We welcome Mike Kenner, open government campaigner and Cold War researcher, who joins us for Part One of a detailed look at the highly-questionable activities of Porton Down, the UK Government's chemical and biological warfare research establishments in Wiltshire.
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 everybody, Julian Charles here of TheMindRenewed.com, podcasting to you from the depths of the Lancashire countryside here in the UK. Today is the 21st November 2013, and it’s great to be talking to Mike Kenner, who joins us all the way from balmy Weymouth in Dorset here in the UK, which is just about twenty miles or so from my childhood town, Swanage. Mike Kenner is an open government campaigner and Cold War researcher, who for many years has been investigating the history of the activities of Porton Down, the UK Ministry of Defence’s Biological and Chemical Weapons Research Centre in Wiltshire. His work has been featured in numerous UK national and regional TV documentaries and news features, and he has made a number of contributions to a couple of books on the subject as well. Mike, thank you for joining us; it’s great to be speaking to somebody from my old neck of the woods.
Mike Kenner: It’s a beautiful area. Yes, thank you very much for having me.
JC: It’s a pleasure. I wanted to get the opportunity to speak to you, because a few years ago I saw you interviewed on ITV’s programme Top Secrets Revealed, in which you were discussing some of the questionable biological and chemical testing activities of Porton Down scientists, and I was particularly struck by the so-called Lyme Bay Trials. In those trials, live bacteria was sprayed out at sea in the direction of the mainland where I was living in the coastal town of Swanage, and obviously I didn’t like the idea that I might possibly have been affected by that, so I wanted to speak to you about it. But before we get into the specifics of Porton Down’s activities, could you give us a brief word or two about how you got into what you’re doing?
MK: Yes, absolutely. Back in 1971 – it’s almost like a previous life to me now – I was an apprentice working for Post Office Telecommunications, as it was—BT as it is now—and I was working on a piece of equipment called the MDF, the Main Distribution Frame. Every now and again requests came in and you had to rearrange the circuits on the MDF. One of the requests came through and I looked up what it said on it, and it said: “The Microbiological Research Establishment, Porton Down.” I realised that we had them working in the area, went and made a few enquiries to my boss, and said: “Did you know we have the germ warfare boys down here?” He nearly exploded, and told me 'where to go'. The next day when I went in, this record had been rubbed out. All the records at the time were in pencil, and he’d rubbed it out; but you could still see it was there. So I kept quiet about it because obviously I’d signed the OSA. (When you join anything like that, a government organisation as it was, you sign the Official Secrets Act.) So I kept quiet.
Then, in 1995, there were a number of cases of childhood cancer appearing on the Fleet, about four-and-a-half miles west of Weymouth. Now, this is very close to the area where the telephone record I was dealing with was, so I started investigating. I told one of the children’s parents about this, and he was interviewed by the Army, who said: “Well, we did do a few things in the area, but we’re not quite sure what they were”, and we couldn’t get any further.
Then, in 1997, Andrew Gilligan and Rob Evans wrote an article in the Sunday Telegraph, which blew the thing wide open. They managed to get the Ministry of Defence to admit that they had been spraying live bacteria over populated areas. I think the newspaper said that it was only on a small number of occasions over a period of two years – about, say, twenty-five separate field trials - but that was enough. I thought: “Well, hang on a minute, this is what they must have been doing back in 1971. “So I started investigating.
Now, at the time, there was a piece of legislation [then Prime Minister] John Major brought in called the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information, a precursor to the Freedom of Information Act. So I started using that, and it coincided with the new Labour Administration that had come in on a wave of open government. (That was their whole idea at the time—something which, I think, they regretted later on.) Porton Down were virtually forced to come clean about what they’d been doing, but they did it in a very slow manner, and over years. I mean, I’ve been doing this since 1997, and it still surprises me every now and then that a new trial pops up.
JC: So, your research centres specifically in the activities of Porton Down, the research centre in Wiltshire, and the tests that are initiated from that establishment?
