NJ congressman's bill orders investigation into the bio-weaponization of ticks

Jay Scott Smith
August 10, 2019 - 6:00 am

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — This time of year, you and your pets have to be on the lookout for ticks, the blood-sucking bugs that can transmit Lyme disease.

But New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith believes there's much more to be concerned about.

Smith introduced a bill that recently passed in the U.S. House, which is looking into whether the insects were originally weaponized by the U.S. government as a way to spread the disease during the Cold War.

"Frankly, if there is nothing to this, they should take this on to clear the air," Smith said. "I want to either say this was real, what were the parameters of it, was there any release of ticks that may have been diseased? If it's not true, the IG should put it to rest."

Smith's amendment, which was passed a part of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, is asking the inspector general to investigate the possible bio-weaponization of Lyme disease in ticks from 1950 to 1975.

If such a program is uncovered, the inspector general would submit the report to Congress. 

Smith had heard rumors about the program for years, but he became fully interested after reading a book called "Bitten." It provides detailed accounts of the alleged program, which is said to have taken place at bases in Maryland and New York, led by Dr. Willy Bergdorfer, the government scientist who first discovered Lyme disease.

"The culture of denial has to end," Smith said, "about the disease itself and potentially what its genesis in its current form."

Smith has been an advocate for treating and eliminating tick- and vector-borne diseases since 1992. His daughter was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2013.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a majority of Lyme disease cases in the U.S. are clustered in the Northeast, with large concentrations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. 

While the idea of a project that tried to turn ticks into weapons may seem like something out of a sci-fi flick, Smith said he is trying to curb a major problem.

"This is not 'The Twilight Zone,' " he said. "This is about a very real problem that is exploding."