Korean War Biological Warfare Update

By Thomas Powell

Korean partition was created in 1945 by a USSR/US military accord by which jurisdiction of the peninsula was divided roughly in half between the Soviet and US occupation armies at the 38th Parallel. Three and a half decades of Japanese colonial rule (1910-45) had left a power vacuum in Korea. Eventually, separate hostile governments with bellicose armies were established to promote socialism in the north and market capitalism in the south. Provocations ensued, unification became remote, and a great cathartic bloodletting within the ancient nation of Korea seemed inevitable. When civil war broke out in 1950 it rapidly escalated into a superpower proxy war. The Korean War was the first East-West combat theater of the Cold War.  While there were horrific massacres of civilians in both the north and the south, most of the non-combatant carnage during the war was the result of US saturation bombing and aerial strafing. About 4 million Koreans died in the Korean War (1950-53).1

The Korean War biological warfare (BW) allegations made by China, USSR, and North Korea were headline international news in 1952, and played a central role in the global propaganda struggle which accompanied the war. But as the decades have piled up, the story quietly slid into the dead-story drawer visited only by Cold War historians with little remaining in public memory. However, now that North Korea has acquired nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology, and with the heightened saber rattling between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, many Americans are soberly curious to understand why, after seven decades, is the US still engaged in an openly dysfunctional belligerence with North Korea? Shouldn’t enough be enough already?

Current bellicosity has therefore rekindled interest in this long forgotten but formative episode in our shared war history. Perhaps revisiting this history might point us towards the exit from our endlessly embroiled foreign policy treadmill with North Korea? The story deserves to be told because it does offer opportunities for soul-searching in America’s violent foreign policy legacy. It deserves to be told because it is a tremendous epic filled with treachery, intrigue, and daring acts set in a time of war and its aftermath; and it deserves telling because the dark cloud of germ warfare hovers dramatically as resident evil above the whole affair. And lastly, the story deserves to be told because it stars an international cast including Dr. Ishii, Joseph Needham, Zhou Enlai, Gen. MacArthur, Stalin, Kim Il-sung, Mao, Truman, and many lesser-known intrepid types such as Bill and Sylvia Powell who played important roles in this shrouded historical drama which is slowly unraveling.

In 1945, bacteriological warfare was an advanced weapon recently acquired by the US from the Japanese Imperial Army, which had spent great effort developing it secretly under the direction of Dr. Ishii Shiro at his notorious prison camp, Unit 731, at Harbin, China. The US Army quietly acquired Unit 731 research following the war in exchange for protection for Ishii and his staff from war crimes prosecution.2 The military purpose of BW is to sow infection, illness, and death, and to cause a public health crisis behind enemy lines. The US command under Gen. MacArthur in Tokyo was eager to test the battle effectiveness of this new weapon.3 When war broke out in Korea a country of mountainous terrain and a rural population of isolated small towns and villages— a textbook opportunity to field test weaponized disease presented itself. BW is a Class A weapon of mass destruction, a designation shared with chemical warfare and the atom bomb. It possessed certain tactical advantages in that it was not vulnerable to wind change, and it could kill large numbers of people without destroying property and the built infrastructure. 

BW operations in Korea and China were clandestine paramilitary operations. While the US Army Chemical Corps oversaw BW research and development at their facilities at Camp Detrick, MD and Dugway, UT, the CIA ran the covert operations in Japan, Korea and China.4 There were two distinct deployment periods. The December 1950 to January 1951 BW attack was a ground deployment by paramilitary personnel with some dressed in protective “parkas.” UN forces were in hasty retreat from the Yalu River border region in front of the Chinese PVA invasion.5 Smallpox-infected chicken feathers were scattered into homes in abandoned war zone villages to cause disease outbreaks when villagers returned.6 The attack was denounced in May 1951 by North Korea.7 This in-retreat deployment appears to be the first US battlefield test of BW.8 This first attack is essential to the question, did the US use BW in the Korean War or not? However, differentiating this initial deployment has been overlooked by scholarship on both sides of the question.

