Report: U.S. Dropped Plague-infected Fleas on North Korea in March 1952

There is a great deal of misunderstanding between the people of the United States and North Korea. This is largely due to the lack of information the average U.S. citizen has about the suffering endured by Koreans during the Korean War, including war crimes committed by U.S. forces.

While U.S. forces carpet bombed North Korea, bombed irrigation dams, and threatened nuclear attack, their most controversial action was the use of bacteriological or biological weapons during the war.

For decades, the U.S. has strenuously denied the use of such weapons. At the same time, evidence of such use was kept from the American people. Even today, very few are aware of what really happened. Only in February 2018 was a full documentary report on germ warfare, prepared and written by mostly West European scientists, released online in easy-to-read format.

Some former Cold War researchers have maintained that China, the Soviet Union, and North Korea perpetuated a fraud in their claims of germ warfare. They rely on a dozen or so documents supposedly found by a rightwing Japanese journalist in Soviet archives. But these researchers never counted on the fact that someday the public could read documentary accounts of the biowar campaign for themselves.

The story that follows concerns one such episode, the dropping of plague-infected human fleas on a single small village. But we will see that the story itself is much larger, and includes a U.S. cover-up about Japan’s use of biological weapons in World War II, and testimony from a Marine Corps colonel about how the U.S. conceptualized its germ warfare campaign.

Excerpted from the 1952 “Report of the International Scientific Commission for the Investigation of the Facts Concerning Bacterial Warfare in Korea and China,” p. 287 (p. 325 of linked PDF)

The tale begins with an American plane flying circles over and over a small North Korean village one moonless night in Spring 1952.

It was early Tuesday morning in the village of Kang-Sou, in South Pyongan Province. Song Chang-Won, a 32-year old peasant farmer had gone to his neighbor’s house one morning to ask him a farming-related question.

The date was March 25, 1952, and the country had been rent by war and invasion for exactly nine months now. Of much concern to North Koreans were the recent reports of American planes dropping plague and other germs over the country. The government had recently begun extraordinary efforts to contain the outbreak of epidemics.

Weeks earlier, on February 22, North Korea’s Foreign Minister, Bak Hun-Yung had officially protested the use of bacteriological warfare by the United States. On March 8, Chou En-Lai, Foreign Minister for the People’s Republic of China, made international headlines when he sent a telegram to the “Secretariat to the United Nations detailing claims of 448 germ warfare sorties by the US Air Force.”

Song’s neighbor was Pak Yun-Ho, a 26 year old peasant born and raised in the village. He had never travelled far from home. Unusually, Pak had been up for hours already. As he later told authorities, he was woken up by what he (and later others) identified as an American plane that had been circling above the village around 4:00am.

“The enemy plane flew away after circling several times without strafing or bombing. I couldn’t sleep again after this,” Pak told local investigators.

A few hours later he went to the nearby village well to wash his face. It was 6:00am and light was just gathering for the day. The well or small pond the peasants used was about a football field away from the cluster of small homes among which Pak lived. Arriving there, he was shocked to find “dozens of fleas floating on the surface of water in a water jar” a few yards east of the well.

Pak had filled the jar with fresh water only the night before. He was “surprised” at the sight of the fleas. He had heard about the claims of U.S. germ warfare in the country. Only a few weeks before, he had received a cholera-typhoid-paratyphoid-dysentery mixed vaccine, part of an intense public health campaign by North Korean authorities, following the germ warfare attacks. He knew he had to report what he’d seen.

A North Korean peasant villager gives testimony to the ISC, from video (link)

Hurrying back home, Pak ran into his neighbor Song, and took him to see the fleas. Song went to see the large jar, which had a nearly 20 inch (50 cm) opening on top. The fleas looked dark brown, and indeed they were floating on top of the water. The jar itself was surrounded by a good deal of grass and weeds.

Pak told interviewers, “Song Chang-Won and I thought that these numerous fleas floating on the surface of water must have been dropped by the American plane circling over our village before dawn. We, therefore, immediately informed the chairman of the Village People’s Committee of this incident.”

The Mobile Epidemic Prevention Corps

The chairman brought the information to the local branch of the newly formed Mobile Epidemic Prevention Corps. As elsewhere, public health exigencies took precedence over forensic concerns, and most of the fleas were destroyed immediately. Even so, some of the fleas were gathered using sterile means and saved for later examination.

