Toxic: A History of Nerve Agents, from Nazi Germany to Putin's Russia 9780197578094

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Table of contents :
Half Title
Preface and Acknowledgements
1. Axis of Weevils
2. Otto’s Fortunes
3. The End
4. Dustbins and Paperclips
5. Mites
6. Rocks and Shoals
7. Cribbing From the Wrong Notebook
8. Coming Off the Rails
9. Binary Decisions
10. The Newcomers
11. Wars in Iraq and Iran
12. The Tokyo Attack
13. The Psychological Effects of Nerve Agents
14. The Syrian War
15. Assassinations
Appendix 1: Technical Vignettes
Appendix 2: The Rest of the World
Select Bibliography
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Toxic A History of Nerve Agents, From Nazi Germany to Putin’s Russia



3 Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University’s objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide. Oxford is a registered trade mark of Oxford University Press in the UK and in certain other countries Published in the United States of America by Oxford University Press 198 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016, United States of America © Dan Kaszeta 2021 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of Oxford University Press, or as expressly permitted by law, by license, or under terms agreed with the appropriate reproduction rights organization. Inquiries concerning reproduction outside the scope of the above should be sent to the Rights Department, Oxford University Press, at the address above. You must not circulate this work in any other form and you must impose this same condition on any acquirer CIP data is on file at the Library of Congress ISBN 9780197578094 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Printed by Sheridan Books, United States of America


Foreword by Eliot Higgins Preface and Acknowledgements Prologue

vii xi xv

 1. Axis of Weevils: Germany, 1920s to 1939  2. Otto’s Fortunes: Germany, 1939–45  3. The End: Germany, 1944–45  4. Dustbins and Paperclips  5. Mites: VX, a British Nerve Agent  6. Rocks and Shoals—Building a Stockpile that was Never Used: Alabama, Colorado, and Indiana, 1950–70  7. Cribbing From the Wrong Notebook: The Soviets  8. Coming Off the Rails: The USA: 1968–70  9. Binary Decisions: The USA, 1970s to the 1990s 10. The Newcomers: Russia, 1970s to the 1990s 11. Wars in Iraq and Iran 12. The Tokyo Attack 13. The Psychological Effects of Nerve Agents 14. The Syrian War 15. Assassinations Conclusion

1 23 45 63 85


95 115 129 141 157 167 185 201 211 231 255

CONTENTS Appendix 1: Technical Vignettes Appendix 2: The Rest of the World

261 293

Notes Select Bibliography Index

315 331 349



August 21 2013 was a significant day in the history of nerve agent use. Through videos shared on social media the world saw first-hand the effects of a Sarin attack on civilians in rebel-controlled Damascus, the largest use of such weapons since the Halabja chemical attack of 1988. Over 200 videos showed the victims, among them children, suffering from the effects of Sarin, while the munitions used—locally made “Volcano” rockets and M14 140mm artillery favoured by Syrian government forces—were documented by activists and the UN team that investigated the attack.  Despite this evidence, those who would prefer to deny the Syrian government’s culpability in such attacks, from the Russian government to online conspiracy theorists, did all they could to cast doubt on the evidence and who was responsible for the atrocity.  This pattern was repeated in the hundreds of chemical weapons attacks in Syria that ensued, which occurred despite Syria having signed the Chemical Weapons Convention. The August 2013 attacks were followed by helicopter drops of chlorine cylinders, the aftermath of which was widely documented yet provoked little response from the international community. This


FOREWORD prompted the escalating use of chlorine as a chemical weapon, and eventually a series of Sarin attacks in March and April 2017 against the towns of Al-Lataminah and Khan Sheikhoun, compelling the world to take notice.  Again the denialists and truthers challenged the evidence and those investigating the attacks, hoping to change the perception of what occurred, creating a false version of history in which the Syrian government’s use of nerve agents was spun as a series of false flag chemical strikes meant to draw external powers into the Syrian civil war.  It is not only conflict zones where nerve agents continue to be used. In 2018 in the cathedral city of Salisbury, Wiltshire, former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were exposed to the nerve agent Novichok, placed on his front door by operatives of the Russian military intelligence service, the GRU. As with the use of nerve agents in Syria, the Russian government and online conspiracy theorists quickly spread false claims about the incident, peaking with the bizarre RT (formally Russia Today) interview in which the two suspects identified by British authorities claimed they were nothing more than simple sports nutrition salesmen who had travelled to Britain in order to see Salisbury cathedral and its “famous” 123m spire. Shortly afterwards, their real identities became known: Anatoliy Vladimirovich Chepiga and Alexander Yevgenyevich Mishkin, GRU officers and recipients of the Russian Federation’s highest honorary title, Hero of the Russian Federation, bestowed personally by President Vladimir Putin.  The Salisbury attack was not an isolated incident. Further investigation of the Skripal attack revealed a third suspect, Denis Vyacheslavovich Sergeev, a GRU officer who had found himself in Bulgaria in 2015 at the same time Emilian Gebrev, a Bulgarian businessman, was poisoned by an as yet unidentified nerve agent. Local authorities had dismissed the poisoning, with the prosecu 


FOREWORD tor general suggesting that Gebrev had fallen sick after eating a tainted rocket salad. With the revelations around the Skripal case and the third Skripal suspect’s travels to Bulgaria, the investigation was reopened four years later, with more GRU officers identified as having been in Bulgaria at the time of the poisoning, staying close to Gebrev’s place of work.  There is a growing interest in the history of nerve agents, not only how they are made and deployed, but how their use is denied by those pursuing their own political agendas. From Sarin to Novichok, the twenty-first century demonstrates that the use of nerve agents, far from being an unacceptable and unethical practice, is an increasing threat to civilian populations across the world, be it part of conventional wars or state sponsored assassinations. How we reached this moment should not be forgotten, and nor should that history be twisted by conspiracists pursuing their own agendas. Eliot Higgins

London, January 2020



During the Cold War, generations of soldiers from many countries, myself included, were taught to fear nerve agents, a category of chemical weapon that would kill us in nine seconds if we failed to put on our gas masks. Other, better known, chemical weapons such as “Mustard gas” would contaminate things or make us sick, but nerve agents were the worst imaginable.  Throughout my career, as I learned more about nerve agents, the less I feared them. It was only later that I started to ponder their history. They had been developed in Nazi Germany, but never used, even when Hitler’s regime was struggling desperately for survival. The Eastern Bloc and the West later embarked on a chemical weapons arms race and amassed thousands of tons of nerve agents. Fortunately these chemical arsenals barely saw the light of day, given their mutual deterrent effect. By the time I was putting on gas masks as a young Chemical Corps lieutenant, it had been over two decades since the US Army halted its mass production of chemical weapons and many of those with firsthand knowledge had retired or died.  Realisation dawned on me gradually. Nerve agents were unpredictable as battlefield weapons and generally disliked by military commanders. As weapons of war, they did not live up to


PREFACE AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS the claims of their inventors, yet that offers no comfort to soldiers scrambling to put on gas masks in order to stay in the battle. A well-trained, well-equipped army can defend itself against nerve agents provided their discipline and equipment are of a high order. Nerve agents kill far more effectively when deployed against the poorly equipped and poorly trained.  The bloody Iran–Iraq War of 1980–88 saw the first significant battlefield use of nerve agents, as Iraq fought a numerically superior Iranian adversary whose anti-chemical weapons training was minimal. As if this were not bad enough, in March 1988 Saddam Hussein’s government unleashed nerve agents on civilians.  A series of airstrikes fell on Halabja, in the Kurdish region of Iraq. Observers some distance from the city saw clouds of whiteish smoke rise, and as repeated sorties continued to drop bombs and cluster munitions, a mist engulfed the city.  Many of Halabja’s people died very quickly. Some were described as laughing hysterically, probably reflecting a combination of respiratory distress, disorientation and confused behaviour, and convulsions, all of which are nerve agent symptoms. The death toll is uncertain, as is the breakdown between deaths from conventional attack (which were numerous that day) and fatalities from chemical agents.  The story of nerve agents could and should have ended at Halabja. But it didn’t. Arms control agreements relegated the vast cold war stockpiles to the incineration furnaces, but not everyone abided by either the letter or the spirit of international law. My own role transitioned from one of obscurity to a position in the White House after Japanese cult members used Sarin, an act that shocked the world into the realisation that nerve agents had not been eradicated. Chemical terrorism went from an abstract hypothesis to a genuine concern.  In more recent years, I became involved in an “open source intelligence” effort that evolved into what is now known as xii

PREFACE AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Bellingcat. The brutal war in Syria demonstrated that nationallevel nerve agent programmes still existed. From 2013 on, thousands of people were exposed to nerve agents, and many died gruesome deaths similar to those witnessed in the Halabja massacre. This war continues to this day and the perpetrators of chemical war crimes in Syria go unpunished. Finally, in early 2018, a nerve agent was used when Russian intelligence agents attempted to murder two Russian nationals in the UK city of Salisbury. Taken together, these events show that the already long history of chemical weapons use is far from over. * * * Many people provided help, encouragement, or other forms of assistance crucial to the completion of this book. First, I want to thank Michael Dwyer and his team at Hurst Publishers for helping turn this crazy idea into a real book. Alexandra Dauler was very helpful in the editing process. My wife, Sophie Tyler, has put up with a lot, for which I am grateful. The staff at the British Library and the National Archives at Kew have not once let me down. I am very grateful to Adolfo and Valentina Cristanini and Stefano Miorotti at Cristanini Decontamination in Italy for their strong encouragement and support of this project in several ways. I also want to give a special thanks to my informal squad of chemical and medical advisors, including Andrea Sella, Cheryl Rofer, Clyde Davies, Jonathan Newmark, Tariq Bhatti, and several others who have asked to remain anonymous. Greg Koblentz, Jean Pascal Zanders, Hans de Vreij, Mark Urban, Sarah Hightower and Kyle Olson shared their insights on various individual aspects of this lengthy story. Christian Sommade, Mia Bloom, C. J. Chivers, and Mac Bishop provided encouragement when I needed it. Julian Robinson, Caitriona McLeish, Alex Ghiotis, and James Revill at the University of Sussex have an amazing stockpile of documents and were very helpful in finding sources in


PREFACE AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS their archive. The Cheltenham Science Festival, the Royal United Services Institute, the BBC (especially Fiona Hill), CBRNe World magazine (and its editor Gwyn Winfield), and the “Cryptos” Society at the Reform Club gave me opportunities to talk and write about the history of nerve agents. Thank you to Roger Moorhouse for last-minute technical corrections. Eliot Higgins not only wrote a nice foreword to this book, but is also part of the story of nerve agents and one of the reasons why people seek me out to talk about chemical weapons. I also want to thank Bishop Nick Holtam, the Reverend Kelvin Inglis, and Michael Yandell for allowing me to interview them. Len Walker and Gary Cain acted as layperson test audiences for many chapters of the book. Special thanks must go to Ted and Carole Cox for use of a fine edicola in Florence during the writing of chapter 4. I discovered that I have an entire legion of fans on Twitter who make me laugh and keep me going when I flag. My Twitter fans are too many to mention, but two Andrews, two Martins, David, Adam, Emma, Kelsey, Natalia, and the rest of you deserve credit for your support. You know who you are. There are many others, too, and after months of writing about things that damage the brain, I am likely leaving someone out. I apologise if I have done so. Finally, the staff of the Cask pub and The Oriental Club deserve great accolades for keeping me fed and watered and putting up with me muttering to myself over a laptop.



The story of nerve agents and their use as a weapon begins in antiquity, with the Calabar bean. Native to West Africa it is the seed of Physostigma venenosum, a leguminous plant poisonous to humans. In Calabar, in what is now south-eastern Nigeria, the seed was known as the “ordeal bean” given its use in judicial proceedings. A person accused of a grave crime, such as witchcraft, would be forced to eat the beans, and fall ill. Some would recover but others would not. If you lived, because you had vomited up the poison, you were deemed innocent of the charges; if you absorbed the poison and died, you were guilty. In similar fashion, the Calabar bean was used in a form of Russian roulette; both parties would eat beans until one died a gruesome death. Victims salivated profusely, lost control over their bowels and urinary tract, had serious seizures, and eventually died of asphyxiation.  European missionaries returned home from Africa in the nineteenth century with first-hand accounts of ordeal by bean, but it took a long time for science to catch up. In 1855 a University of Edinburgh professor of medicine named Sir Robert Christison (1797–1882), one of the great physicians and toxicologists of his era, presented a paper1 to the Royal Society of Edinburgh describing the properties of the bean. His words are compelling:


PROLOGUE Scarcely do signs of uneasiness appear after a fatal dose has been given, when the animal becomes in quick succession languid, prostrate, flaccid, immovable; respiration, now faint, speedily ceases; and death is complete. It may thus appear to die insensible and comatose. But that is not the case. So long as the power of expression remains, amidst the swiftly advancing languor, signs of sensation may be elicited. Or we might infer from the phenomena that it dies of paralysis of the voluntary and respiratory muscles. But this too is in all probability not the fact. For, on dissection immediately after respiration ceases, the heart is found in a state of paralysis; and it is evident that a quickly increasing paralysis of the heart not only explains the mode of death,but might likewise account for the antecedent muscular weakness and flaccidity.

 While his language might be dated, he might as well be describing the autopsy of a Syrian victim of a Sarin attack in 2013. Professor Christison even took doses of the bean himself and made himself quite ill, either deliberately, or by accident. What he did not know at the time was that he was describing nerve agent poisoning.  Later, science would put a name to the active ingredient in the Calabar bean, namely the chemical compound physostigmine. It is in the chemical family known as the carbamates, and is useful, in controlled small doses, as a medical therapy for a variety of conditions such as glaucoma. The carbamates include many interesting chemicals, most of them technically qualifying as “nerve agents.” But this is only the beginning of the story. While a few carbamates will surface later, the sinister tale of nerve agents is to be found not in nature, but in the laboratory. It begins some decades later, in Germany, with the other great chemical family of nerve agents, the organophosphates.




Synthetic, man-made nerve agents are a family of chemicals that interfere with the chemistry of the human nervous system in a particular way. Their development sprang from concerns about the havoc wrought by insects such as weevils, aphids, and beetles, and their story begins in Germany after the First World War.  Feeding one’s own armies and population is a prerequisite of winning wars, as is avoiding the curses of pestilence and famine. The lessons of the First World War were many. One of them was that Germany, while not fully landlocked, is easily blockaded, hence domestic agriculture would have to feed its people. Research into fertilizers and pesticides, while not as glamorous as developing submarines and airplanes, was vital to war planning. Insects and other vermin could directly affect the course of the conflict while invasive species such as the Colorado Potato Beetle could cause horrible losses to farmers. Pesticides were needed to ensure Germany’s food security.  Once full-scale re-armament of Germany began in the 1930s, agriculture was a consideration in war planning. The hostile


TOXIC naval blockade had demonstrated the ease with which the country could be cut off from the world. It impinged on Germany’s ability to import oil and chemicals, which had immediate repercussions, given that many of the products manufactured by a modern chemical industry in the 1930s relied partially or wholly on hydrocarbons derived from petrochemicals. Many pesticides also used petroleum products such as kerosene as carriers. Others were problematic for safety reasons. Ethylene oxide was useful in grain silos and ship holds but was highly explosive. Nicotine was effective but also imported. Pesticides made from petroleum products or using petroleum products for their dispersal would be competing directly with fuel for tanks and airplanes. If chemicals that could be made from minerals, of which Germany had an adequate domestic supply, it would help the war effort.  The development of nerve agents in Germany owes much to Dr Willy Lange. Lange had started his career as a chemist, under­ taking graduate level studies at Friedrick Wilhelms University in Berlin.1 He performed much useful and interesting research into fluorine and chemical compounds containing fluorine. As fluorine compounds showed some toxicity, he felt that some were possibly useful as insecticides, as a patent2 of his from 1930 shows. As well as its various chemical properties as a halogen— cousin to elements like iodine and chlorine—fluorine was available in Germany, which assumed great significance. Minerals containing fluorine, such as fluorspar, were available from mines within Germany’s borders, allowing certain fluorine derivatives to be manufactured without the need for expensive imports.  In 1925 Lange married Lilli Baerman (1901–82), a collea­ gue from the Chemical Institute. Little is known about her except that she was Jewish. In 1932, Dr Lange worked with a graduate student, Gerda von Krüger. She came from a military family and may have been Lange’s only PhD student. Women chemists were not unknown in Weimar Germany, but neither  




AXIS OF WEEVILS were they plentiful, and few progressed to doctoral level. Together, they worked on phosphoric acid esters, the beginnings of organo­ phosphate chemistry.  Organophosphorus compounds have a phosphorus atom at their core. A phosphorus atom can bind to up to five other atoms, making the number of possible combinations of phosphorus compounds quite large. Organophosphorus compounds have an oxygen atom attached to the phosphorus atom, but this leaves the potential for a wide variety of other types and combinations of atoms. In layperson’s terms, the phosphorus atom can have a number of arms attached to it, and the variety of organophosphate compounds results from experimentally attaching various arms to the core.  Lange and Krüger soon discovered that this family of chemical compounds can have toxic effects. They theorised that such chemicals could be useful as pesticides and characterized them in compelling language: The fumes of these compounds have a pleasant, slightly aromatic odour. But a few minutes after inhalation there is a feeling of pressure to the larynx and difficulty in breathing. Then a disturbance of consciousness develops as well as blurred vision and painful oversensitivity of the eyes to light…. The effects are produced by very small amounts.3

 This indicates that one or both of them had been exposed to the chemicals, hence we can safely contend that either or both Lange and Krüger were likely the first victims of synthetic nerve agents. The effects on their vision were a condition called miosis—the pinpointing of the pupils in the eye. Krüger later stated in her dissertation4 that less than a milligram of the material could have such an effect, which differed significantly from most chemicals known at the time.  Once Krüger’s dissertation was completed, their research in the field tapered off. Lange’s marriage to a Jewish woman was


TOXIC held against him by the Nazi government and he left academia, working for several years for the soap and detergent firm Henkel. The Langes emigrated to the United States in 1939 and Dr Krüger also abandoned nerve agent research.  The research initially carried out by Lange and Krüger did not go unnoticed although the transition of nerve agents from laboratory to factory and from chemical to weapon occurred several years later. BIOS Report 7145 mentions Lange and Krüger. This was produced by an organisation called the British Intelligence Objectives Sub-Committee (BIOS) which systematically debriefed hundreds, if not thousands, of German scientists, engineers, and officers after the Second World War. Report 714 is called “The Development of New Insecticides” and is a detailed report largely written by Dr Gerhard Schrader, who worked for IG Farben.  IG Farben was the colossus of German chemical production. It had been founded in late 1925 as the product of a merger of six major German firms—BASF (later of videotape fame), Bayer (of aspirin fame), Hoechst, Agfa (once known for the finest black and white film), Chemische Fabrik Griesheim-Elektron, and Chemische Fabrik vorm. Weiler Ter Meer. The new conglomerate had about 100,000 employees and facilities across Germany. By 1938, IG Farben had expanded to well over 200,000 employees and was one of the pillars of German industry.  A young man now enters the story. Dr Paul Gerhard Heinrich Schrader was born in 1903 in the town of Bortfeld, in Lower Saxony. In 1928, he earned a doctoral degree in chemical engineering from Brauschweig University and started working at the Bayer division of IG Farben, researching and testing dyes at the development laboratory in Elberfeld. In 1934, young Dr Schrader, now married, was reassigned from dyes to crop protection and instructed to work on new insecticides. These had to be economical, safe to handle by people, preferably nonflammable, but still capable of eradicating the target pests such  











AXIS OF WEEVILS as aphids, beetles, or fleas. His colleague at IG Farben, Dr Hans Kükenthal, a biologist, would subject insects to Schrader’s promising new compounds. Another researcher, Professor Eberhard Gross, who headed the Industrial Hygiene Laboratory, evaluated their safety and toxicity.  Schrader began conducting research in the then novel field of organic compounds containing sulfur6 or fluorine. Reading the reports of his post-war interrogation, it is clear that he systematically set about making new chemical compounds on a prodigious scale. Schrader’s interrogators and his own report record hundreds of compounds. He started with fluorinated ones. These were often quite toxic, so they were theoretically useful as pesticides. However some were extremely irritating,7 which might make them difficult for agricultural workers to use. For various reasons, few of the compounds Schrader worked on early on had the necessary properties to be useful pesticides. For example, the promising compound methanesulphonyl fluoride8 was shown to poison all the grain stored in a silo, while also killing any pests.  Schrader’s team decided to move slightly further along the periodic table of the elements. His team at Bayer hit upon a family of “organophosphate” compounds that had phosphorus in the centre and four different branches. He was, in layperson’s terms, attaching a wide variety of arms to the central phosphorus atom. Many theoretical possibilities were opened up for Schrader, but he found Lange’s pioneering research hard-going: “For the preparation [of diethyl fluorophosphonate] Lange gave a laborious and scarcely reproducible process”9—strong words from a fellow scientist. However, by standing on the shoulders of Lange and Krüger, Schrader synthesized at least 2,000 organophosphorus compounds while at IG Farben.10  As part of his programme to systematically work through the various possible compounds in the organophosphorus family, he came around to the idea of incorporating cyanide into the chemi 




TOXIC cals. Cyanide, which is a carbon and a nitrogen atom, is already a poison in its own right and Schrader deduced that he could put a—CN (cyanide) into one of these potential pesticides. He was right. In November 1936, he created a substance C5H11N202P, referred to in Dr Schrader’s notes11 as “Compound 9/91” or “dimethylamino-cyan-phosphorsäure-ätheylester”. This was a clear runny liquid which looked like water. After his first experience synthesizing compound 9/91, Schrader became short of breath. He had dimness of vision, a headache, and could not concentrate. Later, while driving home at night, he fell acutely ill. He had difficulty breathing and could not see the road in front of him. Ever the scientist, he examined his eyes as best he could and discovered that his pupils were pinpointed and did not dilate in the darkness as they normally should.12 He ended up spending several weeks in hospital, having become perhaps the second recorded victim of synthetic nerve agents.  After recovering, Schrader returned to the laboratory to find out just what it was that he had done. After working through several variables, he worked out a reproducible production process and, importantly, managed to purify the end result—on 23 December 1936. After Christmas, Dr Kükenthal tested a sample of 9/91. A very small amount, diluted in solvent, killed all the leaf lice in a sample. A 100% kill rate, even in extremely weak dilution, was impressive. The compound, which was relabelled13 P-100 at some point during those early days, had a faintly fruity odour. It also killed on impact. Although the smell was not unpleasant, Schrader and his staff discovered that even fumes from the tiniest drop on a laboratory bench gave rise to signs and symptoms of illness. Fear of poisoning slowed the work. A sample was sent to Dr Gross in February 1937 for toxicology and safety testing, as a substance unsafe for people and hence unsuitable for many plant protection roles.  Dr Gross tested many different IG Farben products for safety. He was well suited for tests on laboratory animals and had all of  







AXIS OF WEEVILS the necessary apparatus for systematic toxicology tests, having conducted many such tests on possible drugs, pesticides, and other chemicals. After receiving a request letter and a sample of P-100, Gross got to work in February 1937. Renaming the product Le-100, Gross tested the new substance on small and large animals at Elberfeld. His subsequent toxicology report was stunning. Using expensive imported apes, Gross injected very small amounts of the new substance. As little as one tenth of a milligram (a very tiny amount) per kilogram of body weight would kill a monkey. The ape would manifest nausea, drooling and sweating (apes, though furry, will sweat on their palms and soles), difficulty breathing, pinpointed eye pupils, and convulsions. The respiration and heart rate slowed as those muscles seized up, lack of oxygen killing the ape. To put this in context, a quantity as small as one thirtieth of a grain of rice could kill a Barbary macaque.  The industrial hygiene laboratory also had a chamber for testing gases, vapours, and aerosols. (An aerosol is a fine mist of a solid or liquid, and aerosols play an important role in chemical warfare.) Gerhard Schrader described the test chamber at Elberfeld in his interrogation.14 The 100 cubic metre chamber was constructed from glass and concrete, and was rubber-coated. It was in here that every single test animal died after exposure to 25mg of Le-100 per cubic metre of air, usually within sixteen to twenty-five minutes. This was a level of toxicity rarely if ever seen in a respiratory hazard. Schrader and Gross immediately realized that what they were looking at was simply too dangerous for use as a pesticide. It would kill all the pests; but it would also kill all of their workers. Schrader was disappointed, given this exciting new compound was not proving as useful as he intended.  The stunning degree of toxicity of this new substance prompted IG Farben’s management not only to take serious note of these developments, but also to report the new compound to the authorities in Berlin. An IG Farben official, Dr Heinrich  





TOXIC Hörlein, reading of Schrader and Gross’s work, submitted a report in April 1937 to Waffenprüfamt 9 in Charlottenburg, in the east of Berlin. This was the branch of the military responsible for developing and testing chemical warfare agents and equipment. But why did the company alert Berlin in the first place? Its motivations are worth examining.  As part of Germany’s re-armament campaign the government mandated that inventions and patents of possible military significance must be reported to Berlin. Toxic chemicals were of interest, and many had already been reported before Schrader developed 9/91. By 1944, up to 200 toxic chemicals had been classified by the Defence Ministry.15 This gave a legal framework for lawabiding management to push ideas forward. That the re-armament campaign was spending huge sums of money on ideas with military application surely helped promote compliance.  A second major factor was the desire to improve upon the chemical warfare agents from the First World War. Germany had initiated large-scale chemical warfare in 1915, but chemical weapons had not lived up to their promise and nor had they broken the deadlock on the Western Front. The outcome of very few battles was determined by chemical weapons. Of the many millions killed in the First World War, fewer than 100,000 died from exposure to chemical warfare agents. Arguably, chemical weapons were a factor in the catastrophic defeat of the Italians at Caporetto, which was witnessed by Erwin Rommel and Ernest Hemingway. Poor quality masks, panic among the Italian troops, and an adroit follow-up into the chemical environment by wellequipped German troops combined to rout the Italians.16 Arguably, given the dire state of the Italian Army, Caporetto was a defeat foretold.  None of the chemical weapons used in the war were ideal. Chlorine had to be transported in large cylinders in order to achieve the desired volume and concentration. It could take days 8

AXIS OF WEEVILS of highly visible logistical preparation to set up an attack, and winds rarely synchronised with the other tactical imperatives to allow chlorine to be used for optimal effect with other battlefield weapons. It was quickly abandoned in favour of phosgene. Phosgene is six to ten times more toxic than chlorine and could be employed in bombs and shells far more effectively than chlorine. While it was responsible for most of the chemical warfare deaths in the war, phosgene—a liquid at cold temperatures—was delayed in effect and had a distinct smell of new mown hay that warned of its arrival. French, British, and German gas masks could defend against it and well-trained and equipped soldiers were unlikely to suffer many casualties. Its biggest impact was against under-trained and under-equipped troops, such as the Italians or Russians. By the 1930s, phosgene was an established threat and every modern army trained against it.  Other compounds were tried, but failed to make a major impact. Hydrogen cyanide, while quite lethal in theory, was flammable and lighter than air, not a reasonable combination for use against entrenched troops. Late in the war, Mustard made its debut.17 It was rarely lethal, and even then its lethality was largely due to infection that followed days or weeks later. Rather, it was a nasty weapon of attrition, causing temporary or permanent disfigurement, painful blisters, and contaminating terrain. Mustard’s effects were delayed, and it was practically useless in cold weather as it turned solid. It was a dirty weapon in a dirty war. Lewisite was based on arsenic chemistry, and was immediately irritating as well as toxic, but was not available before the war ended. Thus the Wehrmacht’s chemical branch continued its search for chemical warfare agents that would fare better than those used in the previous war. All had problems, so any improvement would be welcome.  Interest in “war gases” was not, in its own right, a feature of Nazi re-armament. The terms of Germany’s surrender saw the


TOXIC chemical warfare infrastructure dismantled. The Geneva Protocol, signed in 1925, did not prohibit manufacturing or development of chemical weapons and in effect was a “no first use” treaty. All of the major European nations and many of the minor ones continued to develop chemical weapons, ostensibly for retaliatory and deterrent purposes. Germany was no different in this regard. The Reichswehr, the German army of the preNazi Weimar era, although poorly resourced, resumed work on chemical weapons in the 1920s. Indeed, under the terms of the Treaty of Rapallo, there was collaboration between Germany and the Soviet Union on chemical warfare, and German officers and scientists worked together on testing and development at the Tomka site near Volsk, on the Volga. One of these Germans was the toxicologist Dr Wirth, who took an early interest in the Le-100 research.  The final factor facilitating the promotion of P-100 was the role of Dr Hörlein. A chemist by training, by late 1936 he was head of pharmaceutical research at IG Farben. He was a member of the Nazi party and had long been a proponent of chemical warfare. Sensing both an opportunity for the company and a way to make chemical warfare more lethal, he forwarded reports on P-100 to the Wehrmacht’s ordnance and acquisition wing—the Heereswaffenamt (HWA). A less ideologically motivated individual who was not so keen to promote chemical warfare could conceivably have buried P-100 among the many hundreds of chemicals churned out by the development labs. But Hörlein was keen to take credit for the nerve agents, and according to Schrader’s interrogation file he never once set foot in his lab and kept Schrader out of meetings with the government.18  Both wider policy and specific military requirements set the environment which saw P-100 move up the ladder at IG Farben while Dr Hörlein was giving it a push from below. The bureaucracy in Berlin took note of the report from IG Farben and  







AXIS OF WEEVILS swung into action. This new P-100/Le-100 compound was much more than an alteration in the freezing point of Mustard gas or a better bomb for delivering phosgene: it was a game-changer. Lt Col Rüdiger, commander of Waffenprüfamt 9, sent two of his scientists, Drs Leopold von Sicherer and Wolfgang Wirth, to visit IG Farben to see for themselves and report back. Dr Gross still had some Le-100 to hand and demonstrated it to von Sicherer and Wirth by testing it on mice. All the mice died within twenty minutes whereas the existing German chemical weapons would take hours to have the same effect.  While Schrader continued to work on organophosphorus compounds, the story of nerve agents now shifts to the Spandau Citadel, on the outskirts of Berlin. The Gas Protection Laboratory, the heart and brain of both offensive and defensive chemical doctrine and technology for the German military, was located there. The Citadel contained various laboratories and pilot plants for making and testing small quantities of chemical warfare agents. Various buildings in the complex were set up for aerosol and munitions detonation tests inside special chambers. While this laboratory had been working on improvements to chemical warfare agents, it lacked the size and sophistication of IG Farben laboratories. No existing work underway there in 1937 would have led them down the road to Le-100.19 Schrader’s new agent was definitely of interest to Spandau and he was duly summoned. After explaining the compound to the army, Schrader’s research was co-opted: any forthcoming patent was to be classified as a state secret and the army would take the lead in developing this new weapon. No account remains of exactly who suggested it, but the nickname “Tabun” (“taboo”) soon stuck, although it was also known as Substance 83 and Trilon 83. Trilon was an IG Farben laundry product, so this would be handy in hiding the chemical in company documentation. Schrader himself was awarded a handsome cash award, sharing 50,000  





TOXIC Reichsmarks with Dr Gross.20 It was equivalent to months of his salary. He was instructed to produce a kilogram of Tabun and send it to Spandau for testing. Based on Schrader’s notes and advice, Lt Col Rüdiger ordered some remodelling and rearrangement of one of the Spandau laboratories in order to set up pilotscale production of Tabun.  Schrader was sent back home and eventually, after some months, assigned to a different laboratory at Elberfeld, on the orders of Dr Hörlein. He was instructed to continue his work in pesticides, with an open brief to let Spandau know if he discovered anything else. Much of the IG Farben management was relieved at this outcome, as manufacturing this new Tabun agent could easily endanger its employees while the required secrecy would have been hard to maintain in its existing plants.  Hermann Ochsner, the head of the chemical branch of the German army, was excited by Tabun and referred to these new compounds as “very useful agents”21 albeit ones that were going to be expensive to produce. He set high standards for what constituted a useful improvement over existing chemical warfare agents and Tabun met these requirements. It had no unpleasant odour, it was hard to detect, and affected humans through the skin as well as through inhalation. It also worked rapidly. Also, smaller, non-lethal doses were likely to cause incapacitation, so even if it didn’t kill an enemy soldier it rendered them useless for battle. Ochsner was convinced that other countries were likely ahead of Germany in the acquisition of chemical weapons: “The general impression held in Germany was that in all matters pertaining to gas warfare, we lagged seriously behind foreign powers.”22 Germany needed to catch up.  In Spandau, testing of Tabun became the top priority, as it outclassed all of the other chemical compounds in the development pipeline. With samples of material coming from Schrader and their own pilot plant in a basement in the Spandau Citadel  




AXIS OF WEEVILS trickling out small stocks, they commenced military testing in ways that IG Farben would never have been able or willing to do.  Raubkammer, which literally means “Robber’s Chamber”, has always been a secretive place. Located on Lüneberger Heath, not far from Münster, it was a long established training area, housed prisoners of war during the First World War and was the site of chemical warfare activities during that epochal conflict. To this day much of the region is still the preserve of the Bundeswehr, or German army, whose artillery units practise firing and manoeuvres there. In the 1930s, Raubkammer was a chemical warfare facility and proving ground for agents and munitions. Everything necessary for the outdoor testing of chemical bombs, artillery, land mines, and aerial spray tanks had been thoughtfully and thoroughly designed and built by German engineers supported by hundreds of staff. Tabun was taken here for serious trials, which went on for years, as both the manufacturing process improved (allowing for greater quantities to be made) and various munitions were developed or improved. Much of what we now know as the Tabun trials comes from an exhaustively detailed set of captured German documents now on file in the National Archives in Kew, simply known as War Office File 188/1567.  The early Tabun trials set the pattern for numerous later tests, which went on until the end of the war and were selectively repeated by the Allies after 1945. The Raubkammer grounds had a gas chamber similar to Dr Gross’s, and some of the earlier work was re-created to ensure its reproducibility. The German army trusted only its own research and calculations. Artillery and mortar shells were tested in the Messhaus at Raubkammer, a large test chamber some 20 metres tall and 30 metres wide. Shells filled with chemical agents could be test-detonated in the centre of the chamber and the concentration of vapour or aerosol at various points was measured. This allowed the scientists to approximate the spread of liquid contamination.  



