We continue our interview with Mike Kenner, open government campaigner and Cold War researcher. In Part Two of this detailed look at the highly-questionable activities of Porton Down (the UK Government's chemical and biological warfare research establishments in Wiltshire), we turn our attention to their use of chemical simulants in open-air field trials in, or near to, populated areas.
Between 1949 and 1976, military scientists from Porton Down conducted over 350 separate experiments ("field trials") in public areas of the UK, during which massive amounts of live bacteria and hazardous chemical compounds were sprayed over populated areas. Designed further to investigate the feasibility of Biological Warfare (BW), these field trials were conducted in utmost secrecy, and often involved the unwitting co-operation of local authorities, local police forces, and in some cases, local populations, who were always told that the trials were to investigate atmospheric pollution.
Until 1997, the UK public remained unaware of Porton Down's public area BW field trial programme. Since then, more and more field trials have been discovered. More disturbing, however, is the Ministry of Defence's refusal to rule out conducting similar, large-scale, public area BW field trials in the future, should they deem there to be a military need to do so.
Transcribed by Sarah Brand. Proofread by Mark Campbell.
Julian Charles: Hello everyone, Julian Charles here again of themindrenewed.com, podcasting to you from the depths of the Lancashire countryside here in the UK. Welcome to podcast No. 51, which is the continuation of an interview that I had with Mike Kenner last week, who is an Open Government campaigner and Cold War researcher, specialising in the history of the activities of Porton Down, the UK Ministry of Defence’s Biological and Chemical Weapons Research Centre in Wiltshire. And, as I said last time, the interview itself was extremely long; it is in fact the longest interview that I’ve conducted to date, about three hours long, so I do feel that it was necessary to split it into two podcasts, so this is the second half. Last week we were concentrating very much on Porton’s use of biological simulants to simulate biological weapons, but this week we are concentrating on their use of chemical simulants.
Now, the strange thing is that as I’ve been editing this, in fact as I’m speaking now, I am addressing you from my bed because, although I’m not seriously ill, please do not worry, I have injured my back in some way. I don’t know how I did it, but here I am lying here doing the editing and speaking from my bed, and I’m not calling for any messages of sympathy because I’m quite sure I shall be absolutely fine in a couple of days from now, but it has just coincided with getting this podcast out, so I thought I’d tell you that in case there’s something strange about the way I’m speaking or the bed covers rustling. Anyway, that’s the way it is. If, of course, you haven’t heard the first part, I do encourage you to go and listen to that before you engage with this particular podcast. Next week’s podcast will be with Dr Frederick Vom Saal, a Biology Professor from the University of Missouri, Columbia, and I shall be talking to him about his concerns over the substance Bisphenol A, more commonly known as BPA, which is included in many of the plastics that we use on an everyday basis; his research has led him to be extremely concerned about that substance in terms of its toxicity and its effect on human health, so I’m very much looking forward to sharing with you that conversation. But for now we turn to the second part of the conversation with Mike Kenner.
So, can we move onto the biological warfare trials using chemicals? Now, this seems to involve mainly the use of a compound in test form called zinc cadmium sulphide, which you mentioned earlier on, so I want to ask you about the substance itself in a few minutes, but first could you tell us a little bit more about the East Lulworth Trials that you already mentioned, and perhaps the Salisbury City Trials?
Mike Kenner: Yeah, I mean both of these trials that you are talking about involved the use of this mysterious substance called zinc cadmium sulphide. Just to give you a little bit of context: most people, including the British Government, thought that a good way to conduct biological warfare trials would be to use cluster munitions, that is a bomb containing a lot of little, miniature bomblets, each containing bacterial suspension. And you’d need a massive fleet of bombers to go over a city, drop the bombs, and hope that you’ve managed to spread the disease. Now, they realised after a while that this was terribly impractical. The whole idea of biological warfare, and probably chemical warfare, is the element of surprise. The minute someone knows you’re coming, or they can hear you coming, they put on their respirators, and that’s it, game over—you’ve just wasted your time. And so they didn’t really know what to do.
But the scientists at Porton Down developed a theory called the Large Area Coverage Concept. Like I say, it’s the idea that a ship, submarine, an aircraft, even a guided missile, could fly a straight line track ten or twenty miles off the coast of the UK spraying a bacteria. This would get blown onshore and be carried a couple of hundred miles inland. It’s an incredible idea. Now, obviously they weren’t going to jump straight in and use bacteria on this, so they decided that they’d use a substance called zinc cadmium sulphide. Each particle of zinc cadmium sulphide was between one and five microns in size, so it would penetrate the deepest part of the lungs if anyone were to breath it in, so that was an ideal biological warfare simulant. Now, the reason that they used this substance was that under ultra violet light it fluoresced, so that if you took air samples you could actually count how many particles per litre of air, per minute, were collected at a certain point in the target area. All you did was to shine an ultra violet light on the sampling equipment and physically count the amount of particles present. The other reason that they used it was that it was incredibly cheap.
Now, the only drawback was that the tins came marked Hazardous Material, so Porton Down decided that it would be a very good idea that anybody handling this, or in close contact with this material, would wear a Home Office Respirator, a surgeon’s cap, neoprene elbow-length gloves, overalls and gumboots. Members of the public were not so lucky. Anyway, what they used to do in the first Large Area Coverage Trials would be to load a couple of hundred pounds of this stuff into an aircraft. They had a crude dispensing device originally; it was hand-operated and it was basically someone having jars of zinc cadmium sulphide and physically dumping them into a spray mechanism that would spray out the side of the plane. And what it would do was fly down the east coast and then along the south coast of the UK, sometimes it would go up the Irish Sea, and it would spray it all during that track, normally between a hundred and two hundred-mile track.
Now, the Swanage or the East Lulworth Trial that you’re talking about is a very curious one, because you normally spray this material at a rate of about a pound of material per mile, so they carried on doing that on this trial of 18th August in the late '50s. But the plane came along the south coast and something happened. They stopped when they got just off of Swanage, about ten miles off of Swanage. If you stop spraying off of Swanage, the resulting cloud would be carried directly over the village of East Lulworth and to the sampling point, which was about twenty miles away at Dorchester in Dorset. Now, the sampling device at Dorchester collected a phenomenal amount of particles—4,300—when in the rest of the country there were probably about 10, or lower. Now, something obviously went very, very badly wrong.