By noon that day, three members of the Mobile Epidemic Prevention Corps were onsite, investigating the strange flea phenomenon. They, too, found “dozens of fleas” floating on the water. Using sterile procedures, twenty fleas were placed into test tubes and sent to the Central Sanitary and Epidemic Prevention Station for examination.

The remaining fleas were burned and then buried. The area around the well and the vicinity was disinfected with 6% hexachlorane and 3% phenol. Rats were hunted, trapped and destroyed, because rats were believed to be carriers of bubonic plague, as during Europe’s infamous Black Death. No rats were found that carried plague. (Interestingly, only this year has scientific evidence been published showing the rat-plague connection is most likely false.) Inoculations against plague were administered to all the villagers, but it would turn out to be too late for Pak Yun-Ho.

No one saw any fleas falling from the sky, but everyone assumed they originated from the circling American plane. Neither was any projectile or device found that may have delivered the fleas, even though apparently there hadn’t been much of a search (or perhaps the fleas had been sprayed out of the plane, as we shall see had been the case in Japan’s use of plague in World War II).

Health officials’ energies went into disinfecting Pak’s house and all the other houses in the village. The district was quarantined. All told, 936 people lived in Kang-Sou.

Public health officials had heard about previous attacks of plague in the country. These infections all seemed to follow the path of American planes. The case seemed open and shut. North Korea had not had any history of bubonic plague for 500 years prior to 1952.

Six days after he discovered the fleas, Pak developed symptoms of plague. On the morning of April 2, he started to feel ill. He felt weak and suffered from chills and severe headache. He developed a high fever.

Pak went to see the doctor, who prescribed him Sulfadiazine, a common antibiotic used for plague at the time. He had a sister with him in the village. Perhaps she cared for him. He had suffered from malaria only the summer before.

That night, Pak could barely sleep. His temperature rose to 104 degrees fahrenheit. He had little appetite, but was quite thirsty. The doctor kept him on Sulfadiazine, and placed him on a glucose IV.

Portion of report from Chief, Mobile Epidemic Prevention Corps, in ISC report, pg. 288

By the afternoon of April 4, Pak was failing. Delirious, he drifted in and out of consciousness. His lips were turning blue. His vomit was greenish-yellow, and the lymph nodes in his groin were swollen and quite painful. That night, his body temperature started to rapidly fall. He died shortly before midnight.

While many efforts were taken to blunt any effects from the presumed U.S. bacterial warfare attack, it was determined that the young peasant from Kang-Sou died from septicemia, secondary to bubonic plague spread by fleas dropped from the American airplane. At least, this was the conclusion of the scientists who investigated the aftermath of this and other attacks.

The International Scientific Commission

By April 16, the laboratory reports confirmed what all suspected. The fleas Pak found were human fleas (Pulex irritans), accumulated in a strange and unnatural way. The bacteria isolated from them, as well as from Pak’s tissues after autopsy, was Pasteurella pestis, which causes plague.

Pasteurella pestis is more commonly referred to today as Yersinia pestis, after Alexandre Yersin, who first linked the bacillus to plague.

In September 1952, the International Scientific Commission for the Investigation of the Facts Concerning Bacterial Warfare in Korea and China (ISC) issued a report (large PDF, also see embed at end of this article) finding that the U.S. had conducted biological warfare during the Korean War.

The ISC linked Pak’s death to the discovery of plague-laden fleas in his village. His death was one piece in the chain of evidence in the case proving U.S. germ warfare.

The report noted: “Since the beginning of 1952 numerous isolated foci of plague have appeared in North Korea, always associated with the sudden appearance of numbers of fleas and with the previous passage of American planes. Seven of these incidents, the earliest dating from 11th Feb., were reported in SIA/1, and in six of them the presence of the plague bacteria in the fleas was demonstrated. Document SIA/4 added the statement that after a delivery of fleas to the neighbourhood of An-Ju on the 18th Feb., fleas which were shown bacteriologically to contain Pasteurella pestis, a plague epidemic broke out at Bal-Nam-Ri in that district on the 25th. Out of a population of 600 in the village, 50 went down with plague and 36 died.”

(The ISC report states that “SIA/1”was the “First Report of the Korean Medical Service,” while “SIA/4” was the “International Democratic Lawyers’ Commission (Korea) Report.”)

The ISC also described another important instance of fleas carrying plague. A few months after the Kang-Sou incident, on April 23, two young lieutenants from the Chinese Volunteer Forces in Korea went back to pick up some wood they had cut the day before on a bare hillside outside Hoi-Yang, in the Song Dong district of North Korea. They were very surprised to find “a very dense mass of fleas” in the same spot that was clear the day before. The only change was that in the very early morning hours, around 4:00 am, an American plane had been spotted circling the area.

