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W.E. Gutman: What horrors will the future?

Posted: May 15, 2010 1:10 p.m.
Updated: May 16, 2010 4:55 a.m.
From the start, the CIA spearheaded biochemical weapons research. CIA-funded projects grew like weeds in the 1950s.

Some had corny code names that obscured the perversity of their mission: Bluebird, Artichoke, Mongoose, Derby Hat. Others conjured more ominous images: Electronic Dissolution of Memory, in which LSD was used to loosen recalcitrant tongues.

Indecipherable, MKULTRA, under whose aegis scores of unwitting Americans were sacrificed, was an “umbrella” project that made use of radiation, electroshock, sodium pentothal, cannabis, scopolamine, morphine, mescaline and LSD.

How extensive was the MKULTRA program? We will never know. In January 1973, shortly before leaving office, CIA director Richard Helms ordered the obliteration of seven boxes of documents spanning a 15-year period.

Fortuitously, misfiled MKULTRA material was later discovered, confirming the CIA had conducted illegal and unethical tests and bypassed mandatory audit channels. In 1976, the Senate recommended that the “final” MKULTRA-testing phase be canceled, not because it was illegal or unethical, but because it exposed the CIA to too great a risk of scandal.

In l950, a U.S. Army project dubbed Sea Spray released harmful bacteria into the air to see if winds would carry them towards San Francisco. Within a week, doctors at Stanford University Hospital detected rare and tenacious infections.

A month later, Edwin Nevin, a retired pipe fitter, was dead and five other patients had become severely ill. They were all victims of the opportunistic Serratia bacterium. Undeterred, the Army pursued open-air testing on military and civilian populations. It failed to notify public health officials.

Twenty-six years later, upon learning the gruesome circumstances of his grandfather’s death, Edwin Nevin III sued the U.S. Army for $11 million. Although Nevin didn’t know it at the time, details about his grandfather’s death had been secretly leaked to Congress two years earlier.

Nevin was not the only victim of Army bacteriological testing. Nor was he the only person whose death was covered up by the Army.

In 1975, the Army confessed it had altered the death certificates of three other men who had died between 1951 and 1964.

The complete story of Army germ and chemical experimentation on American citizens is incomplete. By its own admission, the Army has conducted 239 open-air tests of biological agents between 1949 and 1969 — with at least one in the New York City subway system.

What is known about government experiments should fill everyone with unease. More than 10,000 pages of declassified U.S. Army and CIA documents describe how, for decades, physicians, prison officials, scientists, lawyers and politicians participated in — and concealed — mind-control research in U.S. hospitals, university labs, mental institutions, jails and schools.

No one will ever know why the Defense Department, not otherwise prone to buckle under congressional pressure, did an abrupt about-face a couple of years ago and rescinded a secrecy oath imposed on servicemen who were exposed to chemical agents during and after World War II.

As many as 60,000 soldiers and sailors in nine states and Panama were subjected to varying levels of poison gases to measure their potency and test the effectiveness of protective clothing.

Were U.S. ground troops similarly exposed during the Gulf War? Could the decision to investigate the “mystery ailments” that continue to plague thousands of Gulf War veterans — after vehement denial by the military of foul play — turn out to be an oblique admission of guilt?

It might not be premature to ask what other horrors are being brewed, as we sleep, in the name of national security, and who among us will be an unsuspecting guinea pig.

Who will be tested when more bite is added to snake venom? How many will be stopped dead in their tracks — alive and agonizingly lucid inside a body turned to stone — as nerve agents capable of simulating Parkinson’s disease are dispersed to the four winds?

We have come a long way. Exquisitely evil, we will do better yet. Think of weapons that only kill the poor, the sick, the mad and the nonconformist. Imagine pathogens engineered to decimate certain races.

Who’s next? Gays? The color-blind? The elderly?

How about a gas that silences all graying 70-something men 5-feet, 9-inches tall who can’t help but feel that other fiendish ways of curtailing freedom, suppressing individuality, endangering sanity and abridging life may be on the way — and who know that so long as they reject intellectual, political, religious and moral orthodoxy, there will be no good place on Earth left for them to hide?

W. E. Gutman is a veteran journalist and the co-founder in 1986 of the now-defunct NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical) Defense and Technology magazine. His columns reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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