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Human Subject Research at Fort Detrick

Human Subject Research at Fort Detrick


How were soldiers selected for Operation Whitecoat at Fort Detrick?


Volunteering for Operation Whitecoat basically resulted in the Service member assignment to Fort Detrick. Assignment to Fort Detrick did not mean that the volunteer automatically participated in human experimentation. There was a distinct process used for each experiment.

Each medical investigator prepared a protocol that was extensively reviewed and modified to comply with the twelve ethical principles of the Nuremberg Code. (The Nuremberg war crimes trials convicted 23 Nazi doctors of murder. In 1946, Andrew Ivey released his list of ten conditions required for "permissible medical experiments" in healthy subjects, which became known as the Nuremberg Code. These twelve conditions are embodied in the Wilson Memorandum described above.) When a review validated the ethical requirement and scientific validity of an experiment, it was forwarded to Army officials for approval.

It was at this point that potential volunteers were briefed as a group on the approved protocol. During this briefing, they became familiar with the purpose of the study and the risks and benefits involved. They also attended an interview with a scientist where they could ask questions about the research. Volunteers were encouraged to discuss the study with family members, clergy and personal physicians. After an obligatory waiting period of 24 hours to four weeks (the length depended on the presumed risks of the study), informed consent documents would be signed.

It must be stressed that Operation Whitecoat soldiers were not required to participate in any study, only to be present for the protocol briefings by principal investigators seeking volunteers. About 20 percent of Operation
Whitecoat volunteers did not participate in any study during their tenure at Fort Detrick.


If I think I was involved in a test what should I do next?


If you need help verifying your possible participation in any of the tests or have information about the testing, please call the Department of Defense's (DOD) contact managers at 1-800-497-6261, Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. EST.

Alternatively, you may write to us at:

Force Health Protection and Readiness
ATTN: CB Exposures Manager
7700 Arlington Blvd.
Falls Church, VA 22042

If you'd like to speak with a Veterans Affairs (VA) representative, call the Special Issues Helpline at 1-800-749-8387. Many states offer services and benefits to veterans. To find out more about a particular state, please visit


Was all Whitecoat Testing conducted at Fort Detrick?


No. While most of the testing was conducted at Fort Detrick, limited testing was conducted at the Dugway Proving Ground.


Were there any fatalities at Fort Detrick among volunteers?


There were no deaths or serious injuries among any of the human experiment volunteers.


To what diseases or biological agents were Operation Whitecoat volunteers exposed?


Volunteers were exposed to Q fever, tularemia, staphylococcal enterotoxins and sand fly fever.


What safeguards were in place to protect the volunteers at Fort Detrick?


The basic safeguards are contained in the Wilson Memorandum, which was issued by the Secretary of Defense in February 1953. It specified that human research would be subject to the following conditions:

  1. The voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential and the consent shall be in writing.
  2. The experiment should produce results for the good of society that can not be gotten by other means.
  3. The number of volunteers shall be kept to a minimum.
  4. The experiment should be designed and based on animal experimentation.
  5. The experiment should be conducted to avoid all unnecessary physical and mental suffering and injury.
  6. No experiment should be conducted where there is a prior reason to believe that death or disabling injury will occur.
  7. The degree of risk should never exceed that determined by the humanitarian importance of the problem to be solved by the experiment.
  8. Proper preparation should be made and adequate facilities provided to protect the subject.
  9. The experiment should be conducted only by scientifically qualified personnel.
  10. During the course of the experiment, the subject should be allowed to bring the experiment to an end if he has reached a physical or mental state where the continuation of the experiment seems to him to be impossible.
  11. During the course of the experiment, the scientist in charge must be prepared to terminate the experiment at any stage.
  12. Prisoners of war may not be used in any experiments.

Last Updated: April 19, 2023
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