TOXIC  A large part of the work at Raubkammer involved testing on animals. Real-time sampling and detection equipment were in their infancy, yet test animals were exposed to clouds of chemical agents and their reactions monitored without recourse to sophisticated modern electronics. One does not need a mass spectrometer to see that a dead cat is, in fact, a dead cat. Raubkammer had a zoological facility and staff devoted to keeping animals as small as a mouse and as large as a horse. These and other mammals were tethered inside the test chamber and subjected to post-mortem necropsy. As Germany no longer boasted a colonial empire, procuring monkeys and apes proved difficult and expensive. By the outbreak of war, the only primate source Germany could rely upon was a few Barbary macaques from Spain. Franco’s regime, no doubt impoverished by its civil war, charged a high premium for these specimens, as much as 200,000 Swiss Francs for a colony, many of which died in transit.23 Nazi bureaucrats decreed that other animals would have to do, hence stray dogs and cats became the preferred option.  Work in the Messhaus proceeded slowly until larger amounts of Tabun became available. Early on in the testing, it was determined that a particular type of dissemination would be needed for this new liquid, with a consistency nearly that of water. It was neither the volatile liquid of compressed phosgene that, due to its boiling point, would turn to gas immediately in all but the coldest of weather, nor was it the oily liquid of Sulfur Mustard, designed to contaminate terrain with droplets. Dissemination of Tabun by means of explosive weapons had to be calibrated. An artillery shell would need an explosive bursting charge to break open the shell and to suspend the liquid in a fine aerosol mist of small droplets. Too little explosive and the shell would crack open, leaving a big puddle on the ground. Too much explosive and much, if not all, of the Tabun filling would be destroyed. Tabun proved to be sensitive to destruction by the heat of explo14

AXIS OF WEEVILS sion, and even the best shells destroyed some of the contents. Both Messhaus and outdoor trials would be needed to assess the combinations of shell, explosive, fuse, and filling and the German scientists realised that hundreds, if not thousands, of such test firings would be required to optimize a chemical artillery shell. Moreover, any alteration in the physical characteristics of the filling, such as additives or impurities in the Tabun, would change everything, throwing off the calculations.  A main part of the site was the Übungsplatz. This was, in many ways, a typical artillery firing range. It could be populated by sampling devices and test animals, such as dogs, cats, and guinea pigs, either tethered or caged at intervals. The latest in meteorological instruments were used to gather data and meteorologists were part of the Raubkammer cadre. Wind direction, wind speed, sunshine, air temperature, and humidity were all critically important in understanding the behaviour of chemical warfare agents.  In 1938 a new piece of apparatus was added to the Raubkammer proving ground. The “Vauzet Turm” was a specialised steel tower topped by a rotating platform, on which were mounted a 105mm and a 150mm howitzer, the main artillery pieces for delivering chemical shells. These could be fired in such a way that the shells hit the test target with exactly the same velocity with which they would hit the ground in a long range artillery barrage. The rotating platform, ten metres above the ground, ensured that wind direction could be accounted for. Chemical artillery shells could then be fired precisely into a 100 metre diameter circle, encircled with sampling equipment. A concrete lined trench around the target area held a small narrow-gauge rail track,24 on which sampling and detection equipment, or test animals, such as cats, could be placed. Thus we can imagine the darkly comic scene of gas-masked technicians running, in effect, a large model railroad with caged, declawed cats in a circle. Such


TOXIC set-ups, when combined with air sampling data, could yield precise testing data on the dispersion patterns of liquid, aerosol, and vapour for a given shell. After the war, British scientists from Porton Down called this a “very desirable piece of equipment” and strongly intimated that this saved the Germans much trial and error.25 The 105mm shell was eventually selected and optimised as the Wehrmacht’s primary Tabun weapon. It was called the FH Gr39 Grünring 3 (because three rings of green paint were used to mark the shells as a code to indicate their toxic contents), and its final configuration contained 1.6kg of Tabun liquid and a bursting charge of 264 grams of TNT.26  Raubkammer also started collaborating with the Air Ministry and the Luftwaffe. Aerial bombing with chemicals had been pioneered in the interwar years by Spain in the Rif War in Morocco and in Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia. The Luftwaffe settled on a 250kg air-dropped bomb, the KC250, which contained 75 to 88kg of Tabun, as various amounts were trialled and could be dropped from Luftwaffe aircraft such as the Junkers Ju 88. The KC250 was then dropped from altitude onto test ranges populated with test animals and monitored by instruments.  The results were not as impressive as one might imagine, given how much theoretical toxicity 80 or more kg of Tabun contains, which was sufficient to kill many thousands of people if administered directly and efficiently.27 One such test, undertaken on 30 August 1939, was of a KC250 bomb which was detonated at ground level in relatively good conditions for chemical attack. Winds were a gentle breeze ranging from 1 to 3 metres per second (roughly 2 to 7mph), air temperature was a pleasant 24C, and humidity was 57%. There was direct sunshine. By using test animals (principally the aforementioned strays), the Raubkammer technicians could determine the maximum downwind range for lethal and non-lethal effects. In this particular test, the maximum lethal range downwind was only 87 metres—  


AXIS OF WEEVILS in other words, that was the furthest distance at which a test animal died. The non-lethal range, i.e. the maximum distance at which an animal was detectably ill, was 190 metres. In this particular test, 17 animals were dead, 9 were quite ill, 33 were only somewhat affected, and 22 test animals, perhaps the luckiest cats in Europe, remained unaffected. I should stress that this example was plucked more or less at random from the original German data tables, most of which are handwritten. Some are more legible than others. Some test runs yielded bigger results, some yielded poorer ones.  This new Tabun substance was far more dangerous than anything that had been used previously at Raubkammer. Much lowlevel accidental exposure to Tabun occurred. In addition, lowlevel doses of Tabun were given to volunteers. Given what we now know of the propensity of Nazi Germany to use prisoners as test guinea pigs, this may come as no surprise. But before the war Raubkammer paid clerks, students, and labourers a premium financial incentive to participate in non-lethal trials. There is no evidence of the use of prisoners or concentration camp inmates in the pre-war Raubkammer tests, nor was the infrastructure available at the test site to handle large numbers of prisoners. Given the Nazis’ propensity for human experimentation, Raubkammer appears to have been no more or less ethical in its use of humans than American or British studies from twenty years later. Both the accidental and deliberate exposures at Raubkammer allowed the Military Medical Academy to amass a body of knowledge on how to treat nerve agent exposure. An important discovery was that two drugs, both available at the time, helped alleviate the signs and symptoms of the nerve agent.  By 1939, the basic weapon configurations were a 105mm artillery shell and the 250kg aerial bomb. Supplies of Tabun remained inadequate for testing. By February 1939, the pilot plant in the basement in Spandau was still only making 30kg batches—not


TOXIC even enough to fill a single air-dropped bomb—hence the decision to build a larger production facility at Raubkammer. Named the Vorwerk Heidkrug,28 this new facility made Tabun in 400 to 500kg batches, which would be sufficient for testing, albeit insufficient for national rearmament. Over the course of 1939, more Tabun was made available for Raubkammer trials, resulting in more frequent test firings of artillery and test drops of bombs.  Dr Schrader, a chemist rather than a weapons specialist, was entirely absent from the Raubkammer trials. Back at IG Farben his work on pesticides continued, research that was considered as vital to Farben and to Germany as his discovery of Tabun. He was transferred back to Elberfeld and given better laboratory facilities to continue his experiments. Schrader now had better and safer equipment, and thus was spared his earlier injuries with Tabun. As far as his research was concerned, Tabun represented the furthest Schrader could go in the direction of adding cyanide to organophosphates, so he resumed his research on fluorine. A wide variety of compounds, termed analogues, came out of his lab, with widely varying effectiveness. Schrader failed to work out a theoretical basis for why the analogues varied so much in their usefulness, so he had to resort to brute force trial and error. Given the number of substances he recited from memory in his 1945 interrogation sessions, which were only a small percentage of those he developed, one can conclude that Schrader was likely a workaholic.  Late in 1938, Schrader developed a new organophosphorus compound with a fluorine atom attached to the phosphorus core. This particular chemical, a clear liquid, was more toxic than Tabun. It was very effective on insects, even in very weak dilution. As always, he sent a sample to his colleague Dr Gross for toxicology testing. The new compound was nicknamed “Substance 146” and exceeded all expectations when exposed to guinea pigs, dogs and monkeys. Unlike the vague fruity smell  




AXIS OF WEEVILS of Tabun, this new compound was almost completely odourless; it was also more volatile than Tabun. In other words, it went from liquid to vapour more quickly, which meant that it offered a quicker inhalation hazard when disseminated in liquid form and would not last as long on surfaces. “Substance 146” proved less persistent in the environment and hence did not pose a lengthy contamination hazard. Furthermore, it was more poisonous. Analysis of the dead test animals and measurements of the doses they received clearly showed that this new chemical was at least twice as toxic as Tabun, and possibly even ten times as toxic, when measured in terms of milligrams per kilogram of body weight. Instead of a tenth of a grain of rice, the toxic amount was possibly as small as a tenth of a tenth. A kilogram could kill many thousands of people, given the correct circumstances. Nothing this poisonous had been noted in science to date. Based on their Tabun experience, Schrader and Gross knew what had to be done. They reported this new substance’s discovery to Spandau.  The Gas Protection Laboratory at Spandau always took a close interest in any new report from Schrader and Gross. As far as performance on the modern battlefield, Substance 146 was superior in every way to Tabun. In June 1939 Schrader travelled to Spandau to present the new substance to the Army. It immediately caught their attention. Schrader had, by now, earned much envied privileges in the Army and a large team of experts was assigned to work on the new poison. Tabun was not an easy chemical to fabricate, but Substance 146 proved fiendishly difficult to produce. It had tactical advantages, however, and the benefits were justified as being worth the work if the engineering and industrial obstacles could be overcome. In conjunction with IG Farben, Substance 146 acquired a new name, just as Tabun had. Henceforth it would be called Sarin.  Historically, there has been some debate as to what exactly the acronym Sarin stood for. It is now clear from Schrader’s debrief 


TOXIC ings29 that Sarin stood for Schrader, Ambros, Rittler, and von der Linde. Otto Ambros was an executive at IG Farben, whereas Rittler and von der Linde were two officials in the German government, working at Spandau. Whether or not the new name was contrived specifically to curry favour with the corporate hierarchy and/or the government is not revealed in files from the era. Possibly, it was the other way around, with mid-rank officials trying to take credit for Schrader’s work. In any case, claims that “Sarin” is an acronym of its inventors are exaggerated. Schrader invented it and the others had no role in its discovery. Previous books which claim that the R stood for Rudiger are incorrect, although the files I reviewed were not available when these earlier books were written. Substance 146 was now referred to in the unclassified German files as “Trilon 146”—again using the trade name for detergents—and in secret files as “Sarin”.  Science, military necessity, and commerce intersected at some point in the summer of 1939. The results of weapons testing and development at Raubkammer had been decisive. Numerous officials had been putting forward the business case for Tabun as a weapon. Likewise, the eventual promise of Substance 146 as a superior weapon was clear to the bureaucrats at Spandau and the HWA, even though it would be some time before it could be produced in volume. Even the most optimistic forecasts stated that Substance 146 would be at least another two years behind Tabun. Even so, Tabun represented such a great improvement over phosgene and Mustard gas that there really was no other option left open to Army High Command. The requisite staff studies and decision papers had percolated to the top of the Wehrmacht, even though it was busy plotting and executing “Fall Weiss”, the plan for the invasion of Poland. At a meeting on or about 5 August 1939, Tabun was approved as a new weapon and Army High Command directed that a budget be devoted to stockpiling weapons filled with Tabun.  



AXIS OF WEEVILS  On 1 September 1939, Germany invaded Poland. War had begun. The Nazi regime reinforced and expanded its programme of national mobilization and rearmament. The Polish Campaign did not include deliberate chemical warfare, despite an incident in the Polish town of Jasło, wherein local Polish defenders used a small quantity of Mustard gas for an improvised defence of a bridge.30 Fortunately the Wehrmacht realized that this was a local initiative rather than part of an overarching attempt at chemical warfare, thus avoiding a general escalation in the early days of the war.  The overall view was that Germany needed to be fully prepared to execute the war, chemical warfare included. The pre-war relationship between the Nazi government and industry assumed new dynamics: executives from IG Farben were summoned to a meeting with the HWA in early September, just days after France and Britain declared war on Germany, making the new conflict global in nature. Representatives from procurement who held the purse strings were there as well as the Army High Command. Technical representatives from Spandau, who knew the test data from Raubkammer, also attended. Dr Hörlein, the chemical warfare enthusiast, led the IG Farben delegation along with Fritz ter Meer, chairman of Farben’s technical committee. A third, younger man was there, better dressed than either of his two colleagues.31 This was Otto Ambros, already known as the ‘A’ in Sarin.  This meeting was characterised by violent agreement. Both sides came into it with set goals and pre-determined outcomes, only to find out that everyone in the room already agreed with everyone else. The defence of the Reich required the manufacture of large quantities of chemical weapons, and the High Command would browbeat Farben into making them. As the principal chemical industry conglomerate of Germany, IG Farben was the Wehrmacht’s first and only option: it was not going to get thousands of tons of Tabun from its pilot plants.  






TOXIC  Since the dawn of nation states, successful military procurement meetings conclude with schedules, contracts, and deliverables. IG Farben went away from its meeting mandated to draw up a proposal for a Tabun factory. Both the government and industry would work towards eventually scaling up production of the newer substance, Sarin. In addition, there was a requirement for a Sulfur Mustard factory, although that lies beyond the scope of this book. Berlin was under no illusions that a Tabun plant would be up and running overnight, but the decision was taken to move ahead, with an objective set of 1,000 metric tons per month. The IG Farben delegation and the government both left the meeting happy and in broad agreement. Tabun would be made in new factories and IG Farben would charge a lot of money for it. The smartly turned out Otto Ambros would lead the way. By this point in his career, he had already managed important chemical plants and pioneered the manufacture of synthetic rubber, thus demonstrating to both the German government and the corporate management at IG Farben that he was someone who could get things done.  







With the outbreak of the Second World War, on 1 September 1939, Otto Ambros assumes centre stage in this story. He is incorrectly credited by some as an inventor of nerve agents, primarily because he was the “A” in Sarin. Rather, he was an industrialist and profiteer who built the industrial complex that manufactured a vast stockpile of chemical weapons. Farben executives agreed a secrecy oath and started to expand the infrastructure required to make 1,000 tons of Tabun per month, the first contracts being signed before the end of the year. Work on Sarin and research into other agents would also continue.  Archives rescued from the Third Reich reveal that nerve agents were expensive and the Nazis spent a huge sum of money on them. They required a massive enterprise to make them, one that also offered a means of both personal and corporate enrichment. Before the war, Hermann Göring integrated chemical weapons into the Reich’s master plan for rearmament. Karl Krauch, chair of the IG Farben board of directors, was named Plenipotentiary for Special Questions of Chemical Production.  


TOXIC Farben would be at the heart of chemical armaments, and Tabun would be at the core of this national programme.  Under the overall umbrella of I.G. Farben, Ambros developed a corporate structure within the company to execute the work. Farben’s board of directors set up a subsidiary, called Anorgana Gmbh, and appointed Ambros as managing director. Anorgana’s board had three members from Farben and three from a shadowy holding company, Montan Industriewerke, that was purchased by the Reich Ministry of War. Montan had an odd ­corporate structure whose purpose was to conceal German government involvement in armament projects. Suspiciously, the sale appears to have been arranged by one Dr Max Zeidelhack, who was an auditor working for Montan’s previous owner. In what appears to be a blatant conflict of interest by modern standards, Zeidelhack headed Montan from 1935 to 1942 while still serving as a civil servant of the HWA.  Control of Anorgana was split between the government (via a Montan cut-out) and IG Farben. It also had several subsidiary companies—for example, “Orgacid” in Ammendorf made the chemical warfare agent Nitrogen Mustard. Montan often owned either the land or the buildings of such firms, further obfuscating the overall picture. Even seventy years later, examining the original documents, the ownership structure is complex and confused. Such things do not happen by accident in German bureaucracies, particularly ones in close contact with the government. The obfuscation was deliberate. The use of Montan as a cut-out is likely a legacy of the Weimar era when the German army operated in a political environment where the government could not be seen to be involved in large scale defence procurement, due to the disarmament provisions of the Treaty of Versailles. However, by the time nerve agents went into pilot production, it appears to have been less about hiding from the Treaty of Versailles which Hitler disavowed, and more about  




OTTO’S FORTUNES deliberately muddling the nature and funding of secret research. During the war, Montan appears to have had control over 180,000 employees, invested capital of over 4 billion Reichsmarks, and had a turnover in 1942 of 1.8 billion Reichsmarks.1 Not all of Montan’s turnover was related to chemical warfare, but a substantial fraction was, so this figure gives us the best approximation as to the huge scale of the chemical weapons programme.  Montan was a vital part of the secrecy regime that pervaded the Third Reich and was designed to hide secrets from the enemy. This made sense in the pre-war era when enemy intelligence could have gleaned much from such public documents as were still required by German commercial law. Making highly dangerous things for the government was a calculated risk, as things could literally blow up and people could die. The unsafe nature of the chemicals to be handled and produced meant that the requisite safety measures could not be easily hidden in existing Farben factories. Moreover the quantities requested by the government were such that a dedicated facility would have to be built, as existing factory capacity was insufficient to produce tens, let alone thousands of tons. Farben wanted to limit the risk to the corporation as a whole and these arcane corporate structures were designed to camouflage responsibility and liability.  Whatever the perceived need for secrecy may have been, this deliberately opaque organizational structure allowed for corporate and personal enrichment as well as tax avoidance. It was a deliberately obtuse scheme to launder money through an incestuous web of connections, one which could allow for both corporate and personal enrichment, and several individuals, Otto Ambros among them, had multiple roles, often notionally supervising themselves.  Some, including Ambros, reaped enormous personal financial benefits from their multiple roles in the wartime chemical industry. Various accounting measures were specifically developed to


TOXIC reduce or avoid taxation and the captured records show many transfers of money for unknown reasons. Despite the fact that the Nazi Party had “socialist” in its title, much of the activity was recognisably capitalist.  One thing was clear to Ambros. None of the existing Farben factories was adequate for the task of mass production of nerve agents. The Third Reich was not known for its rigorous approach to public safety, but the sheer lethality of the substances involved meant that even a small accident in a populated area would not only endanger the public, but possibly divulge the existence of new secret chemical weapons. Nor was the threat of aerial bombing by adversaries negligible; a Tabun factory would have to be concealed.  Ambros and his men scoured Germany for likely sites, ideally those located near a railway line given the logistics of moving chemical warfare shells filled with chemical weapons. In late 1939, IG Farben suggested a location in Silesia, northwest of Breslau (now Wrocław, Poland) outside the town of Dyhernfurth. In January, 1940, yet another corporate structure was set up, an IG Farben subsidiary called Luranil, which would construct Dyhernfurth, a facility that went by the name “Hochwerk.” Captured documents submitted as evidence at the Nuremburg trials reveal that Luranil was foremost a front company and tax dodge,2 as much of its revenue would be exempted from reporting. Its managing director was none other than Dr Otto Ambros.  Corporate structure and funding are one thing, but the practicalities of actual mass production are another. By 1939, the science for producing Tabun had been worked out, but not how to manufacture it in a large quantity and at high quality. Ambros and his team quickly learned one of the fundamental truths of nerve agent manufacturing: no nerve agent is easy to make. All of them require multiple steps in the manufacturing process, each of which yields the intermediate ingredient for the follow 


OTTO’S FORTUNES ing step. But even in a highly sophisticated manufacturing facility, the intermediate steps are not clean. Most steps result in a soup—the desired intermediate product, un-reacted precursors, and by-products. Many intermediate products react with air or water to form more contaminants that need to be purified out somehow before progressing to the next stage.  Such effort requires specialty equipment, none of which was commercially available in Germany in 1939, hence Ambros realised he would have to manufacture what he needed from scratch, often at great expense. Corrosive gases require special non-corrosive materials in their production and the expertise to modify them into the required shapes and sizes. Moreover, additional equipment was required for quality control and purification. There is no point trying to purify an intermediate product if you cannot determine whether or not you have actually done the job. If you combine part A and part B to make part C, how do you know you’ve really made part C? Some steps involve removing one clear liquid from another clear liquid when both are soluble in each other with very similar boiling points. Analytical equipment, and the expertise to use it, are required. None of this is particularly easy to achieve even with twenty-first century processes and technology. Now imagine doing it in 1939. It would not be cheap or straightforward.  In 1940, progress was slow but steady. The pilot plant for making Tabun at Raubkammer was short on raw materials and practically every vessel or pipe was corroding and leaking and it was only in June 1940 that the pilot plant was fully up and running with a process that the IG Farben chemists and engineers thought they could replicate in Dyhernfurth, where construction of a massive complex had begun. The mixed labour force consisted of Luranil employees and prisoners, including 120 French POWs, who were later replaced for security reasons by 800 Italian labourers who were contract builders, not prison


TOXIC ers, who were granted exemptions from military service as a quid pro quo.3 Power, water, drainage, and transport links were put in and a railway spur connected the complex to a rail line that crossed the nearby Oder river. Despite the secrecy regime, the existence of Dyhernfurth as a chemical factory was mentioned in 1942 in Die Chemische Industrie,4 which even gave the names of some of its management.  In August 1941, Ambros met with handpicked chemists and engineers at a Farben facility in Ludwigshafen and briefed them on the project and its objectives. Assignment to chemical warfare projects provided an exemption from military service, no doubt an inducement for some. Some were dispatched to Spandau and Raubkammer to examine the pilot processes and work out how to scale up the production. At least one chemist, Dr Wilhelm Kleinhans, spent weeks at Elberfeld with Gerhard Schrader, learning the underlying science. By this point, Schrader, although he was nominally the inventor of Tabun and Sarin, was no longer at the forefront of the work. (Kleinhans was later a valuable source of information about the work done at Dyhernfurth.)  During the Tabun factory construction at Dyhernfurth the Third Reich further reorganised its own bureaucracy in pursuit of total war. Hitler’s highly intelligent personal architect, Albert Speer, was charged with running a new ministry of armaments and war production. Many offices and agencies were rationalised, reorganised, streamlined, or made redundant. Although the HWA survived, it was heavily influenced by Speer’s new Ministry. Special Committee C (for ‘chemikalien’) was set up to coordinate chemical warfare-related production and was headed by Otto Ambros, who was effectively his own boss several times over. He was the CEO of Anorgana, which in turn was half owned by IG Farben where Ambros was a board member, and half-owned by Montan, which in turn was owned by HWA, which took direction from Special Committee C, chaired by Otto Ambros.  