MK: Yes. Porton Down is a generic term. There were a couple of establishments there originally. First it was - as most people would know it - a Chemical Defence Experimental Establishment (which was the '50s term for it). It was set up in 1916. It was going to be at Bovington, funnily enough, between Swanage and Weymouth, but for some reason it went to Porton Down, a little place outside Salisbury. They’ve got 7,000 acres of land there where they practised gas warfare. Then, during WWII, there was worry that the Germans might develop biological warfare. There was quite a concern about that, so the British were at the forefront of this, and they formed something called the Biology Department, Porton Down. They were the people who eventually did the trials on the mysterious Scottish Island, Gruinard, which they contaminated with anthrax until about 1986, because of what they’d done during WWII. Now, the Americans took great interest in this, and that gave Britain a lot of scientific kudos. The Americans loved the idea that the British could come up with the ideas, and then the Americans would develop them because they had the wherewithal to mass-produce the weapons. So, in 1947 they signed a tripartite agreement – between the UK, Canada and the US – and decided to combine theirresearch and hold a meeting once a year into what they called toxicological warfare, and that covered chemical, biological and radiological warfare. Then, just after the war, they realised: “Look, we ought to carry on with the biological warfare thing, because it’s very cheap.” (It was a lot cheaper than trying to develop an atomic weapon.) So they formed an establishment called the Microbiological Research Department [MRD] at Porton Down. It wasn’t quite an equal to the chemical side, but it was getting there. In the early '50s they were supplied with a huge amount of money and they built the largest brick-built structure in Europe, which became the MRD Laboratories, and they expanded at a tremendous rate. In the mid '50s they were given establishment status, so they were now on a ranking with the chemical warfare boys. This carried right the way on until their closure as a separate organisation in 1979. All that happened then was that the majority of the scientists that worked there stopped doing overtly biological warfare research and moved over into public health research. Indeed the Public Health Laboratory Service took over their building, and some of the biological warfare scientists moved across and formed a small department, again within the chemical warfare branch. Over the years it’s expanded again and chemical and biological warfare have an equal place at Porton Down.
JC: I’d like to ask about the trials themselves, starting perhaps with the sarin tests that were carried out on servicemen during the 1950s, and possibly for years after that. I know this isn’t central to your research, but could you give us an idea of what happened, and perhaps say something about the extremely disturbing case of Ronald Maddison?
MK: Yes, I think the sarin cases - especially Maddison’s case - are perfect examples of Porton’s scientific arrogance as it had developed over the years. If they thought something was safe, they didn’t actually go about trying to prove that it was safe or not, they just assumed that it was safe. This culture carried on into the public area trials as well. With the case of Ronald Maddison, this is purely an extension of what they’ve been doing all along. During WWII they’d been testing phosgene and mustard gas on servicemen, particularly in Australia, to assess the effects of mustard gas in a jungle environment or a tropical environment. There were some horrendous injuries sustained by Australian troops there. Porton were totally involved in those trials.
So this carries on. When new substances were discovered, such as the nerve agents produced by Germany, they were brought over here after WWII to see if we could reproduce them and how effective they were. There were quite a few of them, such as sarin, soman and tabun. Sarin seemed to be the one they preferred, and they did extensive tests on it.
The strange thing with the Maddison case is that they nearly killed one of the service volunteers. Actually, it’s wrong to call them volunteers. Porton never actually called them volunteers. That seems to be a bit of spin that’s come up. Porton always referred to them, very strangely, as ‘observers’. But they weren’t— victims would have been a far better word.
JC: Do you know what these men were actually told?
MK: Well, the Common Cold Research Institute was also based at Salisbury, which is close to Porton Down, and there was some confusion. Now, whether the soldiers were actually lied to and told: “You’re going to the Common Cold Research Establishment”, is not clear at the moment. No one’s been able to get hold of a Part 2 Order (or whatever) that said this; but so many people say it that I can’t believe it’s not true. Now, I imagine it might have been sheer ignorance on the part of the army. Maybe they decided: “Look, we need a lot of volunteers, and not enough are coming forward. What can we do about it?” And I’m pretty sure someone just said: “Oh, we’ll get people for your common cold research.” You know, they just didn’t realise it wasn't common cold research. So, these chaps go along, and once they’re there they get coerced by the idea that they’re going to be getting a little bit of extra money, they’re doing it for the good of the nation, and they’re protecting their loved ones, etc. Plus, of course, they don’t really have a lot of say in it. Once you’re in uniform, you belong to the Queen.
JC: And you’re conditioned to think that way as well.
MK: You are, yes. That’s the whole purpose of being in the army: you don’t question an order. (They say there's informed consent, but I don’t really believe that.) Anyway, a week before that they nearly killed a man. They knew this, then they went back the following week. Poor old Ronnie Maddison; he died after he had sarin dripped through battle dress strapped to his arm onto his skin. They were trying to see how effective battle dress was, I presume.
JC: And is it right the he died within an hour of this?
MK: Yes, certainly he died in agony. He didn’t die immediately. A lot of people would like to say: “Oh, nerve agents kill you very quickly.” Well, not Ronnie; he died in a horrible way. What they did afterwards also really annoys me: they held this inquest in secret. His father was allowed to attend the inquest, but was then told that he mustn’t tell anyone and had to sign the Official Secrets Act. They were so worried about security, or someone getting hold of a tissue sample of Ronnie’s body, that they put him in a steel coffin. It was an incredible thing, and hats off to his family and all the campaigners that carried on asking questions throughout the years. Finally, in the new Millennium, a new inquest was ordered, and he was found to have been unlawfully killed.
