Biological warfare

Biological warfare

Biological warfare (also known as germ warfare) is the use of biological toxins or infectious agents such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi with intent to kill or incapacitate humans, animals or plants as an act of war. Biological weapons (often termed "bio-weapons" or "bio-agents") are living organisms or replicating entities (viruses) that reproduce or replicate within their host victims. Entomological (insect) warfare is also considered a type of BW.

Biological weapons may be employed in various ways to gain a strategic or tactical advantage over an adversary, either by threat or by actual deployment. Like some of the chemical weapons, biological weapons may also be useful as area denial weapons. These agents may be lethal or non-lethal, and may be targeted against a single individual, a group of people, or even an entire population. They may be developed, acquired, stockpiled or deployed by nation states or by non-national groups. In the latter case, or if a nation-state uses it clandestinely, it may also be considered bioterrorism.[1]

There is an overlap between biological warfare and chemical warfare, as the use of toxins produced by living organisms is considered under the provisions of both the Biological Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention. Toxins and Psychochemical weapons are often referred to as midspectrum agents. Unlike bioweapons, these midspectrum agents do not reproduce in their host and are typically characterized by shorter incubation periods.[2]



Offensive biological warfare, including mass production, stockpiling and use of biological weapons, was outlawed by the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). The rationale behind this treaty, which has been ratified or acceded to by 163 countries as of 2009, is to prevent a biological attack which could conceivably result in large numbers of civilian fatalities and cause severe disruption to economic and societal infrastructure.[citation needed] Many countries, including signatories of the BWC, currently pursue research into the defense or protection against BW, which is not prohibited by the BWC.

A nation or group that can pose a credible threat of mass casualty has the ability to alter the terms on which other nations or groups interact with it. Biological weapons allow for the potential to create a level of destruction and loss of life far in excess of nuclear, chemical or conventional weapons, relative to their mass and cost of development and storage. Therefore, biological agents may be useful as strategic deterrents in addition to their utility as offensive weapons on the battlefield.[3][4]

As a tactical weapon for military use, a significant problem with a BW attack is that it would take days to be effective, and therefore might not immediately stop an opposing force. Some biological agents (especially smallpox, plague, and tularemia) have the capability of person-to-person transmission via aerosolized respiratory droplets. This feature can be undesirable, as the agent(s) may be transmitted by this mechanism to unintended populations, including neutral or even friendly forces. While containment of BW transmission is less of a concern for certain criminal or terrorist organizations, it remains a significant concern for the military and civilian populations of virtually all nations.


Military history

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Biological warfare has been practiced repeatedly throughout history. Before the 20th century, the use of biological agents took three major forms:

  • Deliberate poisoning of food and water with infectious material
  • Use of microorganisms, toxins or animals, living or dead, in a weapon system
  • Use of biologically inoculated fabrics


The earliest documented incident of the intention to use biological weapons is recorded in Hittite texts of 1500–1200 B.C, in which victims of plague were driven into enemy lands. Although the Assyrians knew of ergot, a parasitic fungus of rye which produces ergotism when ingested, there is no evidence that they poisoned enemy wells with the fungus, as has been claimed.

According to Homer's epic poems about the legendary Trojan War, the Iliad and the Odyssey, spears and arrows were tipped with poison. During the First Sacred War in Greece, in about 590 BC, Athens and the Amphictionic League poisoned the water supply of the besieged town of Kirrha (near Delphi) with the toxic plant hellebore. The Roman commander Manius Aquillus poisoned the wells of besieged enemy cities in about 130 BC.

During the 4th century BC Scythian archers tipped their arrow tips with snake venom, human blood, and animal feces to cause wounds to become infected. There are numerous other instances of the use of plant toxins, venoms, and other poisonous substances to create biological weapons in antiquity.[5]

In 184 B.C, Hannibal of Carthage had clay pots filled with venomous snakes and instructed his soldiers to throw the pots onto the decks of Pergamene ships. In about AD 198, the Parthian city of Hatra (near Mosul, Iraq) repulsed the Roman army led by Septimius Severus by hurling clay pots filled with live scorpions at them.[6]

Middle Ages

The Mongol Empire established commercial and political connections between the Eastern and Western areas of the world, but it did so through the most mobile army ever seen. The armies, being the most rapidly moving travelers who had ever moved between the steppes of East Asia (where bubonic plague was and remains endemic among small rodents), managed to keep the chain of infection without a break until they reached, and infected, peoples and rodents who had never encountered it. The ensuing Black Death may have killed almost half of the population of Europe in the next decades, changing the course of Asian and European history.

During the Middle Ages, victims of the bubonic plague were used for biological attacks, often by flinging fomites such as infected corpses and excrement over castle walls using catapults. In 1346, during the siege of Kafa (now Feodossia Ukraine) the attacking Tartar Forces which were subjugated by the Mongol empire under Genghis Khan, used the bodies of Mongol warriors of the Golden Horde who had died of plague, as weapons. An outbreak of plague followed and the defending forces retreated, followed by the conquest of the city by the Mongol army. It has been speculated that this operation may have been responsible for the advent of the Black Death in Europe. At the time, the attackers thought that the stench was enough to kill them, though it was the disease that was deadly.[7][8]

At the siege of Thun-l'Évêque in 1340, during the Hundred Years' War, the attackers catapulted decomposing animals into the besieged area.[9]

In 1422, during the siege of Karlstein Castle in Bohemia, Hussite attackers used catapults to throw dead (but not plague-infected) bodies and 2000 carriage-loads of dung over the walls.[10]

The last known incident of using plague corpses for biological warfare occurred in 1710, when Russian forces attacked the Swedes by flinging plague-infected corpses over the city walls of Reval (Tallinn).[11] However, during the 1785 siege of La Calle, Tunisian forces flung diseased clothing into the city.[10]

English Longbowmen usually did not draw their arrows from a quiver, rather, they stuck their arrows into the ground in front of them. This made nocking the arrows to the bow faster and the dirt and soil was likely to stick the arrowheads. Thus making the wounds that it made much more likely to infect.