The ISC scientific experts noted acerbically: “According to what is known of the oecology of this insect [the human flea], it would be impossible to find large numbers away from the houses of man. What, then, is to be said of the occurrence of a number of these insects estimated at many tens of thousands, at one time, on bare waste land remote from any human habitation? Such a witches’ sabbath was certainly not called together by any natural means.”

From report on bacteriological specimen, reproduced in ISC report, pp. 297–299

Charged with investigating the situation in the immediate aftermath of Pak’s discovery of the Kang-Sou fleas, the medical investigators in Kang-Sou had no actual experience with plague. Plague was unknown in their area. So they were relieved when Dr. Ch’en Wen-Kuei, the President of the Southwest Branch of the Chinese Medical Association came to the village to assist investigators there. He had been assigned recently to the Ministry of Health and Epidemic Prevention Service of Korea.

Imperial Japan Used Plague as Weapon in China

Dr. Ch’en knew a good deal about plague. He was the author of a 1941 report for Kuomintang authorities detailing a germ warfare attack by Japan’s biological warfare department, Unit 731, on the Chinese town of Changteh, in Hunan. He had plenty of experience with both plague and the experience of being attacked by biological weapons.

As in Kang-Sou, in Changteh there had been no plague bomb either. In that attack, however, eyewitnesses saw “wheat and rice grains, pieces of paper, cotton wadding” sprayed by air from a plane. Plague in the area developed within a few weeks. In Hunan province, almost 500 or so were to die from this and similar attacks.

From Dec. 13, 1946 memorandum from Frank Tavenner, Chief Prosecutor, IMTFE, to Soviet Major-General A. N. Vasilyev, concerning possible prosecution of Unit 731 for use of biological weapons (link)

After World War II, Ch’en’s report was subsequently filed with The International Military Tribunal For The Far East (IMTFE), which conducted war crime trials of Japanese military and civilian authorities.

In a controversial decision by the chief prosecutor for the IMTFE, Frank Tavenner, no evidence on biological warfare charges was allowed in the postwar war crimes trials. Supposedly this was because prosecutors could not link the germ warfare crimes to anyone who was specifically on trial. But in actuality, the U.S. had made a secret agreement with Japan’s biological warfare experts not to prosecute them if they gave all their data and expertise to U.S. biological warfare and intelligence departments.

Looking now at the evidence first found by Pak Yun-Ho, Dr. Ch’en concluded that the Korean and Chinese scientists were correct in identifying the Kang-Sou incident as a plague attack.

ISC investigators recounted his testimony: “The whole picture in the case of this peasant-farmer was identical not only with that of those where the Japanese disseminated fleas infected with Pasteurella pestis between 1940 and 1944, but also with that of several other places in the northern part of Korea in 1952 where plague fleas suddenly appeared in large numbers after the passage of American planes…. The phenomena of 1952 were, in his opinion, on a considerably larger scale than anything which the Japanese had ever attempted.”

Image from International Scientific Commission (“Needham”) Report, pg. 318 (p. 355 of linked PDF)

Dr. Ch’en further described to investigators the method behind Japan’s use of plague: “The Japanese system was to send planes to drop the fleas early morning, and then to keep up a desultory air bombardment all day for the purpose of confining the population to the shelters. When they returned to their homes in the evening, the concentrations of fleas would have dispersed and nothing untoward would be noticeable.”

In the case of the North Korean village, there was no bombing later in the day. In fact, at this point the U.S. biowar campaign was apparently experimental in nature.

A Top Marine Officer Presented a Biowar Timeline

Col. Frank H. Schwable, pictured as POW, People’s China, March 16, 1953 (link)

According to a statement by Colonel Frank Schwable, Chief of Staff of the First Marine Aircraft Wing, given to Chinese interrogators after his plane was shot down in on July 8, 1952, “The general plan for bacteriological warfare in Korea was directed by the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff in October, 1951…. The basic objective was at that time to test, under field conditions, the various elements of bacteriological warfare, and to possibly expand the field tests, at a later date, into an element of the regular combat operations, depending on the results obtained and the situation in Korea.”

Schwable continued, “Terrain types to be tested included high areas, seacoast areas, open spaces, areas enclosed by mountains, isolated areas, areas relatively adjacent to one another, large and small towns and cities, congested cities and those relatively spread out….

All possible methods of delivery were to be tested as well as tactics developed to include initially, night attack and then expanding into day attack by specialized squadrons.”

It wasn’t until May 24, 1952 that, according to Col. Schwable, “General Barcus, Commanding General, 5th Air Force… directed General Jerome to extend the bacteriological warfare conducted by the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing into its operational stage.”

It would appear that much of what seems strange about the early months of the U.S. biological warfare campaign was due to its provisional, experimental nature.

Lt. Floyd B. O’Neal talks about his participation in germ warfare attacks before International Scientific Commission investigators, early Aug. 1952 at unidentified site in North Korea, from a video capture (link)

There is a great deal more evidence surrounding the use of U.S. bacteriological weapons during the Korean War, including both the evidence collected by the International Scientific Commission, led by British scientist Joseph Needham, and in a number of statements given both to interrogators, but also publicly (see videos here and here) by captured U.S. airmen.

Today, even as the Trump administration moves towards putative negotiations with the North Koreans over “denuclearlization” of the Korean peninsula, President Trump has been appointing new cabinet and national security officials, such as Mike Pompeo and John Bolton, who have advocated an extremely hawkish stance towards North Korea.

Now is the time for the full truth to come out about the history of the United States in the Korean peninsula, so that the forces of peace can wage their own struggle with those who seek disastrous war.

Read the Needham Report here.

Reprinted from Jeff Kaye’s site at


The Long-suppressed Korean War Report on U.S. Use of Biological Weapons Released At Last

Download the full report here.


Back in the early 1950s, the U.S. conducted a furious bombing campaign during the Korean War, dropping hundreds of thousands of tons of ordnance, much of it napalm, on North Korea. The bombardment, worse than any country had received up to that point, excepting the effects of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, wiped out nearly every city in North Korea, contributing to well over a million civilian deaths. Because of the relentless bombing, the people were reduced to living in tunnels. Even the normally bellicose Gen. MacArthur claimed to find the devastation wreaked by the U.S. to be sickening.[1]

Most controversially, both North Korea and China alleged that by early 1952, the U.S. was using biological or germ warfare weapons against both North Korea and China. The U.S. government has strenuously denied this. Nevertheless, captured U.S. flyers told their North Korean and Chinese captors about the use of such weapons. Later, after the prisoners were returned to U.S. custody, counterintelligence experts and psychiatrists interrogated them. They were told under the threat of court martial to renounce their confessions about germ warfare. They all did so.

The Army Criminal Investigative Division officer in charge of interrogating returning prisoners, including airmen who confessed to use of biological weaponry on North Korea and China, was Army counter-intelligence specialist, Col. Boris Pash. Pash had previously been in charge of security for the most sensitive classified operations of the U.S. government in World War II. He was in charge of security at the Manhattan Project’s Berkeley Radiation Laboratory. (The Manhattan Project was the U.S. crash program to develop the atomic bomb.)

In the immediate aftermath of the war, military intelligence officer Pash led the Alsos Mission, which searched for Nazi and Italian nuclear scientists and fissionable materials, as well as gathering “intelligence about any enemy scientific research applicable to his military effort,” including biological and chemical weapons.[2]

To convince the world of the truth of their claim the U.S. had dropped biological weapons on their countries, and after turning down the suggestion that the International Red Cross look into the charges, the North Koreans and Chinese sponsored an investigating commission. Using the auspices of the World Peace Council, they gathered together a number of scientists from around the world, most of whom were sympathetic to either the Left or the peace movement. Most surprisingly, this commission, which came to be known as the International Scientific Commission, or ISC, was headed by one of the foremost British scientists of his time, Sir Joseph Needham.

The ISC included scientists from a number of countries, including Sweden, France, Italy, and Brazil. The Soviet Union representative, Dr. N. N. Zhukov-Verezhnikov had been the chief medical expert at the Khabarovsk Trial of the Unit 731 Japanese officers accused of participating in bacteriological (aka biological, or germ) warfare before and during World War II, as well as conducting hideous experiments on prisoners to further that aim. Zhukov-Verezhnikov went on to write scientific articles through the 1970s.

Needham himself, though pilloried in the Western press for his opinions on the controversy of U.S. use of biological weapons during the Korean War, remained a highly lauded scientist for years after the ISC report. He was elected a fellow of the British Academy in 1971. In 1992, the Queen conferred on him the Companionship of Honour.[3]

The ISC travelled to China and North Korea in the summer of 1952 and by September produced the “Report of International Scientific Commission for the Investigation of the Facts Concerning Bacterial Warfare in Korea and China,” which corroborated the Chinese and North Korean claims that the U.S. had used biological weapons in an experimental fashion on civilian populations.

