Editor’s note: This is Part 2 of a two-part report on the history of the deadly bacterium anthrax. Part 1 covers the experimentation and usage of anthrax up to and during World War II. This installment investigates the history of the United States government’s involvement with the bacterium since the end of the war.
Following the end of World War II, the United States made a determined decision – in response to the steady flow of Cold War intelligence asserting that the Russians were aggressively developing an offensive biological weapons program – to increase America’s biological warfare capacity rather than curtail it.
A declassified 1975 Pentagon report states that “to understand and evaluate” the decision that resulted in the “subsequent proliferation” of biological research in the U.S., “it is necessary to first examine the threat to the free world as it was perceived at that time.” Continues the report, “Of particular importance in this effort was the intensified struggle between the free world and communists and the generally accepted thesis that supremacy must be maintained in all matters which involved the communist bloc.”
In a number of sections, the Pentagon report cited a January 1945 top-secret Joint Intelligence Committee study that identified several Soviet biological research stations. Chief among these was Vozrozhdeniya Island in the Sea of Aral and Gorodomyla Island in Lake Seliger. Both locations were used extensively for anthrax weaponry development.
In the final months of World War II, the United States raced the Soviets to capture any and all documents pertaining to Nazi and Japanese biological research. This effort was preceded by what has been described as “a murderous intelligence operation” launched in 1943 to capture key German scientific personnel.
Formally dubbed the Alsos Mission, the operation was conceived by Dr. Vannevar Bush, director of the U.S. Office of Scientific Research and Development, Maj. Gen. George V. Strong, chief of Army intelligence, and Maj. Gen. Leslie R. Groves, head of the U.S. atomic project at Los Alamos. Lt. Col. Boris T. Pash was chosen by Groves to head the mission. Pash would go on to direct Program Branch 7, a top-secret Army assassination unit, and then become a member of the CIA’s ironically titled Health Alteration Committee, which vigorously explored assassination techniques using anthrax-tipped and other biological weapons.
The Alsos Mission at its start focused on finding Nazi nuclear scientists but was expanded near the war’s end to include the capture of Germany’s top biological researchers. Alsos agents were especially interested in finding Nazi anthrax expert and SS major general, Dr. Walter P. Schreiber (see Part 1 of this article), but in 1945 Soviet troops captured Schreiber first.
In 1948, Schreiber inexplicably turned up in West Berlin claiming that he had escaped. Remarkably, despite his being wanted for war crimes and strong suspicions that he was acting as a double agent for the Russians, Schreiber was hired to work with the U.S. Army’s Counter Intelligence Corps. Linda Hunt reveals in her book, “Secret Agenda,” that Schreiber was employed at Camp King, a large POW interrogation center in Oberusal, Germany.
In the first quarter of 1951, a team of three scientists from Fort Detrick, a military research facility in Frederick, Md., who were attached to the CIA-funded Special Operations Division traveled to Germany to interview Schreiber. The team, which included Dr. Frank R. Olson, then Special Operations Division branch chief for planning and intelligence activities, was charged with learning all that it could about a Nazi SS project that employed “psychochemical drugs” during concentration camp interrogation experiments.
Schreiber and SS Col. Wolfram Sievers, director of the Ahnenerbe’s Institute for Scientific Research, oversaw the project, which was conducted from 1942 to November 1943. Seivers was hung in 1948 after being tried at Nuremberg.
On Oct. 7, 1951, the New York Times reported that Schreiber was in Texas working for the U.S. Air Force. The article made no mention of Schreiber being a war criminal. Former Nuremberg prosecutors and several Jewish groups were outraged to learn of Schreiber’s presence in the U.S. and complained to the White House. Nothing happened, and in February 1952 the New York Times reported that pressure to take action against Schreiber was mounting due to his performing “medical experiments on unwilling concentration camp victims.”