18th century

North America

The Native American population was devastated after contact with the Old World due to the introduction of many different fatal diseases.[12] There are two documented cases of alleged and attempted germ warfare. The first, during a parley at Fort Pitt on June 24, 1763, Ecuyer gave representatives of the besieging Delawares two blankets and a handkerchief that had been exposed to smallpox, hoping to spread the disease to the Natives in order to end the siege.[13] William Trent, the militia commander, left records that clearly indicated that the purpose of giving the blankets was "to Convey the Smallpox to the Indians."[14]

British commander Lord Jeffrey Amherst and Swiss-British officer Colonel Henry Bouquet certainly discussed this, in the course of Pontiac's Rebellion; there still exists correspondence referencing the idea of giving smallpox-infected blankets to enemy Indians. Historian Francis Parkman verifies four letters from June 29, July 13, 16 and 26th, 1763. Excerpts: Commander Lord Jeffrey Amherst writes July 16, 1763, "P.S. You will Do well to try to Inocculate the Indians by means of Blankets, as well as to try Every other method that can serve to Extirpate this Execrable Race. I should be very glad your Scheme for Hunting them Down by Dogs could take Effect,..." Colonel Henry Bouquet replies July 26, 1763, "I received yesterday your Excellency's letters of 16th with their Inclosures. The signal for Indian Messengers, and all your directions will be observed."[15]

While the intent of carrying out biological warfare is clear, there is debate among historians as to whether this actually took place despite Bouquet's affirmative reply to Amherst, and the continuing correspondence on the point. Smallpox is highly infectious and does not require contaminated blankets to spread uncontrollably, and together with measles, influenza, chicken pox, and so on. had been doing so since the arrival of Europeans and their animals. Historians have been unable to establish whether or not the Amherst plan was implemented, particularly in light of the fact that smallpox was already present in the region, and that scientific knowledge of disease at that time had yet to develop an understanding of infection vectors, nor in the case of smallpox a full acknowledgment of the protective effect of a cowpox infection.

Regardless of whether the plan was carried out, trade and combat provided ample opportunity for transmission of the disease. See also: Small pox during Pontiac's Rebellion.

The diseases that struck indigenous Americans can be traced to Eurasia where people had long lived with them and developed some immunological ability to survive their presence. Without similarly long ancestral exposure, indigenous Americans were immunologically naive and extremely vulnerable.[16]

New South Wales

Australian aborigines (Kooris) have always maintained that the British deliberately spread smallpox in 1789,[17] but this fact has only been apparent to historians from the 1980s when Dr Noel Butlin suggested; “there are some possibilities that ... disease could have been used deliberately as an exterminating agent”.[18]

In 1997, David Day claimed there “remains considerable circumstantial evidence to suggest that officers other than Phillip, or perhaps convicts or soldiers … deliberately spread smallpox among aborigines”[19] and in 2000 Dr John Lambert argued that “strong circumstantial evidence suggests the smallpox epidemic which ravaged Aborigines in 1789, may have resulted from deliberate infection”.[20]

These claims were controversial as it was argued that any smallpox virus brought to New South Wales would have been sterilised during the voyage of the First Fleet from England and incapable of biological warfare. However, in 2007, Christopher Warren demonstrated conclusively that the British smallpox was still viable.[21] Since then most scholars have recognized that the British committed biological warfare in 1789 near their new convict settlement at Port Jackson.[22]

Some earlier writers, misunderstanding that British stocks of virus had been sterilised, proposed that the 1789 outbreak was caused by a hypothetical transmission from Macassar in Sulawesi. However the available records for smallpox in Macassar only show an outbreak in 1789,[23] too late and inconvenient to be associated with the First Fleet outbreak.

19th century

In 1834, Massachusetts diarist Richard Henry Dana visited San Francisco on a merchant ship. His ship traded many items including blankets with Mexicans and Russians who had established outposts on the northern side of the San Francisco Bay. Local histories document that the California plague epidemic began at the Russian fort soon after they left. It is possible that the blankets were the source of the contamination (hidden fleas, or rats, perhaps), but another possible source was a Chinese ship making port in San Francisco at the same time. Plague became established in California and has since become endemic throughout much of the North American West. Native rodents have suffered a severe population decline, only partly due to human eradication action.

During the American Civil War, General Sherman reported that Confederate forces shot farm animals in ponds upon which the Union troops depended for drinking water.[citation needed] This would have made the water unpleasant to drink, though perhaps the death caused might not have been that desired. A Confederate doctor planned and may have carried out a bacteriological attack on Northern populations across the Canadian border.[citation needed]

Jack London, in his story '"Yah! Yah! Yah!"', described a punitive European expedition to a South Pacific island deliberately exposing the Polynesian population to measles, of which many of them died. While much of the material for London's South Sea Tales is derived from his personal experience in the region, it is not known whether this particular incident is historical.

20th century

During the First World War, the Empire of Germany pursued an ambitious biological warfare program. Using diplomatic pouches and couriers, the German General Staff supplied small teams of saboteurs in the Russian Duchy of Finland, and in the then-neutral countries of Romania, the United States, and Argentina.[citation needed]

In Finland, saboteurs mounted on reindeer placed ampoules of anthrax in stables of Russian horses in 1916 .[24] Anthrax was also supplied to the German military attaché in Bucharest, as was glanders, which was employed against livestock destined for Allied service.

