Editor’s note: Today, WorldNetDaily presents the first of a two-part report on the federal government’s involvement with anthrax. In this story, WND investigates a 1957 outbreak of anthrax in a textile mill that happened to be the site of Army experiments on a vaccine for the disease. Tomorrow’s installment examines the federal investigation into the post-9/11 anthrax attacks.
One day in early September 1957, Antonio Jette came home from his job at the Arms Textile Mill in Manchester, N.H., and uncharacteristically went to bed early. He told his wife, Anna, that he was tired, wasn’t in the least hungry and felt like he was coming down with a cold.
The next morning, Antonio said he was feeling better. It was Saturday and he and Anna drove to Vermont, four hours away, to attend the Rutland State Fair. It was an event they had been looking forward to for months. But as they were entering the fair’s gate, Antonio turned to Anna and said they had to go back home. “I’m sorry,” he told Anna, “I feel really sick.” On the way home, Antonio had several fits of dry coughing and he said that his chest hurt.
The following day, Sunday, Antonio and Anna went to church. After returning home, Antonio again said that he felt tired. He told Anna he was going to lie down for a couple of hours. An hour later Anna checked on Antonio and found him soaked with perspiration and mumbling incoherently. She took his temperature, saw that it was 103 degrees Fahrenheit and called the family’s doctor. The doctor gave Antonio a shot of penicillin for what he thought was a bronchial infection. He told Anna to keep Antonio in bed for the next few days.
Two hours later, Anna found Antonio’s temperature had risen to 104, and she was unable to wake him up. With the help of neighbors, Anna took her husband to a nearby hospital. Doctors at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Nashua found Antonio’s temperature to be 105 degrees. His breathing was rapid and shallow. Rales were audible over both his lungs. Tests revealed blood in his lumbar region. Doctors told Anna that they thought her husband had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. His chances for recovery didn’t look good, they said.
Antonio never regained consciousness. He died the next morning, Sept. 6, at 6 a.m., the same time that every morning he walked to church before heading off to work at the mill.
Anna was stunned by her husband’s sudden death. He was only 49 years old. She had never seen Antonio sick before. She didn’t know what to tell her seven children. Anna buried her husband three days after he died. The church was full of Antonio’s friends and relatives, but nobody from management at the Arms Textile Mill attended Antonio’s funeral. Nobody, at the time, told Anna that the Arms Textile Mill was the site of tests being conducted by the Biological Warfare Laboratories at Fort Detrick, Md. It would be another 45 years before Anna ever heard about the tests.
Albert Langlois was 16 years younger than his co-worker Antonio Jette. Albert had been employed at the Arms Mill for only nine weeks before he became sick one day while on the job. It was Oct. 30, a little over seven weeks after Jette had died. Albert tried to keep working, but the next day he could hardly stand up. He was so thirsty and drank so much water that he vomited. “I’ve just got the flu,” he told his wife Stella. “It’ll go away soon.”
Albert’s doctor visited him at home on Oct. 31 and diagnosed Asian influenza. The doctor gave Stella eight tablets of oral penicillin for her husband. Two days later, Albert seemed better, but the following day he complained of trouble breathing. He was unable to hold any liquids and his jaw clamped tightly closed. He thrashed about in bed and began to frantically rub his legs.
Albert was rushed to the Manchester Veteran’s Administration Hospital. Doctors there thought that he possibly was suffering a laryngeal obstruction. Albert died less than an hour later. Like Anna Jette, Stella Langlois was shocked by the suddenness of her husband’s death. And like Anna, nobody told Stella anything about the Army tests that were under way at the Arms Mill.
A year ago, following the tragic events of Sept. 11, five people in the United States died as a result of a series of lethal anthrax-laden letters sent through the mail. Forty-five years ago this month, four other people, all workers at the Arms Textile Mill, including Antonio Jette and Albert Langlois, died in what the Centers for Disease Control call “America’s only anthrax epidemic.”
