One of the nation's top biowarfare experts dies

William C. Patrick III, one of the nation’s top biological warfare experts, died of bladder cancer in Frederick, Maryland, at Citizens Nursing Home on October 1.

Patrick, 84, was one of the leading scientists at the Army Biological Warfare Laboratories at Fort Detrick. He was responsible for the weaponization of some of the world’s deadliest agents, including tularemia and anthrax, according to the Washington Post.  

For much of the Cold War, Patrick was the head of development at Fort Detrick. He held five classified patents for the weeaponization of anthrax.

Patrick led the weaponization team for tularemia in the 1960s, when he developed an agent that, if spread by airplane, could cause death and sickness over thousands of square miles, according to government testing.

Some experts were of the opinion that his research proved that biological weapons could be just as effective as nuclear weapons, the Washington Post reports. In a 10,000 square-mile range, his biological weapons could cause a 90 percent casualty rate and a 50 percent fatality rate.

The Fort Detrick program began in the early 1940s under Franklin D. Roosevelt. Patrick joined in 1951, becoming the chief of the development program in 1965, where he explored some of the deadliest diseases in the world. His team researched, among others, Q fever, plague and Venezuelan equine encephalitis. It was during this time that he began his anthrax research.

In all, Patrick and his program tested over 20 anthrax strains to find the most lethal. The spores he engineered in the laboratory could disseminate more than a mile through the air, rendering most conventional defenses useless.

To test his deadly compounds, Patrick and his team conducted mock attacks and invented aerosol systems that could be hidden in cars or even pens, the Washington Post reports.

After President Richard Nixon banned offensive biological weapons development in 1969, Patrick’s research shifted towards defending against the weapons he helped create.

After his retirement, Patrick remained in demand as one of the world’s top experts on biological weapons. He served as a consultant to the CIA, FBI and U.S. military. He had a skull and crossbones painted on his business card.

In the early 1990s he led the debriefing of the Soviet defector Kanatjan Alibekov, the once deputy chief of the Soviet biological warfare program. He also participated in weapons inspections in Iraq.

In 1999, during an appearance before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, he pulled out a vial filled with an inert anthrax stimulant.

“I’ve been through all the major airports and the security systems of the State Department, the Pentagon, and even the CIA, and no one has stopped me,” he said, according to the Washington Post.

The FBI sough Patrick’s advice during the investigation into the anthrax attacks on the East Coast following the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. He had, only years earlier, written a paper on the potential for an anthrax attack to be conducted through the mail system.

Despite the dangerous and dark nature of his work, Patrick was seen as vital to American national security.