Twelve Newly Released Soviet-era `Documents'
and allegations of U. S. germ warfare during the Korean
by Stephen Endicott and Edward Hagerman
Department of History, Atkinson College, York University
In 1998 a Japanese journalist
from the Tokyo newspaper, Sankei Shimbun, found or was given eleven
documents of 1953 and one of 1952 from the Presidential Archives in Moscow
which he claimed showed that the Chinese and North Korean charges that
the United States used biological weapons in the Korean War were fabricated
Factional Struggle for Power
The documents mainly
deal with a factional struggle for power in the higher levels of the Communist
Party of the Soviet Union in the months immediately after Stalin died in
It is our contention that
these documents, even if they turn out to be genuine, are by themselves
inadequate for showing the charges fraudulent. It is necessary to
know as well both what was going on in the USSR at the time and subsequent
events that throw light on the subject.
The documents are
not the kind of evidence upon which scholarly research is usually based.
In this case the original source is not disclosed, the name of the collection
is not identified, nor is there a volume number which would allow other
scholars to locate and check the documents. They are not photocopies,
but only hand-written copies or notes purportedly taken from the originals.
(When these issues are clarified it may be time to remove the quotation
marks surrounding these 'documents.') Further questions about motives
in transferring documents are raised because they were obtained from an
unidentified source and given to a journalist for a right-wing Japanese
newspaper. Nevertheless, as translated into English by Kathryn Weathersby
of the Cold War International History Project of the Woodrow Wilson Center
in Washington, and published by Milton Leitenberg in The Korean War Biological
Warfare Allegations Resolved,(40 pg. pamphlet, Stockholm, May 1998), they
have become fodder for sensationalist journalistic articles as well
as the subject of analysis and interpretation by Western historians.
portrayed here involves members of two separate government ministries
concerned with state security, both of whom had sent agents to North Korea,
as well as members of the presidium of the Communist Party.
Lavrenti Beria, deputy chairman of the Council of Ministers at
that time and the person in charge of security police affairs for the Communist
Party, was one of the main aspirants to Stalin's mantle. Alleging
a cover-up and falsification of reporting about U. S. germ warfare in Korea,
he tried to destroy the career of a rival, S. D. Ignatiev, Minister of
State Security, and have him expelled from the Communist Party. According
to the found documents Ignatiev was charged with being "under the thumb"
of an adventurist and "secret enemy of the Soviet people" who "allowed
... the falsification of investigative materials."
In an ironic
turn of events, Beria himself was called a foreign spy by the winning faction
in the party leadership struggle, led by Malenkov, Molotov and Khrushchev
a month later, in July 1953. He was tried and executed before the
end of the year.
Rival Soviet Ministries
During the last
years of Stalin's leadership there were two ministries that had some similar
or over-lapping functions relating to state security and by their competition
and rivalries Stalin hoped to keep better informed on what was actually
happening in this realm. Previously Beria had been in charge of all
the security police. Now there were parallel organizations for this
work in the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) headed by Beria and the
Ministry of State Security under Ignatiev.
personae involved in allegations about U. S. biological warfare in Korea
in these documents may be divided in two parts.
On the one hand:
Semen D. Ignatiev, the minister, and N. N. Zhukov, professor of bacteriology
at and vice-president of the Soviet Academy of Medicine (who had taken
part as a medical expert in the Khabarovsk trial of the Japanese ex-servicemen
accused of participating in biological warfare in World War II,) and who
was also a member of the Ministry of State Security.
other hand: Glukhov, a deputy chief in Beria's Ministry of Internal Affairs
who was a Soviet advisor to the Ministry of Public Security in North Korea;
Lieutenant Selivanov, a student in the Kirov Army Medical Academy, medical
advisor to the North Koreans and working with Glukhov; General V. N. Razuvaev,
Soviet ambassador and chief military advisor to North Korea.
and Ignatiev were convinced by the Chinese and Korean evidence that the
United States had experimented with biological weapons during the Korean
War. Zhukov was a member of the International Scientific Commission
to Investigate the Facts Concerning Bacterial Warfare in China and Korea
in 1952 and he signed the report, in September 1952, which concluded that
"the peoples of Korea and China have indeed been the objective of bacteriological
weapons...employed by units of the U. S. A. armed forces."
