]]]]]]]]]]]]      BEE-FECES THEORY STILL HAS NO STING      [[[[[[[[[[[ 
                         William Kucewicz                      6/20/88
                   The Wall Street Journal, 9/17/1987

[BRIEF REVIEW OF PRECEDING CONTROVERSY by P.B.:
     Kucewicz is the WSJ's outstanding writer who revealed the extent 
of Soviet research on Soviet biochemical warfare in a brilliant series 
of articles in April-May 1984 [AtE Jun 84]. He also reported 
convincing evidence that the Soviets had supplied biochemical weapons 
to their surrogates in SE Asia, who used them on the recalcitrant 
Hmong people and elsewhere. The evidence was revealed in two 
outstanding WSJ articles (9/6/85 and 3/31/86), but disputed by the 
"liberal" science writers of the New York Times, Science, and others. 
A particularly vicious piece palmed off as scientific research was 
published in the Sept. Scientific American by Harvard biochemistry 
prof Matthew Meselson and two others. Meselson, whose trip to SE Asia 
had been financed by the leftist MacArthur Foundation, collected bees' 
feces (droppings) far away from any war zone, examined the material by 
electron microscopy and other methods, not surprisingly found some 
toxins in it, and not surprisingly found no man-made toxins 
attributable to Soviet weapons. His trivial and irrelevant 
experimental findings were never under dispute; his conclusion 
attributing all evidence of Soviet biochemical warfare to bee feces is 
little short of scientific fraud.
     In 1987 Meselson returned with more false and scandalously 
doctored whitewash of Soviet biochemical warfare in Foreign Affairs. 
The following article, apart from summarizing the whole issue, also 
throws light on Meselson's sleazy suppression of evidence.]
 
