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Fact or fiction: Congressman claims evidence links Lyme disease to US military bioweapons research
A lawmaker who wants the Pentagon to investigate whether military biological weapons experiments with ticks cause Lyme disease insists he is not spreading conspiracy theories.
"Why wouldn't we want to know?" Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) told Task & Purpose. "Let the IG [inspector general's office] decide that — and put this to bed forever — if indeed it's a fable, if it's untrue."
Smith authored an amendment to the House version of the Fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act that would require the Pentagon to investigate if the military released infected ticks onto an unsuspecting American public "by accident or experiment design."
But experts say they are skeptical of any link between U.S. military bioweapons research and the outbreak of Lyme disease.
"Ticks and Lyme Disease would be a very strange choice as a deliberate bioweapon because ticks are difficult to work with, don't have wings, and Lyme would hardly be a force reducer," said Robert Peterson, an entomology professor at Montana State University.
Pentagon spokeswoman Heather Babb declined to discuss Smith's amendment because the Defense Department does not comment on proposed legislation.
"DOD takes extreme care in all of our research programs to ensure the protection of our personnel and the community," Babb said.
When Smith announced his amendment, he cited the book "Bitten: The Secret History of Lyme Disease and Biological Weapons," which looks at U.S. military experiments with ticks.
"There's just too much evidence for a reasonable man or woman to just turn the page and say: 'Put on your tinfoil fat. This is just a conspiracy theory,'" Smith said. "And yet, people with credentials will say that, which begs the question: Why would they even say that?"
Kris Newby, who wrote "Bitten," said she discovered circumstantial evidence linking the outbreak of Lyme disease in the 1960s to the U.S. military.
As proof, Newby cites an interview she had with Dr. Willy Burgdorfer, the American scientist who discovered what causes Lyme disease, who told her shortly before his death that he had been instructed to keep his research into a possible cause for Lyme disease a secret.
"My hypothesis is that was the biological weapon they were trying to cover up," said Newby, a science writer at the Stanford School of Medicine in California.
But Newby said she cannot definitively link Lyme disease to the U.S. military's bioweapons research efforts conducted at Fort Detrick, Maryland.
"I can't connect all those dots right now," said Newby, who survived Lyme disease. "My theory is that it was a genetically engineered Rickettsia [bacteria] but, as a journalist, I can't prove that."
Others find the idea the notion that the U.S. military infected ticks with Lyme disease more than a little far-fetched.
"I've heard a little bit about this story and speculation and whatnot — it's a really intuitively weak accusation," said Jeffrey Lockwood, who teaches natural sciences and humanities at the University of Wyoming.
Lockwood wrote "Six-Legged Soldiers: Using Insects as Weapons of War," about the U.S. military's biological warfare experiments with ticks, flies, and fleas. It turns out the Army did conduct research into whether ticks could be used to spread tularemia, relapsing fever, and Colorado fever during the Cold War.
Despite these experiments, Lockwood said he is "profoundly dubious" that the U.S. military looked into using ticks to transmit Lyme disease.
Ticks are not the best vector to spread bioweapons because they do not go very far and Lyme disease is a slow-acting pathogen, Lockwood told Task & Purpose. Other tick-borne diseases are far worse to humans.
"Weaponizing Lyme disease with a tick vector just doesn't add up to make a whole lot of sense," Lockwood said. "On the other hand – quite frankly – U.S. military weapons development hasn't always made a whole lot of sense."
UPDATE: This story was updated on Aug. 9 to more clearly reflect Kris Newby's comments.
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — A woman has filed a civil suit against a former member of the 104th Fighter Wing of the Air National Guard, saying she has suffered emotional distress and "a diminished capacity to enjoy life" in the years since he used a hidden camera at Barnes Air National Guard Base to record explicit images of her.
Former Tech Sgt. Jason Venne, 37, pleaded guilty in February to six counts of photographing an unsuspecting person in the nude and seven counts of unlawful wiretap. He admitted putting a camera in the women's locker room at the Westfield base, recording images and video between 2011 and 2013 when he worked there as a mechanic.
Five people have been indicted in federal court in the Western District of Texas on charges of participating in a scheme to steal millions of dollars from benefits reserved for military members, U.S. Department of Justice officials said Wednesday.
As the military services each roll out new policies regarding hemp-derived products like cannabidiol, or CBD, the Defense Department is not mincing words.
"It's completely forbidden for use by any service member in any of the services at this point of time," said Patricia Deuster, director of the Human Performance Laboratory at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland.
The warning, along with the policies issued recently by the Air Force, Coast Guard and Department of the Navy, comes as CBD is becoming increasingly ubiquitous across the country in many forms, from coffee additives and vaping liquids to tinctures, candies and other foods, carrying promises of health benefits ranging from pain and anxiety relief to sleeping aids and inflammation reduction.
The Navy has fired five senior leaders so far in August – and the month isn't even over.
While the sea service is famous for instilling in officers that they are responsible for any wrongdoing by their sailors – whether they are aware of the infractions or not – the recent rash of firings is a lot, even for the Navy.
A Navy spokesman said there is no connection between any of the five officers relieved of command, adding that each relief is looked at separately.
'We are a people organization' — Army leaders push renewed focus on soldiers amid rise in sexual assaults and suicides
After months of focusing on modernization priorities, Army leadership plans to tackle persisting personnel issues in the coming years.
Acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said Tuesday at an event with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies that what people can to hear service leadership "talk a lot about ... our people. Investing in our people, so that they can reach their potential. ... We are a people organization."