The House of Representatives passed an amendment in the National Defense Authorization Act 2020 on July 21, 2019 which directs the pentagon inspector general to investigate whether U.S used or experimented with weaponized ticks.
The lawmakers stipulated that a formal investigation should be carried out to confirm or deny whether the pentagon researchers attempted to implant ticks or other insects with diseases such as Lyme disease.
The amendment was offered by Chris smith, a New Jersey Republican in order to learn and disclose the involvement of the Department of Defense in use of weaponized ticks as a biological weapon between the years 1950 and 1975.
The New Jersey republican is the co-chairperson of the House Lyme Disease Caucus and has been actively working to raise awareness about Lyme diseases and preventing it. Smith said that he was inspired by various books and articles which claim that a significant research on turning ticks and other insects into biological weapons had been done by U.S government facilities including Fort Detrick, Maryland and Plum Island, New York.
This amendment made in the National Defense Authorization Act 2020 tasks the inspector general of the Department of Defense to launch an investigation which will answer various questions related to the use of biological warfare agents, particularly weaponized ticks and other insects.
The purpose of the investigation will also be to determine the parameters of the program, who ordered it, was the program carried out, were the infected ticks released accidentally anywhere or at any time, were any diseased ticks released intentionally, did it increase the disease burden.
The investigation will also address an old speculation that the U.S government accidentally released weaponized ticks during an experiment and the infected ticks are the cause of spreading Lyme disease. The east coast of the U.S is the most affected region where more than 300,000 people are infected with the disease every year as reported by the CDC.
Lyme disease is a disease which spreads by tick bites and causes infection. The symptoms of Lyme disease usually occur near the tick bite and include red skin patches, fever, chills, rashes, fatigue and muscle and joint aches .It is treatable but can advance and affect the heart, nervous system and joints if not treated.
Biological warfare uses biological agents and toxins like bacteria and viruses to infect, kill or incapacitate humans, plants and animals as a war tactic.
Entomological warfare is the term used for biological warfare which uses insects as a biological weapon to damage crops, agricultural land, or directly harm human populations by spreading diseases. The amendment focuses on investigating the department of defense’s involvement in entomological warfare.
History of Using Biological Weapons
The rationale for such an amendment is not completely out of question. Many countries including U.S have researched and tested biological weapons to potentially use them against their enemies. Some countries have even used them to wipe out nations and slash down their enemy’s population in the past. However, using biological weapons is a serious war crime and is prohibited under customary international humanitarian law and in various international treaties.
Using undeveloped forms of biological agents against enemies have been documented to be used in the 1200-1500 BC. The victims of tularemia (which is known as rabbit fever) were taken to enemy lands spreading the infection, causing an epidemic. An early 7th century Assyrian tablet mentions of ergot spread by a poisonous pustule in the rye grain. In 1346, bodies of Mongol warrior who died of plague were thrown in the city of Kaffa.
Countries Who Used Biological Weapons
The British army commanders weaponized small pox in the French and Indian war in 1763 during the Siege of Fort Pitt. The commanders of the British army freely planned and used small pox to kill Native Americans, reduce their population and acquire their lands. In 1763 and 1764, smallpox outbreaks were documented in the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes area.
The use of smallpox was a strategic and tactical move from the British commanders against the French and Native Americans. The disease made their armies weak and they lost a lot of soldiers because of it. Smallpox was spread by gifting two blankets and a scarf which were taken from a smallpox hospital to French and Native American leaders.
Another theory which suggests the use of smallpox as a biological weapon by British marines in New South Wales in the year 1789. It is said to be intentionally introduced among the population.
With the onset of World War II, the United Kingdom created a biological weapons program with a microbiologist as its head. Winston Churchill authorized the research for weaponized biological agents. As a result, various bio toxins were effectively weaponized and could have been used in the war. Although, UK established the means to produce noxious pathogens industrially but never used them offensively.
In 1900’s, bacteriology advanced and new techniques related to the development of biological agents were introduced. The German government used those bio agents during the World War I to gain advantage against Russia.
In 1925, the Geneva protocol placed a ban on the use of biological and chemical weapons. 108 countries signed the protocol which prohibited the use of chemical weapons as well.
Japan during World War II, carried out human experiments in a secret facility in Manchuria built for biological warfare. Japan army forces exposed and infected more than 3000 prisoners to study and observe its effects. They led a detailed program where they developed diseases, infected humans, executed them and then autopsied them to gather further insight on the effects of the disease on human body. Many people also died because of the infections.
Japan used bio weapons on a large scale against China. The Chinese population was exposed to plague infected fleas covered with cholera. Japanese army released diseased flies through air planes and dropped bombs containing fleas and the disease. Nearly 450,000 to 500,000 Chinese died as a result of the epidemic.
United States started testing and researching biological weapons during the World War I. Ricin was one of the potential bio weapon U.S tested for during the initial stages of the research but never offensively used it.
After World War I U.S started extensive research on entomological warfare and carried out studies and researches in government facilities. In 1942, United States successfully produced pathogens like anthrax and brucellosis and stocked them to use them against German forces if they attacked with biological agents. They created facilities like Fort Detrick in Maryland where research and development programs for biological weapons were experimented.
The facilities were also used for mass production of pathogens which could be used as a bio weapon. In 1993, decades after one of the facilities in Plum Island shut down its research, news surfaced that the prime focus of the facility was to research the use of biological weapons to disrupt the soviet economy by spreading infection among cattle and livestock.
Russia also researched the use of biological weapons. In 1979, anthrax was accidentally released from Russia’s weapon facility which infected and killed approximately 66 people. Russia initially denied all these claims but in 1992 the Russian President admitted that the deaths were due to the exposure of biological weapon.
During World War I France also researched and studied entomological warfare programs. In 1939, biological warfare experts suggested to use Colorado potato beetle to infect and destroy German crops. The same weapon was also suggested later on to infect the enemy’s food sources.
Although the use of biological weapons is prohibited, about 17 countries are suspected to possess biological weapons. Canada, China, Cuba, France, Germany, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Russia, North Korea, South Africa, Syria, UK, US, Libya and Taiwan all of these countries have biological weapons at their disposal.