JC: Is it true that many people had these kinds of experiments performed upon them? And have they not complained about all sorts of disorders, which they attribute to this?
MK: Well yes, there was a tremendous campaign at the time of the Ronnie Maddison second inquest. The police were called in for Operation Antler, and they investigated to see if any crimes had been committed. I think they felt there had been, but the people who had conducted these experiments had died or there was not enough evidence to prove intent. But you can tell the sort of mind-set with Porton Down, because it came out in the inquest that they were told not to use a gas chamber after Ronnie Maddison died. They said: “Right, you’re not to use these gas chambers anymore.” So they took it literally and said, “OK, we won’t use gas chambers number 1 and number 2, but we’ve got some portable ones.” So they started putting servicemen into these portable gas chambers. Now that really worries me: why would Porton Down have a mobile gas chamber so close after WWII!?
Then it carried on, and it wasn’t just that: they tested CS gas, and they tested sarin. Some of the most disturbing tests were the interrogation experiments where they used LSD on unsuspecting people, the information about which has still not come out. We had Operation Moneybags and Loose Change, in which units of marines in some cases were subjected to LSD. They weren’t told what it was, obviously. They thought it was water, and then they had to go off and conduct an exercise - an anti-tank exercise, artillery exercise, that sort of thing. Some people, as is normal with LSD, had quite a nice experience; some people had a terrifying experience.
JC: And this isn’t in the distant past. In one documentary a man called Ian Foulkes said that he was tested with it as late as 1983.
MK: Yes, this carried on. I’m not quite up to speed on when the Ethics Committee came in; I don’t think it came in until the '90s. But people were asked the same with these experiments as with the Lyme Bay Trials and the Zinc Cadmium Sulphate Trials. At every trial they’re going to say, “Well, who gives authority for these trials?” And Porton themselves admit that, in the majority of cases, authority came no higher than the director of the establishment. In other words, they gave themselves authority to do these trials. Now, when you’ve got a system going like that, it’s totally open to abuse, and I’m afraid they obviously abused it in many cases.
JC: They could basically say what they liked, and there’d be nobody to check out whether what they say was true or not.
MK: Well, apparently they’ve got an Ethics Committee, but it’s an internal Ethics Committee. An Ethics Committee should be an independent, outside force with teeth. They did have something called the Offensive Evaluation Committee that oversaw some of these experiments, or the Biological Research Advisory Board that oversaw most of the Lyme Bay Trials and things that were done in public areas. But they had no teeth, they had no power of veto, so all they could do was just oversee it and suggest: “Well, maybe you should do that a little bit differently there, because that might not be safe.” But they couldn’t stop Porton, if Porton decided they wanted to do it, and I think that’s probably still the case nowadays.
JC: Could we start talking about the open-air testing programmes, which are at the centre of your research? Tell us about Porton’s activities at the village of Westwood. It’s my understanding that they had a converted underground museum there, but there were significant concerns about the safety of what was going on. So, tell us about what happened there.
MK: Yes, that was fascinating. It coincided with the anti-communist hysteria in America. The Americans had a real desire to discover whether anyone could commit biological warfare, sabotage, by disseminating bacteria through an air-conditioning system into an office building, such as the Pentagon. They did numerous trials where they released biological warfare simulants.
Let me tell you what a biological warfare simulant is, because it’s very important for what we’ll talk about later on. A simulant is a supposedly harmless substance that mimics the physical properties of a real biological agent, but doesn’t cause disease. It’s the same size as a normal biological agent, it flies through the sky in exactly the same way, and it would be inhaled by somebody in exactly the same way as a biological warfare agent. And there are many of them.
Now, what happened was, the British thought: “Hang on, we can’t have the Americans getting ahead of us, so we'll investigate our government buildings as well.” So they started asking around Whitehall: “Have you a building we can use to inject bacteria into while the people are at work?” All the mandarins in Whitehall turned around as one person and said, “No, you’re not doing it.” So then there was some discussion about whether they could use the underground WWII citadels in Whitehall. It was decided against because, probably, the bacteria would come up from the bunker and into the main building, so, in the end, they settled on a secret repository that was used by the British Museum to store all the works of art during WWII, and it was in an underground quarry in the small village of Westwood in Wiltshire. Now, next to it was an underground WWII factory—British Enfield Motorcycles, I think it was—and there were two hundred workers in this adjoining underground factory. They both shared an entrance corridor that was quite long, about four or five hundred yards long. So Porton went down, they modified the air conditioning that was used in the museum repository, which was obviously empty by now after the war, and over the next year or so they started injecting into the air conditioning system various quantities of a biological warfare simulant called SM, Serratia marcescens.
