Nov 08, 2022 I Nick Redfern

A Top Secret, Cold War Operation Known as "Sunshine." But, There Was No Sun About It

When it comes to what happened at Roswell, New Mexico in the summer of 1947, there are numerous theories: a UFO crash, a weather balloon, a Mogul balloon designed to detect for early Soviet atomic detonations in the atmosphere, a time-machine, a bizarre ruse using altered children to make them look like aliens, and...well...the story goes on. In my two books on Roswell I suggested that what really happened was a series of New Mexico-based experiments designed to further understand high-altitude effects on the human body. And that some of the experiments involved physically handicapped people. Although a lot of people have looked away from my words, the fact is there was an extremely similar affair that involved terrible operations on people in the latter part of the 1940s and through the Cold War. With that said, let's have a look at it. As the 1940s gave way to a new decade, controversial research undertaken on human beings continued. Not for medical reasons, but for purposes that were of benefit to the military. And it continued undercover of a massive amount of secrecy and security. There were very good reasons for that, as we shall see. One of the things I heard time and again when my Body Snatchers in the Desert book was published in the summer of 2005, was that not only was there no evidence to support the notion that diabolical human-experimentation was the cause of the Roswell controversy; but, in addition, there was no way that government and military agencies, offices and departments would ever even consider engaging in - or sanction - such terrible actions. Really? I have to say that the faith and trust (or, as I prefer to call it, the outright, naive gullibility) that people have in government never ceases to amaze me. For what is perhaps the most shocking example of the way in which human beings were indeed utilized for radiation-related experiments at the height of the Cold War, we have to turn our attention to something called Project Sunshine. There was nothing bright and sunny about this program, however.

(Nick Redfern) Project Sunshine: A grim story

Although not directly allied with the events as described in my article, the history and activities of Project Sunshine collectively serve as perfect examples (and perhaps far more importantly as officially documented examples) of the way in which human beings and bodies were utilized in Cold War radiation and biological experimentation in a fashion very similar to the top secret Roswell-related events as detailed in Body Snatchers in the Desert. In the 1990s, the Government’s Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments looked into a whole range of Department of Energy-related scandals involving the use of human beings in radiation tests from the 1940s to the 1970s. What the committee found shocked and outraged them. One particular memorandum, dated June 9, 1995, and prepared by ACHRE’s Advisory Committee Staff, is titled Documentary Update on Project Sunshine Body Snatching and states: “As part of Project Sunshine, which sought to measure strontium-90, the AEC [Atomic Energy Commission] engaged in an effort to collect baby bones from domestic and foreign sources. As discussed in the prior memorandum, the project involved the use of a cover story (those without clearance being told that the skeleton collection would be used to study naturally occurring radiation, and not that from fallout). Key participants in Project Sunshine at its onset included the AEC’s Division of Biology and Medicine (DBM), its Director John Bugher, Columbia University's Dr. J. Laurence Kulp, and the University of Chicago's Dr. Willard Libby (who became an AEC Commissioner).” 

The memorandum then refers to Dr. Willard Libby and his work in more detail. A 1955 transcript classified as “Secret” (located in the classified materials at the National Archives and declassified at the Committee’s request), sheds more light on the role of tissue sampling in Project Sunshine. The transcript shows that, from the early to mid-1950s, considerable thought had been devoted to best ways to establish channels to procure “human samples,” and the impact of secrecy on the effort. AEC Commissioner Willard Libby, who was a primary proponent of Project Sunshine, explained the great value of “body snatching,” and noted that the AEC had even employed an “expensive law firm” to “look up the law of body snatching.” The meeting was then turned over to Dr. Libby, who was by now an AEC Commissioner. Dr. Libby began by stating that there was no effort more important to the AEC than Sunshine. However, he said that “...there are great gaps in the data.” He elaborated: “By far the most important [gap] is human samples. We have been reduced to essentially zero level on the human samples. I don't know how to get them but I do say that it is a matter of prime importance to get them and particularly in the young age group.”

(Nick Redfern) Secrets in the New Mexico desert that led to Project Sunshine

The supply of stillborns had evidently been shut off: "”We were fortunate, as you know to obtain a large number of stillborns as material. This supply, however, has now been cut off also, and shows no signs, I think, of being rejuvenated.” Therefore, Libby told the audience, expertise in body snatching would be highly valued: “So human samples are of prime importance and if anybody knows how to do a good job of body snatching, they will really be serving their country.” Some people reading this, no doubt, will scarcely believe that these latter words were said in all seriousness, and soberly recorded, within official files of the U.S. military. As noted, Libby recalled that when Project Sunshine was created in 1953, a law firm was hired to study this problem. He added: “I don’t know how to snatch bodies. In the original study on the Sunshine at RAND in the summer of 1953, we hired an expensive law firm to look up the law of body snatching. This compendium is available to you. It is not very encouraging. It shows you how very difficult it is going to be to do legally.” The conference attendees discussed the need for a wide enough variety of samples to cover age ranges and potential variations among body parts. A Dr. Kulp, from Columbia, explained that there were certain “channels” available: “We have the channels in these places where we are getting everything. We have three or four other leads where we could get complete age range samples from different other geographic localities. These three are Vancouver, Houston, and New York. We could easily get them from Puerto Rico and other places. We can get virtually everyone that dies in this range.” 

