The US House of Representatives has voted to order the US Department of Defense Inspector General to disclose to Congress whether or not the Pentagon conducted Cold War-era experiments aimed at weaponizing disease-carrying insects, including ticks that carry Lyme disease, and if so whether or not any of these insects had been released—accidentally or otherwise—into the wild.

The Cold War had seen the concoction of numerous creative schemes by governments around the world to cause problems for their adversaries, such as the CIA’s infamous “exploding cigar” plot to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro, so the idea that the DoD might have experimented with the concept of using insects as a way of disseminating pathogens isn’t exactly a far-fetched conspiracy theory. And now, the advance of global warming is promoting the spread of numerous insect-borne diseases, such as West Nile, dengue fever and Lyme disease, into regions where their six-legged hosts were previously unable to thrive.

The vote, proposed by Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and adopted as an amendment during the House debate on the fiscal 2020 defense authorization bill, says that the inspector general “shall conduct a review of whether the Department of Defense experimented with ticks and other insects regarding use as a biological weapon between the years of 1950 and 1975.”

If it turns out that such experiments did indeed take place, then the Inspector General will be required to provide the House and Senate Armed Services committees with a report regarding the scope of the experiments, and “whether any ticks or insects used in such experiments were released outside of any laboratory by accident or experiment design.”

Smith was concerned over reports that Pentagon researchers, working in facilities such as Fort Detrick in Maryland and New York’s Plum Island, may have infected host insects not only as a potential way to deliver biological weapons, but also to find ways to protect US troops from such attacks. Research into biological weapons was banned by President Richard Nixon in 1969, but research into countermeasures against insect-borne diseases may have continued.

Smith, a founding co-chair of the Congressional Lyme Disease Caucus, says that between 300,000 and 427,000 new cases of Lyme disease occur each year, and the disease is expected to spread even further in the future. He hopes that the disclosure of any past experimentation on disease-carrying insects the Pentagon may have carried out will offer new insights into fighting this debilitating disease.

“We need to find out: is there anything in this research that was supposedly done that can help us to find information that is germane to patient health and combating the spread of the disease,” according to Pat Smith, president of the Lyme Disease Association, speaking in an interview regarding the vote.

7 Comments

  1. Ticks are not insects. Ticks (and mites) are arachnids, more closely related to spiders than to insects, though, I suppose, it doesn’t really matter, except that someone, wishing to obscure the issue, might truthfully say, “We did not weaponize insects,” without mentioning arachnids.

    1. D’oh! That’s what I get for not taking a leg-count, I completely forgot that they’re arachnids, thanks Colin!

  2. It’s about time something be done about this. I was bit by a deer tick in 1994, and to this day still suffer. By the time I got it diagnosed I was already in stage 4, making it difficult to kill off every spirochete in my body. It has made my life very difficult. I am looking forward to hearing more about this investigation.

  3. Read Lab 257 about Plum Island in Long Island Sound (right off the coast from Old Lyme, CT!). It’s an eye-opener! Weird experiments were going on there for a long time. My father told me about that island when I was little in the 60’s. Scary.

  4. If the government weaponized insects and/or ticks (ticks are eight-legged arachnids, more closely related to spiders than to insects), it was very unlikely to be with Lyme disease. Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium which causes Lyme disease, has been endemic in North America for 60,000 years. Google “Ancient History of Lyme Disease in North America Revealed with Bacterial Genomes” August 28, 2017 Yale School of Public Health.

    Katharine Walter, whose doctoral project at Yale School of Public Health studied Lyme, has said,
    “The Lyme disease bacterium has long been endemic. But the deforestation and subsequent suburbanization of much of New England and the Midwest created conditions for deer ticks—and the Lyme disease bacterium—to thrive.” In addition to the booming population of deer (and deer ticks) in suburban areas, warming in North American in recent decades also have contributed to the spread of the disease in human populations.

    I do not dismiss CindyK’s suffering, for I know several people who have suffered serious and/or permanent complications from Lyme. But
    Borrelia burgdorferi would be a poor pathogen to weaponize. The illness it causes is chronic rather than acute, far more likely to be debilitating rather than fatal, and is not transmissible between people.

    A vaccine was available in the U.S. in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s which was up to 90% effective in preventing Lyme disease. Although the vaccine was FDA approved, anti-vax paranoia on the part of the public led to the vaccine being discontinued.

  5. From a dog flea bite or deer tick bite, I have had chronic Bartonella (two forms, the Cat Scratch — Bartonella Henselae and Bartonella Quintana, Trench Fever (yes made famous from WWI) for three years. I was bit mid August 2016 while visiting in far northwestern Minnesota (lots of deer, plus a river town). My lymph nodes on the left side of my neck, left side of face, left eyelid, all swelled up and never went down. Left dominant bacteria, really strange. The immune system gets exhausted.

    The long term stress of the infection has created a low grade lymphoma (lymph cancer) and I’m being checking for a more aggressive lymphoma now too. That illness of course effects BOTH left and right lymph nodes throughout my body, so that is how I knew something else was going on in addition to the Bartonella.

    This stuff is no joke. I tried every treatment possible but not much out there, and doctors know nothing. Mayo clinic missed dx for six months, etc. A Lyme literate doc figured it out and I feel fortunate I didn’t get Lyme disease too. Tick borne illness takes out the immune system and the clinic where I went… lots of young people in wheel chairs and using walkers came in with Lyme disease.

    I got the co infections “only” because bite was on scalp and didn’t stay on long enough cause I felt it immediately. Weaponized or not, we need effective treatments and there just are not any. This stuff laughes at antibiotics.

    Minnesota is absolutely over run with Lyme disease cases and the co infections. Cases are not getting counted because doctors discount the diseases that are not easily found in lab results that meet CDC definition. Real infections are probably tripple what gets reported, or more.

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