Shiro Ishii has died and moved on. The US, predictably, did not really shut down its biowarfare efforts after the Korean War – it just changed them, outsourced some of them, transformed them, and took different approaches here and there. I see no way that Agent Orange, the famous cancer-causing dioxin-based defoliant sprayed all over Vietnam, can be seen as anything but biological or chemical warfare. Either way, it’s “Weapons of Mass Destruction” – that thing the US resolutely rains sanctions down upon, when anyone except us tries to use them. And, we re-define ours so they’re not WMD. Thus, we have the irony of the US invading Iraq in an illegal war ostensibly to take away their WMD, then using WMD on the Iraqi population (White phosphorus and area bombardment). Yes, high explosive is a weapon of mass destruction. It’s one of the tragedies of our historical period that we even need to mention that.
So, in line with the “American Projection Theory” we ought to be highly concerned when the Republicans in Washington start pushing a theory that the COVID-19 virus originated in a biology research lab in Wuhan. I’m pretty cynical, so I wonder what the US has going on in its biology research labs. And, it ought to make you wonder, too. What we learned, though, during the Vietnam War, is that the US has figured out it can outsource the development of the nasty shit to Monsanto, or Honeywell, or Raytheon, etc. It’s hands off: we’re not dropping WMD on Vietnamese agriculture, it’s a “product” from Monsanto. If you have a problem with that, call their customer complaint hotline.
The early stages of the Wuhan Lab Theory made you think that a tailored virus is too dangerous for anyone to use that was not extremely stupid and casual about human life. In other words, I think the CIA would do it, unhesitatingly, they just don’t have the capability. But that got me thinking that it would be completely within their profile to commission the development of custom bio-weapons to use against crops. Ridiculous, right? No. [wik]
More on Shiro Ishii: [stderr] [stderr] [stderr]
Stripe rust of wheat was also under investigation, and the usual screening program for chemical anticrop agents was continued. A gradual increase in the scope of the rest of the anti-crop program accompanied this development. Large scale greenhouse experiments on stripe rust of wheat yielded considerable information on the degree of crop injury in relation to the time and number of inoculations. Rocky Mountain Arsenal, from January 1962 to October 1969, “grew, purified and militarized” the plant pathogen wheat stem rust (Puccinia graminis, var. tritici) known as Agent TX for the Air Force biological anti-crop program. Agent TX-treated grain was grown at Edgewood Arsenal and from 1962–1968 in Sections 23-26 at Rocky Mountain Arsenal. The unprocessed agent was transported to Beale AFB in refrigerated trucks for purification and storage and was kept refrigerated until loaded into specialized bombs adapted from the Leaflet bombs used to deliver propaganda. The M115 anti-crop bomb, also known as the feather bomb or the E73 bomb, was a U.S. biological cluster bomb designed to deliver wheat stem rust. The deployment of the M115 represented the United States’ first, though limited, anti-crop biological warfare (BW) capability.
By the mid-1970s the Central Intelligence Agency acknowledged that it had developed and field tested methods for conducting covert attacks that could cause severe crop damage.
Wanna know something funny? The M115 was designed by: Shiro Ishii’s lab. It’s the bomb the US used to drop bio-weapons on North Korea. [press for conversion] The US, remember, is the imperial power that has run around raining shit down on “rogue nations” that might develop WMD. Presumably, because of our vast experience with them, and the spectacular pinnacle of moral high ground that we occupy. We sprayed 11 million gallons of agent orange on Vietnam, we can tell you that shit works, thank you very much.
It seems that conspiracy nuts lack imagination, when they think of things like the COVID-19 virus originating in a lab, when there are nasty things that may well have originated in a lab. This is probably just a coincidence, but an aggressive, invasive fungus that is attacking coffee plants and damaging an economy? [bbc]
Coffee’s plague starts with yellow spots and what look like burn marks. They form on the leaves of the coffee plant, causing the foliage to wither until the tree resembles a skeleton. It stops bean-producing cherries from growing. This is coffee rust or roya, caused by the hemileia vastatrix fungus. For two years it has been ravaging Central America and the Caribbean. Arabica plants – used for espresso and filter coffee – are particularly vulnerable. Arabica accounts for almost all production in the worst affected countries of Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, and Panama.