OTTO’S FORTUNES  Ambros appears to have drawn numerous salaries independently for these roles and may even have been supervising his own compensation. He certainly was no slouch. His paper trail reveals he worked industriously throughout the war, the man-hour equivalent of two jobs, but seems to have been paid for about fifteen. On top of everything else, in June 1944, Ambros was personally awarded a bonus of 1 million Reichsmarks, authorised by Hitler.5 Historical conversions are troublesome, but this was a fortune by the standards of the time.  Gradually, Hochwerk came into being under the overall supervision of Dr Albert Palm, a former dyes chemist at Farben. Much of what we know about the Hochwerk Tabun process comes from his post-war interrogations and those of his staff. Dozens of chemists and hundreds of technicians and labourers worked for Palm, and while work on the Dyhernfurth complex was slow, gradually it came together. The buildings rose from the forest floor, camouflaged with trees planted on the roofs to confuse aerial reconnaissance. Production of Tabun began in 1942 and the first shipment of filled weapons was delivered to the military that September.  Even though Tabun is one of the easier nerve agents to make, the manufacturing process developed in Spandau and Raubkammer was neither simple, cheap, nor safe. (In this book, certain specific scientific details are omitted so that one cannot glean how to make a nerve agent solely based on the information herein.) Moreover, the Tabun process and configuration of Hochwerk can be studied in captured German documents and British and American interrogation records.6  Hochwerk’s Tabun process is a useful example of just how complex a nerve agent factory needs to be. The Dyhernfurth plant was designed to carry out as many of the intermediate steps as possible. At the front end the railway line brought raw materials; at the other end, the same railway tracks carried away train 


TOXIC loads of shells and bombs filled with Tabun. Consider this the apex of a large pyramid, the huge middle of which was the vast industrial empire that was IG Farben. The base of the pyramid consists of raw materials: things dug from the ground, grain grown in the field, water taken from rivers, and air. An essential part of the Dyhernfurth plant was an air liquefaction plant that chilled air to such a low temperature that liquid oxygen and liquid nitrogen were separated out for use in the Tabun process.  All of the military nerve agents need phosphorus. Phosphorus compounds are manufactured out of various phosphate ores that are mined or scraped off of guano-covered islands. Natural supply of phosphate ores was very restricted within Germany itself and the Third Reich was reliant on imported materials. This is ironic, as part of the original premise for Schrader’s pesticide research was to reduce reliance on imports. A greater irony was the source of the phosphorus. Phosphorus for Tabun (and later, Sarin) most likely came from the Soviet Union. Up until the invasion of the Soviet Union, the USSR was in formal alliance with Nazi Germany, a point that is often overlooked. This was more than a non-aggression pact. The commercial and economic relations were of great benefit to each party and the Soviet Union was actively supplying raw materials essential to the German war effort whilst Germany was fighting Britain, France, and much of the rest of Europe. Thousands of tons of phosphates were imported from the Soviet Union into Nazi Germany under the terms of the 11 February 1940 German-Soviet Commercial Agreement. Given the small domestic supply of phosphates and the tiny amounts imported after 1941, it seems highly likely that the Third Reich’s nerve agent programme ran on stockpiled Soviet phosphates. A staggering 131,500 tons of phosphates were sent from the Soviet Union to Germany in 1940 and another 56,300 tons in early 1941, up to the German invasion.7  Phosphorus compounds came from only two major factories within Germany, a plant at Bitterfeld and another at Piesteritz,  


OTTO’S FORTUNES another Farben plant. Tabun production had to compete with other uses for phosphorus, like incendiary weapons and smoke screen shells. But the phosphorus was absolutely essential for making the Phosphoryl chloride (POCl3) needed for Tabun production. Although the Piesteritz works were bombed several times during the war, production was not seriously diminished.8  A key ingredient for the process is a substance called dimethylamine. This is, in theory, a natural substance that occurs as a pheromone in some cockroaches. It attracts some types of weevils, which may explain why Schrader knew of it. Synthesized dimethylamine is a raw material for numerous industrial processes, including production of the common antihistamine diphenhydramine. In its pure form, it is a smelly gas at room temperature. It is a mild poison in itself, but also highly flammable, and can explode. Dimethylamine was not readily available in bulk in the German economy, hence part of the Dyhernfurth plant’s raison d’etre was to build the industrial capacity to make this vital ingredient. The overall Tabun process used about 3.6kg of dimethylamine for each kilo of Tabun, hence a new dimethylamine plant was built, at a cost of over 100 million Reichsmarks.9 One building on the complex was the POCl3 production plant, which utilized the oxygen made in an air liquefaction plant. At room temperature this substance is a poisonous, pungent, musty-smelling liquid. It reacts with water, including moisture in the air.  The reaction between dimethylamine and POCl3 yielded “Produkt 39” (also referred to in the Anorgana documents as “D4”) and a waste product that needed to be purified out of the Produkt 39. It is a crucial step in the Tabun process. An entire factory building was set up to make this product. It had six leadlined reaction vessels, each with a volume of 5 cubic metres which could be temperature controlled. Produkt 39 is flammable and highly corrosive. Even the smallest amount of moisture


TOXIC would create hydrochloric acid as an unwanted by-product. Produkt 39 is itself a mild nerve agent in its own right, but useless as a battlefield weapon because of its flammability.  A process known as vacuum distillation purified Produkt 39 from the waste product, after which it was moved to the main Tabun production line as the critical precursor. The actual Tabun plant itself was the heart of the complex. Its various steps required specialised metalwork in the vessels used for the various reaction stages. As this was the 1940s, various newer corrosion-resistant materials were not yet available, hence steel vessels and pipes had coatings of either silver or quartz. Vessels were also specially lined with a corrosion resistant metal alloy called “Remanit”10 and had special jackets around them that could be heated or chilled as necessary to speed up or slow down the reaction.  Safety measures were built into the Tabun building. The ventilation system kept various chambers at negative pressure, so that if there were small leaks the outside air would leak into the building but the air inside would not escape. Nitrogen was used as an inert gas in several steps of the process to keep things from coming into contact with air, or, more importantly, moisture in the air. Various compartments in the Tabun plant had double walls, made of glass according to some sources. The space between the walls contained sprayers that sprayed ammonia or dimethylamine, which could decontaminate Tabun. Reaction vessels were scrubbed out with ammonia and the outer surfaces of critical machinery were routinely washed with an ammonia solution. While the Tabun was actually being produced, nobody went into the room. Everything was done remotely by a complex mechanical remote control system. Exhaust from the building was vented through “caustic scrubbers” which reacted the vented air with chemicals to remove the Tabun. Dr Bernd von Bock and Dr Wilhelm Kleinhans were the chemists in charge of the Tabun process itself, and much of the information about this came from Kleinhans.  



OTTO’S FORTUNES  Produkt 39 was then reacted with sodium cyanide. In its pure form, sodium cyanide is a highly poisonous white powder. If you ingest small amounts, it is one of the quickest of poisons, and as it is a powder, its dust is dangerous to inhale. If you react it with acids, you get hydrogen cyanide, which is a gas and is in itself a chemical warfare agent. Sodium cyanide has a number of industrial uses, and can be used in gold mining, to extract gold from gold ore. It is also an intermediate chemical in several other industrial processes and is reactive with many metals. It really says something about an industrial process if sodium cyanide is one of the lesser dangers present.  Produkt 39 and an excess amount of the sodium cyanide were combined together with chlorobenzene, which appears to have been procured commercially and shipped in from off-site. Chlorobenzene has an almond-like odour, which is confusing as the cyanides share a similar smell. Many false alarms must have occurred. At room temperature, chlorobenzene is a clear, colourless liquid. It’s moderately toxic in itself, but quite flammable. It has hundreds of industrial uses as an intermediate chemical and a solvent. For the Tabun process, it had to be completely free of moisture. A complex intermediate step resulted in various nasty waste products. The final process adds ethanol, the same alcohol found in alcoholic drinks. There was no ethanol production or refining facility on site, so the alcohol was brought in from other Farben factories. For making Tabun such alcohol had to be as pure as possible, as many of the things that are common contaminants in alcohol, such as other alcohols and water, will throw off the process and create impurities.  The final reaction with ethanol produces Tabun and hydrogen cyanide. Mind you, all of that chlorobenzene that was added early on was still present in the mix. The soup that is the result of the ethanol stage is part chlorobenzene, part Tabun, part insoluble salts, and part hydrogen cyanide. Several steps of filtra


TOXIC tion and vacuum distillation were then needed in order to end up with a product that was mostly Tabun, with some chlorobenzene. Two different grades of Tabun were produced. Tabun A was 95% Tabun and 5% chlorobenzene; Tabun B was an 80:20 blend. The US Army later determined11 that the chlorobenzene served as a stabilizer, to prevent corrosion. At some point in 1944, production switched from Tabun A to Tabun B to improve the shelf life of the product.  The finished Tabun could be stored underground in tanks which could hold about 1,000 tons of the chemical agent. The next stage was the filling plant, which had similar safety features to the Tabun plant. Empty shells and components arrived from off-site and were filled with Tabun and sealed. At full capacity, it could fill more shells and bombs than the Tabun production was ever able to support. The filling plant could fill 770,000 105mm shells, 250,000 150mm shells, or 12,500 aerial bombs in a month. In a final step, the shells and bombs were given a distinctive marking. Three green rings were painted on them, leading to yet another nickname, “Green Ring 3”. Chemical ordnance was shipped off-site for safe storage in ammunition depots in other parts of Germany. By Hitler’s direct personal order, the new nerve agent weapons were not forward deployed, not even to nearby occupied countries. They were stored in arsenals only within Germany itself.12  Another plant on the compound was devoted to making hydrogen cyanide. This might have been part of a plan to reclaim waste, as hydrogen cyanide is a by-product of Tabun production. Finally, there was waste treatment, with effluent being discharged into the Oder River. As can be seen, every step of this process yielded waste, some of which was extremely toxic. The impact on the Oder river and downstream German communities must have been severe, but was apparently not assessed at the time. Nerve agent factories built to the standards of the 1940s 34

OTTO’S FORTUNES and 1950s have proven to be the cause of serious long-term environmental problems. For every kilogram of nerve agent produced, the processes result in many kilograms of waste, much of which is as nasty as the nerve agent itself.  Dyhernfurth had a mixed labour force. A cadre of German scientists and engineers supervised a skilled workforce of German technicians and workers. However, a very large number of prisoners were used there as well. Some of these prison labourers were, in themselves, highly skilled. Germany scoured its detention camps to find Poles and others with useful skills, such as welders, pipefitters, and plumbers. Other labourers were simply raw manpower, carrying out menial labour such as digging and cleaning. Dyhernfurth had its own pair of labour camps which were satellite camps of the larger Gross-Rosen concentration camp. (Gross-Rosen had dozens of satellite camps providing slave labour all over the region.) Dyhernfurth I camp provided labour directly to Anorgana for the production of Tabun, whereas the Dyhernfurth II camp provided general labour for construction and expansion of the overall complex. Many Jews were in this slave labour force, but it was by no means exclusively Jewish in composition. The exact composition and numbers of prisoners at the Dyhernfurth camps varied over time and estimates of their numbers are inexact, but thousands worked there. It was the use of slave labour that resulted in Ambros being tried and imprisoned after the war, rather than his or his colleagues’ involvement in manufacturing nerve agents.  As can be imagined, the Tabun factory was a safety nightmare, even by the standards of the time. The Tabun Hochwerk was a serious industrial effort that performed dozens of tasks with extremely dangerous ingredients. They and the processes that consumed them were, in many ways, far more dangerous than the resulting end product. Tabun, after all, is not explosive, nor highly flammable, and only very slightly corrosive. It is only poi


TOXIC sonous. This would become a recurring theme in nerve agent production—that its ingredients and manufacturing process are supremely dangerous and difficult to master.  Safety was not entirely ignored at Dyhernfurth. A sick workforce makes mistakes and ties up medical resources in the midst of a war. Nutrition was felt to be a good defence against exposure symptoms, so the workers received a better than average diet, including extra fat and milk rations, in the belief that this improved their resistance. Indeed, more recent research13 shows that a ketogenic diet can help ward off organophosphate poisoning.  At Dyhernfurth, low-level exposure to nerve agents seems to have been prevalent. Headaches were prolific, as was dimness of vision. The medical diagnostic procedures used by later nerve agent production regimes were not available to the Germans. It is likely, given what we know about insomnia and neuropsychiatric effects of chronic exposure to nerve agents in small doses, that everyone felt miserable much of the time. Furthermore, nerve agents in small doses can have a cumulative effect over time. Everyone in the plant was a nerve agent victim to one extent or another.  Post-war interrogations reveal that there were hundreds of minor accidents at the Dyhernfurth plant, and a number of incidents where people died or were seriously injured. At least ten workers died at Dyhernfurth, and many more fell ill. Kleinhans described an incident where four pipefitters, likely prisoners, died while cleaning pipes that had Tabun in them. In another incident, Kleinhans talks about some technicians (again, likely prisoners) who got Tabun splashed on their faces: They became giddy, vomited, and so then removed their respirators thus inhaling more of the gas. On examination they were all unconscious…had a feeble pulse, marked nasal discharge, contracted pupils, asthmatic type of breathing, and smelled strongly of flowers.14

 The workers’ corpses were sent for autopsy and examined in minute detail at the Military Medical Academy in Berlin. 36

OTTO’S FORTUNES  Given the horrific reputation of the Third Reich, it is fair to ask how much human experimentation was carried out using nerve agents. The answer is some, but less than most people might think. A great deal of data was gleaned from accidental exposures, which were commonplace at Raubkammer and Dyhernfurth, and were nearly as good sources of information as deliberate exposures. A surprising number of human experiments with small amounts of nerve agents involved volunteers, including German officers and doctors. This may have been in lieu of serving on the Eastern Front, but financial inducements were also offered. Some tests on prisoners may have occurred at Spandau, wherein prisoners facing the death sentence were spared execution in exchange for participating in nerve agent testing. This has proven difficult to confirm, but is plausible.  There is a large body of evidence about the gruesome testing of other chemical weapons on prisoners in concentration camps. This was carried out by the SS, where many SS medical officers indulged their own research interests with great cruelty and often very little scientific value. For years, prisoners at Sachsenhausen concentration were experimented on with Mustard and there were numerous experiments involving phosgene. But there is scant evidence of any SS personnel testing nerve agents as part of these wicked goings on. This is because the concentration camp system was run by the SS, not the military. The military went to great lengths to keep their new nerve agent programme out of the hands of the SS. A series of trials after the war investigated and tried various SS members and medical personnel for experimentation with chemical warfare agents, but they involved substances other than nerve agents.  After the war a priority for the victorious allies was to identify what human experimentation was done and who did it, so that criminal trials could be held. They were able to bring cases to court involving phosgene and Mustard experimentation, but little  


TOXIC evidence could be found or brought to court on the subject of nerve agent human experimentation, despite intensive questioning of hundreds of captured personnel, many of whom were cooperating extensively. It is certainly plausible that some secret experimentation effort did occur and was successfully covered up, but it’s equally plausible that the Army kept its nerve agent knowledge away from the SS and that relatively few human trials on prisoners occurred.  While Tabun was making the transition from laboratory sample to industrial product, Sarin was not being overlooked. Early tests had shown it to be far more toxic and generally less persistent than Tabun. The production of Sarin followed a similar trajectory to Tabun, only some years behind. The Germans discovered how difficult the Tabun process was yet the Sarin process was harder still. Scaling up Sarin from bench-top to pilot production to mass production has proven difficult for everyone who has tried it. The Germans were there first and did not have the benefit of anyone else’s experience. As Sarin uses several processes that differ from those used in Tabun, only some of the knowledge base for the latter’s production was applicable, so the Spandau scientists had to experiment with numerous different processes. Making Sarin is inherently less safe than Tabun because it involves fluorine, and fluorine compounds, including hydrogen fluoride, are very corrosive and poisonous in their own right.  Otto Ambros followed a managerial approach to large scale production of Sarin that was similar to that taken with Tabun. The Army would work out the kinks of the production process. Farben, again working through Montana and shell companies, would build a bigger pilot process for Sarin, and then commence building a Sarin production complex similar in size and scale to Dyhernfurth. The Wehrmacht at Spandau worked out a small pilot process. This research helped to design and build a larger 38

OTTO’S FORTUNES pilot scale at Raubkammer. An even larger pilot production plant, which was intended to provide the first operational stocks of Sarin, was constructed in the Dyhernfurth complex. A full production complex would need to be built to make shells and bombs. As stocks of Sarin became available, the proving ground at Raubkammer would test Sarin-filled weapon systems.  The decision was made to build the full-scale Sarin production plant at Falkenhagen, east of Berlin, almost on the Oder river. Unlike Dyhernfurth, it remains part of Germany today. The Falkenhagen site was already in use for production of chemical warfare materiel unrelated to the nerve agent programme. In 1938, ground had been broken there for a complex to produce Chlorine Trifluoride (ClF3), which the Army had nicknamed “N-stoff ”—literally “substance N”. It is a particularly vile substance. A very strong oxidizer, it is both extremely corrosive and poisonous and could be more readily considered to be an incendiary weapon. It burns many different things, even in the absence of oxygen and even ignites glass on contact. It reacts with water, including moisture on the skin. The German military had considered Chlorine Trifluoride as a possible weapon to attack fortifications such as the Maginot Line because it will burn through concrete. Handling it is extremely difficult and it is not well established how the German military would have effectively weaponised it. The n-Stoff plant was quite a boondoggle. Many tens of millions of Reichsmarks had been spent on it by 1943 with no production yet in sight. It was reported that Hitler himself had taken an interest in this substance as a possible “miracle weapon” which could explain the continued expenditure on the plant.15 Montan ran the plant, but eventually had to involve Farben more directly in the effort. Even when it finally started to make “N-stoff ” towards the end of the war, its production cost was 100 Reichsmarks per kilogram. N-stoff is peripheral to the story of nerve agents, but it is important to note that it competed with


TOXIC Sarin for access to fluorine-based raw materials. On the other hand, Falkenhagen was already a site with access to water, power, and transport, so it was well set up for the new Sarin plant.  Another shadowy company was incorporated under Montan. Turon Gmbh was set up in September 1943, its ownership split between Montan and IG Farben. Those who have been paying attention up to this point will not be shocked to discover that the CEO of Turon, soon to be renamed Monturon, was Dr Otto Ambros. The Sarin plant at Falkenhagen would be codenamed “Seewerk” and Ambros’s man on the spot would be Dr Jürgen von Klenck. By this point in the war, Allied bombing was a serious concern, so the Seewerk plant would be hardened against aerial attack. The N-stoff plant had been built partially underground for this reason.  Construction continued at Falkenhagen at great expense largely because the works were to be built underground. The project faced many problems. For example there was much rivalry between the Farben Sarin plant and the neighbouring N-Stoff plant. Von Klenck’s interrogation file reads more like a lengthy and acrimonious divorce trial than the interrogation of a man making nerve agents. They squabbled over water, power, labour, land, and raw materials. Part of the problem was that construction had begun before a rational method for mass-producing Sarin had been worked out. The plans kept changing, which then altered the blueprints for buildings and equipment. Spandau had a pilot-scale plant for Sarin, and Dyhernfurth had scaled it up a bit bigger, but enlarging these processes to full scale was proving difficult. Indeed, it may not have been possible, as larger post-war processes took different routes. Nor had anyone quite worked out what to do with the waste stream. The Hochwerk Tabun plant was near a major river into which effluent could be dumped. Seewerk was not that close to a waterway, and for every kilogram of Sarin produced there was going to be at  



OTTO’S FORTUNES least eight or nine kilograms of waste products left over. The Falkenhagen project was constantly behind schedule and over budget. As 1944 turned into 1945, Sarin mass production remained on the drawing board.  The wartime nerve agent enterprise was large and expensive. When the war started and the German empire was expanding and raw materials were flowing in from not just the conquered realms but from their allies in the USSR, resources seemed infinite. But the centre of gravity shifted. Large wars are as much about resources and logistics as they are about strategy. Once things started going badly for Germany, it is only natural that the people responsible for allocating resources began questioning whether or not resources were being used in the most efficient and effective ways.  Albert Speer did not see the wisdom of devoting money, labour, and precious raw materials to weapons that were not actually contributing to the war effort. The chemical weapons industrial enterprise included not only the vast nerve agent effort but also the equally large-scale attempts to make older chemical weapons like Mustard gas and the “N-stoff.” None of this added to the war effort. Indeed, it was a sinkhole for precious resources, and Speer was no fool. His staff spent hours every day going through the accounts. Otto Ambros and his private empire was sponging off the largesse of the regime.  Speer recognised that the Tabun effort was tying up resour­ ces that could go into production of ammunition and explosives. British and American strategic bombing had had serious effects on the armament industry, and supplies of everything were running low. On 11 October 1944, Speer issued a directive reducing the production of Tabun and then halted it from November onwards.16 He directed that Dyhernfurth produce conventional explosive shells, rather than Tabun shells. Karl Brandt, Hitler’s personal doctor, who had been entrusted with  


TOXIC chemical defence, and SS Brigadier Walther Schieber, who worked as head of armaments supply under Speer, pushed back against him, citing Hitler’s directives. But Speer, confident that he was closer to Hitler than Brandt and Schieber, replaced Schieber and carried on.  The story of wartime nerve agents involved a third substance, known as Soman. The Germans did not fully understand how and why Tabun and Sarin worked the way they did, even though they could see how they affected the human nervous system. The mechanisms by which they had such dramatic effects were not fully appreciated. Dr Richard Kuhn, an Austrian biochemist and one of the leading organic chemists of his time, was assigned to unlock these secrets. He was a Nobel Laureate (1938) of sorts, having rejected the prize as Hitler had forbidden Germans from accepting them. By 1943 he was director of the Institute of Chemistry at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg. It is a matter of debate to this day how devoted Kuhn was to the Nazi Party, but he was certainly the President of the German Chemical Society throughout much of the Nazi era. In 1943, Spandau gave Kuhn the task of unlocking the biological aspects of nerve agents. The regime was not going to entrust these secrets to someone they thought was ideologically unreliable.  At the start of Kuhn’s investigations, he was well aware of earlier work on the nature of acetylcholine. In 1914 a British scientist, Henry Dale, had worked out how acetylcholine affects various organs in animals.17 In the 1920s, a German professor of pharmacology, Otto Loewi made discoveries that indicated that chemicals were responsible for transmitting messages in the nervous system.18 Dale and Loewi, shared the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1936. Armed with this background research, Kuhn started experimenting on test animals exposed to Tabun. His breakthrough was to discover the essential nature of nerve agents—that they interfere with acetylcholinesterase. He had  


OTTO’S FORTUNES unlocked the secret of these secret weapons. Using this knowledge, Kuhn created analytical tests using acetylcholinesterase, so that nerve agents could be tested for their potency.  Kuhn made a further discovery. Given the Nazi regime’s secrecy, Kuhn was working in isolation from the Farben scientists such as Schrader. He was testing organophosphorus compounds for potency using his new techniques. Some of these would likely have been ones that Schrader was developing, both for pesticide purposes and as possible new weapons of war. Having grasped the fundamentals of how these substances were created, some of the new organophosphates were ones created by Kuhn himself. Kuhn messed around a bit with the last step of Sarin production. This is the step at which DF is combined with isopropyl alcohol to make Sarin. (A similar reaction with ethyl alcohol yields the somewhat less useful ethyl Sarin.) Kuhn substituted a rarer, heavier and exotic alcohol called pinacolyl alcohol. This reaction yielded a nerve agent that was quite similar in many ways to Sarin. Eventually, it was termed Soman. Using his AchE assays, he discovered that Soman was twice as effective an inhibitor as Sarin. Samples were sent to Dr Gross at Elberfeld, who reported back that this new compound was twice as toxic by inhalation and skin contact as Sarin. However, Soman did not progress into production during the war, probably on account of the great expense of producing quantities of pinacolyl alcohol.  Gerhard Schrader emerges from this story with his hands mostly clean. Having invented Tabun and Sarin, he spent most of the war at Farben, working on pesticides. The various laboratory experiments that he did on aphids are summarised in his interrogations after the war. Perhaps this was less glamorous than secret weapons work, but it was still valuable to the war effort.  As 1944 drew to a close, the Nazi regime realised that Germany might not be winning the war after all. The nerve agent programme was stalled and behind schedule. The end was near.  




Everyone knows that the war ended badly for the Germans. As the Red Army advanced westwards, the location of the nerve agent factories at Dyhernfurth and Falkenhagen made them vulnerable to being overrun. Whatever happened, the decision was made high up in the German chain of command that nerve agents and the secrets behind them must never fall into enemy hands.  Otto Ambros must have sensed this too. At some point in late 1944 or early 1945 (sources vary greatly on the exact timing), he decided to start covering up the paper trail. Ambros sent Von Klenck to IG Farben headquarters in Ludwigshafen, acting both on personal authority from Ambros and in his government authority in his capacity as deputy chairman of Committee C. He started gathering up paperwork. The corporate offices contained many original files, and some of them were the only copies of various documents. Von Klenck hoovered up many dozens of files amounting to thousands of pages. He went to one of the warehouses and obtained an empty steel paint drum. Von Klenck then had the drum sealed and hidden. Why he did not just


TOXIC destroy the paperwork is a matter of speculation. Perhaps there was still some hope that the war might still go the other way. Perhaps Ambros or Klenck thought that the papers could be useful as a bargaining tool in the conflict’s aftermath. Von Klenck, however, made sure that he could not be in a position to give away the secret. He took the drum to Gendorf, an IG Farben factory, where he found a relatively minor official, an SS man named Keller who was now the fire department chief at Gendorf. Keller obediently buried the drum on a nearby farm and did not tell Klenck where it was.  What did this steel drum contain? I now know because I have read and photographed the contents which now reside, complete with water stains and stuck pages, in boxed files in the National Archives at Kew. The drum was full of correspondence, financial documents, and contracts. It is the money trail, connecting the dots between the various shadowy corporate entities and the Nazi government. None of the contents appear to be able to tell you how to make Tabun, Sarin, or Soman. But these documents provide names of who was involved, the details of corporate structures, and movements of money. Ambros was more concerned with hiding his involvement than in hiding the actual technical secrets. Of course, it can be argued that it is much harder to hide the technical details when there are large factories and thousands of tons of munitions. Names and flows of money are in paper records, and paper can be burnt. Or buried in a drum.  Hiding technical papers and invoices is one thing. But hiding entire factories and 12,600 tons of Tabun is something else. The Red Army was approaching from the East and as they advanced it became imperative not to let any of these weapons or technology be taken intact. Both Dyhernfurth and Falkenhagen were in danger of being captured. The former was more vulnerable and the end of January saw a frenetic evacuation. Filled munitions were shipped by truck or rail to depots further west. Papers were 46

THE END burned. Large amounts of Tabun and Produkt 39, the key precursor, were dumped in the Oder river. (Tabun reacts with water, but this was still quite the environmental disaster.) Army engineers were brought in and various explosive charges were laid. However, at the last minute, the order to demolish key parts of the plant was somehow countermanded.1  On January 24, Palm ordered a general evacuation of staff and prison labour. In their usual brutal fashion the SS moved the Dyhernfurth labour camp prisoners to the nearby concentration camp of Gross-Rosen, from where they were later transported to the quarry at Mauthausen death camp, known to the SS as Knochenmühle, or “the bone grinder”, where most of them were executed. (Some Poles who worked at Dyhernfurth survived and later talked about their experiences.)  The collapse of the German defences in Silesia in late January 1945 caught the Dyhernfurth chemical plant by surprise. The remaining staff fled as the factory was now firmly behind the Soviet lines. Efforts to sanitise the site were incomplete and large amounts of Tabun and the factory were left largely intact. It is likely that the Soviets had neither visited nor exploited the site in the first few days after they occupied the area.  The Nazis, reputedly all the way up to Hitler himself, were petrified at the thought that Tabun would fall into Soviet hands, lest it be used against Germany. The front in southern Lower Silesia was fluid and some Wehrmacht units were cut off beyond the Oder river. There was little hope of a counteroffensive as the German army was vastly outnumbered in that sector. The Fourth Panzer Army was the local unit, and its commander, General Fritz Gräber, was informed that a special operation was needed. A mere bombardment of the factory by air or artillery was felt inadequate for the task. It would draw attention to the facility and likely leave residue which the Soviets could exploit. The chemical agent would need to be removed or neutralized, which


TOXIC would take time and manpower. A secret raid was ordered, codenamed “Operation Barbara”, and most of what we know of it comes from a handful of sources, including an article2 written by one of the soldiers on the raid, one Joachim Karl Scholz.  Gräber selected the hardest of the hard men under his command to lead the raid. Major General Max Sachsenheimer was a product of his time, a career soldier who enlisted in the 1920s and rose through the ranks, having served in combat assignments as company, battalion, and regimental commands. He had seen hard duty in the Jäger-Regiment, the Wehrmacht’s light infantry, and was young for his rank. Since September 1944, Sachsenheimer had commanded the 17th Infantry Division. His war record reads almost like a Hollywood stereotype of a hardened combat leader and he was one of the most decorated war heroes of the Wehrmacht. He was the ideal man for the job.  Sachsenheimer assembled a battlegroup, his task force consisting of two companies of parachutists (some of the most elite infantry in the German military), two batteries of 88mm guns— the dreaded “88” that worked as both an anti-aircraft and antitank gun, and a pioneer assault company with many small boats. This task force was to clear a path for a group of eighty chemical warfare specialists led by two scientists to do the actual clearing up inside the factory complex. I have been unable to definitively determine which two scientists were on the raid. Finally, Sachsenheimer was accompanied by an adjutant carrying a portable typewriter.  The Oder river lay between the Germans and the factory complex. Sachsenheimer personally scoped out the Russian lines at great personal risk in order to conduct a reconnaissance. His efforts revealed that the railway bridge over the Oder was both intact and only lightly guarded by a handful of Soviet soldiers manning a single machine-gun position. They fired at him but missed and instead hit his two fellow officers who were too slow 48

THE END to take cover. Sachsenheimer made it back to headquarters and sent medics to fetch the wounded men.  His reconnaissance showed that a raiding force could cross the bridge and follow the railway straight into the Dyhernfurth “Hochwerk” complex. Meanwhile, riotous carousing could be heard from the town to the west of the rail bridge. Perhaps the famous wine cellar of Dyhernfurth Castle had been liberated. Thousands of bottles of vintage Riesling had sent the Soviet troops into a state of wildly loud inebriation and their singing could be heard across the river. Little attention was being paid to the railway bridge.  Paratroopers led by one Major Joos quickly and with great stealth eliminated the machine-gun positions on the bridge. The assault force escorted the technicians and scientists over the bridge and into the nerve agent factory compound, taking out a very hungover Russian squad along the way.  The team set to work destroying the parts of the factory that were considered sensitive. Widespread demolition with explosives was ruled out, as this would draw too much attention to the presence of the raiders. They got the site’s generators back up and running to operate pumps. Remaining stocks of Tabun were flushed down the drains into the Oder river. Some precursors were flushed as well. Underground storage tanks containing various chemicals had their valves demolished with small explosive charges, making it difficult for any occupier to retrieve the contents. Several technicians were temporarily blinded by exposure to precursor chemicals when a valve broke. Ammonia, available in great volume at the site, and hot steam were used to sanitise reaction vessels and pipes. The remaining documents were burnt. The full extent of demolition is not known, but the task force spent much of the day there.  Sachsenheimer watched the scientists oversee the effort. As that drew to a close, ad hoc Soviet attacks on the elite rescue


TOXIC force seem to have taken place. Firefights broke out around the factory perimeter as the paratroopers protected the technicians. Scholz describes an odd scene as the mission was concluded and stray bullets started to fly. As matters drew to a close the role of the adjutant and his typewriter became apparent. Producing letterhead and a stamp, the adjutant began typing as Sachsenheimer dictated formal statements that all secret chemicals, sensitive materials, and documents had been disposed of in proper fashion. The scientists were forced to sign the letters before the retreat could begin.  Part of Operation Barbara was a cunning ploy. While the technicians worked feverishly to sanitise the plant, the other part of the force initiated a diversionary attack to draw attention away from the men in the factory complex. Thirty minutes after the main force crossed the rail bridge towards the factory, the diversion force’s pioneer company and remaining paratroopers crossed the river in assault boats. They stormed Dyhernfurth, making much noise and doubtless shooting a number of drunken Soviet soldiers. Supported by artillery on the other side of the river, they created enough of a diversion to keep Soviet troops away from the factory complex. The Red Army was unable to organise a credible counteroffensive and later that afternoon all parts of Sachsenheimer’s task force retreated back across the river.  Somehow, a single notebook was left at Dyhernfurth. It may have been left by mistake, or it may have been planted by the team that was sanitising the facility. Scholz’s description of the typewriter episode gives one the broad idea that General Sachsenheimer was the sort of person who would shoot someone in the head before willingly leaving a notebook behind for the Russians to capture. However, Russian literature on the nerve agent programme indicates that a notebook, allegedly containing the details of manufacturing both Tabun and Sarin, was recov50