After his employment contract with the Army and Air Force expired, the CIA blocked plans to send Schreiber back to Germany and in May 1952 helped arrange his relocation to Buenos Aires where he was employed as an expert on “disease and epidemics” by the Argentine government. Some former Fort Detrick researchers who declined to be identified maintained that Schreiber, on at least two occasions, lectured at the Frederick, Md., facility. Others maintain that Schreiber was relocated to Argentina so he could help facilitate the flow to the United States of other fugitive Nazi scientists hiding there.
In the Pacific
After the Allied victory over Japan, U.S. Army and intelligence agents also moved swiftly to capture Japan’s Unit 731 anthrax-bomb technology and other research. The initial job fell to Col. Murray Sanders, a Camp Detrick (its name during the war) bacteriologist. Earlier, Sanders had been part of Camp Detrick’s investigation team into the Japanese balloon incidents. Sanders had sounded the first alarm about the mysterious balloons flying over the U.S. possibly being armed with anthrax.
Decades later, in an interview, Sanders said, “Anthrax is a tough bug. It’s sturdy. It’s cheap to produce, and [the Japanese had] used it in China.” In a 1985 interview with the Miami Herald, Sanders revealed that he was “duped” by the Japanese during his nine-week investigation of Unit 731 and that had he known about torturous experiments on innocent human beings conducted by bacteriologist Dr. Shiro Ishii, “I would have been very happy to be part of the firing squad.”
Unable to interview Ishii because the scientist was in hiding in Japan’s mountains, Sanders spent two weeks in Japan questioning Dr. Ryoichi Naito, a high-ranking Unit 731 bacteriologist who oversaw many of Ishii’s horrific anthrax experiments. At the time, Sanders was unaware that in 1939, Naito had visited New York’s Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in an attempt to obtain samples of lethal viruses. Refused, Naito unsuccessfully attempted to bribe employees of the Institute only to be again turned away.
When Sanders arrived back at Camp Detrick he discovered that he had contracted a severe case of tuberculosis, and he was bedridden for months. He told his replacement on the investigation, Lt. Col. Arvo T. Thompson, executive assistant to Dr. Ira Baldwin and George Merck, that he “strongly suspected” that the Japanese had conducted extensive human experiments but had been unable to obtain any definitive evidence.
Thompson, along with friends and colleagues, Olson and John Schwab, had been among the very first recruits to Camp Detrick. All three men had been initially headquartered at Maryland’s Edgewood Arsenal while assisting Baldwin, Camp Detrick’s first research director, in finding a suitable location for the nation’s first biological warfare center. During the war, all three dealt extensively with the development of anthrax weapons. Schwab helped oversee the development of the Vigo anthrax plant in Indiana. Thompson directed anthrax experiments at Horn Island Testing Station in Pascagoula, Miss. Olson, during 1943 and 1944, oversaw aerobiology research concentrating intensively on anthrax.
Thompson, called “Tommy” by his friends, was given orders to aggressively follow up Sanders’ work with the central objective of keeping all that he learned away from the Russians.
In Japan, Thompson interviewed Ishii, who had been captured by the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps. He found Ishii to be “often evasive” but still managed to glean a great deal of information from the scientist. Thompson was ordered not to discuss his sessions with Ishii with anyone.
A top-secret U.S. Army Far East Command report on Thompson’s findings reads: “The value to the U.S. of Japanese biological weapons data is of such importance to national security as to far outweigh the value accruing from war-crimes prosecution.” A 1956 FBI memorandum reveals that by the mid-1950s the U.S. knew everything about Ishii’s human experiments but agreed not to prosecute in exchange for Japan’s scientific data on germ warfare.