JC: And was this a simulant for anthrax?
MK: No, this one was a vegetative bacteria. Some people think it’s a simulant for anthrax; it’s not. The simulant for anthrax is Bacillus globigii [BG]. We’ll get onto that later. But the curious thing about SM is that it was known at the time as an opportunistic pathogen. In other words, if you had an underlying disease, there is every chance that this would pick up on that and cause you an infection. So they started spraying this stuff. The only problem was that they were spraying this stuff at the same time as the British Enfield workers were taking their lunch, and as the Westwood Trials documents show, the only way that this bacteria could vent itself from the underground chamber was to go out through the entrance hall. Well, of course, at that time it had two hundred people walking up and down it, going to and from their lunch. Now this carried on for over a year. They did many, many experiments down there, testing different types of sampling devices, trying to get different results by different injection points in the air conditioning.
Now, whenever Porton did a sabotage trial it was always done by their Safety Officer, but for some unknown reason—and this is very strange, and he even writes this curious thing in his notes—he calls this bacteria a so–called non-pathogen. In other words, he had serious doubts that this stuff was harmless, but he still went ahead and sprayed it knowing that two hundred people were breathing this in. They did operate a negative air pressure system, so that their air pressure was always lower than the outside air pressure, therefore none of the bacteria should manage to get outside the British Museum Repository. Unfortunately, sampling devices planted outside found that that wasn’t working.
JC: So that’s hundreds of people there, presumably, that were potentially affected by this?
MK: Yes, yes. Porton has never come back on that. They start whistling and putting their fingers in their ears when you talk about Westwood, and whether anyone was ever contaminated. The problem you have is that no-one knew that the trials were going on. If the workers had presented themselves to a doctor, the doctor wouldn’t have known.
JC: Yes, absolutely.
MK: He would have just put it down to something in the environment, you know, the classic one: “There’s something going around at the moment.”
JC: Yes, that’s right.
MK: Yes, it’s Porton Down.
JC: Yes, OK, well I’d like to ask you about the more overtly Open Air Trials, which I guess splits into the biological ones and the chemical trials, so let’s start with the biological trials. First of all we have the Gillingham. . . I was tempted to call it the Gillingham Trials, but you say the Railway Coach Trials. Now this is again in the county of Dorset, and if I’ve got it right, there was a train that was sprayed in a tunnel, near Gillingham, with some sort of preparation that mimicked an anthrax attack, and I understand also that ordinary passengers were travelling on this train at the time, so could you give us the details of that? Was this a one-off, or was it done a number of times? What was going on there?
MK: It was a very curious series of trials. They wanted to find out whether a man standing inside a tunnel could infect a train as it passed through the tunnel, and cause disease amongst its passengers, so what they did was they went onto the Salisbury to Exeter line (this would have been in about 1954) and a chap stood a hundred yards down the tunnel. The tunnel was called Buckhorn Western and, funnily enough, right on top of it was the National Stud for racehorses, so they were chancing it a bit doing a trial there, and on a regular train. This is the interesting bit: up until then, whenever they did a train trial, they were using chartered trains so members of the public weren’t involved. But on these two trials—they did a trial on the down run and a trial on the return run—they used a regular train and they put sampling devices in a rear carriage. So, passengers going about their business down to Exeter, as they passed into the Buckhorn Western Station, there was a Porton scientist wearing an object like a backpack with an air compressor on it and a spray, and he sprayed the anthrax simulant Bacillus pumillis. It’s a spore, just like anthrax. It’s meant to be harmless, and the trials results show that yes, it was successful, and that they would have breathed in a lot of bacteria. A later experiment proved that you always retain at least 20% of any spore that you breathe in, so if this stuff was capable of causing disease, which it probably was in certain vulnerable people, then they would have retained quite a lot of this material.
JC: So this would be described as another opportunistic pathogen, you think?
MK: Well, it is nowadays. I mean BG, which is its sister organism, should now be considered a human pathogen, i.e. capable of causing disease. Now, it doesn’t say disease in vulnerable people, it’s saying healthy people, and this was a finding by the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine in America and they were asked to look into BG because it was commonly used across the Western world as a simulant for anthrax, and they found that it was not as safe as people would like to say. Funnily enough, it’s still on the list for Porton Down to use. It’s still one of their favourites.
JC: Oh, right!
