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US Military

Chemical Weapons

Project: US Military
Open-Content project managed by Derek, mtuck

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1960-1973: Agent Orange Used in Vietnam

In Vietnam, the US military uses about 21 million gallons of Agent Orange to defoliate the jungle in order to deny enemy fighters cover. The defoliant—manufactured primarily by Monsanto and Dow Chemical—gets its name from the 55-gallon drums it is shipped in that are marked with an orange stripe. At least 3,181 villages are sprayed with the highly toxic herbicide, which is comprised of a 50:50 mixture of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T and contaminated with dangerous levels of dioxins. Much of the dioxin is TCDD, which is linked to liver and other cancers, diabetes, spina bifida, immune-deficiency diseases, severe diarrhea, persistent malaria, miscarriages, premature births, and severe birth defects. Between 2.1 and 4.8 million Vietnamese are exposed, as are about 20,000 US soldiers. According to Vietnamese estimates, Agent Orange is responsible for the deaths of 400,000 people. Because there is a continued presence of high dioxin levels in the food chain of several sprayed areas, the health effects of Agent Orange persist to the present day. According to studies by Arnold Schecter of the University of Texas School of Public Health in Dallas, some Vietnamese have dioxin levels 135 times higher than people living in unsprayed areas. Schecter has called Vietnam “the largest contamination of dioxin in the world.” The Vietnamese believe the herbicide has contributed to birth defects in 500,000 children, many of them second and third generation. Though the US government has accepted responsibility for the health complications in US soldiers that resulted from exposure to Agent Orange (providing up to $1,989 per month for affected vets and more than $5,000 per month for those severely disabled and homebound), the US has refused to compensate Vietnamese victims. To date, no US agency, including the US Agency for International Development, has conducted any program in Vietnam to address the issue of Agent Orange. When asked by Mother Jones magazine in 1999 if the Vietnam government has raised the issue in private talks with the United States, a State Department official responds: “Ohhhh, yes. They have. But for us there is real concern that if we start down the road of research, what does that portend for liability-type issues further on?” [BBC, 11/19/1999; Mother Jones, 1/2000; BBC, 11/15/2000; BBC, 12/30/2001; Associated Press, 4/17/2003]

Entity Tags: Dow Chemical, Monsanto

Timeline Tags: US-Vietnam (1947-2001)

Category Tags: Chemical Weapons, Key Events, Veterans Affairs

The US government performs biological and/or chemical weapons tests in Florida, possibly exposing the civilian population to these agents. [Reuters, 10/10/2002]

Category Tags: Chemical Weapons, Biological Weapons, Key Events

The US government sprays florescent particles of zinc cadmium sulfide over Stillwater, Oklahoma, but reportedly does not monitor how the application affects the population. Leonard Cole, an expert on the Army’s development of biological weapons, later explains to an Oklahoma TV news program: “Cadmium itself is known to be one of the most highly toxic materials in small amounts that a human can be exposed to If there were concentrations of it enough to make one sick, you could have serious consequences a person over a period of time could have illnesses that could range from cancer to organ failures.” [KFOR 4 (Oklahoma City), 4/25/2003]

Category Tags: Chemical Weapons, Key Events

The US government performs biological and/or chemical weapons tests in Vieques, Puerto Rico. The civilian population is possibly exposed to these dangerous weapons. [Reuters, 10/10/2002]

Category Tags: Chemical Weapons, Biological Weapons, Key Events

As part of Project Shipboard Hazard and Defense (SHAD), the US military sprays nerve or chemical agents “on a variety of ships and their crews to gauge how quickly the poisons can be detected and how rapidly they would disperse, as well as to test the effectiveness of protective gear and decontamination procedures….” According to documents released in 2002, there is no evidence that the servicemen had given the military consent to be part of the experiment. [New York Times, 5/24/2002] The US military later claims the experiments were conducted “out of concern for [the United States’] ability to protect and defend against these potential threats.” [Reuters, 10/10/2002; US Department of Defense, 10/31/2002]

