U.S. Efforts to Investigate and Attribute
the Use of Biological Weapons
ELISA D. HARRIS
On several occasions over the past half century, the U.S. government has had to address the issue of biological weapons use. In two of those instances, during the Korean War and in Cuba repeatedly since the 1960s, the United States itself was the target of allegations of having used biological weapons. In another case, that of Yellow Rain, the U.S. government was the accuser against the Soviet Union and its allies in Southeast Asia and Afghanistan. And in a fourth, the 2001 mailings of Bacillus anthracis spores in Florida, New York, and Washington, DC, U.S. citizens were the victims. In each of these cases, U.S. officials have confronted different aspects of the biological weapons attribution problem.
This chapter begins by discussing the existing legal basis for U.S. efforts to attribute the use of biological weapons. It then turns to each of the cases noted above, focusing in particular on how the United States investigated the allegations, including the strengths and weaknesses of the U.S. approach to each. It concludes by considering lessons from these experiences for future efforts to identify, characterize, and attribute the use of biological weapons.
Following the use of chemical weapons by Iraq, and allegedly Iran, in the 1980s, the U.S. Congress passed legislation requiring the president to make a