Endemic outbreaks of smallpox, plague and other biological agents have arisen naturally throughout history. They’ve swept across countries and continents, resulting in devastation, suffering and untold death.
Albeit rare, the application of biological agents as weapons and instruments of terrorism can be traced back centuries.
|Sixth Century B.C.||The Assyrians poison enemy wells with rye ergot, a fungus that induces convulsions if ingested.|
|1346||An outbreak of bubonic plague besets the Tartar Army during its siege of Caffa, a port on the Crimean Peninsula in the Black Sea. The Tartars catapult the dead over the city’s defenses, causing an epidemic and the surrender of Caffa. Historians suspect the refugees as possible precipitators of the second major epidemic of “Black Death” in Europe.|
|1754||British forces under Gen. Jeffrey Amherst gift blankets and handkerchiefs contaminated with smallpox to Native Americans at a peace-making summit. The blankets and handkerchiefs were taken from smallpox patients convalescing in the Fort Pitt infirmary.|
|1864||Future Kentucky governor and Confederate sympathizer Dr. Luke Blackburn exports clothing and linens used by Bermudian patients taken with Yellow Fever to Union cities with the hope of instigating an outbreak.|
|1882||Scientist Louis Pasteur synthesizes the first successful vaccine to prevent anthrax in animals.|
|1915||German-American physician Dr. Anton Dilger produces indefinite amounts of anthrax and glanders in a laboratory outside of Washington, D.C. Covert German agents use liquid forms of the agents to infect livestock (i.e., horses, mules, sheep and cattle) destined for Allied Forces in Europe.|
|1937||Japan forms Unit 731 which begins testing biological agents, including aerosolized anthrax, cholera, typhoid and plague, on human subjects. The Unit also contaminated wells and circulated tainted foodstuffs.|
|1940||The Japanese government releases paper bags of plague-carrying fleas over cities in China and Manchuria.|
|1942||The British Government detonates explosives filled with anthrax spores on Gruinard Island off the coast of Scotland. Gruinard Island was cordoned until being decontaminated in 1986.
The United States starts an offensive biological weapons program at Fort Detrick, Md. Research and development was halted by an executive order signed by President Richard Nixon in 1969.
|1953||The United States begins production of countermeasures against biological agents.|
|1972||The United States, the Soviet Union, Iraq and other nations sign the Biological Weapons Convention against the stockpiling of biological agents for military use.|
|1984||Devotees of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh contaminate salad bars in Oregon with Salmonella Typhimurium obtained from the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC) to sabotage the local county commissioner election. Over 750 cases of food poisoning were reported, 45 of which demanded hospitalization. The attack was intended as a trial run for a later major attack.|
|1991||The United Nations conducts its first investigation into Iraq’s biological weapons capabilities. The Iraqi Government verifies that research was conducted into use of weaponized botulism, anthrax and other toxins.|
|1995||The apocalyptic religious cult Aum Shinrikyo releases sarin gas in a Tokyo subway, killing 12 and sickening thousands.|
|1995||Two members of the Minnesota Patriots Council are convicted under the Biological Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989 for producing ricin with intent to poison federal agents.|
|2001||A week following the attacks of Sept. 11, letters laced with anthrax arrive via mail at the offices of NBC News and the New York Post in New York and of Sen. Tom Daschle in Washington, D.C. By year’s end, 18 people had tested positive for anthrax and five had died of anthrax inhalation.|