The Germ Warfare Experiments Secretly Conducted On U.S. Citizens

In the time of COVID-19 it's a bit risky to speak up about "secret government experiments" involving "germ warfare," lest we inadvertently align ourselves with some of the lunatic theories espoused by groups such as QAnon. But in the case of some 239 germ warfare tests conducted on citizens of cities such as New York City, San Francisco, and Key West, from 1949 to 1969, as the Washington Post recounts, "secret government experiments" aren't fiction, but documented historical fact, openly admitted by the US Army in 1976. 

To give you an idea of what we're dealing with, we can look to a case described in 2015 by Business Insider. In 1950, Naval vessels in San Francisco Bay pointed some giant hoses at the city and sprayed "two kinds of bacteria, Serratia marcescens and Bacillus globigii" into the fog. As professor Leonard Cole describes in his 1988 book Clouds of Secrecy, in this "simulated germ-warfare attack," "Nearly all of San Francisco received 500 particle minutes per liter. In other words, nearly every one of the 800,000 people in San Francisco exposed to the cloud at normal breathing rate (10 liters per minute) inhaled 5,000 or more particles per minute during the several hours that they remained airborne."

The Army's tellingly dispassionate, declassified 1951 report simply says, "It was noted that a successful BW (biological warfare) attack on this area can be launched from the sea, and that effective dosages can be produced over relatively large areas."

Bacteria was released upon US citizens without knowledge or consent

This kind of action, plainly unethical and disturbing in its blatant disregard of fundamental humans rights, was neither the first nor far from the last of its kind. In another case, in New York City in 1966, per Business Insider, light bulbs were packed with Bacillus subtilis  175 grams each, or 87 trillion organisms — and shattered on the city's subways. Clouds engulfed commuters, and were sucked into tunnels behind moving trains. The bacteria spread throughout the city and led to more than a million people being exposed from June 6-10. 

Such acts, aside from their obvious wrongfulness, also violate the Nuremberg Code (as posted on the website of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum), established after World War II and developed in response to heinous experiments conducted by Nazis. The code is a set of ethical principles stating, among other things, that no one should be involved in medical experiments without their knowledge or consent. 

Ultimately, the military was more or less forced to reveal these actions when the grandchildren of one Edward J. Nevin filed suit against the government on behalf of their grandfather, who passed away in 1950. Nevin died from complications that arose from Serratia marcescens exposure, which didn't exist in the Bay Area before the military's "simulation" the same year as Nevin's death. In fact, as SF Gate reports, the bacteria has changed the entire ecology of the Bay Area, and has been linked to multiple public health crises such as painful, difficult-to-treat meningitis.

A history of the unaccountable escaping justice

In some ways, it shouldn't be surprising if the US government engages in secretive, illegal, and harmful acts, biological or otherwise, against its own citizens. In 2013, Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the NSA's mass surveillance program, as Reuters recounts, which had rapidly expanded since the World Trade Center attacks on 9-11. In 1953, the CIA, as Wired explains, authorized an entire suite of "mind control" experiments to be conducted on the public by using shell companies to fund universities, in the now-infamous Project MKUltra. The result? Overdoses, depression, destroyed marriages and lives, comas, and deaths. Operation Mockingbird, Cointelpro: the list goes on and on.

Ultimately, as Discover Magazine tells us, President Nixon directly ordered all germ warfare experiments to stop in 1969, and for the military's stockpile of biological agents to be destroyed. The damage had already been done, however, and carries to the present day. In 2005 the FDA finally concluded that, "Serratia marcescens bacteria... can cause serious, life-threatening illness in patients with compromised immune systems."

Children, the elderly, the immunocompromised: aside from clear-cut cases like Edward Nevin's, it's difficult to quantify or qualify precisely how many lives have been affected by the experiments conducted from 1949-1969, and in what ways, in the Bay Area or otherwise. One effect that's hard to ignore, however, is how this truth erodes trust between US citizens and their government.