A central activity at the Arms Textile Mill throughout the 1950s was the processing of goat hair imported from Pakistan, Iraq and Iran. The refined hair was used in the lining of expensive men’s suits and overcoats manufactured at the mill. The Arms Mill, in 1957, employed 632 workers spread throughout a complex of large red brick buildings located on the banks of the Merrimack River and near the edge of downtown Manchester, N.H.
In an amazing coincidence, at the same time as the deadly Arms Mill outbreak the manufacturing plant was the site for tests using an experimental vaccine. Tests on the mill workers – who were considered at risk for anthrax due to handling animal products such as goat and sheep hair – had begun quietly in May 1955 and were sponsored by the Biological Warfare Laboratories of the U.S. Chemical Corps at Fort Detrick. The prototype vaccine tested at the mill had been developed by Fort Detrick scientist Dr. George G. Wright. The vaccine was briefly produced a few years later by the pharmaceutical company Merck Sharp & Dohme, today Merck and Co. Inc. Company head George Wilhelm Merck was a principal advocate for biological warfare in the 1940s and 1950s and was a founder of Fort Detrick. Wright’s vaccine is essentially the same serum administered today to American troops and others at risk of anthrax.
Nearly a half-century beyond the Arms Mill outbreak, no definitive scientific explanation or cause for the epidemic has been discovered. Scientists at UCLA’s Department of Epidemiology and other research centers have speculated that “the circumstantial evidence suggested a relationship to a particular batch of goat hair.” However, because no samples of that animal hair exist today, no up-to-date testing can be accomplished, and results from tests conducted in 1957 and 1958 remain inconclusive. Further compounding matters – despite that the animal hair in question was imported from thousands of miles away by means considered antiquated and unsafe today – is that there were no cases of any type of anthrax ever reported or recorded along the long route to New Hampshire.
Equally perplexing to many who have studied the outbreak is that, despite the severity of the epidemic – not only did four workers die, but an additional 21 workers came down with cutaneous anthrax – the mill never ceased operations, even temporarily, during the outbreak and continued operating uninterrupted until 1968 when it went out of business for financial reasons. In grim testimony to the virulent nature of the anthrax that infected the mill, two years prior to its closing, in 1966, a man working in a machinery shop across from the mill died of inhalation anthrax. New Hampshire health officials at the time conjectured that lethal spores remaining from 1957 migrated from the Arms buildings through a shared ventilation system between the two businesses.
Following this additional death over 10 years past the epidemic and the mill’s closing, state health officials sealed the mill while trying to decide how to make the site environmentally safe. After an expensive decontamination process in 1971, after which the buildings still tested positive for anthrax, the entire complex was demolished. The colossal pile of rubble was systematically soaked in chorine and other chemicals for decontamination and, after that proved ineffective on the mill’s huge hickory beams, incinerators were erected on the site and all wood was burned to fine ash. The remaining bricks and stones were carted away for burial. Today, the Arms site is a parking lot for a riverside park and upscale shopping area.
Speculation that the Arms anthrax epidemic may not have been a coincidental occurrence has been the subject of quiet debate among scientists for years. In 1999, former United Nations official and BBC correspondent Edward Hooper published a book entitled, “The River: A Journey to the Source of HIV and AIDS.” Buried deep within Hooper’s 1,070-page opus is a brief section that concerns the Arms outbreak. Hooper’s research inadvertently led him to the incident through his unrelated interviews with Dr. Stanley A. Plotkin. At the time of the Arms tests, Dr. Plotkin worked for the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service, Wistar Institute, and was assigned the task of medically evaluating the outbreak.
