Tick Truths or Conspiracy Theories?

Lyme disease from a tick bite has been a problem on Fire Island.

Thus of interest is the article in Newsweek this summer headlined: “Pentagon May Have Released Weaponized Ticks That Helped Spread of Lyme Disease: Investigation Ordered.” The story below it was about the U.S. House of Representatives having “quietly passed a bill requiring the Inspector General of the Department of Defense to conduct a review into whether the Pentagon experimented with ticks and other blood-sucking insects for use as biological weapons between 1950 and 1975.”The July article continued: “If the Inspector General finds that such experiments occurred, then, according to the bill, they must provide the House and Senate Armed Services committees with a report on the scope of the research and ‘whether any ticks or insects used in such experiments were released outside of any laboratory by accident or experimental design’… potentially leading to the spread of diseases such as Lyme.”

The measure was introduced by Representative Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican, “who was ‘inspired’ by several books and articles claiming that the U.S. government had conducted research at facilities such as Fort Detrick, Maryland, and Plum Island, New York, for this purpose.”There are 58 air miles between Ocean Beach on Fire Island and Plum Island, which is a mile-and-a-half off Orient Point on the North Fork of Long Island. Going east on Fire Island, Plum Island is even fewer air miles away. Lyme disease itself was named for Old Lyme, Connecticut, where the first cases surfaced in 1975, and is 10 miles from Plum Island.

One of the books Smith was referring to, published earlier this year, was “Bitten: The Secret History of Lyme Disease and Biological Weapons” by Stanford University science writer Kris Newby. It includes interviews with Willy Burgdorfer, who is credited with having discovered the pathogen that causes Lyme disease, and earlier developed bio-weapons for the Department of Defense. Said Smith on the House floor: “Those interviews combined with access to Dr. Burdorfer’s lab files suggest that he and other bio-weapons specialists stuffed ticks with pathogens to cause severe disability, disease – even death – to potential enemies. With Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases exploding in the United States … Americans have a right to know whether any of this is true.”Whether Lyme disease resulted from activities on Plum Island is an issue I’ve pursued since tick-borne Lyme disease became widespread in Suffolk County.

A 1982 book linking Plum Island and Lyme disease was “The Belarus Secret: The Nazi Connection in America” written by John Loftus, an attorney specializing in pursuing Nazis for the Office of Special Investigations of the U.S. Department of Justice. He tells of former “Nazi germ warfare scientists” brought to the U.S. after World War II who “experimented with poison ticks dropped from planes to spread rare diseases. I have received some information suggesting that the U.S. tested some of these poison ticks on the Plum Island artillery range during the early 1950s … Most of the germ warfare records have been shredded, but there is a top secret U.S. document confirming that ‘clandestine attacks on crops and animals’ took place at this time.”Loftus points to “the hypothesis that the poison ticks are the source of the Lyme disease spirochete.” And adds: “Sooner or later the whole truth will come out, but probably not in my lifetime.”In 1995, with Lyme disease epidemic in Suffolk, indeed in many areas of the U.S., a just-elected congressman in the First Congressional District in Suffolk, which has included most of Fire Island, Michael Forbes of Quogue, conducted what he told me would be a “raid” on Plum Island. He would go to the Plum Island Animal Disease Center and demand information about tick weaponization there and a link to Lyme disease as related by Loftus. He took me and John McDonald, a Newsday investigative reporter who had also looked into Plum IslandIn a Nov. 21, 1993 article in Newsday, McDonald documented the biological warfare mission of Plum Island with records he obtained. The piece began: “A 1950s military plan to cripple the Soviet economy by killing horses, cattle and swine called for making biological warfare weapons out of exotic animal diseases at a Plum Island laboratory, now-declassified Army records reveal.” A facsimile of one of the records, dated 1951, covered the front page of that issue of Newsday.

The article went on: “Documents and interviews disclose for the first time what officials have denied for years: that the mysterious and closely guarded animal lab off the East End of Long Island was originally designed to conduct top-secret research into replicating dangerous viruses that could be used to destroy enemy livestock.”Representative Forbes – in front of me and McDonald – confronted the center’s director, Dr. Harley Moon, who in intensive questioning by Forbes took the position that “we don’t have any paperwork on that.”

In 2004 came another book, “Lab 257,” also by an attorney, Michael Carroll, formerly a law firm associate of the late New York Governor Mario Cuomo. Using documents he found in the National Archives, he exposes a full story about Plum Island. He details how Erich Traub during World War II was the “lab chief of Insel Riems – a secret Nazi biological warfare laboratory” in the Baltic with a mission in World War II of poisoning cattle in the Soviet Union. Traub and hundreds of other Nazi scientists were brought to the U.S. in the U.S. government’s Project Paperclip after the war. Traub was the “father” of the establishment of a bio-warfare center on Plum Island, says “Lab 257,” with the same mission Insel Riems had – going after Soviet livestock now with the Cold War having begun.

“Lab 257” relates how “animal handlers and a scientist released ticks outdoors on the island. They called him the Nazi scientist … they were inoculating these ticks.” Carroll, too, points to the possibility of Lyme disease emerging from activities on Plum Island with ticks.

Will we know in our lifetimes a confirmed link between bio-warfare and Lyme?