JC: So do we have any indication as to whether that was deliberate or was that an accident?
MK: No-one knows. Porton Down have never responded on it. What is thought might have happened is that they hadn’t been using the zinc cadmium sulphide at a fast enough rate and they had a lot left, and someone inadvertently just thought he’d dump it out of the plane. Another thought was the fact that there was a sudden meteorological shift; this is Porton wondering whether a sudden meteorological complication had occurred, which had blown everything into one place in south Dorset. I tend to go for human error.
JC: [Laughing] That seems much more plausible indeed.
MK: It does, yeah. Now, the Salisbury Trials were sort of like ‘how to attack a city at night’. They built a grid of sampling stations in the countryside around Salisbury, which was their home city, and then went to people’s gardens in the city itself where they built another network, a smaller network of sampling stations, so you had a rural network and an urban network. Then a plane would fly a forty mile track, about a hundred miles away over to the west, so that the wind would blow the material over the city, and what they were trying to see was whether the heat of a city at night would cause more of the bacteria to fall onto the city, or whether it would be less. In other words, it’s offensive work. And, they were a little bit naughty really, they did their normal cover story: “If you were asked by a member of the public what are you doing at night with your strange sampling devices, you are doing ‘Atmospheric Pollution’ work.”
JC: Because these were set up in people’s gardens, you say?
MK: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And this was what they told the city in order to get permission for this, their actual cover story: the inhabitants of the area were told that the trials were to study smoke pollution of the air. They were most cooperative.
JC: Smoke pollution?
MK: Smoke pollution of the air, because the current thing in vogue then was the smog of London.
JC: Right, so that was definitely a lie?
MK: Yeah, yeah, so if you come along and you say: “Look, we’re investigating, trying to work out how to get rid of smog”, people can say, ‘Well, of course, come into my garden.”
JC: So this wasn’t even weasel words?
MK: No, no. They said in the trials document that the real reason for the trials was to gather data, which would be of direct use in the estimation of weapon expenditure in a gas attack on a town, so they quite blatantly lied. During the Lyme Bay Trials anyone that was caught out, a sampler that was caught out, was told that, “if anyone asked you what you were doing in the field, the only permissible answer is that you’re sampling atmospheric pollution for meteorological research. A persistent questioner may be viewed with suspicion but told nothing further. You must not describe your activities to anyone, e.g. colleagues, friends or relatives.” And of course Graydon Carter, who was the Portland scientist and official historian, went on an internal review to say the cover story about meteorological and air pollution work was readily constructive for any inquisitive enquirer. Both aspects were, of course, not incorrect. That passes for humour in Porton Down.
JC: Right, OK, yeah, yeah. You mentioned also the spraying on the east coast. Norfolk was sprayed I understand, in fact large areas along the east coast, and this is the same substance – zinc cadmium sulphide?
MK: Yeah, the Norwich Trials were done in 1963 and ’64 as a follow-on. They found that Salisbury wasn’t a good enough area topographically. They got inconclusive results, so they wanted to do them again. So, what they did was a very similar process. They built a rural network of sampling points around Norwich and then an urban set of points within Norwich. The trials document for this is a little bit more open. It does show how involved the City of Norwich police were. They even operated some of the sampling equipment. The control site was based in the police main headquarters. The Home office came along with their scientific advisory branch. They were involved. This was a very, very big trial.
JC: And do you feel that all the people that were in the Establishment there that you’ve just described would be aware of what was going on, or do you think they were lied to as well?
MK: The Home Office scientific advisors definitely knew what was going on; the ordinary plod that was operating the sampler didn’t have a clue what he was doing. No one probably below the level of Chief Constable was fully aware of what was going on, and he might not have even been told fully. Now, the interesting thing is that the program notes for this, and the program notes are the instructions to be carried out by all members that are involved in the trials, say that, “the substance to be dispersed will be silicon-treated zinc cadmium sulphide.” Curiously, they say this substance is quite innocuous in the concentrations that will occur near the ground, and the cloud will, moreover, be so diffuse that members of the public will be oblivious of its presence. So they were very concerned: they realised these were politically sensitive trials.
JC: But they believed that they wouldn’t actually cause any harm, so they said.
MK: Well, this is it, you see; they don’t dispute that the material is hazardous at all. What they dispute is whether the amount that was inhaled by each person would have been enough to cause harm. I mean they went on with this. You can see how concerned they were! They told all Porton Down personnel not to wear anything with any lettering on it to suggest that they come from CDE [Chemical Defence Establishment] or Porton Down. No-one’s to know. This comes down in the infamous Profumo briefing note. Profumo, in the very year that he was going through the Christine Keeler scandal, raised a curious question at an Army Department meeting. He must have heard somewhere along the line that these trials were being done, and he decided that he wanted more information, so the Chief Scientist for the War Office, Dr Cawood, wrote a very small, two-page briefing note, but he put a covering letter on it, and the covering letter’s got a classic final paragraph: “I’m convinced of the vital need for these trials, which impose no hazard to the public although, clearly, knowledge of them by unauthorised persons could be politically embarrassing.” And thereby lies the nub. They weren’t really worried about anything except for could it cause an election? ‘Unauthorised persons’ in there, you can tell what that means—that means voters. You know, if you’re a member of the City of Norwich and you find out that you’re being sprayed with a couple of heavy metals, and Porton Down say it’s safe to do so, you’re probably going to be quite annoyed with your local MP.
JC: Ah, because I do want to ask you more about the toxicity of this substance, but while we’re in this particular area of the country, in the Clouds of Secrecy documentary there was a village mentioned called Halvergate, and there was a lady who was interviewed – I believe her name was Yvonne Jarman – and she said that several people in her family had died specifically from oesophageal cancer, but there was no record of that in her family prior to these tests being carried out. So, I know that’s very anecdotal, but when I saw that, I thought that it was quite striking.
MK: Yes, that was the curious thing. When the people in Norwich became aware of what was going on, they were quite amazed, as you can imagine, and then the newspapers picked up on it up there, and then an incredible number of cases were coming forward, and it was always oesophageal cancer, and there does seem to be a higher than normal incidence of that in that area which did lead people to think: “Well, could it have anything to do with this?” And it may well have, but it’s just that no one has really looked into it. You see the problem that we have is that Porton were only doing, I suppose, what would be considered as Cold War standards of health and safety.
JC: Yeah, yeah, it was certainly very striking seeing that testimony there by the lady. It certainly made me think.
