February 24, 2006

UK pays out to servicemen over Cold War LSD tests

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain has agreed to pay compensation
to three servicemen given the mind-altering drug LSD during
tests in the 1950s, the government said on Friday.

The UK's Secret Intelligence Service, better known as MI6,
commissioned the experiments fearing that the Soviet Union was
developing a secret substance to brainwash its enemies and
force prisoners to make confessions with a truth drug.

The tests were carried out by scientists at Porton Down,
the government's chemical and biological weapons research
laboratory, in 1953 and 1954 during the height of the Cold War.

The men who took part in the tests claimed they were duped
into taking the LSD, thinking they were taking part in research
to find a cure for colds.

Don Webb, one of the volunteers who received an extra
week's pay for the tests, said he and a colleague began to
hallucinate after being given a clear liquid to drink.

"His face melted and opened so that I could swear that I
could see his skull beneath the skin," he told BBC radio.

"The walls and floor of the room seemed to be covered by a
clear liquid that was moving about and writhing.

"I was surrounded by a cell of moving writhing things
inside an ordinary room."

A spokesman for the Foreign Office, which deals with MI6
inquiries, denied the men had been misled.

"Settlement offers were made on behalf of the three
claimants and on legal advice ... the government thought it was
appropriate to accept," he said.

"They weren't duped into taking the tests. It's history: no
one knows precisely what happened 52 years ago."

The amounts paid to the men have not been disclosed but the
BBC said they were thought to be less than 10,000 pounds
($17,500) each.

"I think they have grudgingly acknowledged they did
something wrong," Webb said. "I think that's as near to an
apology or an explanation as I'll get."

The LSD case comes after an inquest in 2004 ruled that a
serviceman who died during experiments at Porton Down to test
the effect of the lethal nerve gas sarin had been unlawfully
killed by the Ministry of Defense.