MK: Yes, so the Railway Coach Trials, I must just say, was fascinating because it was the only trials document that I’ve seen that was Top Secret, and I’ve got quite a few of them. Normally, there’s a great long distribution list at the end, so they’ve got to go to the Tripartite partners, a certain amount of copies go to Canada, Australia, later on America, and then an enormous distribution list across the Ministry of Defence. This document only has one person it went to, a mysterious Col. Dixon, which does sound very strange, but you’ve got to remember that the Korean War was going on whilst these trials were being done. It was certainly going on when the idea to do the trials was put forward. And one of the effective ways of stopping a war is to reduce the opponent’s logistics and supply routes. Now, you can either do that by blowing up tunnels, which the Americans had a great fondness for doing, or you could incapacitate a troop train. And obviously a trial like this would be very handy to learn how to do a certain thing, or to test a piece of equipment. Now this Col. Dixon’s name does pop up one more time, but not in a Porton Down document. He pops up in Spycatcher as an MI6 Liaison Officer, and he does seem to pop up every time Peter Wright was involved in anything clandestine to do with assassination. I think he witnessed the cigarette packet nerve agent flechette experiment that was done, as mentioned in Spycatcher, and he was also mentioned in the aborted attempt to assassinate Nasser, so this Peter Dixon does crop up. Now if this Peter Dixon is Col. Dixon, and I think it possibly is, that does open up the idea that this set of trials was a specific offensive-orientated set.
JC: Again, with the things that I’ve looked at, the suggestion is given that this was really all about German spies who might attack the subways in London or in Paris…
MK: Yes, everyone’s always been worried about it because it’s sort of like a closed system. I mean, they wanted to investigate the tube system in 1956, then again in 1958, and they were told they couldn’t because it might cause a strike if anyone found out. They got so jumpy about the subject that by 1963 they were allowed to do this, so they went on a train at Colliers Wood, and a poor unsuspecting London Transport apprentice was given a lady’s compact full of BG, and a little bit of face powder to give credence, and he had to put it out of the window as the train was between Colliers Wood and Tooting Bec, which he did, and the resulting samples proved that it would have contaminated ten miles, just from one lady’s compact. So if you’d been standing on the Tooting Bec railway platform when that cloud first came through, calculations are that you would have inhaled three and a half million spores per minute, so there had to have been a certain amount of danger in that.
JC: Did they actually do the necessary tests to be sure that this wasn’t actually going to harm anybody?
MK: Well, Dr. Brian Bowman studied the subject quite a lot and he has a theory that BG was always regarded as safe because it’s always been regarded as safe. No one really tests it out. BG, Bacillus globigii, has just always been used by Porton Down, so they’ve always assumed that it’s safe. Now, before they did the Lyme Bay Trials, in which BG was used extensively, they did test a sample of it, but then they went and mixed it with water that was taken from their main supply, which was known to be contaminated with bacteria. I’ve never understood the sense of this. It’s just that two sets of scientists never added it up. I’ve seen a trials report saying our mains water is contaminated, and I’ve seen a trials report saying the bacterial suspension was topped up with mains water!
JC: This seems incredibly lax.
MK: It is, you see, and no-one would ever know what bacteria was sprayed, because they were only looking for two specific types of bacteria when they did the sampling, so you could have had anthrax in there, they wouldn’t have known. They were only looking for E. coli and BG.
JC: So it gives the impression that they were very much ticking boxes about this, “Oh, that’s OK, so…”
MK: It was very much a hierarchical thing as well, because it was overlooked by a chap called Dr Henderson. A Dr Henderson, for all intents and purposes, was the man in charge at Gruinard Island with the anthrax, and he had rather lax safety standards. I say this because there’s a man that’s gone on record saying that he helped Dr Henderson load the very small anthrax munitions that they were using on Gruinard Island and both of them were doing it with no protective clothing whatsoever – no gloves, no mask, no nothing – they were just pouring anthrax slurry into a very small pipe bomb. It must have gone all over the place.
JC: That’s very odd, because there were other trials where the scientists seemed to have every possible protection they can.
MK: Yes, you’re referring, I suspect, to the zinc cadmium sulphide trials.
JC: Yes, I am, that’s right.
MK: I mean you’ve got two rather hazardous substances there, and I think that with that they were very careful. They knew that cadmium specifically was terrible. It’s a very hazardous substance to use, and in that case, yes, you’re quite right, they wore neoprene elbow-length gloves, surgeon’s caps, white overalls and Home Office respirators.
JC: And yet with anthrax they didn’t behave in that way.
