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Project Bellwether II – Using Insects to Deliver Biological Weapons

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project bellwether

From a young age, children learn about epidemics and outbreaks, such as the Black Death and Bubonic Plague, and how these lethal diseases, which wiped out millions, were associated with rodents.

I can remember being fascinated about such horrifying stories, although I have to admit, I cannot remember my teachers ever claiming that these lethal epidemics were deliberately caused by human intervention.

Entomological warfare (EW) is a branch of biological warfare (BW) that uses insects to attack the enemy by delivering a biological agent, such as cholera or the plague. This type of biological warfare has been around for centuries.

Even the 14th century plague, the Black Death, was regarded as an incident of entomological warfare by many historians, having arrived in Europe after the Mongols catapulted flea-ridden corpses into the port of Kaffa, causing bacteria, rats and fleas to spread across the Mediterranean. (1)

Before Bellwether II

The modern application of using insects in warfare started in the 1930s when Japan, Germany and the Soviet Union conducted research into deliberately spreading disease through insects. Although, according to several reports, it was Canada, during World War II, which pioneered the effort to develop the plague flea as a weapon. (2)

Interest in insect warfare started in the U.S during the Cold War, when the U.S. Army began to seriously research the potential of entomological warfare.

According to an article published during this time in the Boston Globe entitled, “Bug Bomb,” the U.S. military developed plans for an entomological warfare facility that was designed to produce 100 million mosquitos infected with yellow fever each month and to test the mosquito biting capacity by dropping uninfected mosquitoes over U.S cities. (3)

According to Wikipedia’s evaluation of entomological warfare, during the Korean War, officials from both North Korea and China accused the United States of engaging in biological warfare activities, a claim that has been thoroughly denied by the U.S.

Throughout the 1950s, the U.S piloted a number of field tests using entomological weapons, including Operation Big Itch, which was conducted in 1954 to test munitions loaded with uninfected fleas. A year later, the U.S. launched Operation Big Buzz, which involved dropping more than 300,000 yellow fever mosquitos over areas of Georgia to investigate whether the mosquitos could survive the fall and take their meals from human beings. (4)

project bellwether

Operation Bellwether II

In 1961, the U.S Army Chemical Corps conducted Operation Bellwether II, which essentially involved the field testing of certain entomological vector-agent systems.

It is interesting to note that there is a noticeable lack of literature written about Project Bellwether II, the reason for this perhaps being that it did not have any real significance on the study of entomological weaponry.

However, the Black Vault has published a technical report about Project Bellwether II, which was produced in 1961 by the U.S. Army Chemical Corps Research and Development Command. The document, which incidentally stated that once it had served its purpose should be destroyed, talked about Project Bellwether II as being a military task:

“The U.S Army Chemical Corps has been assigned the task of providing the Department of Defence with adequate CBR weaponry. Certain entomological vector-agent systems, after a period of laboratory demonstrations, qualitative field experience, and theoretical evaluations, have reached the quantitative field test stage and Dugway Proving Ground has been assigned the field testing responsibility of Bellwether II.” (5)

The document goes on to talk about the objectives of Bellwether II, whereby, “releases of uninfected, starved, virgin female mosquitoes were used to evaluate the effects of varying the vector and host ratio,” as well as, “determining the effect of the presence or absence of overt movement of the human samplers upon the outdoor biting rate,” and to, “investigate methods of placement of human samplers in open terrain and within built-up areas.”

The document lists the findings from the Bellwether II field test, concluding that, “no conclusive findings were generated as to the effect of host concentration,” and that, “when the number of vectors was increased by a factor of 10, approximately 10 times as many bites were received and the proportion of hosts bitten was increased by an average of 36 per cent.”

project bellwether

After Bellwether II and Today

Forty and Fifty years ago, projects such as Bellwether II were a prominent feature of governments and militaries. In preceding decades and centuries, biological warfare and the use of infected insects had been used to spread disease and kill the enemy.

Even as late as 1989, a terrorist letter, according to the Boston globe report, arrived at the mayor of Los Angeles, from the officer of a group which called itself ‘The Breeders’, threatening to attack one of California’s biggest agricultural centres, the San Joaquin Valley, by releasing the Mediterranean fruit fly they had been secretly importing and breeding. (6)

Today, conflict and war has become more disconnected from the natural world and the emphasis is now focused on the opposite: nuclear weaponry.

What is ironic is that in today’s War Against Terror, one of the most destructive and cheapest weapons available to terrorists is one of the most widely ignored – insects.

In this sense, Operation Bellwether II and its dedication to researching about one of the most potentially destructive resources has been quashed underground, hence the remarkable lack of information about the insect warfare project.

References & Image Credits:
(2) Scribd
(4) Wikipedia
(5) The Black Vault
(7) Daily Yonder

Originally published on

  • Anonymous

    “The document goes on to talk about the objectives of Bellwether II, whereby, “releases of uninfected, starved, virgin female mosquitoes were used …”

    Take a Headline Writing 101 class.
    Your headline, “Project Bellwether II – Using Insects to Deliver Biological Weapons” does not reflect the facts of this report.
    Bellweather II used uninfected, unbred female mosquitoes. They were likely more disease-free than wild mosquitoes.

    Your headline and report is inflammatory, hardly objective.

    It was necessary to study insect vectors in order to develop means of detection and defense. This is akin to testing bullet-resistant vests: you must fire bullets to do so.

    And yes, terrorists and rogue nations could attack America and its allies with such weapons. It’s why the results of such tests remain so appropriate — and important — today.

  • You are attempting to rewrite history – the title is quite accurate provided the forward written within the document, which reads:

    “The U.S. Army Chemical Corps has been assigned the task of providing the Department of Defense with adequate CBR weaponry.”

    That’s “weaponry” not “defense” as you are attempting to imply. Furthermore, it states “providing” the DoD with the weaponry, not simply developing an understanding of defense. The intent of the study is clear for anyone that reads it in detail – and the article description of it is very accurate and well-researched.

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