admits to 50 secret tests of bio weapons on troops
The Pentagon used potentially dangerous chemical and biological agents in 50 secret tests involving US military personnel in a decade-long project to measure the weapons' combat capabilities, according to Pentagon findings.
The tests were done between 1962 and 1973 and involved 5,842 service members. Many were not told of the tests, some of which involved releases of deadly nerve agents in Alaska and Hawaii.
The information released today disclosed eight new tests that primarily used non-lethal bacteria and in some cases caustic chemicals. It revealed for the first time experiments to find ways to use submarines to distribute biological weapons.
"Project 112" and "Project SHAD" were developed in 1961 to study the combat uses of biological and chemical weapons and methods to protect American troops from such attacks. Initially it was believed that only simulated agents were used, but last year the Defence Department admitted for the first time that some of the tests used real chemical or biological weapons.
Most of the tests made public today used the benign bacterium bacillus globigii to simulate how biological weapons agents would spread through the hold of a ship.
One test, called "Blue Tango", entailed spraying two types of bacteria, including E. coli, in a rainforest in Hawaii in 1968 to gauge how they bacteria would linger in the vegetation.
Another, "Folded Arrow", involved spraying bacillus globigii from a submarine over part of Oahu, Hawaii, and over several boats off the coast in 1968 to gauge how Venezuelan equine encephalitis would be carried by wind.
"It bespeaks the time, the early '60s, when we were in the Cold War, and we were concerned that Russia and perhaps China had chemical and biological capabilities that could be used against American troops and against us in the homeland," said Dr Michael Kilpatrick, deputy director of the Defence Department's Deployment Health Support Directorate.
The United States scrapped its biological weapons program in the late 1960s and agreed in a 1997 treaty to destroy all its chemical weapons.
Tests were conducted in Hawaii, Alaska, Maryland, Florida, Utah, Georgia, Panama, Canada, Britain and aboard ships in the North Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
None of the tests were done to gauge the human response to chemical or biological weapons, Kilpatrick said. In each test, military personnel were protected from the agents by shelter, protective clothing or vaccinations.
Ships' logs had reported no outbreaks of illness at the time, Kilpatrick said, but to date 260 service members have reported illnesses to the Veterans Administration that they believe are related to their presence at the test sites.
Steven Aftergood, an expert on government secrecy with the Federation of American Scientists, said even if none of the military personnel were harmed, there were ethical questions about conducting tests on unwitting soldiers.
"If there were no illnesses caused, which I think is still an open question, then it is a matter of luck, and one of the reasons government accountability and transparency are so important is to prevent initiatives of this kind," Aftergood said.
Congressman Mike Thompson, a Democrat from California, and several of his colleagues had sent a letter to Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld today, arguing it would be premature to close the book on investigations into Project 112 and Project SHAD.
"Veterans who may have been exposed during these tests deserve to know all the facts," Thompson said. "The Department of Defence's decision to close its investigation may unfairly deny them that right."
The inquiry began three years ago after several Navy veterans reported health problems they believed might have been caused by their involvement in the tests. Research into the classified project found more tests had been conducted and many more veterans had been present, expanding the scope of the investigation.
Kilpatrick said the Veterans Administration was working to notify the 5,842 veterans who were present at the tests.
refusing to kill