Leonard Cole, a dentist who became a bioweapons expert and chronicled in troubling detail the secret U.S. military program that unwittingly turned millions of Americans into germ warfare guinea pigs in the 1950s and ’60s. , passed away on September 18 in Ridgewood, New Jersey. he was 89 years old.
His death at the hospital was confirmed by his daughter, Wendy Cole.
Dr. Cole’s dental practice was established when he began his second career as a political scientist. He had written two of his other books, one about the up-and-coming black legislators in New Jersey and his other about the intersection of politics and science.
The program, which ran from 1949 until President Richard M. Nixon canceled it in 1969, released ostensibly harmless bacteria and chemicals in the New York City subway, the skies above San Francisco, and dozens of other locations. and to test the country’s vulnerabilities. to biological and chemical attacks.
The experiment first came to light after the Army leaked it to reporters in the 1970s. A Senate hearing in 1977 brought the program to wider public attention.
Dr. Cole public hearing Declassified files containing court documents, other government records, and his own interviews to write “Cloud of Secrets: The Army’s Germ Warfare Test in Populated Areas,” published in 1988.
This book provides an in-depth study of an Army program that conducted 239 field trials over a 20-year period. It aims to measure how real biological and chemical warfare agents spread under real-world conditions, using inert chemicals and bacteria that researchers believed to be harmless. did.
When the experiment was made public in the 1970s, the Army claimed no one had the disease.
He spent a good portion of “Clouds of Secrecy” experimenting in September 1950. In this experiment, a warship sailing the coast of San Francisco covered the city with an aerosol her cocktail containing the bacterium Serratia marcescens.
Before long, more than a dozen people with similar symptoms were admitted to hospitals in the city. The diagnosis was a rare pneumonia caused by a bacterium doctors believed to be Serratia marcescens.One patient, Edward J. Nevin, a 75-year-old retired plumber, died.
The Army denied that Nevin’s death and other hospitalizations were related to the dispersal, and a lawsuit filed by Nevin’s family fell through.
However, military officials have separately acknowledged that simultaneous monitoring of those exposed to the test was not part of the program, which Dr. Cole found alarming.
Dr. Cole, writing about a 1953 Minneapolis field trial using fluorescent particles of zinc cadmium sulfide to simulate a bacterial agent, wrote:
of The Department of Health and Human Services has classified cadmium compounds as carcinogens,However According to a 1997 National Research Council report In tests in Minneapolis and other cities (including St. Louis, Winnipeg, and Fort Wayne, Indiana), residents were not exposed to harmful levels of the chemical.
Some critics said that “Clouds of Secrecy” exaggerated the risks of the testing program and that Dr. Cole had not fully explained the need for the military to conduct such experiments during the Cold War.
Others saw the book as an important public service.
Hugh LetangIn the British physician-editor Politics and the Life Sciences, Dr. Cole wrote “through painstaking research” that “not only did he write stories of true horror, but more importantly, that conscientious individuals It showed how it was in danger.” Even the health and lives of fellow Americans. David Weir, who reviewed the book for The New York Times, called it a “sharp study” of covert operations.
Dr. Cole was born Leonard Aaron Cohen on September 1, 1933 in Paterson, New Jersey. (He later held important positions in several Jewish community organizations.) His father, Morris He Cohen, ran delis in New Jersey and New York City. His mother, Rebecca (Harelik) Cohen, was a homemaker.
Leonard graduated from Patterson High School and began his college studies at Indiana University before enrolling in the University of Pennsylvania School of Dentistry. He joined the Air Force in 1957 after earning a degree in dentistry and marrying Ruth Garber. He lived in Japan for two years.
He and his wife then moved to Berkeley, California, where Dr. Cole worked in a dental practice and earned a BA in Political Science from the University of California.
In 1961, the couple moved to northern New Jersey and Dr. Cole started a family-owned dental practice in Hawthorne. He then began graduate studies in political science at Columbia University, earning his doctorate in 1970.
In his second book, Politics and the Restraint of Science (1983), Dr. Cole first explored the problem of government-sponsored scientific research on vulnerable humans.
A subsequent book on chemical and biological weapons, The Eleventh Plague (1996) cemented his credentials as an authority on the subject. He became a sought-after commentator when anthrax-laced letters began arriving in the U.S. mail following the September 11 terrorist attacks. He published “Anthrax Letters: A Medical Detective Story” in 2003.
Dr. Cole, a longtime Adjunct Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University-Newark, has testified before Congress on numerous occasions on topics related to biological weapons. Rutgers He was the founder of the Terrorism Medicine program at the New Jersey Medical College.
In addition to his daughter, he is survived by his wife, a retired public school teacher. Two sons of William and Philip Cole. and six grandchildren. He lived in Ridgewood.
Dr. Cole retired from dentistry in 2000 but continued to write. In his 10th issue, published last year, he told the story of Dr. Frederick Reines, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics for co-discovering the subatomic particle, the neutrino. Dr. Reines was Dr. Cole’s cousin.
Dr. Cole describes how he balanced the various efforts: In an interview with online publication Authority Magazine Last year, he said he’s “very careful” in whatever he’s doing now.
A friend once told him, “I was certainly the best dentist among political scientists, the best political scientist among dentists,” he added.
Kirsten Noyes contributed research.