The summary report was only some 60 pages long, but the ISC included over 600 pages of documentary material including statements from witnesses, including airmen involved in dropping the weaponry, as well as captured enemy agents; reports from doctors; journal articles from the United States; autopsy reports and lab tests; and photos and other materials. Most of this documentary material has been all but inaccessible for decades, with only a handful of copies of the ISC report in a few scattered libraries in the United States.

From ISC Report, pg. 403

The report concluded that the U.S. had used a number of biological weapons, including use of anthrax, plague, and cholera, disseminated by over a dozen of different devices or methods, including spraying, porcelain bombs, self-destroying paper containers with a paper parachute, and leaflet bombs, among others.

This article is not meant to examine the full range of opinions or evidence about whether or not the U.S. used biological weapons in the Korean War. It is instead an attempt to publish essential documentation of such claims, documentation that has effectively been withheld from the American people, and the West in general, for decades.


The charges of U.S. use of biological warfare during the Korean War have long been the subject of intense controversy. The reliance, in part, on testimony from U.S. prisoners of war led to U.S. charges of “brainwashing.” These charges later became the basis of a cover story for covert CIA experimentation into use of use of drugs and other forms of coercive interrogation and torture that became the basis for its 1963 KUBARK manual on interrogation, and much later, a powerful influence on the CIA’s post-9/11 “enhanced interrogation” program.

Establishment Cold War scholars have been quick to debunk the ISC report. The most notable attempts in recent years included the publication of purported letters written by officials of the Soviet Union discussing the lack of evidence of U.S. biological warfare, and the decision to manufacture such evidence to fool the West.[4] Subsequently, a 1997 memoir by Wu Zhili, the former director of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army Health Division, was published declaring the purported U.S. use of bacteriological agents in the Korean War was really “a false alarm.” [5]

If these documents were to be true, as two Canadian scholars who spent years researching the Chinese-North Korean claims of biological warfare, then it would go against the bulk of archival evidence, including interviews with pertinent witnesses in both the United States and China.[6] Some of this archival evidence is quite recent, including the CIA declassification of a good deal of formerly top secret daily signal intelligence cables from the Korean War.[7]

The cables dealing with North Korean claims of biological warfare, which claims were dismissed by U.S. officials, prove that the North Koreans were serious about the belief they were being attacked by germ weapons, and that they were concerned that reports from the field not be falsified by assiduous if uninformed people sending in reports from the field. There is no evidence that North Korean officials or personnel ever engaged in falsification of evidence of biological warfare.

There also is plenty of archival evidence to be found in the suppressed Needham report materials. For instance, the Wu Zhili document claims, “‘for the entire year [1952–1953] no sick patient or deceased person was found to have anything to do with bacteriological warfare.”

From the ISC report, pg. 470

But the ISC report documents a number of such deaths, including deaths from inhalational anthrax, a very rare disease almost completely unknown in China at that time. Appendix AA of the report, “Report on the Occurrence of Respiratory Anthrax and Haemorrhagic Anthrax Meningitis following the Intrusion of U.S. Military Planes over Northeast China” details the presence of anthrax by autopsy and laboratory examination in five deaths during March-April 1952. According to U.S. experts who have looked at the details of this report, the conclusions regarding death from inhalational anthrax could not have been faked[8].

Until recently, there has been no effort to make the original Needham materials available for other scholars or the public to assess for themselves the truth or falsity of their analysis. Last year, scholar Milton Leitenberg uploaded a copy of the ISC report to Scribd, but it is a very rough scan, and not searchable, or easy to use for the public. The release was not advertised and the public in particular remains ignorant of its findings.

The version of the ISC report published here utilized state-of-the-art book scanning equipment and is text searchable.

Censorship of Unit 731-U.S. Collaboration on Biological Warfare Data

One important part of the ISC report guaranteed its suppression in the United States after its initial publication. The report discussed the activities of Imperial Japan’s biological warfare detachment, Unit 731, and the U.S. interest in its activities.

Back in 1952, collaboration between the U.S. and Japanese war criminals using biological weapons was top secret, and totally denied by the U.S.

