Will Release The Names Of Those Tested In The 1960s
Thousands Of Servicemen Sprayed With Chemicals
Dept. Of Veterans Affairs Trying To Get More Information
LOS ANGELES, Sept. 20, 2000
"The veterans who participated need to be identified and located. They need to be tested and interviewed to see if they are suffering any health problems as a result of these tests."
Rep. Michael Thompson, D.-Calif.
CBS News has learned that the names of servicemen who were sprayed with chemicals decades ago in U.S. military germ warfare tests will be turned over to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
CBS News Correspondent Vince Gonzales reports that during the 1960s, the Pentagon conducted more than 100 secret biological warfare tests at sea.
As CBS News first reported back in May, in two of those tests, code-named "Autumn Gold" and "Copper Head," more than a thousand U.S. sailors were sprayed with materials once thought to be harmless.
Many of those sailors-some of whom claim they were subjected to the test without their consent and were never told what it involved-feel their health has been damaged.
In addition to the names of those tested, the Pentagon also will provide a list of all the tests and the biological and chemical agents used.
But according to a letter from the Dept. of Veterans Affairs (VA) to the Pentagon, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the VA requested a lot more, including classified medical records. The two departments are currently negotiating over what will be released.
Federal officials Wednesday briefed veterans' groups about efforts to get the Pentagon to release more details of the tests.
Veterans like Robert Bates, who has a variety of health problems, have repeatedly tried to get information about the experiments with no success.
"I was told flat by the V.A. No, that never happened," he said.
In 1996, Pentagon officials told the VA "they do not possess" any information about the tests. Two years later, they admitted having "15 bound volumes relating to Autumn Gold alone."
The VA agreed to be interviewed for this story, then backed out, saying it didn't want to derail negotiations with the Pentagon.
Officials who hope to check the sailors' claims called the deal a good first step but say it could be months before the VA has the names and can contact those veterans.
"The veterans who participated need to be identified and located. They need to be tested and interviewed to see if they are suffering any health problems as a result of these tests," said Rep. Michael Thompson, D.-Calif.
Autumn Gold took place off Hawaii in 1963. Copper Head was a similar operation off Newfoundland.
According to a Pentagon briefing film about the tests, the goal was to test the vulnerability of Navy ships to germ warfare attack. Sailors were sprayed with BG, a bacteria considered harmless by the military that is used to simulate the deadly anthrax germ, and then with zinc cadmium sulfide.
Zinc cadmium sulfide compound was thought to be safe, but the military later stopped outdoor spraying. Cadmium compounds are now known to be carcinogenic to humans.
In large doses, BG can also be harmful: in rare cases, it has caused pneumonia, allergic reactions, nausea and vomiting. In 1988, an Army biologist recommended BG spraying "be discontinued" because the claim it "is not dangerous" is "patently erroneous."
In documents previously obtained by CBS News, sailors on the "target ships" in the tests are called "test subjects." Only eight men wore gas masks. They were the "control group" in this experiment.
Other crewmen were ordered to give throat swabs or gargle samples.
In a written statement the Pentagon replied in May that the sailors "were not exposed to any harmful chemical and biological compound" and they all "were fully informed about the details of each test."
Dozens of sailors interviewed dispute that.
Medical corpsmen on vessels involved in one of the tests say and ships' logs indicate an upsurge in upper respiratory tract infections after the test and some cases of nausea, possibly a reaction to BG.
Operation Autumn Gold
USS Navarro APA 215
USS Carpenter DD 825
USS Hoel DDG 13
USS Tioga County LST 1158
*Lab Ship:USS Granville S. Hall YAG 40
Operation Copper Head
USS Power DD 839
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