Sunday, October 2, 2011

American BW Experiments on Americans

When writing my novel, And Evil Shall Come, I remember how startled I was to learn about the temerity of our government in performing field tests of biologic agents on unsuspecting American communities.

For example, in 1950, ships of the U.S. Navy sprayed a cloud of bacteria over San Francisco. Many residents became ill with pneumonia-like symptoms. Three years later, in experiments conducted jointly by the Army, Navy and the CIA, the populations of New York and San Francisco were deliberately exposed to airborne bacteria.

Most of these tests utilized organisms believed to be non-infectious (non-pathogenic). However, present day populations contain significant numbers of individuals whose resistance to infection have been compromised by underlying diseases like AIDS, cancer, or by medical treatments. These persons might have been infected by the test organisms. Of course, information about these experiments was classified at the time.

The government continued with these experiments without the knowledge or consent of the “guinea pig” populace. In 1956 and again in 1958, the U.S. Army released mosquitoes infected with yellow fever over Savannah, Georgia and Avon Park, Florida. Some people became ill and some died. At the time, I was teaching at the University of Florida’s College of Medicine, but the results of this experiment were kept secret.

In 1966, the U.S. Army dispensed bacteria throughout the New York City subway system, exposing more than a million civilians to these germs. During this time, I was teaching in New York City at Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, but again knew nothing of these tests.

Two years later, a U.S. submarine sprayed bacteria over the island of Oahu.

In 1972, President Nixon signed an Executive Order banning the production and use of biological agents, and the above type of tests on Americans appeared to be halted.

By the 1980s, details of the above experiments were de-classified and became public knowledge.

But in 1994, Dr. Garth Nicolson, of the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, made a startling discovery. Using a technique called “gene tracking”, he found that many American soldiers returning from Desert Storm were infected with an altered strain of Mycoplasma incognitus, a microbe commonly used in the production of biological weapons. The molecular structure of this organism contains 40 percent of the protein coat of Human Immuno-deficiency Virus, the cause of AIDS. This observation indicates that the organism was man-made.

I find this frightening. It strongly suggests that government agencies may be covertly using its citizens, civilian or military, as guinea pigs for research on biological weapons.

For a detailed non-fiction description of biological weapons, read Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War by Judith Miller et al, Simon and Schuster 2002. For an exciting story on the subject of biological weapons and mini-nukes, read my book And Evil Shall Come that may be obtained from my website www.ellner.com.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Visiting "And Evil Shall Come"

In writing And Evil Shall Come, I relied upon experiences, readings and places I’ve visited.  I believe that these experiences not only lent more credibility to my story but also provided more realism and, I hope, more interest.  It also gave me a better starting point for the various targets and methods of terrorism in my story.  For example, after delivering a paper at an International Congress in Jerusalem, I had the opportunity of visiting a kibbutz, one of Israel’s communal agricultural settlements. I used this kibbutz in my book as a target for a germ attack that started an epidemic.

Some years back I was asked to give a series of lectures in Medellin, Colombia.  Afterwards, I flew to Leticia, a city at the bottom of the country known as “the asshole of Colombia.”  From there I took a small launch up the Amazon River and visited a Ticuna village.  Later, when writing the book, I used this location for an attack with a deadly hybrid virus.

After reading about a miniature drone helicopter developed by the Yamaha Motor Company that could deliver a small load to an agricultural target before returning to its base, I used this helicopter in my book as a means of spraying the smallpox virus on an Israeli kibbutz and anthrax spores on Washington, D.C.

It’s possible that some readers may have visited the locations that I used in my story as targets for biological attacks, and might imagine standing in that very place during an attack, wondering about the deadly consequences.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Biological Weapons

As a PHS officer assigned to the National Disaster Medical System, my primary concern was the immense of number of casualties that could suddenly appear following a natural calamitous event like an earthquake or an attack with a Weapon of Mass Destruction be it nuclear, chemical, or biological. Since my background was in microbiology with a specialization in infectious disease, I focused on the details of biological weapons (BW).

