With mounting evidence that the US conducted germ warfare operations against North Korea during the Korean conflict, a US apology to the North Korean people could go a long way toward bringing Washington and Pyongyang into a dialogue over North Korea’s nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missile programs. During the Korean War, there were substantive charges from the international community that the United States used chemical and biological weapons (CBW) on the Korean peninsula.
A formerly Secret Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) memorandum, dated July 7, 1953, from Horace S. (“Pete”) Craig to CIA director Allen Dulles, discussed a proposal to use the findings of the US Psychological Strategy Board (PSB) to counter efforts by the international community to investigate charges of US CBW use in Korea. A formerly Secret “Memorandum of Conversation” issued by the US State Department and dated July 6, 1953 outlines a plan to dissemble a report issued by the International Scientific Commission (ISC) that concluded the United States was using biological weapons in Korea. Although the State Department memo admitted that the scientists who signed the ISC report were “highly competent people” and that their “handiwork” was “difficult to attack,” a team of State Department, CIA, and Pentagon officials, backed by US ambassador to the United Nations Henry Cabot Lodge, President Dwight Eisenhower’s psychological warfare adviser C. D. Jackson, and Allen Dulles, set out to discredit the ISC report.
Colonel Arthur Long, the Pentagon’s representative on the PSB team and the Army’s chief epidemiologist called the ISC report a “fabrication” based on “evidence” that could not be “demolished” by the United States. In other words, the ISC report was based on facts that were uncomfortable for the CIA and the US foreign policy and military establishments. Because the ISC had substantially proven that the US was using biological weaponry in Korea, the US sought to discredit the report without criticizing the international team of reputable scientists who participated in the ISC study.
The PSB arranged for the intelligence community-linked National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to appoint a committee led by Dr. Detlev Bronk to punch holes in the ISC report. Bronk, a biophysicist, was president of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York and a person who was no stranger to the CIA’s and Pentagon’s secret biological weapons programs conducted under such CIA programs as MK-ULTRA, MK-NAOMI, and MK-DELTA. Bronk actually expressed some displeasure over the NAS’s reliance on Colonel Long’s “findings” about the use of BW in Korea. These findings were circulated by the NAS among the international scientific community for review. However, Bronk ensured that Long’s conclusions were given a “low-key” treatment by the NAS.
The CIA’s and PSB’s goal was to arrange for a group of international scientists to challenge the ISC report before the U.N. General Assembly. The British Foreign Office rejected a US State Department proposal for Britain to lead off the condemnation of the ISC report. London was opposed to a proposal for leading British scientists to join the NAS in calling the ISC report baseless and without merit.
All the PSB and State could muster from Britain was a commissioned report written not by a scientist, but by John Clews, a reporter for the Birmingham Post of England. The report’s foreword was written by the head of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. The United States moved to have the 7th General Assembly of the UN condemn the ISC report in a resolution. Only around 20 UN member states supported the resolution to condemn the ISC report. Opposed to the resolution was Britain and an “Arab-Asian bloc.”
The State Department referred to those who supported the ISC report as “Commie liners.” These included Communist Party newspapers in Italy and France. The CIA considered using University of Pennsylvania philosophy professor Dr. Conway Zirkle, author of the book “Soviet Science,” to lead an academic refutation of the ISC report’s findings.
The United States argued before the UN and the international scientific community for “on-the-spot” investigations of sites in Korea for evidence of US BW use. This was ultimately rejected because such investigations might result in the disclosure of US 8th Army “preparations or operations (e.g. chemical warfare), which, if revealed, could do us psychological as well as military damage.” This statement admits that, at the very least, the US was employing chemical weapons in Korea. Furthermore, the ISC report expanded the US weaponry used in Korea to BW.
There is ample evidence that the United States employed the assistance of pardoned Japanese war criminals, including General/Dr. General Shiro Ishii and his assistants, who worked for the ultra-secret Japanese Unit 731, the World War II-era biological warfare research entity in deploying BW against North Korea. Ishii paid at least three visits to South Korea in 1952 courtesy of the US Far Eastern Command. Given the history of Japanese-Korean relations, use of Japanese war criminals to support a BW campaign against North Koreans and Chinese military personnel was inexcusable in the eyes of the North.
The ISC report discovered the presence of several insects in North Korea that were “hitherto unknown.” These included certain types of flies, spiders, fleas, beetles, crickets, mosquitoes, and other insects. Moreover, these invasive species were found in very unlikely places, including on snow, ice-covered rivers, and on stones. Most of the insects examined by ISC scientists were found to be infected with Vibrio cholera, pasteurella pestis, Eberthelss typhosa, Bacillus paratyphi A and B, Rickettsis prowazekii, and shingella dysenteriae. These and other contagion were stockpiled by the Pentagon and CIA at the US Biological Warfare Laboratories at Camp Detrick (now Fort Detrick) in Maryland.
In many places in North Korea that experienced a sudden infestation of invasive insect species, eyewitnesses reported the presence of low-flying aircraft that refrained from dropping bombs or laying down machine gun fire, an unusual circumstance during the Korean conflict. Plague soon broke out in regions where the insects, some only found in tropical environments, were discovered in clumps in sub-freezing temperatures. The ISC discovered that canisters with English markings were discovered near areas where the insects had been found.
In addition to evidence of US BW use, ISC examiners discovered villages subjected to chlorine gas attacks. North Korean civilians suffered from symptoms of chemical weapons attacks. In addition, various crops were destroyed as the result of CW use.
The ISC report, criticized by the PSB and the CIA as a fabrication with valid supporting evidence, concluded: “American Forces in Korea have in their possession chemical weapons of various kinds and that these have been used on many occasions against the civilian population, causing numerous casualties.”
The United States violated The Hague Convention of 1907 concerning the laws of land warfare and the Geneva Protocol of 1925 concerning bacteriological warfare during the Korean War. To further dialogue with the North Korean government that is pursuing the means to join the “nuclear club” to deter external aggression, a formal US apology to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea would go a long way to lay the groundwork for a serious diplomatic dialogue to bring the DPRK into the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty framework. However, considering the jingoistic behavior of the Trump administration, such a solution appears fruitless.