MK: I haven’t heard of any other area that was hit with zinc cadmium sulphide that was hit so intensely, apart from Cardington and Bedford.
JC: Sure, and that’s what I want to ask you about next, because that’s a very, very small village with just a few hundred people, but was it not sprayed from a van making its way round the village?
MK: Yes, the Cardington trials were mainly done because they wanted to find out how high up and in what concentrations the particles rose to. So, quite handily for them, at Cardington was the Balloon Development Establishment, so they could get what was essentially a barrage balloon, put samplers on the guy-wire at certain heights, let the barrage balloon up and then they’d go around the countryside, spraying. Curiously, it appears that on these trials, and they did over forty of them, they used a converted Morris van. I say curiously, as it’s a very clandestine vehicle. Initially, whenever they did spray trials along a road using zinc cadmium sulphide, they did it quite openly with two men wearing gas masks and an open-topped Land Rover with this spraying machine on the back.
JC: It’s a pretty frightening thing to see, I should think.
MK: Yeah, what it did was it tended to slow traffic down, and I think that the main reason that they moved over to a clandestine van was the locals wouldn’t realise they were up to something and it wouldn’t cause traffic jams, being just a doddery old van going along. So you had this van with a couple of men in the back, wearing all their full protective kit – it sounds comical now but the end event wasn’t – and then there was a pipe in the roof and the material was disseminated out through there. Now, there’s a great danger here because the closer you are to the source of the material, the higher the concentration, obviously. And this van was just travelling down a normal street, so you could be up to less than a meter away.
JC: What was the purpose in doing this in that particular area? Could they not have done this in a completely uninhabited area?
MK: It was purely all to do with budget. It was purely because the Balloon Development Establishment were based at RAF Cardington. They were used to seeing balloons going up and down, so it wouldn’t have caused any talk amongst the public. They used it later in 1959 when they sprayed the area with bacteria from a converted camera jet bomber.
JC: I can understand the general geographical argument there. Ok, so it was near to this balloon place, OK, but why choose the village, why not just go . . .?
MK: Oh they went roaming right round that area. It wasn’t just the village.
JC: But why include the village? Why include the village at all?
MK: Well, this is Porton Down. They could have done all of these trials on the enormous range in Canada. It’s purely budget reasons. It was cheaper to come down to Lyme Bay, it was cheaper to go to Cardington, so beware a Chancellor. If the Chancellor says it’s austerity time, then they’re going to spray you with the cheapest material possible.
JC: [Laughing] Yeah, that’s one way of looking at it, sure. Now, there was a review of the zinc cadmium sulphide trials [external PDF]. I believe this was in 1999 led by Professor Peter Lachmann looking into the toxic effects of these trials. I heard him in one of the programmes, and he concluded that there was no harm done to the public, but he did actually admit in that programme that he hadn’t see all the evidence. Is that right?
MK: Yeah, it’s only a personal opinion, but I did have contact with him before he started his independent review. For yourself, let me point out that they had great difficulty in getting any scientist to be involved in doing a review into the zinc cadmium sulphide trials, for whatever reason. They were trying to find a scientist for many, many months. In the end, Professor Lachmann, who was just starting out his Academy of Medical Sciences (he was the founder), said that he’d come forward and he’d do it, and he assembled a small team and they, from what I gather, went to Porton Down where a load of documents were shoved on the table and they studied the documents and they probably took them away, but not for very long, and they assumed that they’d been given everything. It turned out that they weren’t given the spraying at Norwich, they weren’t given the Cardington documents, they weren’t given the radioactive documents that were done from Harwell. I mean that was quite a serious one.
JC: So this is why he says, and this is his quote: “I don’t suppose it was done in built-up areas, or that there were people about?”
MK: This is it.
JC: Because he didn’t know?
MK: He wouldn’t know. And he makes assumptions, which I find very curious for a scientist to do. You go by the available evidence, obviously, and if he doesn’t realise that a vehicle travelling down a road spraying a material is close proximity to a member of the public, well then there’s nothing much I can do about that, but…
MK: No, he wasn’t told about Cardington, but I think he knew about the spraying of Bristol. I think that was 1961, and that was where they openly used a Land Rover with, like I say, two men wearing respirators and whatever. And then I find out afterwards that there were many more trials that were associated with the spraying of Bristol. Just like the spraying of Norwich, they brought out one document that had trial results in it. Then we find out that there were proposed to be another four to eight, and no one knows whether they were done or they weren’t done. But to have somebody say conclusively, “Look, there can’t have been a danger,” but not realising he hasn’t been given all the information…well, that speaks for itself really.
JC: It does. I think it’s a warning to us, isn’t it, because I’m not commenting on him particularly, but there is generally with these kinds of statements a certain tone about it, isn’t there, of a kind of faith in the Establishment that’s evinced there: “Oh no, no, there couldn’t possibly be any danger.” And, you know, it depends on what kind of person you are listening and seeing these things, but nevertheless I think a lot of people would think, “Oh yes, that’s spoken with great authority—that must be true.” And yet here we have evidence that, well, not everything was known, so we can’t really trust those statements.
MK: Yeah, I quite agree. I think that there was a culture of, how can you put it, of senior scientists and those working at Porton Down being well-recognised, well-published senior scientists. “We’re not going to try and pull the wool over each other’s eyes, we’re all part of the same club.” I think that when something is independent, I would have more liked to have seen more lay members involved. I’m a layperson. My scientific training is down to the fact that I know to look something up, but if I get a document and I see an anomaly on it, then I will further investigate on that anomaly.
JC: I absolutely agree with you. I think that many of the issues, certainly the issues we’re looking at here on this podcast, I think it is so important actually that laypeople, ordinary people, non-experts, look into these things because that way you can uncover things.
MK: They have a different set of eyes.
JC: Yes, absolutely.
MK: Yeah, we’ve got different eyes. I did feel that the second report, the one that looked into zinc cadmium sulphide, was more hurried than the first report. I was very concerned that he hadn’t been given all the material, and I’m not suggesting in any way that is any fault of Professor Lachmann. That is obviously the fault of Porton Down. It is very tempting to say there’s a grand conspiracy to try and hide material. I think that nine times out of ten from my experience with Porton Down, it is just a laxity. They don’t care. You know: “Oh, you’ve got to do an internal review, produce these documents for Professor Lachmann.” And they go down to their archive, but they’ve probably got only a very small amount of time in which to do it, and the person that’s doing it doesn’t really know what he’s doing. The same thing happened to Professor Spratt, we mustn’t forget. He wasn’t told about the 1975 set of trials - twenty-four biological warfare trials involving the dissemination of live bacteria, and he wasn’t told.