The 1952 allegations, from both North Korea and China, describe a sustained attack with multiple missions during several months in the winter and spring of 1951-52. Disease pathogens carried by infected voles, insects, and plant matter, were alleged to have been dropped in canisters from airplanes over farms and villages of rural North Korea and adjacent provinces of China. This attack was intended to move the battle lines in the ground war which had stalemated near the 38th Parallel. The debate among historians over “did or did not” concerns this sustained deployment. [9]

The ISC Report

An International Scientific Commission was quickly formed under the auspices of the World Peace Council to investigate the germ warfare allegations against the US.10 Dr. Joseph Needham, the eminent British scientist and sinologist led the ISC fact-finding investigation and served as lead author. The committee produced its findings in Report of the International Scientific Commission for the facts concerning Bacterial Warfare in Korea and China.11 Based upon the Commission’s evidentiary findings, the Report stated categorically that the North Korean and Chinese accusations of US BW attacks were true. At specified locations, dates and hours, the scientific evidence and eyewitness testimony concurred; the US did engage in bacterial warfare attacks on Korean and Chinese soil.

The report consisted of 61 pages of summary findings and 600+ pages of evidentiary findings. The collected evidence was wide-ranging; it included medical diagnosis, lab pathology reports, maps, folios, eyewitness testimony, and POW pilot interviews. The Report was met with instant hostility and public scorn from UK and US government officials. Western journalists were also skeptical and hostile towards Needham, who, like many left-wing intellectuals in the early 1950s, underestimated the scope of the US/UK post-war political pivot from anti-fascism to anti-communism.12 The ISC Report became a lightning rod fanning the anti-communism fervor of the Cold War. It was ridiculed as communist propaganda in the West and went largely unread. Needham was denounced as a communist dupe on the floor of the US Senate and denied a visa to attend academic conferences in the US.

The setback to Needham’s professional career was sobering but temporary, and provided him the privacy to continue work on his masterpiece of scholarship, Science and Civilisation in China, Vol. 1-7,13 which cemented his standing as one of the preeminent scholars of the 20th Century. With his reputation restored, Needham lived to be 95, and received many accolades. He never repudiated the findings of the ISC Report, nor did any of the other scientist co-authors.

Lamentably however, the old charge of being a communist dupe has resurfaced posthumously by none other than Needham’s biographer, Simon Winchester.14 Winchester appears to rely solely upon the current BW hoax thesis to resuscitate this unfortunate charge, and makes no effort to corroborate these accusations through independent research. Winchester’s biography misses Needham’s soul and maligns his character as “eccentric”15 and “socialist”— the man who loved “all things China”— such that he would willingly look the other way as his old war buddy, Zhou Enlai, ran a shell game behind his back. Winchester’s biography of Needham fails on many counts.16

In truth, Needham was a tremendously energetic individual. He became a youthful apostle of science, so he could be bookish and scholarly. But Needham was also a garrulous, larger than life figure who enjoyed meeting people, making friends, and attending Chinese theater. He was the relentless interlocutor of facts, a savvy adventurer, and a competent mechanic who could tear down a truck engine. A practical and worldly man, it is highly unlikely Needham would fail to recognize sham science or compromise his ethics, which is why Zhou recruited him. The Chinese needed Needham with his background and international reputation to authoritatively judge the evidence of the BW allegation to the world. They hoped his presence and stature on the commission would persuade the world to accept the truth of the BW charge in order to bring closure to the costly war.

Hoax thesis

There are also new developments in Milton Leitenberg’s 1998 claim that the whole BW episode is all a great communist hoax perpetrated by Stalin, Mao, Zhou Enlai, and Kim Il Sung to tarbrush the US at the truce talks.17 Leitenberg has been successful in promoting his hoax hypothesis throughout the US political establishment and academia.18 Most of us would rather not believe our nation could be guilty of waging germ warfare against another nation, even in times of war, and therefore Leitenberg’s thesis plays well to his audience. The subtext is simplistic and exonerating (obviously, the enemy made up this horrible charge because they are evil deceivers!). Leitenberg’s hoax thesis has become the quasi-official – and dismissive – US explanation of the whole BW affair. Much Cold War scholarship has been influenced as well.19

