Twelve Newly Released Soviet-era `Documents'
and allegations of U. S. germ warfare during the Korean War
 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 and fraudulent.
        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.

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 March 1953.
          The struggle 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.
          The  dramatis 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.
           On the 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.
           Zhukov 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 Stalin.
           Glukhov, 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.
           According 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 made?
          Glukhov and 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.
           According 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
           Within weeks 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 claim.
           Beria's 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.
          The Chinese 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.
           The last 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.
           By October 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 Allegations?
           Some scholars 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.
           If they 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 resolved.
Soviet Union's Political Objectives in 1953
            After 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 warfare
            It was 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).
           This Soviet 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. Weathersby's essay:
        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 book.)
        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.
         Milton Leitenberg 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.
           Endicott 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.
           Hagerman 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.