[Ken Lawrence is an investigative journalist and veteran writer for CovertAction Magazine. Since the magazine’s founding in the late 1970’s, Lawrence regularly penned the popular column “Sources and Methods.” See the archives. In this piece, he presents new evidence of the 1971 CIA attack on Cuba with the African Swine Fever virus (ASFV).—Editors.]
“Cuban Outbreak of Swine Fever Linked to CIA” headlined a January 9, 1977, article by Drew Featherston and John Cummings in Newsday, a Long Island, New York, daily paper. It began,
It was an explosive story, reprinted in newspapers across the country. The CIA officially denied it six days later, in response to a request from the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, but the Newsday reporters had cited so many corroborating sources, with such specific details, that the denial was not widely believed.
The most compelling reason for trusting the credibility of the Newsday report was that the only place in the Western Hemisphere where the virus was known to have been kept before the outbreak in Cuba was at the secret Plum Island Animal Disease Center (PIADC) laboratory off the eastern tip of Long Island, where local Newsday reporters had been cultivating sources since the one and only time reporters had been allowed inside in October 1971.
Plum Island had hosted the U.S. Army Chemical Corps base at Fort Terry from 1952 to 1956. According to Deadly Cultures: Biological Weapons since 1945 by Mark Wheelis and Lajos Rózsa, the mission at Fort Terry was “to establish and pursue a program of research and development of certain anti-animal (BW) agents.” (a.k.a. biological weapons) The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) took over from the Army in 1956.
President Richard Nixon ordered biological weapons research to cease in 1969, but in 1975 the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence revealed that the CIA had continued to maintain a stockpile of biological agents and toxins in violation of the order.
Newsday had made no mention of Plum Island, perhaps to protect its reporters’ sources, but other reporters quickly made the connection. In the 2004 book, Lab 257 by Michael Christopher Carroll, the author wrote,
Forty-nine years after the biological warfare attack on Cuba, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) continues to operate the Plum Island center while DHS builds a new home for the laboratory at Manhattan, Kansas, scheduled to open in 2021, to be known as the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF).
USDA will own, manage, and operate the new facility, as it formerly did at Plum Island. According to the DHS website, “The federal government will execute a plan to provide for seamless transition of the agricultural defense mission from PIADC to the NBAF that includes an overlap of operations to make certain there is no interruption of the critical science mission and operational capabilities.”
Today, as in 1977, the government officially denies sponsoring an offensive biological warfare program. Further, today, as then, it asserts claims of security that prevent any effective independent verification and critical oversight. But a scarcely noticed detail of the Newsday report offers grounds for a fresh look at the evidence of the 1971 attack:
Despite Haiti’s objection since 1858, Navassa Island is the original United States overseas possession claimed in 1857 and officially declared a U.S. “appurtenance” in 1859. My Navassa research file includes a previously unreported document that lends circumstantial support to the Newsday story—a 1986 typescript draft of an article by U.S. Coast Guard lighthouse historian Neil Hurley titled “Navassa Island Light, ‘Where Chickens Only Miraculously Survive the Attacks of Lizards.’”
When Hurley’s article appeared in the Winter 1988 issue of The Keeper’s Log, under the title “Navassa Lighthouse,” these two sentences from his earlier draft were omitted: “In 1971, a U.S. Navy Research team visited the Island to look for animal diseases that could be transmitted to man. They found one bird carrying malaria.”
It might be a coincidence, but it seems remarkable that the Navy was investigating the possible presence of biological toxins on Navassa Island at about the time that agents were reported to have brought dangerous microbes to Navassa for a biological attack on Cuba.
By itself, the two-sentence unpublished excerpt from Hurley’s monograph doesn’t amount to much. However, two U.S. Navy missions to Swan Island off the coast of Honduras in 1960 and 1961 provided essential logistical support for the CIA’s communication and propaganda center for the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.
The unpublished lines in Hurley’s typescript leave this lingering question unanswered: Did the 1971 U.S. Navy mission to Navassa Island provide support for an African swine fever attack on Cuba, a decade after two Navy missions transported supplies to another Caribbean island for the CIA’s failed invasion of Cuba?
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About the Author
Ken Lawrence is an investigative journalist and veteran writer for CovertAction Magazine.
Since the magazine’s founding in the late 1970’s, Lawrence regularly penned the popular column “Sources and Methods.” See the archives.
Lawrence was born in 1942 and raised in Chicago. At age 17, in 1960, he traveled to Atlanta to attend the conference of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and witnessed the emerging civil rights movement at first hand. The following spring, after his second year of college, Lawrence left school to become a full-time activist.
He moved to Mississippi in 1971 to work full time as an organizer and writer. From 1971 to 1975, he was the Deep South representative of the Southern Conference Educational Fund (SCEF), and correspondent for The Southern Patriot, a monthly civil-rights movement paper.
Today, Lawrence is a free-lance writer, researcher, editor, lecturer, historian, and media consultant living in rural Pennsylvania.