MK: Didn’t behave in that way whatsoever. Dr Henderson allowed a culture to go through that was rather macho. Now, this was meant to have been stamped out in 1969, because they were still pipetting—using a mouth pipette—bubonic plague in 1969, and the new Director that came in was absolutely appalled at this. But in 1997, after the furore that was caused by the Lyme Bay trials becoming public knowledge, Porton Down had to come down to Dorset and conduct three open air public events. They got quite a surprise when they came down here, but it’s the first time that they came outside the wire, so it was the first time that ordinary people could actually talk to a Porton Down scientist. And one young lady that I was talking to was almost boasting. She was saying, “Oh no, the stuff we sprayed on you was totally harmless. I mean I even pipette bubonic plague,” and she was saying in 1997 that she was still doing that. This practice was meant to have been knocked out in 1969, and she was openly boasting like it’s a good thing. I made a point of stepping away from her, and said: “Well, surely it’s not something to be proud of,” and she shut up after that, and I realised I’d put my foot in it, because she wasn’t going to say anymore. But yes, safety standards were just lax. They conducted safety experiments as good as they thought they should go to, to a level that they thought was adequate.
JC: Now, you mentioned, well we both mentioned, the Lyme Bay trials a few times, and this is the one that I particularly want to ask you about, because I said as a child it was quite possible that I was sprayed with, I think, two bacteria from out at sea. One was E. coli and the other one that you mentioned was Bacillus Globigii, BG, so I guess we were both possibly subjected to this, and this was the Ice Whale ship that was out at sea spraying these substances to test what was going on there. Could you give us an idea of what those trials were doing?
MK: Yes, absolutely. By 1963 there was a general concern. The Chiefs of Staff in particular were quite alarmed at the vulnerability of the UK to what is called a Large Area Coverage Concept Biological Warfare Attack. If I just explain what one of those is—a Large Area Coverage Concept, or LAC attack, would involve either a ship, aeroplane, guided missile or submarine. It would sail along about ten to twenty miles off the coast of the UK, relying on the wind to carry whatever it sprayed onshore. It would spray, probably on a two hundred-mile track, a bacterial suspension. This would get carried onshore by the wind, and go hundreds of miles inland. It seems unbelievable, but it is proved that it really does work. One ship could contaminate an area of up to, say, forty thousand square miles. So they were very concerned because we are an island that we could be taken out quite easily, so they wanted to develop a detection device. Now, in order to develop the detection device, they had to find out – oh happy day! – how do we conduct a Large Area Coverage Concept Biological Warfare Attack? So you can see that although it was started with so-called defensive reasons, trials results would actually give them offensive research as well.
So, what they did was to come down here; it was a massive effort, they were given a huge budget, and in 1963 they managed to lease the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment Experimental Trials Vessel called the Ice Whale. Now they decided that they’d use an area of South Dorset and the surrounding counties as the target area because Lyme Bay is a semi-circular bay, so they could use many different wind directions. It was only fifty miles from Porton Down and there was a dockyard at Portland, so it seemed to be the ideal place. So, they conducted in the first trial season, and the season always goes from about October to April, because you have early nights: they could only spray bacteria at the time during night time because the sun will kill a vegetative bacteria because of the ultra violet rays. And what they did was load up the Ice Whale with about a hundred and twenty gallons of bacterial suspension, and they were actually in aluminium beer casks. The two types of bacteria they were going to spray, both live, were E. coli, Porton Down reference number MRE162 that was isolated in 1949 from a lavatory bowl in Porton Down…
JC: Oh, very nice!
MK: And the second bacteria was obtained from Fort Dietrich in America, and it was called Bacillus globigii, BG, and, as we know, nowadays that is regarded as capable of causing disease. Once they had maintained where they were going to be and they knew the wind direction, they’d start spraying. They’d stay on a straight line track across either Lyme Bay or the adjoining Weymouth Bay. The mobile sampling teams would be roaming around at certain points, trying to get in the way of the cloud, across anywhere up to fifty miles away from the source. So they’d be all across the Dorset countryside, or Hampshire, sometimes Somerset, even Devon on some occasions. They’d radio back and say: “Look, we think that the cloud is probably appearing about now.” Before they sprayed it, what they did to alert the sampling crews is every now and then they’d release what they called a zero lift balloon, which would have given rise to a lot of UFO reports at the time, and the zero lift balloon is sort of like about a six-foot diameter balloon. Underneath it, it would have had a two-foot balsa wood tinfoil reflector under it, a radar reflector, and under that it would have had a bicycle lamp, which was remarkable, and it was balanced. They balanced it by putting pieces of plasticine onto the reflector so that it was neutral buoyancy, so they’d let it go, say, about twenty foot off the deck of the ship and it would try and maintain twenty foot as it sailed across the countryside. As it came to a hill, the thermals would lift it up and over, so it would look like it was under intelligent control, and then it would carry on. And they would release many of these balloons. They would release them right at the start, so that you could see the leading edge of the cloud, half-way through they’d do the same again, and then at the end they’d release some more, so you’d have these waves coming in, these silent bobbing lights coming in from Lyme Bay right at the height of a UFO scare. We’d just had the 1962 scare. There was another one, a biggie, that came out in 1965, and then a massive one in 1967, and they all coincide. I’m not saying that that’s what everyone saw, I’m just saying that it would have added to.
