Ah the 1950s, specifically the Cold War of the 1950s, a time of experimentation, a time of national development, and a time also filled with a large mix of insanity inducing efforts to close the perceived power-gap and risks between the United States and its new rival the Soviet Union. The 1950s in the United States were politically dominated by a period of anti-Communist “Red Scare” paranoia and concern that the Soviet Union was either pulling even to, or possibly pulling ahead, of the United States in the new race to command the forces of mass destruction. This concern mainly focused on nuclear weapons, with the United States undertaking a large number of projects to enhance its capacity to deploy nuclear weapons and working to expand its limited nuclear arms arsenals, but it also involved more fringe research projects with a goal of ensuring the United States military dominance in all possible fields of struggle with the Soviet Union. This lead to a large number of unusual projects, ranging from the sudden United States entry into the space race to research into fringe weapons programs and unusual warfare methods, such as doping random individuals with LSD to see if the drug made them more susceptible to brain washing.
Of particular interest was the United States research into entomological warfare, specifically the use of insects as delivery vectors for biological agents, and the United States military undertook a series of feasibility tests to determine if this sort of program could be implemented, could be effective, and if it was cost effective.
Operation Big Itch – a 1954 test in Utah in which fleas were deployed by air in a series of carefully designed custom bombs to test the insects spread patterns for delivery of infectious agents. The fleas did perform successfully although it was discovered that one design of bomb “leaked” and the fleas were able to escape and bite the airplane crew.
Operation Big Buzz – a 1955 test in Georgia in which several hundred thousand uninfected mosquitoes capable of carrying yellow fever were dispersed in swampy terrain to determine how far they would spread in a fixed length of time. This test was successful in proving the fleas would disperse and would seek out fresh meals.
Operation Drop Kick – a 1956 and 1958 test of mosquitoes again, and once more in Georgia, this time using uninfected insects released in an inhabited area of Georgia to see how many would enter individual homes and bite citizens. The test results proved successful and data was gathered showing that mosquitoes dropped in residential areas by bomb would indeed enter homes and bite people.
Operation May Day – another 1956 test, in Georgia once more, that showed mosquitoes put into a stupor with dry ice would awaken upon being dropped in urban areas and bite humans successfully.
Operation Magic Sword – a 1965 test, off the coast of the southeastern United States, that mosquitoes could be preserved for ocean deployment and could be relied upon to fly inland and bite humans.
Overall the tests showed that using these techniques would provide a “cost per death” of $1.21 per kill (2014 dollars) which was considered quite competitive with other means of deployment and fifty percent mortality rate was possible.
Of course one of the challenges of researching early Cold War operations is many of them are still classified, and I personally as a historian look forward to more such interesting discoveries as archives are declassified.
Sources: Wikipedia articles on Operating Big Buzz, Big Itch, May Day, Magic Sword, Drop Kick, US Cold War Entomological Warfare, and a confirming entry in Chemical and Biological Warfare, a Comprehensive Survey…