1998 CPEO Military List Archive

From: Lenny Siegel <lsiegel@cpeo.org>
Date: Thu, 13 Aug 1998 15:52:54 -0700
Reply: cpeo-military
This is about a "cleanup" operation about 30 years ago; it illustrates
DOD's philosophy at that time that, in my opinion, remains unchanged

Jim Knipp <jknipp@usit.net>, former head of the Operations Division at
the Office of the Program Manager for Demilitarization of Chemical


In the early 1960s the Army increased its stockpile of biological
warfare agents by
growing an anticrop agent at Beale Air Force Base near Marysville,
California. The
agent, spores of Wheat Stem Rust, was harvested by Air Force Personnel
dressed to
look like farmers. After harvest, the spores were transported to Rocky
Arsenal (RMA), Colorado, for purification and storage.

At RMA the material was separated into weapons-grade spores
(subsequently stored)
and wheat chaff, still containing viable spores but of a lesser
concentration not
considered of sufficient strength for use in a weapon system. To dispose
of this residue,
the Army consulted with the Department of Agriculture; it was important
that the living
spores be contained until destruction, as their release into the air
could cause
destruction of the wheat crop throughout Colorado and possibly adjacent
depending on the winds at the time. The Department of Agriculture
advised the Army to
put this lower-grade material in the bottoms of a series of trenches
18-inches deep, and
then fill in the trenches with soil. The theory was that subsequent
rainfall seeping
through to the bottom of the ditches would cause the spores to
germinate; finding no
host, they would die. If the material were buried without being
subsequently killed,
later inadvertant excavation during the growing season could release the
agent and cause
massive crop damage. The Army then proceeded to bury and cover this
residue in
parallel trenches in a 30-acre plot. This operation had the Army code
name "Buried

Some years later (still in the late 1960s, as I recall), the Army
decided to check to insure
that the residue was still alive. They cross-trenched to locate the
original trenches
with residue, and moved residue samples into the lab for analysis. They
found that the
spores were still alive; apparently, the ditches were too deep (about 3
feet deep, as
opposed to the Department of Agriculture recommendation of 18 inches)
and the ground
water had not penetrated to germinate the spores. They "studied" the
situation, first
re-covering the trenches and marking their locations with wooden stakes.
Their study
was never concluded; prior to determining a course of action, weeds
grew, so the Army
bushhogged the weeds, destroying both the weeds and the wooden locating
stakes, and
losing the residue in the process. The effort now turned to first
locating the material (a
problem made more difficult by the then recently-enacted laws barring
open-air release,
so total containment would be required). I believe the commander at the
time (a Col.
Dismore, as I recall) had the area overflown with Mohawk aircraft
bearing infra-red
detectors in the hope that some decay that would generate heat was
occurring, but the
material was not located.

Efforts continued into the early 1970s to locate the material. The
solution to the problem
now required that before destroying the material:

a. A plan, to include an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) or
Impact Assessment (EIA) would have to be prepared for locating the

b. The plan would have to be reviewed and approved by both Department of
the Army
(DOA) and the Department of Defense Explosive Safety Board (DDESB),

c. A subsequent plan, with EIS/EIA, would have to be prepared for the
actual disposal
operation, and would also have to be reviewed and approved, again by
both DOA and
the DDESB.

The buried agent was never found. In 1973 or early 1974 the Army
suddenly lost
interest in locating the material. Col. Dismore had been killed in an
aircraft accident,
and a new commander had been installed at RMA who was aware of the
effort to find the material. Shortly after his installation, he
certified that the material
had been destroyed; the Army was reticent, even within the agencies
concerned, to
discuss any efforts to locate the materiel, and apparently had no plans
approved for
either locating or disposing of the biological waste, leading to the
belief that
"certification", rather than actual disposal, was to be the solution to
the problem.

During this entire time the Department of Defense Explosive Safety Board
(DDESB) was
tasked with oversight of military biological and chemical weapons as
well as high
explosives. In 1979 I worked closely with the DDESB scientist who
monitored those
programs since the 1960s into the 1980s. Although he was aware of the
burial, he told
me he had seen no plans to locate and open any trenches, nor any plans
to conduct
actual disposal operations; I believe he was also unaware that the agent
had been
certified as destroyed. Apparently the material, of unknown viability,
is still interred at

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