Wednesday, May 19, 2004 Edition: 7
Page: A8 Type:
Section: MAIN Source: THOMAS D. WILLIAMS; Courant Staff Writer
Column: Series:


A California congressman is calling for an investigation into the
Pentagon's failure to investigate thoroughly the aftereffects of ocean- and land-based chemical and biological warfare tests conducted on military personnel in the 1960s and 1970s.

U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., has for several years been pressuring the Department of Defense to disclose all that it knows about chemical and biological tests on military personnel involved then. He has renewed his efforts following release Friday of a General Accounting Office report critical of the department.

"The report shows that the defense department continues to keep life or death information from veterans who may have been the subject of these tests,'' Thompson said in a statement released Tuesday. "These veterans have the right to know what agents they were exposed to.'' There has been no disclosure about how many service members and civilians might have become sick from the tests.

Maj. Sandra Burr, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said Tuesday the department was not prepared to comment on Thompson's legislative proposal.

The congressman said he would introduce legislation in early June that
would establish a panel of independent investigators, composed, in part, of military veterans and those with medical and investigative experience,
``to ensure information regarding all chemical and biological tests are brought to light.''

No current defense department employees will be allowed on the panel, said Matt Gerien, a spokesman for the congressman.

The GAO report cites the defense department's inability to find records
would identify those service members involved in 21 land-based tests. And, although the defense department estimates some 350 U.S. and foreign civilians may have been exposed, it did not seek to identify the hazardous substances they may have been exposed to.

The report notes the department limited its investigation of specific
exposures to identifying former military personnel that could be eligible for medical services from the Department of Veterans Affairs, said the GAO.

Finally, the GAO said, the Pentagon did not pursue all possible sources of information during its investigation.

Between 1962 and 1974, the defense department conducted a classified
chemical and biological warfare test program, named Project 112, which
exposed service members and civilians to chemical or biological agents.
The Pentagon has said the tests included spraying of chemical and biological simulants and release of the deadly sarin and VX gases.

The ocean-going tests, known as Project Shipboard Hazard and Defense, were "to identify U.S. warships' vulnerabilities to attacks with chemical or biological warfare agents,'' said Pentagon officials. The land-based tests, said officials, were aimed at learning ``more about how chemical or biological agents behave under a variety of climatic, environmental and use conditions.''

The Deseret Test Center, based at Fort Douglas, Utah, conducted the tests.

In October 2001, after seven years of inquiries from veterans, Congress
and the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Pentagon finally confirmed that thousands of sailors were present during a decade-long series of
classified tests to determine the vulnerability of U.S. warships to attack by chemical and biological warfare. With more urging from veterans and their advocates, still other ocean- and land-based tests around the world were identified.