JC: Yes, I wish I could drag up a quote from him, which I was going to put in earlier on. I thought, “No, I’ll wait”, and now I can’t find it! [Laughs]
MK: Yeah, the quote for him on that was he should have been told: “And I think I should have been told.” That was the closest I’ve seen Professor Spratt to getting very annoyed. He was told that the Dice Trials involving the release of materials on the Porton Range was in very small doses, and he went along with that, whereas I’ve managed to get hold of an internal review produced by former Porton scientist Graydon Carter, and in that review they admitted that 24 trials had been done down here in Weymouth, so I then campaigned for a long time. It was a very long time, it wasn’t until 2010 that I managed to get the actual trials document, and Porton Down refused to let me have their copy of it because they said it was an American document. I had to go through the American Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). That took the best part of a year. They were very good, actually, and in the end they released it to me, but they still had to get permission. It was a very strange situation. Porton Down said they couldn’t let me have the document because it was an American document, and I needed American permission, so I got American permission. The Americans then said to me they couldn’t release it to me because they had to get permission from the British. So, in the end, I said this is a ridiculous situation, pointed it out to them, and they had to go to the British Ambassador in Washington to get the permission from him to release the document. It was a ridiculous situation, and what it turned out in the end is that yes, the Americans had done another series of collaborative trials with the British. The British were looking to adopt an American detection device called the XN19, and they set it up at Portland Bill, and what they did was they had a ship (it wasn’t the Ice Whale this time) that had a Land Rover strapped to it. It was going round in extremely choppy seas, it was a terrible time for a trial apparently.
JC: We were down there only a few weeks ago, down there at the lighthouse, so yeah, exactly. Knocked off my feet almost!
MK: Yeah, the Porton scientists were out there spraying two types of bacteria: serratia marcescens, inactivated. Now they didn’t say ‘killed’, they said ‘inactivated’, so we don’t quite know what that means, but it wasn’t live; and our good old friend BG. Then the people at Portland were getting sometimes up to three of those trials per day – huge doses come flying in at them. Now, there’s a very curious thing that happened that really does bring us back to, “what are Ministers told?” The Secretary of State for Defence in 1975, who I’ve said before was Rory Mason, received a briefing document about these trials and it said the proposal is that they would hold a field trial at Portland Bill within the AUWE Compound. In these trials killed bacteria will be released into the atmosphere in the form of a harmless aerosol. So he signed off on this, and his Permanent Secretary put a covering note over the top that said, “Minister, this seems reasonable to me as the tests are all to be done on Ministry of Defence sites.” So the Minister is thinking they’re going to release a little tiny bit of harmless bacteria within the AUWE Compound, a compound no more than a hundred yards by two hundred. He was not told that a ship was going to sail across Lyme Bay, or Weymouth Bay, or the English Channel, aiming at Portland, and that the resulting cloud would go up to two hundred miles inland. He wasn’t told that, and, obviously, I very much doubt he would have signed off on it. And then they said, and this is quite interesting, “a suitable press release will be prepared in case the existence of the test becomes public knowledge. Attached is a copy of the press release, which was prepared in 1971 when a somewhat similar series of tests was carried out. All concerned would, of course, be briefed to avoid publicity as far as possible.” So, they were to sit in there, biting their nails, waiting for the public to discover, and even though it appears afterwards that half of Weymouth knew that something was going on, no-one raised it in the press, but of course there would have been a D-Notice gone out anyway.
JC: Sorry, a D-Notice?
MK: A Defence Advisory Notice. That’s advice to an editor of a newspaper or to a news editor of any media like radio or television saying: “Look, this is something to do with national interest. We will be very grateful if you didn’t broadcast this.” And what they mean by that is if you do broadcast it, we will withdraw all support from you in the future. And nine times out of ten most editors, even today, will still go along with the D-Notice. Sometimes you have to issue a D-Notice; I’m not totally against D-Notices, but they are open to abuse.
JC: So, this means that no journalism takes place with respect to that at all at that moment, is that right?
MK: Yes, I mean at the time deference was everything. I mean if a D-Notice flew through to the local Echo, he’d be dead chuffed, and probably frame it.
JC: [Laughs.] Right.
MK: But at the same time it’s very hard to work out whether a D-Notice would have been necessary. A lot of times people say that these tests were done in secret. A lot of people that aren’t in the know say: “Oh, they had to have been done in secret, because we don’t want the Soviets to know.” Whereas the Ministry of Defence in their documents are quite open about the fact that they watched the Soviet trawlers turn up in 1963. They had advance knowledge that the tests were coming. They were watching it all. There is a local story, and it’s true because I know the person that witnessed it. Between Abbotsbury Hill and West Bay there is a series of hills and low cottages that overlook Lyme Bay, and a chap turned up there one day who happened to be a Russian linguistic translator. He stayed there for five years whilst the trials were going on, and then went home. I imagine he had a huge pair of binoculars and a very good radio. Yeah, the Russians were well aware of what was going on.
JC: I get the impression with all sorts of things that everybody knows what’s going on.
MK: Except for the public.
JC: Yeah, indeed.
MK: The public is the last to know. The people who did know were probably local hoteliers, because there was a class system that was operating that the senior scientists stayed at the Moonfleet Hotel, lesser scientists stayed at smaller hotels within Weymouth and in Lyme Regis and the sampling operator stayed in digs. There were up to 70 personnel involved in this. It was quite an influx.
JC: Yes, well I still want to ask you a bit more about the toxicity of this zinc cadmium sulphide. You said that it was known by Porton Down that this was a toxic substance, there’s no doubt about that, but the issue really is what the concentration was when it was used in these various trials. But I must ask you about this toxicity of the compound. Could you explain to us what is known of the effects of the actual zinc cadmium sulphide and the release of cadmium that can happen from it?