In 1960, Dr. Plotkin wrote a medical paper on the New Hampshire outbreak, which is still widely circulated and studied by anthrax experts today. Published in the American Journal of Medicine and entitled, “An Epidemic of Inhalation Anthrax, the First in the 20th Century,” the paper was co-authored with Dr. Philip S. Brachman. Brachman was Plotkin’s supervisor and the outbreak’s chief investigator employed by the Anthrax Investigations Unit, CDC, Wistar Institute of Philadelphia, Pa. The paper, which meticulously details the facts of the outbreak, makes no mention that Army scientists from Fort Detrick had any involvement in the events surrounding the epidemic or that the mill was the simultaneous site of anthrax vaccine tests conducted by the Army.
In his book, “The River,” Hooper recounts the basic facts of the outbreak and writes: “It may of course be that [Fort Detrick] scientists were simply very lucky from a research perspective, and that Mother Nature started an epidemic of inhalation anthrax at just the right moment to test their vaccine under field conditions. And yet, of course, there is another, more ominous possibility. This is that, unbeknownst to the Wistar team of Plotkin and Brachman, humans played a conscious role, and that a decision was made by the Chemical Corps to subject the vaccine to the ultimate field test – that of challenge with virulent anthrax organisms.”
Hooper writes that this “appalling” possibility “may sound far-fetched, and yet the hypothesis is supported by internal Army reports from the period. The 1959/60 annual report for the Commission on Epidemiological Survey, part of the Armed Forces Epidemiological Board, contains the minutes of a meeting held on March 23, 1960, which was largely devoted to anthrax. Dr. Harold Glassman of Fort Detrick (whose assistance had been acknowledged at the end of the Plotkin/Brachman paper) was the main speaker, and he opened his address with a review of the anthrax organism, including ‘ease of preparation and stability in storage and as an aerosol.’ He was especially interested in air-sampling studies at the Manchester mill and with the case of a young military volunteer who had died of inhalation anthrax at Fort Detrick in 1958 after receiving a series of inoculations of killed and live vaccines, including one against anthrax. [Glassman] stressed the fact that the Soviets appeared to have recently developed an attenuated anthrax vaccine for humans, and said that there was an urgent need from the U.S. side for ‘an examination of the protective properties of various vaccine preparations.’ Clearly, the Manchester [Arms Mill] vaccine trial had not provided all the answers.” After this, Hooper added that a portion of Dr. Glassman’s presentation “was omitted from the minutes, presumably for security reasons.”
Other Army documents obtained by WorldNetDaily, not cited in Hooper’s book, reveal that the censored portion of Dr. Glassman’s report may have concerned a top-secret project called the St. Jo Program. That program predated the Arms Mill outbreak by at least two years. Additional documents obtained by WorldNetDaily bear the signature of Dr. Glassman and speak of human-subject studies under consideration at the University of Chicago “using human volunteers” who were “inmates at the State Penitentiary.”
The Arms debate flared up again recently at a November 2000 Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences meeting in Washington, D.C. Attending the meeting as separate expert witnesses were Dr. Meryl Nass, a biologist and medical doctor, and Dr. Plotkin. The meeting concerned the Defense Department’s anthrax vaccine program, and Nass raised a number of concerns about safety, which Plotkin strongly rejected. When the subject of the Arms Mill study came up, Nass remarked that the outbreak occurred “serendipitously at the same time” that Army scientists were on site. Plotkin heatedly responded, “I reject any implied or stated accusation that this was a biological-warfare experiment.”
In a recent interview with this reporter, Plotkin, who today is a highly respected AIDS researcher and emeritus professor of immunology at the University of Pennsylvania, said he didn’t “think much of conspiracy theories and theorists” and that author Edward Hooper’s “innuendo that we purposely launched the outbreak” is “false and vicious.”
Plotkin explained that he “came to the Anthrax Investigation Unit in August 1957, fresh from a training course. My supervisor, Dr. Phillip Brachman, was in Europe. He had launched a study of anthrax vaccine in May 1957. I had never been to the mill in question when I received a telephone call early in September to tell me that anthrax had been diagnosed in a mill worker in Manchester, N.H. I went up to investigate, and the results have been published in the medical literature.”
