A contrail, also known as a chemtrail, is a type of cloud that is formed from the vapor contained in the exhaust of a jet when it is flying at high enough altitudes for cold temperatures to cause the vapor to turn into ice crystals like cirrus clouds.

These clouds are called “contrails” (short for “condensation trails”) and look like lines in the sky. They are also called “chemtrails,” because it is alleged that chemicals are sprayed deliberately into the atmosphere in order to conduct experiments involving weather control or communications systems or to test compounds on the human populations and natural life below.

Activists who highlight the issue usually allege that epidemics of flu-like illnesses follow sightings of contrail patterns; sometimes the symptoms include diarrhea, listlessness, and fevers. Entering “contrail” and/or “chemtrail” into a search engine reveals hundreds of websites that report on the issue, providing eyewitness accounts and photographs taken all over North America, with some reports from Australia and Europe; there are no books on the subject to date.

Reports on contrails are carried by dedicated websites, such as Chemtrails Central, and also by many sites of a rightwing/“Patriot” nature, such as Chemtrails over America (COA), which carries articles originally published in the Spotlight and is closely linked to its successor organization, the American Free Press.

Mainstream news agencies rarely report on concerns over contrails, and when they do it is in terms of antigovernment “paranoia.” When USA Today ran a contrail story it likened the story to something out of The X-Files, arguing that it was only those who are suspicious of the government who believe that lines in the sky are evidence of malfeasance.

Some suggested that they are trying to slow down global warming with compounds that reflect sunlight into the sky. More ominous theories suggested a government campaign to weed out the old and sick. The report concluded, “Nothing is ‘out there’ except water vapor and ice crystals, say irritated scientists who study contrails.”

An atmospheric scientist was quoted as saying that the issue is “Conspiracy nonsense.... These things are at 30,000 to 40,000 feet in the atmosphere. They’re tiny particles. They’re not going to affect anyone.” Nevertheless, in June 2001 a group called Ohio Citizens Against Chemtrails staged a protest outside the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, in Dayton, Ohio.

There are essentially five different types of application that may be implicated by contrail evidence. The first is the high-altitude spraying of aerosols that will help block the sun’s radiation, thus addressing the problems associated with holes in the ozone layer of the earth’s atmosphere and global warming.

The second is a military program called the Radio Frequency Mission Planner (RFMP), which allows 3-D images of would-be battle scenes to be viewed on computer screens. This requires atmospheric “ducting” of radar waves, which can be achieved over land only through the spraying of a barium salt aerosol; straight lines of ducting material in the air may also facilitate high-frequency communications along the path of the contrail.

Such systems were allegedly used during the Gulf War, according to COA. The third application involves weather manipulation, again using barium salts, utilizing HAARP technology and microwaves. COA believes that the Jet Stream has been controlled in this way and that such technology allows a military to “bring any country to its knees without firing a shot.”

Declassified minutes from an Air Ministry meeting held in the War Office in Britain in 1953 indicated that military planners have thought along the same lines. They also considered “seeding” clouds before using nuclear weapons, in order to widen the area of radiation contamination on enemy soil.

Fourth, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) involves the testing of biological detection and decontamination systems. Chemicals including barium salt and polymer fibers have caused human illnesses and diseases, which can be assessed by scientists.

Fifth, it has been suggested that the testing of a new generation of high-altitude jets by the U.S. Air Force (code-named Aurora) may cause contrails. These jets, apparently able to reach Mach 6, use a new type of propulsion system called Pulse Wave Detonation Engine (PWDE), which causes unusual types of contrails.

Some radio hosts have given sympathetic hearings to those who claim that sickness often follows the sighting of extensive contrail patterns in the sky; both Art Bell and Jeff Rense have sections of their websites dedicated to the subject.

The American Reporter (12 January 1999) carried an article in which a Washington State resident was quoted as speculating whether ethylene dibromide, a highly toxic component of JP-8 jet fuel, is making people sick. The report stated, “Similar incidents over Las Vegas last year prompted a U.S. Air Force spokesman to explain that the military aircraft were ‘dumping fuel’ before landing.”

The same Washington resident was also cited in a report in the Daily Telegraph (London), 31 January 1999. The website Conspiracy Planet suggests that “these trails do not dissipate as vapor trails do, but rather spread, eventually forming a cloud that sometimes fill the sky for days with the residues of the materials being released.” The same site linked the spate of stillbirths of horses in Kentucky during the summer of 2001 to chemtrail spraying by high-altitude military aircraft.

Concern over contrails appears to tie in with more deep-rooted suspicion toward government. The antisemitic publication the Spotlight claimed that “chemtrails are part of a massive top-secret military research and development project, possibly linked to the United Nations.”

The report refers to the findings of a group of experts (unnamed in this report, but presumably the same ones listed on the COA website) who concluded that both military and commercial aircraft are being used to disperse chemical substances for a project known as Operation Cloverleaf.

This project apparently brings together scientists from around the world under the auspices of an organization known only as Commission G. The Spotlight’s experts linked this research to the “nationwide epidemic increase in cases of asthma, allergies, and upper respiratory illnesses, including pneumonia.”

The report betrayed something of a scattergun approach, also linking the issue to the development of radar cloaking technology, biological weapons, weather modification as a military weapon, space weaponry, and the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Project (HAARP), first developed by Nicola Tesla, and again linked to the United Nations.

HAARP ionospheric “heaters” are used to heat and modify the ionosphere and the results are evaluated at various U.S. Air Force bases and universities. A researcher is quoted explaining, “Precipitation suppression and enhancement are strategies being refined specifically for implementation in the conduct of future wars.” The report also alleges that “potential chemical and electrical influence on human behavior from above, a super-MKULTRA-mind-control program” is being developed.

It is beyond doubt that “cloud seeding” experiments have taken place in the past: between 1949 and 1955 the British Royal Air Force conducted Operation Cumulus, in which chemicals provided by ICI, including salt, dry ice, and silver iodide, were sprayed on clouds in order to produce rain (although this was denied by the Ministry of Defense until papers were declassified in 2001). In 1952 one of these experiments caused a flash flood in the village of Lymouth, Devon, in which thirty-five people were killed.