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Biological Warfare in Korea: A Review of the Literature

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Langer attributes this fact to the Army Chemical Corps's public relations problem, "even within the Pentagon." Private corporate suppliers she indentifies are, "Dow, Diamond Alkali, Uniroyal, Thompson Chemical, Hercules, Monsanto, Ansul, and Thomas Hardy, and about another dozen companies all sell chemicals, including various tear gases to the Government." Langer relates a utility company response from downwind protesters in Utah:

We are an electric utility company and our contract with the federal government covers the supplying of electrical services for the Dugway Proving Ground"""what the power is used for is beyond our knowledge. 3535 Ibid., p. 125, Langer quotes, E.A. Hunter, Vice-President of Utah Power and Light Company. View all notes

She notes similar responses had been made at this time by the Johns Hopkins Institute and the Dow Chemical Company, both disavowing any responsibility for the application the US government made of their products. 3636 Ibid., p. 125, Langer quotes H. Ridgely Warfield, director of Johns Hopkins Institute for Cooperative Research, and she quotes at great length Melvin Calvin, Nobel-prize winning professor of the University of California, Berkeley, member of the Board of Directors, Dow Chemical Co., manufacturer of napalm. View all notes Langer personally claims she doesn't share collegial beliefs such as "CBW is less moral than other means of war," or that "it is a less unpleasant way to die," or that "man is capable of 'civilized warfare'," but her conclusion is a bit stark for humankind "CBW is only a battle, it is not the war."

In spite of voices of reason the mood of the London Conference on CBW seems to have been carried by its proponents. The paper by I. Màlik on biological weapons reveals this eagerness:

The most powerful argument in favor of the use of microbiological techniques of warfare aimed at population destruction is the relatively great variety of possible agents, often with completely different routes of infection, ways of spreading, incubation periods, and very limited possibilities of prevention, defense and cure. 3737 I. Màlic, "Biological Weapons," Chemical and Biological Warfare, London Conference on CBW, Steven Rose, ed., George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd, 1968, p. 50. View all notes

What Màlik celebrates is nature's cornucopia of deadly pathogens, and just how much fascinating "dark" bio-chemical discovery had been going on in secrecy at Porton Down and Ft. Detrick. The war and post-war decade were salad bowl times for bio-weaponers. The list of accomplishments in the craft of depopulation with weaponized disease and mass produced insect vectors was long and terrifying. It was precisely this cornucopia of death and mayhem which was reported in the ISC report. The Korean War had been the experimental proving ground for this new biological and entomological war (EW) industry. But just how effective had it been?3838 The effectiveness of the US BW claim is still debated. During the war, BW casualty figures were considered top secret war information by PVA and KPA command to prevent the US from appraising the effectiveness of the BW campaign. The casualty and mortality numbers have not been released by China and North Korea. View all notes

That question greatly influenced Richard Nixon when he first proposed, then signed an executive order on November 25, 1969 terminating all production of biological weapons in the US. 3939 Nixon's 1969 statement renouncing all future biological weapons development in the US is quoted in: John Ellis van Courtland Moon, "The US Biological Weapons Program", Mark Wheelis, Lajos Rózsa, and Malcolm Dando, eds., Deadly Cultures: Biological Weapons since 1945, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2006, p. 35. View all notes Nixon's order further called for the destruction of all US BW stockpiles, though the CIA managed to hide its deadly snake venom supply. 4040 Ed Regis provides an inventory of 10 BW pathogens and 6 deadly toxins kept in storage vaults for the CIA's private stock just prior to the 1972 Convention on BW. Ed Regis, Biology of Doom: the History of Americas Secret Germ Warfare Project, Henry Holt and Co. New York, 1999, pp. 211216. View all notes Nixon was the first "modern vice-president" under Dwight Eisenhower, who brought Nixon into the Cabinet and National Security Council, and delegated important tasks to him. Eisenhower sent Nixon on a 1953 tour to Japan, Korea, and Viet Nam. Nixon was likely apprised at that time of the inconclusive results of the US BW campaign in Korea. 4141 Following the initial in-retreat BW attack with infected chicken feathers of NovDec. 1951, both the PVA and the KPA tightly controlled BW casualty data, thus limiting the US capability to assess the effectiveness of its germ war campaign. General Sams' mission to kidnap a sick KPA soldier from a North Korean field hospital near Wonson harbor was an attempt to garner needed casualty data. While Sams' mission was lauded as heroic by the Army, it was in fact incredibly foolhardy for such a senior BW operative as Sams (who was a doctor, not a combat soldier) to put himself at risk of capture. Sams and his plague ship were quickly dispatched south to Koje Island, and a professional behind-enemy-lines reconnaissance officer was brought in. Major John K. Singlaub, later of Iran Contra notoriety, was assigned "By Direction of the President" to the task of "CIA deputy station chief in Korea with the mission of deploying military intelligence, espionage, and resistance agents in North Korea." Singlaub states he was never able to establish the information gathering networks in North Korea to the extent he had in occupied France. John K. Singlaub, with Malcolm McConnell, Hazardous Duty: An American Soldier in the Twentieth Century, Summit Books, New York 1991, pp. 181184. View all notes