Entity Tags: Project Shipboard Hazard and Defense (SHAD)

Category Tags: Chemical Weapons, Key Events

While serving in the US Army, Arnold Parks agrees to take what he is told are “test” medications. Actually, the pills he ingests include sarin, VX, and LSD. Years later (see (2003)), he suffers chronic pain in his legs and arms and has a bad heart. [KFOR 4 (Oklahoma City), 4/25/2003]

Entity Tags: Arnold Parks

Category Tags: Chemical Weapons

1965-1967: Sarin, VX Tested in Alaska

As part of Project 112, the US military performs a series of tests at the Gerstle River test site near Fort Greeley, Alaska, involving artillery shells and bombs filled with sarin and VX, both of which are lethal nerve agents. The program is coordinated by the Desert Test Center, part of a “biological and chemical weapons complex,” in the Utah desert. [Associated Press, 10/8/2002; Associated Press, 10/9/2002] Civilians may have been exposed to the gases. [Reuters, 10/10/2002] The US military later claims the experiments were conducted “out of concern for [the United States’] ability to protect and defend against these potential threats.” [US Department of Defense, 10/9/2002; Reuters, 10/10/2002]

Entity Tags: Red Oak, Phase 1

Category Tags: Chemical Weapons, Key Events

May 1967: US Tests Sarin in Hawaii, Panama

The US military tests the “effectiveness of artillery shells using sarin in the jungle.” The tests, code-named “Red Oak, Phase 1,” are conducted in the Upper Waiakae Forest Reserve on Hawaii and near Fort Sherman in the Panama Canal Zone. According to reports released in late October 2002, there was “no indication of harm to troops or civilians.” [Reuters, 11/1/2002]

Category Tags: Chemical Weapons, Key Events

In Laos, a 16-member US Special Forces “Studies and Observations Group” (SOG) and about 140 Montagnard tribesmen are dropped sixty miles from the South Vietnamese border and several miles away from its targeted village. They are told that the objective of the mission, code-named “Operation Tailwind,” is to eliminate a village where VietCong, Russians, and American defectors are believed to be moving freely. The troops are instructed to kill anyone they encounter, combatant or otherwise, including American defectors who pose a special threat to the US because of the sensitive knowledge they possess. [ [Sources: Robert Van Buskirk, Thomas Moorer, Jay Graves, Jim Cathey, Mike Hagen, Unnamed SOG Recon team commando [1]] Another possible objective of the mission is to divert enemy attention from Operation Gauntlet, an offensive operation to regain control of territory in Laos. [US Department of Defense, 7/30/1998] The SOG and Montagnards are all equipped with M-17 gas masks for the mission. [ [Sources: Robert Van Buskirk, Craig Schmidt, Unnamed SOG Recon team commando [2]] For three days, the team fights its way to the targeted village. On the third night, they camp on the outskirts of the village while it is “prepped” by Air Force A-1s. The next morning, the unit raids the village. The battle ends quickly, in about 10 minutes, because of the previous night’s bombing and because most of the people are not combat personnel, but belong to a transportation unit. [ [Sources: Mike Hagen] When they enter the village, they find more than one hundred bodies. Some are combatants, but many are also women and children. [CNN, 7/2/1999 Sources: Robert Van Buskirk, Eugene McCarley, Mike Hagen, Jimmy Lucas] One member of the SOG sees Montagnard soldiers shove grenades down the throats of women and at least three children. [ [Sources: Robert Van Buskirk] The soldiers report seeing between 10 and 20 Caucasians among the dead and speculate that they were American defectors, though the Pentagon insists they were Russians. Platoon leader Robert Van Buskirk later tells CNN that he killed two American defectors during the attack when he dropped a white phosphorus grenade into a tunnel where the two had fled. [ [Sources: Robert Van Buskirk, Mike Hagen, Jim Cathey] Rescue helicopters are then called in and the troops head to a rice paddy and put on their gas masks. As the helicopters prepares to land, it drops gas canisters (CBU-14), probably sarin nerve gas, to incapacitate a swarm of enemy fighters who are coming down a hill towards the landing zone. The enemy fighters immediately drop and go into convulsions when the gas is deployed. [ [Sources: Robert Van Buskirk, Mike Hagen, Craig Schmidt, Mike Sheperd, John Snipes, Unnamed pilot [1], Unnamed pilot [2], Unnamed pilot [3], Unnamed pilot [4], Unnamed SOG Recon team commando [2]] As the rescue choppers are taking off, SOG members and Montagnards are vomiting and have mucous running uncontrollably from their noses. [CNN, 6/7/1998; CNN, 6/14/1998; Time, 6/15/1998; Oliver and Smith, 1999; CNN, 7/2/1999 Sources: Robert Van Buskirk, Mike Hagen, Mike Sheperd, John Snipes, Unnamed pilot [1], Unnamed pilot [2], Unnamed pilot [3], Unnamed pilot [4], Unnamed SOG Recon team commando [2]]

