House passes Smith’s amendment to probe whether Defense Dept weaponized ticks with Lyme disease
Smith: Lyme patients have ‘right to know’ if credible assertions in books, articles are true
The House of Representatives this week passed an amendment offered by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) directing the federal government’s “watchdog” agency to investigate the Department of Defense’s (DOD) possible weaponization of ticks and other insects with Lyme disease during its consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022 (H.R. 4350).
“In the spirit of transparency and accountability, my amendment directs the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to probe whether the Department of Defense ever weaponized ticks with Lyme disease or any other dangerous pathogen,” said Rep. Smith, the founding co-chair of the House Lyme Disease Caucus.
“Americans deserve the truth,” Smith said.
“The millions of Americans suffering from Lyme disease have a right to know whether any of this is true, and if any old research documents could be applied by current-day scientists to finding a better diagnostic or treatment—something that’s desperately needed,” said Smith, who has been advocating for Lyme patients and a more robust government response to the devastating disease since 1992.
Smith’s amendment requires the GAO to report findings to Congress of any DOD experiments on ticks or other insects for use as biological weapons from 1950 to 1977, including the experiment’s scope and whether any insects may have been “released outside of any laboratory by accident or experiment design.” Similar amendments authored by Smith passed the House in 2019 and 2020, but did not make it through the Senate.
The legislation comes in the wake of credible assertions made in numerous books and articles that significant research was conducted at Fort Detrick, Plum Island and elsewhere by the DOD to turn ticks into bioweapons causing severe disability, disease and even death to potential enemies.
One book—Bitten: The Secret History of Lyme Disease and Biological Weapons by Kris Newby—includes interviews with Dr. Willy Burgdorfer, the researcher credited with discovering Lyme disease who also worked as a bioweapons specialist. Combined with access to Burgdorfer’s lab files, the interviews suggest that he and other bioweapons specialists stuffed ticks with dangerous pathogens.
“To stop the spread of these horrific tick-borne diseases, we must first understand their origins and how they came to be so pervasive,” Smith said.
“If the investigation concludes our government’s bioweapons program did not contribute to the proliferation of Lyme, we turn the page. And if it did, hopefully this investigation and research will contribute to a cure,” he said.
A December 2020 report from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Tick-Borne Disease Working Group found that Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease with an estimated 300,000 new cases diagnosed each year—a figure that many researchers believe is underreported and could be up to 476,000 new cases annually. The Working Group and its issuance of an annual report were both established by previous legislation authored by Smith that became law in 2016 as part of the 21st Century Cures Act.
Smith’s amendment now moves to the Senate for consideration as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.