Wallace L. Pannier, 81

Wallace L. Pannier, 81; Scientist Led Secret Bioweapons Research

Associated Press
Saturday, August 8, 2009

Wallace L. Pannier, 81, a germ warfare scientist whose top-secret projects included a mock attack on the New York subway with powdered bacteria in 1966, died Aug. 6 in Frederick of respiratory failure.

Dr. Pannier worked at Fort Detrick, an Army installation in Frederick that tested biological weapons during the Cold War and is now a center for biodefense research. He worked in the Special Operations Division, a secretive unit operating there from 1949 to 1969, according to family members and published reports.

The special operations unit developed and tested delivery systems for deadly agents such as anthrax and smallpox.

Dr. Pannier told the Baltimore Sun in 2004 that team members staged their mock attack on the subway by shattering light bulbs packed with powdered bacteria on the tracks. They tracked the germs with air samplers disguised as suitcases.

"People could carry a brown bag with light bulbs in it and nobody would be suspicious," Dr. Pannier told the Sun. After a bulb broke, releasing the powder, "the trains swishing by would get it airborne," he said.

The bacteria used as mock weapons -- Bacillus globigii and Serratia marcescens -- were thought to be harmless but have since been classified as human pathogens.

A year earlier, the unit released Bacillus globigii in the air at what was then Washington National Airport and at bus stations in Washington, Chicago and San Francisco, a 1975 Senate investigation found.

Dr. Pannier said he had also posed as a fisherman, an air-quality tester and a motorist with car trouble to measure germs leaking from a pharmaceutical plant on the Susquehanna River. The readings would help U.S. spies trying to identify Soviet bioweapons plants.

The unit's existence wasn't publicly divulged until 1975. Dr. Pannier's wife of 61 years, the former Betty Lanahan, said she and their two children knew nothing about the nature of his work before then.

"We didn't know anything for the years he was working. It was not something you spread around," she said.

Dr. Pannier was born in Salt Lake City on Aug. 22, 1927, and received a degree in microbiology at the University of Utah. He served in the Navy during World War II.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company