German intelligence officer and US citizen Dr. Anton Casimir Dilger established a secret lab in the basement of his sister's home in Chevy Chase, Maryland, that produced glanders which was used to infect livestock in ports and inland collection points including, at least, Newport News, Norfolk, Baltimore, and New York, and probably St. Louis and Covington, Kentucky. In Argentina, German agents also employed glanders in the port of Buenos Aires and also tried to ruin wheat harvests with a destructive fungus.

The Geneva Protocol of 1925 prohibited the use of chemical weapons and biological weapons, but said nothing about experimentation, production, storage, or transfer; later treaties did cover these aspects. Twentieth-century advances in microbiology enabled the first pure-culture biological agents to be developed by World War II.

The interwar period was a period of development by many nations, most notably the Empire of Japan. Secret Imperial Japanese Army Unit 731, based primarily at Pingfan in Manchuria commanded by Lieutenant General Shirō Ishii, did research on BW, conducted often fatal human experiments on prisoners, and produced biological weapons for combat use during the Second Sino-Japanese War.[25]

Biological experiments, often using twins with one subject to the procedure and the other as a control, were carried out by Nazi Germany on concentration camp inmates, particularly by Joseph Mengele.


During the Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945) and World War II, the Imperial Japanese Army made use of biological weapons against both Chinese soldiers and civilians in several military campaigns. Three veterans of Unit 731 testified, in a 1989 interview to the Asahi Shimbun, that they were part of a mission to contaminate the Horustein river with typhoid near the Soviet troops during the Battle of Khalkhin Gol.[26] In 1940, the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force bombed Ningbo with ceramic bombs full of fleas carrying the bubonic plague.[27] A film showing this operation was seen by the imperial princes Tsuneyoshi Takeda and Takahito Mikasa during a screening made by mastermind Shiro Ishii.[28] During the Khabarovsk War Crime Trials the accused, such as Major General Kiyashi Kawashima, testified that as early as 1941 some 40 members of Unit 731 air-dropped plague-contaminated fleas on Changde. These operations caused epidemic plague outbreaks.[29]

Many operations were ineffective due to inefficient delivery systems, using disease-bearing insects rather than dispersing the agent as an bioaerosol cloud.[25] Nevertheless, some modern Chinese historians estimate that 400,000 Chinese died as a direct result of Japanese field testing and operational use of biological weapons.[30]

In 1943, following the Allied invasion at Anzio, German forces flooded The Pontine Marshes to reintroduce Malaria to the area. Perhaps 100,000 cases of the disease were noted in the region in 1944 and 43,000 in 1945. German forces withheld medical care to the civilian population.[31]

In response to biological weapons development in Japan, and at the time suspected in Nazi Germany, the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada initiated a BW development programs in 1941 that resulted in the weaponization of tularemia, anthrax, brucellosis, and botulism toxin.

The center for United States military BW research was Fort Detrick, Maryland, where USAMRIID is currently based; the first director was pharmaceutical executive George W. Merck. Some biological and chemical weapons research and testing was also conducted at Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah, at a munition manufacturing complex in Terre Haute, Indiana, and at a tract on Horn Island, Mississippi.[32]

Much of the British work was carried out at Porton Down. Field testing carried out in the United Kingdom during World War II left Gruinard island in Scotland contaminated with anthrax for the next 48 years.

1946 to 1972

During the 1948 Israel War of Independence, International Red Cross reports raised suspicion that the Jewish Haganah militia had released Salmonella typhi bacteria into the water supply for the city of Acre, causing an outbreak of typhoid among the inhabitants. Egyptian troops later claimed to have captured disguised Haganah soldiers near wells in Gaza, whom they executed for allegedly attempting another attack. Israel denies these allegations.[33][34]

During the Cold War, US conscientious objectors were used as consenting test subjects for biological agents in a program known as Operation Whitecoat.[35] There were also many unpublicized tests carried out on the public during the Cold War.[36]

E120 biological bomblet, developed before the U.S. signed the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention.

Considerable research on the topic was performed by the United States (see US Biological Weapon Testing), the Soviet Union, and probably other major nations throughout the Cold War era, though it is generally believed that biological weapons were never used after World War II. This view was challenged by China and North Korea, who accused the United States of germ warfare in the Korean War (1950–1953).[37]

Cuba has also accused the United States of spreading human and animal disease on their island nation.[38][39][40]

At the time of the Korean War the United States had only weaponized one agent, brucellosis ("Agent US"), which is caused by Brucella suis. The original weaponized form used the M114 bursting bomblet in M33 cluster bombs.

While the specific form of the biological bomb was classified until some years after the Korean War, in the various exhibits of biological weapons that Korea alleged were dropped on their country nothing resembled an M114 bomblet. There were ceramic containers that had some similarity to Japanese weapons used against the Chinese in World War II, developed by Unit 731.[25]

Some of the Unit 731 personnel were imprisoned by the Soviets[citation needed], and would have been a potential source of information on Japanese weaponization. The head of Unit 731, Lieutenant General Shiro Ishii, was granted immunity from war crimes prosecution in exchange for providing information to the United States on the Unit's activities.[41]

The Korean War allegations also stressed the use of disease vectors, such as fleas, which, again, were probably a legacy of Japanese biological warfare efforts. The United States initiated its weaponization efforts with disease vectors in 1953, focused on Plague-fleas, EEE-mosquitoes, and yellow fever - mosquitoes (OJ-AP).[citation needed] However, US medical scientists in occupied Japan undertook extensive research on insect vectors, with the assistance of former Unit 731 staff, as early as 1946.[41]

The United States Air Force was not satisfied with the operational qualities of the M114/US and labeled it an interim item until the United States Army Chemical Corps could deliver a superior weapon. The Air Force also changed its plans and wanted lethal biologicals.[citation needed]

The Chemical Corps then initiated a crash program to weaponize anthrax (N) in the E61 1/2-lb hour-glass bomblet. Though the program was successful in meeting its development goals, the lack of validation on the infectivity of anthrax stalled standardization.[citation needed]

Around 1950 the Chemical Corps also initiated a program to weaponize tularemia (UL). Shortly after the E61/N failed to make standardization, tularemia was standardized in the 3.4" M143 bursting spherical bomblet. This was intended for delivery by the MGM-29 Sergeant missile warhead and could produce 50% infection over a 7-square-mile (18 km2) area.[citation needed]

Unlike anthrax, tularemia had a demonstrated infectivity with human volunteers (Operation Whitecoat). Furthermore, although tularemia is treatable by antibiotics, treatment does not shorten the course of the disease.