THE END ered from Dyhernfurth. Was a notebook hidden somewhere Sachsenheimer’s men could not find it? Did a notebook, singed around the edges, survive the efforts to burn documents, only to be discovered in a barrel of ashes or a pit? Or was a fake notebook deliberately left at the facility?  In what cannot be a coincidence, the next day Hitler awarded Sachsenheimer the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords, one of the highest awards of the Third Reich. Fewer than 200 were awarded during the war, and Sachsenheimer was one of the last.  The evacuation at Falkenhagen was less shambolic. No commando raids were necessary. Klenck, the factory director, stripped the valuable silver-lined components of the Sarin plant and shipped them to Raubkammer. Thousands of pages of documents were burned. Precursor chemicals, of which there were relatively few at the site, were removed. The entire plant site was largely sanitised so that it would not be possible to reverse engineer Sarin. As Berlin itself came under risk, the offices and laboratory at Spandau were also evacuated. Their pilot-scale plants for Sarin and Tabun were packed up and sent to Raubkammer. A team was left behind to finish the work but Berlin was surrounded and besieged before they were done.  During the same period, Breslau, in Silesia, was also under siege, surrounded by the Soviet Army. The fighting dragged on until the end of the war, and it has been alleged that the Wehrmacht used improvised chemical weapons there. However, there is no clear evidence to substantiate that this included Tabun, other than the proximity of Dyhernfurth to Breslau, given the former had been evacuated and cleaned out before the encirclement of the city. This episode bears further investigation: the USSR almost certainly would have made propaganda value out of the use of a new chemical agent during this battle.  Elsewhere in the Reich, stocks of Tabun shells and bombs that were at risk of capture were being moved away from the front


TOXIC lines. On March 29, 1945, Field Marshal Keitel, the chief of the OKW (armed forces high command), ordered a general evacuation of chemical weapons to keep them out of enemy hands. Priority was given to Tabun and Sarin, not the older chemical agents that the Allies already knew about. The order meant moving things to northwest Germany, or deep into Bavaria, putting a strain on resources in the process.  Moving thousands of tons of nerve agents in a logistically fraught wartime environment was a dangerous enterprise. Accidents happened. Thousands of Tabun-filled bombs were held at a Luftwaffe depot in Burgenland district. A complex rail and barge operation was planned to move them to a safer part of Germany but on 8 April, in the village of Lossa, American fighter aircraft, oblivious to the cargo, strafed a train carrying Tabun bombs. These caused a large number of leaks and a pool of liquid Tabun formed. Several local residents were killed, German civilians thus becoming the first combat deaths from nerve agents in history. A detachment of Army chemical troops in full protective clothing cleaned up the mess.  General evacuations of Tabun weapons continued. Northern Germany was cut off from Southern Germany and Austria. Another barge movement, this time in southern Germany, resulted in another incident. A convoy of barges was moving from the Danube river via the Inn and Alz rivers to a hiding spot on Lake Chiemsee, in Bavaria. American artillery started to shell these barges on the Danube and rather than have a nerve agent disaster on their hands, the German officers surrendered to the Americans. This was the first major quantity of Tabun to end up in Allied hands.  Across the Reich, its scientists and technicians generally headed west, much like their nerve agents. Many went to IG Farben factories and offices and tried to keep a low profile. Bock somehow didn’t make it and ended up in Soviet hands. Ambros  


THE END headed to Gendorf, where Farben had a Mustard gas factory. He spent the final days of the war sanitising the plant and making it look as if it were a soap factory. Arriving Americans were greeted by a smiling, well-dressed Otto Ambros, who handed out bars of soap and helped wash dirty vehicles.  The fall of Berlin brought the Red Army to the front doorstep of Spandau Citadel. One Major Grishin of the Red Army was in the party who accepted its surrender, and among the surrendering Germans were Dr Colonel Gerhard Jung, Dr Colonel Edgar Koch, Dr Stuhldreher, and Dr SchulteOverberg. All of them were scientists in the Gas Protection Laboratory. Koch, in fact, had lived in St. Petersburg in his youth and spoke Russian, much to Grishin’s amazement. The men were intimately familiar with Tabun and Sarin. Presumably, they had been the stay-behind party who were clearing up the laboratory. The scientists were captured by the Russians and what was left of the laboratory roughly manhandled into trucks and sent to the Soviet Union for analysis.  The war in Europe ended when Germany surrendered on 7 May 1945. The nerve agent programme was scattered all over the country, with much of the remaining material at Raubkammer or en route there. But the story of the wartime nerve agent programme raises a number of significant questions. If this was such a superior weapon, why was it not used at Germany’s darkest hour? Could it have been deployed effectively to alter the course of the war? Finally, what, if any, difference did the vast nerve agent effort make?  Hitler retained the authority to use chemical weapons, but he never issued the order. At various points, officials pleaded with him to allow the use of chemical weapons, but he never caved in. Hitler himself had been a victim of chemical warfare in the First World War. He was temporarily blinded in an attack in October 1918. It is possible that this experience prejudiced him against  






TOXIC chemical warfare. Many writers have speculated along these lines. It is difficult to determine to what extent this may be true. * * * The principal reason nerve agents were not used by the Nazi regime was because Adolf Hitler sought advice and acted upon it. In May 1943, Otto Ambros met with the Führer at the Wolfsschanze (Wolf ’s Lair) command post in East Prussia.3 Hitler put a direct question to Ambros, namely, did the Allies possess the ability to retaliate in kind with nerve agents. Ambros told his leader that the advanced state of the chemical industry in the United States led him to believe that the Americans likely had the equivalent of Tabun. Ambros had made an effort to keep current with the journal articles in his field and had a healthy respect for the knowledge and capacity of the American chemical industry. Moreover, Nazi intelligence agents in neutral countries could easily gain access to journals and patents from Allied countries. Gerhard Schrader had actually asked for permission to go on holiday to Switzerland to read up on the literature. Despite whatever folklore may have been circulating among the Nazis about the superiority of the German race, there was a rational degree of respect among German scientists and engineers for the progress achieved by their American and British rivals. Assessments of the state of the art in pesticides research in America in the 1940s could reasonably conclude that American industry was capable of making organophosphate poisons. The production capacity of American chemical companies was vast and certainly merited IG Farben’s envy. The idea that Monsanto or Shell or Du Pont could produce large quantities of organophosphates was certainly plausible. Indeed, the quantities of Mustard gas being produced by the US military were not insignificant.  This belief may even have been reinforced by the fact that some developments in American chemistry had been concealed 54

THE END to protect a specific project unrelated to chemical weapons. Schrader was not alone in his desire to eradicate insects. The US Army, with active fronts in the Pacific, North Africa, and the Mediterranean, as well as critical bases in places like the Panama Canal Zone, was no stranger to the problems posed by illnesses such as malaria and yellow fever spread by mosquitos and other insects. Revolutionary new insecticides like DDT were in development. DDT had, in fact, proven useful in killing Colorado potato beetles. This development was kept secret as it was considered a useful measure to protect Allied forces.4  As a result of both general wartime secrecy in the chemical industry, and specific cautionary censorship in the area of pesticides to protect DDT and other pest-killers, many things that would have appeared in patents and journals in 1935 were not being published in the literature in 1942. Time magazine announced in its 12 June 1944 issue that censorship of DDT was lifted, indicating to readers that such research had been secret up to that point. A year earlier, at the time of his meeting with Hitler, Ambros and his colleagues may have reasonably deduced from the lack of technical articles that the Americans were on to something interesting. People working hard on organophosphorus compounds that originated in pesticide research could easily conclude that censorship of pesticide research by the enemy was meant to cover similar developments.  Whether Ambros believed this statement himself or not is not known to us. It took a great deal of courage to lie to the Führer’s face. Perhaps he did not want his factories bombed; perhaps he knew how bad his chemical agents were and genuinely feared retaliation. There is no evidence that Hitler had some moral scruple against deploying chemical warfare, given the Herculean effort he expanded to build an entire nerve agent industry. But it seems that Hitler believed Ambros. Fear of retaliation by nonexistent Allied nerve agents deterred Germany from using its new weapons. Self-deterrence is a real phenomenon.  


TOXIC  But what if the decision had been different? Would the nerve agents have had a serious impact on the outcome of the Second World War? Could nerve agents have been a decisive factor in, say, the D-Day invasion? Or might they have halted the tide of the Red Army in the East?  Offensive chemical warfare, as a practical option on the battlefield, is as much about logistics as it is about theoretical toxicity. First, only Tabun was available in any quantity, as the more lethal Sarin was not yet in mass production by the end of the war, so any rational “What if ” scenario really only involves Tabun. The effective battlefield use of Tabun would have meant a certain number of artillery shells would need to be fired or a certain number of aerial bombs dropped. The Raubkammer tests revealed that Tabun artillery shells were effective weapons, but that many shells per hectare of target would be needed to really have the desired effect. There really was not that much Tabun in a single shell, when looked at in operational and strategic terms. A long, sustained barrage was required to achieve and maintain a toxic concentration of Tabun. The weather conditions would have to be just right. Too much wind, in any direction, would disperse a chemical attack. Wind blowing back onto German lines would cause fatalities from friendly fire.  The vast inventory of Tabun shells and bombs were stored deep in the German homeland. A large logistical effort would have been needed to shift these shells to the front where they could have been used. As both the time and place of the D-Day invasion came as a shock to the Germans, it is questionable whether enough Tabun artillery shells could have been moved in time to make a difference. The Allies mounted a highly effective deception campaign to convince Germany that the invasion would happen in the Pas de Calais, not Normandy, so had Hitler ordered the repositioning of Tabun shells, they likely would have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. 56

THE END A stockpile of Tabun artillery shells in the Pas de Calais could not be deployed against the five invasion beaches in Normandy. Given the overall situation in the war, and the fact that the Tabun shells were under lock and key in depots, it seems unlikely that Wehrmacht artillery units would ever have been trained in handling or firing such shells.  The other major Tabun weapon delivery system was the aerial bomb. However, by the time of the Normandy invasion, the Luftwaffe had lost aerial supremacy. Moreover, at no time during the war did Luftwaffe ground crews train to handle or load the nerve agent bombs. Nor are any records to be found of Luftwaffe crews training in delivering chemical weapons, apart from a handful that supported testing at Raubkammer.  Either artillery or bombers would have required a major transport effort. Intensive aerial photographic reconnaissance efforts were being undertaken at the time. Such an unusual movement of ordnance might have been detected. In addition, significant numbers of bombing sorties were devoted to degrading and interdicting the transportation network. Nerve agents could easily have been released by accident during transport, endangering Germany’s civilian populace, as indeed happened during the last weeks of the war.  The invading Allied forces were quite paranoid about Mustard gas being used against them and British, Commonwealth, and American troops all carried protective masks. After the war in Europe ended, US Army Chemical Corps officers examined some samples of Tabun extracted from a captured 105mm artillery round. They tested the performance of existing filter canisters on American gas masks5 and verified that they did indeed protect against Tabun. The same study showed that American M6 detector paper, a colour-changing paper designed to detect Mustard and Lewisite, also changed colour when exposed to drops of Tabun. Some US literature6 also indicates that M5 detector paint


TOXIC changed colour when in contact with Tabun. Thousands of American combat vehicles had this paint spotted across them, so while the suggestion has circulated that no Allied technology would have detected Tabun, it is simply untrue. The part of that study that analysed Tabun against captured Japanese gas masks still has some of the results redacted, revealing that consideration of its use against Japan was being considered.  American soldiers going ashore on D-Day had “impregnated” uniforms specifically designed for resistance to Mustard and Lewisite. They would have had some mitigating effect against Tabun, certainly going a long way towards reducing casualties. The idea that a nerve agent attack would have massacred Allied troops has occasionally been mooted in the popular press. For example, such a scenario was luridly outlined in a sensationalistic article published in the Daily Mail7 in 2010 which provided notional casualty figures that could not be borne out by Tabun’s actual performance statistics from Raubkammer; it also implied that Allied forces would have had no gas masks, or at least not ones that worked.  Persistency of Tabun is a factor in its theoretical deployment. As discussed above, the persistency of nerve agents varies greatly. Tabun is somewhere on the cusp between persistent and nonpersistent: it is under some conditions and not under others. As a general contaminant of terrain, Tabun could persist as long as four days in cold weather,8 according to one Norwegian study. But in warm weather, on hard surfaces like tanks, it may only last minutes. Tabun’s utility as a weapon suffers accordingly and it has neither the advantages of a more volatile and more toxic non-persistent agent (e.g. Sarin) or the advantages of a low volatility persistent nerve, such as VX, which is discussed below. Its ability to offer serious interdiction of invasion beaches and the routes off them on a warm damp beach in Normandy is measured in hours, at best. A day or more of contamination on the 58

THE END Eastern Front in colder weather could have been an impediment because the Wehrmacht was not trained or equipped to advance into a target contaminated by chemical artillery shells. (Nor was any other army trained to fight in such terrain either.) The German Army could have taken some regiments off the line for this task, much as they did with the Stosstruppen (stormtroopers) in the First World War, who were specially trained and equip­ped to infiltrate enemy trench lines. No such measures were taken in the Second World War.  What other scenarios besides the D-Day invasion could have leant themselves to employment of Tabun? A “let’s use Tabun against the red hordes” scenario has more practical factors in its favour. Moving the chemical agents east, out of the range of American and British bombers, to use against the Soviets, would have offered the Allies less scope for detection or interdiction. On the one hand, the Red Army was not as well-equipped with protective masks, nor did they field the impregnated clothing for protection against Mustard. On the other hand, the Red Army fought using operational principles that could absorb many casualties without causing panic in the chain of command. The defensive use of Tabun on the Eastern front could possibly have set back the Soviet offensives by months, causing many thousands of casualties. Its persistency characteristics which limited its offensive use would not prevent it from being used to great effect to cover retreats or as an agent of attrition. By the point that Tabun was available in militarily significant quantities, its deployment was not in itself enough to allow Germany to take the offensive against the Soviet Union. There were simply too few conventional Wehrmacht forces available to effectively exploit large offensives spearheaded by nerve agents.  What if Germany had managed to put nerve agents into its V-1 and V-2 long-range guided missiles? Would it have made a difference? The V-1 “buzz bomb” was, in effect, a pilot-less jet aircraft that delivered an 870kg conventional bomb; the V-2 was


TOXIC a rocket-powered ballistic missile which delivered 910kg of explosives. Yet neither was designed to deliver chemical warfare agents. Missiles filled with liquid behave differently to those with a solid warhead, as liquids slosh around. Temperature changes during the flight would also have a significant impact. Heating up on re-entry, would the Tabun in a V-2 make it burst open before impact? The answer is that nobody actually knows because the serious developmental research to validate the concept does not appear to have taken place. Taking a conventional weapon and turning it into a chemical one is not a simple act of substituting the payload.  Instructive in this regard is the debriefing of General Ochsner, the head of the German Army’s chemical troops throughout the war, on the subject of V-1 and V-2 weapons. Ochsner had definite views on the subject and his opinions on chemical warfare carried significant weight. He specifically reinforces the point about the design of these systems: The “V” weapons developed in Germany, V-1 and V-2, were not intended for gas warfare for the following reasons: the field of dispersion was too wide; and the carrying capacity of the individual projectile was too small, so that with the very low rate of fire it would not have been possible to gas any considerable area. Hence only locally restricted and relatively small danger zones with gas coverage could have been created.9

 Ochsner felt that, for the particular purposes for which the V-weapons were designed, the enemy was more likely to be hindered by using them with conventional explosive payloads rather than chemical ones. Overall, the accuracy of the V-weapons was poor. They succeeded in killing many civilians and enraging the public, but had little overall effect in hampering the AngloAmerican war effort.  If Tabun, or indeed any of the older chemical weapons, had been used by Germany, there would have been outrage. 60

THE END Retaliation was guaranteed. Britain, America, and the Soviet Union all had earlier generations of chemical weapons ready for deployment. Although nerve agents were absent from their arsenals, they had thousands of tons of phosgene, Mustard, Lewisite, chlorine, and other compounds available to them. As an area denial weapon for interdiction of terrain and equipment, Mustard was superior to Tabun because it was more persistent. Phosgene, although a lot less toxic than Tabun, was responsible for most chemical warfare-related deaths in the First World War. Given the superior ability of the British and American air forces to deliver payloads by means of massed bomber raids, entire swathes of Germany could have been contaminated for months or years by attacks with persistent Mustard. Switching the war into chemical mode would have been brutal, but the superior capacity of the American chemical industry, so feared by Otto Ambros and far removed geographically from any threat of reprisal, could have delivered thousands of tons of older chemical weapons. The British and Americans were far more able to drop their chemical weapons on the German homeland than vice versa was able to carry out the reverse. In fact, they posed an existential threat to the German homeland. As Mustard was more persistent than Tabun, large areas of Germany could be rendered unusable for weeks or months.  Determining the supply chain for the new Tabun weapon would become a top priority for the Allies’ intelligence and reconnaissance efforts. It is quite possible that they would quickly determine the location of the Dyhernfurth Tabun plant or the various storage depots. Heroic actions would have been required for the Germans to put them out of business, and aggressive Allied airstrikes could have caused a significant release of toxic chemicals.  Other developments towards the end of the war had a direct bearing on the issue. The Americans, the British and the Soviets


TOXIC were all working on biological weapons and nuclear weapons were also in development. The first atom bomb was tested only two and a half months after the surrender of the Third Reich. A serious delay in the course of the war could easily have seen “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” dropped on Berlin and Hamburg. This might have had the knock-on effect of postponing the resolution of the Pacific war. By then, Germany could have been destroyed rather than merely defeated.  The nerve agent programme affected the war effort in various ways even if the agents themselves were never used in combat. The chemical warfare programme, which also included large amounts of Mustard and other chemicals as well as nerve agents, accounted for huge amounts of labour, raw materials, industrial equipment, and money. Massive resources were squandered on weapons that were never used. It is impossible to tell how much the German war effort would have benefited had the chemical warfare budget been spent on other things.  Consider, for a moment, what would have happened had the vast effort to make chemical weapons been devoted to developing and producing synthetic fuel from coal. The Third Reich, ever petroleum poor, spent considerable effort to make liquid fuel for vehicles from coal. The thousands of technicians and engineers, lavish facilities, and millions of Reichsmarks devoted to chemical warfare agents could certainly have made an impact in areas such as synthetic fuel production. Or Otto Ambros’ other great technical wheeze, the manufacture of synthetic rubber. Or even the production of conventional munitions. The hundreds of millions of Reichsmarks spent on the chemical warfare effort equates to billions of pounds or dollars in today’s currencies.  All of the “what if ” speculation is only of specialist interest. In the end, Germany lost the war, and the conquering Allies were about to make a series of interesting and alarming discoveries. 62



The end of the war saw Germany carved up into zones of occu­ pation. Falkenhagen was in the Soviet Occupation Zone; Dyhernfurth was in the newly remapped Soviet-occupied Poland; Spandau Citadel had been sacked by the Red Army. But various essential elements of the nerve agent programme had ended up in the hands of either the British or the Americans.  There is a popular myth that the Allies had gone through the entire Second World War blithely unaware that a new family of chemical weapons had been discovered and mass-produced by the Germans. The reality is more muddled. A post-war intelligence document1 indicates that the British had taken aerial reconnaissance photographs of the Dyhernfurth complex on 15 September 1944, at a point when production was at full scale. However, this simply means that the British were aware that something was going on there, not the precise nature of the work. I was unable to locate a comparable reference to any aerial photography of Falkenhagen, although it cannot be ruled out. Raubkammer had certainly been subjected to aerial reconnaissance, and the site was known to the Allies as it had been used for chemical warfare research in the First World War.  


TOXIC  Aerial photographs cannot see into pipes and holding tanks, but human intelligence can help find out what is happening in a factory. Amazingly, British intelligence had recruited a source who knew about Tabun although the information had somehow been ignored or compartmented. Once again, the National Archives at Kew provide the answer. Buried in file WO 193/723, among hundreds of pages of material unrelated to nerve agents (like a report about a captured Italian Mustard shell in Albania) is a report of the interrogation of a single German officer.  A German chemist, known only by his POW number as his name is redacted from the file, had worked in chemical warfare agent development as a civilian employee, mostly in Spandau. In April 1942, he was called up for military service, but due to his education, was trained as an officer. As chemists in the programme had exemption from conscription, presumably he left the position at Spandau for some reason. He was sent to the Afrika Korps in Tunisia in early 1943, where he was captured by the Allies. But it is his earlier career that earned him a lengthy debriefing from Allied intelligence officers. The officer had worked in Spandau Citadel from 1940 to 1942 in the branch looking for new chemical warfare agents. This was precisely when Spandau was seeking to develop a viable production process for Tabun, so that it could be transferred to the Dyhernfurth factory. The interrogation transcript is direct on this point. This unnamed officer described a new family of toxic chemicals under the nickname “Trilon”—which was used for both Tabun and Sarin. While the captured officer does not name Tabun or Sarin, he broadly describes the nerve agents: The smallest concentration i.e. 0.1 mg per cubic meter is sufficient to cause in a few minutes the characteristic reactions, which are a strong papillary contraction to a pin-head and asthma-like difficulties in breathing. In any heavier concentration death occurs in about a quarter of an hour. It cannot be classified with any of the other war gases as it is a nerve poison.2 64

DUSTBINS AND PAPERCLIPS  This prisoner states that scopolamine and atropine were effective remedies for accidental exposure. He wrongly credits Willi Lange for having invented “Trilon” but correctly specifies that “Trilon 83” [Tabun] is one of the chemicals being investigated. He goes on to state: “…the gas had already passed all its tests and had been given out to the gas factories for manufacture.”  For whatever reason, the report had no impact on the military bureaucracy, possibly for lack of corroboration. A general practice of requiring corroborating evidence is generally a wise one. However, if Tabun had been used, this report would likely have found its way out of the files quite quickly. Not only that, the POW even revealed the existence of the antidote, which was readily available. For some reason this vital intelligence file was shelved and overlooked.  It took the physical discovery of actual chemical weapons to truly alert the Allies to the existence of the nerve agent programme. As they began to liberate Europe, the collection of intelligence and the exploitation of the Third Reich’s scientific, technical, and industrial achievements were given greater importance. Various organisations were tasked with unearthing and documenting the Reich’s advances in science and technology. The US Army already had a special unit called the Alsos mission,3 which had secretly focused on information collection relevant to the Reich’s nuclear effort. Alsos teams had gone into Italy shortly after the Allied invasion of the Italian peninsula. Colonel Boris Pash, a white Russian émigré who had joined the US Army as a military intelligence officer, commanded the Alsos mission, which was also tasked with collecting information on biological warfare.  The British and Americans agreed to mount a much broader joint effort. Scientific, technical, and analytical expertise was assembled and formed into the Combined Intelligence Objectives Subcommittee (CIOS). This effort needed a field arm, similar to,


TOXIC but much larger than the secretive Alsos mission. British and American army units were assigned to the “T-Force”, which was set up to be the eyes, ears, and arms of the technical intelligence effort. American elements of the T-Force included a US Army chemical unit, the 31st Chemical Company and a combat engineer battalion, the 1269th. British elements included infantry troops, not specialists. The T-Force had a very wide mandate, ranging from electronics, to nuclear efforts, U-boats, aircraft technology, missiles such as the V-2, as well as chemical warfare. T-Force teams would fan out across newly liberated areas with the specific remit of collecting documents, securing sites, and detaining personnel who might have relevant information.  CIOS and T-Force did not last long after the end of the war, as the military operational command structures in Europe switched from active military operations into an occupational structure. In Britain, CIOS was supplanted by the British Intelligence Objectives Subcommittee (BIOS). In the US military, the Field Information Agency, Technical (FIAT) was established to carry on much of the work, particularly in sectors under American occupation.  Part of this effort was a task force of approximately fifty US Army chemical warfare specialists under the leadership of Lt Col Philip Tarr,4 an officer in the US Army’s Chemical Warfare Service which was the predecessor to the author’s regiment, the US Army Chemical Corps. As a captain, and then a major, Tarr had served in England as the chemical warfare expert assigned to the American army’s intelligence headquarters. Tarr is not well known outside of his narrow exploits here, although he may be the same Philip Tarr who worked for a major rubber company before the war.  Tarr was assisted by a British officer named Tilley. Edmund Tilley played a pivotal role in the history of nerve agents because of his skills as a German-speaking interrogator. He spoke 66

DUSTBINS AND PAPERCLIPS German with native fluency, having been born in Marburg in 1892 where his father was an English lecturer and ran a series of language schools.5  Edmund Tilley was in the US by the time of World War I, but his father and brothers were interned by the Kaiser’s government. After studying at Union College in Schenectady, New York, Edmund spent time as a language and dramatics teacher, at both Union College and in Istanbul at Robert College, which was and is an elite private high school. A generation of the political and economic elite of Turkey may have been taught English by Tilley. By 1937, his mother’s obituary lists him residing in England,6 yet even then he was something of an enigma as he is missing from all records other than an immigration form completed when he visited relatives in the USA, listing a modest house in North London as his current address.  Due to his fluency in German, Edmund became involved in intelligence work with the British Army. The beginnings of his war service are also a bit of a mystery. The Army records show him being made a second lieutenant in the Intelligence Corps in the autumn of 1940, shortly after it was formally re-established. At forty-eight, he made for an old lieutenant. From 1940 through 1943 he either did little of note or it was very secret. One suspects the latter. Tilley could mimic most regional German accents and it is highly likely that these talents were not squandered. A book on wartime espionage in Persia makes a single tangential reference to Edmund Tilley being in Egypt in November 1943. He was part of the intelligence services and assigned to the Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Centre, in Maadi, Egypt. Special Intelligence Middle East’s director, Brigadier Maunsell, described Tilley in his memoirs: By far the best interrogator we had in SIME: a gentle person, paranoically [sic] devoted to duty and a crashing bore! Major Tilley suc


TOXIC ceeded in breaking down our most difficult suspect, where all others had failed.7

 He is described as one of the intelligence service’s “most expert interrogators” who, after a full month of interrogation, broke a hardened German spy named Hans Merz and cracked another in thirty minutes.8 Details of his remaining service in the Middle East and Mediterranean theatres is largely still a secret, but whatever Tilley did, it was worthy enough for him to appear in a picture shaking hands with King George VI in Italy in 1944.9 Tilley was mentioned in dispatches for his work in Egypt and toward the end of the war was assigned to FIAT.  After the D-Day invasions, the liberation of Europe was no longer a planning effort but an operational one. Tarr, Tilley, and their team headed to the field, arriving in Paris shortly after it fell to Allied forces. They followed the Allied advance all the way to Germany, often only a few days behind British, American, and Free French forces.  The CIOS and T-Force inquiries into chemical weapons technology took on a new impetus in April 1945. Artillery shells with green rings painted on them started turning up in captured depots. On 6 April, American forces reported the discovery of chemical artillery shells at ammunition dumps in Frankenburg and Hunstadt. British T-Force troops immediately went to the depots and sent samples to Porton Down. The next day, two more depots were discovered, at Espelkamp and Rehden. On 21 April, four tons of shells of various sorts were crated up and sent for analysis.10  On 22 April the Raubkammer complex was captured by British troops. The entire complex, as described above, was largely undamaged and seized largely intact. Many of the staff were still there and made little or no attempt to resist capture. A pilot plant for making Sarin was discovered, although it took some time before the Allies realised what it was. Also found were  




DUSTBINS AND PAPERCLIPS many items evacuated from other sites, including documents and instruments from Spandau.  Just as important as the test facilities was the ammunition storage. The German army’s Munster-East ammunition depot and the Luftwaffe munitions depot at Oerrel were both within easy walking distance of the Raubkammer facility. The army depot held thousands of artillery and mortar shells containing chemical warfare agents. The Luftwaffe depot consisted of nearly two hundred concrete bunkers full of bombs of various description. The Mustard shells and bombs had a yellow ring painted on them, a marking scheme already well known to the Allies. There were other shells and bombs, including the Tabun shells with their distinctive three green rings painted on them. A CIOS team including chemists from Porton Down was the first to extract some Tabun from one of the bombs. The technicians, despite wearing protective equipment, all suffered from pinpointed eye pupils. Suspecting it might be some improved blister agent, they tried it on rabbits. Instead of forming blisters, the new mystery agent killed them very quickly. Backed up by a mobile laboratory from the US Army Chemical Warfare Service, the CIOS team determined that the new substance was an organophosphorus compound.  Samples of the new “3 Green Rings” compound were sent to both Porton Down and the US Army’s Chemical Warfare Service (CWS) Development Laboratory, which was in Cambridge, Massachusetts, home of Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The US Army’s CWS had quite a history of involvement with academia, with the campus of American University in Washington, DC considered the birthplace of the Army’s chemical branch. The war in Europe was not even over a week when two chemists, Captain Robert Coombs and Lieutenant Charles Sauer, received a sample of Tabun flown back from Germany. Their analytical efforts, now partially declassified,11 show that the


TOXIC captured Tabun was far superior to any chemical warfare agent that the US had ever developed. Based on preliminary lab reports, Major General Porter, the head of the CWS, requested high priority airlift to bring back five 250kg Tabun bombs so that the Tabun could be extracted for further testing. Eventually, thousands of Tabun bombs and artillery shells were sent back to the US,12 both for evaluation and to comprise a limited capability for nerve agent warfare until new supplies could be made.  While the US was doing laboratory work in Massachusetts, a far more substantial effort was being executed in Germany. A British committee with American liaison officers in attendance met at the War Office in London on 25 May 1945. They decided to send a full exploitation effort to Raubkammer. Part of their reasoning was that the German chemical weapons materiel might be of use in the war in the Pacific, which was still underway. As a result, the “Number One Porton Group” was assembled, comprising scientists, engineers, and support staff from Porton Down. They arrived in Raubkammer on 27 June 1945 and spent four months there.13 A mobile chemical laboratory from the British Army supported the Porton Group, which also had Canadian and American liaison officers.  While the Porton Group did not devote all their efforts to nerve agents, that was the topic from which they derived fresh scientific knowledge on a large scale. Indeed, one can see from the reports that they were, if not disparaging, a wee bit bored working on smoke and Nitrogen Mustard, which were nearly identical to existing British and American technologies. A smoke bomb turns out to be, well, a smoke bomb and someone is tasked to write a dull report saying as much.  However, much of what we know about Raubkammer’s unique facilities comes from these reports. Their most important task was to analyse the new Tabun agent’s performance. Among the large amounts of documents at Raubkammer were reports of  



