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A super soldier program produces Marvel superhero Wolverine in the movie "X-Men Origins: Wolverine," along with rivals Sabretooth and Weapon XI. Now LiveScience looks back on real experiments that the U.S. government ran on soldiers and citizens to advance the science of war.
The military didn't replicate Wolverine's indestructible skeleton and retractable claws. Rather, they shot accident victims up with plutonium, tested nerve gas on sailors, and tried out ESP. While some of the tests seem outlandish in hindsight, the military continues to push the envelope in seeking new warfare techniques based on cutting-edge science and technology.
"My measure of success is that the International Olympic Committee bans everything we do," said Michael Goldblatt, former head of DARPA's Defense Sciences Office, while talking with reporters. And that's not a Hollywood script.
-- Jeremy Hsu, Staff Writer
The U.S. Navy wanted to boost sailors' night vision so they could spot infrared signal lights during World War II. However, infrared wavelengths are normally beyond the sensitivity of human eyes. Scientists knew vitamin A contained part of a specialized light-sensitive molecule in the eye's receptors, and wondered if an alternate form of vitamin A could promote different light sensitivity in the eye. They fed volunteers supplements made from the livers of walleyed pikes, and the volunteers' vision began changing over several months to extend into the infrared region. Such early success went down the drain after other researchers developed an electronic snooperscope to see infrared, and the human study was abandoned. Other nations also played with vitamin A during World War II - Japan fed its pilots a preparation that boosted vitamin A absorption, and saw their night vision improve by 100 percent in some cases.
Infra-red (IR) vision refers to sensation AND visual integration of the wavelengths of light between 750 nm and 1mm. In contrast, the human eye can only detect light with wavelengths from 400nm (violet) to 700nm (red). It would be useful to detect infra-red light because although very hot objects emit visible light (hence the terms red hot and white hot) even modestly warm objects emit infrared light. For example, the human body emits light at a wavelength of 10 microns (or 10000nm), and if one could see these wavelengths, one would have the ability to see humans against a colder background (i.e. room temperature). Much like Predator.
As the United States raced to build its first atomic bombs near the end of World War II, scientists wanted to know more about the hazards of plutonium. Testing began on April 10, 1945 with the injection of plutonium into the victim of a car accident in Oak Ridge, Tenn., to see how quickly the human body rid itself of the radioactive substance. That was just the first of over 400 human radiation experiments. Common studies included seeing the biological effects of radiation with various doses, and testing experimental treatments for cancer. Records of this research became public in 1995, after the U.S. Department of Energy published them.
Editor: Mike Coyle
Contributing Editors: Walter Bowart
Assistant Editor: Rick Lawler
The following information was presented to the Advisory
Committee On Human Radiation Experiments, 1994.
Human Plutonium Injection Experiments
The Manhattan Project and Plutonium Health Hazards Discovered in
1941 by Glenn Seaborg and others at Berkeley, plutonium supported
nuclear fission, a process that split atoms and released
tremendous energy. Plutonium became an urgently needed material
for one variety of atomic bomb; uranium-235, the fissionable
isotope of natural uranium, was used in the other bomb type.
The first appreciable quantities of plutonium became available by
January 1944. At that time, Seaborg warned of its potential
health hazards and suggested immediate studies to learn its
biological behavior. This was a critical issue: the longer the
material stayed in the body, the more damage it could do.
Hundreds of workers would soon be exposed to plutonium, and
exposure standards were necessary. Overexposure would not only
hurt workers; it could compromise secrecy and disrupt production
About 10 percent of the plutonium supply was allocated for animal
studies in January 1944. By the summer of that year, those
studies provided enough information about plutonium retention to
justify removal of several Los Alamos workers with high previous
exposures from further work with the material. Los Alamos had
already had several accidental human exposures to plutonium, and
the imminent prospect of working with far larger quantities
increased the desire for even more metabolic information.
The early animal studies showed that different species excreted
known amounts of plutonium at different rates. This meant that
there was no accurate way to correlate animal excretion data to
humans. As a result, sentiment grew among project medical staff
to administer known amounts of plutonium to humans to derive
precise excretion data. However, it was not until the winter of
1944 that Los Alamos Health Group personnel developed methods to
detect tracer-level concentrations of plutonium in excreta. In
February 1945, this group, headed by Louis Hempelmann and
supervised by Wright Langham, used the procedure to monitor
workers for accidental plutonium uptake.
