The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
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Chicago, Ill 60637
We feel obliged to respond to the review in your May/June 1999 issue by John Ellis van Courtland Moon of our book The United States and Biological Warfare: Secrets of the Early Cold War and Korea (Indiana University Press, 1998). The review dismisses our analysis of the development of the U.S. biological warfare crash program between 1950 and early 1953 and the case that the United States experimented with biological weapons in Korea. The reviewer's cursory dismissal indicates that he came to his conclusions without knowledge of the documents that we use to support our analysis.
Without entering into the question of Professor Moon's limited understanding of our conclusions, we wish to address his specific line of criticism as he presents it. He argues that we have based our conclusion on eight central arguments, "each of which can be refuted by archival evidence and reasonable arguments." We wish to address Professor Moon on each of these arguments.
1. Professor Moon rejects our extensive documentation that the U.S. secretly adopted an offensive biological warfare policy during the Korean War by repeating the error of others before him that the National Security Council document No. 62 of February 1950 set a policy of retaliation only. NSC 62 refers only to chemical weapons. We have extensively documented that the Joint Chiefs of Staff by early 1952 had successfully argued before the Defense Department that since there was no policy on biological warfare, the United States should secretly adopt the precedent of atomic warfare policy that biological weapons be considered weapons of opportunity subject to presidential approval.
2. Professor Moon errs in asserting that the United States had no standardized anti-personnel biological weapons capabilities by the time of the Korean War. Brucella suis delivered by the M33 bomb cluster containing M114 aerosol bomblets was standardized for anti-personnel use.
And he is mistaken in his assertion that the programme had no operational capability. Though the long term goal of the crash program at the time of the Korean War was for a standardized system to be in place by July 1954 with improved weapons, there also was a continuing plan for immediate emergency use. Even the official historian of U.S. Air Force participation in the biological warfare program 1944-1954 concludes that the United States declared operational capability for general war with unit assignments and logistical support in March 1952. It is noted that though the bells and whistles of a standardized weapons system were not in place, the system could have been used if necessary.
There is no question that the United States had the capability for experimentation in the Korean War, with not only the one standardized weapon in place but for a long list of agents, headed by anthrax and plague, being tested and moved toward production and standardization for overt use in case of general war. Apart from overt weapons, available documents confirm keen interest and extensive development in covert biological weapons, though heavy classification restricts access to the details. There is an indication that the feather bomb, standardized as an anti-crop weapon, also was adapted for covert or tactical use as an anti-personnel weapon against the enemy's "supplies and equipment." Not to be ignored are the recommendations on the crash program by the Joint Advanced Study Committee to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in September 1951 that emphasized the need for "large scale realistic trials under warlike conditions." The Joint Chiefs of Staff in February 1952 accepted the recommendations of its study committee with only minor revisions.
As part of this second
critique, the reviewer downplays the United States spending almost $350
million (circ. 3 billion in 1999 dollars) between 1951-1953 on research
and development in biological weapons, not including operating costs. One
of the attractions of biological weapons noted by planners at a time of
budgetary restrictions was the return on the dollar.
To put the dollars in perspective from appoximately the same time period,
the large WWII biological warfare program, which employed approximatley
4000 people, had research and development costs of $60 million compared
$2 billion spent to develop the atomic bomb. Both WWII and Korean War era budgets were complemented by close coordination with the British and Canadian research and development programs. Contradicting Professor Moon's assertion that the Korean War era program failed to achieve operational capability is the official history of U.S. Air Force participation for the period which concludes that it did.
3. Prof. Moon asserts that we argue that the United States was convinced that the use of biological weapons in Korea would not be detected. What we document the official record as saying is, "The capacity for covert and sabotage operations was most readily available within the existing state of research and development, and it was considered the form of bacteriological warfare most difficult for an enemy to distinguish from natural outbreaks of disease." We have no disagreement with Moon's throw-in argument drawing the obvious conclusion that the military had a responsibility to evaluate biological weapons in relation to all potential weapons systems.
4. Professor Moon raises the issue that with so many people involved in the program, how come nobody has come forward by now to confirm the allegations if they were true. A good question. We don't know the answer to this one. When approached for an interview, the ranking flyer to give a statement to the Chinese, Marine Colonel Frank Schwable, said that he didn't wish to reopen old wounds. A concerned Brigadier General Hugh Hester (ret.), when asked by us why nobody came forward said, "They don't dare." Unless somebody had an overriding moral will and a willingness to face the consequences, there are good reasons not to come forward.
How many actually knew that the weapons were being tested in Korea is difficult to say, but it is reasonable to conclude that the numbers were highly restricted on a need to know basis. For example, CIA director William Colby referred to the extreme "compartmentation" of CIA work with the Special Operations Division at Fort Detrick responsible for the development of covert biological weapons.
On the other side of the fence, none of the Chinese who attested to the use of biological weapons in China and Korea have come forward to say that it was a hoax, despite the increasing international mobility of Chinese, notably in the involved sectors of the medical profession. In our interviews with Chinese scientists and others who were involved in detecting the biological warfare attacks, they strongly affirm their continuing belief that they occurred.