DUSTBINS AND PAPERCLIPS field trials of Tabun and Sarin munitions. These detail quite a high degree of effectiveness and lethality for Tabun when used under many meteorological conditions. A handful of documents, produced later in the war, reveal the great promise of Sarin as an even more effective weapon than Tabun. The Porton Group focused their efforts on replicating key test procedures in order to validate the German trial papers. If they could approximately replicate the German results, using the same materials and facilities, then the British could be reasonably assured that the captured documents were genuine and accurate.  Extensive use was made of German staff at the site, who presumably felt that continuing their pre-war employment was preferable to detention in POW camps. The Raubkammer artillery range was used to replicate 105mm artillery shots using Tabun-filled shells. Eventually, attention turned to aerial bombs and spray tanks. Royal Air Force Typhoon fighter bombers flew repeat bombing and aerial spraying runs as close to the original German tests as possible. Reports back to Porton were promising and senior British staff came to observe the field trials.  Shortage of test animals hindered the Porton Group from replicating many of the German trials and significant correspondence is devoted to this conundrum. By the time the British got to Raubkammer, Germany’s zoological facilities were largely empty. For various reasons, Porton preferred goats and rabbits, yet much of the Tabun data was based on trials with dogs and cats. Desperate pleas to ship goats from Britain to Raubkammer were repeatedly denied by British bureaucrats. The Porton Group literally became “The men who didn’t stare at goats.” The archives reveal how scientists went back to Porton again and again so that they could return with hampers full of rabbits in their hand luggage.  Possibly the most important aspect of the Raubkammer research, and one that turns up in the declassified reports only


TOXIC occasionally, was the pilot plants. The Tabun pilot plant had been at Raubkammer for some years, and a Sarin pilot plant had been relocated as part of the wider evacuation of chemical warfare material. These plants were an intelligence coup. Unbeknownst to the Americans and British, the Soviet Union had not made a comparable discovery. Among the archives is an undated report entitled “Preparation of Sarin in the Technical Test Plant at Heidkrug.”14 A German Army chemist, one Ludwig Schusteritz, had been loaned to Raubkammer from Spandau.15 He described the operation of the Sarin pilot plant to his interrogators. This seventeen-page document is a translation from the original German, and is riddled with possible typographical and translation errors, but it revealed a workable, if problem-plagued, way to make Sarin, as confirmed by the chemists who read it.  Without revealing unnecessary details, a number of the stages were uneconomical and quite likely unsafe, but the process would indeed yield quantities of Sarin. There is a serious error in temperature at one point, which may have been a typing error. Various steps of the German process included headaches like dealing with clogged pipes, which had to be removed and mechanically cleaned—presumably by men in protective clothing. One can see how the Germans were having problems scaling up their Sarin production at Falkenhagen. However, this Schusteritz memorandum would form the basis for US and UK research into Sarin until improvements could be made. Schusteritz himself faded from the story. His name appears on a few patents in the 1950s, but otherwise disappears from history.  While the Porton Group was trying to exploit the chemicals, equipment, and documentation at Raubkammer, Tarr and Tilley were tracking down the personnel involved. There was no factory of any size at Raubkammer. But someone somewhere had manufactured the Tabun; someone knew how to make it; and someone had invented it in the first place. Tarr, Tilley, and their colleagues 72

DUSTBINS AND PAPERCLIPS chased down, captured, and interrogated the personnel behind the Nazi chemical warfare programme.  As Alsos, CIOS, and the T-Force started to hoover up scientists and engineers, they had to be held somewhere. The Americans and British together set up a detention and interrogation facility in a former German military headquarters—Schloss Kransberg— located in the Taunus mountains in Hesse, north of Wiesbaden. The facility became known as “Dustbin” and the interrogation effort was “Operation Dustbin.” Within eight weeks of the war’s end, Dustbin was in operation and receiving prisoners.  By all accounts, life in the Kransberg “Dustbin” was not unpleasant. It was a highly concentrated intellectual environment. The inmates were treated well, fed better food than they had been for much of the war, and received medical care. Being such a concentrated pool of scientific and technical minds, the inmates had an active lecture series to keep themselves going. The in-house chess tournaments were of a high standard. Hitler’s personal doctor, Karl Brandt, led gymnastics classes in the gardens. Some of the great minds of Germany passed through Dustbin: Albert Speer, Werner von Braun, and Ferdinand Porsche were among the detainees. Although security was high, sports and entertainment programmes were provided and Kransberg detainees could walk in the gardens under escort. Albert Speer in his memoirs fondly recalls his detention: For the rest, we banished boredom by early-morning sports, a series of scientific lectures, and once [Economy minister Hjalmar] Schact recited poetry, giving astonishingly emotional renderings. A weekly cabaret was also conjured up. We watched the performances—the scenes repeatedly dealt with our own situation—and sometimes tears of laughter ran down our faces at the tumble we had taken.16

 The way to get detained scientists to cooperate was by treating them reasonably well. One can see the logic of fleeing to the West as a German scientist, and not waiting to be taken to the


TOXIC Eastern Bloc. Accounts of cabarets held in the Soviet camps are absent from the historical record.  Even before the end of the war, Tarr and Tilley had a target list of people they wanted to find. They had pre-war membership lists from professional societies and lists of scientists and engineers compiled from various technical and academic journals. As captured documents and interrogation reports started to pile up, some names were added to the lists of people of interest and other names removed.  The archives are replete with both summary and detailed interrogation reports by Edmund Tilley. It is abundantly clear that he could persuade Germans of any rank or position to talk. No doubt some of this was through his native fluency. He knew every regional accent and famously once rumbled a German spy by telling him, quite correctly, that his accent was from Altona, outside of Hamburg. By the time Tilley was chasing scientists, he had years of interrogation experience with prisoners in the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean theatres. He had interrogated hundreds, if not thousands, of Germans before he even set foot in Germany towards the end of the war.  Tarr and Tilley already had a general mandate to learn about chemical warfare and the German chemical industry. But this new substance, Green-Ring Three or Le-100 or Tabun, was causing a mix of excitement and panic. Tarr and Tilley needed to find the people who were involved in it and learn what they knew. As they gradually reconstructed the organisational charts of the Tabun and Sarin programmes, the FIAT teams were rounding up personnel of exceptional interest. The most important ones were sent to Dustbin.  Finding the chemists and chemical engineers was a bit of a puzzle. But everyone knew that IG Farben was the heart of the German chemical industry. Tilley and two Americans, a Captain Whitten and a Lieutenant Mehl, were sent to IG 74

DUSTBINS AND PAPERCLIPS Farben headqarters at Ludwigshafen from 25–31 March 1945. They operated in effect an interrogation production line. An entire report, “Interrogation of German Scientific Personnel of IG Farbenindustrie A. G.”17 summarises this effort to sift through the lower levels of the corporate hierarchy.  Tilley worked quickly and effectively. Some of his interrogation files are terse. One official at Ludwigshafen is dismissed in a single sentence—“stupid unimportant official who was wanted only for specific shipping data”—showing that Tilley could do brevity when required. But none of these people had much to do with chemical warfare. Some of those he interrogated evaded his questions. Dr Karl Bossert “was not cooperative. He lied outrageously about his documents, and was altogether unpleasant.” Dr Wolfgang Bülow, however, was “very cooperative. Provided names of people who can help us further.” Tilley finds rumours of files being burned. Intriguingly, he hears the story of a barrel being filled with papers and taken from the factory.  It is in this document that we learn that Tilley had caught wind of a chap named Ambros. Tilley’s notes summarise his chat with Karl Wurster, a board member. Wurster tells Tilley that chemical weapons are not made at the Ludwigshafen complex, but that a separate department under a “Dr Ambros” is responsible for manufacturing them. Wurster also names Dyhernfurth as a plant where Ambros had does some work, although Tilley got the name wrong at first, noting it as “Dyherenfurt”. Palm, the plant director at Dyhernfurth, and his deputy, von Bock, are also named. Wurster thinks that they may be at Gendorf. (At the time of this interrogation, Gendorf was in German hands as the war was still underway.)  As the war drew to a close, Allied counterintelligence agents were actively rounding up Farben executives. One of them was Hermann Schmitz, the CEO, and a prominent director of various banks. He was harder to find than expected. Although he  






TOXIC was wealthy, he lived below his means. Some soldiers eventually found Schmitz in a modest house in Heidelberg. He refused to speak to enlisted men. Major Tilley appeared, as if out of nowhere, much to the amazement of the enlisted men. The urbane German-speaking Tilley not only got Schmitz to talk, but found Schmitz’s secret safe concealed in the walls of the house by tapping on the walls. He forced Schmitz to open it. (One gathers that beneath Tilley’s smooth demeanour lay a very determined individual.) It contained information about Farben’s plant at Auschwitz, the Buna plant, which made synthetic rubber. Among the names Tilley found was Otto Ambros. Tilley did not yet know the significance of Auschwitz, but he was intrigued by this Otto Ambros who kept popping up at every turn. Tilley arrested and detained Schmitz in the hope that he would yield more information.  Other significant members of IG Farben were rounded up too. Karl Krauch, chairman of Farben’s supervisory board, was arrested in hospital. Georg von Schnitzler was a Farben executive who was, in some interpretations of the obtuse management structures, Ambros’s boss. He was found at his house in the Taunus mountains and arrested by two American intelligence agents. Von Klenck was found at Gendorf on May 20, 1945. He was arrested and sent to Dustbin. Other leads were being generated. Corporate directories were found. The membership documents of various professional societies were seized by Allied intelligence agents. An Alsos team led by its scientific director Samuel Goudsmit (a Dutch-American physicist) found Richard Kuhn, the inventor of Soman, in Heidelberg. Goudsmit seems to have been the Edmund Tilley of the nuclear effort, having also tracked down the chemist Otto Hahn and physicist Werner Heisenberg. He did not have enough evidence yet to arrest Kuhn, but put him under surveillance. Kuhn’s office yielded the directories and contact lists of the German Chemical Society, which he presided over. This proved of immense value to Tilley. 76

DUSTBINS AND PAPERCLIPS  Gerhard Schrader was making no attempt to hide from the Allies. He was found at his home near Leverkusen. He too was arrested and taken to Dustbin. Eventually, Tilley called him in for interrogation. Schrader seems to have gotten on well with Tilley. Tilley’s reports on Schrader fill hundreds of pages, each one signed on the bottom right-hand corner with his distinctive signature.  Schrader told Tilley everything he could. Indeed, Schrader, to widespread astonishment, recounted hundreds of chemical reactions and molecules from memory. As it became clear that he was being supremely helpful to his captors, he was reunited with some of his captured notebooks, some of which had been found in Schrader’s dustbins. He described his whole story, as recounted earlier, and told all about the invention of Tabun and Sarin. He also gave up laboratory-scale processes for formulating the two nerve agents. Just as important, he revealed names, dates, and places and even proposed he could work for the British to develop a pesticide to combat the Colorado potato beetle.  Schrader was released from custody in 1946, having been declared by Tilley as a keen example of cooperation. The British government went to some length to set up a job for him in Britain, with a possible post in Cambridge. However, Schrader politely declined and returned to his research on insecticides.  Tilley understood that there must have been a factory somewhere otherwise how had the many tons of weapons seized at Raubkammer come into being? He asked Schrader about mass production. Schrader was the inventor, not the industrialist; Tilley believed him. Schrader named his colleague Otto Ambros as the person to talk to. By this point Tilley realised that Ambros was the key to everything. While Schrader acted very much as an innocent man wishing to prove, if not his innocence, then at least his value to his captors, Ambros was behaving like a guilty man, and proved harder to catch.


TOXIC  In July, 1945, FIAT issued an order to detain Ambros. Colonel Tarr, the American chemical officer, went and fetched Ambros from his temporary refuge at Gendorf. But rather than going to Dustbin as was planned, Tarr diverted to Heidelberg. Instead of being detained, Ambros found himself at Villa Kohlhof, the official IG Farben guesthouse for executives. Colonel Tarr had effectively shielded Ambros from detention and interrogation in a deliberately disobedient act. It now seems clear, many decades later, that Tarr was following another agenda. He wanted to amass German chemical warfare expertise himself, but whether this was for his own benefit, for that of the US government to the exclusion of its Allies, or to help American chemical companies, cannot be determined conclusively.  Tarr did two particularly strange things. First, by keeping Ambros from FIAT for private interrogations, much of what Ambros said is not now in the historic record. This appears to be an off-the record personal effort. Moreover, Tarr brought in one Dr Wilhelm Hirschkind, a German-speaking American chemist who actually worked for Dow Chemical. Hirschkind extracted from Ambros all sorts of information of potential value. Whether this was for the US government, Dow Chemical, or both, remains to be determined.  Tarr’s other deed was truly perfidious. He produced a fake telegram from the Ministry of Supply in London, allegedly written by one Colonel Childs. The Ministry of Supply was the procurement arm of the British war machine and most chemical warfare efforts fell under their purview. The telegram ordered the release into US custody of all of the chemical warfare experts at Dustbin. However, Tarr was rumbled when Colonel Childs in London disavowed the telegram. These acts raise the inevitable question… with demobilisation imminent, was Tarr trying to set himself up for return to employment in the chemical industry?  Major Tilley spent much of September and October 1945 scouring the countryside around Gendorf, questioning locals and  


DUSTBINS AND PAPERCLIPS looking for one steel drum in particular. Eventually, his inquiries led him to the Gendorf fire chief, Herr Keller, who was threatened with imprisonment over his SS past and agreed to cooperate. On 27 October, Tilley was taken to a remote farm near Burghausen where the drum was dug up. He then, metaphorically, dropped a bomb on Klenck in the interrogation room, producing the steel drum and its contents. The drum now sits in storage at the Imperial War Museum in London, a silent testimony to Tilley’s indefatigable tenacity.  There was now plenty of evidence against Ambros. On 29 October 1945, based on Tilley’s analysis of the steel drum, an arrest warrant was issued for him in both the British and American occupation zones. However, Ambros was firmly camped out in the French zone and several attempts to have him arrested failed. Ultimately, Ambros’ hubris was his undoing. In January 1946, he ventured to Heidelberg, which was in the US zone, where American counterintelligence agents were waiting for him. Ambros was arrested on 17 January 1946 and taken to Dustbin, where Tilley was waiting for him. Tilley extracted an enormous amount of information from Ambros over several interviews. He then handed him over to a different set of jailers: the Nuremberg detention centre, which was holding suspected war criminals for trial.  Eventually, Ambros and twenty-two other IG Farben executives were tried at Nuremburg, from August 1947 to June 1948. However, in the spectrum of Nazi-era misdeeds, making a new class of chemical weapon which were not actually used did not rate as a war crime per se. It was Farben’s other misdeeds that brought its executives to trial, such as plundering the chemical industries of countries that they had invaded. They were also charged with use of slave labour and inhumane treatment of prisoners in IG Farben facilities. The charge that really stuck to Ambros was his extensive work at Auschwitz, where he built  




TOXIC and ran the “Buna” synthetic rubber factory as part of his extensive network of commercial enterprises. Tilley’s interrogation and affidavit helped convict Ambros for war crimes and crimes against humanity through his use and mistreatment of slave labour. He was jailed for eight years, a typical sentence at the time, and packed off to Landsberg prison. Heinrich Hörlein, who had been Schrader’s boss, was acquitted. Krauch, Schmitz, and von Schnitzler were all convicted and given shorter sentences. Ambros was released in 1951 as part of a general clemency for lesser offenders. He then went on to work on the medicine Thalidomide.  By 1948, the Americans understood the principles of Tabun and Sarin, but still had a long way to go to work out effective methods of mass producing them. A Chemical Corps Colonel named Charles Loucks was stationed as the chief chemical officer for the European theatre. Loucks had achieved minor fame early in the Second World War by working with Walt Disney and the Sun Rubber Company to develop a “Mickey Mouse” gas mask for children. Loucks was familiar with the problems in moving forward with nerve agents and set about trying to get a more comprehensive understanding of the Nazi programme, wringing out whatever information still remained undiscovered. He found and had numerous discussions with Schrader, von Klenck, and Kuhn. The extent of these discussions is not as well documented as Tilley’s earlier interrogations but they roughly overlap with the period when the US Army finally worked out a mass-production pathway to make Sarin.  Many books about Americans and Nazi scientists make extensive reference to “Operation Paperclip”—the exploitation of German scientists for use in the American defence industry. Annie Jacobsen’s 2014 book, Operation Paperclip, describes this programme in great detail. However, it is quite clear that chemical weapons were a low priority in Paperclip. Nuclear research, 80

DUSTBINS AND PAPERCLIPS ballistic missiles, synthetic fuels, electronics, underground tunnelling, and jet aircraft development all received higher emphasis than nerve agents. Hundreds of Germans associated with these areas of research eventually ended up living and working in the United States. Only relatively few people associated with chemical weapons did so. It is also possible that the amount of material and information already gained from the seizure of Raubkammer and the extensive interrogations at Dustbin made expatriation of German scientists less of a priority for nerve agent research.  Of the key personnel identified in the Nazi nerve agent programme, my research only uncovered relatively low-level personnel working on US nerve agents. Friedrich Hoffmann, who appears to have had little or no role in the nerve agent programme at Farben, ended up working on incapacitants at Edgewood Arsenal, not nerve agents. It is not known if this Hoffman is the same person who was the foreman of production of dimethylamine at Dyhernfurth. Another scientist, Theodore Wagner-Jauregg, an Austrian, had an academic research role in the war, and relocated to Edgewood under Operation Paperclip. A British document from 1950 lists one Dr Heinz Tolkmitt, a specialist in POCl3 production as being in the US. He may have been relocated through Operation Paperclip.  Some of the files on Operation Paperclip are still unavailable. It is also interesting to note that another US Army officer involved in Paperclip, Lieutenant Colonel William Henry Whalen, turned out to have been a Soviet spy. The Whalen case is still shrouded in secrecy, but he was tried, convicted and served six years in prison, evidently having cooperated with prosecutors. Many of the records of Paperclip were seized by the US Department of Justice as evidence during this investigation, which could explain their absence from the archives.  By the end of the 1940s, the Americans and the British were in a position to evaluate what they knew and what they did not  



TOXIC know about the Nazi nerve agent programme. The Western Allies had three things going for them. First, they had a large amount of the actual Tabun bombs and shells, and they were in relatively stable condition for long-term storage. If nothing else, this Tabun could be analysed in depth and repurposed for new use. Both Britain and America stockpiled this captured Tabun for wartime contingencies. Its stability was actually quite good: some American Tabun lasted at least until the 1980s in long term storage in Utah.18 Just as important, however, the western Allies had captured the test facility at Raubkammer more or less intact, with much extra equipment and personnel thrown in, given that most of the scientists in the nerve agent programme fled west.  The years after the war could be characterised as a blindfolded race. France, Britain, and America had all correctly arrived at two basic conclusions. First, the nerve agents were a far more effective chemical weapon than anything that any of them had developed. Second, they knew that the Soviets also knew about them. The post-war years were therefore a race against the Soviet Union to develop this new category of weapon, predicated on the assumption that the Soviets were developing them too. Independently the Soviet Union reached the same conclusion. Both sides were scrambling to keep up with each other, albeit with little practical knowledge as to how much progress the other had made.  The West knew that Soviet chemists were good in general and that, in particular, they had some special expertise in the relevant chemistry. The famous Russian Professor Aleksandr Arbuzov was still active in Kazan and was one of the world’s great leading figures in phosphorus chemistry. A key reaction used to make many of the nerve agents is partially named after him.  Many personnel involved in the Nazi nerve agent programme were still not accounted for, some of whom were assumed to be in Soviet hands. The British and Americans knew from their 82

DUSTBINS AND PAPERCLIPS interrogations that the cache of Soman documents was hidden in a mineshaft at Rüdersdorf, but they had no idea if the Soviets had found them or not. America and Britain were aware that the Soviets had captured the facilities at Falkenhagen, Dyhernfurth, and Spandau Citadel, which explains why they assumed that the Soviet Union must have unlocked many of the secrets to nerve agents.  In August, 1950, British intelligence held a thought exercise. In a fascinating file,19 declassified in 2001, the British defence and intelligence establishment conducted a thorough review of their thinking as to how much the Soviet Union had learned from its capture of Dyhernfurth. Numerous factors were weighed up on both sides of the equation—those suggesting that the Soviets had gained a great deal of knowledge and mitigating factors which might lean the other way, against the Soviets having done so. The various reporting that the 1950 report analysed was contradictory. The internal discussion in the British intelligence came to the very mixed conclusion that the Soviets might have exploited a lot from the site and, then again, they might not have exploited much. What the British intelligence analysts did not know was that one notebook in particular had been recovered from the Dyhernfurth site.




The British, almost inadvertently, already had a head start down the road to nerve agents.  They appreciated the offensive potential of Tabun and Sarin and weighed up how best to produce them. There was a chemical weapons research programme that was peripherally related to nerve agents and provided a technical basis for British work in this area. The Cambridge University chemistry professor Dr Bernard Saunders had pursued similar research to Lange’s earlier work in Germany, albeit nearly a decade later. Saunders’ work, in many ways, was paralleling that of Gerhard Schrader a few years earlier. Saunders was working on organophosphate compounds and introducing fluorine into them. Like Lange, he made the chemical compound DFP—diisopropyl fluorophosphate. This was in 1941, after the war started, and presumably he was cut off from German research publications. It was reported to the British government as a possible incapacitant. Its properties as a nerve agent were weak and not particularly understood at the time, it seems, but it could serve as a harassing agent, possibly  


TOXIC knocking out or interfering with the vision of enemy soldiers. The DFP work was not seriously pursued as a weapon at the time, and resources were channelled elsewhere.  The British nerve agent programme started with captured Tabun as a place-filler. The Porton Group’s work at Raubkammer and laboratory tests both in Porton and America had convinced the British chemical warfare establishment that Tabun was significantly better than any of the chemical agents produced to date. Sarin was even better than Tabun. But British and American scientists looking at the captured paperwork, interrogation reports, and the awkward pilot plant from Raubkammer could tell, almost on the spot, that making Sarin in any scale was going to take some time to figure out.  Until Sarin could be manufactured, there was plenty of captured German Tabun that could provide an interim capability. For a short period in history, Wales held the largest nerve agent stockpile in Europe. The German stockpile of aerial Tabun bombs was divided between the US and Britain. In late 1945, “Operation Dismal” was executed. Approximately 71,000 of these 250kg Tabun bombs were transported to Hamburg, shipped to Newport, and then transported, 500 bombs at a time, to the RAF’s strategic ammunition storage site in Llanberis in North Wales.1 This was only a temporary measure. In a lengthy operation in 1946 and 1947, the bombs were moved to the nearby RAF Llandwrog for longer-term storage. The bombs were stored in the open air at the end of a disused runway, in the belief that prevailing winds would blow the vapours from any leaky munitions out to sea. There seems to have been little thought devoted as to how these weapons would actually be employed, and they rotted away in the notoriously damp Welsh climate.  In what can only be described as a “Grand Oops”, the RAF discovered in 1947 that all of these German Tabun bombs had 86

MITES fuses fitted in them. Normal British (and American) practice would have been to keep the fuses separated from such bombs until they were about to be loaded onto planes for use. Transporting bombs with fuses in them was extremely dangerous, and it is a miracle that a horrible accident did not occur in transit between the storage depots in Germany and RAF Llandwrog. Further examination showed that storage in the open had corroded many of the bombs and the fuses. This slipshod nerve agent arsenal was quickly becoming a liability. As there was really no way to tell which fuses were corroded and which were not, a large effort systematically to remove the fuses was launched. Technicians laboriously removed the fuses and sealed the bombs with lanolin. Some bombs had to be drained because they were irreparably damaged. Presumably, in order to use them operationally, someone would have to scrape off enough wax to fit a new (as yet undeveloped) fuse into the bombs. In 1951, hangars were built to hold the bombs. Offensive use of these bombs would have been problematic, as they were not designed for use in British bombers, so significant modifications would be required. Although new hardware was designed, it was not installed.2  By 1954, the RAF declared the rotting stockpile to be surplus to requirements and “Operation Sandcastle” was executed to dispose of the Tabun bombs at sea. The logistics were complex. A road was built from Llandwrog to Fort Belan, a Napoleonic era coastal fortification. Bombs were loaded on the beach onto amphibious landing craft which shuttled them, 500 at a time, to the port of Cairnryan. The bombs were then transferred to old merchant ships then towed out to sea, northwest of Ireland, and sunk in the ocean at a point where the depth was at least 6,000 feet. The SS Empire Claire, an old veteran of North Atlantic convoys now barely seaworthy, was sunk on 25 July 1955. Other ships were scuttled the next year. The MV Vogtland, an aged  


TOXIC former Norwegian freighter was sunk in May 1956. The SS Kotka, which had toiled for eight different merchant marine owners, was sunk in July 1956. Thus, the Welsh nerve agent stockpile went to a watery grave. The history of Tabun in Wales and its disposal at sea are discussed in great detail in The Tale of Tabun: Nazi Chemical Weapons in North Wales by Roy Sloan. The Empire Claire is pictured on a 2013 Royal Mail stamp commemorating the merchant navy.  Part of the reason that the Tabun became excess to requirements was that the United Kingdom was developing its own Sarin manufacturing capability. A factory site was selected near Redruth, in Cornwall, and a remote airstrip formerly known as RAF Portreath was put back into service and designated Chemical Defence Establishment Nancekuke in 1949.  A pilot-scale plant was built at Nancekuke to develop the means for mass-producing Sarin. Construction began in August 1951 and was completed two years later. Overall production capacity was approximately one ton of Sarin per week, and a small stockpile was built up for testing. The production facility did not run for very long and produced small batches from time to time to replace Sarin that had not aged very well. The plant was shut down and mothballed in 1955, having produced approximately twenty tons. It was carefully laid up for mobilization. However, the pilot plant was not set up to be a war-time source of Sarin. Rather it was meant to work out a viable manufacturing process that could be scaled up to a larger facility, which would be built later on the same site. As with Llandwrog, nobody had actually worked out the logistics of moving Sarin out of Nancekuke, and there was no equipment for putting this Sarin reserve into bombs or shells.  In the 1950s Britain was losing its overseas empire, which meant that the military no longer had access to its former chemical warfare munitions testing facilities at Rawalpindi 88

MITES (now in Pakistan), Dehra Dun (India), and later Obanaghoro (Nigeria). As a practical matter, much trial-and-error testing would be needed to develop British nerve agent weapons systems. The loss of these proving grounds before significant quantities of nerve agent became available seriously diminished the ability of Britain to develop such munitions on its own without relying on its allies.  In 1952, British military staff officers estimated that wartime use of Sarin would need a facility capable of producing fifty tons per week. Plans were drawn up for a much larger facility at Nancekuke to meet this demand for a larger stockpile. In 1954, the Cabinet Office authorised construction of the larger Sarin plant, but both political and budgetary considerations saw chemical warfare take a lower priority in British military planning.  Britain’s most serious contribution to nerve agents came by an accident that parallels an earlier part of the story. Pesticide research was still very much a legitimate line of enquiry in the chemical industry. Various pests were still resistant to existing pesticides, including some lice and mites. This research was based heavily on discoveries made after the war, including the extensive work done by Gerhard Schrader. A monograph by Schrader, BIOS Report 714, was made available to industry, and much of the rest of his debriefings on pesticides made its way to British chemists and chemical engineers. The British firm Albright and Wilson began to produce Parathion, a German pesticide based on Schrader’s work, in 1947.3  Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) was a rival to Albright and Wilson. In 1948, a committee at ICI decided to task entomologists and chemists to do further work in the field of organophosphorus pesticides.4 Two chemists, Dr Ranajit Ghosh and Dr J.F. Newman, were assigned the task. The work of Gerhard Schrader would likely have been available to Ghosh and Newman who worked for ICI’s Plant Protection Laboratory. Much like  




TOXIC Schrader’s work, they played around with adding different elements like sulfur and nitrogen to organophosphate molecules. In early 1952, one of the molecules that they hit upon was O, O-diethyl S-[2-(diethylamino)ethyl] phosphorothioate. This was particularly unwieldy so the name “Amiton” was coined.  Just as with Tabun, the new compound got sent off for tests on pests. Amiton turned out to be extremely effective in eradicating red spider mites, which are a menace to many types of plants including fruit trees. Farmers participating in trials reported that an application of it killed mites for months, but was also quite dangerous to farmers.5 Dr J.C. Gage at ICI’s Industrial Hygiene Laboratory studied the new Amiton compound and realised that it posed a hazard to mammals and was an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor.6 The new compound was just too dangerous for commercial applications.  Amiton was withdrawn from the market, but a sample was sent to Porton Down. The scientists quickly deduced that this particular compound was very toxic. It was particularly toxic by absorption through the skin. Amiton’s “flash point”—the temperature at which vapours could ignite—was a bit low for it to be truly useful in explosively dispersed munitions. By this point the Porton team knew enough about organophosphorus compounds to realise that by playing around with the various “arms” of the molecule—in effect, hanging other groups of atoms on the base of the molecule—slightly different chemicals would result, with different properties. Sister molecules of Amiton could now be made and examined for their toxicity and handling properties.  Under the existing information-sharing arrangements, the Porton Down scientists shared this data with their American colleagues at Edgewood. A large number of chemicals in the same family as Amiton were examined collectively by Edgewood and Porton Down. The exact number is not well-established in the available literature, but the Soviets later claimed there are 350 substances in this family.7 Amiton was eventually nicknamed VG  




MITES in the new NATO naming scheme, but never entered service as a chemical warfare agent. A new agent, named VX, a different compound in the same family of chemicals, was deemed to be highly useful as a warfare agent. It is occasionally claimed8 that VX was traded to the Americans for technical information on the hydrogen bomb. Actual evidence of this claim is sparse. Given the complex nature of the research on-going in both countries in both nuclear and chemical weapons research in the 1950s, this is likely an oversimplification.  While this was underway, independent parallel efforts were being made in an unlikely place: Sweden enters the nerve agent story. Although it had been neutral during the Second World War and maintained that stance during the Cold War, the Swedish military was not oblivious to the need to protect itself from chemical weapons. In 1945, Sweden established the Försvarets Forskninganstalt (FOA)—the National Defence Research Institute. Part of FOA’s charter was to investigate chemical warfare agents and defences against them. No doubt the large amounts of chemical munitions that had been sunk in the Baltic Sea were of direct concern to Sweden, but also the threat of war could not be ignored. The discovery of the nerve agents was as much a surprise to Sweden as it was to the rest of the world. Nerve agents and nerve agent countermeasures were very much an item of interest to the Swedes.  A young chemist, Lars-Erik Tammelin was hired by FOA to investigate nerve agents. He came across the same exact family of chemicals as Amiton and significantly started to publish his work. What are now the V-series of nerve agents are often referred to as “Tammelin’s Esters”.  VX was fundamentally different from Sarin. Sarin was nonpersistent. It evaporated quickly and was very useful for creating immediate casualties. However, in all but the coldest weather, it was not useful for area denial or interdiction because it evaporated or decomposed within minutes or hours. VX, on the other


TOXIC hand, was a thicker, oilier liquid, with very little vapour pressure. It was also more toxic by absorption through skin than Sarin. These two factors combined to make it ideal for long-term contamination of ground or equipment. A tank sprayed with droplets of VX would be contaminated for days or weeks.  The Nancekuke facility began to work out how to produce VX. However, VX manufacturing was only done on a modest scale. In 1956, the Cabinet made a policy decision to abandon massproduction of Sarin and to step away from offensive chemical warfare. The national policy was to concentrate on defensive work, such as detection, protection, and medical treatment, and to leave the offensive work to the wealthier Americans. Plans for the larger factory were shelved. Much of the staff at Nancekuke were made redundant. The site continued work in chemical warfare research until the late 1970s, with much research being done on things like riot control agents.  Although Britain made the conscious effort to withdraw from offensive research, its laboratory at Porton Down, outside of Salisbury, was a significant centre of expertise in defensive research. Much of what we now know about nerve agents comes directly or indirectly from Porton Down’s research efforts. Some of Porton’s research was controversial. Much of the knowledge of the biology and chemistry behind how Sarin and VX work on the human body were due to use of nerve agents on humans. Porton Down had been using military personnel as medical research volunteers since the First World War and encouraged volunteers to join the programme in exchange for more pay and extra leave. This was during an era when many people either joined the military out of abject poverty or were doing national service. Basic pay was meagre and, whether by design or happenstance, the programme exploited the poor.  Nor was the research always executed following the best ethical practices. Some­times the recruits were given false expla 


MITES nations as to what the testing involved. In such cases it can be taken that the volunteers were not actually volunteers, but were exploited individuals. For example, volunteers in a series of tests in 1953 on Sarin absorption into skin and evaporation off military clothing were told that the researchers were seeking a cure for the ­common cold. Furthermore, Porton did not always have enough knowledge to make rational decisions on what was safe or unsafe in testing.  On May 6, 1953, a young soldier, Ronald Maddison, a twenty-year-old from County Durham, had approximately twenty drops of Sarin placed on a band of clothing placed around his arm. He became very ill and died within forty-five minutes of exposure. The Maddison case dragged out for decades, as the government covered up the cause of death. His body was returned to his family in a sealed steel coffin, and unbeknownst to them, many of his organs and much of his tissue remained at Porton Down for study. An internal Porton Down review concluded that Maddison was likely to have been unusually vulnerable to nerve agent poisoning and/or his skin was more susceptible to speedy absorption.9  His death was subject to a secret inquest, and his family did not get the justice they deserved, being fobbed off with a paltry £40 for funeral expenses. The case was revived from 1999 under pressure from Maddison’s family. A new inquest found a verdict of unlawful killing and quashed the 1953 verdict. Eventually, the Maddison family received £100,000 in compensation. The case was merely the most egregious of a series of experiments, many of which are still unpublicised. The ethics of the time were not the ethics of the modern era, but what happened to Maddison was wrong. Porton Down suffered reputational damage from this episode which persists to this day.