MK: Well, the main thing that people concentrate on is the fact that it can go for the kidneys, from what I’ve understood. It could cause severe problems there, and this is the very interesting thing about this substance that was sprayed. I won’t talk so much about cadmium, I’d rather talk about the entire compound. No studies on its toxicity are known. This is a very, very strange thing. Even Porton Down, they’ve looked everywhere for it, so did Professor Lachmann, and they found that no studies had been done on either inhalation or digestion. In fact the Porton internal history into it says no toxicity experiments have been held since cadmium sulphide has been available in literature, i.e. scientific literature, and no oral studies were done. The Porton scientists that looked into this did an internal review for the Ministry of Defence and this was given to Professor Lachmann, and he says in there that he’s found very little evidence that the toxicology of this substance he calls FP, for fluorescent particles, was ever conducted. He said, essentially, there is no evidence that the toxicity of FP was examined in any practical way by Porton Down. There is no ‘T’ number for the compound. The absence of such a number indicates that there was no formal toxicity testing at Porton Down. There are no records in the archives of it being tested for toxicity, and there are no Cd [Cadmium] reports on its toxicity even to this day. He says that it’s a curious substance in that there is so little data on its toxicity and, more interestingly, no earlier concern about any hazards to the general public from using it in these experiments. So Porton knew that it was hazardous, because this article goes on to say it was regarded as a hazardous compound, but they still went ahead. They didn’t subject it to any toxicity tests whatsoever, but thought that it was OK to spray on the general public. Mind boggling!
JC: Yeah, indeed, but you say the situation today is not that much different.
MK: No, no-one has conducted an inhalation toxicity study on it. The studies have been done on rats, I believe, but I’m loath to think that anything that’s done on an animal can be just crossed straight over to a human. Professor Spratt felt the same way, didn’t he?
JC: Yeah, I suppose the thing that concerns me about this is, well, certainly of course the fact that it wasn’t tested in the first place, that was of grave concern, but also the fact …and I’ve got in front of me here a 2004 publication - this is a US publication for the National Academies [external PDF] and they’re looking into zinc cadmium sulphide, and in it, if I remember correctly, they say that it’s possible for cadmium to be released from this compound under various conditions, and then they go on to discuss the toxicity of cadmium itself. Now, I’ll just read their little sentence they’ve got here: “The greatest risk from inhaled cadmium is to the lungs, causing lung cancer. Inhaled cadmium is most toxic to lungs, kidneys and the skeletal system. There are epidemiological links of cadmium exposure to lungs and prostate cancer in humans,” and then it goes on and on and on. So, certainly cadmium is very, very clearly toxic there, but they do seem to suggest somewhere in this article that there is a possible release of this from zinc cadmium sulphide.
MK: Yeah, funnily enough Lachmann does mention it, he does refer to the National Academy of Science’s report on zinc cadmium sulphide. I think it was him, or it was Carter, that draws attention to the fact that they concentrated more on the cancer side than anything else. He reported himself that there were no real reports of a rise in renal failure, i.e. kidney disease, in the areas where this was conducted. But we are talking, I’m afraid, forty years after the event, and you have to remember that there were no epidemiological studies being conducted at the time. You know, it would have been a different matter if somebody had said: “Look, we’re going to do these trials. Can we now start taking note of the population and see if this affectsthem?” Of course that didn’t happen. Even if we can have a great big document that says, “Look, this stuff is definitely dangerous”, it would be very hard to draw a conclusion that inhalation of this stuff caused any particular person’s individual illness, and that’s where Porton always managed to escape. Professor Spratt said it to me when I saw him, and he sort of mentions it in his report, that any of the biological simulants that were sprayed, if people did experience ill effects from them, they would have suffered infections of the chest or infections of the blood, both of which were common, so any GP wouldn’t have noticed anything. Even if there’d been an epidemic of it, he’d have just put it down to something environmental, but he wouldn’t have known that it was Porton Down. And in fact we did have something down here called the Portland Bug, yet at the same time Bridgeport had the Bridgeport Bug, and Lyme had the Lyme Bug. All around Lyme Bay, at the same time, there were outbreaks of what was known as D&V, diarrhoea and vomiting. It was put down at the time to the poor water quality at Portland. But, was it?
JC: Yeah, yeah, sure.
MK: And you’ve got to remember sometimes these experiments went wrong because they are, after all, experiments.
JC: Well, indeed, indeed. As you say, the East Lulworth experiments seemed to go wrong. Now, that’s the other side of the equation, isn’t it? There’s the question as to the toxicity of the substance itself, but also the amount of exposure the population gets, and in that case we have an extraordinary exposure, and yet we’re told in the Academy of Medical Sciences 1999 Study for the MoD here in the UK, they say that it didn’t deliver unusually high doses of cadmium sulphide, so the effects should generally be considered negligible; I think they say that somewhere in the document. Well, what about East Lulworth, you know?
MK: Yeah, there’s another factor as well. Professor Lachmann caught one point about the sampling equipment, but he missed another very important point. This did annoy me at the time because he was a senior scientist and I was very surprised that he and his team missed it. The main sampling device that was used was called a drum impactor. If you can imagine a very small vacuum cleaner sucking in - a very small orifice for that and a vacuum being applied to it – and a piece of tape that’s stuck to the outside of a drum, and this drum rotates once every minute – you have to physically do it once every five minutes – so any particles that are in the air get drawn in and get stuck to it. Now, it had a major failing; it would get obscured by pollution, so it not only sucked in zinc cadmium sulphide, it would suck in soot, and that soot would go over the top of the zinc cadmium sulphide and when the UV light was shone on it, they reckoned that whatever number you saw there should be doubled. The device had a 50% failure rate. The Americans never used it; they always used something called the Rotorod or the micropore. So, the 50% failure Lachmann admits. Then you come along and get hold of another Porton document and you find out that the drum impactor has yet another fault, and that is that the drum’s shiny surface obfuscates results so that whatever result you come with would really need to be multiplied by a hundred.
MK: So, whatever happened down here—the trials results say 4,300—you’ve got to double that. So we’re now 8,600. And then we’ve got to put two noughts on it!
JC: So it could be anything, basically.
JC: That is the most ridiculous fudge factor I’ve ever heard of.
MK: Yes, but what we’re talking about is two levels of magnitude higher than Professor Lachmann said it was. Now we are into significant figures, and he missed it, and I do not understand how he missed that.
JC: So, I suppose one of the main questions that really needs to be asked is can we have confidence that this kind of thing is not going on at the moment, and is not going to go on in future? Can you tell us? Do you know?
