1947–1960: Sarin, Soman and Tabun Were Tested on Soldiers

1947–1960: Sarin, soman and tabun, the deadly weaponized nerve gases developed by Nazi scientists and imported from Hitler’s chemical weapons arsenal, were tested on soldiers. Sarin was the focus of intense testing at Edgewood Arsenal; within one year (1947–1948) an Army study reported 10 to 14 casualties (Primary Sources, New Yorker, 2012). The Army sought to develop a nerve agent that had “persistence” and “percutaneous toxicity,” so that merely brushing against it would cause death. To achieve this blend of attributes, in the early nineteen-fifties, Edgewood chemists attempted to fuse sarin with plastics but the result was unsatisfactory.

In early summer of 1951, just weeks before BLUEBIRD was renamed ARTICHOKE, officials within the CIA’s Security Office worked in tandem with cleared scientists from Camp Detrick’s Special Operations Division. They in turn worked closely with a select group of scientists from a number of other Army installations, including Edgewood Arsenal. They began a series of ultra-secret experiments with LSD, mescaline, peyote, and a synthesized substance, sometimes nicknamed “Smasher,” which combined an “LSD-like drug with pharmaceutical amphetamines and other enhancers” (Kaye and Albarelli. Cries from the Past, 2010). Field tests were conducted at 11 locations nationwide (GAO, 1993).

1952: Sarin in the Sky is an example of a bungled sarin field test at the Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in the Great Salt Lake Desert Utah. The airplane’s tanks filled with 90 gallons of sarin catapulted and burst at two thousand feet contaminating 38,000 square feet of desert. “Case Report of a Severe Human Poisoning by GB,” by the Army Chemical Center, is dated December, 1952, a month after the accident details medical officer who nearly died from exposure.

1950: The Supreme Court decision in Feres v United States precluded military personnel from suing the federal government for personal injuries sustained in the line of duty. Thereafter, the CIA expanded the use of military personnel as test subjects. “Suddenly, the government could do whatever it wanted to [soldiers] without liability.” (Mother Jones, 2009)