Ignatiev, Zhukov's superior, endorsed this position, as, evidently, did
of the rival Ministry of Internal Affairs, Lieutenant Selivanov, and Ambassador
Razuvaev, on the other hand, had a different experience based upon their
contact with the Koreans. The documents under discussion include
"explanations" written a year later by Glukov, Selivanov and Razuvaev.
They were written on behalf of Beria for purposes of undermining Ignatiev.
to these explanations the North Koreans were taken by surprise at the Chinese
discovery, in January and February 1952, of biological warfare; nevertheless,
it is reported that the North Korean government demanded to make the first
public announcement and that the Chinese respected their wishes.
Foreign Minister Bak Hun Yang broadcast the charges against the United
States on 22 February 1952, followed in two days by a similar broadcast
by China's premier, Zhou Enlai.
Subsequently, when faced with an international delegation of lawyers coming
to visit North Korea, in March 1952, and an International Scientific Commission
of which Zhukov was a member, in June 1952, North Korean officials
reportedly got jittery and asked their Soviet advisors how to prepare for
these inspections. How could they prove the allegations they had
perhaps Selivanov, with the knowledge of Ambassador Razuvaev, helped them
to prepare "two false areas of exposure" to plague and cholera for the
international visitors to inspect. They reportedly had the North Korean
Minister of Health go to the Chinese to get the bacilli necessary to do
this. The locations of these two false areas of exposure are not
identified. They also arranged to set off explosions near the hotel
where the international experts were staying in order to frighten them
and force them to leave early.
to the documents Ambassador Razuvaev told Beria that everything was not
elucidated to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow for fear of "revealing
reports by technical personnel." But for some reason Glukhov had
sent a memorandum on the falsifications to Ignatiev in the Ministry of
State Security. This memorandum is not among those obtained
by the Japanese journalist.
Beria's Campaign Against Ignatiev
of Stalin's death Beria retrieved Glukhov's memorandum from the archives
of the rival Ministry of State Security and demanded to know why Ignatiev
had not acted upon it, had not said anything to anyone about it.
Beria immediately set up an investigation. He claimed that as
a result of Ignatiev's negligence or dishonesty "the Soviet Union suffered
real political damage in the international arena" by supporting false biological
warfare charges against the United States. Beria demanded that the
Presidium name the guilty parties.
According to these documents Ignatiev defended himself before the Control
Commission of the Central Committee. He said that he was receiving
the published materials and did not attach any significance to Glukhov's
memorandum; he did not believe in the authenticity of the information contained
in it. He said that he had shown Glukhov's note to Stalin.
Since Stalin had died in the meantime it was not possible to verify this
plan of self-promotion worked to an extent. Molotov, the foreign minister,
and Khruschev joined him in deciding to punish Ignatiev "for violation
of state discipline and dishonest conduct" by excluding him from membership
in the party.
On 2 May
1953 the Presidium of the Council of Ministers adopted a resolution on
letters to be sent to Mao Zedong and Kim Il Sung stating that the Soviet
Government considered it had been misled and that the "accusations against
the Americans were fictitious." Soviet workers responsible for participating
in the fabrication of evidence would receive severe punishment. The
Presidium also resolved that the question of bacteriological warfare in
China and Korea be tactfully removed from discussion in international organizations
and organs of the UN.
did not accept the Soviet verdict. When Soviet ambassador
V. V. Kuznetsov met Mao and Zhou Enlai in Beijing on 11 May 1953 they held
to the validity of the evidence that their army had collected in Korea
and Manchuria. Kim Il Sung was too ill to meet the Soviet chargé
d'affaires at the time. He was met instead by a deputy premier, who
happened also to be a Soviet citizen, who received the message, and accepted
the Soviet view. For what it's worth, several years later Kim Il
Sung had this man deported back to the Soviet Union.
of found documents is dated June 1953, a month before the end of the Korean
War, revealing the decision of the leading members of the Presidium of
the Soviet Communist Party to punish S. D. Ignatiev.
1953, with Beria now either executed or under lock and key, the Soviet
delegation to the United Nations upheld the charges that the United States
had used biological weapons in the Korean War. (See The New York Times,
26, 27, 29 October 1953.)
What Do The Soviet `Documents' Reveal About the Biological Warfare
have concluded that the 12 newly released Soviet documents prove that the
charges against the United States "were contrived and fraudulent." (Milton
Leitenberg, The Korean War Biological Warfare Allegations Resolved, (Stockholm,
1998), p. 1. This conclusion is questionable.
are authentic, what the documents reveal is:
(1) That the Soviet ambassador, members of Beria's Ministry
of Internal Affairs and some Soviet military advisors colluded with some
North Koreans to set up two false places with plague and cholera infections.