By 1969, Nixon was president and he and Henry Kissinger had secretly expanded the unpopular Viet Nam War into Laos and Cambodia. The US was using both CW (napalm) and CW herbicide (Agent Orange) as operational weapons in that war. Nixon needed a political smokescreen to deflect the criminal conduct of the US government and the massive anti-war protest movement. On the campaign trail for his second presidential term, Nixon signed the 1972 International Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention. 4242 The 1972 Convention on the Prohibition and Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons, and on their Destruction, consists of fifteen articles and was signed by 79 nations. View all notes This action was not totally hypocritical as the 1972 protocol banned "development, production, and the stockpiling of microbes or their poisonous products except in amounts necessary for protective and peaceful research." Even with this barn door loophole, the regulations were far more stringent than the previous constraints of the 1925 Geneva Convention. The US stockpiles were destroyed, and US BW production was largely decommissioned. The global future of BW disarmament looked promising until the deadly 1979 Soviet anthrax spill at Sverdlovsk. Subsequently, it was discovered the Soviets had immediately cheated on the treaty by secretly ramping up a massive BW industry called Biopreparat which employed 25,000 people at eighteen research centers and six bacterial production plants across the country. 4343 Ed Regis, op. cit., p. 219. View all notes

The third book to appear in 1968 was Seymour Hersh's Chemical and Biological Weapons: America's Hidden Arsenal. 4444 Seymour M. Hersh, Chemical And Biological Weapons: America's Hidden Arsenal, Bobbs-Merrill, Indianapolis, 1968. View all notes Hersh's discussion of Korean War BW is deeper, relying largely on Clarke, the ISC report, and the 1949 Khabarovsk Trial transcripts. From the Soviet court record, Hersh quotes trial testimony and confessions of the 12 accused Japanese officers which reveal the gruesome and brutal live experiments on Chinese, Russian, and American prisoners performed by the Japanese Kwangtung Army medical personnel at Unit 731. The findings of the Khabarovsk trial were reported in some US newspapers, but downplayed as a show trial for communist propaganda. Hersh's revelations a decade later were muckraking research which also never became headline news. He reported the ISC's observation of the similarities of the Japanese entomological weapon attacks in China in 1942 with the US EW attacks of 1952. However, Hersh never learned of Shiro Ishii, and the Unit 731 amnesty deal Gen. MacArthur guaranteed, and so his investigation ended there. Hersh concluded that the lack of sustained international traction for the Chinese and North Korean allegations made them not supportable.

Hersh bolstered this conclusion with another lead from the Powell sedition case. He followed defense attorney A.L. Wirin's eight-week evidentiary trek to China where Wirin took depositions, and reviewed the Chinese evidence. Wirin returned to San Francisco via England where he met with Joseph Needham. Hersh quotes Wirin as expressing doubts in an interview with a reporter several years later in life regarding the Chinese allegations. However, Wirin had been the star defense attorney in this high stakes show trial. A month before the trial was scheduled to begin, Wirin suffered a debilitating heart attack . Judge Goodman denied a defense motion to delay the trial for three months to allow Wirin to recover. Charles Garry was quickly hired to replace Wirin. A disappointed Wirin had to sit out the trial he had put three years and a trip to Asia preparing for. 4545 The Defense Dept. argued for dropping charges so its secret BW activities would not be revealed. The State Dept. was determined to prosecute this "renegade American", and the Justice Dept was caught in the middle. The compromise by the State Dept. was to instruct the Passport office to provide A.L. Wirin with an unrestricted passport to travel to China to collect depositions. See: O'Brien, op.cit., pp. 274279. View all notes