But today, even U.S. historians accept that a deal was made between the U.S. and members of Unit 731 and associated portions of the Japanese military that had in fact been experimenting on the use of biological weapons since the mid-1930s, experimentation that included use of human vivisection and barbaric torture of thousands of human beings, most of whom were disposed of in crematoria. In addition, as described in the book chapter by Bernd Martin noted in the bibliography, there was collaboration between the Japanese and the Nazi regime on these issues.

The U.S. collaboration with Japanese war criminals of Unit 731 was formally admitted in 1999 by the U.S. government, though the documentation for this confession wasn’t published until nearly 20 years later.[9]

It is a matter of historical record now that the U.S. government granted amnesty to Japan’s chief at Unit 731, doctor/General Shiro Ishii and his accomplices. The amnesty was kept top secret for decades, until revealed by journalist John Powell in a landmark article for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists in October 1981.

What came to be known as the Needham report, due to the fact the ISC was headed by the prestigious British scientist, came under immediate fire upon release. The report still remains a flashpoint for scholars. A 2001 article by the UK’s Historical Association detailed how UN and UK government officials collaborated in attempts to debunk the ISC findings. The UK Foreign Office released memoranda saying that claims of Japanese bacteriological warfare, going back to 1941, were “officially ‘not proven.’” (See article by Tom Buchanan in Bibliography.)

The sensitivity of the material uncovered by the ISC touched two areas of covert US government research. First was the US government’s own plans to research and possibly implement germ warfare. The second issue concerned the confessions of U.S. flyers as to how they were briefed and implemented trial runs of biological warfare during the Korean War.

China published the confessions of 19 U.S. airmen, but those confessions are also notoriously difficult to obtain. The ISC report published herein does include some of those “confessions,” and the public can be allowed to decide for themselves how authentic or genuine they are.

From testimony of Lt. J. Quinn, ISC report, pg. 614 (PDF)

The U.S. claimed that the flyers were tortured, and the CIA promoted the idea they were “brainwashed” by diabolical methods, causing a scare about “commie” mind control programs and “menticide,” which they used to justify the expenditure of millions of dollars for U.S. mind control programs during the 1950s-1970s.

The programs, codenamed Bluebird, Artichoke, and MKULTRA, among others, used experiments on unwitting civilians, as well as soldiers undergoing supposed anti-torture training at the military’s SERE schools. I have shown via public records that CIA scientists continued to use experiments on “stress” at SERE schools after 9/11, and believe such research included experiments on CIA and/or DoD held detainees. That such research did take place can be inferred from the release in November 2011 of a new set of guidelines concerning DoD research. This newest version of a standard instruction (DoD Directive 3216.02) contained for the first time a specific prohibition against research done on detainees. (See section 7c.)

I believe a strong case can be made that while coercive methods, primarily isolation, was used on the U.S. prisoners of war who later confessed, that their confessions were primarily true. The idea that only false confessions result from torture is in fact false itself. While false confessions can result from torture (as well as less onerous methods, such as the Reid Technique, used by police departments throughout the United States today), actual confessions can also sometimes occur. I have first-hand experience working with torture survivors to know that is true.

Even so, it is a fact that all the POWs who confessed use of germ warfare later recanted that upon return to the United States. But the terms of their recantations are suspect. The recantations were made under threat of courts-martial, and after interrogations by U.S. counterintelligence agents and psychiatrists. The archival evidence of the flyers debriefings have been destroyed or lost due to fire (according to the government). Meanwhile at least one scientist working at Ft. Detrick at the time admitted to German documentary investigators before he died that the U.S. had indeed been involved in germ warfare in Korea. (See the documentary video, “Code Name: Artichoke.”[10])

An “actual investigation… could do us psychological as well as military damage”

The charges of U.S. use of biological weapons during the Korean War are even more incendiary than the now-proven claims the U.S. amnestied Japanese military doctors and others working on biological weapons who experimented on human subjects, and ultimately killed thousands in operational uses of those weapons against China during the Sino-Japanese portion of World War Two. The amnesty was the price paid for U.S. military and intelligence researchers to get access to the trove of research, much of it via fatal human experiments, the Japanese had developed over years of studying and developing weapons for biological warfare.

During the Korean War, the U.S. strenuously denied charges of use of germ weapons and demanded an international investigation through the United Nations. The Chinese and North Koreans derided such offers, as it was United Nations-sanctioned forces that were opposing them in war and bombing their cities. But behind the scenes, a CIA-released document I revealed in December 2013 showed the U.S. considered the call for a UN investigation to be mere propaganda.[11]

At a high-level meeting of intelligence and government officials on July 6, 1953, U.S. authorities admitted behind closed doors that the U.S. was not serious about conducting any investigation into such charges, despite what the government said publicly.