In May 1951, scientists at Fort Detrick were shocked to learn that Thompson had “committed suicide” while on another special assignment in Tokyo. The circumstances surrounding Thompson’s death have never been publicly revealed. Two years later, Olson would also “commit suicide” under circumstances so unusual that eventually he became an icon of American mysteries. Not long before Thompson’s death, according to Sanders and other former Fort Detrick researchers, Ishii was secreted into the United States to lecture at Camp Detrick. Sanders, in an interview before his death in 1988, also claimed that Ryoichi Naito was brought to Camp Detrick to lecture American researchers on Unit 731’s human experiments.
Pertinent to note is that in 1996, Naito was caught up in a huge scandal in Japan that involved the shipment of HIV-infected blood to the United States. The same HIV-infected blood was sold to Japanese hemophiliacs. The company responsible for the shipments and sales of the tainted blood was Green Cross, a private blood bank founded in 1950 by Naito and two other Unit 731 researchers. Naito died in 1982 shortly after the Japanese media began referring to Green Cross as the “Vampire Blood Bank.”
Anthrax in Korea?
The use of biological weapons, including anthrax bombs, by the U.S. during the Korean War is a continuing subject of heated controversy – that biological weapons were designated a top priority by the Joint Chiefs of Staff is not. Biological warfare “offers fabulous opportunities” read one Pentagon report produced at the start of the Korean War.
In October 1950, the Air Force ordered 5,000 anthrax bombs from Fort Detrick. Other large orders soon followed, but reportedly the Air Force was concerned about the ramifications of their use. Read one declassified document written in 1950: “The Air Force could be fairly accurate in predicting what a biological warfare attack would do to a city full of monkeys, but what an attack would do to a city full of human beings remained the $64,000 question.”
By the time the call for an accelerated anthrax weapons program came from military leaders to Fort Detrick, debate over the use of the disease had ceased. In June 1944, Baldwin had been forced to resign over the issue.
Enlisted officers at the facility resented Baldwin, a civilian, from the start. Officers felt strongly that control of Fort Detrick should be totally in the hands of the Army. Gen. William N. Porter, head of the Army’s Chemical Corps, which oversaw Fort Detrick’s operations, kept Baldwin and much of his staff in the dark about all major anthrax decisions. Baldwin was told nothing about Britain’s order for 500,000 anthrax bombs or about the decisions that led to the creation of the Vigo production plant.
When the Vigo plant was near operational, Baldwin was told of its existence and ordered to oversee safety issues concerning its huge anthrax-producing tanks. Because of deep concerns about faulty engineering, Baldwin refused and subsequently resigned.
At the same hour trouble was brewing along Korea’s border, the Army was busy establishing a number of additional anthrax testing sites in the United States. Chief among these was the Pine Bluff Arsenal in Arkansas that featured a number of huge underground anthrax fermenters. In 1967, the commander of Pine Bluff informed investigative journalist Seymour M. Hersh that the facility could “produce 100 gallons of a [biological warfare] agent in two days.”
Dugway Proving Ground near Salt lake City, Utah, was used extensively by Fort Detrick researchers for anthrax testing. The 2,000 square mile site is notorious for a number of testing accidents that decimated nearby livestock herds. A declassified Army report reveals that anthrax was deployed at Dugway on well over 150 separate testing occasions between 1951 and 1960. Additional testing related to anthrax weapons during the Korean War was conducted at Fort Terry on Plum Island, N.Y., located off the coast of Long Island.
A declassified Department of Army report dated Feb. 24, 1977, contains a lengthy list of locations where “biological field testing of anti-personnel biological simulates involving the public domain” were held. Included on the list are San Francisco, Panama City, Florida, Washington, D.C., Hawaii and New York City. In 1953 and 1954, Fort Detrick scientists working with the CIA conducted secret tests with anthrax simulates in New York City’s subway system.
In December 1951, a Reuters’s news dispatch reported that the U.S. commander of troops in Korea, Gen. Matthew Ridgeway, secretly brought Ishii to Korea as a biological warfare consultant to the U.S. military. Subsequent news reports stated that Ishii made two trips to Korea as a consultant for the Army.
