In recent weeks, Iraq is again in the limelight. It is accused of developing biological weapons but these were first developed by the west and have become a full-fledged technology of war.
Small pox was used as a biological weapon against native Indians in America. After an outbreak of the disease, handkerchiefs and blankets used by small pox patients were donated as ‘goodwill gesture’ to local Indians. Thousands perished in the ensuing epidemic. Germany planned an ambitious biological warfare programme during the first world war. Conducting covert operations with neutral trading partners to infect livestock, it contaminated animal feed for export to allied forces. Bacillus anthracis and Burkholderia mallis, the etiologic agents of anthrax and glanders, were used to infect Romanian sheep for export to Russia.
The US began an offensive biological programme in 1942 under the guise of a civilian agency: the war reserve service. Experiments were conducted using pathogens including B. anthracis and B. SUis. About 5000 bombs filled with B. anthracis spores were produced for use in the second world war. The US programme was boosted by Japanese scientists who had participated in the notorious ‘Unit 731 programme’ in return for immunity from prosecution for war crimes against Chinese civilians. Unit 731, a biological warfare research facility, was involved in experiments with biological agents e.g. prisoners were infected with B anthracis, N meningitides, shegella spp, V cholera and yersinia pestis.
At least 10,000 prisoners died as a result of such experiments, or more accurately, scientific executions during the ‘Japanese programme’ from 1932 to 1945. At least 11 Chinese cities were attacked with biological agents. Attacks featured contaminated water supplies and food items with pure cultures of bactaria. Cultures were also tossed directly into homes and sprayed from aircraft. Plague was allegedly developed as a biological weapon by allowing laboratory-bred fleas to feed on plague-infected rats. These potentially infected fleas were then harvested and released from aircraft over Chinese cities. As many as 15 million fleas were released per attack to initiate the plague epidemic.
The US biological weapons programme expanded during the Korean war (1950-1953). Technical advances allowed large scale fermentation concentration storage and weaponization of micro-organism products was launched in 1954. Animal studies were performed and later human experimentation done on military and civilian volunteers.
Behaviours of aerosols over large geographic areas and the effect of solar irradiation and climatic condition on the viability of aerosolized organism was studied by surreptitiously using black neighbourhoods in cities such as New York and San Francisco between 1949 and 1968.
By the late 1960s, the US military had developed a biological arsenal that included numerous bacterial pathogens, toxins, fungal plant pathogens that can be introduced to induce crop failures and famines (viz rice blast, rye stem rust and wheat stem rust). In addition, weapons for covert use using cobra venom saxiton and other toxins were developed for use by the CIA; all records regarding their development were destroyed in 1972.
The US has used biological weapons since then against helpless, unarmed civilians e.g. the Inuits in Canada’s north, causing a plague epidemic, and an attack on Colombian and Bolivian peasants. The US was also suspected of planning to initiate an epidemic of cholera in southeast China and of covert release of dengue organisms in Cuba. To deflect attention from its own misdeeds, the US alleged that Soviet forces and their proxies were using potent DNA and protein inhibitors in Laos, Kumpuchea and Afghanistan. No proof of any of these allegations has been found.
After achieving supremacy in biological weapons, the US with British and UN help, initiated moves in 1969 to ban development and stockpiling of biological weapons to prevent others from acquiring them. The treaty was ratified by most countries in 1972 and went into effect in March 1979. There were more than 100 signitory States including Iraq and the US - a permanent member of the UN security council. The US claimed to have destroyed its stock of biological weapons in February 1973 but this was never witnessed by UN or non-American authorities.
Washington claimed it destroyed lethal agents of B anthracis, botulism toxin, fraciella tularensis, incapacitating agents like brucella susis coxiella burnetti, staphylococcal enterotoxin B, venezuelan equine, encephalitis virus and anticrop agents like rice blast stem rust and wheat stem rust.
The US and its allies had strategic interests in banning biological weapons: to prevent the proliferation of these relatively low cost weapons of mass destruction. By outlawing biological weapons, the non-nuclear States would find the expense of nuclear weapons prohibitive. After claiming to have ended its offensive biological programme, the US army medical research institute of infectious diseases (USAMRIID) was established to continue the development of ‘medical defense of US military against potential biological attack.’
The military nature of this so-called defensive programme can be judged by the fact that the director of this programme is an active duty military officer and is called commander. There are many research laboratories all over the US where American scientists are involved in research to make available germs and pathogens resistant to antibiotics. They are also developing newer breed by genetic engineering techniques and collecting germs and viruses from all parts of the world where such germs or viruses cross from animals to humans such as the Ebola virus.
Whenever there is an outbreak of a virus that kills in the epidemic form, American physicians are the first to respond under the guise of providing medical help but actually collect the deadly pathogen and bring to the US to make it more virulent. Biological war goes on against non-complying States. Cuba has accused the US on numerous occasions of killing its livestock by spraying virus from the air. At a meeting of 38 countries that signed the 1972 biological and toxin weapons convention, Cuba charged the US State department plane of spewing the insect ‘Thrips Palmi’ over its territory. This tiny insect strikes and damages practically every crop. The US denied the charged and simply walked away.
Similarly, countries are forced into destructive financial contracts by hurting their produce. In Pakistan’s case, a good cotton crop was destroyed by virus. Islamabad was, therefore, forced to sign an economically destructive deal with the IMF accepting humiliating conditions. Do we still wonder who sprayed the cotton crop with this deadly virus?
How biological weapons are used against smaller States to force them into economic submission needs a thorough analysis but superficially USAMRIID says that ‘it focuses on the development of counter measures including detection capabilities, personal protective equipment, vaccines diagnostic and therapies to protect US military members.’ It is naive to accept all this at face value.
Muslimedia: January 16-31, 1998