House lawmakers are pressing the Pentagon on whether it experimented with weaponizing disease-carrying insects decades ago — and whether they were let loose, Roll Call reported.
The pressure came in an unusual amendment to the 2020 defense authorization bill, which was passed last week, the news outlet reported.
The amendment from Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., states the Pentagon's inspector general "shall conduct a review of whether the Department of Defense experimented with ticks and other insects regarding use as a biological weapon between the years of 1950 and 1975."
According to Roll Call, the amendment is trying to confirm or deny reports Pentagon researchers — at places such as Fort Detrick in Maryland and Plum Island in New York — implanted diseases into insects to learn about the effects of biological weapons, and also looked into using such insects to disseminate biological agents.
President Richard Nixon banned government research into biological weapons in 1969, but research into protecting U.S. military personnel from such agents might have continued, Smith told Roll Call.
"Bitten," published this year, argues the Defense Department research occurred and hints at a possible connection between the experiments and the spread of maladies such as Lyme disease.
Smith told Roll Call that between 300,000 and 427,000 new cases of Lyme disease occur each year, with further growth expected in the years ahead.
"We need answers and we need them now," he said. Smith is a co-chairman of the Congressional Lyme Disease Caucus, which advocates for more funding for research.
It is unclear if Congress will send President Donald Trump a defense authorization bill with the weaponized ticks amendment. The Senate has passed its version without any similar provision, and now House and Senate negotiators must reconcile the two bills, Roll Call reported.
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