Freedom’s Chemical Weapons Exposés

Chemical weapons

The magazine’s investigative reporting uncovered secret chemical weapons tests on unsuspecting American civilians and leading to reforms that saw destruction of chemical stockpiles.

“I started to crawl through the field with some other guys who were in the test and there was instant confusion and pain. I jumped up and started running around in circles. There was a burning in my eyes and face and I was spitting and throwing up. I couldn’t breathe.”

With those words, a U.S. Army veteran described one of his experiences as a subject in chemical and biological warfare (CBW) experiments at Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland, in 1967. His account, along with others, was published as part of a long campaign by Freedom to expose the horrors of such weaponry and to end their stockpiling and use. Thousands of military personnel served as test subjects for an array of CBW agents that included LSD and an even more powerful hallucinogen, BZ, developed to maximize aggression in soldiers.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Freedom based numerous articles on Freedom of Information Act documents and eyewitness accounts that exposed the production of CBW agents by military and intelligence agencies, and exposed testing of chemical agents at Edgewood Arsenal and other facilities across the United States—often carried out on civilian populations without their knowledge or consent.

One investigation documented how a CIA front or “cutout” continued to mass-produce germs with a machine known as a Biogen at least until 1972, in apparent violation of a 1969 presidential order renouncing the use of CBW weapons. The Washington Post credited Freedom in a March 1980 article: “Using documents made public under the Freedom of Information Act, primarily CIA financial records, the Scientologists said receipts for repairs and replacement parts indicated the machine was steadily used for 13 years and may have produced hundreds of pounds of various biological agents and microorganisms.”

In 1981, Freedom exposed tests wherein swarms of mosquitoes—of a strain that can carry both yellow fever and dengue fever—were released in a Savannah, Georgia, neighborhood between April and November 1956, with another 600,000 of the pests dispersed at Avon Park Air Force Range in Florida that same year. An Army report noted that in the Florida test, “Within a day, the mosquitoes had spread a distance of between one and two miles and had bitten many people.”

Freedom exposed zinc cadmium sulfide tests said to trace dispersal patterns of CBW agents, but which posed potential health risks on thousands. Unwitting residents of dozens of cities, including Dallas, Texas, and Fort Wayne, Indiana, were exposed to more than 300 open-air tests with zinc cadmium sulfide, Freedom reported. In a 1980 article about the zinc cadmium sulfide tests in St. Louis, the Kansas City Times wrote: “The Scientologists want to promote a moratorium on all chemical warfare.”

Years later, in a 1998 Newsday article headlined “CIA’s Subway Germ Attack,” iconic New York journalist Jimmy Breslin described an experiment exposed by Freedom in 1979 in which a million New Yorkers were exposed to a bacteria that, while harmless to most, had the capacity to kill some people. Breslin wrote, “Only the Church of Scientology thought enough of it to press the government.”

First chemical weapons destroyed
CLEANUP Hundreds of tons of the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile were destroyed following Freedom exposés on chemical and biological warfare (CBW) agent testing on U.S. Army personnel and U.S. citizens.

Reflecting on American service personnel exposed to experiments with BZ and other chemicals—a 1998 edition of Freedom reported:

“In late 1979 … [the Army] announced its own program to find and notify all persons who had been unwitting participants. … A press wire at the time stated that the ‘Army’s action followed a concerted campaign by the Church of Scientology, which located a number of veterans who underwent experiments with LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs.’”

In April 1981, the Army announced it had destroyed a small portion of its BZ stockpile and in May 1989, at a specially constructed disposal facility at Pine Bluff Arsenal in Arkansas, workers began dismantling BZ canisters and destroying contents. By January 1990, the Army said some 721 tons of residual debris had also been destroyed, eliminating the stockpile. The plant itself was locked, never to be reopened.

The campaign conducted by Freedom and the Church of Scientology raised awareness of the need to end stockpiling and use of weapons of mass destruction. According to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, governments destroyed 69,610 metric tons by October 2017, accounting for 96.27 percent of the world’s known stockpiles. That included the majority of the once-massive U.S. chemical weapons stockpile, of which the remainder is targeted for destruction by 2023.