Leitenberg’s Soviet dossier consists of twelve documents20 which he claims are accurate transcripts of important correspondence and memorandums of the Politburo of the Soviet Central Committee during a critical period (1 April–1 June 1953) following Stalin’s sudden death. Leitenberg obtained the documents from a Moscow-based reporter, Naito Yasuo. The documents were published in the Japanese newspaper, Sankei Shinbun. Leitenberg’s narrative claims that Naito received the handwritten documents from an undisclosed source with apparent access to the Presidential Archives at the Kremlin. Leitenberg obtained from Naito typed copies of the handwritten copies of the Soviet Politburo communications.21

Leitenberg interprets these documents as a confession of duplicity at the highest levels of Soviet, Chinese and North Korean government to create false BW infection zones, staged reenactments of BW attacks, setting off bomb explosions to frighten the inspection team, and other similar acts of deception, in order to deceive the ISC investigators into believing the fraudulent allegations of US BW attacks. In other words, the whole BW shebang was staged as one giant piece of Cold War political theater. The story has a spin of plausibility about it given our current penchant for epic fantasy, and over the past two decades Leitenberg has bolstered it with bits of publicly sourced information, snippets excerpted from personal memoirs of party officials, and outright conjecture which he bundles as further corroborating evidence of the giant BW hoax. However, the Soviet dossier remains his core evidence upon which his entire thesis hinges.

The task of translation and authentication of Leitenberg’s twelve documents fell to Kathryn Weathersby who produced a 1998 companion article to Leitenberg’s exposé for the Woodrow Wilson Center’s International Cold War History Project Bulletin.22 Weathersby’s authentication is deliberately cryptic. While superficially appearing to validate Leitenberg’s trove of documents as he presents them, Weathersby’s description of the documents, in fact, does exactly the opposite; it undermines any possibility of establishing their authenticity: 

The circumstances under which these documents were obtained are unusual. Because the Presidential Archive does not allow researchers to make photocopies, the texts were copied by hand and subsequently retyped. We therefore do not have such telltale signs of authenticity as seals, stamps and signatures that a photocopy can provide. Furthermore, since the documents have not been formally released, we do not have their archival citations. Nor do we know the selection criteria of the person who collected them.23

Leitenberg’s Soviet dossier consists of typed copies of handwritten copies of unreleased Politburo internal communications which cannot be positively identified by any of the usual markings or citations. Furthermore, the identity of the individual who hand-copied the documents and presumably smuggled them out of the Archive since they “have not been formally released” is unknown. This individual’s motivations are therefore also unknown. However, in spite of Weathersby’s own reservations and the Bulletin editor’s disclaimer at the front of the article regarding the documents’ authenticity, Weathersby goes on to state, “As is apparent from the translations below, their contents are so complex and interwoven that it would have been extremely difficult to forge them. In short, the sources are credible.”24

Weathersby’s authentication is therefore based upon the documents being in the right style and containing the names of the appropriate personnel who would have been present, and perhaps to her gut feelings and her desire for the documents to be true. Weathersby gives no consideration to the possibility that the very quantity, complexity, and interwoven-ness of the documents may be all the more reason to suspect their authenticity. After all, what good is a forgery if it is sloppily produced? She does not find suspicious the marvelously complete and explanatory contents of these revelations, or their overabundance of narrative detail.

Given the circumstances above, there is little basis to believe that Leitenberg’s twelve documents are what he claims them to be. They could just as likely be complete forgeries produced by any competent and invested third party— the CIA? the KGB? former Kempeitai agents? or perhaps Mr. Naito, himself.25 Without the Presidential Archive formally releasing its documents, which seems unlikely any time soon, there is no way to substantiate the truth of Leitenberg’s evidence. His typed copies may be accurate transcripts of restricted Politburo communication, but given their circuitous acquisition and the lack of identifying marks, he has no way to prove it. Or, they may be forgeries.26 In private correspondence, Kathryn Weathersby wrote that Leitenberg informed her he had received verbal confirmation from an archival staff person,27 but without physical documentation of that conversation, this claim amounts to hearsay.