In addition to the use of bursting bomblets for creating biological aerosols, the Chemical Corps started investigating aerosol-generating bomblets in the 1950s. The E99 was the first workable design, but was too complex to be manufactured.[citation needed] By the late 1950s the 4.5" E120 spraying spherical bomblet was developed; a B-47 bomber with a SUU-24/A dispenser could infect 50% or more of the population of a 16-square-mile (41 km2) area with tularemia with the E120.[citation needed] The E120 was later superseded by dry-type agents.

Dry-type biologicals resemble talcum powder, and can be disseminated as aerosols using gas expulsion devices instead of a burster or complex sprayer.[citation needed] The Chemical Corps developed Flettner rotor bomblets and later triangular bomblets for wider coverage due to improved glide angles over Magnus-lift spherical bomblets.[citation needed] Weapons of this type were in advanced development by the time the program ended.[citation needed]

United States President Richard Nixon signed an executive order on November 1969, which stopped production of biological weapons in the United States and allowed only scientific research of lethal biological agents and defensive measures such as immunization and biosafety. The biological munition stockpiles were destroyed, and approximately 2,200 researchers became redundant.[32]

United States Special Forces and the CIA also had an interest in biological warfare, and a series of special munitions was created for their operations.[citation needed] The covert weapons developed for the military (M1, M2, M4, M5, and M32 - or Big Five Weapons) were destroyed in accordance with Nixon's executive order to end the offensive program. The CIA maintained its collection of biologicals well into 1975 when it became the subject of the senate Church Committee.

The Biological Weapons Convention

In 1972, the United States signed the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention, which banned the "development, production and stockpiling of microbes or their poisonous products except in amounts necessary for protective and peaceful research." By 1996, 137 countries had signed the treaty; however it is believed that since the signing of the Convention the number of countries capable of producing such weapons has increased.

The Soviet Union continued research and production of offensive biological weapons in a program called Biopreparat, despite having signed the convention. The United States was unaware of the program until Dr. Vladimir Pasechnik defected in 1989, and Dr. Kanatjan Alibekov, the first deputy director of Biopreparat defected in 1992.

During the closing stages of the Rhodesian Bush War, the Rhodesian government resorted to biological warfare. Watercourses at several sites close to the Mozambique border were deliberately contaminated with cholera and the toxin Sodium Coumadin, an anti-coagulant commonly used as the active ingredient in rat poison. Food stocks in the area were contaminated with anthrax spores. These biological attacks had little impact on the fighting capability of ZANLA, but caused considerable distress to the local population. Over 10,000 people contracted anthrax in the period 1978 to 1980, of whom 200 died. The facts about this episode became known during the hearings of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission during the late 1990s.[42]

After the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Iraq admitted to the United Nations inspection team to having produced 19,000 liters of concentrated botulinum toxin, of which approximately 10,000 L were loaded into military weapons; the 19,000 liters have never been fully accounted for. This is approximately three times the amount needed to kill the entire current human population by inhalation,[43] although in practice it would be impossible to distribute it so efficiently, and, unless it is protected from oxygen, it deteriorates in storage.[44]

On September 18, 2001 and for a few days after several letters were received by members of the United States Congress and media outlets containing anthrax spores: the attack killed five people. The identity of the perpetrator remained unknown until 2008, when a primary suspect was named. See 2001 anthrax attacks.[45]

BW operations


It has been argued that rational people would never use biological weapons offensively. The argument is that biological weapons cannot be controlled: the weapon could backfire and harm the army on the offensive, perhaps having even worse effects than on the target. An agent like smallpox or other airborne viruses would almost certainly spread worldwide and ultimately infect the user's home country. However, this argument does not necessarily apply to bacteria. For example, anthrax can easily be controlled and even created in a garden shed. Also, using microbial methods, bacteria can be suitably modified to be effective in only a narrow environmental range, the range of the target that distinctly differs from the army on the offensive. thus only the target might be affected adversely.


The international biological hazard symbol

Ideal characteristics of a biological agent to be used as a weapon against humans are high infectivity, high virulence, non-availability of vaccines, and availability of an effective and efficient delivery system. Stability of the weaponized agent (ability of the agent to retain its infectivity and virulence after a prolonged period of storage) may also be desirable, particularly for military applications.

The primary difficulty is not the production of the biological agent, as many biological agents used in weapons can often be manufactured relatively quickly, cheaply and easily. Rather, it is the weaponization, storage and delivery in an effective vehicle to a vulnerable target that pose significant problems.

For example, Bacillus anthracis is considered an effective agent for several reasons. First, it forms hardy spores, perfect for dispersal aerosols. Second, this organism is not considered transmissible from person to person, and thus rarely if ever causes secondary infections. A pulmonary anthrax infection starts with ordinary influenza-like symptoms and progresses to a lethal hemorrhagic mediastinitis within 3–7 days, with a fatality rate that is 90% or higher in untreated patients. Finally, friendly personnel can be protected with suitable antibiotics.