According to this document, the reason the U.S. didn’t want any investigation was because an “actual investigation” would reveal military operations, “which, if revealed, could do us psychological as well as military damage.” A “memorandum from the Psychological Strategy Board (PSB) detailing this meeting specifically stated as an example of what could be revealed “8th Army preparations or operations (e.g. chemical warfare).”[12]

Charges of chemical warfare by the Americans during the Korean War were part of a report by a Communist-influenced attorneys’ organization visiting Korea, and their findings were dismissed as propaganda by U.S. authorities and commentators. But the PSB memo suggests perhaps they were right.

Not long after I published the PSB document and accompanying article, scholar Stephen Endicott wrote to remind me that he and his associate Edward Hagerman, co-authors of the 1998 book, The United States and Biological Warfare: Secrets from the Early Cold War and Korea (see bibliography), had found material themselves that indicated U.S. calls for “international inspection to counter the Chinese and North Korean charges… was less than candid.”

Endicott and Hagerman found that U.S. Far East Commander, Gen. Matthew Ridgway, had “secretly given permission to deny potential Red Cross inspectors ‘access to any specific sources of information.’” In addition, they documented a State Department memo dated June 27, 1952 wherein the Department of Defense notified that it was “impossible” for the UN ambassador at the time to state that the U.S. did not intend to use “bacteriological warfare — even in Korea.” (p.192, Endicott and Hagerman)

The Khabarovsk War Crimes Trial

The ISC report also references the December 1949 war crimes trial held by the USSR in Khabarovsk, not far from the Chinese border. The trial of Japanese war criminals associated with Units 731, 100 and other biological warfare divisions followed upon a near black-out of such issues at the larger Toyko war crimes trials held by the Allies a few years before.

At the time of the Khabarovsk trial, U.S. media and government officials either ignored the proceedings, or denounced them as yet another Soviet “show trial.” The Soviets for their part published the proceedings and distributed them widely, including in English. Copies of this report are easier to find for purchase used, though expensive, on the Internet. Additionally, in the last few years Google made a copy of the former Soviet volume available online (see Bibliography). But no scholarly edition has ever been published.

Even so, U.S. historians have been forced over the years to accept the findings of the Khabarovsk court, though the general population and media accounts remain mostly ignorant such a trial ever took place. The fact the Soviets also documented the use of Japanese biological experiments on U.S. POWs was highly controversial, denied by the U.S. for decades, was a quite contentious issue in the 1980s-1990s. While a National Archives-linked historian has quietly determined such experiments did in fact take place, the issue has quietly fallen off the country’s radar. (See L. G. Goetz in bibliography.)

The relevancy of these issues is of course the ongoing propaganda war between the United States and North Korea, as well as Pentagon reallocation of resources to the Asian theater for a possible future war against China. But it is the clear threat of a nuclear exchange between North Korea and the United States that calls for clarity around the issues that have led to the mistrust between the two countries. Such clarity demands the release of all information that would help the U.S. populace understand the North Korean point of view. Such understanding, and acting upon such knowledge, may be all that separates us from a catastrophic war that could potentially kill millions of people.

The history behind the Korean War, and U.S. military and covert actions concerning China, Japan, and Korea, are a matter of near-total ignorance in the U.S. population. The charges of “brainwashing” of U.S. POWs, in an ongoing effort to hide evidence of U.S. biological warfare experiments and trials, also has become entwined in the propaganda used to explain the U.S. post-9/11 torture and interrogation program, and alibi past crimes by the CIA and Department of Defense for years of illegal mind control programs practiced as part of MKULTRA, MKSEARCH, ARTICHOKE, and other programs.

I hope that readers will feel free to disseminate this article without any copyright reservations, as well as the ISC report itself, an orphaned document from the Cold War.