In early 1952, the North Korean and Chinese governments accused the U.S. of employing biological weapons. North Korea’s foreign affairs minister alleged that the U.S. had dropped hundreds of bombs filled with anthrax, plague and cholera on his country. The Pentagon scoffed at the notion and flatly denied any and all accusations.
To further bolster their charges against the U.S., the Chinese released the “confessions” of 25 captured American airmen. Along with the confessions, China also released a batch of photographs that they claimed were of “American germ bombs” dropped on North Korea.
The United States categorically denied the charges and maintained that the POW pilots and airman had been “brainwashed” into making any confessions. The U.S. demanded that the World Health Organization and the Red Cross be called to investigate the allegations, but the Chinese refused to officially recognize either organization as impartial.
Historians Stephen Endicott and Edward Hagerman write convincingly in their book, “The United States and Biological Warfare,” that the U.S. extensively experimented with and deployed biological weapons, including anthrax, during the Korean War. They offer “hard evidence” that the Pentagon lied to Congress and to the American public about wartime activities in Korea and paint a vivid portrait of the U.S. Army and Camp Detrick researchers methodically exploiting captured data on Japanese experiments.
Other biological warfare historians have sharply ridiculed the meticulous research of Endicott and Hagerman. Ed Regis wrote in a 1999 New York Times book review that the two historians advanced evidence “fabricated” by the North Koreans and Chinese.
Anthrax has also factored into the darker side of biological research known as “ethnic weapons.” Simply put, ethnic weapons – sometimes called “genetic weapons” – are those biological means developed to incapacitate and kill specific ethnic or racial groups.
A November 1970 U.S. Army Command Military Review article by Carl A. Larson, head of the Department of Human Genetics at Sweden’s Lund University, stated, “The immense laboratory of human natural variations provides many instances of sharp differences in the activities of well-defined enzymes.” Larson writes on to detail various enzyme deficiencies including the susceptibility of southeastern Asians “to a poison to which Caucasoids are largely adapted” and underscores that “Europeans, as well as Americans of African descent, have among their members about 50 percent slow [enzyme] inactivators.”
Concluded Larson, “Surrounded with clouds of secrecy, a systematic search for new incapacitating agents is going on in many laboratories. During the first half of , several laboratories reported factors engaged in passing over the genetic message from DNA, the primary command post, to RNA, which relays the chemical signal. The enzymatic process for RNA production has been known for some years, but now the factors have been revealed which regulate the initiation and specificity of enzyme production. Not only the factors have been found, but their inhibitors. …”
During Camp Detrick’s fledgling years, anthrax factored into ethnic weaponry when scientists there began questioning whether certain “geographical groups” better withstood anthrax attacks than others.
According to British science writer and former diplomat Wendy Barnaby, “The U.S. Navy thought of [ethnic weapons] as long ago as 1951 presumably on the basis of the observation that [African-Americans] are much more likely than whites to die from Valley Fever, a disease caught from a fungus endemic in California’s San Joaquin Valley.”
The future of anthrax
Without doubt, the post-9-11 anthrax attacks have left Americans deeply concerned about the future possibilities of bioterrorism conducted on American soil. Many people believe that the recent anthrax attacks marked the beginning of such activity in the U.S., but a cursory review of the history of “biocrimes” involving anthrax reveals a disturbing picture that has escaped serious public scrutiny.
A copiously researched working paper on bioterrorism produced by the Department of Defense last year reveals that in the past 10 years alone there have been a startling number of cases in the United States involving the threatened use of anthrax.
For example, in July 1997 a number of large U.S. cities, including Tampa, Atlanta, Dallas, Phoenix and Miami, received a fax that stated that their water supplies had been targeted for contamination with anthrax and botulinum toxin.
In March 1998, a canister marked “anthrax” was found inside a rented car in San Antonio, Texas. In October 1998, three abortion clinics in Louisville, Ky., received letters claiming to contain lethal amounts of anthrax.