The irony of Leitenberg’s BW hoax claim is that by insisting upon the documents’ authenticity in spite of Weathersby’s initial reservations and those also of his editor, and by further insisting upon a single, literal interpretation of their content, Leitenberg appears to have been duped. He has relied on unverifiable and possibly fabricated evidence to make a categorical claim of fraud. But, his hoax claim is revealed as a possible hoax itself, perpetrated upon a gullible Leitenberg who is predisposed to believe his good fortune given the tenor of his previous research.28 The possibility that Leitenberg was set up cannot be easily dismissed.

Beyond the authentication issue, and the question of duplicity, lies the problem of document interpretation. What do these documents actually reveal? Both Leitenberg and Weathersby take the contents of these documents literally, that is, they accept the documents’ narrative completely. But in a literal reading, why should any Politburo member be surprised by the “discovered” Chinese and North Korean forgeries? Surely they do not maintain that Stalin ran the Korean War privately without his governing council’s completely informed collaboration? Furthermore, the Russians had their own history of BW research and experimentation pre-dating 1917. A young Ishii in medical school at Kyoto University likely read about BW through Russian medical journals. Therefore, in Memorandum #5,29 L.P. Beria, Deputy Chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers, Stalin’s right-hand man and potential political heir, expresses surprise at discovering the Chinese and North Korean subterfuge. Again, why should he? And why should he wax sanctimonious with concern for Soviet international prestige? This posture by Beria is simply not credible when taken literally.

These documents, at best, are coded in apparatchik-speak to distance the USSR from the BW allegations. In this light, the documents indicate an abrupt policy shift at the Kremlin in the month following Stalin’s death. Politburo support for the war in Korea appears to have eroded quickly. The Soviet Central Committee separated itself from the North Korean and Chinese BW charge and notified its allies accordingly. A more plausible interpretation of the documents suggests that the post-Stalin Politburo made a calculated decision to placate the US on the alleged war crime charge in order to bring rapid closure at the negotiating table to the stalemated hostilities in Korea. After all, Stalin was dead, the war was expensive, and the power struggle for leadership succession in the Politburo had begun.

A third problem of language interpretation arises when Leitenberg is quick to point out official US denials of germ warfare by Secretary of State Dean Acheson and Gen. Mathew Ridgeway (who replaced MacArthur as allied commander) to bolster his hoax claim.30 However, both the denials from Acheson and from Ridgeway which he quotes state that UN forces (emphasis added) have not used BW. However, the CIA operated independently; it was never under UN Command. These official denials can be accurate statements about the UN Command while simultaneously being sham obfuscations to mask the covert CIA operation. Official deniability was designed into the whole operation.

Leitenberg’s documents are tainted and cannot be claimed as evidence of any grand deceit. Nevertheless, we should not dismiss Leitenberg’s charge of Soviet, Chinese, and North Korean collusion in producing false evidence of the BW attacks. All nations do what they can in times of war to further their cause, and it is certainly not beyond belief that the three countries would engage in deception and other acts of persuasion of the ISC scientists. It is also possible that specific individuals acted independently to create false evidence without official knowledge. However, the ISC scientists led by Needham compiled 600 pages of evidentiary material— a preponderance of evidence— to reach their unequivocal and unretracted conclusion that the US was guilty of BW attacks as charged. The claim that North Korea, China, and Russia created false evidence may also be true, but why should they do so if real evidence existed?31 In this case, the two truths do not cancel each other out. On the moral register of most human beings, killing or even attempting to kill large numbers of people with disease is a much more horrific criminal act than falsifying evidence of the crime.

New research

Joseph Needham was recruited to lead the ISC by Zhou Enlai. The ISC spent most of its time in China, and most of the evidentiary laboratory material published in the ISC Report was provided by the Chinese scientists and was subsequently published in Chinese Medical Journal.32 Today, China could resolve any remaining doubts of US BW deployment with gene-sequencing of the 1952 disease specimens. However, this is unlikely to happen because China has enjoyed a highly prosperous relationship with the US since Nixon’s visit in 1973, and there is no political will in China to broach this disagreeable subject from long ago. It seems the US and China have reached a tacit agreement to bury the hatchet on this sad episode.