Asked why Fort Detrick was involved in the tests, Plotkin said, “I think the answer is obvious. The vaccine had been developed at Fort Detrick, and the purpose of our study, aside from protecting the mill workers, was to find out what value the vaccine could have against an anthrax attack.”
On the issue of why the mill was never closed, even temporarily, Plotkin said, “The outbreak appeared to be over before the issue of what to do came up. Closing the mill would have been an economic hardship for the workers. Instead, all workers were offered the vaccine in November (1957), ending their utility for the study, but protecting everybody.”
Asked if any follow-up studies had been conducted on the Arms Mill workers after the outbreak, Plotkin answered, “Not to my knowledge.”
Once top-secret documents obtained by WorldNetDaily reveal that Fort Detrick’s interest in the New Hampshire epidemic, even months after it had ended, was ongoing and intense and that numerous scientists at the installation were assigned to study its varied aspects. At the time, Fort Detrick was deeply involved in developing anthrax as an offensive weapon of war. According to the former chief of Fort Detrick’s anthrax production plant, Orley R. Bourland Jr., throughout the 1950s deadly anthrax spores were manufactured “24 hours a day, seven days a week.” Fort Detrick’s massive anthrax fermenters, housed in Building 470, held 1,800 gallons of wet anthrax solution and pumped out about 7,000 grams of refined anthrax a week. During the post-9/11 anthrax mailings to Washington, D.C.’s Capitol Hill, about two grams of anthrax caused the evacuation of several federal buildings and the expenditure of millions of dollars for clean-up. CDC officials said at the time that “under the right conditions,” an attack involving “several grams could result in the deaths of thousands of people.”
One 118-page document, dated summer 1958, details a meeting that was attended by over 30 high-level Fort Detrick officials, including the heads of its Dissemination and Field Testing Division, its Engineering and Production Laboratories Branch, several representatives from its Special Operations Division (which was in part funded by the CIA), and at least one official from Britain’s Porton Down Biological Warfare Center. Also in attendance, according to the participants section of the document and detailed minutes from the meeting, were Dr. Philip Brachman and Dr. Stanley Plotkin representing the U.S. Public Health Service.
Dr. Riley D. Housewright, Fort Detrick’s scientific research director, opened the meeting by informing attendees that the gathering was a continuation of Fort Detrick’s commitment to “give maximum support to the BWL (Biological Warfare Laboratories) program of follow-up investigation on ‘N'” resulting “from the New Hampshire outbreak of anthrax.” For over a decade, “N” had been the Army’s code-letter for operations involving weapons-grade anthrax.
The document goes on to detail a review provided by Brachman of the “follow-up studies resulting from the New Hampshire outbreak.” Brachman explained that “during a 10-week period” from August to November 1957 there had been nine cases of anthrax at the mill, five of inhalation anthrax and four of cutaneous. Reads the report: “Four of the five inhalation cases were fatal. In three of the four cases, autopsies were performed, proving the diagnosis; in the instance of the woman who was buried without an autopsy, it had been impossible to get permission to exhume the body.” (This was a 65-year-old woman who had worked at the mill for nearly 12 years. She died on Sept. 8, 1957, two days after Antonio Jette’s death.)
The document continues by describing how Brachman separated the mill’s workers into two categories for purposes of the tests, which began approximately 12 weeks before the first reported case of anthrax. Workers were deemed either “susceptibles” or “immune.” Simply put, “susceptibles” were those employees who were either not given the vaccine or those who were instead given the “control material” or placebo. “Immunes” were those workers who had “the full course of the antigenic material,” or those “who had had the disease at some time in the past and were therefore assumed to be immune.”
