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June 6, 2001

Botulinum Toxin in Biowarfare

Author Affiliations

Stephen J.LurieMD, PhD, Senior EditorIndividualAuthorJody W.ZylkeMD, Contributing EditorIndividualAuthor

JAMA. 2001;285(21):2716. doi:10.1001/jama.285.21.2716

To the Editor: A historical incident illustrates a number of features of botulinum toxin not discussed in the review of bioweaponry by Dr Arnon and colleagues.1

During World War II, the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS) developed a plan for Chinese prostitutes to assassinate high-ranking Japanese officers with whom they sometimes consorted in occupied Chinese cities. Concealing traditional weapons on the women at the appropriate time would obviously be difficult. Therefore, under the direction of Stanley Lovell, the OSS prepared gelatin capsules "less than the size of the head of a common pin"2 containing a lethal dose of botulinum toxin. Wetted, a capsule could be stuck behind the ear or in scalp hair, later to be detached and slipped into the officer's food or drink. The OSS recognized that the normal background of botulism cases would deflect suspicion from the women.2

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