With a proven method to detect small amounts of plutonium in
excreta, Los Alamos personnel met on March 23, 1945, with Robert
Oppenheimer and Colonel Hymer Friedell of the Manhattan Engineer
District (MED) to discuss "the medical problems of this project
and their relationship to the Medical Research Program of the
Manhattan District." In a memorandum written three days after the
meeting, Louis Hempelmann stated that the Manhattan Project was
asked to consider "that a hospital patient at either Rochester or
Chicago be chosen for injection from 1 to 10 micrograms of
material [plutonium] and that the excreta be sent to this
laboratory for analysis." The Manhattan District was also asked
to help make arrangements for this "human tracer experiment."
Such arrangements were made, and an MED medical officer
administered the first human plutonium injection on April 10,
1945, at the Oak Ridge Hospital.
The Experiments, Part 1
How all the injections were coordinated or even if they were
coordinated is unclear. Following the Oak Ridge test, injections
were given at the Billings Hospital at the University of Chicago
on April 26, 1945, and at the University of California Hospital
in San Francisco on May 14, 1945. By late June, Manhattan Project
contractors at the University of Rochester's Strong Memorial
Hospital developed a detailed plan for "rapid (1 year) Completion
of Human Tracer Studies." These studies were to include
plutonium, uranium, polonium, and radioactive lead.
Over the next several months this plan was revised, and on
September 18, 1945, Wright Langham sent the most recent version
to Colonel Stafford Warren, Chief of the Manhattan District
Medical Section, noting that "you and Col. Friedell, will of
course, have final say as to whether or not the experiment goes
through in accordance with this plan." The Rochester plutonium
experiment protocol called for 10 subjects to be admitted to the
Strong Memorial Hospital metabolism ward in groups of four per
month for the first two months and two for the third month.
After injection, samples of blood, urine, and feces were to be
shipped to Langham at Los Alamos for analysis. Documents show
that, from October 1945 to July 1946, Rochester injected 11
patients. One of the later patients (designated as HP 11) died of
pneumonia and other preexisting ailments 6 days after his
February 20 injection. Samuel Bassett at Rochester described this
as an "acute experiment" that did not involve collection of
excreta, but that did yield organs and other autopsy material
that was sent to Los Alamos for study.
When notified of HP 11, Langham told Bassett, "If you should
decide to do another terminal case, I suggest you use 50
micrograms [of plutonium] instead of 5. This would permit the
analysis of much smaller samples and make my work considerably
easier." Langham also stated, "I have just received word that
Chicago is performing two terminal experiments using 95
micrograms each. I feel reasonably certain there would be no harm
in using larger amounts of material if you are sure the case is a
The purpose of those experiments was to develop a diagnostic tool that could determine the uptake of plutonium in the body from the amount excreted in the urine and feces.
The idea was to remove a worker from the job if and when it was determined that he had received an internal dose that was close to or over the limit considered safe
Although some of the results of the studies were declassified and reported in the scientific literature in the early fifties (and further reports appeared in the seventies), the names of the subjects were not disclosed. Investigative reporting by Welsome uncovered the identities of five of the eighteen subjects and gave details about the circumstances and lives of three of them. The secret nature of the studies and the fact that the subjects may not have been informed about what was being done to them has generated outrage and distrust in the general public regarding the practices of the national laboratories. Why were such experiments done? Who allowed them to happen? The secretary of Energy, Hazel O'Leary, equally disturbed, pledged an era of openness in the Department, promising to make available to the public all information that could be located that was pertinent to those and similar radiation experiments with humans.
Oak Ridge. The first human plutonium injection occurred on April 10, 1945, barely two weeks after the meeting in Los Alamos between Friedell, Hempelmann, and others. The person chosen for the experiment was a 55-year old man and a patient at the Manhattan Project Army Hospital in Oak Ridge (Although the man was the first patient injected with plutonium, he was later grouped in reports with other patients injected at the Rochester site and was identified as HP-12)* He had been hospitalized because of injuries in an automobile accident, and bones in his right forarm, left thigh, and right knee were broken. Some of the fractures were "in poor position," which meant an operation to properly set the bones would be necessary. Except for those injuries and "a chronic urethral discharge which he has had for 10-15 years [his clinical record states this may have been due to chronic gonorrhea]," HP-12 had always been employed as a cement mixer and was generally in good health ("well developed, well nourished")
Further Human Plutonium Injection Experiments
By late summer 1945, there were still serious concerns about the Health Group's ability to monitor the plutonium workers adequately and about the type of exposures they were receiving. Hempelmann documented the situation in a memo to Kennedy.
This is to confirm our telephone conversation of 22 June 1945 during which we discussed the recent high exposure of personnel in the [Plutonium] Recovery Group. Attached is a list of all urine counts of the people in this group and of high nose counts during the past month. This indicuates, I think, that the situation seems to be getting completely out of hand.