MK: Well, the latest one I do know about. I mean, we go back to 1999 and I wrote a request to DERA, that’s the Defence Evaluation Research Agency, the people at the time responsible for Porton Down, and I asked them what were the procedures going to be for any future trials, and they turned round and told me that Ministers have confirmed that they cannot rule out conducting larger scale trials in public areas in the future if there was a military need. Then lo and behold in 2001 we had the anthrax scare in America, which caused enormous panic over here. We think it caused panic in America, but it was generated over here too, so there was a military need. So, if they have conducted any further trials, they have certainly been quiet about it. I enquire every year, every two years, and say, “What have you been doing this year?” and they’re meant to tell me, but if it’s in the national interest I don’t believe that they would. In 2006 I enquired again, asking if their policy was still extant, and they said that it was, it’s still in force. I don’t know what the new Administration have been doing, the current administration.
Now, when the anthrax scare went ahead, the Cabinet Office went ballistic and they got straight onto the Health & Safety Executive and virtually ordered them to immediately conduct a series of trials to see whether anthrax could be carried through the Royal Mail, and to do that the HSE hit the panic button and decided: “Right, what we’ll do is pick three Royal Mail sorting offices – Sheffield, Mount Pleasant and, I think, Nottingham – and we’re going to conduct these trials using live bacteria. What should they use that simulates anthrax? They settled on BG. Now, I managed to do a Code of Practice on Access to Government Information request to them, and at the time they came up with the goods, which quite amazed me, and I’ve got all their emails, and these show there was a lot of confusion with was going on, and they didn’t really know how safe BG was, so one of them went on the Internet and looked up BG, and found out that the Los Alamos Laboratory wanted to do public area trials with BG, and that seemed to be safe enough for them. What the HSE didn’t seem to realise at the time was that the Los Alamos trials were going to use irradiated BG, i.e. killed. So, anyway, they went ahead.
Now, what the HSE always have to do if they are going to conduct anything dubious is have a word with their Ethics Committee and say: “Look, we’re going to expose members of the public to something here, do you think ethically that’s OK with you? Would you run it past the Committee?” In this case there was such a panic going on that permission was granted for the trials to go ahead, and the Ethics Committee were told about them afterwards. So, that’s a public safeguard just disappeared. Now, we’re only talking a matter of days here, but it still means that the people charged with looking after our safety ignored their own safety protocols. Another thing was that they were working with material that they hadn’t really researched properly. The one good thing that they did was that they realised that postmen were going to be subjected to inhalation of this material, so they did pass out an information sheet and an informed consent sheet that they had to sign, but the problem was that it was virtually worthless because they turned round and said that the tracer that is going to be used is a harmless bacterial spore, bacillus globigii, which has been used many times before in tracer studies. What they didn’t tell them, and what they didn’t know at the time, was that this stuff was regarded as a human pathogen, so they went ahead and put it into envelopes, and in one trial Porton Down mysteriously turned up with what they called ‘weaponised BG’, which sounds very sinister. This is the same stuff that Colin Powell turned up at the UN with, a small vial, which he shook, and said this could take out all of New York City. It’s BG, OK.
So, they went ahead and they went into these three sorting offices and, just before Christmas, they released envelopes that contained this material into the automatic sorting machinery, and then all the postmen that were in the area were wearing samplers, and there were other portable vacuum samplers placed around the building, and they got an idea of how a sorting office would become contaminated and how the mail would get contaminated. That year we all got something a little extra with our Christmas post, and that shows what they do, and that was a panic job. Since then, in 2002, they repeated the experiments but they won’t let on where. They did it again, I think, in 2004. The Royal Mail refused to give up any information on these trials.
JC: So, generally, should we conclude from this that, as far as we know, this policy is still in place? I mean, you have this letter from DERA, this is 1999. Let me quote from it exactly: “In the event of a military question arising, which can only be answered by conducting open air trials in areas which may involve the general public, Ministers have made it clear they cannot rule out the need to conduct larger scale trials in the future.” So, all that’s necessary then, at least as I understand it, is for there to be a military question – that’s really quite a vague statement there – and the policy is yes, we can go ahead and do this. And if we understand that we are now living in what’s normally called the “War on Terror” age, then presumably there is this background of need in the eyes of some people in the military establishment that, well, there is this possibility that anything could happen at any moment, we’re in an ongoing war situation; there may be a military question at any moment, this could be enacted. Is that right, do you think?
MK: Yeah, very right. In fact there has been a little bit of fuss in the papers recently, because a senior military officer gave a speech a few days ago at the Royal United Services Institute where he was saying the very same thing that we could be subjected to bacteriological warfare, as he called it, at any time. He was talking more in the form of small-scale terrorist sabotage, i.e. pouring a bacterial solution into a salad bar, or something like that, but you can see in the military’s mind it is very evident. There’s one thing that I must point out and that is that anytime Porton Down say that we did this in the public interest, they did and they didn’t. You see, Porton Down are only responsible for providing defensive and offensive equipment for the UK military, they’re not there to protect the British public; the Home Office has that job, and the Home Office were kept very in the dark about a lot of this stuff that was going on. They did join in on the Norwich trials and the Home Office did advocate – we don’t know whether the trials were ever done – conducting further trials in the Norwich area using radioactively-tagged bacteria; but Porton Down, make no mistake, only operate for the military. They are not there for your benefit, or my benefit; it would be the Home Office doing that.
JC: What do you feel that we learn from this with respect specifically to Porton Down and its ethical attitudes?
MK: I don’t know that we learn a lot. The biggest thing we learn is beware of scientists working in a very closed community. The Government are the ones that enforce them into not being able to publish a lot of their findings. You know, they live in this little bubble—well, they used to, I think it’s a lot better now—but during the Cold War they lived in a little bubble, they lived in houses provided for them by Porton Down, they all went to work together, they all ate and slept together, they had their own social club. It bred this hierarchal arrogance. And it’s still present now. If you interview a Porton scientist…well, in the late '90s it was very evident that there was Porton Down and us. And they almost relish the fact that the members of the public are so ignorant as to not to trust them. They like that, they like that idea. They say that they’re misunderstood people.
JC: And do you feel that there is some sense of the expendability of people in the sense of their behaviour being reckless at times?
MK: Yes, I mean a lot of people would like to use the information I’ve provided, or the research I’ve discovered, and I put it on the Net, and they like to use it to say, “Look, this is what they do to us”, as though it’s on purpose. I haven’t found one scrap of evidence yet of a human member of the public being determined as a target. We’re irrelevant, honestly; all it was is that we happened to live in a giant outdoor laboratory.
