The idea of biological warfare attacks on U.S. soil absolutely scares the pants off of me.
Remember that Facebook hoax that clogged our newsfeeds a few years ago about oranges from Libya being injected with HIV-infected blood? I didn’t eat an orange for at least six months after reading that article.
And while our thoughts concerning biological attacks often stem from other countries wanting to do us harm, the truth remains that these attacks don’t necessarily have to come from the outside. In fact, the U.S. military has been conducting biological tests in our own country for years.
These tests became quite frequent during the 1950s and ’60s. Here are seven of the most notable biological warfare tests conducted on U.S. soil.
1. San Francisco was pumped full of microbes in 1950.
The U.S. Navy took advantage of San Francisco’s infamous fog to help complete a successful biological weapons test. On September 20, 1950, an offshore ship used a hose to pump thousands of microbes into the air for the purpose of testing what a biological attack on the city would look like.
The nearly 800,000 civilians living in the city were exposed to Serratia marcescens and Bacillus globigii. This testing continued for seven days straight and was responsible for only one reported death.
2. The CIA used a variety of methods to alter brain function.
From 1953 to 1973, the CIA’s Project MKUltra was responsible for subjecting oblivious volunteers to a variety of mind-altering drugs like LSD. The CIA tried to break down the volunteers’ mental capacities. They used a variety of other methods including assault, hypnosis, isolation, and other extreme forms of torture. The goal of Project MKUltra was to determine which methods would be best used in interrogation.
3. African American men were used to study the effects of syphilis in 1932.
The United States Public Health Service began tracking the effects of syphilis on African American men. With 600 men in the test group, 399 of them were diagnosed with the STD, although not one of them was ever informed of their diagnosis. Instead, they were told they had “bad blood.”
At that point in history, penicillin was not known to be a cure for the disease. Most of the subjects were poor sharecroppers. The study was called the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male.” Researchers bribed them into the study by offering simple medical services such as physicals and rides to and from health clinics.
4. Operation Large Area Coverage subjected the Midwest to a shower of bacteria and chemical powders.
Flying Boxcar planes were flown from the Canadian border across most of the Midwest, dispersing a mixture of bacteria and chemical powders to test how quickly a chemical attack could spread across the U.S. Machines also sprayed the chemicals from atop buildings. The military lied to civilians by stating that these tests were conducted to see how quickly they could lay smoke screens during a possible nuclear attack.
5. New York City subway riders were poisoned in 1975.
The effects of unleashing biological pathogens using the subway system were tested in New York back in the ’70s. Researchers used lightbulbs full of bacteria as their weapons of choice and threw them onto the tracks as trains prepared to depart. The speed of the cars was projected to lift the bacteria into the air and spread it across the city. In Senate testimony, a former army scientist revealed that a lightbulb dropped on 14th Street was able to spread bacteria all the way to 58th.
6. Workers at the Norfolk Naval Supply Center were subjected to fungal spores.
Perhaps one of the most controversial tests performed in the U.S. took place at the Norfolk Naval Supply Center. Crates were packed with fungal spores and the testing was used to determine how the workers unpacking the crates would react to exposure. The majority of workers at the facility were African American, and it was later revealed that the fungal bacteria Aspergillus fumigatus had more severe effects on them than it did on Caucasians.
7. Whooping cough bacteria was unleashed in Florida back in 1955.
Cases of whooping cough nearly tripled in one year’s time following the suspected release of the disease over the Tampa Bay area. According to a Washington Post article originally published in 1979, at least one CIA-approved open-air biological test was performed in the area at that time. Of the more than 1,000 cases of whooping cough recorded, the official death count was just 12.