Unscrupulous tactics are revealed.
(2) Some knowledgeable Soviet officials believed the Chinese
evidence about US biological warfare in Korea and Manchuria. Others
did not. The difference of opinion on this question was manipulated
as a tool by Beria to eliminate rivals in the power struggle within the
Communist Party of the Soviet Union after Stalin's death.
(3) The Soviet leadership tried to force the Chinese and
North Korean governments to accept a view that the United States had not
engaged in biological warfare. The Koreans apparently gave in.
The Chinese did not.
(4) Without admitting publicly that the Soviet Union
had changed its opinion on U. S. bacteriological warfare in China and Korea,
Foreign Minister Molotov proposed to instruct the Soviet delegation at
the UN that "it is inadvisable to show interest in discussing this question"
and he suggested that the Soviet Union seek a tactical way to remove the
item from the agendas of international organizations. This was done
by the Soviet Union's abstaining from the vote when the General Assembly
voted 47 - 0 with 12 abstentions to shift consideration of biological warfare
to the disarmament committee. The effect of this decision was to
end political debate on the question but still place biological weapons
on the UN agenda as part of general disarmament negotiations to reduce
the threat of weapons of mass destruction.
The 12 Soviet documents thus do not resolve the biological warfare allegations
in the Korean War as claimed. The claim that two places were concocted
to fool foreign visitors does not prove that all the sites of alleged
biological warfare were also contrived. Our research in Chinese archives
shows that the Chinese army in Korea and the Korean medical service serving
with it identified occurrences of plague in 13 places during February and
March 1952 as well as outbreaks of anthrax, encephalitis and other abnormal
diseases. The Soviet documents, if they are genuine, add a twist to the
main documentation which, so far, is to be found in the Chinese and
United States archives. Questions raised by the documents about their source,
who ordered the falsification of evidence, and motive would need to be
Soviet Union's Political Objectives in 1953
the armistice, in July 1953, the USSR sought a detente with the United
States to deal with broader matters
of contention in Asia and Europe. The Soviet Union
campaigned for accommodation with the United States by arranging a conference
of the five Great Powers (including China) to turn the Korean armistice
into a peace settlement, to bring the war between France and Vietnam to
a negotiated end, to stop the rearmament of Germany and to bring about
the "absolute prohibition of atomic and biological weapons." Soviet
representatives in international bodies argued that a conference of the
five powers was the best way "of settling international differences by
agreements acceptable to all." (Resolution of the World Council of Peace,
meeting in Vienna in November 1953.) The Soviet Union was trying
to promote peaceful co-existence with the United States rather than confrontations.
USSR and USA: falsifying the historical record of biological
not until seventeen years later, in 1969, that the U.S.S.R. government
publicly revealed that it had broken with China and reversed its stand
about the United States use of biological weapons.
At this time, when Soviet-Chinese relations were at their worst, and when
presidents Nixon and Brezhnev were trying to promote a climate for disarmament
agreements including the eventual Biological Warfare Convention of 1972,
O. A. Reutov, member of the Soviet Academy of Science and Professor of
Chemistry at the Moscow State University, joined with American and other
counterparts in declaring that "there is no clear evidence that these [biological
warfare] agents have ever been used as modern military weapons" and that
there is "no military experience of the use of bacteriological (biological)
agents as weapons of war." (Chemical and Bacteriological (Biological)
Weapons and the Effects of their Possible Use, U.N. Document E 69.1.24,
Ballantine Books, New York, 1970, pp. 3, 20).
reversal of opinion from 1952 and implicit exoneration of both the
United States and Japan's biological warfare against China in World War
II was not explained at the time and passed virtually unnoticed in the
media. It was, at least in part, a deliberate, calculated falsehood
allowed by high officials in both the U. S. and Soviet governments.
The Soviet government apparently "forgot" that in 1949 it had tried and
convicted Japanese ex-servicemen at Khabarovsk for using bacterial weapons
against the Chinese; the U. S. government was still hiding the fact that
in 1947 it made a deal with General Shiro Ishii, former commander of the
Japanese army's Unit 731 in Manchuria, to share the results of his biological
warfare activities against the Chinese in World War II in return for giving
him immunity from war crimes prosecution.
The government of the People's Republic of China in 1953 and since has
never changed its mind about the United States conducting large-scale biological
warfare experiments against its armies during the Korean War.