The mistrial was a strategic break for my parents, but Bill Powell earned it the hard way. In 1977, he retired to research and writing. Using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), he was able to amass thousands of pages of archival documents from the Army Chemical Corp., Ft. Detrick, the National Archives, and other government sources. In 1980, he published an article in the obscure Journal of Concerned Asian Scholars detailing the horrific human experimentation and mass murder which had taken place at the Ping Fan BW factory. 4646 John W. Powell, "Japan's Germ Warfare: Cover-up of a War Crime", Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, Vol. 12, No. 4, OctDec. 1980, pp. 217. View all notes More importantly, he expanded the revelation by naming Shiro Ishii as Axis Japan's Dr. Mengele, and exposing the amnesty for collaboration deal between Unit 731 and the US, which MacArthur had privately guaranteed. To acquire the Japanese BW research which was far advanced over the Soviets and the US, MacArthur had shielded the Japanese doctors from war crimes prosecution, and quietly inserted them back into important medical roles in the post-war occupation. 4747 Barenblatt lists many Unit 731 alumni who went on to prestigious careers. Daniel Barenblatt, A Plague upon Humanity: The Secret Genocide of Axis Japan's Germ Warfare Operation, Harper Collins, New York, 2004, pp. 232235. View all notes

The article came to the attention of the editors of the prestigious Bulletin of Atomic Scientists who invited Powell to produce an abridged version for their journal. 4848 John W. Powell, "Japan's Biological Weapons, 1930-1945", Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, October 1981, pp. 4353. View all notes This 1981 article caused an immediate uproar; it became a major expose', a news feeding-frenzy as happens when there is ample dirt and skeletons. Bill Powell was interviewed for People Magazine, 60 Minutes, and 20/20, as well as Japanese and South Korean TV. His likeness was plastered on subway posters in Japan advertising Seiichi Morimura's Unit 731 expose' novel, The Devil's Gluttony, and he was invited to speak at conferences in China, Japan, and the US.

Exposing the war atrocities of Unit 731 and the US complicity in the war crimes cover-up was sweet vindication. Powell was happy to grant interviews and share research documents when a new generation of researchers came calling. He had uncovered many incriminating documents, he could demonstrate that the US had the capability and certainly the motive to wage BW during the Korean War, but he had not been able to uncover the document trail which established unequivocally that the US had dropped germ bombs on Korea and China. Still, he felt reconciled, and he was ready to pass the baton to the professional historians.

Revelation and censorship

The 1980's brought new titles and new forms of information suppression. Robert Harris and Jeremy Paxton, a pair of British authors, produced the 1982 volume, A Higher Form of Killing. 4949 Robert Harris and Jeremy Paxton, A Higher Form of Killing: The Secret History of Chemical and Biological Warfare, Hill & Wang, London, 1982. View all notes Their focus was primarily on the British BW program centered at Porton Down. They raised the interesting topic of the British government's 1943 placement of an order for 500,000 Porton Type F 4-pound anthrax bomblets with Ft. Detrick to "de-populate" Germany should it become necessary. 5050 Ibid., pp. 103104. View all notes In May 1944, the initial batch of 5,000 bomblets came off the Ft. Detrick assembly line. 5151 Ibid., p. 104. View all notes Detrick farmed out the rest of the run to a new satellite production facility at Vigo, Indiana, and sent staff to run it.

Industrial scale production of pathogens brought new technical challenges and safety concerns which caused delays. The new plant was not ready to begin production until August of 1945, by which time the war had ended. 5252 Ed Regis, op. cit., pp. 7879. View all notes Subsequently, the anthrax production order was cancelled and the Vigo factory decommissioned. However, the importance of this revelation is that it disproves a claim often made by deniers that the US military did not have the "operational capacity" to wage BW until 1953, a full year after the North Korean and Chinese allegations. 5353 This disingenuous claim has been made by both Milton Leitenberg and John Ellis van Courtland Moon. "Operational capacity" means that a weapon system is fully developed and integrated with other weapons and personnel into battlefield tactics, and can be used regularly and repeatedly. This is very different than using a weapon on an experimental or trial basis in combat which is how US BW appears to have been used in Korea. View all notes Clearly this claim for US BW impotency was false.

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Tom is a founding member of the Bioweapon Truth Commission (BWTC). You should access its Global Online Library (GOL) to learn more about how Western empire conducts "business" at home and abroad ( (more...)
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Biological Warfare in Korea: A Review of the Literature