There was also discussion of the need to acquire what were insultingly termed as “resources” from other countries. For example, a Colonel Maxwell, of the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project, suggested the military could provide some help in securing “specimens” from a native hospital in Formosa. In case you’re wondering, or you haven’t deduced, in the files the terms “resources” and “specimens” refer to people. This passage is particularly revealing for one reason: when I was doing the research for my Body Snatchers in the Desert book, I was told by several sources that personnel from the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project were deeply involved in the recovery of alleged handicapped Japanese bodies from a 1947 incident at White Sands, New Mexico – not Roswell, but another incident that ended very badly. It is, therefore, notable that in 1955, when the Project Sunshine discussions were well underway, one Colonel Maxwell, also of the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project, stated firmly that he knew how to acquire certain “specimens” from “a native hospital in Formosa…”

Interestingly, when this testimony became public knowledge, new sources surfaced with their own dark and disturbing tales. For example, the media ran an article on June 3, 2001 titled “Britain snatched babies' bodies for nuclear labs.” It included the following, stark words: “British newspapers reported that some 6,000 stillborn babies and dead infants were sent from hospitals in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, South America, the UK and the US between the 1950s and 1970s without the permission of parents for use in nuclear experiments. According to the reports, the US Department of Energy used the bodies and some body parts for tests to monitor radioactivity levels of the element Strontium 90 in humans…The Observer, a British newspaper, also stated that British scientists also conducted tests on babies sent from Hong Kong and the research did not end until the 1970s. A government spokesman for Hong Kong announced that his country will investigate further into the reports.”

On June 12, 2001 – which was less than a week after Reuters unveiled its shocking story, Western Australia Newspapers Ltd., (WAN) published that: “...people with severe disabilities were used as human guinea pigs during British nuclear tests at the Maralinga Test Site in Australia in the 1950s.” For those who aren’t aware of the history of all this, take note of the words of the BBC’s Sydney, Australia correspondent, Jon Donnison: “It seems remarkable today but less than 60 years ago, Britain was exploding nuclear bombs in the middle of Australia. In the mid-1950s, seven bombs were tested at Maralinga in the south-west Australian outback. The combined force of the weapons doubled that of the bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima in World War Two. In archive video footage, British and Australian soldiers can be seen looking on, wearing short sleeves and shorts and doing little to protect themselves other than turning their backs and covering their eyes with their hands. Some reported the flashes of the blasts being so bright that they could see the bones of their fingers, like x-rays as they pressed against their faces.”

(Nick Redfern) Dig deep into decades-old papers for the truth

According to the information highlighted by Western Australia Newspapers Ltd., however, there was far more to the affair than that. According to the allegations, a control group was flown to the British test site as part of an experiment to determine the effects of radiation on humans. The group, stated the WAN, died after being exposed to the radioactive fallout. While such claims were dismissed as unsubstantiated in a final report of a royal commission into British nuclear tests in Australia in December 1985, no less a source than Dr. Robert Jackson, Director of the Center for Disability Research and Development at Edith Cowan University in Australia, expressed concern that the Royal Commission did not hear testimonials from pilots. Dr. Jackson discovered details of these gruesome events in the 1980s, when he was the Regional Director for the Western Australia Disability Commission. Of key relevance to the subject matter of this book, is an approach made to Dr. Jackson by a man who claimed to be a pilot and who had flown a “planeload” of disabled, physically handicapped people from the U.K. to the Maralinga Test Site. The pilot told Dr. Jackson, “We didn't fly them out again.” Needless to say, I don’t find this last statement at all surprising - unfortunately.

Of course, this story is not directly related to the matters that took place at Roswell in July 1947 on the Foster Ranch, Lincoln County, New Mexico. But, What this tells is that in the 1950s (mostly, at least) human guinea-pigs were used in experiments and dead bodies were used for wild experiments, too. I suggest that if we keep looking at experiments like Sunshine, rather than looking for little aliens, we will get the answers to Roswell far more much quicker than we might think. And, of course, should revelations like Sunshine tumble, then it will demonstrate that Roswell was not a UFO event. Should such a thing happen, it will be very intriguing to see what the UFO research community says about the so-called "best UFO case of all time." Take a look at some of the well hidden, terrifying experiments that were put into work in the late-1940s and the early-1950s. And that's where we all need to dig. And it's also where Ufology will get the truth of Roswell - even though they won't like the answer.

Nick Redfern

Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.

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