From 1948-1956 there had been 63 cases of cutaneous anthrax at the Arms Mill, a then-common occurrence among workers handling animal products. During the 19th century, anthrax was called the “woolsorters disease” and, according to medical literature, about 30 percent of those workers stricken with inhalation anthrax recovered. During the Arms outbreak, only 313 of the mill’s 632 employees received the actual test vaccine. None of the five Arms employees who contracted inhalation anthrax (one did not die) were vaccinated as part of the tests because two received the placebo instead and the remaining three, for reasons not clearly stated, did not participate in the tests.
The document describes how midway through his review, Brachman was asked if the Arms Mill was still open, to which he replied that it was “operating full force.” However, he explained, alterations had been made in the mill’s operations and that, following the outbreak, the tests had been terminated and all employees “had been offered the vaccine.”
This question was followed by another concerning “whether the viable spores,” which were assumed to be still present in the mill’s buildings, ever got “through the fabric to infect customers” who purchased the products produced at the mill. The document reads: “The response was that this is a touchy question,” and that “some products” did test positive for anthrax, but that after further treatment they tested negative. Yet, the document goes on to state that an unidentified “grocery clerk in Philadelphia” came down with cutaneous anthrax after purchasing “a new woolen coat four weeks before his illness.”
Later in the document, it is noted that Fort Detrick pathologist Dr. Edwin V. Hill reported that autopsies had been performed “on monkeys which died following a respiratory exposure to the anthrax organisms isolated in the New Hampshire outbreak.” The document reads: “These animals died very suddenly without premonitory symptoms. The gross and microscopic findings in the autopsies were similar to those observed in the work with the strain which has been under study in the past.”
The 1958 Fort Detrick document, despite all its detail, is noticeably silent on the subject of when, if ever, the Arms Mill employees were informed that there was an anthrax outbreak of any sort in their workplace. Surviving families of the workers who died told WorldNetDaily that they “knew nothing about the Army tests” in 1957 or later. At least one family said that they “knew nothing about the Army’s involvement” and “nothing about any vaccine tests conducted by anyone until after the 9-11 attacks.” Another family told WND, “We were unaware that anyone at all had died of anthrax” until after Sept. 11, 2001, “when a reporter called to ask some questions about the mill.”
Also not explained in the 1958 document is why the local medical community and hospitals in the Manchester area were never informed about the anthrax outbreak. At least three of the Arms Mill employees who died were treated by local doctors, yet it appears that none of those doctors had any idea that there was an epidemic under way.
Antonio Jette’s daughter, Anita Simonds, 75, told WorldNetDaily that her mother, Anna Pratte, “never found out that my father died of anthrax until about seven to eight months later when her insurance man told her something.” Simonds said, “My father never mentioned anything about any tests or shots being given at the mill. He never got any shots. Nobody ever said a thing to anybody about anthrax back then. We’d never heard of it.”
Simonds added, “My father worked hard every day of his life for his family. He took good care of his children and wife. He didn’t have time to think about what the Army or anybody else was doing.”
In an Oct. 18, 2001, television interview, John Clayton of the Manchester Union Leader newspaper said, “Even though there was a great grapevine in place amongst the different mills [in 1957], there was no talk about this. I asked my folks and they [said] there’s no recollection of it because it was kind of kept quiet.”
Second on the agenda for the 1958 Fort Detrick meeting, as revealed by the document, was a detailed presentation about ongoing human experiments with a compound called EA-1729, the Army’s medical code-name for LSD.
According to former Army scientists, officials from Fort Detrick’s ultra-secret Special Operations Division conducted covert experiments using LSD in Western Europe in the 1950s. The 1958 document does not make reference to those experiments, but it does provide some chilling glimpses into human experiments conducted by the Army domestically.
The meeting’s briefing on LSD experiments was led by Dr. Van Sim and featured two films. Before showing the films, Dr. Sim reiterated to attendees, who were obviously familiar with the Army’s use of LSD from previous briefings, that the Army’s interest in LSD centered on the drug’s “ability to produce psychotic effects,” meaning specifically “a depression or a stimulation to the central nervous system.” Sim explained that other drugs in the Army’s “K Program” that caused “psychic changes” were “apt to be referred to as incapacitating agents.”
