Dany Shoham writes in a 2012 paper [full text, paywalled]:

The yellow fever virus – a past standardized BW in the US Army, then carried by infected Aedes mosquitoes as vectors – was thus genetically engineered in conjunction with IAV, resulting in chimeric virions with infectious capacity for different biological systems (Oliveira et al., 2002).

However on a quick search I can't confirm the status of yellow fever as a "standardized BW in the US Army". The most I could find elsewhere (Frischknecht) is that:

[In] 1863 Confederates sell clothing from yellow fever and smallpox patients to Union troops, USA. [...] In addition, yellow fever is spread only by infected mosquitoes. [...]

However, the Japanese embarked on a large-scale programme to develop biological weapons during the Second World War (Harris, 1992, 1999, 2002) and eventually used them in their conquest of China. Indeed, alarm bells should have rung as early as 1939, when the Japanese legally, and then illegally, attempted to obtain yellow fever virus from the Rockefeller Institute in New York (Harris, 2002).

But neither of that qualifies yellow fever as a "past standardized BW in the US Army". (Oliveira does not discuss bio weapons.)

Likewise a review of a book on yellow fever says:

Chapter six describes research on weapons of mass destruction and provides extensive information on the potential use of a variety of infectious agents as biological weapons. Only a small portion of the chapter is devoted to yellow fever, and I believe that Dickerson’s arguments that the virus could be used as a biological weapon are not scientifically strong given the biological properties of the yellow fever virus.

So is there some evidence I'm missing here towards establishing the yellow fever virus as "a past standardized BW in the US Army"?


2 Answers 2


The word "standardized" seems like an over-statement to me. The US certainly did investigate the possibility of using yellow fever as a bioweapon during the Cold War, according to Hay (1999):

The literature obtained under the Freedom of Information Act provides some insight into the working of the United States biological weapons programme. [...] The annual reports of the Chemical Corps allied with reports of the specific operations Big Buzz, Bellwether and Magic Sword provide some fascinating insights into the programme to improve weapons for the delivery of mosquitoes which would transmit yellow fever. The target area for use of yellow fever was clearly the Soviet Union.

I can not find any evidence that this went beyond those named experimental operations.


For a slightly more extensive summary that doesn't require someone to read 20-page paper... Jeffrey Lockwood (who also wrote a book on the topic of entomological warfare, writes in a 2012 paper broader in scope:

Yellow fever became the mainstay of the Camp Detrick’s entomological program, when it was discovered that mosquito larvae would uptake the virus from an aqueous medium, allowing the mass production of infected adults without the need for blood feeding (43, 44). The U.S. military then conducted an extensive series of simulated attacks using uninfected mosquitoes.

In 1955, Operation Big Buzz involved the production and storage of more than one million A. aegypti. The test in rural Georgia was considered successful when the mosquitoes reached human volunteers and guinea pigs 1 km from the release site (44, 58, 92). Subsequent trials (Operations Drop Kick and Gridiron) (44) were sufficiently promising that the U.S. military conducted a simulated attack on an American city. From April to November of 1956, the people of Savannah, Georgia, served as uninformed targets. In Operation May Day, mosquitoes were released as if dispersed from bombs and warheads (92). This trial was followed by the Avon Park Experiment in which 200,000 mosquitoes were released over Florida using a new “bagged-agent dispenser” with a 320-kg payload consisting of 2,090 paper bags loaded with insects.

The Bellwether tests in 1959 were conducted to refine the American understanding of entomological warfare (44). Bellwether One involved field experiments designed to assess the role of environmental factors on the capacity of mosquitoes to find and feed on hosts. In Bellwether Two, researchers monitored the biting frequency of mosquitoes and found that a single release would infest an area of approximately 1 hectare. Detailed observations revealed that humans moving erratically and near buildings were bitten most frequently, which boded well for an attack on an urban setting. The details of Bellwether Three remain classified, but Bellwether Four consisted of testing strains of mosquitoes that had been bred for aggressive host seeking and biting. Researchers also produced insect strains resistant to insecticides as these “represent a potentially more effective vehicle for the offensive use of BW [biological warfare] of insect borne pathogens” (27). In 1960, the U.S. Army Chemical Corps issued an “Entomological Warfare Target Analysis” to identify vulnerable sites for an attack (44, 74). China and the Soviet Union had many cities that met the criteria, and in the judgment of the analysts, it “would be impossible for a nation such as the USSR to quickly undertake a mass-immunization program to protect millions of people” (74). In the same year, plans were drawn up for a facility at Pine Bluff, Arkansas, with the capacity to produce 130 million infected mosquitoes per month (43, 65)

Apparently the facility never went into production though, a fate it shared with another (location not mentioned) "planned to produce 50 million fleas per week, until microbiologists proved unable to culture enough plague bacteria".

Operation Magic Sword assessed the capacity of yellow fever mosquitoes to make landfall after being released from a ship anchored off the warm, humid shores of the United States to approximate the tropical conditions of southeast Asia (44).

And an amusing, perhaps, footnote from the book (p. 344):

During Soviet inspections of U.S. facilities in 1991, the Russians requested access to the “mosquito room” at Pine Bluff Arsenal. Finding a massive water-filled vat with newly refitted plumbing, the Soviets were certain they’d found evidence of an active, offensive program in entomological warfare. The Americans admitted that the pool had been updated, but they were able to show that the modified tank was not being used to produce mosquitoes for military operations but to raise catfish for civilian research.

(One might be a bit skeptical of this last story, but there were such visits conducted by the Soviets in December 1991 [Verification Yearbook 2002, p. 96] in preparation for the 14 September 1992 Trilateral Agreement--which eventually didn't fare too well.)

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .