You Australians better watch out for those nasty Americans!!!
By Ross Coulthart, SUNDAY
Top secret US military plans to test deadly nerve gas by dropping it on soldiers in a remote Queensland rainforest during the Cold War have been uncovered in Australian Government archives.
Newly declassified Australian Defence Department and Prime Minister’s office files show that the United States was strongly pushing the Government for tests on Australian soil of two of the most deadly chemical weapons ever developed, VX and GB — better known as Sarin — nerve gas.
The plan, which was disclosed for the first time on Nine's SUNDAY program, called for 200 mainly Australian combat troops to be aerially bombed and sprayed with the chemical weapons — with all but a handful of the soldiers to be kept in the dark about the "full details" of the tests.
A former senior official with then Prime Minister Harold Holt, Mr Peter Bailey, told the program that as far as he knew the tests never went ahead but the planning was very advanced.
He admitted the whole operation was to be kept secret because use of such weapons was almost certainly illegal under international law at the time.
"The idea that we could actually… that the Australians could countenance such an activity is …unacceptable," University of NSW toxicologist Professor Chris Winder said.
He says even a fraction of a drop of either chemical on exposed skin could have been fatal and Cold War fears that communist Chinese or Russian attackers might have used such weapons in a third world war "doesn’t justify it now and I don’t think it justified it then".
The files show that in July 1962 the then-US defence secretary Robert McNamara wrote in secret to the Australian Defence Department suggesting joint testing of chemical weapons "on a classified basis without a public release by either country".
In early 1963 a survey team of Australian and US scientists reviewed sites in Australia for chemical warfare tests, suggesting the remote Iron Range rainforest near Lockhart River in far north Queensland as one such location.
The request caused consternation in Canberra, with senior Defence bureaucrats clearly opposed to the use of nerve gas, but, as former senior Prime Ministerial policy advisor Peter Bailey recalls: "I heard that many times in Cabinet meetings that if they weren’t pretty good and pretty faithful to the Americans we would be dumped.
"We had already been dumped with the British east of Suez pullout so ministers were pretty aware this was our one main support and the red peril thing was still in people’s minds."
In October 1964 the Americans pushed the request again, this time insisting that the public should be fed a "cover story" to conceal the real nature of the tests: the documents show the public was to be told the tests were to test equipment or land reclamation in a jungle environment.
Low-flying military aircraft and spraying was to be explained away with the false claim that low-risk herbicides and insecticides were to be used in the testing but the cover stories were clearly untrue — he real chemicals to be used were two of the most deadly man-made substances, VX and GB nerve gas.
Former Democrat Senator Lyn Allison, who became aware of the existence of references to secret chemical weapons tests in Australia during her support of sick former veterans of the Maralinga nuclear bomb tests, told SUNDAY that her own attempts to get the full story on what went on with proposed testing were rebuffed several years ago.
She said Government files on the issue were still classified even now and the revelations in the new documents obtained by SUNDAY underlined the need for the Defence Department to finally disclose all that went on during the Cold War.
"To understand that Australia was still prepared to consider this proposal because of its relationship with the US I think needs proper examination," Senator Allison told the program.
"So all those documents should be released, there shouldn’t be any pussy footing around — t’s time for us to know what went on."
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