The government undertook a worldwide campaign of deception in the early 1950s to hide that it was gathering human remains and other data to measure fallout from U.S. atomic weapons tests, new documents show.
The government papers also suggest that the Central Intelligence Agency had a wider involvement in human radiation tests than it has acknowledged. At one point, the CIA considered injecting its own agents with radioactive tracers to provide “positive identification.”
These findings are among papers being reviewed by the president’s Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments, which was created a year ago to examine the ethics surrounding human radiation testing during the Cold War.
Copies of the latest documents were obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press.
One of the most intriguing series of papers uncovered by the presidential panel involves a program known as Operation Sunshine in the early 1950s. Under the program, the Atomic Energy Commission used other government agencies, physicians and private groups to gather soil, water, crops and even bones from dead infants to try to learn the extent of worldwide radioactive fallout from U.S. weapons tests.
The searches, which followed as many as 50 bomb tests in the late 1940s and early ‘50s, were made in the U.S. and more than 20 countries.
Foremost in the minds of the AEC officials, however, was how to avoid linking the project with the atomic energy agency or to weapons testing, said advisory panel investigators who have reviewed the documents.
To determine the extent of the fallout from the bomb tests, the AEC researchers wanted to test levels of highly radioactive strontium 90 - a fallout product - in samples, including human skeletons, from around the world. The samples were collected under a cloak of secrecy and through the use of elaborate cover stories, investigators said.
The effort to collect bones of dead infants, who were often stillborn, posed a particular problem for the researchers, so they devised a cover story that the collections were being made to survey natural radium concentrations in humans.