The current epidemic is the worst seen since the fungus appeared in Central America in 1976, says the International Coffee Organisation. More than half of the region’s coffee-producing areas are affected. In 2013 alone, production fell 20%.
Nobody’d be that stupid and inhumane, right? The CIA would, absolutely.
But, wait, it gets worse. Clamp your conspiracy hat firmly on your head: [nyt]
Up to one-third of Afghanistan’s poppy harvest this spring has been destroyed by a mysterious disease, according to estimates revealed Wednesday by United Nations officials, potentially complicating the American and NATO military offensives this summer in the country’s opium-producing heartland.
The Taliban’s public relations strategy against the offensives includes trying to convince local residents that Western troops will destroy their poppy crops, and in recent weeks Afghan farmers have started blaming the American and NATO militaries for spreading the disease, United Nations officials say. In many places, the blight has wiped out more than half of individual poppy fields.
A mysterious disease? Are you fucking kidding me? Agricultural scientists know how to de-mysterify this kind of thing fairly quickly. You look closely at affected plants and see if they are growing fungus on them. If that’s not it, start looking for bacteria or a virus. Etc. It’s suspicious as hell to me that somehow Afghanistan’s poppy crop didn’t matter except anyone with a brain is going to ask, “does that shit also affect wheat and corn, coffee and chocolate?” What is it? Scientists figure that kind of thing out for a living. That piece in the failing New York Times was from 2010. What have we learned since then?
Any news report that begins, “The US is strong-arming Columbia” ought to worry you. But Mother Jones, unlike the New York Times, tends to report on things that are actually happening, before the rest of the lumpenproletariat learn about it (thought a watered-down report on the New York Times, timed to not affect elections) [mj]
The big American suddenly stood up, leaned over the table and said to the Colombian in a low voice, “You’d better be careful not to talk to the press!”
Dr. David C. Sands, scientist and entrepreneur, was meeting with advisors to the Colombian Ministry of the Environment last March to push a new drug-war weapon marketed by his company: a special toxic fungus which would kill coca plants. The Colombian scientist who raised Sands’ hackles had pointed out that the fungus could also attack humans with weakened immune systems — a condition common among the often undernourished and generally unhealthy poor coca farmers and workers in the tropical rain forests of Colombia, where Sands wants to carry out a massive spraying program. “He didn’t care,” said the Colombian, who asked not to be named.
Sands is not the only party pushing this new biological weapon. The US Congress is demanding that Colombia apply the controversial fungus in order to receive $1.6 billion in emergency bailout funds for Colombia’s antidrug/counterinsurgency strategy called Plan Colombia. Last March, Rep. Benjamin Gilman, R-NY, tacked on an amendment to the pending aid bill requiring President Clinton to certify that the Colombian government “has agreed to and is implementing a strategy to eliminate Colombia’s total coca and opium poppy production” using, among other means “tested, environmentally safe mycoherbicides.” Myco = fungus; herbicide = plant killer.
Sounds nuts, doesn’t it? These people don’t respect evolution very much, do they? It’s especially crazy, to me, since things like opium poppies are moved around in great big bundles known as “fungal incubators” – and moved all over the fucking planet – it’s pretty easy to hypothesize how something like that could spread.
Like, to Afghanistan.
Ha ha ha, I kid. I kid.
It’s interesting, though, that there is so little reporting and scientific research about the mysterious opium crop failure. The reporting I could find blames “a drought” which is probably legit. But there is other reporting that Afghanistan was experiencing a bumper crop. That being the crop that failed. It’s like a conspiracy or something. [Yes I am aware of the episode of The Americans that hypothesizes a CIA plot to destroy Soviet agriculture.] But the US imperial system does its conspiracying openly, running its ops as a trial balloon in the New York Times. [nyt] [from 2000]
Imagine the horking blasts of diahhretic shit squirting from every journalist in California if someone casually suggested solving California’s drought using aggressive crop management techniques like bio-weapons. Imagine if water supplies were seeded with fungi that capitalists sold you the cure for? These fucking idiots are confronting (and wringing their hands in despair over) computer-based ransomware, give me a break! We are at the cusp of a time where someone might create bioweapons-as-ransomware. Cusp? We’re past it: the US apparently has been busily doing it since 2000 or so. I simply don’t have it in me to write a Robert Heinlein-esque parody of a dystopian future where European farm-subsidized government decides to crash US agriculture with a tailored blight or two. Like Heinlein thought we should do to the Chinese, and worse.