A large-scale attack using anthrax would require the creation of aerosol particles of 1.5 to 5 microns. Too large and the particles would not reach the lower respiratory tract. Too small and the particles would be exhaled back out into the atmosphere. At this size, conductive powders tend to aggregate because of electrostatic charges, hindering dispersion. So the material must be treated to insulate and neutralize the charges. The weaponized agent must be resistant to degradation by rain and ultraviolet radiation from sunlight, while retaining the ability to efficiently infect the human lung. There are other technological difficulties as well, chiefly relating to storage of the weaponized agent.

Agents considered for weaponization, or known to be weaponized, include bacteria such as Bacillus anthracis, Brucella spp., Burkholderia mallei, Burkholderia pseudomallei, Chlamydophila psittaci, Coxiella burnetii, Francisella tularensis, some of the Rickettsiaceae (especially Rickettsia prowazekii and Rickettsia rickettsii), Shigella spp., Vibrio cholerae, and Yersinia pestis. Many viral agents have been studied and/or weaponized, including some of the Bunyaviridae (especially Rift Valley fever virus), Ebolavirus, many of the Flaviviridae (especially Japanese encephalitis virus), Machupo virus, Marburg virus, Variola virus, and Yellow fever virus. Fungal agents that have been studied include Coccidioides spp..[32][46]

Toxins that can be used as weapons include ricin, staphylococcal enterotoxin B, botulinum toxin, saxitoxin, and many mycotoxins. These toxins and the organisms that produce them are sometimes referred to as select agents. In the United States, their possession, use, and transfer are regulated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Select Agent Program.

Anti-agriculture Anti-Fisheries

Biological warfare can also specifically target plants to destroy crops or defoliate vegetation. The United States and Britain discovered plant growth regulators (i.e., herbicides) during the Second World War, and initiated an herbicidal warfare program that was eventually used in Malaya and Vietnam in counter insurgency. Though herbicides are chemicals, they are often grouped with biological warfare as bioregulators in a similar manner as biotoxins.[citation needed] Scorched earth tactics or destroying livestock and farmland were carried out in the Vietnam war (cf. Agent Orange)[47] and Eelam War in Sri Lanka.[citation needed]

The United States developed an anti-crop capability during the Cold War that used plant diseases (bioherbicides, or mycoherbicides) for destroying enemy agriculture. It was believed that destruction of enemy agriculture on a strategic scale could thwart Sino-Soviet aggression in a general war. Diseases such as wheat blast and rice blast were weaponized in aerial spray tanks and cluster bombs for delivery to enemy watersheds in agricultural regions to initiate epiphytotics (epidemics among plants). When the United States renounced its offensive biological warfare program in 1969 and 1970, the vast majority of its biological arsenal was composed of these plant diseases.[citation needed]

Biological weapons also target fisheries as well as water-based vegetation.

In 1980s Soviet Ministry of Agriculture had successfully developed variants of foot-and-mouth disease, and rinderpest against cows, African swine fever for pigs, and psittacosis to kill chicken. These agents were prepared to spray them down from tanks attached to airplanes over hundreds of miles. The secret program was code-named "Ecology".[32]

Attacking animals is another area of biological warfare intended to eliminate animal resources for transportation and food. In the First World War, German agents were arrested attempting to inoculate draft animals with anthrax, and they were believed to be responsible for outbreaks of glanders in horses and mules. The British tainted small feed cakes with anthrax in the Second World War as a potential means of attacking German cattle for food denial, but never employed the weapon. In the 1950s, the United States had a field trial with hog cholera.[citation needed] During the Mau Mau Uprising in 1952, the poisonous latex of the African milk bush was used to kill cattle.[48]

Unconnected with inter-human wars, humans have deliberately introduced the rabbit disease Myxomatosis, originating in South America, to Australia and Europe, with the intention of reducing the rabbit population - which had devastating but temporary results, with wild rabbit populations reduced to a fraction of their former size but survivors developing immunity and increasing again.

Entomological warfare

Entomological warfare (EW) is a type of BW that uses insects to attack the enemy. The concept has existed for centuries and research and development have continued into the modern era. EW has been used in battle by Japan and several other nations have developed and been accused of using an entomological warfare program. EW may employ insects in a direct attack or as vectors to deliver a biological agent, such as plague or cholera. Essentially, EW exists in three varieties. One type of EW involves infecting insects with a pathogen and then dispersing the insects over target areas.[49] The insects then act as a vector, infecting any person or animal they might bite. Another type of EW is a direct insect attack against crops; the insect may not be infected with any pathogen but instead represents a threat to agriculture. The final method uses uninfected insects, such as bees, to directly attack the enemy.[50]

Recent Developments in Biological Warfare

Recent research in genetics, specifically, expanding the set of bases found in DNA (A, C, G, T) and RNA (A, C, G, U) from four; expanding the set of codons (due to the expanded base set, as well as 3-base codons, to 4- and 5-base codons); and expanding the set of amino acids incorporated into polypeptides (see genetic code, proteomics), extends the new field of synthetic biology to synthetic biological warfare.[51]


Role of public health and disease surveillance

It is important to note that all of the classical and modern biological weapons organisms are animal diseases, the only exception being smallpox. Thus, in any use of biological weapons, it is highly likely that animals will become ill either simultaneously with, or perhaps earlier than humans.

Indeed, in the largest biological weapons accident known– the anthrax outbreak in Sverdlovsk (now Yekaterinburg) in the Soviet Union in 1979, sheep became ill with anthrax as far as 200 kilometers from the release point of the organism from a military facility in the southeastern portion of the city (known as Compound 19 and still off limits to visitors today, see Sverdlovsk Anthrax leak).