     Six years ago this week, the US government first revealed 
physical evidence that the "yellow rain" loosed by aircraft on 
villages in SE Asia was a toxin warfare agent, most probably being 
field-tested for the Soviet Union. The probable motive was hatred by 
the Communist governments of Laos and Vietnam for the anti-Communist 
Hmong people of Laotian villages and for Cambodians at war with 
Vietnam.
     Refugees arriving in Thailand had been reporting the attacks 
since 1975, and several hundred were interviewed by US doctors. 
State Department officials and journalists, including the Asian WSJ's 
Barry Wain. They told of planes and helicopters dropping a yellow 
powder. People and animals become violently -- sometimes fatally -- 
ill.
     In 1981 and 1982, scientists involved in the investigations 
concluded from the symptoms, blood tests and autopsies that the 
poisons being used were trichothecene mycotoxins. Evidence of Soviet 
involvement was less strong, but included sightings of what looked 
like chemical weapons being unloaded from Soviet ships at a Vietnamese 
port. It was well known by then that the Soviets had developed 
chemical and biological warfare (CBW) agents and equipped troops and 
military vehicles with anti-CBW devices. The Laotians or Vietnamese 
surely lacked the know-how to develop a poison gas of their own. 
Finally, trichithecenes were found on a Soviet gas mask recovered in 
Afghanistan where Afghan combatants had described poison-gas attacks 
by Soviet troops, in one case on an undefended village.
     After the findings and suspicions received international 
publicity from this newspaper, the Reader's Digest, ABC News, the 
State Department and others, the attacks in SE Asia began to peter 
out. But the debate in the US, so it seems, is still with us. The 
evidence of poison gas had been challenged by Harvard biochemist 
Matthew Meselson, one of the intellectual fathers of the Biological 
and Toxin Weapons Convention of 1972, requiring worldwide destruction 
of such weapons. Surely the Soviets wouldn't violate his treaty, he 
insisted, so there must be some other explanation. He proffered the 
the theory that yellow rain was in fact bee feces.
     That mainly drew laughter, but a few weeks ago, Prof. Meselson 
returned to the fray. In a Foreign Policy magazine article co-authored 
with Julian Robinson of the University of Sussex and Jeanne Guillemin 
of Boston College, he insisted that newly declassified US documents 
show that "the administration's claim of toxin warfare rests on 
evidence that, over the past several years, has been discredited."
     Mr Meselson, as in the past, focused on leaf samples collected to 
establish the presence of trichothecenes. These samples were only part 
of a larger body of evidence, but they interested Prof. Meselson. He 
asserted that once more that what was found on them was nothing but 
"innocuous excrement of honey bees."
     The latest Meselson piece would probably have gone unnoticed had 
not two reporters, Philip M. Boffey [a vicious antinuke of long 
standing, see AtE Dec 79, P.B.] of the New York Times and Philip J. 
Hilts of the Washington Post, renewed their support for his thesis. 
The Times backed its reporter with an editorial titled "Yellow Rain 
Falls." A separate attack on the yellow-rain evidence had been mounted 
earlier by Elisa D. Harris, also a Harvard researcher, in 
International Security magazine.
     Prof. Meselson's attack zeroed in on the investigative work of a 
three-man team of CBW experts from the State and Defense department 
stationed in Thailand from Nov. 1983 to Oct. 1985. This, of course, 
was after the attacks had largely ended. But Foreign Policy Editor 
Charles Wm. Maynes was impressed enough with the latest Meselson 
arguments to claim that they would "demolish definitively" the US 
government's case against the Soviet Union and its SE Asian allies.
     It's hard to know how an article mainly about bee feces would 
achieve such an astonishing result. Even the professor's handling of 
the declassified papers displays a certain selectivity. The Journal 
has obtained copies of these same papers, and they are not very 
interesting.
     One telegram from the US Embassy in Bangkok refers to nothing 
more exciting than a visit to the embassy by Prof. Meselson and two 
colleagues, who had been wandering around in the jungles of Thailand 
(not Laos or Cambodia) observing the habits of bees. The telegram, 
but not the Meselson article, makes clear that he and his Thai 
colleague did not entirely agree even on these observations. Prof. 
Meselson said that the bees' "cleansing" flight was too high to be 
seen, but the Thai told US officials that he actually saw an estimated 
10,000 bees in flight. If bees on cleansing flights can be low enough 
to be seen, why in none of the hundreds of yellow-rain reports has no 
one ever mentioned bees?
     The article focuses on the paucity of leaf samples that tested 
positive for trichothecene mycotoxins. Indeed, the only positive US 
tests of environmental samples from SE Asia were done in the 
laboratories of Chester Mirocha of the University of Minnesota and 
Joseph Rosen of Rutgers University (who also found man-made 
polyethylene glycol in a sample obtained by ABC news in 1981).
     By innuendo, Mr Meselson implies that the independent work of 
Profs. Mirocha and Rosen is faulty. But he never explains where they 
might have made mistakes. In fact, neither scientist has ever reported 
a false positive in any of the control samples [unknown to the 
resarchers, innocuous ones, P.B.] submitted to them by the US 
government to verify their testing techniques.
     The Meselson report fails to mention any of the numerous 
biological samples from SE Asia that tested positive for the toxins. 
In 1982, for instance, the US government tested 73 yellow-rain victims 
and got 24 positives for the toxins -- a rate of 32.9% and much too 
high to indicate a natural poisoning that had previously gone 
unnoticed. Indeed, epidemiologists from the US and Canada have never 
found any evidence of illness due to natural exposure to triothecene 
toxins in SE Asia.
     The Foreign Policy article falsely says: "At no time, then or 
now, was any case documented in which diagnostic examination or 
autopsy provided clear evidence of exposure to chemical warfare 
agents." In fact, a report by Secretary of State George Shultz in 
Nov. 1982 provided detailed autopsy results for a chemical warfare 
attack victim in Cambodia. The results include the precise levels of 
toxins found in the victim's heart, stomach, liver, kidney, lung and 
intestine. The tests were conducted separately by Profs. Mirocha and 
Rosen, and each found high levels of the toxins.
     Prof. Meselson makes a Point of extensively quoting the testimony 
of a resistance leader from the Phu Bia region of Laos contained in a 
May 1984 telegram to the State Department. In his eight years in the 
region, the Hmong leader said that he never saw a yellow-rain attack, 
adding that other Hmong often relate "what they hear and feel" and 
not what they actually see. He said that he "always speaks the truth." 
After this seeming rebuke to eyewitness testimony, Prof. Meselson 
chose not to quote the next telegram, referring to another witness.
     "[Name deleted] is a 40-year-old female who claimed to have lost 
six of her 10 children in a CBW attack from a rotary wing aircraft 
during the last harvest season (November-December 1983). The alleged 
attack took place in a rice field one hour walking distance from Phu 
Pad village ... in Vientiane Province [Laos] ... [She] stated that on 
a cloudy and windy morning a helicopter passed over 22 Hmong working 
in a rice field. One heard an explosion followed by a cream-colored 
rain. [Name deleted] stated that she immediately became dizzy and 
remained so for 10 days. Other symptoms were vomiting with blood and 
bloody diarrhea..."
     Prof. Meselson also selectively reports the data from one of the 
most well-documented yellow-rain attacks -- at the Thai village of Ban 
Sa Tong, near the Cambodian border, in February 1982. He asserts there 
was no "abnormal incidence of clinical illness" and the "yellow spots 
later were shown to consist almost entirely of pollen."
     The facts about the attack on Ban Sa Tong, related by a Canadian 
team of epidemiologists, are quite straightforward. A plane dropped a 
yellow substance over the village. Thai and Canadian experts saw the 
powder liberally covering houses and vegetation. Only those villagers 
in direct contact with the powder became ill, while none of the others 
were affected. Allergic reaction to pollen cannot account for the 
high incidence (one in three) of central nervous system disorders 
among those in the sprayed area. Two laboratories in Canada and one in 
the US found the trichothecene toxins in the yellow powder from Ban Sa 
Tong. Moreover, a plastic bag later collected from the site and said 
by villagers to be part of the weapon contained high levels of two 
trichothecenes and, the Canadians said, "almost no pollen."
     As opposed to confirming the bee-feces theory, the State 
Department telegrams actually bolster the US government's case that 
yellow rain was a man-made chemical weapon. The CBW team from late 1983 
to 1985 came across very few reports of yellow-rain attacks, and 
trichothecenes were no longer found. The worldwide publicity about 
yellow rain had apparently discouraged the further use of the weapons 
and doubtlessly saved lives. The bees, of course, were still there, 
defecating. But the yellow-rain attacks stopped.

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