Dr. David C. Sands holds out a clear plastic petri dish filled with a white fuzzy fungus growing across the bottom. This substance, he believes, is the key to ending much of the world’s production of illicit drugs.Members of Congress also believe that Dr. Sands and other researchers may be on to a powerful and environmentally safe method of killing not only coca plants, but also marijuana and poppy plants. The members have asked the government of Colombia to test a strain of Fusarium oxysporum over the next two years. If it proves effective, the disease will be sprayed on vast fields of coca plants there, and experts say it could wipe out much of the coca crop within a year.
Fusarium Oxysporum is also a banana blight. I wonder if the world’s banana crops are going to be “collateral damage”? It is not at all hard to imagine scenarios where a crop blight bioweapon gets loose and turns out to live and reproduce just fine on some “valuable” crop [I like opium and consider it valuable] but what if it gets loose in California’s surviving almond fields? [By the way, memo to Al Queda or Hamas: I can teach you how to make bioweapons that could cripple Israeli, Florida, or Californian agriculture. God, you people are stupid.]
It seems to me that the trigger on this bit of brain-damage was pulled some time ago. That it was being trial-ballooned in NYT in 2000 and later the same scenario plays itself out, involuntarily, in Afghanistan – it’s just too much coincidence.
In 2000, the government of Colombia proposed dispersing strains of Crivellia and Fusarium oxysporum, also known as Agent Green, as a biological weapon to forcibly eradicate coca and other illegal crops. The weaponized strains were developed by the US government, who originally conditioned their approval of Plan Colombia on the use of this weapon, but ultimately withdrew the condition. In February 2001, the EU Parliament also issued a declaration specifically against the use of these biological agents in warfare.
Hahahahahahaaahahaha!!! Wait, let me catch my breath: we’re supposed to believe that the Columbians wanted that? Yet, the reporting from the same time was that the US Government was trying to tie the bioweapon’s use to foreign aid, as usual. Also, note that the US Government did develop the bioagent.
Wrap your brain around this: the US appears to have a) illegally developed a bioweapon, and published that fact in multiple ways and b) used it, possibly, in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the US congress complain about Hamas, and the Taliban, who are rank, pathetic nihil-league amateurs compared to the terrorism-farm in Langley, Virginia.
[Nature] reports that Fusarium appeared in bananas about 50 years ago. So that may be what the bioweapons labs started with…? Obviously, there’s not a lot of peer-reviewed reporting on “How we made a WMD!” in the literature.
I have written about this elsewhere but it’s a historical accident that Soviet authoritarians happened to be worse at running agriculture than Kansas Republicans. So it was not necessary for the US to make sure socialist agriculture failed spectacularly, which they would unhesitatingly have done, if the Soviets hadn’t beaten them to it.
Heinlein: I was a fan of that schmuck for a while, until he came out with Friday and started writing in the genre of “old guy who can’t get his dick up anymore SF” but when I was a teen-ager I mistakenly bought and read a copy of Sixth Column which, basically, well, whoah. DNA-based bioweapons designed to target asiatics? Why was that jackass never cancelled properly?
Thanks, I guess.
A little off topic but again demonstrating the US not giving a fuck.
When we were spending a lot of time in Viet Nam, our carrier pulled into Hong Kong harbor for a quick visit. While we were there, we were moving some nuclear bombs (small ones, which we did not have!) about the ship. They gave me a fire fighting suit and a charged hose and told me if we accidentally dropped one of these bombs (which we didn’t have, of course) and the casing cracked, I was to hose the bomb off the carrier into the harbor.
Where, apparently, it would be fine.