Entity Tags: Robert Van Buskirk, Jimmy Lucas, Jim Cathey, John Snipes, Craig Schmidt, Eugene McCarley, Mike Sheperd, Mike Hagen

Category Tags: Chemical Weapons, Key Events

The Foundation for Economic Trends sues the US Department of Defense and forces it to acknowledge the existence of its chemical and biological weapons programs. The Pentagon admits that it is operating 127 chemical and biological warfare research sites in the US. Science magazine reports that the suit reveals that the “DoD is applying recombinant DNA techniques in research and the production of a range of pathogens and toxins including botulism, anthrax and yellow fever.” [Science Magazine, 2/27/1987]

Category Tags: Chemical Weapons, Biological Weapons, Key Events

El Al Flight LY1862, en route from New York to Tel Aviv, crashes into a block of apartment buildings shortly after take-off from Schiphol Airport, located south-east of Amsterdam. At least 43 people on the ground are killed (The exact number of deaths is unknown, since many of the incinerated victims were undocumented immigrants). Information about the plane’s cargo and the crash is suppressed: El Al withholds information about the plane’s several tons of “military cargo;” 12 hours of videotape made during the rescue and clean-up operation (42 cassettes in all), along with police audiotapes, are erased and shredded; and El Al documents and the plane’s cockpit voice recorder (CVR) mysteriously disappear. It is later learned that the plane, a Boeing 747, was carrying several tons of chemicals, including hydrofluoric acid, isopro-panol and dimethyl methylphosphonate (DMMP)—three of the four chemicals used in the production of sarin nerve gas. The shipment of chemicals—approved by the US commerce department—reportedly came from Solkatronic Chemicals Inc. of Morrisville, Pennsylvania and its final destination was the Institute for Biological Research (IIBR) in Ness Ziona near Tel Aviv, Israel, which is reported to be the “Israeli military and intelligence community’s front organization for the development, testing and production of chemical and biological weapons.” A former IIBR biologist later tells the London Sunday Times in October of 1998, “There is hardly a single known or unknown form of chemical or biological weapon… which is not manufactured at the institute.” In fact, it was IIBR that provided the poison and the antidote used in the attempted assassination of a Hamas leader in Jordan in 1998. The IIBR does not appear on any maps and is off-limits even to members of Israel’s Parliament, the Knesset. Israel denies that the chemicals were to be used in the production of chemical weapons and instead claims that they were needed to test gas masks. But as an article in Earth Island Journal notes: “[T]his explanation is puzzling since it only takes a few grams to conduct such tests. Once combined, the chemicals aboard Flight 1862 could have produced 270 kilos of sarin—sufficient to kill the entire population of a major world city.” During hearings on the crash in 1999, it is learned that since 1973, El Al planes are never inspected by customs or the Dutch Flight Safety Board and that El Al security at Schiphol is a branch of the Israeli Mossad. Furthermore, it is discovered that every Sunday evening a mysterious El Al cargo flight arrives at Schiphol en route from New York to Tel Aviv. The flights are never displayed on the airport arrival monitors and the flights’ documents are processed in a special, unmarked room. [BBC, 10/2/1998; Earth Island Journal, 1999; Covert Action Quarterly, 10/20/2004] Over a thousand residents living near the crash site later become sick with respiratory, neurological and mobility ailments and a rise in cancer and birth defects is later detected among the population. [ZNet, 10/12/2002]

