Disaster? Tracking the Real Genocide.” Covert Action Quarterly, Fall, 1996.

4. See “Acid Dreams,” by Martin Lee and Bruce Shlain, for more on this scandal; also, Ken Lawrence, “Drugs, Psychiatry, and Mind Control in Canada,” in Covert Action, Summer 1987.

5. Covert Action, Summer, 1987, p.42.

6. As cited in Bob Lederer, “Chemical Biological Warfare, Medical Experiments, and Population Control,” Covert Action, Summer 1987, footnote 11.

7. ibid.

8. ibid.

9. ibid.

10. Committee to End the Marion Lockdown, 343 S. Dearborn, Suite 1607, Chicago, IL 60604.

11. Conn Hallinan, “Using CBW at Home and Abroad,” People’s Daily World, April 6, 1989. Cited in Covert Action, ibid.

12. “Ethnic Weapons,” Military Review (U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas), November 1970, pp. 5 11. Cited in Covert Action, ibid.

13. Piller and Yamamoto, op. cit., p. 24; and Andrew Weinschenk, “Army Gives a Boost to Exotic, Non Lethal Weapons,” Defense Week, October 19, 1992. Cited in Covert Action, ibid.

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