Half a century ago, on the spurious grounds that extreme sacrifices were required in the battle to prevent a communist takeover of the world, the US government decided to use citizens of Nevada as nuclear guinea pigs. Although atomic testing was pursued there for several years in the 1950's, notification would have alarmed area residents. as a result, they weren't even advised to go indoors. Yet, according to declassified documents, some scientists studying the genetic effects of radiation at the time were already concerned about the health risks of fallout. For most of those committed to the US nuclear program, the need to keep this type of research secret was a no-brainer. After all, if the public realized that the technology used to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki had led to experiments at home, early nuclear research not to mention weapons development might have met stronger opposition. The government badly wanted its nukes, and the scientists yearned to unlock the secrets of human mutation. Thus, an unholy alliance was struck. US citizens, and the thousands of soldiers who took dangerous doses of radiation as part of other studies, haven't been the only victims of science run amuck. Between 1964 and 1968, for example, at least a dozen covert tests of nerve and chemical agents were carried out on servicemen in the Pacific Ocean, then concealed and denied for more than 20 years. Crews were used to gauge how quickly various poisons could be detected, how rapidly they would disperse, and the effectiveness of protective gear and decontamination procedures.
Three tests used sarin, a deadly nerve gas subsequently employed by a cult to kill a dozen people in a Tokyo subway in 1995, or VX, the nerve gas that the later US accused Iraq of developing. One test used staphylococcal enterotoxin B, known as SEB, a crippling germ toxin, another used a simulant believed to be harmless but subsequently found to be dangerous. We do not see things like informed consent or individual protection, noted Michael Kilpatrick, a Defense Department medical official. We don't have the records for what, if any, protection, noted Michael Kilpatrick, a Defense Department medical official. We don't have the records for what, if any, protection, noted Michael Kilpatrick, a Defense Department medical official. "We don't have the records for what, if any protection was given to people."In a test called Fearless Johnny, carried out southwest of Honolulu during 1965, a Navy cargo ship was sprayed with VX nerve agent to "evaluate the magnitude of exterior and interior contamination levels" under various conditions of readiness, as well as study "the shipboard wash-down system," according to documents declassified in 2002. Like all nerve agents, VX gas penetrates the skin or lungs to disrupt the body's nervous system and stop breathing. Exposure can kill. Another test, known as Flower Drum, involved spraying sarin gas into the ventilation of a ship.