Daniel Barenblatt, A Plague Upon Humanity: The Secret Genocide of Axis Japan’s Germ Warfare Operation, HarperPerennial, 2005

Tom Buchanan, “The Courage of Galileo: Joseph Needham and the ‘Germ Warfare’ Allegations in the Korean War,” The Historical Association, Blackwell Publishers, 2001

Dave Chaddock, This Must Be the Place: How the U.S. Waged Germ Warfare in the Korean War and Denied It Ever Since, Bennett and Hastings Publishers, 2013

Stephen Endicott & Edward Hagerman, The United States and Biological Warfare: Secrets from the Early Cold War and Korea, Indiana University Press, 1998

Stephen Endicott & Edward Hagerman, “Twelve Newly Released Soviet-era `Documents’ and allegations of U. S. germ warfare during the Korean War,” online publication, 1998, URL:

Stephen Endicott & Edward Hagerman, “False Alarm? ‘The Bacteriological War of 1952’: Comment on Director Wu Zhili’s Essay,” online publication, June 1, 2016, URL: [accessed May 14, 2017]

Sheldon H. Harris, Factories of Death: Japanese Biological Warfare, 1932–45, and the American Cover-up, rev. ed., Routledge Press, 2002

Linda Goetz Holmes, Guests of the Emperor: The Secret History of Japan’s Mukden POW Camp, Naval Institute Press, June 2010.

Jeffrey Kaye, “CIA Document Suggests U.S. Lied About Biological, Chemical Weapon Use in the Korean War,” Shadowproof, Dec. 10, 2013, URL: (accessed May 14, 2017)

Materials on the Trial of Former Servicemen of the Japanese Army Charged With Manufacturing Bacteriological Weapons [Testimony and Exhibits from the Khabarovsk War Crimes Trial], Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1950, published as free e-book at Google Books, URL: [accessed May 14, 2017]

Milton Leitenberg, “New Russian Evidence on the Korean War Biological Warfare Allegations: Background and Analysis,” Cold War International History Project, Bulletin 11, 1998

Milton Leitenberg, “China’s False Allegations of the Use of Biological Weapons by the United States during the Korean War,” CWIHP Working Paper #78
March 2016, URL: [accessed May 14, 2017]

Jeffrey A. Lockwood, Six-Legged Soldiers: Using Insects as Weapons of War, Oxford Univ. Press, 2010

Bernd Martin, “Japanese-German collaboration in the development of bacteriological and chemical weapons and the war in China,” in Japanese-German Relations, 1895–1945: War, Diplomacy and Public Opinion (Christian W. Spang, Rolf-Harald Wippich, eds.), Routledge, 2006

John Powell, “A Hidden Chapter in History,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, October 1981

Peter Williams and David Wallace, Unit 731: The Japanese Army’s Secret of Secrets, Hodder & Stoughton, 1989 [Note: The U.S. version of this book, published by Free Press, does not include Chapter 17 on the Korean War, which is only available in the British Hodder & Stoughton version.]


[1] Robert M. Neer, Napalm: An American Biography, 2013, Belknap Press, pg. 100.

[2] “Boris Pash and Science and Technology Intelligence,” Masters of the Intelligence Art series, U.S. Army Intelligence Center, Ft. Huachuca, undated. URL: (retrieved 1/20/2018)

Pash was later associated with activities of the CIA. We don’t know when his involvement with the Agency began. Watergate defendant E. Howard Hunt told Congressional investigators in 1976 Pash was involved in assassination activities for the CIA during the 1960s. See “Executive Session, Saturday, January 10, 1976, United States Senate, Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, Washington, D.C.” URL: (retrieved 1/20/2018)

[3] See URL: (retrieved 1/20/18). The article drew the information from Winchester, Simon (2008), The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom. New York: HarperCollins.

[4] Leitenberg, Milton. (1998). Resolution of the Korean War Biological Warfare Allegations. Critical reviews in microbiology. 24. 169–94. 10.1080/10408419891294271.

[5] “Wu Zhili, ‘The Bacteriological War of 1952 is a False Alarm’,” September, 1997, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Yanhuang chunqiu no. 11 (2013): 36–39. Translated by Drew Casey.

[6] “False Alarm? The Bacteriological War of 1952 — Comment on Director WuZhili’s Essay” by Stephen Endicott and Edward Hagerman, Department of History, York University (ret.), June 2016,

[7]“Baptism By Fire: CIA Analysis of the Korean War Overview,” URL:

[8] For a full discussion, see “Updated: The Suppressed Report on 1952 U.S. Korean War Anthrax Attack,”

[9] Jeffrey S. Kaye, “Department of Justice Official Releases Letter Admitting U.S. Amnesty of Japan’s Unit 731 War Criminals,”, May 14, 2017, URL:

[10] URL:

[11] Jeffrey Kaye, “CIA Document Suggests U.S. Lied About Biological, Chemical Weapon Use in the Korean War,” Shadowproof, Dec. 10, 2013, URL: (accessed May 14, 2017)

[12] For the actual memorandum document, see URL:

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