Entity Tags: El Al, Institute for Biological Research (IIBR), Solkatronic Chemicals Inc

Category Tags: Chemical Weapons, Key Events

The Defense Science Board completes a study that observes: “Non-lethal incapacitating chemical agents could lead to greater lethality by making enemies more vulnerable to lethal weapons. So, the results of non-lethal weapons are not clear-cut in all cases.” [Asia Times, 4/1/2003]

Entity Tags: Defense Science Board

Category Tags: Chemical Weapons, Key Events

US Congress votes 392-22 in favor of legislation that restricts international inspections of chemical sites in the United States, effectively killing the Chemical Weapons Convention. [Henry Stimson Center, 6/16/1998 pdf file; Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists website, 2/23/2004]

Entity Tags: US Congress

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Category Tags: Chemical Weapons, Key Events

Israeli troops use unknown poison gases on Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank on at least eight different occasions. The gases cause their victims to vomit, go into seizures and spasms, then collapse and lose consciousness. The symptoms last from a few hours to several weeks. Doctors who treat the patients say it is unlike the tear gas which has been used by Israeli forces in the past and suggest it may be nerve gas or at least a highly concentrated concoction of different tear gases. [Longley, 2001 pdf file; Palestinian Centre for Human Rights Weekly Report, 2/15/2001; Palestinian Centre for Human Rights Weekly Report, 2/22/2001; Palestinian Centre for Human Rights Weekly Report, 3/7/2001; Palestinian Centre for Human Rights Weekly Report, 3/29/2001; Al-Ahram, 4/5/2001; Palestinian Centre for Human Rights Weekly Report, 4/5/2001; Media Monitors, 1/8/2003]

Category Tags: Chemical Weapons, Key Events

It is learned that the United States is developing weapons that undermine and possibly violate international treaties on biological and chemical warfare. For example, the CIA is “building and testing a cluster munition, modeled on a Soviet bioweapon, to spread biological agents.” [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 1/2003] And in the Pentagon, the Defense Intelligence Agency is planning to genetically engineer a Soviet strain of Bacillus anthracis (the causative agent of anthrax) that is thought to be antibiotic-resistant. [Guardian, 10/29/2002; Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 1/2003] Other biological and chemical weapons projects include the development of a rifle-launched gas grenade (see September 10, 2001) as well as non-lethal gases designed to knock people out such as the hallucinogenic BZ gas and fentanyl. [Guardian, 10/29/2002; Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 1/2003; Independent, 2/16/2003] Fentanyl was the gas used in October 2002 by Russian Special Forces against the Chechen rebels who were holding civilians hostage in a theatre. In that incident, the gas was responsible for killing most of the 120 people who died during the rescue operation. [Scotsman, 10/30/2002; Christian Science Monitor, 2/14/2003; Independent, 2/16/2003] The US claims that these weapons are for defensive and “law-enforcement” purposes only. For instance, calmative agents might be used by US troops for defensive purposes when confronting hostile crowds, fighting in cave systems, or taking prisoners. [Guardian, 10/29/2002; Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 1/2003; Independent, 2/16/2003]

Category Tags: Chemical Weapons, Biological Weapons, Key Events

The US Army applies for a patent on a new rifle-launched gas grenade which is purportedly meant for non-lethal crowd control. It is designed to release aerosols “selected from the group consisting of smoke, crowd control agents, biological agents, chemical agents, obscurants, marking agents, dyes and inks, chaffs and flakes.” [United States Patent and Trademark Office, 2/25/2003; Global Security Newswire, 5/28/2003; San Francisco Chronicle, 6/9/2003] The patent is approved in February (see February 25, 2002) .

