Now home to the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases where deadly agents like Ebola, smallpox and anthrax are studied, Fort Detrick spans 13,000 acres and 600 buildings surrounded by suburban sprawl — but when it was first developed nearly eight decades ago, the location was chosen for its isolation.1
Remoteness, at the time, was key, because Fort Detrick was to be a center for the development of highly secretive germ warfare. During World War II, biological agents were deemed to be a significant threat.
“Scientists converged at Camp Detrick in 1943 to develop defenses to protect our troops from this threat,” according to the U.S. Army. “The research program at Fort Detrick pioneered the laboratory facility designs, equipment and procedures used for infectious disease research that are in place today in laboratories worldwide.”2
One of the first scientists assigned to Fort Detrick’s secret biological warfare laboratory during WWII was bioweapons expert Frank Olson.3 In 1953, Olson died after plummeting to the ground from a high-rise hotel room window in Manhattan.
Days earlier, he had been secretly drugged by the Central Intelligence Agency, which claimed Olson’s death was a suicide. Decades later, it was revealed that Olson didn’t jump from the window — he was deliberately murdered after the CIA became concerned that he might reveal disturbing top-secret operations.