North Korea has never backed away from the BW allegation and that is at the center of its ongoing hostilities with the US, and most especially the US Army. But this constantly kindled hostility has served the Kim regime well to build its paranoid prison state. It has likewise served the US Army to maintain its bloated budget and its perpetual bellicose posture. US/North Korean belligerence has been self-serving for power brokers on both sides. However, the North Korean acquisition of nuclear weapons and ICBMs has now changed the dynamic. Six decades of a failed treadmill US foreign policy towards North Korea can be rethought, and a new direction can now be undertaken.33  The Trump administration is in the opportune position to chart this new direction.

The BW cover-up has been one of the success stories of 1950s Cold War espionage, and has remained cloaked in shadow over the decades with the character assassination of Joseph Needham, Leitenberg’s hoax thesis, and the great effort put towards the public forgetting of the Korean War. Still, there remain chapters of this story worth pondering. First is the suppression of the physical paper trail in US Army files. Even though BW was a CIA covert paramilitary operation, routine documents such as bomber flight manifests, targets and flight instructions would have been produced. The BW paper trail appears to have been sufficiently compartmentalized to accomplish erasure. This bureaucratic cover-up deserves study in its own right. Second, twenty-five Korean War POW pilots made confessions.34 These confessions are interesting today because in 1953 Army psychologists claimed that the pilots had been brainwashed into making the confessions. The Chinese communists had devised an insidious new method of psychological torture by planting false memories into the psyches of the pilots. This became the Manchurian Candidate premise which played to a wide home audience.

The 600 pages of maps, lab reports and testimony and other evidence compiled into the ISC Report can also be reviewed with fresh eyes after six decades of disregard. This volume of evidence is becoming ever more difficult to locate for scholarly purposes. Also, there are still many government and military classified Korean War files including high level correspondence which remain secret and will not be released without public pressure.

The Korean War BW allegations also must be viewed within the context of the hegemonic, post-WWII Cold War struggle between East and West. Military attempts by US and European actors to re-establish the former colonial order came into direct conflict with post-colonial nationalist independence movements. Colonialism, colonial racism and colonial hubris were very much embedded in American attitudes towards Asians in the 1940s and 1950s, and this mindset was instrumental to the outbreak of the Korean War. The United States’ White ruling class has a long history of racial hatred and violence towards Indians, Blacks, Mexicans and Asians, who have been attacked and suppressed repeatedly with violence. White racial violence was at the center of US foreign policy in 1952, very much as it is present in today’s polity.

The role of the CIA in the clandestine BW operations in Korea can be scrutinized. The CIA acted in funding, planning, operations, and logistical support of the entire BW operation in Korea, but it has successfully compartmentalized its records to enhance public forgetfulness and erasure. However, there is the sordid 1953 murder of bio-weaponer, Frank Olson. Olson was the senior bacteriologist at Camp Detrick, MD who had successfully weaponized anthrax into a human contagion. Olson was also a CIA employee with the Technical Services Staff. He was sent to Germany in 1953 to observe early CIA information-gathering techniques on captured Russian spies. Olson, the scientist, had no stomach for torture. Back in the US he attended a CIA retreat in which he was dosed with LSD. He suffered a nervous breakdown, requested release from the CIA, and a few days later was clubbed on the head and pushed out a thirteenth-floor Manhattan hotel room window.35 Is it possible that Olson carelessly attempted to use his Korean War BW knowledge to leverage his separation from the CIA?

In the end, I believe that Needham knew his business, and called it as he saw it. He was always a professional scientist first, and his team-members were experienced professional scientists as well. There was plenty of evidence. Any attempts to fabricate false evidence by Chinese or North Korean officials were misguided and unnecessary, and not likely to have fooled the ISC Commission. Furthermore, I doubt Needham was surprised to see the BW allegations used as a catalyst by the Chinese communists to mobilize mass public health and sanitation campaigns in China. Any lingering doubts Needham may have had about the accuracy of the ISC findings were erased by the viciousness of the official attacks he suffered subsequently. He deserves a better biographer.

