US wanted to test sarin on Australian troops: report

Agence France-Pressey | July 6, 2008

SYDNEY (AFP) The United States military wanted to test deadly nerve gases on Australian troops in a remote area of far north Queensland in the 1960s but Canberra refused, a report said Sunday.

Washington wanted to bomb a rainforest area lying more than 600 kilometres (400 miles) north of Cairns, Channel Nine's 'Sunday' programme reported, citing newly declassified documents from the Australian Defence Department.

In 1962, then US defence secretary Robert McNamara wrote to Australian officials asking that the US and Australian military conduct secret joint testing of several nerve agents, including sarin, the report said.

"The United States proposes to use the agents GB (sarin), a non-persistent nerve gas, and VX, a persistent nerve gas -- both to be disseminated by aircraft delivered by bombs and tanks," it quoted one document as reading.

Some 200 Australian soldiers would have been involved in the testing to "determine persistency of chemical agents on jungle foliage and pick-up of such agents by personnel traversing area under simulated military operation."

The testing was vetoed by then prime minister Harold Holt in 1966.

Holt's former staffer Peter Bailey told Channel Nine the nerve gas plan had been considered by the Australian government and ministers were concerned that scuttling it could damage Canberra's relationship with the US.

He said the ministers felt "if they weren't pretty good and pretty faithful to the Americans we would be dumped," he said.

"Forty years on I'm a bit surprised that it actually happened but it did," he said.