Thus, a robust surveillance system involving human clinicians and veterinarians may identify a bioweapons attack early in the course of an epidemic, permitting the prophylaxis of disease in the vast majority of people (and/or animals) exposed but not yet ill.

For example in the case of anthrax, it is likely that by 24 – 36 hours after an attack, some small percentage of individuals (those with compromised immune system or who had received a large dose of the organism due to proximity to the release point) will become ill with classical symptoms and signs (including a virtually unique chest X-ray finding, often recognized by public health officials if they receive timely reports). By making these data available to local public health officials in real time, most models of anthrax epidemics indicate that more than 80% of an exposed population can receive antibiotic treatment before becoming symptomatic, and thus avoid the moderately high mortality of the disease.

Identification of bioweapons

The goal of biodefense is to integrate the sustained efforts of the national and homeland security, medical, public health, intelligence, diplomatic, and law enforcement communities. Health care providers and public health officers are among the first lines of defense. In some countries private, local, and provincial (state) capabilities are being augmented by and coordinated with federal assets, to provide layered defenses against biological weapons attacks. During the first Gulf War the United Nations activated a biological and chemical response team, Task Force Scorpio, to respond to any potential use of weapons of mass destruction on civilians.

The traditional approach toward protecting agriculture, food, and water: focusing on the natural or unintentional introduction of a disease is being strengthened by focused efforts to address current and anticipated future biological weapons threats that may be deliberate, multiple, and repetitive.

The growing threat of biowarfare agents and bioterrorism has led to the development of specific field tools that perform on-the-spot analysis and identification of encountered suspect materials. One such technology, being developed by researchers from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), employs a "sandwich immunoassay", in which fluorescent dye-labeled antibodies aimed at specific pathogens are attached to silver and gold nanowires.[52]

In the Netherlands, the company TNO has designed Bioaerosol Single Particle Recognition eQuipment (BiosparQ). This system would be implemented into the national response plan for bioweapons attacks in the Netherlands.[53]

Researchers at Ben Gurion University in Israel are developing a different device called the BioPen, essentially a "Lab-in-a-Pen", which can detect known biological agents in under 20 minutes using an adaptation of the ELISA, a similar widely employed immunological technique, that in this case incorporates fiber optics.[54]

Synthetic Biological Warfare

Microbes that are composed of synthetic or artificial components, such as DNA or RNA or codons or amino acids can be tailored for use as biological warfare agents. As examples, if DNA used xDNA were to be coupled with synthetic codons, with synthetic anti-codons, etc. then such microbes used as biological warfare agents would be synthetic biological warfare agents.

List of BW institutions, programs, projects and sites by country

According to the United States Office of Technology Assessment, since disbanded, 17 countries were believed to possess biological weapons in 1995: Libya, North Korea, South Korea, Iraq, Taiwan, Syria, Israel, Iran, China, Egypt, Vietnam, Laos, Cuba, Bulgaria, India, South Africa, and Russia.[32][55]

United States

United Kingdom

Soviet Union and Russia



Main articles: Iraqi biological weapons program and Iraq and weapons of mass destruction (passim)

South Africa

List of people associated with BW


Writers and activists:

