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  Key Issues Nuclear Weapons Issues Health & Environment Article, J.B. Stone

Toxic Tugs - Public Poisons
by J.B. Stone - 04/17/02

What do Maryland, Utah, Alaska, Hawaii, Johnston Atoll, and the Marshall Islands have in common?

BioChemical warfare tests were conducted in all of them behind a blinding haze of Cold War secrecy. And hardly a word of warning was ever issued, before during, or afterward the test

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conductors, subjects, or citizens living in surrounding areas.

Marine jets and Army artillery sprayed "harmless simulants" and live biological and chemical agents on unsuspecting citizens for 15 years on land and sea during Operation Deseret. The randomly selected human test rats onboard ships sailing with the USS Granville Hall, YAG-40, were largely unaware.

Project SHAD (Shipboard Hazard & Defense) tested the Navy's ability to defend itself from gas or particle attacks by the enemy. But there weren't any posters hanging in recruiter's offices inviting Sailors to be used as dehumanized ciphers in scientific "research" projects. There were bigger fish to fry.

Navy ships sailing under Army orders and accompanied by 5 specially equipped Army tugboats waged their secret war from the balmy South Pacific to the chilly waters off Newfoundland. Night and day they'd pass through poisonous clouds up to a hundred miles long spread by Marine jets. The Deseret Test Center at Fort Douglas, Utah (Dugway Proving Ground) simply tested whatever the top-secret labs at Fort Detrick, Maryland could produce. Dugway dispatched the deadly materials to be tested in areas ranging from the remote Marshall Islands to as little as 50 miles West of San Francisco.

It's not over.

Just last week they struck again. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported a contractor had unearthed leaking drums of suspected warfare agents while preparing structures for the National Missile Defense System. Most likely leftovers from the Gerstle River Project carried out at Fort Greely, linked to Project SHAD. Crewmen from Granville Hall's sister ship the USS George Eastman, YAG-39, were there in the 60's, conducting cold-weather atmospheric tests to discover how best to distribute Anthrax spores, deadly VX & Sarin gas, and a vile assortment of highly contagious diseases.

Lax storage practices and non-existent environmental concern followed creating huge ecological disaster areas. Rockets and artillery shells filled with terminal cocktails were fired into Utah's clear desert air and left to rust in Alaska's wilderness. No disclosure was forthcoming regarding long-range health effects of the test "conductors" or later inhabitants. Instead, those flatly ordered into these clandestine activities were coerced to sign documents stating they would never reveal their involvement in these toxic tests.

There's more.

Long before the crew autopsied the caged monkeys that died on deck from nerve gas attacks in the South Pacific, these nondescript Liberty hulls had had huge "crow's nests" installed on their masts. YAG-39 & 40 were contaminated in nuclear blasts from Bikini Atoll to the open ocean 450 miles Southwest of San Diego. They sailed through the radioactive fallout for a decade, collecting particles. Carcinogenic materials were used to wash down the outer surfaces of the vessels after every test. Crewmen who died from blood, bone and skin cancers came to the realization too late to take any protective measures. They had their orders and that was that.

Was anyone safe?

Surely you've heard of the Smithsonian Institution. But, I'd lay odds you're unaware of the Smithsonian's Pacific Bird Project. Smithsonian contractors aboard the USNS Shearwater, accompanied by YAG-39 & 40 and the Army tugs, "collected" thousands upon thousands of migratory bird carcasses with 12 gauge shotguns fired by Navy crewmen. Over 2 million birds were banded and dusted down to see how far these "avian vectors" would transport deadly substances. Their instinctive navigational skills led to a greater than 90% accuracy for the proposed activities. Crewmen shot the boobies and gulls and gutted them on the helo deck for verification. They were safe from observation in idyllic spots like Christmas Island. Had anyone stumbled onto this chilling armada, those involved could offer little explanation. All communication between the various parties was discouraged and test results were closely guarded under the highest security measures. Now many of those present have permanently debilitating nerve, skin and respiratory conditions.

Not even Conscientious Objectors escaped. The "White Coats" of the Seventh day Adventist Church participated in 153 Army Germ warfare tests from 1954 to 1973. And, because they did not smoke, or drink alcohol or coffee, "They were a cleaner piece of paper on which to work an experiment," according to Richard O. Stenbakken, Adventist clergy armed forces supervisor.

Trained as medics at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, they were transferred to Fort Detrick, Maryland where they were expected to volunteer for at least one experiment. Open-air tests were carried out in the Utah desert using Q-Fever and other "simulants" to study Anthrax attacks. Otherwise they spent quality time in the "Eight Ball," a spherical chamber more than two stories tall at Fort Detrick. Scientists charged the chamber with bacteria and viruses where Operation White Coat test subjects wore breathing apparatus directly connected to the infected air.

It's been over 40 years since Project SHAD and the related tests began. The lid of secrecy has barely been lifted enough to allow a slender crack of light to shine on the truth. The DOD has only de-classified a handful of the 113 test series performed in Project SHAD. The VA knows there were 10,000 people to life-threatening substances, but they have declined to perform any active outreach program to notify them. This sad injustice is uncalled-for.

Why would the United States carry out such a hugely hideous plan, leaving behind hundreds of square miles of highly contaminated landscape spread across the Western Hemisphere and then just walk away from the physical and sociological devastation, leaving unsuspecting citizens to solve the problems on their own?

I don't know. I've been wondering for 30 years when and how the story will end. I was only 19 years old when I was assigned to the USS Granville S Hall in 1968. And it wasn't my idea.