Recently declassified documents accumulated from Chinese and United States
sources provide a strong corroborative case that the U. S., as the Chinese
claimed, experimented with biological warfare. This case is argued
in our book, The United States and Biological Warfare: secrets of
the Early Cold War and Korea, (Bloomington 1999).
Since we wrote the above article Kathryn Weathersby has made
a further presentation on the 12 Soviet Documents titled "Deceiving the
Deceivers: Moscow, Beijing, Pyongyang, and the Alleations of Bacteriological
Weapons Use in Korea" in Bulletin No. 11 (Winter 1998) of the Cold War
International History Project in Washington. This article has not
led us to change anything in our analysis or commentary. We sent
our piece to various newspapers that ran Associated Press stories based
upon the original Weathersby/Leitenberg press conference in November 1998
but none saw fit to accept our offer.
We would like to point out some mistakes in Ms.
1) Ms. Weathersby says that
after Stalin died the Soviet leadership quickly ceased their accusations
of biological warfare against the United States and instructed the Chinese
and North Koreans to do likewise. She claims that: "all three states
ceased their campaign regarding these allegations in April 1953."
This statement is in error. The Soviets raised the question again
at the UN meetings in New York in October 1953. As for the Chinese,
an editorial in the People's Daily of 12 November 1953, and the simultaneous
publication by the Chinese People's Committee for World Peace of the booklet,
"Depositions of the Nineteen Captured U. S. Airmen on their Participation
in Germ Warfare in Korea" (Peking, 201 pp.) showed their continued adherence
to the accusation from which they have never deviated. A letter of
9th March 1999 on this subject from North Korea's ambassador to the
U.N., Li Hyong Chol, to the president of the U. N. Security Council speaks
for itself. The Soviet reversal of its stand on the accusation
wasn't revealed until seventeen years later, in 1969, during the Nixon
- Brezhnev negotiations on disarmament as discussed in our paper above.
2) The claim by Ms. Weathersby
that the Chinese denounced the United States for engaging in bacteriological
warfare before "laboratory tests were completed." The Chinese records
do not bear out such an assertion. Laboratory tests were continuous
through the spring and summer of 1952 and after, but the result of tests
in the field and in Beijing laboratories on the initial evidence
discovered at the end of January 1952 was available by 20th February 1952.
The foreign ministers of North Korea and China made their accusation public
on 22nd and 24th of February respectively. (See Chapter 1 of our
3) The assertion by Ms.
Weathersby that one of the Soviet documents shows that "once Mao learned
that his commanders' reports were inaccurate, he decided to continue the
propaganda campaign anyway." That is not what the document in question
shows. The Soviet ambassador quotes Mao as saying "If falsification
is discovered, then these reports from below should not be believed."
That is not the same thing as saying Mao had concluded that the reports
from below were inaccurate. He concluded the opposite.
also has an article in the CWIHP Bulletin No 11 which is entitled "New
Russian Evidence on the Korean War Biological Warfare Allegations: Background
and Analysis." This long, rambling essay is mainly a repeat of the
pamphlet he had published on the subject in Stockholm in May 1998.
We find ourselves in disagreement with so many matters of fact, scholarship
and judgement in this article that it is not possible to deal with
them in this forum.
Note: This article appeared on the internet in the Cold War International
History Project/H-Diplo Discussions: The Korean War on 5 July 1999.
Address: H-Diplo@H-Net.MSU.Edu. A slightly abbreviated version appeared in Asian
Perspective, vol. 25, no. 1, 2001, pp 249-257
ABOUT THE AUTHORS: Their recently issued
book, The United States and Biological Warfare: secrets of the Early Cold
War and Korea (Indiana University Press, January 1999) is the product of
many years of research, five trips to China and as many to the National
Archives in Washington. In July 1998 they participated in a United
Nations conference on biological weapons and disarmament in Geneva.
was born in China of Canadian missionary parents and educated at the University
of Toronto. A senior scholar in the Department of History, Atkinson
College, York University, he has received the Killam Senior Fellowship
and other academic awards while teaching East Asian history, and is the
author of several books.
is a professor of history in the same faculty. He has published many
articles on the origins of modern total war and has contributed to textbooks
for the U. S. Military Academy at West Point, the U. S. Army Command and
General Staff College, the U. S. Air Force Academy, and the Air War College
of the U. S. Air Force. He has authored The American Civil War and
the Origins of Modern Warfare.