Category Tags: Chemical Weapons, Biological Weapons, Key Events

A US Army patent for a rifle-launched gas grenade (see September 10, 2001) is approved by the US Patent office. [United States Patent and Trademark Office, 2/25/2003; Global Security Newswire, 5/28/2003; San Francisco Chronicle, 6/9/2003]

Category Tags: Chemical Weapons

The US National Research Council issues a report that notes: “Chemical non-lethal weapons programs that deliver chemical contaminants to a crowd—other than riot control agents—would likely fail in meeting the Hague requirement for ‘distinction’ as the delivery method is not isolated and/or cannot be controlled well enough to prevent the chemical contaminants from affecting people who are not related to the intended military target. It is unlikely that calmatives in their current form will be lawful under international law, when used in warfighting situations.” [National Research Council, 2003; Asia Times, 4/1/2003]

Entity Tags: National Research Council (NRC)

Category Tags: Chemical Weapons, Key Events

A Sunday Herald investigation reveals that Britain is supplying “toxic chemical precursors” (TCPs)—dual-use chemicals that can be used for harmless activities like farming or made into chemical weapons like sarin nerve gas—to Libya, Syria, Sudan, Israel, Iran, Cyprus, India, Kenya, Kuwait, Malaysia, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand, Turkey, Uganda and Yemen. Some of these countries are not signatories to the chemical weapons convention and therefore do not recognize the international ban on chemical warfare. The exports are authorized by Britain’s Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) which cannot say for sure how the recipient country will use the TCPs. It only says that they are being sold “in the belief” that they will be used “benignly” in agriculture or as detergents. [Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 6/9/2002]

Entity Tags: Jim Hecker

Category Tags: Chemical Weapons, Key Events

Former US serviceman Arnold Parks learns that “test” medications he had been given by the US Army in 1965 (see 1965) were in fact VX, sarin, and LSD. In an interview with KFOR in Oklahoma City, he says that according to his military medical files: “[O]n this date they gave me VX, on this date they gave me sarin, on this date they gave me LSD. I was angry. As a matter of fact, I came unglued…. The VX they gave, it was a pill. And I asked the guy after I took that, you know, I asked him what was that? He said, ‘That’s the new pill for polio.’” After taking the LSD, he experienced serious hallucinations. “Some of these hallucinations got a little bit scary,” he says. “I think I had about four and the only one that was OK was the one that I watched this movie, it was a love story on TV. But there was no TV in the room, so I couldn’t have watched that movie on TV. So it was all an acid trip, basically it was a trip but the other three was the killing things.” Arnold Parks believes that the sarin and VX pills he ingested in 1965 caused damage to his arms, legs and heart. But the Veteran’s Administration has told him that the government is not liable for any damage unless it can been confirmed that the test pills given to him by the US government are the direct cause of his ailments. Mr. Parks wants compensation for being tricked into taking the harmful agents. “Pay me compensation. I want that and I would like to be treated. But I don’t think they can treat this.” [KFOR 4 (Oklahoma City), 4/25/2003]

Entity Tags: Arnold Parks

Category Tags: Chemical Weapons, Key Events

According to analysis by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), “non-lethal” gases can be lethal. Summarizing a report by the organization, David Isenberg of the Asia Times explains, “[W]hen an incapacitating agent that is exceptionally safe by pharmacological standards (therapeutic index (TI) =1000) is delivered under ideal conditions to a uniformly healthy population, 9 percent of victims would die if the goal were to incapacitate almost everyone (99 percent) in a particular place (often an enclosed space), as in hostage rescue or urban military operations.” [National Research Council, 2003; Asia Times, 4/1/2003]

Entity Tags: National Research Council (NRC)

Category Tags: Chemical Weapons, Key Events

US Army personnel at the US Blue Grass Army Depot discover a leaking mustard gas 155-mm artillery shell in one of its storage igloos. The base stores “about 55,000 rockets, land mines and other artillery with about 523 tons of chemical weapons,” the Associated Press reports. [Associated Press, 1/6/2003]