Colonel John Stapp rides a rocket sled at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Credit: US Air Force
Before man could launch into orbit and to the moon, he rode rocket sleds on the ground first. NASA scientists developed decompression sleds that could race at speeds of more than 400 mph before screeching to an abrupt halt, and early testing often had fatal results for chimpanzee subjects that suffered brain damage. Starting in 1954, Colonel John Stapp of the U.S. Air Force endured grueling tests that subjected his body to forces 35 times that of gravity, including one record-setting run of 632 miles per hour. As a flight surgeon, he voluntarily took on the risks of 29 sled runs, during which he suffered concussions, cracked ribs, a twice-fractured wrist, lost dental fillings, and burst blood vessels in both eyes.
Most soldiers don't sign up to fight deadly viruses and bacteria, but that's what more than 2,300 young Seventh-Day Adventists did when drafted by the U.S. Army. As conscientious objectors during the Cold War who interpreted the Bible's commandment "Thou shalt not kill" very literally, many volunteered instead to serve as guinea pigs for testing vaccines against biological weapons. Volunteers recalled being miserable for several days with fever, chills and bone-deep aches from diseases such as Q fever. None died during the secretive "Operation Whitecoat," which took place at Fort Detrick, Maryland from 1954 to 1973.
Ideal Test Subjects
The first task for the scientists was to find people willing to be infected by pathogens that could make them very sick. They found them in the followers of the Seventh-day Adventist faith. Although willing to serve their country when drafted, the adventists refused to bear arms. As a result many of them became medics. Now the U.S. was offering recruits an opportunity to help in a different manner: to volunteer for biological tests as a way of satisfying their military obligations. When contacted in late 1954, the adventist hierarchy readily agreed to this plan. For camp Detrick scientists, church members were a model test population, since most of them were in excellent health and they neither drank, smoked, nor used caffeine. From the perspective of the volunteers, the tests gave them a way to fulfill their patriotic duty while remaining true to their beliefs. And there was another factor: participation in these tests meant avoiding possibly more hazardous service abroad. For example, one participant, Carl Walker, had orders for his deployment to Laos reversed when he volunteered for Operation Whitecoat. An officer told him, "you guys are worth a lot more to your country as guinea pigs than as cannon fodder."
The Eight Ball
Many of the Adventists were recruited at Fort Sam houston, Texas, a training center for medics. The first volunteers were sent to camp Detrick, where biological tests began in late January 1955. The site for these experiments was a million-liter sphere called "the Eight Ball" that looked to one recruit like an enormous grapefruit. After having entered the Eight Ball, subjects were placed in structures resembling telephone booths that contained rubber hoses leading to face masks. They put the masks on, and then breathed in the current contents of the Eight Ball -- perhaps air or another harmless substance, or perhaps aerosols that contained pathogens that caused such diseases as tularemia or Q fever. Many tests involved Q fever, a disease first observed in the 1930s that caused intense fever but was rarely fatal. One recruit recalled that he had "never been any sicker," another's temperature reached 106 F, and a third's gums swelled to the point he "could no longer see my teeth." Once the disease appeared, recruits were given antibiotics, and almost all made a quick and complete recovery.
Dugway and Beyond
After the success of its first experiments, the decision was made to attempt an outdoor release of Q fever bacteria. Thirty recruits traveled to the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, and on the evening of July 12, 1955, they were lined up across a half mile of desert next to cages of monkeys and guinea pigs. Located slightly more than 3,000 feet away, several generators filled with pathogens began spraying an infectious mist into the night air. The volunteers were told to breathe normally, and within a few minutes the mist was upon them. Some had been vaccinated against Q fever and never got sick; others became ill and ended up in bed for days. From the miitary's perspective, the Dugway field test proved that under the right meteorological conditions, biological weapons would work. The human experiments continued for almost 20 years, ending in 1973. All told about 2,200 Adventists participated in Operation Whitecoat, and to this day many remain proud of their service, which resulted in the development of several vaccines and, presumably, the generation of much information on how biological weapons work in the field. For its part, the Army holds up Operation Whitecoat as a model of informed consent in testing on humans. The Army also maintains there were almost "no adverse health effect[s]" for the recruits, a view disputed by some volunteers. The truth may never be known.