The American adventure with nerve agents started immediately at the end of the war with captured German Tabun. The US military came to the decision that Tabun, while interesting, deadly, and useful, would not be worth manufacturing if the more lethal and less persistent Sarin could be made. But it was clear that mass production of Sarin was going to take some time to work out.  Despite this management decision, Tabun played a role as a place-filler in the American arsenal until the superior Sarin could be manufactured in sufficient quantity to meet the notional requirements of World War Three. The US ended up in possession of a large quantity of German Tabun weapons. The Pacific war was dragging on and most of the Army staff had no idea that the atom bomb existed or whether it was going to work. Chemical weapons might be useful in an invasion of the Japanese home islands, hence the US Army’s Chemical Warfare Service sent 3,000 tons of aerial bombs and 5,000 tons of artillery pro


TOXIC jectiles filled with Tabun to Edgewood Arsenal for evaluation.1 (The artillery projectiles were useless as they were not the right size for American howitzers. They would have to be drained and the agent put into some other shell for use.)  Edgewood Arsenal punched holes in many of the German weapons and drained the Tabun for use in trials including a series with US Army 4.2 inch artillery shells (the existing standard US Army weapon for disseminating Mustard) and aerial bombs, but it was quickly determined that the existing US weapons did not create a sufficient aerosol for effective dispersal.2 If Tabun were to be used, it was not going to be by the Army, as the existing shells were insufficient. It was likely that nobody could justify the expense of the laborious effort to drain Mustard shells only to fill them again with a different agent that was only modestly more effective. Sarin was already promised as the next big thing, but had not gone into mass production.  That was still the case in 1950, when the Korean war broke out. This expedited the effort to produce Sarin and breathed new life and a bigger budget into the Chemical Corps’ plans. In many ways, Sarin was an ideal chemical weapon for the US Army’s purposes. It was capable of causing immediate casualties, yet it went away quickly. Using an artillery barrage of Sarin shells could cause many casualties, yet the residual contamination would pass quickly except in the coldest of weather. Attacking troops could advance into the chemical attack after only a short interval and would face little residual hazard. In American chemical doctrine, this was a fundamental advance over the existing chemical weapons from the First World War. Some of the existing weapon systems, such as artillery shells designed to deliver Sulfur Mustard, could be adapted reasonably quickly to Sarin. For example, the Army’s 8 inch artillery shell for white phosphorus and Mustard, the M110, required only minimal changes before it could be filled with Sarin. 96

ROCKS AND SHOALS  Sarin also had logistical advantages. Because of its high toxicity, the number of bombs or shells to conduct a particular attack was lower than that of other chemical substances. The toxicity relative to Tabun was a clear advantage, and the advantages over Mustard were tremendous, particularly for inflicting casualties quickly. Mustard has delayed effects and poses a long-term contamination hazard. For offensive operations, or indeed defensive ones where there was some hope of re-occupying lost terrain, Mustard was a senseless weapon.  Tabun was not persistent enough to be a really useful area interdiction weapon when compared to Sarin. Its persistence was far less than the large existing stockpile of Mustard weapons. Tabun was useful for causing immediate casualties, but Sarin was far more lethal on an ounce for ounce, shell for shell basis. This meant that, for a given attack, fewer shells or bombs would be needed if they were filled with Sarin. Building the infrastructure and the supply chain to make Tabun only to replace it a few years later with very different infrastructure made little sense to the scientists and engineers at Edgewood and the bureaucrats at the new five-sided office building in Arlington, Virginia.  Experts at Edgewood spent years working out a viable production process for Sarin. They were in possession of several key pieces of information and had examined the equipment for the Sarin pilot plant that had been relocated to Raubkammer. They had access to Gerhard Schrader’s detailed interrogation notes conducted at the “Dustbin” facility. Schrader detailed how to make Sarin on a benchtop basis in a laboratory setting, but the vagaries of mass production were not his strength. The US were also in possession of the British debriefing of Dr Schusteritz, a Spandau chemist who gave a detailed description of the pilot process at Raubkammer. Finally, the US had copious notes from Otto Ambros and various of his associates, gained through the machinations of Colonel Tarr.  


TOXIC  The Defense Department made a number of calculations as to how much Sarin would be required for wartime use and made a number of assumptions as to how many shells and bombs would be needed, along with the appropriate volume of reserve stocks. These forecasts became the planning basis for the development of a manufacturing capacity and a series of nineteen production runs that lasted from July 1952 to March 1957.  The US Army’s Sarin stockpile was made in a process that sprawled across two industrial complexes, “Site A” and “Site B”. The exotic substance methylphosphonyl dichloride, known as DC or “dichlor” in the US Army, is one of the intermediate stages in Sarin production and there is no way around making it. The US government tried to source DC from private industry without any particular success—the quality and quantity of product needed for the new Sarin effort was simply not available from existing private sector suppliers. This led to the establishment of Site A, which would be the DC factory.  Site A was the so-called “Phosphate Development Works” or “PDW” in the town of Muscle Shoals, in northern Alabama. Although it later became famous for a music studio, this town has a role in the history of nerve agents. The US government’s Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) provided electricity, flood control, and related public services to all or part of seven American states in the South. The TVA owned a site called the “Wilson Dam Reservation” near Muscle Shoals. The Phosphate Development Works was set up near other industrial facilities on the site. One of the adjacent plants was a phosphorus factory owned by the TVA, which provided a necessary raw material to make the DC. Chlorine would also be needed, so the Monsanto corporation was contracted to build and run a chlorine plant on site, as a more feasible option to purchasing chlorine elsewhere and shipping it to the site. The finished DC would be shipped to Site B, the Sarin factory at Rocky Mountain Arsenal.  



ROCKS AND SHOALS  A massive chemical factory with a security fence started to be constructed, and local residents called it “The Thing”, thinking that perhaps it had something to do with the new Atomic Energy Commission and uranium. Behind the fence and in meeting rooms, though, the plant was proving to be a major headache for the Chemical Corps and its contractor, Vitro. The Phosphate Development Works (PDW) project was plagued with technical and management difficulties. The Americans had not fully worked out the best way to produce DC in the volumes that they would need, yet they pushed forward with construction, working everything out on the fly. The plant was meant to be operational by November 1951 but did not reach full production capacity until 1954, in the process exceeding its original budget by many millions of dollars.  The PDW project was plagued with leaks. Not security leaks but rather leaking pipes, expansion joints, valves, and vessels. Many of the technical problems were such that they still constitute vital information on nerve agent production and were redacted out of documents declassified by the Army. One intermediate step of the process, which makes phosphorus trichloride, was particularly troublesome. The phosphorus trichloride plant, building number 101 on the complex, suffered a runaway chemical reaction in 1953, which then resulted in an explosion. Five workers died. This highlights what the Germans had already known—it wasn’t just nerve agents that were dangerous. The various intermediate steps to make nerve agents are hazardous to workers. The US had neither a ready supply of Polish POWs nor the dubious ethical framework to “solve” some of the manufacturing problems by throwing disposable labour at the dangerous tasks. Work at the Phosphate Development Works was delayed to such an extent that it held up the overall nerve agent production process and forced the Army to make some dichlor at Site B in order to keep the operation moving forward.


TOXIC  A later stage of the process resulted in excess waste—POCl3. This is the same product that was used at Dyhernfurth to make Tabun. But in the Sarin process, it is a by-product and not an intermediate step. The Army had significant trouble finding a way to dispose of the POCl3 waste and spent $9 million reprocessing the waste product into a form that could be reutilized earlier on in the DC process as a chlorinating agent. They never really got to the bottom of the problems before dichlor production was halted in 1957.  Gradually, the problems were mitigated but never fully solved. The Phosphate Development Works started producing DC in large quantity. The PDW used a production process called the “DMHP process”. This method was a three-stage process which took elemental phosphorus and chlorinated it to make PCl3 using chlorine from the adjacent chlorine factory. This PCl3 was reacted with very pure methyl alcohol, in the presence of methyl chloride, to form a chemical called dimethyl hydrogen phosphite (DMHP). In a complex step redacted out of released documents, the DMHP was “pyrolised”—heated to great temperature in a reaction that formed the DC. The resulting product was refined to a high state of purity and could be sent onward to Site B.  Because the product leaving the site was in tank cars, it is occasionally claimed to be a liquid. However, DC is a solid at room temperatures. It is both toxic and corrosive. In order to transport it to Site B in Colorado, special rail cars were used. These cars were lined with nickel to reduce corrosion. The DC was heated up and poured into the tank cars for transport. The rail cars had heating elements, which then melted the DC upon arrival in Colorado.  The Phosphate Development Works finished the last production run of DC in 1957. By this point the engineers had worked out several better ways to make DC. However, enough DC had been made to produce the nation’s wartime stockpile of Sarin.  



ROCKS AND SHOALS The plant was laid up for long term storage, with the intent that it could be put back into production should America need to resume Sarin production. In the years immediately following the mothballing of Site A, some upgrades were put into place to provide for better production methods in the event of reactivation. However, the plant slowly degraded in caretaker status. By 1980, an Army team assessing the site reported that its condition was poor.3  Site B was less of a managerial and technical disaster. Indeed, compared to other efforts, it was probably the finest nerve agent production facility in history. The Army knew that in order to make the thousands of tons of Sarin that it wanted, a large facility would be needed. Some of the Army’s existing real estate = would prove useful for the task. Rocky Mountain Arsenal was just outside Denver, Colorado. The US military needed a lot of chemical and incendiary munitions during the Second World War. This included white phosphorus shells and incendiary bombs of every description, but also chemical warfare agents like Mustard and Lewisite. The US maintained a vast chemical weapon stockpile as a deterrent in case the Axis used chemical weapons, but existing pre-war facilities were deemed insufficient for the projected ammunition requirements.  Rocky Mountain Arsenal (also known in internal documents as “RMA”) was picked to be a major chemical warfare industrial establishment because it was an ideal site in many ways.  The initial complex was rapidly built during the war and produced thousands of tons of toxic and incendiary material for the war effort. Using the vast size RMA as a buffer, research on toxic chemicals was concentrated in one 260-acre sector. One of the project managers was Charles Loucks, who was later involved in the interrogation of German scientists. Plants for producing chemicals as well as for filling munitions were also built in this plot and production was inaugurated in January 1943. Wartime


TOXIC records show that ultimately Rocky Mountain Arsenal produced 63 million pounds of chlorine, nearly 7.5 million pounds of various Mustard gas products, and about 9 million pounds of Lewisite.4 Much napalm was also produced at the Arsenal. Hundreds of German prisoners of war were housed on the site as well.5 After the war, the production lines were mothballed. The US government retained ownership of the facility, and leased it to firms making commercial pesticides and chemicals, with clauses in the leases whereby the military could regain use of the site for national security purposes.  Rocky Mountain Arsenal was taken out of mothballs shortly after the outbreak of the Korean War, in June 1950, given the Army’s need for incendiary munitions, along with Sarin, which had to be mass produced. A secret $30 million contract for development of a new Sarin complex on the Arsenal grounds was signed, albeit hidden behind the cover story of a new top-secret incendiary weapons factory, of the type which had been made at RMA during the Second World War.  Rocky Mountain Arsenal was meant to perform the final steps in making Sarin, using the DC made in Alabama, namely purifying the product, adding necessary additives, and filling them into munitions. Several declassified documents now make reference to the processes adopted at RMA. The Historic Architecture Engineering Report CO-21 and the Blue Book Volume 2, which was released as part of a lawsuit, revealed much about how US Sarin was made. (Blue Book Volume 1 has been withheld from the public domain for good reasons.) One must strike a balance between being thorough and disclosing information that ought not to have slipped out into released documents, hence certain key concepts have been omitted, lest there be any proliferation concerns—precision, it turns out, is everything in the Sarin process. But as this is not a chemical engineering handbook, the story can be told in a way that obscures the precise details.  


ROCKS AND SHOALS  The Sarin complex was known as the North Plants site, a selfcontained area, vast stretches of which were tank farms which stored various chemicals. Building 1502 was not really a building but a series of six tanks, each of which contained 18,000 gallons of isopropyl alcohol. Building 1509 was a specialty refining facility to purify isopropyl alcohol. The isopropyl alcohol used in the last stage of Sarin production needs to be free of contaminants and impurities, such as other alcohols or water. Building 1509 purified 30,000 litres of alcohol a day.  The DC arrived from Alabama in special railway tankers fitted with heating coils. These heated the DC until it melted and it was then pumped into the storage tanks at Building 1402. There were twenty-four 8,000 gallon glass-lined carbon steel tanks for keeping DC until it could be used in Building 1501. Later a DC production facility was established elsewhere at the RMA complex.  1501 was the Sarin production building, a vast six storey edifice. One cannot make Sarin by pouring in DC at the beginning of a set of pipes and get Sarin out of a tap at the back of the building; it is not made in a continuous process. Rather, various steps have to be carried out sequentially, hence it is made in batches. In Building 1501 there were three production bays for making Sarin, so three batches could be underway concurrently. A two-stage process converted DC to Sarin. The first step was to combine the DC with hydrogen fluoride (HF). This was done in quite a dangerous way at high temperature and high pressure. The extremely hazardous HF is handled in pipes and vessels which are coated with corrosion-resistant materials. RMA used the special metal alloy “Hastelloy”. Even the smallest leak could be dangerous to staff, equipment and instruments—and even the building itself. Large Hastelloy chemical reactors were used to mix the HF with the DC. This reaction forms the chemical methylphosphonyl difluoride, known as “DF” in the Army’s  


TOXIC documentation. But the Army had learned not to let the process run to completion.  The original German method to make Sarin, and one used in other places, was to react DF with isopropyl alcohol. One molecule of DF plus one molecule of isopropyl alcohol will yield one molecule of Sarin and one molecule of HF. The problem with doing things this way is that the cocktail of Sarin and HF is highly corrosive. Moreover the residual HF will ruin the Sarin and destroy most kinds of containers. It will eat through a rocket, shell or bomb case and leak a nasty mess of chemicals. However, it is also difficult to remove from the Sarin. Various purification methods commonly used in chemical engineering are not that helpful with refining HF out of Sarin, despite various attempts at pilot plant stage.  At RMA, the US Army used something called the “di-di reaction” in the last stage of Sarin production. The reaction where HF was used to turn DC into DF was not completed so that the reaction ran only part of the way. This resulted in a cocktail of DC and DF. The variable that resulted in an ideal blend had been worked out; it was approximately equimolar—i.e. one molecule of DC for one molecule of DF. The blend appears to not have been exactly even. Available documentation does not reveal whether this was because of imprecision in the process or whether a slight difference in the ratio affected the end results in some fashion.  The final step at RMA was to take the mix of DC and DF and react it with the highly purified isopropyl alcohol piped in from building 1502. This was done under a vacuum at a specific temperature that had been calculated. The reaction is exothermic (creating heat), so a certain range of temperatures had to be maintained. The “di-di” blend reacted with the isopropyl alcohol to form a mix of Sarin and HCl. The residual acid was hydrochloric acid, not hydrofluoric acid. HCl was much more easily  

 The variable that



ROCKS AND SHOALS removed from the Sarin by existing industrial processes and it was far easier to handle than HF. This was a fundamental improvement to the Sarin industrial processes. In practice, some HF was in the mix as well, but the preponderance of the residual acid was HCl, not HF. The resulting product was part Sarin, part DC, part DF, part isopropyl alcohol, part HCl, part DIMP (an inevitable by-product), and had small amounts of HF as well.  The Sarin cocktail was then subjected to a refining process. The building and its hardware are now lost to us and a full specification of the refining process is best omitted for proliferation and security reasons. Released documents are not consistent in their description of the refining process and the hardware used. The “Blue Book” describes one process, and the historic engineering document describes another. As the refining process was a sensitive subject and both documents are written retrospectively after the production runs were over, it is possible that they are both partially correct. The “Blue Book” refers to two different phases of Sarin production as “pre round-out” and “roundout” phases. It is also known that the Sarin was produced in a number of production runs, and that the hardware and processes were tweaked between runs to improve the final product. In total, there were nineteen production runs between July 1952 and March 1957. “Run A” took an entire year, which indicates that rather a lot of problems and issues were being worked out. Most of the successive production runs were only a month or two in length. For example, the more typical “Run M” went from 1 July 1955 to 1 August 1955.6  The final product that emerged was nearly pure. Pure Sarin, however, is corrosive over the long term. Steel and aluminium suffer from exposure to Sarin. But artillery shells are made of steel and rockets are made of aluminium. This corrosion leads to leaks and to malfunctioning ordnance, which is not in the Army’s interest. The Army did not know if the next war was  





TOXIC going to happen next week or in thirty years’ time, hence its new Sarin arsenal had to survive long term storage in depots and still be safe to handle and function as intended. Generally speaking, this was the case. The vast majority of Sarin weapons made at RMA lasted forty to fifty years without incident.  Corrosion could be fought with additives. Initially, tributylamine was added as an anti-corrosion additive and stabiliser. This prevented corrosion in steel containers and weapons, such as artillery shells. It would also react with any residual HF. However, it was determined that tributylamine was not adequate for corrosion resistance in anything made of aluminium. The M55 rocket, for example, was made out of aluminium. A different chemical, diisopropylcardodiimide, was selected for mitigating corrosion in aluminium. Much of the Sarin stockpile was redistilled to switch from one additive to another. Some Sarin had the one additive, other bits of it had the other. Some had both. On the whole, US Sarin in the stockpile was approximately 93% Sarin on average, with the rest being impurities and additives. For years after the Sarin production run finished in 1957, Building 1501 was heavily involved in re-distilling Sarin stocks to get them into the correct blends for long-term storage.  The last step of the process was to fill Sarin into weapons. Building 1601 did the work of putting Sarin into chemical weapon systems, which went on for years after the actual production was finished. Despite an earlier history with mortar rounds for chemical warfare use, the Army decided not to make nerve agent mortar shells and instead opted for traditional artillery shells. (Limited trials with captured German Tabun and mortar shells had shown the existing design was inadequate.) The smallest artillery shell was the 105mm diameter M360 shell. It contained a relatively small amount of Sarin—just over 700 grams. A large barrage would be needed for widespread effects on the battlefield. As the various 105mm howitzers were the most com 


ROCKS AND SHOALS mon Army and Marine Corps artillery piece in the 1950s, this was the single biggest item of Sarin ordnance produced at RMA. Over 920,000 M360 shells were produced. Exact production figures are elusive, but total amounts are derived from inventory figures from later demilitarization efforts from the 1980s onward. Some were likely used in training, demonstrations, and tests, but the inventory figures from the 1980s have allowed me to estimate the production run.  Other artillery shells were filled at RMA. The M121, M121A1, and M122 shells were very similar to each other and were for the 155mm howitzer, the Army’s next-largest artillery piece. This series of shell contained about 2.9kg of Sarin, a much bigger filling than the 105mm shell, with a longer range. Over a quarter million of these weapons were produced in total. The final shell was the M426 8 inch (203mm) artillery shell, with a filling of approximately 6.5kg of Sarin. The Army’s 8-inch howitzer was a long range system, capable of firing shells to distances of 20km or more, but had a much slower rate of fire.  The most troublesome weapon system filled at RMA was the M55 rocket. The M55 had been in development from 1951 at Edgewood. It had been worked out, on both sides of the Cold War divide, that multiple-launch rocket launchers, which launch a whole barrage of rockets in quick succession, are a good way of achieving a high concentration of a chemical warfare agent in a target zone in a very short period of time. The M55 “Bolt” rocket was meant to do this, and was fired from a special launcher called the M91 launcher. The M55 was 115mm in diameter and contained about 4.8kg of Sarin. The M91 launcher would fire up to forty-five of these rockets in rapid succession, with a reputed range of 10 km.  The M55 had a number of problems. The other Sarin munitions were all chemical variants of conventional systems. For example, artillery pieces such as the 105mm and 155mm howit 



TOXIC zers had a variety of conventional ammunition that they could fire. The Sarin rounds were just an additional option. The M55 was a system designed only for chemical warfare and was given a lower priority in training as a result.  The M55 had a much thinner skin than the thick casing that artillery shells must have. This made it more susceptible to leakage. Over the course of the M55’s lifespan in storage depots it proved to be one the leakiest of the Army’s weapons. It also posed some inherent safety problems. It had a dangerous solid rocket propellant composed of 8.75kg of highly flammable materials including nitroglycerine and nitrocellulose. It also had a burster charge of about 1.5kg of Composition B high explosives, and a fuse.7 All of this was combined in one integrated unit, and had to be stored together. Evidently, little thought was given as to how to get rid of one, other than by firing it at the enemy. In my own chemical defense training, the absolute worst-case scenario, worse even than a hostile chemical attack, was a fire or a train accident involving M55 rockets, nearly 500,000 of which were manufactured. The majority of them had Sarin filling. As will be described later in this chapter, many of the same weapon systems and nomenclature were also used for VX nerve agents.  A specific filling operation was devoted to filling various bomblets. The M125 was a steel cylindrical bomblet designed for use in the M34 cluster bomb. The M125 contained about 1.2kg of Sarin and 250 gm of conventional explosive. Each bomblet had a small parachute. The M34 cluster bomb contained seventy-six of these bomblets and was designed to scatter them. Perhaps 21,000 M34 bombs and over 159,000 M125 bomblets were made. The M139 bomblet, meant to go into missile warheads, was spherical, and smaller, containing 590g of Sarin and a very small 73g conventional explosive charge. About 60,000 of these were made. Various missile warheads were developed, but few were deployed.  Aerial bombs were also filled in Building 1601. At various points, the MC-1, Mk-94, and Mk 116 “Wet Eye” bombs were 108

ROCKS AND SHOALS filled at RMA. Unlike the M34 cluster bomb, these were unitary bombs. The MC-1 bomb was designed for Air Force use and contained approximately 100kg of Sarin. The Mk-94 and Mk 116 bombs were built to meet Navy and Marine Corps requirements, and both carried about 50kg of Sarin. All of these were made and stored without bursting charges and fuses. These would be added to the bombs shortly before being loaded onto combat aircraft.  The Site B operation produced more Sarin than was filled into shells and bombs, which was done on purpose as some weapon design fine-tuning had not been completed by the end of the Sarin production run. Building 1506, made of reinforced concrete, was the Sarin storage facility. It contained ten underground vaults, each of which had a carbon steel storage tank holding 10,000 gallons of Sarin, which were pumped from there to the filling operation at Building 1601. At least 171 tons of Sarin was left in the underground storage tanks at the end of the production runs and re-distillation campaigns, an amount cited as inventory some twenty years later.8 Some Sarin was meant for long-term storage, and would not be filled into munitions at any time in the projected future. This constituted a strategic reserve that could be used in the future. This Sarin was stored in so-called “one ton” containers. In all, at least 5,709 of these were filled with Sarin, most of them ending up in long term storage in Utah.  Rocky Mountain Arsenal was an environmental horror story. Numerous accidental spillages of dangerous chemicals were recorded and others likely went unrecorded. The accumulation of large amounts of waste products and by-products was a problem even by the standards of the time. In 1961, a 12,000 foot deep well was drilled and from 1962–66, toxic waste was injected deep into the bedrock. Various studies implicated this subterranean injection of material in a series of minor earthquakes in the area.9  


TOXIC Furthermore, groundwater contamination with DIMP, a nearly inevitable by-product of Sarin manufacture, has been a longterm environmental issue; DIMP has also turned up in animal tissue.10 (Documents related to environmental litigation are the source of much of what we know about Sarin manufacture at Rocky Mountain Arsenal.)  The Sarin weapons composed only part of the US nerve agent arsenal. Sarin suited part of the Army’s requirement for chemical weapons by being a rapidly acting agent that would cause immediate casualties, while being non-persistent. However, Sarin was not very useful for long term area denial or interdiction of terrain and equipment. The new British agent VX fitted those requirements very well. It was very persistent and could last for weeks or longer in many conditions. Also, compared to Mustard, it was far more toxic so that the same amount of material could contaminate a larger area. It was also capable of producing lethality and incapacitation much faster than Mustard. VX was stable in storage, so it could be held in a depot for decades if need be.  The production process for VX is significantly different from the process for Sarin. The Army adopted VX as its persistent nerve agent and sought to scale up production of it, but the RMA facility was not suited to making VX. In addition, the Army did not want all of its nerve agent production located at one site, so a new one would be needed. By 1956, the scientists at Edgewood had developed a pilot-level process for making VX that could be scaled up to full mass production. The Army launched a study in 1957 to examine the problems and issues of VX production. It was also looking for a new site in a “nonstrategic area”—i.e. distant from any existing significant military targets and population centres. In 1959 the committee opted for a site in Indiana. The premises of the Atomic Energy Commission’s heavy water plant, near the towns of Newport and Dana, was selected. The “Newport Army Ammunition Plant”  


ROCKS AND SHOALS would be the VX factory. The Lummus corporation was contracted to design it, and the chemical conglomerate FMC would construct the plant and operate it under the Army’s supervision. Design, construction, and fitting out proceeded with far fewer problems than had been experienced with the Sarin effort, largely due to management having learned its lessons. June 1961 was set as the target date for completion of the VX agent and weaponfilling plants.  The Newport Chemical Plant went into operation in 1961 as planned and began producing batches of VX. The production run lasted until 1968, producing approximately 4,400 tons of VX over that period. Less is revealed in open documentation about the VX process at Newport. Much of the plant was devoted to a multi-step process to produce “QL”—a chemical whose proper name is O-(2 Diisopropylaminoethyl)-O’Ethyl Methyl Phospho­ nite. Once again, we’re blessed with a shorter nickname, QL. QL is the key intermediate product to make VX.  Little can be gleaned of the exact VX manufacturing process at Newport. The “trans-ester process” used to make QL is not widely known, and it is believed Soviets were unable to replicate it at scale. Documents pertaining to Newport seem to have been subjected to more thorough scrutiny than those relating to the RMA and fewer lawsuits involved Newport, thus resulting in fewer sources released into the public domain. The archives have wisely been redacted.  US Army VX weapons were primarily artillery shells and rockets, and were very similar to their Sarin counterparts. The M121 155mm shell was nearly identical and contained just under 3kg of VX; the M426 8-inch shell was also similar to the Sarin version, and had 6.5kg of VX. The key difference was that, when fired, the shells would be fused for bursting at low altitude, whereas Sarin shells would be fused to explode on contact with the ground. Nearly 300,000 155mm shells and  



TOXIC some 19,000 8-inch shells were filled with VX at Newport; also filled there were more than 100,000 M55 rockets, each with 4.6kg of VX. Like the Sarin munition made at RMA, this munition suffered from a poor reputation in storage, albeit with a much lower leak percentage.  Notably absent was an aerial bomb. By the time mass production of VX came on line, the Air Force and Navy were softening on the concept of aerial bombs to drop chemical warfare agents. The Navy was concerned about the safety of chemical weapons in aircraft carriers, a concern discussed below. Meanwhile, a different aerial delivery mechanism for VX had been developed. The TMU-28 aerial spray tank was built to dispense a rain of droplets of VX in a straight line.  Newport also made the M23 chemical landmine, filled with VX. This was always a problematic weapon, its place in the arsenal not terribly well defined. The general rule of thumb in nerve agent weapon design was that non-persistent agents were detonated at or near ground level and designed to create a mist of very small droplets to cause immediate casualties. Persistent agents, on the other hand, were designed for area denial, and detonated above ground level in order to spread a pattern of drops of agent to contaminate land and equipment. The M23 was designed to do the opposite—detonate at, even below, ground level and contained a highly persistent agent. The Army Corps of Engineers, which was responsible for landmines, did little training with the M23 and its place in military doctrine was always vague. It was a weapon seeking a mission, and the 89,000 landmines languished in the arsenal.  As with Sarin, a sizeable reserve of VX was deemed necessary for filling future weapon systems or to replace shells and rockets that would be expended in a future conflict. Also, there would be a need to fill the TMU-28 spray tank, which was stored empty and would be filled before use. This was kept in  



ROCKS AND SHOALS 1-ton cylinders, which, like Sarin, did not actually hold a ton. They held 725kg of VX.  Newport was still actively making VX when it was shut down by President Nixon’s moratorium on chemical weapons activity in 1969. The facility was mothballed, and as Nixon’s ban also banned transport of the nerve agent, rather a lot of it was stranded at Newport, so that it inadvertently became the long term storage site for over 1,200 tons of VX.  Once manufactured and filled, the American nerve agent stockpile was farmed out to a variety of storage depots, nearly all of which were in remote areas well away from urban population centres. Testing and training occurred with some of the weapons, mostly at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. But the vast majority were never used or barely even touched. The Sarin and VX weapons were shipped to Aniston Army Depot in Alabama, Blue Grass Ordnance Depot near Lexington, Kentucky, Pine Bluff Arsenal in Arkansas, Deseret Chemical Depot, near Tooele, Utah, and Umatilla Army Depot in Oregon. Sarin and VX weapons, of every type in the inventory, were sent overseas to Chibana Depot in Okinawa, and to an ammunition storage site in Clausen, West Germany.  The expected global conflict with the Soviet Union, escalating into chemical and nuclear warfare, never occurred. The vast arsenal of nerve agent weapons and older Mustard weapons collected dust in storage. They were looked after by a small but dedicated workforce of mostly Army civil servants, waiting for the orders to ship them to war. Thankfully, those orders never came.