See also


  1. ^ Wheelis, Mark; Lajos Rózsa, Malcolm Dando (2006), Deadly Cultures: Biological Weapons Since 1945, Harvard University Press, pp. 284–293, 301–303, ISBN 0674016998 
  2. ^ Gray, Colin. (2007). Another Bloody Century: Future Warfare. Page 265 to 266. Phoenix. ISBN 0304367346.
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ Mayor, Adrienne (2003), Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World, Woodstock, N.Y.: Overlook Duckworth, ISBN 978-1-58567-348-3 
  6. ^ Cornelius Nepos, Hannibal 11.5-6. Herodian 3.9.3-8 and Dio Cassius 68.31-75 and Epitome 75.10 and 76.10.
  7. ^ Wheelis M. (2002), "Biological warfare at the 1346 siege of Caffa.", Emerg Infect Dis (Center for Disease Control), 
  8. ^ Lederberg J., ed. (2001), Biological Weapons limiting the threat., MIT Press 
  9. ^ Wheelis, Mark, Biological warfare before 1914, [dead link]
  10. ^ a b Hobbes, Nicholas (2003), Essential Militaria, Atlantic Books, ISBN 978-1843542292 
  11. ^ "Biological Warfare", EMedicineHealth, 
  12. ^ The Story Of... Smallpox – and other Deadly Eurasian Germs
  13. ^ Anderson, Crucible of War, 541–42; Jennings, Empire of Fortune, 447n26.
  14. ^ Calloway, Scratch of a Penn, 73.
  15. ^ "Did whites ever give Native Americans blankets infected with smallpox?". October 24, 1997. Retrieved May 1, 2009. 
  16. ^ Plagues and Peoples, Wm. McNeil
  17. ^ Foley, Dennis, ‘’ Repossession of our Spirit: Traditional Owners of Northern Sydney,’’ (2001). Also Davis, Jack, in ‘’Aborigines of the West: Their Past and Their Present’’ ed. Berndt, RM and CH (1980), UWA Press, Perth.
  18. ^ Butlin, Noel, Our Original Aggression: Aboriginal Populations of Southeastern Australia 1788-1850 (1983), Allen & Unwin, Syd.
  19. ^ Day, David, Claiming a Continent: a new history of Australia (1996), Angus & Robertson, Sydney, p63f.
  20. ^ Lambert, JT., ‘’Brokers of Cultural Change’’ (2000), ISBN 0646365770, p245.
  21. ^ Warren C., "Could First Fleet smallpox infect Aborigines? - A note", Aboriginal History 31, pp 152-164. Online:
  22. ^ Finzsch, Norbert, “Extirpate or remove that vermine: genocide, biological warfare and settler imperialism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries”, Journal of Genocide Research 10(2), June 2008, p215-232 and Mear, C., “The origin of the smallpox in Sydney in 1789”, Journal of Royal Australian Historical Society, 94(1), pp 1-22.
  23. ^ Boomgaard, P., Smallpox and Vaccination on Java, 1780-1860 in "Dutch Medicine in the Malay Archipelago 1816-1942: Articles presented at a symposium..." (1989) ISBN 9051831420
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  25. ^ a b c Peter Williams & David Wallace (1989), Unit 731: Japan's Secret Biological Warfare in World War II, Free Press, ISBN 0029353017 
  26. ^ Hal Gold, Unit 731 testimony, 1996, p.64-66
  27. ^ Japan triggered bubonic plague outbreak, doctor claims, [1], Scaruffi, Piero (1999), A time-line of World War II,, retrieved 2008-05-02 
  28. ^ Daniel Barenblatt, A Plague upon Humanity, 2004, p.32.
  29. ^ Barenblatt, Daniel (2004), A Plague upon Humanity, HarperCollins, pp. 220–221 
  30. ^ Christopher Hudson (2 March 2007), Doctors of Depravity, Daily Mail, 
  31. ^ The Third Reich at War, 1939-1945,Richard J Evans, Penguin 2009, Kindle Edition, location 8517-27
  32. ^ a b c d e Kenneth Alibek and S. Handelman. Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World - Told from Inside by the Man Who Ran it. 1999. Delta (2000) ISBN 0-385-33496-6 [2].
  33. ^ Typhoid- Biological Weapons
  34. ^ NTI: Country Overviews: Israel: Biological Chronology
  35. ^ "Hidden history of US germ testing", BBC News, 13 February 2006, 
  36. ^ American Experience biological weapons timeline, 15 December 2006, 
  37. ^ Julian Ryall (June 10, 2010). "Did the US wage germ warfare in Korea?". The Telegraph. 
  38. ^ Regis, Ed (June 27, 1999), "Wartime Lies? Two historians contend that the United States engaged in germ warfare nearly 50 years ago", New York Times, 
  39. ^ "The United States and Biological Warfare: Secrets from the Early Cold War and Korea (first chapter on line)", The New York Times,, retrieved 2010-04-26 
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  41. ^ a b Stephen Lyon Endicott & Edward Hageman (1998), The United States and Biological Warfare: Secrets from the Early Cold War and Korea, Indiana University Press, ISBN 0253334721 
  42. ^ Southern African News Feature:the plague wars
  43. ^ Working Group on Civilian Biodefense (February 28, 2001), "Consensus Statement: Botulinum Toxin as a Biological Weapon, Medical and Public Health Management", Journal of the American Medical Association 285 (8): 1059–70, doi:10.1001/jama.285.8.1059, PMID 11209178, 
  44. ^ Rheinhart, Courtney Elizabeth, Clostridium botulinum toxin development in refrigerated reduced oxygen packaged Atlantic croaker (Micropogonias undulatus), 
  45. ^ Eitzen, Edward M., Jr.; Takafuji ', Ernest T.; Zajtchuk (editor), Russ (1997), "Overview of Biological Warfare", Medical Aspects of Chemical and Biological Warfare, Office of The Surgeon General, 
  46. ^ Potential bioweapons
  47. ^ "Vietnam's war against Agent Orange". BBC News. 14 June 2004. Retrieved 17 April 2010. 
  48. ^ Verdourt, Bernard; E.C. Trump and M.E. Church (1969), Common poisonous plants of East Africa, London: Collins, p. 254 
  49. ^ "An Introduction to Biological Weapons, Their Prohibition, and the Relationship to Biosafety", The Sunshine Project, April 2002, accessed December 25, 2008.
  50. ^ Lockwood, Jeffrey A. Six-legged Soldiers: Using Insects as Weapons of War, Oxford University Press, USA, 2008, pp. 9–26, (ISBN 0195333055).
  51. ^ "Emergent Computation: Emphasizing Bioinformatics", by Matthew Simon, Chapter 3, Appendix
  52. ^, "Encoded Metallic Nanowires Reveal Bioweapons", 12:50 EST, August 10, 2006.
  53. ^ BiosparQ features
  54. ^ Iddo Genuth and Lucille Fresco-Cohen, "BioPen Senses BioThreats", The Future of Things, November 13, 2006
  55. ^ Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction: Assessing the Risks, Office of Technology Assessment, August 1993, OTA-ISC-559, archived from the original on December 30, 2006,, retrieved 2007-05-27 [dead link]
  56. ^ Rebecca Maksel (14 January 2007). "An American waged germ warfare against U.S. in WWI". SF Gate. Retrieved 7 March 2010. 
  57. ^ "Dr. Ira Baldwin: Biological Weapons Pioneer". HistoryNet. American History. Retrieved 8 March 2009. 
  58. ^ search for document "bbacqq"
  59. ^ For a more complete discussion, see:
  60. ^ Sharad S. Chauhan (2004), Biological Weapons, APH Publishing, p. 194, ISBN 8176487325, 
  61. ^ "US welcomes 'Dr Germ' capture". BBC. 13 May 2003. Retrieved 8 March 2010. 
  62. ^ "Anthrax attacks". Newsnight (BBC). 14 March 2002. Retrieved 16 March 2010. 
  63. ^ "Interview: Dr Kanatjan Alibekov". Frontline. PBS. Retrieved 8 March 2010. 
  64. ^ "Obituary: Vladimir Pasechnik". London: Daily Telegraph. 29 November 2001. Retrieved 8 March 2010. 
  65. ^ "Interviews With Biowarriors: Sergei Popov", (2001) NOVA Online.
  66. ^ Ute Deichmann, Biologists under Hitler, trans Thomas Dunlap (Harvard 1996).
  67. ^ B. Leyendecker and F. Klapp, "Human Hepatitis Experiments in the Second World War". U.S. Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, 1989.
  68. ^ Office of U.S. Chief of Counsel for the American Military Tribunals at Nurember, 1946.
  69. ^ Paul Maddrell, "Operation Matchbox and the Scientific Containment of the USSR", in Peter J. Jackson and Jennifer L. Siegel (eds) Intelligence and Statecraft: The Use and Limits of Intelligence in International Society. Praeger, 2005.
  70. ^ "Matthew Meselson - Harvard - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs". Harvard. Retrieved 8 March 2010. 
  71. ^ "MIT Security Studies Program (SSP): Jeanne Guillemin". MIT. Retrieved 8 March 2010. 
  72. ^ Lewis, Paul (4 September 2002). "Sheldon Harris, 74, Historian Of Japan's Biological Warfare". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 March 2010. 