Sixth Column, first published in Astounding Science Fiction January through March 1941 under Heinlein’s pen name Anson McDonald. Also published under the title The Day After Tomorrow.
Rob Grigjanis says
It’s the same fungus that’s been chasing and devastating coffee plants around the world for the last 150 years, as people kept trying to find safe places to grow it. It seems that scientists and growers agree that the latest disasters are due to climate change. So, not a coincidence, but not grown in a lab either.
Regarding Heinlein: It’s worth noting that the man was very up front about writing for money, and at that time Astounding, the magazine edited by noted fascist John Campbell, was one of the biggest markets around. Also worth noting is that Heinlein wrote Sixth Column from an outline provided by Campbell, and that he actually toned down the racism in the outline.
Your first post dealing with Ishi and the bomb he designed didn’t sound right. Back in the 70s I was reading up on the Japanese biological experiments and I seem to remember the bomb being designed to be delivered by a small biplane and it being made of wood, bamboo and paper. Made sense to me. The Japanese are a very frugal people.
The pictured seemed bomb casing uncharacteristic for the Japanese. So I dug around a bit. Seems to me that the bomb depicted, particularly the one from Korea, looked very much like M16A1 or M15 cluster bomb. Yes both were adaptable and there was some testing with delivery of wheat rust. Most units look to have been used to distribute propaganda leaflets. It is also listed in a manual from 1945.
Similar but a bit smaller M15:
Manual Cover from 1945 from link on M16 page:
It seems unlikely, at least to me, that a Japanese bio-weapons design would be shared in 1945, when the US and Japan were still very much at war. The design seems to go back to the very early 40s and may have been used in some of the last leaflet drops over Germany, allowing the bombers to drop from a higher altitude, but I haven’t been able to find any documentation. Just a few vague references.
The wheat rust bio-weapon use in Korea is not impossible. I have doubts. The testing showed a roughly 30% reduction in crop yield. On an agricultural system not known for its efficiency. A reduction that North Korea could easily make good with a little Russian or Chinese help. Seems a very minor gain for large investment. That, and a chance of a major loss of credibility. Then again, maybe.
I tell people the Iranian’s first operational reactor was a gift from the US and people look at me funny. Funny old world.
Seems like you’re accumulating material to add another verse to this conspiracy theory anthem: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPLyhbb-vl8
Haven’t these people learnt anything from history? There’s a long list of fuckups in biological control of pests: the disease will jump to related species, or get into legitimate crop fields. And using it for illicit drugs will just make them more valuable, increase the motivation to grow the crops and drive the cultivation into new areas that aren’t affected by the disease (yet).
I think the nicest thing you can say about people who come up with ideas like blighting enemy crops is that they’re useful doomsday theorists. You basically ask them, what’s the worst stuff that could happen to us, they come back with engineered blights and you then turn the question around into defence against that scenario. Even better, the contingencies probably also work when the disaster it isn’t caused by enemy action but just by nature being nature. Of course, when you first start doing this you may very well have to make an example of the first strategic genius who answers the “defence” question with “we strike first.” At least initially, the advisory board of doom may struggle with the notion of not actually doing harm, but trying to prevent it instead.
On another note, attackings crops must be such an obvious war crime that the various conventions must have wondered if it was even worth mentioning.* It’s also, as has been pointed out, apocalyptically stupid on almost the same level as engineering a zombie plague to infecty our enemy with. If you plan rivals extremely stupid SF you’re striving for the wrong kind of future.
*After a moment of stunned silence, the comittee members looked at each other and burst out laughing. “Almost had me there”, one giggled. “Your faith in humanity is heart-warming”, another snickered.
Marcus Ranum says
Haven’t these people learnt anything from history?
“Learn history?! We make it!”
There have been reports of a couple of very suspicious plant diseases in Cuba over the years but they were, obviously, just coincidences.
I must admit to being a bit suspicious about claims of biological warfare against afghan poppy crops as the rumours are that Afghan opium is a major source of CIA black funding. Still as the report is from 2010 it may be the CIA and local dealers had not negotiated a mutually agreeable deal at that time.