The claim that China and North Korea fabricated false evidence of BW is possible, but again, the falsified evidence is unlikely to have influenced the ISC report. However, the debate over the veracity of the BW allegations will continue until China releases the genome sequences of the 1952 disease samples, which does not appear to be imminent. One thing has become abundantly clear— Leitenberg’s grand hoax thesis based upon the Soviet dossier is completely speculative and should not be the default premise of any future scholarship on the Cold War.


1. This essay continues discussion from my article, “Biological Warfare in the Korean War: Allegations and Cover-up,” Socialism and Democracy, Vol. 31, No. 1, 23-42,

2. John W. Powell, “Japan’s Germ Warfare: The US Cover-up of a War Crime,” Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Oct. 1981. Powell broke the story of how Japan’s secret BW program was acquired by the US Army.

3. BW is a clandestine weapon by its very nature. It was outlawed in warfare following WWI by the Geneva Protocol of 1925. This Protocol was not ratified by the US until 1975. That the US Army command possessed BW weapons and the personnel which included Ishii’s former staff is undeniable. The generals were avid to test BW to evaluate its combat effectiveness, but they also did not want to dirty their own hands and bring down international reprobation. Distance and deniability were critical from the start. Therefore, this became an assignment for the newly formed CIA – just the scope of paramilitary work for which the agency had been created. 

4. Much has been made by BW deniers regarding the lack of a paper trail of US Army flight records and ladings which would verify a sustained BW attack as claimed by the Chinese and North Koreans, and the lack of capture of any warplane with BW bombing mechanisms. Running the entire operation through the CIA kept it compartmentalized and covert, and permitted the subsequent paper trail erasure. The operations were paramilitary in nature, as opposed to military.  

5. The retreat from the Yalu River in front of the Chinese PVA invasion was the greatest rout ever suffered by the US Army in its history.

6. Peter Williams and David Wallace, Unit 731: The Japanese Army’s Secret of Secrets, Hodder & Stroughton, London, 1989, 255-256. Williams and Wallace quote at length a British soldier’s eye-witness testimony of observing US soldiers with other personnel in protective “parkas” disbursing chicken feathers into empty village homes.

7. There is occasional inconsistency among Cold War scholars in assigning dates to specific events. 

8. This is the earliest evidence of BW deployment in Korea in December, 1950 from the above footnoted (#6) eye-witness testimony.

9. The entire debate regarding the truth or falsity of BW allegations in historical scholarship concerns the 1952 allegations. The winter 1950-51deployment has been overlooked by scholars. This recent article contains eye-witness testimony of BW deployment in North Korea in 1952. Julian Ryall, “Did the US use germ warfare in Korea,” The Telegraph, 10 Jun 2016,

10.The US proposed the scientific investigation should be conducted by the International Red Cross. The USSR rejected the ICRC claiming it lacked jurisdiction, was pro-Western and pro-UN. China and North Korea claimed the ICRC would reveal mortality data, thus allowing the US to better assess the strategic effectiveness of its BW campaign.

11. Report of the International Scientific Commission for the facts concerning Bacterial Warfare in Korea and China, Beijing, 1952. The ISC Report was published in Mandarin, French and English versions. While the summary findings are available on line [mrononline.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/ISC-Executive-Report-on-Biological-Warfare-in-Korea_ppl-61.pdf], bound volumes with the evidentiary findings have become increasingly rare. A copy was recently auctioned at Christies in July. For a recent discussion of the ISC Report see, Jeffrey Kaye, “A Lost Document from the Cold War: The International Scientific Commission report on bacterial warfare in the Korean War,” Monthly Review, mronline.org/2017/09/11.a-lost-document-from-the-cold-war/

12. Needham’s early academic brilliance in biochemistry brought his meteoric rise at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. Needham’s personal tastes were Bohemian; he practiced nudity in nature and espoused free love. Needham had an English wife and a Chinese concubine and the three of them deeply loved each other all their lives and had no children. Needham was a declared socialist which was not an uncommon political view among Cambridge academics. During WWII, Needham was stationed in China as science attaché of the British Embassy at Chongqing (1941-45) from where he undertook Indiana Jones type adventures across China and Mongolia. He was certainly aware of Japanese Unit 731 BW attacks in Manchuria which he reported to the British Embassy. He spoke several European languages and taught himself to read and speak Mandarin.