In November 1998, a Wal-Mart store in Indiana received an anthrax letter threat. The store was evacuated. On Nov. 18, 1998, an office worker at Ocean Drive, a Miami-based magazine, opened a letter that contained an anthrax threat and a white powder. Workers in the office were treated with ciprofloxacin on the recommendations of the FBI and Army officials.
Also in November 1998, a high school in Virginia Beach, Va., received a telephone threat that the school contained an anthrax bomb. The caller said, “People will die. That is all.”
A mail sorter in Pembroke Pines, Fla., on Nov. 21, 1998, found an envelope that had the words, “Congratulations, you have been exposed to anthrax,” written on an outside flap. The following month, postal workers in Coppell, Texas, found similar messages on envelopes.
In February 1999, the Los Angeles Times received a letter that claimed to contain anthrax. The same month the U.S. State Department received a letter that claimed to hold anthrax. In February 1999, according to Capitol Hill police, “several congressional offices” received threats in letters that claimed to contain anthrax and other lethal biological agents.
The list goes on and on, numbering well over 100 incidents in the past three years, occurring in virtually every part of the country. Readers of the list can’t help but wonder what nexus, if any, these incidents had to events following the World Trade Center attacks.
Another strange and recent incident involving anthrax occurred in March 2000 in Irvine, Calif. Anthrax containers were found buried in the yard of Dr. Larry C. Ford, a biomedical researcher who specialized in infectious diseases. According to Ford’s lawyer, the doctor worked for the CIA for nearly 20 years.
Ford committed suicide after his business partner, James Patrick Riley, chief of Biofem, Inc. was shot and wounded by a masked gunman. After Ford killed himself, a number of newspapers alleged that he and Riley had corporate ties with biological warfare development in apartheid-era South Africa and with Israel. Ford was also linked to Dr. Neil Knobel, former chief medical officer for the South African Defense Forces. During the apartheid-era, Knobel oversaw South Africa’s notorious Project Coast, a covert biological program directed by Dr. Wouter Basson, nicknamed “Dr. Death.” South African newspapers have claimed that Basson considered employing everything from anthrax to AIDS against black militants during the struggle against apartheid.
Ironically, only one week before the World Trade Center attacks, the New York Times published an article that stated, “Over the past several years, the United States has embarked on a program of secret research on biological weapons that, some officials say, tests the limits on the  global treaty barring such weapons.” Written by Judith Miller, Stephen Engelberg and William Broad, the article told of a secret CIA project, code-named Clear Vision, that since 1996 built and tested several model anthrax bombs that were replicated on “a Soviet-designed germ bomb that agency officials feared was being sold on the international market.”
The CIA project grew out of concerns that Russian scientists “had implanted genes from Bacillus cereus, an organism that causes food poisoning, into the anthrax microbe.”
Recently, according to Dr. Meryl Nass, an expert on anthrax, the strain of anthrax used in this fall’s mail attacks was identified as coming from a U.S. Department of Agriculture laboratory in Ames, Iowa, “where it was originally isolated in 1950.” Nass, in an exclusive interview with WorldNetDaily, said that the strain “has been out there for decades and shared with many other labs.”
According to Nass and other anthrax experts, the Ames strain has been shared with the British biological warfare center at Porton Down, Fort Detrick and several colleges and universities. He stated that researchers favored the Ames strain because it “was long known as the most virulent strain against which vaccines were tested.”
Oddly, following the October revelations that the Ames strain was the original source of the post-9-11 attacks, officials at Iowa State University destroyed all Ames specimens “by baking them in an autoclave,” a special oven used to sterilize surgical instruments. Iowa State officials reported that they had received permission from the CDC and FBI to destroy the anthrax.
H.P. Albarelli Jr. is an investigative journalist who lives in Florida. His articles on the mysterious death of Frank Olson and West Nile virus also appear on WorldNetDaily.