JC: So all those people who criticise and make fun of those who say: ‘Well, I’ve seen a UFO—perhaps it has something to do with the defence establishment?” Well, actually, yes, it could well have something to do with them…
MK: And it was a balloon. Now you’ve got to remember that although MRE are doing it, these trails are being done in tremendous secrecy. Other departments at the Ministry of Defence have got no idea what’s going on. They’re not told. No-one’s told. It’s only Porton Down that knows these trials are being done, and it’s only a certain amount of people within Porton Down that know these trials are being done. Then what would happen was the mobile teams – there were only four Land Rovers that were used as mobile samplers – they’d come back at night and they’d drive down the lonely moonlit road, which gave rise to local ghost stories that there was a coven operating down there because monks were seen driving modern cars late at night. Well, it was Portland workers with their duffel coat hoods up as they were driving back. They came back to their laboratory, which was called the night ferry, they’d incubate these samples overnight and then the next day they’d do a physical count of the various bacteria and they’d try and work out whether enough concentration of bacteria were alive at the end that would, if it had been a biological agent, have caused disease.
And they did these trials over and over and over again, and they expanded; although the emissions were based in Lyme Bay and Weymouth Bay still, they were going as far as Torquay in the west. Up in Dartmoor they were taking samples right around the Lyme Bay coast, so Exmouth and Seaton, Lyme Regis, Ripple, and then right the way up Hampshire, Andover, right the way up to Porton Down. So, what they found out in the end, and this comes across in the film that I managed to get off them, in the unclassified version it says: “While these trials were done for specific research purposes, they do reveal in a striking way the feasibility of small-scale biological warfare”, and they say in there that they managed to achieve an appreciable dose of viable bacteria, i.e. enough to cause illness if it were a real agent; and it was still alive, over one thousand square miles. And all they had to spray was a hundred and twenty gallons of suspension. That was just a very small-scale trial. They were then aiming to build up and they produced a mysterious aeroplane to try and do the whole of the country.
JC: And these Lyme Bay trials, didn’t they continue for a very long time? Was it even into the 1970s?
MK: Yes, so they did the 1964 trials there, and they did the ‘64 to ‘65. They came back again in 1966, probably the worst trial. The one that we can pin that had no defensive aspects whatsoever was a series of five trials that they did in 1967 to find out if they could protect the bacteria against the effects of sunlight. That way they could spray in daylight. That sort of trial has only an offensive purpose to it. They invented a substance called S3, tethered their E. coli with it, and they proved that yes, they can spray during the daytime. They did another series of trials, which Professor Spratt wasn’t told about for his internal review, purely to show off the detection techniques to the armed forces. They were trying to up their budget, so they came down here and conducted a number of tests, exactly the same trial techniques, showing off the detection system, which wasn’t that good. It was very, very slow. It didn’t detect bacteria. It told you a day or so later that something had happened.
JC: You mentioned Professor Spratt. Now this is the guy from Imperial College, who was commissioned by the Government, was he not, to enquire into the safety of the Lyme Bay trials? Would this have been in the 1990s or in the 2000s?
MK: Yes, what happened was there was such a public outcry when the trials became known and all the local governments, I mean hats off to them, did say: “Look, this isn’t good enough. We want to know more answers as to what else you’ve been up to.” Now, this political pressure was added to by a quite courageous team from East Lulworth, who had experienced a lot of childhood birth difficulties or birth defects, a lot of miscarriages. It is a very small area, but It was right in the trials area, and I often wondered whether any of this was caused by the biological warfare trials. They appeared a lot on television and gave a tremendous push to the Government: “Let’s have a public enquiry.” Now, governments don’t like public enquiries, so what they decided to do was have an independent review by Professor Brian Spratt. He came down and he was very good; he talked to anyone that wanted to talk to him. My personal experience of him was very good. He definitely wasn’t on the side of the Establishment, but at the same time he was very measured, a little too measured, I think, on his findings on the BG in particular. He said: “Well, I can’t find anything that would cause disease in inhalation.” That’s been disproved by the National Academy of Sciences who have come out and said this can cause disease, so that probably needs to be looked at again. But apart from that he did pick up on quite a few points where Porton had been very lax on obeying safety rules. For instance, there were four sets of trials where they sprayed bacterial substances over populated areas, and it was contaminated with an unknown bacteria. Now, you just don’t do this. They do pre-trial checks on all their substances, so they checked one batch of spray that they were going to spray, they looked at it and said, “Oh look, it’s contaminated,” and then said, “Ah, never mind,” and carried on and sprayed it, so the point of doing a safety check, I don’t know.
