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The Deadly Secrets of Plum Island

Michael Carroll, author of the best-selling book, “Lab 257: The Disturbing Story of the Government’s Secret Plum Island Germ Laboratory,” was back on the East Coast, vacationing with his family, and amazed over recent developments concerning Plum Island.

Carroll, an attorney from Long Island who worked seven years on “Lab 257” which became a best-seller after its 2004 publication, has since moved to California where he and his wife, a California native, established a law practice.

Back on Long Island, where he is a native, Carroll finds as astonishing Representative Tim Bishop’s fight against the plan of the federal government to shut down its Plum Island Animal Disease Center and shift its operations to a new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility it would build in Manhattan Kansas. Bishop, of Southampton, is mainly concerned about the loss of 200 federal jobs at the center which is in his eastern Long Island Congressional district.

“It is utter foolishness to try to save 200 jobs at the price of protecting the entire region from this island and the threat it represents,” said Carroll in a recent interview. An outbreak of disease agents worked with on Plum Island­notably those affecting both animals and people­in the heavily populated area off which the island sits could be “devastating.” Plum Island is just off and midway between the New York-Boston megalopolis and its millions of people, Carroll pointed out. The 843-acre island is a mile-and-a-half off Orient Point in Southold Town on the North Fork of Long Island. Connecticut is less than 10 miles to the north.

A spokesperson for Bishop, Oliver Longwell, responded that Bishop’s “position on the island is indistinguishable from every other elected official who represents Southold Town at all levels of government.”

As to the call by a grouping of Long Island environmentalists for preservation of the island as opposed to the federal government’s consideration of having housing developed on it,  Carroll said that making the island a preserve is all that could be done with Plum Island­but, he emphasized, it will need to be a preserve closed to people. “You can’t let anybody on it,” he said.

“The island is an environmental disaster,” said Carroll. “Every effort to decontaminate Lab 257, the1950s-era germ warfare building on it, has failed,” said Carroll. “They can’t get that building clean.” (Subsequently, a new laboratory building was constructed after the U.S. Department of Agriculture Department took control of the island from the U.S. Army.)

“There is contamination all over the island,” said Carroll. He noted that up until recent years, nothing was ever removed from the island­everything was disposed on it, much of it buried. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) have brought charges through the years in connection with the Plum Island waste, cases cited in his book, he went on. “If this was a private business, it immediately would have been shut down,” said Carroll. But only “nominal” fines were meted out.

As to a shift of Plum Island operations to Kansas, that’s “going out of the frying pan into the fire,” said Carroll. “Is there is no better place to study foreign animal diseases than in the middle of America’s farm belt?”

“What research that needs to be conducted should be done nowhere near a human population center or a food production center,” said Carroll.

As for Plum Island, “There’s no way that island can be made fit for human habitation,” declared Carroll.” The island needs to be “forsaken. It’s very sad.”

The federal government, however, believes Plum Island can be habitable as evidenced by it contemplating housing on it with the center’s closing. And real estate mogul Donald Trump has jumped into the situation by saying he would like to buy the island and, he said last month, develop a “really beautiful, world-class golf course” on it.

Meanwhile, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has written to the General Services Administration, which would manage the planned sale, and the Department of Homeland Security, which after the 9/11 attack took over the island from the Department of Agriculture, calling for a “comprehensive investigation” of Plum Island by the state DEC, and a clean-up plan. This would include “the need to properly close Building 257.” Discussing his letter at a recent appearance at Orient Beach State Park, Cuomo called Plum Island “the island of secrets.”

The Cuomo family is very familiar with Plum Island. Andrew’s father, former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, with whom Carroll worked as a lawyer in New York City, is quoted on the jacket of “Lab 257” as calling the book a “carefully researched, chilling expose of a potential catastrophe.”

Carroll’s “Lab 257” also documents a Nazi connection to the original establishment of a U.S. laboratory on Plum Island. According to the book, Erich Traub, a scientist who worked for the Third Reich doing biological warfare, was the force behind its founding.