The Soviets were as surprised as the British and French when they discovered that the Germans possessed an entire new class of chemical weapon. Like the other major powers, the Soviets had an existing chemical warfare programme when they entered the Second World War. Compared to their Western allies, the Russians had suffered a staggering number of chemical casualties in the First World War,1 particularly from phosgene, Mustard, and other chemicals, largely due to the inability of Russian industry to properly equip the army with gas masks. After the Revolution, the Red Army founded its branch of chemical troops in 1918 and the Soviet military incorporated the concept of chemical attacks as part of its offensive doctrine. Moreover, the Red Army employed chemical weapons against its own citizens in the 1920–21 Tambov uprising,2 establishing a willingness to employ chemical warfare even for domestic purposes.  The Soviet Union spent much of the 1920s and 1930s catching up to the West. Germany and the Soviet Union cooperated militarily in the 1920s as a result of the treaty of Rapallo.


TOXIC Germany had been forbidden from some kinds of military related research and development, but the German military conducted some R&D in secret in the Soviet Union, including the development of chemical weapons. Indeed, the Soviet Union’s first Mustard gas production facility was built in the 1920s by German engineers.  Despite scientific expertise in the relevant disciplines and some theoretical work relevant to the subject, the Soviets did not develop or produce nerve agents, even though some researchers skirted around some of the concepts central to nerve agents. Alexander Arbuzov started his career during the time of the last Tsar and became one of the country’s leading chemists. He documented the aforementioned “Arbuzov reaction”—an essential process in making nerve agents like Tabun and Sarin, as well as many other compounds. And in 1929 research was carried out by the Soviet military into naturally occurring toxins, one of which was physostigmine, the active component in the Calabar bean. However, few practical outcomes resulted from this work. Given the state of neurological knowledge in 1929, it is unlikely such research would have uncovered the true nature of physostigmine as a mild nerve agent. In any case, physostigmine, while useful for some medicinal purposes, has few characteristics that render it a useful weapon.  Throughout the Second World War the USSR had made thousands of tons of traditional chemical warfare agents, such as phosgene, the lethal choking agent responsible for the majority of chemical fatalities in the First World War, and Mustard. But these were not anywhere near as lethal or quick-acting as Tabun and Sarin. Like its western allies, the USSR made elaborate efforts to exploit the science and technology of the Third Reich. The 16th and 18th Chemical Brigades of the Red Army were the equivalent of the Anglo-American Alsos and FIAT. Professor S. Volkovich, a phosphorus chemistry expert, and Professor  



CRIBBING FROM THE WRONG NOTEBOOK V. Kargin were the equivalent of Tarr and Tilley. Dedicated units of specialists examined captured property and equipment and thoroughly exploited anything that could be remotely useful to Soviet science or the economy of the USSR.  In 1945 the Soviets gained several things from the Germans. Above all, they inherited some nerve agents. Although the Wehrmacht had tried to keep Tabun weapons out of Soviet hands, they failed. The Russians captured tons of Tabun-filled weapons and some Sarin samples. It is also possible that they captured some laboratory-scale Soman. The Soviet Union had highly trained chemists and chemical engineers, and there was plenty of material to be shared among various laboratories and institutes for analysis. Given enough time, reverse engineering might have been possible from these samples.  The second thing the Russians captured was the Dyhernfurth complex, which held the facilities for large scale production of Tabun and a pilot-scale Sarin production line. Much of the infrastructure had been damaged by the Sachsenheimer raid, but not everything was destroyed. Much of the industrial plant was intact. It was carefully dismantled and sent to the Soviet chemical warfare facility in Beketovka, just south of Stalingrad, though not with great urgency. Most of the equipment was not moved until September 1946. Although many critical components had been damaged or destroyed by that time, important components were still usable. Even the heavily damaged ones, such as reaction vessels lined with corrosion-resistant coatings, could be examined for the purpose of reverse-engineering. Much of the ventilation and containment apparatus was also removed, also largely undamaged. The vast majority of documentation was either removed or burned, except for a notebook that was left at the scene during General Sachsenheimer’s raid.  Third, the Soviets had the Falkenhagen plant. Again, it had been sanitised, but bits of information could be gleaned from it.  


TOXIC Salvaged equipment was again sent to Beketovka. Fourth, there was the laboratory at Spandau. Again, much had been destroyed or evacuated, but even half-burnt scraps and smashed laboratory equipment has technical intelligence value if subjected to serious scrutiny. Fifth, the Soviet physical chemist Valentin Kargin had discovered Kuhn’s Soman files in the mine shaft at Rüdersdorf.  The sixth asset that the Soviets exploited was people. Of crucial importance to the Soviets, among those scientists who did not flee west, was Dr Bernd von Bock. British intelligence records3 from 1950 and Russian sources both reveal that he was captured by the Soviets at the end of the war. Bock had been Palm’s deputy at Dyhernfurth and supervised the final stages of Tabun production. Von Bock would become critical to the Soviet nerve agent effort and was likely the single most valuable asset seized by the Soviets. The same intelligence document names a number of lower and mid-level Dyhernfurth employees who were unaccounted for. One Dr Schäfer, who managed the supply chain of raw materials for Dyhernfurth, is listed as being in a penal camp in East Germany. The engineer Schwab, who was responsible for “Produkt 39” production, and two of his foremen, were unaccounted for in 1950. Several Tabun and Sarin production foremen were missing as well.4 Numerous accounts mention multiple “Germans” working on the Tabun and Sarin programme, not just Bock.5  Soviet authorities also had the four military scientists from Spandau who had been captured in early May 1945. However, by 1948–49 it appears that the four scientists—Jung, Koch, Stuhldreher, and Schutte-Overberg—were employed in work on radiation and uranium refining, in support of the Soviet nuclear programme at Sungul in the Urals. They seem to have had nothing to do with chemical weapons development. The Soviet priority was nuclear weapons research rather than nerve agents. This information was disclosed in a now declassified  



CRIBBING FROM THE WRONG NOTEBOOK CIA assessment6 from 1954, which referred to information from 1948. According to whatever intelligence sources the CIA report was based upon, the four Germans were salaried employees and no longer unpaid prisoners.  The final thing that the Soviets had was that notebook from Dyhernfurth. Fedorov tells us the notebook contained errors and that after several years of trying to reproduce the research in the notebook, it was abandoned as either a seriously flawed document or a deliberate hoax. Martin Kabachnik, the great Soviet expert on fluorine compounds, pronounced that Tabun production could not be achieved with the notebook, and even pilot-scale Sarin production was impossible.7  We are not privy to the policy discussions of the era. However, it is logical to assume that the Soviets fully understood what they did not have. Most of the personnel and documents were missing. The majority of the scientists had fled. They knew that thousands had worked in the Tabun and Sarin programmes and they had captured perhaps a dozen. The documents and equipment were missing from Falkenhagen and Dyhernfurth, but the Soviets did not know if these had been removed or destroyed, so had to assume the Western Allies had acquired some of it. Most of the Tabun weapons were in the West. Whereas the Americans and British had incorrectly calculated that they might be behind the Soviets, the Soviets correctly assumed that they were already behind in the nerve agent arms race. They felt that they needed to catch up.  Soviet chemical warfare research was conducted in a number of organisations and institutes. Secrecy, frequent changes of name, and an annoying Soviet bureaucratic tendency to assign multiple acronyms and nicknames simultaneously make for a confused picture. At times, clandestine activities were known only by their post office box. The centre of gravity of the research effort was a Moscow-based research institute with


TOXIC various regional outposts. For much of the Cold War, this institute was referred to as the State Scientific Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology, which went by its unwieldy Russian-language acronym GOSNIIOKhT. Confu­ singly, the same institute was also known at various times as NII-42, NII-94, Post Office Box 702, Post Office Box M-5123, and GRNIIOKhT. For the sake of convenience, I will refer to this as GOSNIIOKhT, as this was the prevailing nomenclature for most of the relevant periods.  The Soviets set about producing Tabun and Sarin at “Plant 91” at Beketovka. It was quickly decided that Tabun was far easier to mass produce than Sarin. A two-pronged effort was launched. Tabun would be made as a place-holder and Sarin would be further investigated in order to gear it up for mass production. Professor Leonid Soborovksy brought the Tabun production plant into operation by 1949. How much Tabun was made is a matter of minor dispute in the literature; Fedorov claimed in 2009 that Tabun mass production did not occur.8  The effort to make Sarin was more complicated. Whatever they tried, the Soviets could not replicate the German process set out in the captured notebook. Nor could they scale up the process they cobbled together from equipment captured at Spandau. They managed to work out the steps that the Germans had planned to use at Falkenhagen, but failed to scale it up. This casts doubt on whether Falkenhagen would have worked at all. Research on Sarin dragged on for years and Soborovsky brought in two brilliant new employees, Boris Libman and Semyon Varshavsky, to crack this fiendishly difficult problem.  Libman had served in the Red Army as a conscript during the war. In an odd tale of woe, he was accused of stealing his own identity. Libman had been wounded and left for dead, his name later being listed among those killed in action. But he crawled off and survived. After the war, he attempted to enrol in the  For th=


CRIBBING FROM THE WRONG NOTEBOOK Mendeleev Institute of Chemical Technology in Moscow. Sensibly, the Institute had a rule that dead people could not enrol in one of its courses. It took months for Libman to prove to the satisfaction of the Soviet education authorities that he was, in fact, alive. He graduated in 1949 and began working in Stalingrad at Plant 91, under Soborovsky, where his fluency in German aided him considerably in extracting useful information from the captured scientists.  By May 1952, the Soviet government was eager to push Sarin into mass production. The Council of Ministers authorised construction of a massive Sarin plant at the Beketovka facility. Soborovksy, Libman, and Varshavsky faced serious problems in equipping the factory as Soviet industry continued to supply them with inferior items. Special apparatus was needed, and it took literally five years of negotiations with other state-owned industrial enterprises for them to get it. The nature of the Soviet economy was that industrial output objectives were measured by weight. Machinery factories had every incentive to make large, heavy equipment for large orders. It proved very difficult to get small orders of specialised corrosion resistant equipment. Soborovsky ended up ordering many times what he actually needed in order to get factories to make the equipment he needed. He begged and pleaded to have specialised equipment imported from the West, which often took subterfuge and scarce foreign currency. Speciality metals were often reserved for submarines, aircraft, or the growing nuclear sector. Beketovka may therefore have had a large rubbish mound of discarded equipment that was ordered but simply could not be used in the factory. In all, the effort to scale up Sarin took an entire decade, from 1948 to 1958.  By 1958, Sarin was finally being mass produced at Beketovka. This represented a “loss” in the arms race with America. Mass production at Plant 91 started a year after mass production halted


TOXIC in America. The Soviet programme was officially six years behind the Americans. Unlike Rocky Mountain Arsenal or Nancekuke, Beketovka’s Plant 91 was dual-purpose, in order to maintain its secrecy. About one third of the plant’s activities were chemical warfare-related, and the other two thirds related to civilian products like pesticides and flame retardants.  Making Tabun and Sarin was only part of the problem. These warfare agents needed to be put into weapon systems and tested. Since the 1920s, the Soviet Army had a site called “Tomka”, near the town of Shikhany, on the Volga river. It was used for many chemical warfare purposes and contained the Central Military Testing Site, nicknamed “Polygon”. Tabun and Sarin-filled munitions were laboriously tested under a variety of weather conditions on the vast open-air testing ranges. This was done both to optimise the weapon design and to analyze the performance of a weapon once the design had been finalised. Such data was necessary in order to develop offensive tactics, so that the right number and concentration of shells or bombs would be used for the desired tactical effect. The only way to do this was to repeatedly fire off rockets and shells and test the dispersion of the agents under various conditions.  By the late 1950s, the Soviets were aware of the Swedish scientist Tammelin’s esters and word had got to them of a new British-American nerve agent named VX. None of the existing nerve agents were useful for long-term persistent contamination, but VX and the other chemicals in that family could be highly persistent. The Soviet research labs were tasked with replicating American VX. According to Fedorov’s extensive research, over 350 compounds related to VX were identified and investigated. However, the Soviet Union ended up making a different compound, which they referred to as R-33. R-33 was of very similar composition to VX, but had a different structure.  Boris Libman, interviewed by Jonathan Tucker for his 2006 book War of Nerves, gives several possible explanations why the  



CRIBBING FROM THE WRONG NOTEBOOK USSR made R-33 and not VX. One is that the Soviets had the correct formula for VX but not the correct structure. The formula for both warfare agents is C11H26NO2PS. But the way in which these atoms are put together to form the molecule is different. Tucker’s other explanation was that the exact US way to make VX, which uses a step called the “trans-ester process” was too difficult to reproduce. The Soviets ended up with a process that was easier to execute, which yielded a slightly different molecule. A third possible explanation was that the Soviets felt that NATO detectors would be fooled by a different formulation. Finally, there is a separate possibility that Tucker does not explore. It is possible that the Soviets were fed wrong information by an American intelligence operation.  The Soviet programme was further delayed by an American deception attempt. In the 1960s, American intelligence ran a very successful operation against the Soviet Union. “Operation Shocker” provided deliberately misleading information on nerve agents to the Soviets. Joseph Cassidy, a US Army NCO and veteran of World War Two and the Korean War, worked with the FBI from 1959 onwards. With guidance from experienced counterintelligence agents, Cassidy approached the naval attaché at the Soviet embassy, a known GRU officer. Eventually, Cassidy was posted to Edgewood, the Army’s chemical weapons research centre. The US carefully leaked documents to the Soviets. Some were legitimate secrets that the US reckoned the Soviets probably already knew, in order to establish Cassidy’s credibility as a source. But some documents were completely fabricated. The Americans invented a fictional nerve agent GJ. The information on GJ was intended to waste Soviet resources and lead them in the wrong direction.  A book, Cassidy’s Run, by David Wise, explains this operation in great detail. Wise claims that the information on GJ inspired the Soviets to develop the Novichok series of agents.  



TOXIC Whether that is actually true or not remains to be seen, but it is certainly plausible.  Libman continued to work on Sarin and Soman and was awarded the Lenin prize. With Sarin now in mass production, he was granted higher responsibilities. He started work on Soman, the nerve agent developed by Otto Kuhn after Tabun and Sarin. The Soviet considered the technical properties of Soman to be superior to Sarin. It was more persistent and it could be easily thickened to make it even more persistent. Soman was more toxic, so fewer shells or bombs would be needed for a given attack. Although it was not well understood until later, Soman was also more resistant to one of the standard medicines used to treat nerve agents. Faulty intelligence, possibly gleaned through the Cassidy affair, convinced the Soviets that the US was working on Soman. In about 1960, they too decided to proceed with production.  In principle, Soman can be made with mostly the same processes as Sarin. The key difference is the last stage combines DF with pinacolyl alcohol instead of isopropyl alchohol. Both the Third Reich and the United States decided not to pursue Soman because pinacolyl alcohol was an exotic, expensive compound. Libman and his colleagues pursued a very expensive process to make pinacolyl alcohol. As with the isopropyl alcohol used for Sarin, it had to be extremely pure and free of any contaminants, particularly water and other alcohols. An elaborate five-step process was eventually invented and an entire alcohol plant was built in the Beketovka complex to make this vital ingredient. Libman encountered great difficulties obtaining equipment and components of necessary quality and ended up sourcing parts from West Germany.  The Beketovka plant was ruinously dangerous from both a workplace safety and environmental perspective. Every ton of Sarin produced leaves eight or more tons of toxic waste. There 124

CRIBBING FROM THE WRONG NOTEBOOK was a massive storage pool at Beketovka. Various waste products were dumped in the holding pond and neutralised with sodium hydroxide. This pond was called “The White Sea”, and it was truly dangerous. In 1964 or 1965 (sources vary), an unusually large volume of water from melting snow damaged one of the levees separating the “White Sea” from the Volga river. The waste pond was flooded and a large amount of toxic waste was flushed into the river. Eventually, a large number of dead fish, including economically valuable sturgeon, were seen floating in the river. State authorities were forced to deal with the outrage. Whether or not the dead fish were related to the nerve agent factory, Libman was made the scapegoat. He was tried, fined, and sent to a penal camp. Evidently, some at the plant felt this was unjust. Sergei Golubkov worked at Beketovka from 1960 to 1977 and was a student under Libman and he writes in a blog9 (in Russian) that there was an effort to raise funds to pay Libman’s fine as he was a popular boss. In Libman’s absence, the Soman effort ground to a halt. It was only Libman’s early release from prison camp and his return to work that saved the programme. He managed to get Soman into mass production by 1967.  Efforts to master the V-agent R-33 continued apace. A pilot site at Plant 91 was able to make reasonable quantities of R-33, but a new facility was needed. From the late 1960s onwards, a V-agent factory was built at Novocheboksarsk in the Chuvash “autonomous” republic, on the Volga River east of Moscow, not far from Kazan. The plant had the unwieldy name “Khimprom Production Association named for the Leninist Komsomol” and was also referred to as “Production Facility Three” or “Shop 83”. The original plan was for the factory to begin mass production of R-33 in 1968; that only began in 1972.  Shop 83 could have served as a veritable museum of lax health, safety, and environmental outrages. Fedorov describes a shop of horrors, quoting a local newspaper exposé from 1992.10


TOXIC Effluent was discharged into the Volga River. The toxicity of long-term small dose exposure to R-33 was understood by Soviet scientists but not incorporated into the design or safety features of the plant. Environmental monitoring was non-existent. Protective equipment was substandard and the L-1 rubber suits leaked, allowing low-level, long-term exposure to R-33 through skin contact. Chronic illness was rampant throughout the site. The local newspaper, Cheboksarskie Novosti, alleged in November 1992 that childhood chronic illness and birth defects there were much higher than in the rest of the region. In April 1974, a fire broke out involving aerial bombs filled with R-33,11 and a leak occurred in 1978. To top it all, the railway branch line that took the munitions from the factory to storage depots in the rest of the USSR was in an unsatisfactory condition for at least fifteen years.  The Sarin, Soman, and R-33 stockpiles grew and grew. Fedorov quotes Russian sources from the early 1990s that estimate a total stockpile of 11,700 tons of Sarin, 4,800 tons of Soman, and 15,200 tons of V-agent had been laid down.12 These nerve agents were stored in depots around the USSR under conditions of great secrecy. The full picture remains unclear in the available literature, and various sites opened and closed over the course of the Cold War as strategic priorities shifted. Fedorov cites a variety of Russian language sources and gives a partial list of storage depots. The artillery ammunition depot at Schuchye13 was in remote Kurgan Oblast in Russia. The air force depot at Pochep, by the Russia/Belarus/Ukraine tri-border point, stored aerial bombs and spray tanks. Another base in Leonidovka, in the Penza region of Russia, contained aerial bombs and spray tanks14 and was damaged by a fire in 1984 that jeopardised the chemical weapons stored there. This is only a partial list of storage sites. It also likely that, as the Cold War drew to a close, chemical weapons were consolidated into fewer sites in the Soviet heartland. 126

CRIBBING FROM THE WRONG NOTEBOOK  Like the US or the German nerve agent programmes, most Soviet manufactured nerve agent was immediately put into weapon systems. Sarin was filled into artillery shells (122mm, 130mm, 152mm) and rockets (122mm, 140mm, 240mm). Soviet artillery doctrine favoured multiple launch rockets for non-persistent nerve agent strikes. There was also a 250kg aerial bomb, containing 49kg of Sarin. Soman was filled in 122mm and 152mm artillery shells, 122mm and 220mm rockets, a warhead for the SS-21 missile, and some various aerial bombs. There was also an aerial spray tank, holding 45kg of thickened Soman. Russian V-agent was filled into 122mm and 130mm rocket shells, and a variety of missile warheads. The USSR did far more work on putting nerve agents into missile warheads than the US ever managed to do. Much of this has to do with the fact that the accuracy of Soviet missiles was poor early on in the nerve agent programme, but continued to improve. Improvements in accuracy came after the point at which the US had ceased work on further chemical weapons. But Soviet research and testing continued, and it made tactical sense for them to put chemical warheads on short and medium range missiles.  Although it was an intelligence collection priority at times, the West gained little useful intelligence on the Soviet nerve agent programme. Throughout this period, the Americans consistently misunderstood the status of the Soviet nerve agent programme. The US intelligence community issued a secret National Intelli­gence Estimate (NIE) on Soviet chemical and biological capabilities in February 1969.15 The timing of its release is likely not a coincidence, as it overlapped with the incoming Nixon administration that conducted a comprehensive review of national security issues. While this document (now available online in redacted form) is relatively accurate on subjects such as Soviet doctrine for use of chemical weapons, it reveals that the US intelligence agencies overestimated the rate of progress of the Soviet nerve agent programme.


TOXIC  The NIE estimated that the Soviets had mass-produced Tabun starting from 1946, which was not true, and claimed Tabun manufacture had carried on through the 1950s, which is not actually at all clear from current Russian sources. The NIE did roughly guess the start point for Sarin manufacture (1960, 1959 in reality), which could be considered a tacit admission that the crash programme (1953–57) to make Sarin in Colorado had been based on faulty intelligence. The NIE claims the Soviets were producing Soman from 1961, when in fact it was 1967. Finally, it totally botched V-agents. The intelligence estimate claimed V-agent production was inaugurated in 1956, whereas the Soviets actually started mass production of R-33 as late as 1972, or sixteen years later than the Americans realised. British intelligence undertook similar analytical efforts to understand the Soviet programme.16 While giving due credit to the state of Soviet theoretical knowledge, the British similarly underestimated the actual progress in manufacturing that had been made.  In the 1970s the Soviet chemical arsenal continued to expand as research into new agents and improved weapons continued. A vast bureaucractic and industrial complex had mushroomed in order to support the nerve agent effort. This expansion and continued research effort happened soon after their adversary, the USA, had halted its programme. Whether or not the Soviets understood this is hard to determine. But they continued to move forward just when their rivals had ground to a halt.




The American chemical weapons programme ran into political and public relations problems in the late 1960s. Two accidents, one in Utah and one in Japan, became public knowledge. Moreover the Army’s methods for “safe” disposal of chemical munitions also came under scrutiny, putting the entire enterprise in a bad light.  Dugway Proving Ground in northwest Utah, west of the Tooele chemical depot, was the US Army’s testing area for chemical and biological weapons in the open air. It is a long way from anywhere and as bleak a place as can be imagined. Many tons of nerve agents were stored there and Dugway housed scientists, technicians, and support personnel for testing America’s chemical and biological arsenal. Over 3,200 sq km in size, it is larger than Luxembourg or Lancashire. Dugway’s 4,000m runway could handle any aircraft the US owned.  In the 1950s and 1960s the US tested much of its nerve agent arsenal at Dugway, mostly in the open air. Government documents obtained by the Utah newspaper Desert News in the 1990s


TOXIC list 1,635 field trials wherein 55,160 chemical munitions were tested, involving at least 224 tons of Tabun, Sarin, and VX.1 Jonathan Tucker cites a different figure: 453 tons and 1,200 trials.2 Irrespective of which account is more accurate, an awful lot of nerve agent was tested there.  Testing was not limited to Dugway. Under the rubric of “Project 112” and the related “Project Shad”, nerve agents were tested in other environments in places such as Hawaii, Alaska, the Panama Canal Zone, and on a ship at sea. The freighter USS George Eastman, for example, was sprayed with Sarin and VX to understand the performance of these agents in a maritime environment. However, the vast bulk of nerve agent testing was done at Dugway.  One could devote an entire book to incidents involving farms and farmers near US Army bases. Since the earliest days of the American expansion into the Western frontier, farmers and ranchers have presented claims to the appropriate officers for dead, injured, or missing crops or livestock. Late in the afternoon on 13 March, 1968, a US Air Force F-4 fighter jet conducted a test of the TMU-28 spray tank.3 Two spray tanks, together containing just over a ton of VX, were attached to the belly of the aircraft. The liquid agent was treated with a coloured dye to make it easier to assess the dispersion of droplets. The trial was very similar to others conducted in the past. The pilot was to fly in a straight line about 50 metres above the desert floor, his target grid being about a kilometre downwind. The pilot made a few test runs to make sure he was flying the correct way, and then pushed the button. The pressurized tanks sprayed a mist of VX droplets. Visible pink contrails were noted.  Several things went wrong. The pilot was supposed to jettison both of the tanks but only one of them fell off. The plane ascended with the tank still attached, from which VX was still coming out, indicating that not all of the nerve agent had been  


COMING OFF THE RAILS discharged over the target. Some of the agent was dispersed at a much higher altitude. To make this bad day worse, the weather changed very quickly. Updrafts kept many of the VX droplets aloft. Within hours of the test, the wind had changed direction and was now blowing east, opposite from its original direction. A cloud of VX droplets was now being blown northeast, to an area called Skull Valley.  The next morning, ranchers discovered their sheep acting strangely. In what has become known as the Skull Valley Incident, 4,272 sheep were killed and 1,877 were presumed exposed and thus not marketable. The Army, at this point maintaining peak Cold War secrecy, reverted to obfuscation and stonewalling, while quietly investigating the incident. Various “inconclusive” findings were not going to satisfy the citizens of Utah, nor could it contradict findings from the Utah State health laboratory that VX was found on snow and grass in the area where the sheep died. Ultimately the Secretary of the Army convened a committee which enacted a number of safety measures for testing at Dugway that amounted, in effect, to an admission of previous tests. Early in 1969, the US Army paid out nearly $400,000 in compensation to the ranchers without actually admitting responsibility. The incident festered for many years and figures in some conspiracy theories.4  Regardless of the exact details of what went on in the Skull Valley incident, the political damage was done. The sheep deaths were a major news story in Utah and featured in a February 1969 NBC television documentary. Various members of Congress saw the programme, and were incensed. Congress had been kept largely in the dark about nerve agents and only small cliques of congressmen and senators with appropriate clearances had oversight of the budget for their production. The Skull Valley incident prompted Congressmen Richard McCarthy of New York and Henry Reuss of Wisconsin to begin finding out what was


TOXIC actually going on with chemical weapons testing. The size and scope of US nerve agent testing gradually began to emerge.  At the same time that Congress was grilling the Army, another incident precipitated greater anxiety after the public discovered that not only were nerve agents being tested, but that they were also being deployed overseas, and not always with the permission of the host country. The Japanese island of Okinawa was riddled with military bases that supported US efforts to defend Korea and prosecute the ongoing war in Vietnam. Near the Kadena Air Base, a storage depot called Chibana Depot housed the US Army’s 267th Chemical Company. Their storage bunkers were surrounded by grassy areas where, oddly, goats and rabbits roamed, serving as sentries, just like the military police guarding the compound. If chemical weapons leaked, the goats and rabbits fell ill.  The Chibana depot contained nerve agent weapons and Mustard gas, forward deployed for use in the Asia-Pacific region. On 8 July 1969, two dozen service personnel were in one of the storage bunkers, removing old paint from Sarin-filled aerial bombs to prepare them for re-painting. By this point, the bombs were likely at least twelve years old. Periodic repainting was needed to prevent corrosion and also permitted inspection for damage. However, one of the bombs was leaking Sarin and twenty-three soldiers and a civilian technician received treatment for minor signs and symptoms of nerve agent exposure.5 Nobody died or was seriously injured, and the leaking munition was identified and sealed.  This was certainly not the only incident involving US nerve agents in storage. However, in this particular case, two things were different. First, it was in a foreign country where the host government did not know that chemical weapons were present. Second, it leaked (no pun intended) to the national press. On 17 July, a Wall Street Journal reporter named Robert Keatley  



