By Paul Elias
January 7, 2009
SAN FRANCISCO — Six veterans who claim they were exposed to dangerous chemicals, germs and mind-altering drugs during Cold War experiments sued the CIA, Department of Defense and other agencies today.
The vets volunteered for military experiments they say were part of a wide-ranging program started in the 1950s to test nerve agents, biological weapons and mind-control techniques.
They allege in their lawsuit filed in San Francisco federal court that they were never properly informed of the nature of the experiments and are in poor health because of their exposure. They are demanding health care and a court ruling that the program was illegal because it failed to obtain their consent.
Marie Harf, a CIA spokeswoman, declined to comment on the lawsuit, which seeks class action status on behalf of all participants allegedly exposed to harmful experiments without their knowledge.
At least 7,800 U.S. military personnel served as volunteers to test experimental drugs such as LSD at the Edgewood Arsenal near Baltimore, Md., during a program that lasted into the 1970s, the lawsuit said. Many others volunteered for similar experiments at other locations, according to the lawsuit.
“In virtually all cases, troops served in the same capacity as laboratory rats or guinea pigs,” the lawsuit said.
One notorious CIA project from the 1950s and 1960s, code-named MK-ULTRA, involved brainwashing and administering experimental drugs like LSD to unsuspecting individuals. The project was the target of at least three Congressional inquiries in the 1970s, and at least one death has been attributed to MK-ULTRA.
In 1988, the Justice Department agreed to pay eight Canadians a total of $750,000 to settle their lawsuit alleging they suffered psychological trauma from CIA-financed mind-control experiments that included doses of LSD.
Harf said that MK-ULTRA “was thoroughly investigated and the CIA fully cooperated with each of the investigations.”
The current lawsuit seeks to represent any veteran who suffered injuries or unwittingly participated in MK-ULTRA, though none of the named volunteers allege they participated in the project.
The veterans in the lawsuit accuse government officials of denying them medals and other citations promised them for participating in the experiments.
“We deserve amends,” said Eric Muth, one of the veterans who attended a press conference in San Francisco today.
Muth said he volunteered as a 17-year-old Army enlistee in 1957 in a program he thought was for testing new equipment for use with riot gas. Instead, Muth alleges, he was purposely given inadequate protective gear and exposed to several dangerous chemicals to test their effectiveness as chemical weapons.
Muth, 68, said that he continues to suffer flashbacks and suffers from breathing problems.
Another veteran in the suit, Bruce Price, alleged that military doctors implanted something in a sinus cavity near his brain’s frontal lobe in 1966 that remains there today. The veterans’ lawyer, Gordon Erspamer, said he believes the implant was an attempted mind-control device. Price did not attend the press conference.
The lawsuit does not seek monetary damages but demands health care for veterans allegedly denied access to Department of Veterans Affairs facilities because they could not prove their ailments were related to their military service. Vietnam Veterans of America, a veterans advocacy group, is also a plaintiff.
The lawsuit claims that many of the volunteers’ records have been destroyed or remain sealed as top secret documents.