Further reading

  • Alibek, K. and S. Handelman. Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World– Told from Inside by the Man Who Ran it. Delta (2000) ISBN 0-385-33496-6
  • Appel, J. M. Is all fair in biological warfare? The controversy over genetically engineered biological weapons, Journal of Medical Ethics, Volume 35, pp. 429–432 (2009).
  • Crosby, Alfred W., Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900 (New York, 1986).
  • Dembek, Zygmunt (editor), Medical Aspects of Biological Warfare; Washington, DC: Borden Institute (2007).
  • Endicott, Stephen and Edward Hagerman, The United States and Biological Warfare: Secrets from the Early Cold War and Korea, Indiana University Press (1998). ISBN 0253334721
  • Keith, Jim (1999), Biowarfare In America, Illuminet Press, ISBN 1-881532-21-6 
  • Knollenberg, Bernhard, "General Amherst and Germ Warfare," Mississippi Valley Historical Review 41 (1954–1955), 489-494.
  • Mangold, Tom and Goldberg, Jeff (1999), Plague Wars: a true story of biological warfare, Macmillan, London, ISBN 0-333-71614-0 
  • Maskiell, Michelle, and Adrienne Mayor. "Killer Khilats: Legends of Poisoned Robes of Honour in India. Parts 1 & 2.” Folklore [London] 112 (Spring and Fall 2001): 23-45, 163-82.
  • Mayor, Adrienne, Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World. Overlook, 2003, rev. ed. 2009. ISBN 1-58567-348-X.
  • Orent, Wendy (2004), Plague, The Mysterious Past and Terrifying Future of the World's Most Dangerous Disease, Simon & Schuster, Inc., New York, NY, ISBN 0-7432-3685-8 
  • Pala, Christopher (19??), Anthrax Island
  • Preston, Richard (2002), The Demon in the Freezer, New York: Random House.
  • Rózsa, Lajos 2009. The motivation for biological aggression is an inherent and common aspect of the human behavioural repertoire. Medical Hypotheses, 72, 217-219.
  • Woods, Lt Col Jon B. (ed.), USAMRIID’s Medical Management of Biological Casualties Handbook, 6th edition, U.S. Army Medical Institute of Infectious Diseases, Fort Detrick, Maryland (April 2005).
  • Zelicoff, Alan and Bellomo, Michael (2005), Microbe: Are we Ready for the Next Plague?, AMACOM Books, New York, NY, ISBN 0-8144-0865-6 

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • biological warfare — warfare that makes use of bacteria, viruses, toxins, etc., to disable or destroy people, domestic animals, and food crops. Abbr.: B.W. Also called biowarfare, germ warfare. [1945 50] * * * or germ warfare Military use of disease producing or… …   Universalium

  • biological warfare — n. the deliberate use of disease spreading microorganisms, toxins, etc. in warfare …   English World dictionary

  • biological warfare — noun uncount the use of harmful bacteria as a weapon in a war …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • biological warfare — noun the use of bacteria or viruses or toxins to destroy men and animals or food (Freq. 2) • Syn: ↑BW, ↑biological attack, ↑biologic attack, ↑bioattack • Hypernyms: ↑war, ↑warfare …   Useful english dictionary

  • biological warfare — biologinė operacija statusas T sritis Gynyba apibrėžtis Biologinių medžiagų naudojimas žmonėms, gyvūnams naikinti ar augalams ir medžiagoms pažeisti, arba gynyba nuo tokio naudojimo. atitikmenys: angl. biological operation; biological warfare… …   NATO terminų aiškinamasis žodynas

  • biological warfare — biologinis karas statusas T sritis apsauga nuo naikinimo priemonių atitikmenys: angl. biological warfare rus. биологическая война ryšiai: žiūrėk – biologinė operacija …   Apsaugos nuo naikinimo priemonių enciklopedinis žodynas

  • biological warfare — biological war·fare wȯr .fa(ə)r, .fe(ə)r n warfare involving the use of biological weapons also warfare involving the use of herbicides …   Medical dictionary

  • biological warfare defence — noun defense against biological warfare • Syn: ↑biological warfare defense, ↑BW defense, ↑BW defence • Hypernyms: ↑defense, ↑defence, ↑defensive measure …   Useful english dictionary

  • biological warfare defense — noun defense against biological warfare • Syn: ↑biological warfare defence, ↑BW defense, ↑BW defence • Hypernyms: ↑defense, ↑defence, ↑defensive measure …   Useful english dictionary

  • biological warfare — noun Date: 1946 warfare involving the use of biological weapons; also warfare involving the use of herbicides …   New Collegiate Dictionary

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