During World War II,  “as lab chief of Insel Riems­a secret Nazi biological warfare laboratory on a crescent-shaped island in the Baltic Sea­Traub worked for Adolph Hitler’s second-in-charge, SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler, on live germ trials,” states “Lab 257.

The mission was to develop biological warfare to be directed against animals in the Soviet Union. This included infecting cattle and reindeer with foot-and-mouth disease.

“Ironically, Traub spent the prewar period of his scientific career on a fellowship at the Rockefeller Institute in Princeton, New Jersey, perfecting his skills in viruses and bacteria under the tutelage of American experts before returning to Nazi Germany on the eve of war,” says “Lab 257.”  While in the U.S. in the 1930s, too, relates the book, Traub was a member of the Amerika-Deutscher Volksbund which was involved in pro-Nazi rallies held weekly in Yaphank on Long Island.

With the end of the war, Traub came back to the United States under Project Paperclip, a U.S. program under which Nazi scientists, such as Wernher von Braun, were brought to America.

“Traub’s detailed explanation of the secret operation on Insel Riems” given to officials at Fort Detrick in Maryland, the Army’s biological warfare headquarters, and to the CIA, “laid the groundwater for Fort Detrick’s offshore germ warfare animal disease lab on Plum Island,” says “Lab 257.” “Traub was a founding father.” And Plum Island’s purpose, says the book, became what Insel Riems had been: to develop biological warfare to be directed against animals in the Soviet Union­now that the Cold War and conflict between the U.S. and the Soviet Union had begun.

The Long Island daily newspaper Newsday earlier documented this biological warfare mission of Plum Island. In a lead story on November 21, 1993, Newsday investigative reporter John McDonald wrote: “A 1950s military plan to cripple the Soviet economy by killing horses, cattle and swine called for making biological warfare weapons out of exotic animal diseases at a Plum Island laboratory, now-declassified Army records reveal.” A facsimile of one of the records, dated 1951, covered the front page of that issue of Newsday.

The article went on: “Documents and interviews disclose for the first time what officials have denied for years: that the mysterious and closely guarded animal lab off the East End of Long Island was originally designed to conduct top-secret research into replicating dangerous viruses that could be used to destroy enemy livestock.”

“Lab 257” has many pages about this based on documents including many that Carroll found in the National Archives.

The book also tells of why suddenly the Army transferred Plum Island to the Department of Agriculture in 1954­the U.S. military became concerned about having to feed millions of people in the Soviet Union if it destroyed their food animals.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff “found that a war with the U.S.S.R. would best be fought with conventional and nuclear means, and biological warfare against humans­not against food animals,” says “Lab 257.” “Destroying the food supply meant having to feed millions of starving Russians after winning a war”

Still, “Lab 257” questions whether there ever was a clean break.

Officials at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center have, however, insisted over the years that the center’s function is to conduct research into foreign animal diseases not found in the U.S.­especially foot-and-mouth disease­and the only biological warfare research done is of a “defensive” kind.

“Lab 257” also maintains that there is a link between the Plum Island center and the emergence of Lyme disease. It “suddenly surfaced” 10 miles from Plum Island “in Old Lyme, Connecticut in 1975.” Carroll cites years of experimentation with ticks on Plum Island and the possibility of an accidental or purposeful release.

“The tick is the perfect germ vector,” says “Lab 257,” “which is why it has long been fancied as a germ weapon by early biowarriors from Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan to the Soviet Union and the United States.”

“A source who worked on Plum Island in the 1950s,” the book states, “recalls that animal handlers and a scientist released ticks outdoors on the island. ‘They called him the Nazi scientist, when they came in, in 1951 ­they were inoculating these ticks.” “Lab 257” goes on: “Dr. Traub’s World War II handiwork consisted of aerial virus sprays developed on Insel Riems and tested over occupied Russia, and of field work for Heinrich Himmler in Turkey. Indeed, his colleagues conducted bug trials by dropping live beetles from planes. An outdoor tick trial would have been de riguer for Erich Traub.”

Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College of New York, is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet. Grossman is an associate of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.

More articles by:

Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at State University of New York/College at Old Westbury, and is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet. Grossman is an associate of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.

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