13. Needham dedicated his life to studying the social history of Chinese scientific discovery and its applied technologies. He became the world’s foremost authority on this enormous subject, discovering that much of Western invention had been achieved earlier in China, sometimes centuries earlier. Needham formulated the “Needham question” — why did the scientific and industrial revolution of the West not occur first in China given its history of scientific discovery?

14. Simon Winchester, The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Secrets of the Middle Kingdom (New York: Harper, 2008).

15. Winchester reveals his class prejudice — how the British do love their eccentrics, so as to dismiss them when they speak inconvenient truths. The title of his biography makes it clear. Winchester also does not seem to understand the fraternity of scientists. Scientists pursue the rational, material investigation of nature through direct observation and experimentation. Their first loyalty is to their discipline. If the communist Chinese government had tried to coerce dozens of scientists to falsify their reports, it would have stirred up a revolt that they would not have been able to hush up.

16. For a thoughtful evaluation of Winchester’s biography of Joseph Needham, see Francesca Bray, “How Blind Is Love?: Simon Winchester’s ‘The Man Who Loved China’,” Technology and Culture, Vol. 51, No. 3 (July 2010). 578-588.

17. Leitenberg references a RAND report opinion by A.M. Halpern to make this point. A.M. Halpern, “Bacteriological Warfare Accusations in Two Asian Communist Propaganda Campaigns,” RAND RM-796, 25 April 1952, cited in Milton Leitenberg, “New Russian Evidence on the Korean War Biological Warfare Allegations: Background and Analysis” Cold War International History Project Bulletin, 11 (1998), 195-199. He reiterates Halpern’s opinion as fact in Milton Leitenberg, “China’s False Allegations of the Use of Biological Weapons by the United States during the Cold War,” Cold War International History Project, Working Paper #78 (March 2016),

18. Leitenberg argues that the trove of Unit 731 BW research used by Ishii to broker the war crimes immunity deal consisted solely of disease pathology reports which were not of great value to the US. This is a false claim. The deal also required Ishii and his cohorts to make their services available. Ishii was noted by several authors to have secretly  traveled to the US and South Korea during the Korean War, while former Unit 731 colleagues are believed to have been employed on Gen. Sam’s “plague ship.” The Japanese scientists had spent many years learning how to “weaponize” disease. In addition to isolating virulent pathogens and plant molds, and the gruesome human experiments, much effort and investment had been devoted to worker safety, mass production techniques, testing, secrecy, storage, disposal, vector selection, insect breeding, meteorology, delivery methods, risk and results assessment. A fully modern weaponized BW program with available trained personnel was a huge military windfall. Certainly MacArthur thought so at the time, and was willing to take on the international outcry from the Russians and Chinese.

19. Two examples of Cold War scholarship heavily influenced by Leitenberg’s hoax thesis are: Judith Shapiro, Mao’s War Against Nature: Politics and Environment in post-Revolutionary China, Cambridge University  Press, Cambridge, 2001, and Ruth Rogaski, “Nature, Annihilation, and Modernity: China’s Korean War Germ Warfare Experience Reconsidered,” Journal of Asian Studies, Vol.61, No.2 (May 2002), 381-415.  Both authors argue that China’s false BW allegations were disingenuously convenient for the communists to mobilize mass public hygiene campaigns. Rogaski further argues that insect and vector annihilation as a public health expediency (which was contrary to traditional Taoist values of accommodation with nature) was made psychologically possible for mass consumption through the fear of American BW attacks.