JC: So the end justifies the means then? There’s a "greater good" to be got from this as far as they’re concerned, and if it causes collateral damage, as it were, well, that’s just the way things have to be, because this important research has to go on?
MK: I think so. I think the Cold War was the overall thing that was going on. In the back of their minds, if they had any concerns, they probably said: “Well, someone else must be looking out for this.” I mean Bob Evans got a remarkable quote from a Porton scientist involved in these zinc cadmium sulphide trials—a Mr. Titt I think it was—and he says in there: “Well, cadmium is poisonous. Everyone knows that. All I know was someone higher up was looking into it. We wouldn’t have done it otherwise.” You know, they all relied on this structure that someone somewhere must be looking into it. You know the classical one that if I talk to people about this and they say, “Oh, they wouldn’t allow it”, this mythical ‘they’. And what I found was a) the Government at the time was never joined up and b) the politicians were certainly kept in the dark. Most of the people involved at Porton Down itself were compartmentalised, so they didn’t really know anything that was going on. And of course the other one I’ve just got to lay in is that everyone would like to associate this research with the chemtrails concept.
JC: Ah! Yes do, please.
MK: And I’d just like to point out the fact that all evidence is that if you want to disseminate a breathable particle, i.e. something between one and five micron, you can’t do it above 1,200 ft. If you do it from an aircraft flying at 20,000 ft, 30,000 ft, this material won’t come down. It just will not come down; it will fly forever. If you want to contaminate the population of the UK, you’d have far better luck sailing a boat along the English Channel disseminating it from ten foot. This material does not like being sprayed from very high up, so although these trials do prove that members of the public can get sprayed, if you want to physically spray them, there are far cheaper ways of doing it than spraying …indistinct… drills.
JC: Thank you for that. That’s an interesting input because that question has arisen a few times in the podcasts, and actually I’m rather neutral on the issue, as I’ve said to people.
MK: Oh, something’s going on, I’m sure something’s going on, but I can’t find evidence yet. If someone can provide me with the evidence, that’s fine, but I do think a lot of people see a line in the sky and they point at that and say “chemtrails”.
JC: Sure, sure. This if off topic, but we’re having this kind of conversation so, do you think that this ‘something’, or whatever it is that’s going on, is actually global in scope?
MK: I think that you’ve got pockets of people doing similar research and being human beings we like to try and link them. It’s far safer to have a ‘them’ to fight against than a lot of ‘thems’.
JC: I’m so sorry, I’m not asking you to discuss the rationality of various theories, but just purely on an evidential basis, I’m —
MK: You have to go on the evidence.
MK: Yeah, you have to go on the evidence, and so far I haven’t received anything. Maybe in twenty years time there’ll be a Porton Down report, you know, that will pop up, and it will say, “Today, we did a chemtrail.”
JC: Right, yeah, yeah. You mentioned about Government not being joined up back in the days of these experiments that you’re researching. Do you think that it’s any more joined up these days? Do you feel that largely politicians don’t know what’s going on?
MK: No, I don’t think they know a lot at all. You know the Robin Day phrase, “Here today, gone tomorrow.” They’re not in the job long enough; it’s impossible to be briefed on everything. Then there’s the internal politics. Porton was just a hotbed of internal politics, because they were trying to prove their existence, the Micro Biological Research Establishment part of it anyway. They were always under the threat that they’d be disbanded at some time or other, so they always had to put the best possible spin on things, and that would involve cultivating certain people, and, you know, you want to get the chief scientist on your side and he’ll pull the wool slightly over the Minister’s eyes. I think it goes on all the time. I mean, say that you’ve got a small-scale experiment, and you want to spray a small aerosol, say, just over Portland. Would you waste the Minister’s time with it? I don’t know. Only if it was politically a threat; scientifically, I don’t think the Minister could care less.
Everyone relies on there being this mythical ‘they’ to stop this. You know, we all expect the Health & Safety Executive to come flying in, but then when I contacted them once, they turned around and said: “Well, it’s not our job. We do safety at work, we don’t do anything about environmental matters, that would be DEFRA.” And you go to DEFRA, and DEFRA say: “Well, we don’t have anything to do with that, that would be Porton Down”, and you can get the run around. No, there is no-one responsible I don’t think and, of course, what muddies the waters now, in Britain at least, is the fact that most of our research has been privatised, so then you’ve included another load of vested interests coming in, so then you’d have lobbyists turning up to the Minister saying: “Look, we want to spray Portland, it would help jobs in the area.” I know that’s being facetious.
JC: Well, the more and more things that you say along these lines, I’m wondering how this could be considered to be analogous or kind of parallel to the revelations we’ve had about GCHQ and NSA. Do we have a sort of situation here with Porton Down where the real policy is being carried out there; the Government is pretty much irrelevant, just as it is with the NSA, GCHQ. They have a life of their own and they call the shots and they keep people in the dark.
MK: Yes, I’m pretty sure that that was certainly the case during the Cold War. They openly admit that. They say that in most experiments authority to conduct the experiments in public areas came from no higher than within, the Director of the establishment. Sometimes they say less than that. Sometimes they conduct an experiment and spray zinc cadmium sulphide without even going to the Director level. It was no higher than a supervisor who said, “Yes, let’s go and do that”. I’m pretty sure that that would still carry on now except for they have to fill in Health & Safety, so as long as they fill in Health & Safety sheets that’s fine. I mean, I asked what the current procedures are at Porton Down now, and one thing that’s changed, that they never used to do in the Cold War, is that they put a sampling device at the edge of the wire of their range where they’re testing, So, if they test on the Porton Range they also now put a sampling device where it would enter the public areas, whereas before they never bothered. You see they operated under the idea that as long as we sprayed the substance on the Porton Range, and the sampling device is on the Porton Range, what happens to the material afterwards is not our business—and they know it will go a couple of hundred miles.
JC: And did you say they put this device there under pressure?
MK: No, I don’t know. I think after the advent of the Freedom of Information Act, I think they thought it might be a good idea.