I learned that a BW attack could be quite different. An attack with a biological weapon can easily be covert.  A car or truck on a highway or a low-flying aircraft could surreptiously release a fine mist or aerosol of the germs. Such a germ aerosol would form an invisible, odorless cloud that could remain in the target area for many minutes—long enough for the germs to be inhaled by people. The unsuspecting population would not even realize that they had been hit until a day or two later when a large number of cases of the same illness suddenly appeared. A biological attack becomes more serious if the germ is one that causes a disease transmissible person-to-person so that the target population goes on to transmit the disease to others, leading to a wide-spread epidemic.

I decided to use such an event as one of a number that I wrote about in my novel And Evil Shall Come. This scenario was actually the basis of a table- top biohazard exercise, Dark Winter, staged by our defense establishment. It showed that 20 initial cases of smallpox would grow to 2,000 cases 7 days later and to 16, 000 cases in another 7 days.

Another unique feature of germ weapons is that they can be made more deadly by genetic manipulation. Thus, a microbe can be made resistant to the antibiotics usually employed to treat that disease. Finally, two species could be “crossed” to form a more virulent hybrid for which current protective vaccines are no longer effective.

These nefarious variations in germ warfare are not simply from my writer’s imagination – they have happened. The anthrax spores that were sent in 2001 following 9/11 in letters to senators and TV personalities had actually been genetically modified.  You can read the terrifying story of biological weapons in terrorist hands in my book And Evil Shall Come.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Mini Nukes

As if a germ attack on New York City wasn’t enough, I decided to add to the excitement and tension of my book, And Evil Shall Come, by having a miniature nuclear bomb smuggled into Grand Central Station.

The first two atomic bombs, Little Boy and Fat Man, dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 were huge.  Ten feet long and weighing more than 10,000 pounds, each had an explosive force equivalent to 15 – 21 kilotons of TNT. Since then, the Soviets, now Russians, established a highly secret program to miniaturize a bomb small enough to be carried in a suitcase or backpack while still retaining the explosive force of its grandparents.  If such a bomb existed, it could readily be concealed and transported into the U.S.

I didn’t have to wait or wonder if the Russians succeeded.  In 1992, Vasili Mitrokhin, First Chief Directorate, defected to the U.S. and claimed that the KGB already had 250 mini nukes.  Five years later, General Alexander Lebed, Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation confirmed to Congress and subsequently on 60 Minutes that the Russians had indeed produced 250 mini nukes and given them to the KGB. He said that these bombs weighed about sixty pounds, were small enough for a suitcase, and had a yield of 0.1 – 1 KT.  He mentioned, almost casually, something like “Oh, by the way, 84 of these weapons are missing.”

That’s great!  At least I could use one of these bombs in my story. The rebellious Muslim Chechens could have stolen one or more of the 84 missing bombs from poorly guarded KGB arsenals or even purchased one for the Al Qaeda.

Handling such mini nukes is not easy. Without the many pounds of lead shielding, the user is exposed to harmful radiation that can cause illness or death. In my story an Al Qaeda operative purchases a mini nuke from a Chechen Muslim and smuggles it into New York City.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Researching "Stranger In Time"

I got the idea for my book on time-travel by imagining how my father, a mechanical engineer who was born in 1899, would have regarded the technology of modern life.  He would have been astounded by the existence of cell phones, computers, the internet, DNA genetics, ATM’s, and the space station. I already knew about the simplicity of his time, which included transatlantic radio and Orville and Wilbur’s first flight.

In researching my novel, Stranger in Time, I needed to learn as much as I could about the life and times of colonial Connecticut, the era of my protagonist Daniel Rowland.  My quest began in the Historical Room of the Guilford Free Library where the librarian provided documents and maps of the colonial period.  Next, I explored the old cemetery in Guilford, observing the names and dates on the old tombstones.  For days, I visited some of the old homes such as the Whitfield House Museum, and wandered around Hammonasset State Park, the site of some colonial farms.

During these explorations, the character of the protagonist began to form in my mind as I envisioned the places where he lived and the event he experienced.  Meetings with the Connecticut State Archaeologist, the Madison Archivist, and the Staff Archaeologist of the Connecticut Historical Commission were all helpful in this regard.

I learned much about the Calvinistic beliefs of the Puritans and their services during conversations with the friendly pastor of the First Congregational Church in New Milford. A numismatist described coins of the colonial era. 

