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Friday, 24 May, 2002, 18:50 GMT 19:50 UK
US admits nerve gas experiments
British soldiers equipped for chemical attack
Veterans could be entitled to compensation
The Pentagon has admitted to using the deadly sarin and VX nerve gases in experiments on US Navy ships in the 1960s.

Iraqi chemical weapons
Sarin and VX are two of the world's deadliest biological agents
The tests, conducted in the Pacific from 1964 to 1968, were performed on US Navy ships to test the viability of such weapons, the use of protective gear and decontamination procedures, according to a report released by the department.

The information was made available following complaints by veterans - around 600 personnel thought to have taken part in the tests have been sent mailings by the Department of Veterans Affairs, asking them to undergo medical tests, the Associated Press news agency reported.

The Pentagon's admission could pave the way for veterans to receive compensation if they are found to have medical complications as a result of exposure to biological agents.

Cold War

Six tests in total were conducted during the so-called Shipboard Hazard and Defence programme (Shad) off the Hawaiian coast during a period when America's Cold War with the former Soviet Union was at its height.


It seems to me enough time has passed that someone over there should have known who was involved and what was going on

Congressman Mike Thompson
The tests mostly involved the use of "stimulants" meant to simulate chemical weapons.

But on at least two occasions in 1964, aircraft sprayed actual nerve gases on two warships and a barge, in operations codenamed Operation Flower Drum I and II.

Sarin gas triggers violent symptoms including uncontrollable seizures and vomiting and is frequently fatal, while VX gas is one of the most virulent substances known to mankind.

Severe exposure can kill a human being in 15 minutes.

The Pentagon has stressed that on both occasions personnel on board were given special gas masks and - on the occasion that sarin was used - protective clothing.

Classified information

But it acknowledged in its statement that the information, classified during the Cold War, had been poorly archived, and that there had been "slow progress" in releasing it to the public.

US Congressman Mike Thompson, who had put pressure on both the Veterans Affairs and Defence departments, said he was "alarmed" that the Pentagon did not appear to have full records to indicate whether the tests had caused ill health in those involved.

"It seems to me enough time has passed that someone over there should have known who was involved and what was going on," he said.

See also:

04 May 02 | Middle East
03 Feb 02 | Health
07 Dec 01 | Europe
19 Nov 01 | Americas
01 Nov 01 | Americas
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