Bacteria test
targeted isles

The Pentagon says chemical
and biological weapons were
tested on American soil
during the 1960s

Chem tests began in 1963

Star-Bulletin staff and news services

WASHINGTON >> The United States secretly tested chemical and biological weapons on American soil during the 1960s, newly declassified Pentagon reports show.

The tests included releasing deadly nerve agents in Alaska and spraying bacteria over Hawaii, according to the documents obtained yesterday.

The United States also tested nerve agents in Canada and Britain in conjunction with those two countries, and biological and chemical weapons in at least two other states, Maryland and Florida.

The summaries of more than two dozen tests show that biological and chemical tests were much more widespread than the military had acknowledged.

The Pentagon released records earlier this year showing that chemical and biological agents had been sprayed on ships at sea. The military reimbursed ranchers and agreed to stop open-air nerve-agent testing at its main chemical weapons center in the Utah desert after about 6,400 sheep died when nerve gas drifted away from the test range.

But the Pentagon has never before provided details of the Alaskan, Hawaiian, Canadian and British tests. The Defense Department planned to release summaries of 28 biological and chemical weapons tests at a House Veterans Affairs subcommittee hearing today.

The documents did not say whether any civilians had been exposed to the poisons. Military personnel exposed to weapons agents would have worn protective gear, the Pentagon says, although the gas masks and suits used at the time were far less sophisticated than those in use today.

Troops involved in biological weapons testing were vaccinated ahead of time, said Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., the Pentagon's top health official. In prepared testimony for the House panel, Winkenwerder acknowledged that some service members involved in the tests "may not have known all the details of these tests."

He said some service members participating in tests using simulated chemical or biological weapons may not have been informed about the tests.

The tests described in the latest Pentagon documents include "Big Tom," a 1965 test that included spraying bacteria over Oahu to simulate a biological attack on an island compound, and to develop tactics for such an attack.

The test used Bacillus globigii, a bacterium believed to be harmless. Researchers later discovered the bacteria could cause infections in people with weak immune systems.

The tests were part of Project 112, a military program in the 1960s and 1970s to test chemical and biological weapons and defenses against them. Parts of the testing program done on Navy ships was called Project SHAD, or Shipboard Hazard and Defense.

The Defense Department has previously acknowledged that in May 1963 a test called "Autumn Gold" involved exposing military personnel to chemical agents on ships about 60 miles west-southwest of Oahu.

The tests were designed to simulate the effects of deadlier germs such as anthrax and to "learn the vulnerabilities of U.S. warships to an attack with chemical or biological agents and develop procedures to respond to such an attack while maintaining a war-fighting capacity," according to the Defense Department.

Military officials have said chemical agents used in Autumn Gold, zinc cadmium sulfide and Bacillus globigii, were simulants that are known to mimic other biological agents and are not considered health risks to humans. But in 2000, federal officials, citing increased congressional and media attention, agreed to provide health evaluations to veterans who may have been exposed.

The United States scrapped its biological weapons program in the late 1960s and agreed in a 1997 treaty to destroy all its chemical weapons.

U.S. DoD Deployment Health Support


Isle chemical weapons
tests held ’63-’69

By Gregg K. Kakesako

Seven of the secret chemical and biological weapons tests near Hawaii began as early as January 1963 and were held as late as 1969.

The first, called Eager Bell, was held from January to March, and again in June in 1963. It was conducted at sea west of Hawaii.

Eager Bell tests were conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of two gas masks. The tugboat USS George Eastman was exposed to the agent Bacillus globigii (or agent BG). In the second part of Eager Bell, the agent BG was sprayed on the Eastman, destroyer USS Carpenter, the landing craft USS Tioga County and the USS Navarro.

In May 1963, the Pentagon conducted the Autumn Gold test program and BG again was used. The vessels involved were the Navarro, Tioga County, Carpenter, destroyer USS Hoel and tugboat USS Granville Hall. The tests were held 60 miles southwest of Oahu.

In 1964, Flower Drum was held from February to April and again from August to September of the same year and involved sarin nerve agent.

Crewmen from the USS George Eastman and USS Granville were involved in the February tests off the coast of the Big Island. A gas turbine on the bow of the Eastman disseminated the gas agent and the crewmen wore protective M5 gas masks.

In the August phase, the tug YFN-811 was towed by another tug ATF105 and the VX nerve agent was sprayed onto the towed tug.

More VX nerve agent tests were conducted in August and September 1965, southwest of Honolulu, in the Fearless Johnny series. The Eastman was again the test platform.

In 1969, the Granville and five Army tugboats were sprayed with nerve agents in tests southwest of Hawaii.

The tests were part of Project 112, a military program in the 1960s and 1970s to test chemical and biological weapons and defenses against them. Parts of the testing program done on Navy ships were called Project SHAD, or Shipboard Hazard and Defense.

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