One giant leap from the stratosphere. The 1960 high-dive of Joseph Kittinger, part of a U.S. Air Force program designed to test whether pilots could survive high-altitude bailouts. Credit: U.S. Air Force
When the U.S. Air Force wanted to find out how well pilots could survive high-altitude jumps, they turned to Captain Joseph Kittinger, Jr. The test pilot made several jumps as head of "Project Excelsior" during the 1950s. Each time involved riding high-altitude Excelsior balloons up tens of thousands of feet, before jumping, free falling and parachuting to the desert floor in New Mexico. Kittinger's third record-breaking flight on August 16, 1960 took him up to 102,800 feet, or almost 20 miles. He then leaped and freefell at speeds of up to 614 mph, not far from the speed of sound's 761 mph, and endured temperatures as low as minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit
According to the 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), about 35 million Americans 12 years and older reported trying hallucinogens at least once during their lifetimes, representing 14 percent of the U.S. population in that age group. Credit: dreamstime.com.
Psychoactive drugs such as marijuana, '___' and PCP don't just have street value: Researchers once hoped the drugs could become chemical weapons that disabled enemy soldiers. U.S. Army volunteers took pot, acid and angel dust at a facility in Edgewood, Md. From 1955 to 1972, although those drugs proved too mellow for weapons use. The Army did eventually develop hallucinogenic artillery rounds that could disperse powdered quinuclidinyl benzilate, which left many test subjects in a sleep-like condition for days. The National Academy of Sciences conducted a study in 1981 that found no ill effects from the testing, and Dr. James Ketchum published the first insider account of the research in his 2007 book "Chemical Warfare: Secrets Almost Forgotten."
The chemical warfare agent 3-quinuclidinyl benzilate (QNB, or agent BZ) is an anticholinergic drug that influences both the secondary and principal nervous systems. It is singularly one of the most intoxicating anticholinergic psychomimetics recognized, with simply minute amounts required to cause incapacitation.
It is categorized as a hallucinogenic chemical warfare agent and is typically distributed as an aerosol, and the principal path of ingestion is through the respiratory system. Absorption additionally occurs through the skin or gastrointestinal tract and physically causes increased heart rates, blurred vision, dry skin and mouth and flushing of the skin. This powerful agent is odourless, and it's scheme is related to other anticholinergic drugs such as Atropine, although it has a considerably longer period of activity - clinical effects are not observed up to the time of a period of around 30 minutes to 24 hours. During the first 3-4 hours there is confusion and muscle spasms, followed by four to eight hours of stupor. Following around 12 hours the real effects of Agent BZ start to be effective with severe panoramic visual and auditory hallucinations.
In 1993, the British Ministry of Defence issued an intelligence narrative which suspected Iraq of having amassed sizeable quantities of a glycolate anticholinergic incapacitating agent identified as Agent 15 or Agent Buzz. Agent 15 is an supposed Iraqi disabling agent that is probable to be chemically either indistinguishable to Agent Buzz or closely associated to it. Agent Buzz was reputedly hoarded in great amounts preceding and during the Gulf War. The blend of anticholinergic and Central Nervous System effects benefits in the examination of sufferers exposed to these agents. However, contrary to what the British MoD stated a later CIA report discounts this assertion and concluded that 'Iraq never went beyond research with Agent 152.
Furthermore, in 1998, there were accusations that elements of the Yugoslav People's Military force which utilised incapacitating agents imposingly escaping Bosnian exiles in the course of the Srebrenica annihilation in 1995, which resulted in hallucinations and irrational behaviour. Concrete proof of BZ's use in Bosnia and Herzegovina is, however, unsubstantiated.
Agent Buzz transmission methods comprise the M43 cluster bomb with 4.5kg bomblets, and the 23kg M16, which parachutes down sprinkling 42 small BZ generators. In spite of the fact that sizeable amounts of BZ were manufactured, it was at no time used in the active theatre of war. Military leaders were anxious that its effects could not be depended upon and were somewhat unpredictable. A hallucinating serviceman cannot execute a direct order to surrender, and a theatre consisting of many soldiers firing at hallucinatory entities would naturally be a demanding one to oversee.
Agent BZ in itself is the complete example of a field in which certainty slides through your fingers. It is impossible to detect, and if you are effected by it, you are incapable of understanding what is happening to you. After the event, if you are fortunate enough to realise what has transpired, you will not be in a situation to identify what drug has been used as you would also be unable to prove its deployment.
UK Area 51 is a website dedicated to unexplained events and emerging sciences concerning a wide variety of topics. Our aim is to provide rich, diverse and stimulating articles around the issues that face mankind now and in the future.