20. The twelve documents translated by Kathryn Weathersby which comprise the “Russian dossier” can be accessed through the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Cold War International History Project digital files. www.wilsoncenter/CWIHP/digital files/

21. Presumably, Weathersby’s translations are from Russian to English, but this detail is never made clear. Presumably also, Naito or his employer, Sankei Shinbun, produced translations from Russian to Japanese of the hand-written copies, but this detail also remains unclear.

22. Kathryn Weathersby, “Deceiving the Deceivers: Moscow, Beijing, Pyongyang, and the Allegations of Bacteriological Weapons use in Korea,” Cold War International History Project Bulletin, 11: 1998, 176-185

23. Ibid., 176.

24. Ibid., 186.

25. Naito is the surname of both the intermediary who negotiated the amnesty deal for Ishii and his staff with Gen. MacArthur, and the journalist who received the smuggled Soviet dossier and provided the typed transcript to Leitenberg.

26. As the stakes are very high in the BW debate, and as the Woodrow Wilson Center is a major partisan stakeholder, it seems the Woodrow Wilson Center holds an ethical responsibility to have Naito’s handwritten copies authenticated by an independent authority not in its employment. Furthermore regarding employees, the number of researchers or employees of the Presidential Archives in Moscow is small. Anyone intent on surreptitiously copying, smuggling and, releasing restricted documents would have understood implicitly that he/she would be quickly discovered and severely punished, so the question of motive is central to these documents.

27. “CWIHP forwarded me your inquiry about the Russian docs on BW allegations during the Korean War. Milton Leitenberg received the typed copies of the texts of the docs made by the Japanese journalist who got access to them. We don’t have his hand-written texts or photocopies of the full docs. However, Milton has gotten verbal confirmation from Russian Archive officials that those copies are correct and there has never been any statement from anyone in Moscow refuting their authenticity. Milton has also written further about this subject, so I suggest that you contact him for his latest evidence.” Letter from Kathryn Weathersby to Thomas Powell, by email, August 25, 2017.

28. For example see  Milton Leitenberg, “Allegations of Biological Warfare in China and Korea, 1951-52,” in The Problem of Chemical and Biological Warfare, Vol. 5, The Prevention of CBW, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Humanities Press, New York, 1971.

29. Memorandum #5, dated 21 April 1953, from L.P. Beria to G.M. Malenkov and copied to the other Politburo members, is the key document of the entire twelve-document Russian dossier. It lays out Beria’s research concerning the false BW charges which will bring international loss of face to the USSR, and his denunciation of S.D. Ignatiev, Minister of State Security and an important ally of Khrushchev, and Ambassador to the DPRK V.N. Razuvaev, as the culpable parties to be punished. Documents 1-4 set up Beria’s indictment of Ignatiev and Razuvaev (a political power grab), while 6-12 narrate its subsequent resolution.

30. Leitenberg, “New Russian Evidence” (note 17), 189.

31. Leitenberg’s stated assumption is that the ISC had only one channel of evidence available to it through official communist government sources is not correct. Leitenberg, ibid., 186.  Needham’s role as embassy science attaché during WWII was essentially that of British quartermaster to Chinese universities which had managed to flee Japanese-occupied eastern China to safe havens in Nationalist-held China. In his official capacity Needham delivered textbooks and needed lab equipment to far flung, makeshift campuses. Needham spoke fluent Mandarin and had met and befriended a number of the scientists who submitted reports to the ISC. He had his own back channels. 

32. Chinese Medical Journal, Sept.-Dec. 1952, 335-660.

33. For discussion of future directions of US/North Korea relations see, Powell, T, “Good Cop, Bad Cop Routine Won’t Work with North Korea,” Bad Subjects,

34. I have read conflicting reports on the number of POW pilot confessions (34 or 25). All the flyers recanted their confessions upon returning home. According to one researcher, these recantations were made under threat of court-martial, and the archival records of their debriefings have been destroyed either deliberately or accidentally by fire. Erasure? See Jeffrey Kaye, “A lost Document from the Cold War, The International Scientific Commission report on bacterial warfare during the Korean War” MRonline, posted 9/11/2017

35. Here is a summary of the Frank Olson murder case with sources:

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