MK: I must admit they are a lot more open than they used to be, but I will warn people that if you want to go after any information, Porton has got an enormous secret that they’d rather people not know, and the Ministry of Defence don’t like really to admit it. All these documents, these semi-important documents—they’re highly classified stuff from the former Micro Biological Research Establishment— used to be kept in two containers and just left lying there from 1979 right the way up to the 1990s. Then they decided that they’d better be put into a Ministry of Defence archive and the Ministry of Defence at the time was privatising its archives, so they gave it to a certain organisation. So they gave them these two containers, plus all the reference numbers for these documents, and this private firm went and lost the reference numbers and gave them a new set of reference numbers. In the old days it used to be: “We can’t let you have the document; it’s been in a fire.” Or “You can’t have a document because it’s contaminated by asbestos.” The latest one is: “You can’t have the document because a certain organisation has lost it in a huge warehouse.” The Ministry of Defence refuse to spend money to have all this material examined and re-referenced so, in other words, they spend money with a private company to look after an entire set of records that are useless because no one can access them.
JC: Do you think there’s a possibility that that was a deliberate strategy?
MK: I don’t think so. I think it’s a classic demonstration of Porton Down at work.
JC: OK. So I suppose my last question really about this is what would you say would ideally, well not just ideally, but what could practically be done to bring Porton properly into the light?
MK: Ah! Porton would argue that certain things must remain secret. I can’t think what they are at the minute. I don’t know. I mean it’s very difficult to know what to do with Porton Down. They hide behind the fact that they are a military establishment, and it’s very difficult for them to let go of that culture, I’m afraid. The only thing you can do is to have an oversight committee with teeth that can offer prison sentences. That would make them think. But, apart from that, I think that they say, “Well, you’ve got to trust us.”
JC: Well, how can we trust them when they’ve lied so many times? It’s incredible.
MK: Well, this is it, you see. I mean I’ve seen the Director who was interviewed in 1997, and he said: “Oh, we certainly wouldn’t conduct the trials like we did then, nowadays.” Unfortunately, the reporter didn’t ask him why. What was so different then to now? So he was basically admitting that the stuff in the past was dangerous, and it was done in a bad way, and he’s saying: “Well, you’ve got to trust us now.” And we say to them: “Well, no; look, we want you to be more open”, and they say, “We are being more open.” To a point, if the national interest comes into it, obviously they’re going to lie. All Government organisations will lie, because they say that they’re lying with our interests at heart, trust us.
JC: So would you agree really that the best thing we can do is to continue to make sure that we are staring at what is going on, and talking about this, so there is a very keen awareness?
MK: Yeah, I think the most important thing you can do is for more people to become aware that what was done in the past is not something that should just be dismissed. It did put a lot of people at serious risk of harm, and it was very, very extensive between 1949 and 1976. I mean you can bear in mind that that’s all the documents the Ministry of Defence have ever released. We don’t know what happened from ‘76 onwards. So ‘49 to ’76 they did over 350 separate public area trials. The vast majority—well all of those—involved the release of live bacteria, and a lot of them were what they called massive cross-wind line releases. And when a civil servant uses the word ‘massive’, he means it.
JC: I’m not sure whether you actually have a website where you keep the research that you’ve been engaged in over the years. You certainly have a very, very active Twitter account. Could you give people an idea on where they can find out more information about your research specifically?
MK: Yeah, I mean my Twitter account – it’s not a boast – it’s called @wellbright (https://twitter.com/wellbright). It’s a Government codename that I just adopted to use at work for my Twitter account, and also I’ll provide you with a link actually, that would be better. I did put the 1975 trials document that I managed to get de-classified, I have put that into a blog. It does explain the background to the simulants and it shows what trials were done in 1975. I think if you type in ‘Night Ferry’, the ‘Night Ferry and Porton Down’, (http://nightferry.wordpress.com) that should give you a link to the site. I am trying to work on a full-scale blog, because obviously all this information must come out; I’ve got thousands of pages of it.
JC: Absolutely. Yes, and I do need to stress to people that your Twitter account is not just a regular one, it has got a lot of information on it, hasn’t it?
MK: Go back through the timeline if you can on it, and I don’t just cover Porton Down. I mean, obviously, I cover other aspects that the Government would rather not talk about. Everything virtually is Cold War-orientated, the vast majority of stuff is got from the Freedom of Information Act, and there is some very amazing stuff that’s out there.
JC: And do you want to say something about your YouTube account as well?
MK: Yeah, my YouTube account is Experiments R Us (http://www.youtube.com/user/experimentsrus). What I’ve done on there is put on any declassified film I’ve managed to get from the Ministry of Defence. They’re mainly Porton Down-orientated, virtually all of them are. Or there are the various television productions that have used my research. So that would be Top Secrets Revealed or Clouds of Secrecy, which covered the Norwich trials, and various other bits and bobs that were in the news at the time the Lyme Bay trials were first coming out, including a nice little item in there from Spotlight Southwest, a four-minute piece, which does show what happened with the Swanage trials in 1959.
JC: Yes, indeed, I found that fascinating. Before we formerly close here, is there anything that you feel that we did not mention in the conversation, things important to share with people as a parting comment?
MK: Well, the main thing is, I really want to encourage people to do it—don’t be frightened to put in a Freedom of Information request if you’re concerned about anything. Be prepared to play the long game. Don’t be confrontational; it’s pointless. You’re dealing with a person who’s probably got no more power than the average person behind the counter at your Post Office. Be as nice as you can to them. The Freedom of Information Officers generally try and help. You do get the occasional one that gives you the brush off. Be persistent.
JC: And it does work because you’ve got an awful lot of information . . .
MK: And it really does work. I mean it took me three, four years to get the Operation Cauldron film out. That’s on my YouTube account. The Ministry of Defence point-blank refused to release that. Then they were going to take it to court. In the end I had to involve the Information Commissioner’s Office, and this is one of those occasions where the system worked and the Ministry of Defence were forced to release a very, very important film.
JC: Well, Mike Kenner, thank you ever so much for joining us on the podcast. It’s been a massive conversation. There’s a huge amount of information here. You have given me the most headache of an editing job I think I have ever had! I really do admire this work you have done over the years and am very grateful to you for it. It has been a wonderful conversation, and really interesting, so thank you ever so much indeed.
MK: Thank you. Keep in contact, Julian. Very interesting. You made that very painless.
JC: Right, great to talk to you.
MK: Alright then.
JC: Bye bye
Disclaimer: The views expressed by Mike Kenner in this interview are his responsibility alone; they do not necessarily represent those of The Mind Renewed.