Monday, July 07, 2008

with friends like this.....

Newly declassified Defence and Prime Minister's office files show that the US was strongly pushing then Prime Minister Harold Holt's government in the 1960s to allow tests of two of the deadliest chemical weapons ever developed — VX and GB, better known as Sarin nerve gas.

Under the plan — which is not believed to have been acted upon — 200 Australian combat troops, presumably wearing 1960s-era chemical protection suits, were to be subjected to aerial bombardment in the Iron Range rainforest near Lockhart River in far north Queensland.

Peter Bailey, a former senior official with Mr Holt, says the request caused consternation in Canberra, and as far as he knows the tests never went ahead.

But he says planning was very advanced in the US, which wanted the operation to be kept secret because the weapons were illegal under international law.

The aim of the tests was to gauge the effectiveness of nerve agents in jungle warfare at a time when US military involvement in Vietnam was intensifying. The US proposal was made by US defence secretary Robert McNamara in July 1963.

The documents stated that of the 200 troops to be used in the tests, "only four to six would need to know the full details of the operation".

The US proposal recommended that the Australian government keep the nerve agent tests secret, describing them as either "equipment testing" trials or "land reclamation" experiments.

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