The first film Sim showed featured an experiment carried out on a cat. Sim explained that the cat “was one of the regular laboratory group of animals, and was known to have an aggressive nature.” Said Sim, “He was an animal more or less in command of any situation in the various cages he occupied.” To demonstrate this, Sim showed a portion of the film that depicted the cat toying with and then killing a mouse placed in its cage, not an unusual act for a normal feline.
After the cat was injected with “400 micrograms of LSD” (a very large amount by any standard), the cat displayed remarkably different behavior. Sim’s film showed the cat cowering from the mouse and showing “actual terror” as it clawed frantically at its cage attempting to get away from the meandering rodent.
Sim’s second film showed a small cadre of enlisted men going through routine training exercises. All of the squad had been “subjected to the drug” LSD except for the squad’s leader. The men “paid little to no attention” to their leader’s commands. In the next part of the film, the squad leader as well as the men had received the drug. Narrated Sim, “When an officer told the squad leader to put the men through the routine drill, the leader refused and told the officer to do it himself. … There was no discipline.”
Dr. Sim told the meeting that an additional series of eight tests were conducted on human subjects about six months before at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. Objectives of these tests included trying to ascertain if “a man under the influence of LSD” could operate a radarscope or “drive a tank.” Sim also explained that upcoming tests possibly included one at a NIKE missile installation and another in Maryland, where LSD would be tested for use in “various interrogation procedures” by the Army’s Counter-Intelligence Corps.
One physician in the group listening to Sim’s presentation expressed his concern “that a very unhappy thought had gone through his mind.” Asked Dr. Herbert E. Longenecker of Sim, “Suppose permission is granted to go ahead with the tests and suddenly there is an occurrence at a NIKE installation similar to the episode experienced a few weeks ago?”
Longenecker was referring to an accident that had occurred at a NIKE missile base in Middletown, N.J., on May 22, 1958. An explosion involving several missiles had killed 10 men, six of whom were Army enlisted personnel and four who were civilian technicians. Debris from the massive explosion, including at least 12 warheads, was found over three miles away. Sim, according to the 1958 document, “responded that only simulated [missile] firing is proposed; the firing of a missile is not contemplated.”
Other mills involved in same Army tests
Former Army researchers report that the Arms Mill was not the only textile operation involved in anthrax tests conducted by Fort Detrick in the 1950s. They say that “at least four other mills” were involved. A 1960 medical paper authored by Dr. Philip S. Brachman and Dr. Stanley A. Plotkin verifies this. The paper, entitled, “Field Evaluation of a Human Anthrax Vaccine,” states that “epidemiological studies” were conducted in “four mills located in the northeastern United States” where “Bacillus anthracis contaminated raw materials were handled and clinical infections occurred.” The paper identifies the mills only as code letters: “A, M, P and S.” The Army refused to identify any of the other test sites, but other sources say that two of the mills were “in the Philadelphia area” and that another was the Arel Textile Mill located near Charlotte, N.C.
In 1995, documents related to the Arms Mill outbreak were turned over, without explanation, to the National Committee on Human Radiation Experimentation in response to the committee’s request to the Department of Defense for records related “to human experimentation” of any type conducted by the Army. The National Committee was created in January 1994 by President Bill Clinton to “investigate reports of possibly unethical experiments funded by the government decades ago.” The Committee’s Final Report to the president makes no mention of the Arms Mill incident or any of the Army’s anthrax tests.
Tomorrow’s Part 2 examines the federal government’s investigation of the post-9/11 anthrax attacks and the seemingly neglected evidence that links the attacks to the Sept. 11 hijackers.
H.P. Albarelli Jr. is an investigative reporter and writer who lives in Florida. Jack D. Livingston contributed research assistance for this article.