The US and the Threat of Bio-Terrorism

On 22nd January 1999, the New York Times reported President Bill Clinton as having said that what kept him awake at night was a fear of biological warfare. In light of the recent deaths from anthrax in the US and the consequent panic this has created from coast to coast, it is fair to say that many millions now share this fear. Postal workers now go about their everyday work wearing masks and gloves and there is widespread caution about opening even the most harmless–looking envelopes and packages. Meanwhile the US security services are working around the clock in an attempt to find out who is behind this new wave of bio-terrorism. Whilst many Republican hawks have already pointed the finger of blame at Iraq, the more cautious are suggesting this could be the work of home-grown right-wing fanatics. Military analysts and all manner of White House advisers have hurriedly placed the issue of the threat of bio-terrorism at the top of their agendas, others have drawn up nightmare scenarios, invoking images of mass outbreaks of plague and other deadly diseases.

What is forgotten amongst all of the current hysteria is a related concern which we reported a few months ago. Namely, how on July 25th of this year, the US scuppered a decade of international negotiations by announcing, in Geneva, its intention not to back a draft protocol to reinforce the biological weapons and toxin convention which was initially signed in 1972. The reason for this decision was that it threatened US commercial interests. The protocol would have incorporated verification measures which would have given an international inspectorate admittance to laboratories in the signatory countries. We wonder just what the US is afraid the inspectorate would uncover at its thousands of biotech sites and defence plants. Just what are its commercial interests and secrets that it could even consider scuttling a treaty drawn up in the interests of humanity? And was it not the US who was so vociferous in calling for a UN inspectorate to rummage about in Iraq for months?

What few Americans realise, or care not to know, is their own government’s complicity in the use of chemical and biological agents – not just against ‘enemies’ but on its own people. For instance, in 1952, the US dropped an average 70,000 gallons of napalm per day on Korea. In 1980, it was revealed between 1967-9, the US sprayed Agent Orange over 23,607 acres of the southern boundary of the demilitarised zone in North Korea. For almost ten years the US sprayed tens of thousands of tonnes of poisons over 3 million acres of South Vietnam, inclusive of 500 lbs of dioxin (3 ounces of this in the water supply is estimated to be able to wipe out New York City) and US forces in September 1970, acting under ‘Operation Tailwind’ used aerosolised sarin gas to prepare their attack upon a Laotian village. Moreover, the Los Angeles Times reported on June 18th 1990: “US military institutions have polluted the drinking water of the Pacific island of Guam, pored tonnes of toxic chemicals into Subic Bay in the Philippines, leaked carcinogens into the water source of a German spa, spewed tonnes of sulphurous coal smoke into the skies of central Europe and pumped millions of gallons of raw sewage into the oceans.”

At the end of World War 2, the judges at Nuremberg, who had scrutinized reports on the nazi medical trials, formulated a set of principles which became known as The Nuremberg Code. Its first tenet stipulates: “The voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential.” It would seem that this is a tenet the US has since forgotten. For 20 years the CIA and the Defence Department conducted tests that exposed millions of Americans to all manner of bacteria and chemical particles, without once informing the potentially affected.

The US Army has since admitted that in the 30 years following the close of the Nuremberg trials 239 populated areas across the USA were blanketed with various organisms during tests to gauge dissemination patterns, weather effects and dosages.

In one week in September 1950, in six simulated biological attacks, the US Army sailed a ship down the San Francisco Bay spraying Bacillus globigii and Serratia marcescens inland, at one point these chemicals forming a two-mile long cloud. Within days, San Francisco’s Stanford University Hospital reported its first cases of Serratia marcescens, the first ever instances at the hospital.

In 1953, there were 61 releases of Zinc cadmium sulphide in four sections of the city of Minneapolis, in spite of the known effects of this chemical: lung damage, kidney inflammation, liver degeneration. That same year, the were 35 releases of Zinc cadmium sulphide in St Louis and throughout the Washington DC area. In 1955, the CIA carried out open air whooping cough experiments around the Tampa Bay area of Florida, and in 4 days in February 1956, this same unaccountable organisation sprayed New York streets and the Holland and Lincoln tunnels.

In the 60’s the US army released bacteria at Washington’s National Airport to study the effects of a smallpox attack, a similar test being carried out at Washington’s Greyhound bus terminal, and open-air Zinc cadmium sulphide tests were again carried out – 115 of them – in Cambridge, Maryland in 1969.

The true scale and extent of similar experiments on the US public will perhaps never be fully known. Neither has fresh evidence come to light about more recent tests. Interestingly, though, in 1999 the government planned to release a strain of bacteria into the atmosphere from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico to test experimental bio-warfare detectors. The public outcry when this was revealed was such that the plan was immediately dropped.

On numerous occasions the US has voted alone against proposed negotiations on chemical and bacteriological weapons at the UN. It has moved to nullify the 1972 biological weapons and toxins convention and has never hesitated to use chemical and bacteriological agents on humans, friend or foe. Whilst we appreciate the anxiety of workers throughout the USA as they face who knows what future threats from bio-terrorists, we remain scornful of the US government and its corporate backers who, all to ready to scramble for the moral high ground in times of national security, are ever keen their own citizens suffer massive bouts of amnesia at such times and forget, and indeed disbelieve, that their protectors would just as soon poison them if they thought that in doing so a profit could be made.

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