Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Hotel Anthrax

BBC Radio is doing a fascinating program on U.S. germ warfare experiments. The focus of the first episode is on Operation Whitecoat, during which conscientious objectors were used as human guinea-pigs at Fort Detrick, Maryland. While this isn't new information by any means, it's very interesting to hear actual participants in these tests describe what they went through:

One white coat, George Shores, tells of how he was infected with tularaemia or rabbit fever. A giant metal sphere, known as the Eight Ball because of its resemblance to a snooker ball, was used in the experiment. Technicians exploded prototype bio-weapons inside the structure.

"They had like telephone booths all the way around the outside of the Eight Ball and you went into the telephone booth and shut the door and put on a mask like a gas mask.

"It was hooked up to the material that was inside the Eight Ball and you breathed it in," explained Mr Shores.
The Eight Ball still stands, and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. (Personally, I'd like to see it turned into a monument symbolizing the dialectic of Enlightenment: Cénotaphe de Adorno et Horkheimer, after Etienne-Louis Boullee.)

You can listen to the BBC program here.

In related news, the British Ministry of Defense has settled with the family of a serviceman who died during a nerve-gas test in 1953. The original inquiry was held in secret, and returned a verdict of "death by misadventure." A second inquiry was opened in 1999, at the family's insistence, and returned a verdict of "gross negligence."


P. Drāno said...

"Gross negligence" - I like that. They neglected to ... tell the man they were going to kill him?

Phila said...


It's funny you should say that, because this is the point on which the MoD's defense hangs. The initial jury verdict was "unlawful killing." The MoD got it reduced, on the grounds that the earlier verdict implied that the deceased hadn't given his informed consent to the experiment. Thus, the verdict of gross negligence is, in an odd way, a vote of comparative confidence in the MoD.

Cervantes said...

Yup. They're building a Level 4 biosafety lab in the middle of Roxbury, a mostly African American neighborhood in Boston, to do bioterrorism research, right now today. Ostensibly, of course, it's so we can develop defenses against biological weapons, but in order to develop defenses, you have to first develop the actual agents. We won't know what they're really doing BECAUSE IT'S A SECRET! Why am I not entirely confident?

Phila said...


Why am I not entirely confident?

Because you're sane and smart, and know something about history?