"...the United States of America will renounce the use of any form of deadly biological weapons that either kill or incapacitate," President Richard Nixon in a 1969 statement ending the country's germ warfare program.

"... ironically, with Moscow's endorsement of the Biological Weapons convention in 1973,the Soviet Union built the largest and most advanced biological warfare establishment in the world." Ken Alibek author of "Biohazard"

During WWII, concern arose that Nazi Germany was developing a Biological Warfare (BW) capability which could be used against Great Britian and other U.S. allies. Lacking adequate means to defend against biological agents, British and U.S. governments started developing an offensive Biological Warfare program with a retaliatory capability to deter such enemy attacks. U.S. BW development efforts were centered in the then-remote town of Frederick, Maryland at what later became Ft. Detrick. Following WWII, U.S. Biological Warfare development efforts continued with an aim at countering a growing Soviet threat. Although never used, the U.S. Army weaponized both incapacitating and lethal biological agents prior to the end of the U.S. offensive program. The end of the program came in 1969 when President Nixon unilaterally halted U.S. Biological Warfare efforts. In 1972, the United States, the Soviet Union and other countries became parties to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention officially banning the development and possession of such weapons. Although U.S. germ warfare weapons were destroyed, Soviet BW development actually intensified after they signed the 1972 treaty and continued into the early 1990s. In 1992, Russian President Boris Yeltsin admitted that the military was responsible for a 1979 anthrax outbreak in the Russian city of Sverdlovsk that killed dozens of local citizens. Despite denials, evidence suggests that the Russian program may still continue to this day.

Following the halt to the U.S. offensive program, the U.S. Army continued treaty-permitted research into defensive measures designed to protect against biological attack. Now under the auspices of the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), Ft. Detrick scientists study biological agents in an attempt to develop vaccines and protective measures. No longer the secret facility it once was, Ft. Detrick is now also the home to the NIH's Frederick Cancer Research and Development Center.

Ft. Detrick and the U.S. Biological Warfare program have drawn both criticism and praise. For years as secret as the Manhattan Project, details of America's germ warfare program only later became public. From the 1940s to the 1960s, Ft. Detrick scientists conducted a number of secret tests in which members of the public were unwittingly exposed to harmless bacterium in an effort to better understand both the dispersion of biological agents and U.S. vulnerability to attack. While these revelations and others have drawn the ire and suspicion of many, Ft. Detrick scientists have also received public and professional praise for their scientific and medical contributions, including, the developing of vaccines, and their response to outbreaks of disease both within the U.S. and abroad. Ft. Detrick scientists work in battling a 1989 outbreak of Ebola virus was documented in the popular book "The Hot Zone", by Richard Preston.

  Pilot Plant - Ft. Detrick, ©Art Maples
The mainstay of U.S. offensive biological warfare agents was Bacillus anthracis which causes anthrax when inhaled. When not promptly treated, pulmonary anthrax can be fatal within days. Built in 1952, Building 470 or the "Pilot Plant", was constructed to culture agents such as anthrax. Following the end of the U.S. Biological Warfare program, the Pilot Plant was shut down and decontaminated and sterilized repeatedly. However, because of the resistant nature of anthrax spores it was not possible to say with certainty that Building 470 was one hundred percent clean. With nobody willing to move in, this seven-story facility has remained locked, intact and unused since the 1970s. In 1988, the Army gave Building 470 to the National Cancer Institute; however, they have also not elected to reuse the building and plans are presently being made to demolish the facility.
The Pilot Plant is a vertical-oriented building containing giant fermenting tanks surrounded by catwalks. These tanks were used to perfect methods of producing bacteriological agents such as anthrax, and to provide a source of these agents for the development and testing work done at Ft. Detrick. Production of anthrax for use in actual munitions was done at larger facilities in Arkansas and Indiana.

While the building is locked off, it is possible to see some of the interior equipment through one of the facilities' few ground-floor windows.

  Interior of Pilot Plant, through a window
- Ft. Detrick, ©Art Maples
Short of traveling to testing grounds in Utah and other remote locations, scientists working at Ft. Detrick in the early years had few ways to test the weapons they were developing. Completed in 1950, Building 527 housed the "8-Ball" a four story steel sphere inside of which small-scale munitions could be exploded. Laboratory animals could then be exposed to the results via airlocks and ports located around the periphery of the sphere.

In 1952, "Project Whitecoat" began in which hundreds of Army Seventh-Day Adventist volunteers allowed themselves to be exposed to biological agents. Some of these volunteers took part in tests at Ft. Detrick where they would be exposed to the contents of the 8-Ball via breathing masks attached to the chambers ports. The volunteers would then be quarantined for observation and any required medical treatment. As a reward for their efforts, the Army volunteers could choose the site of their next duty station. The laboratory animals exposed at the 8-ball were sacrificed and autopsied.

In 1975, Building 527 burned down. However, the 8-Ball itself remains and has since been put on the National Registry of Historic Places.

  8 Ball - Ft. Detrick, ©Art Maples

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