Nuclear, biological and chemical team members from the 1st Civil Support Team of the Massachusetts National Guard survey a former Soviet naval ship for radioactive material during a training exercise March 4, 2009 at the Battle Ship Cove naval ship display in Fall River Mass. Credit: Sgt. James Lally/Mass. National Guard
Threats of chemical and biological warfare led the U.S. Department of Defense to start "Project 112" from 1963 to the early 1970s. Part of the effort involved spraying different ships and hundreds of Navy sailors with nerve agents such as sarin and VX, in order to test the effectiveness of decontamination procedures and safety measures at the time. The Pentagon revealed the details of the Project Shipboard Hazard and Defense (SHAD) project in 2002, and the Veterans Administration began studying possible health effects among sailors who participated in SHAD. This was just one of many chemical warfare experiments conducted by the U.S. military, starting with volunteer tests involving mustard gas in World War II.
Project 112 was a biological and chemical weapons experimentation project conducted by the US Army from 1962 to 1973. The project started under John F. Kennedy's administration, and was authorized by his Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, as part of a total review of the US military. The name of the project refers to its number in the review process. Every branch of the armed services contributed funding and staff to the project.
Experiments were planned and conducted by the Deseret Test Center and Deseret Chemical Depot at Fort Douglas, Utah. They were designed to test the effects of biological weapons and chemical weapons on service personnel. They involved unknowing test subjects, and took place on land and at sea via tests conducted upon unwitting US Naval vessels. The existence of the project (along with the related Project SHAD) was categorically denied by the military until May 2000, when a CBS Evening News investigative report produced dramatic revelations about the tests. This report caused the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs to launch an extensive investigation of the experiments, and reveal to the affected personnel their exposure to toxins. See Deseret Chemical Depot.
 The report of the General Accountability Office
In a report issued in 2008, the General Accountability Office scolded the military for its lackluster effort to identify and find the victims of Project 112. According to the GAO report, in 2003 the military arbitrarily ended its attempts to find victims, even in the face of some veteran advocates' attempts to find hundreds of other veterans whose illnesses might have been caused or aggravated by their exposure to chemical and biological agent loaded munitions.
Professor Charles Xavier, a mutant telepath, faces off against Magneto in the movie "X-men." Credit: 20th Century Fox
Psychics may not hold much credibility among scientists, but the Pentagon spent roughly $20 million testing extrasensory (ESP) powers such as remote viewing from 1972 to 1996. Remote viewers would try to envision geographical locations that they had never seen before, such as nuclear facilities or bunkers in foreign lands. Mixed results led to conflicts within the intelligence agencies, even as the project continued under names such as "Grill Flame" and "Star Gate," and led to spooks finally abandoning the effort. The CIA declassified such information in files released in 2002.
F-22 Raptor pilot, Capt. Brandon Zeurcher, performs pre-flight functions Jan. 14 on the runway at Kadena Air Base, Japan. Six F-22s arrived Jan. 10 as part of a three-month deployment in support of U.S. Pacific Command's security obligations in the region. Credit: US Air Force/Senior Airman Clay Lancaster
Sleep can be a warrior's worst enemy, whether during day-long battles or long-duration missions flown from halfway around the world. But various military branches have tried to change that over the years by distributing "go pills" or stimulants such as amphetamines. More recently, the military has tested and deployed the drug modafinil - more commonly known under brands such as Provigil - which has supposedly enabled soldiers to stay awake for 40 hours straight without ill effect. And the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is funding even more unusual anti-sleep research, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation that zaps the brain with electromagnetism.
1. Build Your Inner Armor
The mutant superhero Wolverine displays indestructible claws, from the 2009 movie "X-men Origins." Credit: 20th Century Fox
Perhaps super soldiers may not be far off after all, if efforts such as DARPA's "Inner Armor" project find success. Consider efforts to give humans the extreme abilities of some animals, such as the high-altitude conditioning of the bar-headed Goose that has been known to crash into jet aircraft at more than 34,000 feet. Scientists are also eying the Steller sea lion, which redirects blood flow away from non-critical organs during deep sea dives and reduces oxygen demand. "I do not accept that our soldiers cannot physically outperform the enemy on his home turf," said Dr. Michael Callahan, who heads the project at DARPA's Defense Sciences Office, during a 2007 presentation. The goal is to make soldiers "kill-proof" against all sorts of conditions, including infectious diseases, chemical, biological and radioactive weapons, temperature and altitude extremes, and harsh natural environments. Sounds like a certain mutant superhero.
Originally posted by Bedlam
Provigil actually kicks ass. I have stayed on task on a military project as a COB for over 40 hours straight debugging and still been about as good at the end as at the beginning, so it's not just for warfighters. However, somewhere around 60 hours I just go numb, and then have to sleep for about 15.
Surprised no-one's brought up Optimal Path, Context or Jedi, all were running at Bragg when I was there back when dinosaurs walked the earth.
Originally posted by Zenagain
Care to elaborate???