There is a credible second hand witness to U.S. admission of experimental use of biological weapons in the Korean War, Dr. John Burton, the permanent (bureaucratic) head of the Australian Department of External Affairs at the beginning of the Korean War and a distinguished scholar of international relations. Burton resigned when the Australian government failed to follow his recommendation that Australia not get involved in the Korean War. He later went to China to view the evidence that the United States was using biological warfare. He came away convinced that the Chinese were convinced of biological attacks. Burton alleges that his successor as permanent head of External Affairs, the now deceased Alan Watt, told him that in response to the reaction in Australia to his visit to China, he had inquired of the U.S. government if they had used biological weapons, to be told yes, but only experimentally.
5. The reviewer rejects our referring to the testimony of the U.S. airmen who confessed on the grounds that they did so under pressure. He neglects to note, probably because he did not know what the documents reveal, that the threat of court martial was held over the heads of the flyers when they wrote retractions.
We are very careful in what we do here. We first established the facts of interrogation techniques and the response of flyers who wrote statements from interviews with the flyers and from post-war evaluation of POW collaboration by the Air Force and Army. The evidence is that the flyers broke not under torture, but under extreme stress and duress, and if properly prepared they should have resisted. Also, the flyers were required to construct their confessions on their own, and were not fed information. Though the Chinese were certainly ready to use the flyers statements in the public arena, their methods indicated that they also were using normal intelligence gathering techniques in looking for answers. We consequently considered it our responsibility as historians to put together the total picture provided by the flyers' statements without drawing any conclusions about what might be creative fabrication and what might be truth, about who might have been involved and who not. Our purpose was to see the extent to which these very detailed statements by the flyers converged with research and development and operational possibilities in the Korean War. By themselves the statements are but a piece of a puzzle. Placed beside other data we leave it to the reader to decide if they add to a corroborative case.
6. Professor Moon attacks the report of the International Scientific Commission headed by Dr. Joseph Needham on the grounds that they did not do their own scientific investigation but took the Chinese, who could have doctored the evidence, at their word. This criticism implies that we are simply passing on the findings of the Needham Report.
There is no mention of the fact that our research attempts to reconstruct the Chinese side of the story that was passed on to the Needham commission through our being the first non-Chinese to be given archival access to top secret Chinese documents on the biological warfare allegations. These documents provide top secret discussions between the Chinese political and military leadership and top party cadre that finally conclude that biological weapons are being used against them. This level of leadership certainly is not going to be propagandizing itself in top secret documents. These documents also provide the reports of medical teams in the field attempting to sort out what is going on, reports which impressed us the work of public health medical personnel professionally going about their work. And it was this work that was passed on to the Needham commission. We interviewed scientists who were involved in the investigations at the time, and they remain convinced that biological weapons were used. The reviewer is negligent at best in not even noting this context for our discussion of the Needham report.
7. A repeat of the argument that the truth would have emerged by now in an open society like the United States (no. 4 above)
8. The eighth criticism runs together a number of items. First Professor Moon refers to 12 Soviet documents being circulated by a conservative Japanese newspaper and then by Professor Milton Leitenberg of the University of Maryland as proof that Chinese and North Korean charges were a hoax. These are not archival documents in the normal scholarly sense, in that they were not openly provided by archival staff, they have no references nor finding aids and cannot be relocated and checked by other scholars. And they were transcribed by hand, whether in whole, in part, or by way of notes not being clear. The fact that they were passed secretly by an unknown source to a journalist working for a very conservative Japanese newspaper raises further questions.
If authentic, the documents do not prove that the United States did not use biological warfare in the Korean War. What they reveal is a power struggle between the heads of the competing state police ministries under Lavrenti Beria and and S.D. Ignatiev, with Beria using the revelaton of these documents after Stalin's death to purge his rival for concealing knowledge of this threat to Soviet credibility. Ignatiev in his defense said that he did not believe the documents and showed them to Stalin, who dismissed them. The leadership accepted Beria's case, sacked Ignatiev and expelled him from the Communist Party; shortly after they turned on Beria and executed him.
The context of this incident it that both Beria and Ignatiev had their agents in Korea. Beria used the report of his agent that the biological warfare charge was fabricated, while Ignatiev believed his agent, who was Professor N. N. Zhukov- Verezhnikov, professor of bacteriology at and vice-president of the Soviet Academy of Medical Science.
If the incident that the documents reported is verified, it means that a peculiar local incident should be explained, and issues surrounding the internal logic of the documents clarified. But this local incident doesn't affect Chinese charges about what happened elsewhere, where the primary record remains the Chinese and U.S. documentation.
Also included in this eighth criticism is the reviewer's statement that we suggested that the United States would have used biological weapons in WWII if the war had not come to an end in August 1945. The reviewer says there is no evidence to support this statement. The evidence we document is Truman's much cited own post - war reflections. And contrary to Professor Moon's contention, by the end of WWII the United States had a biological warfare capability on short notice.
We believe that the importance of the subject matter requires that a journal as important to the policy debate as The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists provide space for a corrective to such an unbalanced and distorting review.
Stephen Endicott and Edward Hagerman
Note: This letter was printed in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, July/August, 1999, under the heading "Germ Warfare Was Used," pp. 3-5