All in all, I enjoyed these activities. The people I met were friendly, enthusiastic, and expressed interest in reading Stranger In Time once I had finished my writing.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Time Travel

In my book, Stranger in Time, the American Revolution has just ended and Daniel Rowland, a young farmer, is digging claims on a beach in Guilford, Connecticut.  Suddenly, a strange cloud overwhelms him and he awakens in a hospital room in the 21st century. Awed by technology and bewildered by the lightning-pace of modern life, Daniel experiences crime, murder, and medical problems. He is regarded as an imposter despite his familiarity with obscure details of colonial life. Unable to return to his wife and unborn child in the distant past, Daniel encounters legal complications when he tries to reclaim his farm lost in the intervening centuries.

The possibility of time travel has been seriously considered by scientists. Cambridge Professor Steven Hawking concluded that time travel was impossible because of the paradox. This paradox maintains that if a person traveled back in time and murdered his own grandmother when she was young, one of his parents would not have been born, and therefore he couldn’t exist.  But apparently that’s not the end of the story. An Israeli scientist found a flaw in Hawking’s argument—something to do with parallel universes.

I have always been fascinated by books about time travel.  In H.G. Wells’ classic The Time Machine, a scientist travels ahead many eons to the dim future of mankind. I laughed at the exploits of the protagonist who was whisked back to medieval England in Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.  More recently, writer Michael Crichton has a group of young scientists return to medieval France to rescue their mentor who is trapped there in his gripping story Timeline.  Finally, in my own story Stranger in Time, the present time becomes the unfamiliar time being visited.

Read more about time travel and the pursuits of Daniel in Stranger in Time.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Unit 731

I did not have visions until I lost my sight about ten years ago. Then I began to use my imagination, colored by my medical, legal, and other life experiences. I wanted to write a novel about germ warfare, fiction based upon fact.

As a serious student of microbiology, I soon became aware that the science had a dark side. Long before researchers like Pasteur and Coch were discovering germs that cause disease, others were using disease as a weapon of war. I was amazed to learn that in 1346, when the Tartars were attacking the walled city of Caffa, they catapulted corpses of bubonic plague victims into the city to start an epidemic. Genoese sailors trapped in the city escaped, and returned to Italy carrying the disease with them to bring the dreaded Black Death to Europe.

I was shocked to find out that during the French and Indian War, the respected Sir Jeffrey Amherst, who commanded British forces in North America, gave orders to distribute blankets from smallpox victims to the Indians hoping to decimate the tribes.

It was encouraging to learn that in 1925, twenty-eight nations signed a Geneva Protocol banning the use of biologic agents as weapons, but neither our country nor Japan signed the treaty.

While working for the National Disaster Medical System as a Public Health Service reserve officer, I found out about Unit 731 and biological weapons. While the existence of the Nazi concentration camps was widely known in Europe and America during World War II, Unit 731, probably the worst of all, was a closely guarded secret.

Started by General Ishii Shiro, a Japanese Army physician, this death camp was devoted to the research and development of germ weapons. Located in Japanese-occupied Manchuria, more than 3,000 men, women, and children were murdered by their use as experimental subjects for testing various germs. Before the camp was captured by the Russians, Shiro dropped thousands of infected rats on Chinese communities resulting in 20,000 fatal cases of bubonic plague.

Shiro and his staff were captured and turned over to the Americans for prosecution, but American army generals anxious to learn results of Shiro’s barbaric experiments, and determined to keep this data from the Russians, persuaded President Truman to pardon the perpetrators.

My travels to the Middle East and the Amazon jungle and my studies of Unit 731 fascinated me, and I was inspired to write And Evil Shall Come, a fact-based novel about Unit 731.

Monday, June 13, 2011

An Introduction

I received my doctorate at the University of Maryland College of Medicine and taught at the medical schools of the universities of Florida and Vermont before going to Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons where I became professor of microbiology and pathology. As a reserve officer in the U.S. Public Health Service, I helped establish Disaster Medical Assistance Teams and lectured on biological weapons to U.S. Navy personnel. I was a legal consultant in infectious disease testifying as an expert witness in many cases. Before losing my vision, I flew as a search and rescue pilot for the Civil Air Patrol. Always a writer, my non- fiction books included Understanding Infectious Disease and The Biomedical Scientist As Expert Witness before I began to use my imagination and turned to writing fiction.