The Schnacke Affidavit (Updated): U.S. Admission of Offensive Germ Warfare Capability During the Korean War

Jeffrey Kaye
23 min readJul 17, 2021
From page 1 of Affidavit by U.S. Attorney Robert H. Schnacke in sedition trial of John W. Powell, Sylvia Powell, and Julian Schuman, 6 January 1959. Source: National Archives, Kansas City, MO

True crime devotees are familiar with the concept of the “cold case,” which Oxford Languages defines as “an unsolved criminal investigation which remains open pending the discovery of new evidence.” Allegations from China and North Korea that the U.S. used biological weaponry (BW) during the Korean War is an example of just such a cold case.

I recently obtained from the National Archives an affidavit from assistant U.S. attorney Robert H. Schnacke. The sworn statement was filed during a controversial 1950s trial prosecuting the editorial staff of China Monthly Review for sedition for reporting on the controversy over whether the U.S. used BW against China and the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK).

In the affidavit, which provides us today with two important pieces of the BW puzzle surrounding the charges of germ warfare aimed at the U.S., Schnacke stipulated the presence of an offensive capability by the U.S. to wage biological warfare dating back to the beginning of 1949, something the U.S. had long hidden or denied. The revelation briefly made headlines in San Francisco, where the trial was being held, but more generally faded away.

Schnacke’s sworn statement directly contradicts the writings of Cold War scholar Milton Leitenberg, who as recently as 2016 in the pages of a monograph for the Wilson Center’s Cold War International History Project, assured readers, “After 1945, the United States neither produced nor procured any biological munitions until the end of 1951.” Furthermore, Leitenberg asserted — incorrectly — no BW weapon using a human pathogen was “ready until the end of 1954, about 16 months after the Korean War was over” (pg. 8) [1]

“Stop-gap measures” to implement BW “operational readiness” during the Korean War

Contrary to Leitenberg’s assertions, by October 1950, according to a previously Top Secret history of Air Force participation in the BW program…