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Chemical Weapons, Key Events

US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and General Richard Myers, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, inform the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee that they intend to seek permission from George Bush to use calmative agents (see February 12, 2001-March 30, 2001) against Iraqi civilians, in cave systems or to take prisoners. [NewsMax, 2/6/2003; Independent, 2/16/2003] Rumsfeld calls the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) a “straightjacket” [Baltimore Sun, 3/27/2003; Guardian, 4/8/2003] and insists that “there are times when the use of non-lethal riot agents is perfectly appropriate.” [NewsMax, 2/6/2003; Christian Science Monitor, 2/14/2003; Guardian, 3/12/2003; Guardian, 4/8/2003] Under the provisions of the CWC, military use of chemicals—including non-lethal gases like tear gas—is prohibited. The treaty only permits the use of non-lethal agents for law enforcement purposes. [NewsMax, 2/6/2003; Christian Science Monitor, 2/14/2003]

Entity Tags: Richard B. Myers, Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Chemical Weapons, Key Events

When the United States’ patent on a rifle-launched gas grenade (see September 10, 2001) is publicized, it creates a controversy because the development of any “delivery system for use as a weapon” that contains “biological agents” is a violation of the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention and the US Biological Weapons Antiterrorism Act of 1989 which prohibit developing devices for delivering biological weapons agents. Miguel Morales, the public affairs officer for the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center in Aberdeen, Md., who oversaw development of the grenade, claims that the inventors and patent attorney had wrongly described the invention when they said it could release chemical and biological agents. “The attorney and the inventors were simply trying to claim their invention as broadly as legally entitled,” Morales claims, adding, “It is clear now, in hindsight, that inserting the term chemical or biological ‘agents’ was unfortunate.… There was never any intent to use this for chemical or biological warfare agents.” [Global Security Newswire, 5/28/2003; San Francisco Chronicle, 6/9/2003]

Entity Tags: Miguel Morales

Category Tags: Chemical Weapons, Biological Weapons

Defense Department spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Don Sewell asserts in an email to the San Francisco Chronicle, “The Army and all other components of [Defense Department] have no plans, programs, or intentions to develop chemical or biological weapons prohibited by statute or treaty.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 6/9/2003]

Entity Tags: Don Sewell

Category Tags: Chemical Weapons, Biological Weapons

In a 233-page ruling, District Judge Jack B. Weinstein dismisses a lawsuit against US chemical companies that supplied the military with Agent Orange during the ‘60s and ‘70s. The lawsuit was filed by a group of lawyers on behalf of a million or so Vietnamese, seeking compensation for the effects of the toxic defoliant, which was sprayed on at least 3,181 villages during the Vietnam War (see 1960-1973). Agent Orange has been linked to cancer, diabetes and birth defects among Vietnamese soldiers, civilians and American veterans. Lawyers for Monsanto Co., Dow Chemical Co., Hercules Inc., and more than a dozen other companies argued that they were just following the legal orders of the commander-in-chief. “We’ve said all along that any issues regarding wartime activities should be resolved by the US and Vietnamese governments,” Scot Wheeler, a spokesman for Dow Chemical, claimed. “We believe that defoliants saved lives by protecting allied forces from enemy ambush and did not create adverse health effects.” Coming to the defense of the chemical companies, the Justice Department filed a brief asserting that a ruling against the firms could cripple the president’s powers to direct US armed forces in wartime. In his ruling Judge Weinstein concludes that the plaintiffs did not prove that Agent Orange had caused their illnesses. “The fact that diseases were experienced by some people after spraying does not suffice to provide general or specific causation,” Weinstein writes. “There is no basis for any of the claims of plaintiffs under the domestic law of any nation or state or under any form of international law. The case is dismissed.” [BBC, 3/10/2005; Associated Press, 3/10/2005]

Entity Tags: Monsanto, Hercules, Inc., Jack B. Weinstein, Dow Chemical

Category Tags: Chemical Weapons, Veterans Affairs

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