JC: In the ITV piece, Professor Brian Spratt said that the overwhelming majority of people are unlikely to have been affected by these trials, and yet in his report – I’m not sure exactly what trial he’s referring to here – but he says that there was, and let me quote from it: “It is, however, surprising that suspensions with this level of contamination with uncharacterised bacteria were sprayed across populated areas as there was a possible risk that the contaminating bacteria had a significant ability to cause disease in humans, even though they apparently caused no toxicity in the safety tests in mice.” So those two statements there don’t seem quite to match each other. What do you think he really feels about this?
MK: I agree with you. I think sometimes that different parts of the report, as you know, are drafted at different times, and I think that something from a previous one that wouldn’t have caused problems was left in. I think you’re looking at two drafts and they’ve been put into the final thing, and they do conflict. I understand what he’s talking about to a certain point. What is important is to recognise that when somebody like Professor Spratt uses the word significant – I mean that’s a public enquiry word – that really means that something could have happened. I think he’s aiming at Porton Down there, and he’s giving them a slap on the wrist. Now, this might have occurred time and time again. It’s unfortunate that all subsequent trials documents do not include the same safety certificate, if you want to call it that, as the original one that told us this. This was taken from MRE field trial report No. 3 and it’s table 5.1. Well, in all subsequent MRE field trial reports, table 5.1 is absent. Now, whether they took it out and they didn’t want people to see, or whether they just didn’t bother testing the bacteria for unknown bacterial presence, we don’t know.
JC: Well, what I want to ask you on a personal level is that this Lyme Bay trials spraying was going on, you say, even into the 1970s and, as I said to you in my email, I was susceptible to chest infections whilst I was around six, seven, eight years old, which is around that kind of time in the early ’70s there, and I notice in his reports, this is Professor Spratt again, he says: “If infections did occur in any highly susceptible individuals, they would have probably been infections of the chest or blood, which would have occurred within days of the release of the bacteria.” So when I saw that, I thought, well, yeah, that’s what I had, so do you think it’s unreasonable for me to think that I might have been affected by this?
MK: No, I don’t think it’s unreasonable at all. A biological warfare simulant is normally between one and five microns in size. That’s extremely small and it’s designed to be of that size because it evades the body’s defences, and it goes hurtling down into your lungs and that size enables it to penetrate to the deepest part of the lung, the alveoli. There’s still not a lot known about what occurs down there when a piece of material gets into there. It is known that BG, or any aerosol of that size, can cause certain people to have allergic reactions. Indeed, I’ve managed to get hold of a Porton Down Safety Sheet, and they still warn that inhalation of BG can cause anaphylactic shock in certain people, so, yes, some people would have been made ill. I’ve got absolutely no doubt that some people would. I mean going on Professor Spratt’s level, I think he’s talking mainly of people with cystic fibrosis or serious emphysema, something like that, but you see when people look into safety regimes, they tend to look at a twenty-year old, a healthy twenty-year old, and will it affect them?
They don’t look at how it will affect a new-born baby because, believe it or not, if you have all your windows shut when they do these tests, with the normal ventilation rate of a house in those days, the level inside the house would be equal to the level of bacteria present in the air outside the house within half an hour. That’s with the windows shut. Moreover, any bacteria that have come into the house will be very small indeed, and capable of getting right inside you. It would also, especially in the case of BG, if it managed to get on any foodstuff that was left out—and you’ve got to bear in mind that even in the early ’60s a lot of people didn’t have fridges, they had meat safes—any food that was left out would have got covered in this stuff. And I’m pretty sure there’d be an outcry nowadays if it became known: “Oh, by the way, we just came over and sprayed your entire house and its contents with E. coli.”
MK: No matter if people say, “Oh, it’s perfectly safe.” Well, is it? Because this isn’t any ordinary E. coli; this is an E. coli that was developed by Porton Down, and it took them a long time before they could work out how to make this stuff in the size that they wanted and the quantities that they wanted.
Disclaimer: The views expressed by Mike Kenner in this interview are his responsibility alone; they do not necessarily represent those of The Mind Renewed.