“A real flood of bacteria and germs” — Communications Intelligence and Charges of U.S. Germ Warfare during the Korean War

Jeffrey Kaye
60 min readSep 16, 2020
Cover art for CIA pamphlet release in 2013, in public domain

“Bacteria bombs,” poisoned water, planes dropping contaminated flies, fleas and other insects, two nations grappling to understand and adapt to an attack by an unseen enemy, in the context of an epic war with the United States and allied countries that would kill millions… this is the hitherto untold story of what germ warfare looked like to those who were attacked, from documents kept secret for over 60 years!

In February 2013, the CIA posted over 1300 items online as part of their earlier “Baptism by Fire” document release commemorating the 60th anniversary of the start of the Korean War. The bulk of their accompanying narrative material concerned long-time controversies as to whether the CIA had failed to anticipate both the North Korean invasion of the Republic of Korea in June 1950, and the Chinese entry into the war later that year.

In order to provide a documentary backdrop to a history of the war from an intelligence point-of-view, the CIA also released hundreds of declassified top-secret communications intelligence (COMINT) reports, as well as assorted formerly secret intelligence analyses, and open-source reports from the Agency’s Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS).

The CIA likely did not set out to document the COMINT history of the North Korean and Chinese response to what appeared to be U.S. and/or U.N. attacks by biological, bacteriological, or ”germ” weapons, but that is in effect what happened.

While the released documents do not represent a full opening of all archives related to Korean War communications intelligence, the sampling is unprecedented, and the contention of this essay is that the released files provide a valuable addition to our understanding of the events surrounding the alleged U.S. biological or germ warfare attack against North Korea and China from 1950–1953.

This essay draws upon 28 COMINT documents, produced by communications intelligence units and labeled top secret, in addition to 11 other CIA analyst reports previously marked “secret,” one report marked “top secret,” two reports marked “confidential,” and one marked “restricted.”

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