COMING OFF THE RAILS called the Pentagon’s press chief and asked for comment on this incident. The Pentagon begged to kill the story, but by 1969, the press was not as compliant as it had been earlier in the Cold War. The story ran. Other outlets picked it up. A huge fuss was kicked up, both in the US and in Japan. The government in Tokyo was indignant that it had not been informed of the storage of chemical weapons on Okinawa and relations with the local population on the islands, which have never been good, suffered. The controversy led to the US removing its chemical weapons from Okinawa in Operation Red Hat.  It turned out that the Army had been dumping its surplus chemical munitions for some years by this point. They took old munitions they no longer needed, put them in ships that the Navy or merchant marine also no longer needed, and sank them in deep parts of the ocean. The sinking programme, called Operation CHASE, was intended as a neat way of solving the Army’s problems and getting rid of superannuated Second World War “Liberty” ships that were surplus to national requirements. CHASE was an inelegant acronym and literally stood for “Cut Holes and Sink ‘Em.” Operation CHASE was not just a programme for the disposal of nerve agents. Various other non-nerve agent chemical weapons, old conventional weapons, and miscellaneous items not otherwise needed but difficult to dispose of, were sunk.  By the late 1960s, the Army had realised that they had more chemical weapons than notional wartime requirements would consume. Mustard, a blister agent, was largely considered a backup to VX and was far less effective. The Mustard inventory could be reduced without affecting wartime requirements, so into the sea it went. The majority of the nerve agent sunk to the bottom of the sea was in troublesome M55 Sarin and VX rockets. The Sarin rockets had developed a miserable problem of leaking while in storage. Furthermore, the Army had stopped


TOXIC fielding the rocket launcher and nobody had been trained on how to fire these weapons in years. They were useless, and dangerous in storage. Because the rockets also contained rocket fuel, high explosives, and the fuse all in one package along with the nerve agent, they were difficult to dispose of safely.  There were twelve CHASE operations between 1964 and 1970, but only three of the twelve operations involved nerve agents.6 CHASE 8 took place in 1967. 4,577 one-ton containers of Mustard were transported by rail in 230 rail carriages from Pine Bluff Arsenal, Arkansas and Edgewood, Maryland to Earle, New Jersey under guard. 7,380 M55 Sarin rockets were placed in steel vaults which were then filled with concrete. The fact that the M55 rockets could only be safely transported by being encased in concrete begs the question of how they ever could have been transported, in wartime, from depots to an overseas theatre of war. The filled vaults were then shipped from Anniston, Alabama in twenty-three carriages in a six-day rail movement from 5 to 10 June. The whole inventory was loaded onto the SS Corporal Eric G. Gibson, a Liberty ship built in 1945 and originally called the SS Mary Cullom Kimbro. On 15 June 1967, the SS Gibson made its last voyage. It was taken out to sea in the North Atlantic. Army technicians opened valves and let seawater into the ship. Over the course of a few hours, it sank to the bottom of the sea, 2,200 metres deep.  Operation CHASE 11 occurred in May and June 1968. On 21 May 1968, twenty-nine rail cars containing 1,460 concrete vaults of Sarin and VX rockets were shipped from Anniston, Alabama to Earle, New Jersey. In an odd incident, the Army accidentally left two of the rail cars full of rockets unattended in a rail yard in Alexandria, Virginia. A small number of one-ton containers of Sarin and VX, presumably containing deficient product as thousands of these containers were still in storage, were also shipped around the same time. They were loaded onto  





COMING OFF THE RAILS the SS Mormactern, a Liberty ship which had seen war service in the south Pacific and been mothballed since 1959. On 19 June, the ship was sailed out to sea and sunk in approximately 2,000 metres of water in the North Atlantic.  CHASE 10, despite the numeric sequence, was the last of the operations. It had been rumbled by adverse publicity and could no longer be kept secret. The New York Times reported the rail movement.7 12,508 Sarin rockets, encased in their vaults, were shipped to Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point, North Carolina, the world’s biggest military terminal. Twenty-eight rail cars came from Anniston, Alabama and twenty from LexingtonBluegrass Army Depot, Kentucky. They were loaded onto the SS Lebaron Russell Briggs, yet another Second World War Liberty ship from the mothball fleet. The Briggs had been a veteran of the Murmansk convoys during the war, and had been stuck in Murmansk for months during the winter ice. It was towed out approximately 450km east of Florida and carefully sunk to a depth of 4,800 metres.  By the late 1960s, both the environmental and anti-war movements were in full swing. People no longer trusted the government as much as they once had, the military in particular. The military dumping Mustard and nerve agents into the sea was something that did not go down well. Professor Travis Wagner (University of Maine) put it best:  

Operation CHASE was a controversy tailor-made for the American mass media of 1970: these weapons were intentionally designed to poison humans, and the actors included colorful local politicians, frightened housewives, feckless bureaucrats, and the Vietnam-era military assuring the public that it was not at risk.8

 People started to realise that this had been going on for some years off the shores of the US. The public outrage was predictable, and media reports at the time were full of righteous indignation.9 Fifty-eight television news segments covered chemical  


TOXIC weapons issues in 1970, and Operation Chase was the subject of forty-two New York Times articles.10 In 1972, Congress passed a law prohibiting the dumping of chemical weapons at sea.  All of these incidents—dead sheep, a diplomatic dispute in Japan, and things being dumped in the sea—occurred in the context of both the Vietnam War and an emerging environmental movement. The widespread use of things like napalm (thickened petroleum), tear gas, and defoliants such as “Agent Orange” coloured the sentiments of the time. Although none of these were nerve agents, the public mood was turning against military chemistry.  An unexpected hero in the story of nerve agents comes in the person of Richard M. Nixon. Much vilified as the “Imperial President” and hounded into resignation after a variety of scandals that are bundled under the rubric of “Watergate”, it is understandable that some people will focus on Nixon’s negative legacy. However, President Nixon’s positive contributions to diplomacy and arms control are noteworthy. Further, the Nixon administration should be remembered for serious reforms to environmental regulation and enforcement.  In 1969, the incoming Nixon administration assumed power with many clear national security items on their agenda. Henry Kissinger was the new National Security Advisor and he brought gravitas to Nixon’s foreign policy team. Many things previously taken for granted were up for review. Changing America’s involvement in the Vietnam conflict, normalisation of relations with mainland China, détente with the USSR, and meaningful arms control were all part of the Nixon agenda. The new administration subjected biological and chemical warfare programmes to serious review, contemporaneous with the Skull Valley sheep kill and the Chibana incident.  On 30 April 1969, barely three months into the new Nixon administration, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird sent a confi 



COMING OFF THE RAILS dential memo to Kissinger,11 demanding a review of chemical and biological warfare activities and stating that the administration would be “under increasing fire” due to ongoing inquiries. Eventually, after serious internal debate and review, new measures came into force. Congress passed a law, Public Law 91–121, in November, 1969, which banned open air testing of chemical weapons. Movement of chemical weapons was severely restricted.  As well as public legislation, secret executive action was taken by Nixon’s national security team. National Security Decision Directive 35 made it official US policy that it would never initiate chemical warfare, and reserved chemical weapons for retaliatory purposes only.12 Development of new chemical warfare agents or weapon systems was choked nearly into oblivion. Nixon took an even stronger line with biological weapons. Under his stewardship, the US exited biological warfare in its entirety and America’s biological weapons programme was terminated. The President also finally submitted the Geneva Protocol, which bans first use of chemical weapons, for ratification. The US had signed the Geneva Protocol in 1925, but it had never been ratified by the Senate. That took place in April 1975.  But chemical weapons were still in Okinawa, despite the Nixon-led reforms. The Army executed “Operation Red Hat” to address the challenge of removing thousands of tons of Mustard, Sarin, and VX weapons from the island. The Pentagon’s original plan was to move the stockpile to Umatilla Army Depot in Oregon, which was already home to over 150,000 Sarin-filled munitions. The plan aroused strong opposition from the public and the state governors of Oregon and nearby Washington. It also fell afoul of the new laws and regulations put in place by Nixon. Forced to come up with a practical alternative, the Pentagon reached into the US government’s back catalogue of real estate and came upon Johnston Island, a coral atoll with no native population over 1,000km south of Hawaii. The nerve


TOXIC agents from Chibana were moved to the new chemical depot on Johnston Island in five ships in August and September 1971, where they remained for decades till they were eventually destroyed. One tragic accident almost happened when a pallet of fifteen M55 Sarin rockets was dropped and damaged, but, fortunately, no leak or detonation occurred.13  The 1960s had started with a robust nerve agent industry, with new developments and aggressive research into new agents and capabilities. The decade ended with rockets being dumped in the sea and mid-grade officials squirming under the glare of public inquiries. The combined effect of legislation and executive directives resulted in a chemical warfare programme that was effectively frozen and a large chemical arsenal stuck where it was, in depots. Operation Tailwind: The nerve agent that wasn’t On 7 June 1998, the American news network CNN aired a report called “Valley of Death” which alleged that the US military used Sarin during the Vietnam war as part of a September 1970 military operation in Laos called Operation Tailwind. The journalist Peter Arnett narrated the television report, which claimed the US used the nerve agent Sarin to stop North Vietnamese troops from overrunning American Special Opera­ tions forces, who were greatly outnumbered.  In reality no nerve agent was used. The riot control agent CS, which is commonly used around the world as a “tear gas”, was deployed, as it had been on other occasions in the Vietnam war. The CNN segment caused a furore. Several internal US government investigations exhaustively examined the possibilities and concluded that no Sarin had been used. The descriptions of the weapon systems and delivery of the agent were inconsistent with any Sarin weapon systems in the arsenal at the time, and records  


COMING OFF THE RAILS of chemical stockpiles and movement of weapons were scrupulously kept. Nor was the scenario consistent with US chemical warfare doctrine, which would have involved a transfer of Sarin between services and across oceans. Further, it was after Nixon’s strong moratorium and was contrary to the command philosophy of the time. The story made no sense to anyone familiar with American chemical weapons. Chemical Demilitarisation The vast majority of the nerve agents ever made have met with a quiet and anonymous death. The terms of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) meant that every signatory had to get rid of their weapons and agents, and have this destruction certified by Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) inspections.  As the majority of the declared stockpiles of nerve agents were in Russia and the USA, the majority of “chemical demilitarisation” activities happened in these two countries. As dropping them in the sea is no longer in vogue, either chemical neutralisation (using chemical processes to neutralise the agent) or advanced incineration have been the preferred techniques. Both have their relative advantages and disadvantages, too complex to discuss here, but both techniques can eliminate nerve agents, as well as other chemical warfare agents.  In the USA, the effort has been long and expensive. Litigation and regulation have made the process both more time-consuming and more thorough than it might have been based on initial plans from the 1970s and 1980s. Originally, munitions and agents would be shipped to destruction plants. But both politics and risk management dictated that it would be far easier and safer to keep the aged weapons where they were and build destruction plants on-site. Destruction plants were built at


TOXIC Johnston Island, Umatilla (Oregon), Anniston (Alabama), Lexington (Kentucky), Newport (Indiana—the old VX plant), Pine Bluff (Arkansas), and Tooele (Utah) to get rid of nerve agents and Mustard. Two other plants deal only with Mustard— Edgewood (Maryland) and Pueblo (Colorado).




Nerve agents in the US were resuscitated under President Ronald Reagan, in the form of “binary agents.” But the tale of American binaries is one of two halves, namely prior to the Nixon ban and during the 1980s. In the 1950s, Edgewood scientists had been working on a new concept; by the 1960s, American engineers, drawing on this new research, developed a series of new “binary” weapon systems. The concept was straightforward, in that two less dangerous precursors could be combined together at the last minute to create the chemical warfare agent. This would have great advantages in terms of safety, security, and transportation because the binary components, in themselves, would be far less troublesome than chemical warfare agents or weapon systems that contained chemical warfare agents.  Binaries are theoretically possible for a number of the nerve agents. Sarin, Soman, and VX can, at least in theory, be made from binary components. Binary Sarin works more easily in theory than in practice, but it is possible. Combining the chemical DF with isopropyl alcohol creates Sarin. But the same


TOXIC chemical reaction also makes HF—hydrogen fluoride, the same chemical that has always caused problems in Sarin production. Binary Soman can be made along similar lines, only using the much more expensive pinacolyl alcohol. Binary VX combines a precursor chemical compound (QL) with pure sulfur powder to create VX.  In all cases, a binary agent weapon has a lower percentage of actual agent in it than you would find in a unitary weapon. That’s because the reaction that creates the agent leaves behind impurities that dilute the resulting material, making it “dirtier.” This means that for any particular tactical mission, more binary shells or bombs might be needed to achieve a particular outcome. The US Army fixed that problem by figuring out that a binary shell, if not storing chemical agent for decades, could safely be made with a much thinner shell case. The new US binary shells would also be cheaper to manufacture and hold more agent than a unitary equivalent. Another part of the equation is that binary shells have to have moving parts that operate very quickly; more variables involved more parts that had to work the right way in a specific timeframe. As such, weapon systems that mix binary components will, in theory, have a higher failure rate than unitary ones.  Weighing up all the various factors, one can see why bureaucrats liked them. Binary agents had appeal for those who superintended the old “unitary” arsenal. Some of its less well-crafted nerve agent weapons, such as the M55 rocket, leaked prolifically and were already becoming a headache, both literally and figuratively. Between 1983 and 1996, the US Army had a staggering 1,321 incidents of leaking M55 Sarin rockets in storage.1 It would be safer, easier, and cheaper all around if empty shells and binary components were kept apart until the very last minute. This would also require less security for storage and transport if it were necessary to ship large amounts of chemical weapons 142

BINARY DECISIONS from storage depots in the continental USA to an active theatre of war. The Army needed to send specialist “Technical Escort” Chemical Corps troops to accompany any shipment of chemical weapons, and a full mobilization could not be adequately supported with the small existing Technical Escort Unit. A single shipment of Sarin weapons in 1981 from Rocky Mountain Arsenal to Tooele Army Depot cost about $3.2 million in transport, technical escort, and security expenses. Binaries could be shipped like conventional ammunition. A shipment of similar size to the 1981 one would have cost only $170,000.2  The Navy weighed in on the subject too. The US Navy had a more distant relationship with chemical weapons. Various nerve agent rockets and gun shells for naval bombardment of shore targets had been designed, but never advanced into the production stage. This left the Navy with aircraft as the means of delivering nerve agents. The US had developed air-dropped bombs for use by attack aircraft that fly from aircraft carriers, and the aerial spray tank could be used by naval aircraft. But the Navy had never liked the idea of chemical weapons on ships. The prospect of a leak or an accident in the bowels of a large aircraft carrier was one that gave naval commanders sleepless nights. Some existing aerial bombs were problematic in storage. Although the Mk116 “WetEye” Sarin bomb, which had been built for naval requirements, had an excellent safety record, the Navy’s older Mk 94 bomb was another matter. By the 1980s, the Mk 94, which was filled with 49kg of Sarin, was leaking prolifically in storage. Some 2.9%, one in thirty-four bombs, was leaking. Putting these into storage on an aircraft carrier was inevitably going to lead to trouble. The Navy had been worrying about chemical agent safety for years, as shown in a classified study from 1964.3 However, by separating out the components, no actual chemical agent would be sitting around in storage to leak, so onboard safety was greatly improved.


TOXIC  The US Navy had just had a disastrous accident on the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal. On 29 July 1967, off North Vietnam, an electrical fault caused a Zuni high explosive rocket on a fighter plane to discharge, which in turn punctured a fuel tank on another aircraft. Burning fuel went everywhere and chain reaction explosions caused a catastrophe. 134 Navy personnel died and another 167 were seriously injured. The damage, including lost aircraft, cost well over $70 million. One eye-witness to the disaster was John McCain, later a prisoner of war and US Senator, whose aircraft was lost in the conflagration. While none of this was directly related to chemical weapons, it instigated a Navy-wide review of safety processes, and in the post-Forrestal climate, it was unlikely the Navy would ever agree to carry nerve agent bombs unless their safety could be improved.  The first Army binary system was an artillery shell called the M687, which was being developed in the late 1960s. The M687 was a 155mm artillery shell, designed to replace the older M121 Sarin shell. The M687 was in three parts. There was the shell itself, which also contained the fuse and a high explosive bursting charge. The shell had a cavity inside. The binary components came in two canisters roughly the size and shape of a small coffee can. The M20 canister was made of a special plastic liner inside a metal sleeve. It contained high purity DF. The other canister, the M21, contained alcohol. The two canisters would rupture by the shock of the shell being fired out of the howitzer. In theory, the shell would spin, thus mixing the components, creating Sarin.  There were numerous issues with the M687. The chemical reaction created spare HF, which was highly corrosive. It would literally eat up an artillery shell. Not only that, the reaction was exothermic so the shells would heat up tremendously. When I spoke with retired Chemical Corps officers in the early 1990s, they made reference to early M687 shells exploding mid-air after  



BINARY DECISIONS they’d been fired. The prospect of droplets of hot Sarin and acid falling from the sky more or less randomly underneath the kilometres-long flight path of a 155mm howitzer shell is bad enough on a test range. It is even worse on the battlefield, where friendly troops are gathered in between the artillery battery and the target.  One approach to dealing with excess acid produced by the final DF-alcohol reaction is to add something to the mix to soak up the excess acid, but in a way that doesn’t excessively degrade the Sarin. After much experimentation and trial, the Army settled upon the chemical isopropylamine. The M21 canister contained a blend of isopropyl alcohol and isopropylamine. The latter was well suited as it easily dissolved in the alcohol. Other amines could have easily done the same; indeed even one that didn’t dissolve could have been useful had a longer mixing time been possible. But this particular weapon design and the requirement to do all of the mixing within a few seconds of flight time made the designers lean towards something that would dissolve in one of the two components. The final product was 72% (by weight) isopropyl alcohol and 28% isopropylamine.4 The objective was not to neutralise all the HF but merely to keep the whole thing from bursting before it hit the target.  Another problem was to ensure that the shell spun properly to allow for necessary mixing to take place. Much of this could be simulated, but the precise rate of spin for optimal mixing needed to be determined. The behaviour in flight of the M687 was the subject of intense scrutiny. The net result was that the M687 had a minimum range significantly different from conventional rounds, as the shell needed a certain amount of time to mix properly. They needed ten seconds of flight time. But if the range was too long, the residual acids would start to degrade the Sarin. This meant that, on the battlefield, artillery batteries had more restricted range for binary chemical shells than older uni


TOXIC tary chemical shells or conventional shells. The M687 was only in experimental stages when President Nixon froze further testing with live agents. The first live binary Sarin shell was fired at Dugway in September 1969, but it was the last chemical artillery fired there once Nixon’s various bans kicked in. Simulant chemicals were used to carry on a modest level of research into perfecting the system.  The second Army binary system was the XM736. This was meant to be an artillery shell for the Army’s 8 inch howitzer. Development of this system was some years behind the M687, and as it never made it to mass production, it is less documented. The chemistry of binary Sarin had been worked out in the 1950s. But the chemistry on binary VX was not fully developed until 1965.5 Similar in principle to the M687, it combined two components: QL in the XM27 canister and sulfur powder in the much smaller XM28 canister, to form liquid VX. The spinning of the shell would mix the two components. Mixing was key here, as QL is a liquid and the sulfur is in powder form. Numerous problems were noted in operational testing of the XM736, serious enough to suspend its development.6 For example, the sulfur powder would tend to cake over time and a special formulation of non-caking powder was developed. If the mixing and flight stability issues could have been worked out, XM736 would have had similar issues to the M687 in terms of a restricted minimum range.  The problems associated with binary VX can be better understood through the experience of the Bigeye bomb. Although it could be used by the Air Force and Marine Corps as well, the Bigeye was a US Navy programme which sought to address many of the Navy’s objections. The Bigeye, also known by its nomenclature BLU-80/B was referred to as a “bomb” but was a unique device. It was often described as a “glide bomb”. The earlier aerial bombs detonated at or near the surface and either  


BINARY DECISIONS burst open to create an aerosol of fine droplets, or scatter a bunch of bomblets, which then created small bursts of aerosol. The Bigeye was the first designed to deliver VX. But it didn’t work out that way.  Much of what we know about the binary VX programme comes from an engineer named William Dee,7 who was interviewed at length8 by Jonathan Tucker in 2003 for his excellent book War of Nerves. Dee was hired by the Army and spent his entire career at Edgwood, becoming one of the great experts on VX and on binary weapons. One of his earlier tasks was to try to get the binary VX to work, as part of a plan to develop a 500 pound VX bomb for the Navy. The initial scheme was to use small amounts of some kind of explosive to actually fire sulphur particles into the QL. It didn’t work, likely due to the water vapour that was in the gases created by the explosion. This would inhibit the VX reaction. Eventually, they came up with a modified injection device9 that kept the propelling gases from entering into the QL. Dee and his colleagues finally got the reaction to work in a 2 litre reaction vessel, although it created an enormous amount of heat. It took them a year to scale up the reaction until it was big enough to work in a bomb.  Eventually, a complicated Bigeye bomb design emerged. A number of the “telecartridges” would have to fire the sulfur into the QL. Propellers would have to mix everything very quickly. If it all worked according to plan, 90% pure VX could be created. Six Bigeyes were shipped out to Dugway for tests. Then it got interesting. The idea was for the Bigeye to be activated by a switch by the aircrew, the telecartridges would fire, the propellers would mix, and then the VX was ready to go. It could be dropped off an aircraft. A proximity fuse and explosive charge would disseminate the VX above ground to scatter small droplets. Generally, persistent agents like VX are fused for dissemination in low air bursts, and non-persistent agents like  





TOXIC Sarin are best disseminated by ground bursts. But things did not work out as planned.  The Bigeye programme documents that are now available for research employ an interesting euphemism. They refer to “flashover” as in “the VX flashed over.” It turns out that what this really means is something like: “the VX caught fire as it was coming out of the bomb.” Most, if not all, of the VX burned up. As the bomb itself heated up, there was a serious risk of the case cracking while still on the wing of the aircraft. Two of the six prototypes caught fire when the binary reaction was initiated. Another problem was leakage. At least one Bigeye burst, spraying hot VX in every direction. A Navy pilot would be taking his life in his own hands pushing the button to initiate the binary mixing. QL is, unfortunately, somewhat flammable. And one of its hydrolysis products is very flammable, so if any moisture seeps into the QL, fire could be a problem. Another hazard was the fact that the binary mixing couldn’t be undone. If a pilot had to abort a mission and return to the aircraft carrier without having dropped the bomb, he’d have to drop it in the sea, because there was no way the ordnance crews on the carrier could deal with a raging hot bomb full of VX.  The engineering team managed to come up with a redesign that seems to have been part desperation and part inspiration. First, the arming of the Bigeye was changed so that it could only start mixing once it had been dropped by the aircraft. This, of course, mandated speed and altitude requirements for a bombing run. More importantly, the bomb itself was redesigned. The explosive bursting charge was taken out. The bomb would become a “glide bomb” and would glide along a path. Shortly after the mixing began, the hot VX mix, which was expanding due to the heat, would vent out the bomb. The bomb became less of a bomb and more of a gliding spray tank that would drop a line of droplets. This, in turn, would necessitate a change in 148

BINARY DECISIONS tactics, as a long thin line of VX contamination was not the same thing as a circular or oval area of contamination caused by a bomb. Problems with flashover, leakage, heating, and quality of the VX plagued the programme.  Most of the work on binaries ended in 1969 with Nixon’s new policies. Research on the M687 and Bigeye proceeded, but at a much slower pace and without the ability to do any outdoor testing with live agents. The Navy tried to cancel Bigeye in 1972, and the Air Force, in lukewarm fashion, took over as lead for a few years. The Navy re-engaged in 1974, but turfed the issue to the Marine Corps, in hopes that the new Marine Corps Harrier aircraft would be the delivery system. But shortly thereafter, the programme was halted.  Gradually, despite the onward progress of arms control diplomacy, in the late 1970s new life was breathed into the M687 and Bigeye programmes. The XM736 stumbled back into contention too, but was very much behind the other two. The XM736 was eventually cancelled. Leakage had been a problem and the Army was gradually phasing out the 8 inch howitzer, so there was no point in protracted development of a shell for a cannon that was retiring.  A fourth binary programme emerged in the late 1970s. By this point, the Army had different doctrine and newer systems than when the first binaries were conceived. It was developing and fielding a very long range multiple rocket launcher with a large payload. The M270 MLRS entered into US Army service in 1983, as part of the Reagan administration’s general expansion and upgrade of the Army. The M270 has proven to be a highly effective long-range artillery system with a proven combat record. At the time it was being developed, it was well known that rockets are a very good delivery platform for nerve agents, as a high volume of rockets could saturate a target area, even if the earlier US Sarin rocket had problems in storage.


TOXIC  The US planned to have a binary chemical warhead that could be launched from the MLRS, referred to as the XM-135. Despite various online sources that indicated that the XM-135 was going to be filled with VX, it was in fact going to have a new chemical agent, the so-called “Intermediate Volatility Agent.” The US Army’s secret “IVA”, as I heard it whispered at Army Chemical School, was meant to fill an operational niche between Sarin and VX. What was it? Sarin was used for immediately producing casualties, with residual contamination going away very quickly except in the coldest of weather. VX, on the other hand, was moderately effective at immediate casualties, but only for troops directly in the radius of the attack who had received no warning. However, it was excellent at creating long-term contamination lasting days or weeks.  But there was nothing in the middle in the US arsenal. US military doctrine, the “Air Land Battle”, was beginning to place greater emphasis on more mobile concepts of offense and defence. If chemical weapons were to be used, there needed to be forms of interdiction that could last a short period of time, but still cause immediate casualties. The US did not want to advance into contaminated areas that it had itself created. A hazard that lasted hours or a day, particularly if it could be projected into the enemy’s rear areas (the MLRS was a long-distance system, with greater range than cannon artillery) could have some use, as it could block or interdict enemy movements but disappear before American or allied forces advanced to the scene of the chemical attack. It could create, in effect, a temporary minefield.  Tabun could theoretically have done it, but it was, shell for shell, far less efficient than Sarin or VX, and was not easily amenable to production as binary. A few of us young lieutenants in the early 1990s reckoned it might have been Soman. A Chinese writer10 in 1988 thought it was some form of Soman, possibly thickened Soman. But this had been vetoed on expense grounds  


BINARY DECISIONS as pinacolyl alcohol was unaffordable. The exact identity of the IVA is still somewhat vague in the unclassified literature. The nomenclature was rumoured to be “EA 5774” or “EA5365”, the latter of which is also known as GV. Tucker identifies it as a blend of Sarin and an analogue of CycloSarin, with an added methyl group to make it a heavier molecule, and thus less volatile. This is based on his interview with the late Sigmund Eckhaus, and is likely the most credible explanation. The Army reported in its budget submission to Congress for Fiscal Year 198711 that “IVA” had been successfully tested, and let slip the fact that it had a thickening agent. However, the XM-135 was cancelled in early 1991, by which point the IVA programme was no longer needed. Chemical arms control was on the horizon.  Attentive readers will know that by this time the American nerve agent factories of the 1950s and 60s had shut down. The supply chain for binary Sarin and VX needed supplies. While sulfur and high grade isopropyl alcohol could be obtained quite readily, the other components were not immediately available. Newport had stopped making VX, and would need a huge retrofit to be able to make QL to the necessary specification. Neither DF nor its precursor DC were available either. Using Rocky Mountain Arsenal to make the DF was not a realistic prospect. The old Phosphate Development Works in Alabama was long mothballed and in a state of advanced decrepitude, its caretaker status having been downgraded in the mid 1960s. Rocky Mountain Arsenal itself had not made any DF in any quantity since about 1957. Nor was the infrastructure up to the safety and efficiency standards of the late 1970s. The DF, QL, and the new materials for the “IVA” would need to be made somewhere. The Army undertook a systematic review of possible locations. It considered the Phosphate Development Works in Alabama, the old VX plant at Newport, a chemical plant owned by the Vertac Corporation in West Helena, Arkansas, an Olin Corporation  


TOXIC hydrazine factory in Lake Charles, Louisiana, and the Army’s Pine Bluff Arsenal, in Arkansas. The latter was selected as the best location for all the new binary manufacturing.  Pine Bluff Arsenal dated from the Second World War and extended over twenty-one square miles. Originally used for the manufacture and storage of smoke and incendiary ammunition, the Army Chemical Corps had (and still has) a variety of operations at Pine Bluff. Mustard and Lewisite had been made and stored there during the war. From that point onward it was one of the major logisitical sites for chemical ammunition. Nearly 100,000 Sarin and VX M55 rockets were stored there, as well as over 9,000 M23 VX landmines and 1,000 one-ton containers of Mustard. The Army’s BZ (incapacitating and hallucinatory) agent production had also been located there, with about forty-six tons in storage before it was demilitarised. Chemical warfare production was not new to Pine Bluff, so it was an easy choice for the construction of a new Integrated Binary Production Facilities complex to make the new binary components.  In 1980, the US Congress approved funding for the facility. Some of the most reliable information about the Pine Bluff complex is in an obscure but thorough document called the Architectural Recordation of the Integrated Binary Production Facility written in 2004 by the US Army Corps of Engineers. This document records the buildings and processes before it was all torn down, as treaty obligations demanded its demolition by 2007. By the time of its closure, the complex consisted of six distinct industrial plants, a total of thirty-seven buildings.  A key part of the facility was the DC plant, which would be the replacement for the old Muscle Shoals Phosphate Develop­ ment Works, and manufacture the “dichlor” needed for making the DF that would actually go into the artillery shells. A fundamentally different process was used here, as technology had advanced since the old Muscle Shoals plant had been built. The 152

BINARY DECISIONS DC plant used thionyl chloride as the precursor. At Pine Bluff, DC was created by reacting thionyl chloride with the chemical DMMP. Photographs show that much of the infrastructure for DC production was open to the air. The “buildings” had roofs but no walls; the control centre was enclosed and protected; and the production was largely remote-controlled.  That the process used thionyl chloride turned out to be a problem. Although thionyl chloride was used in industry for making dyes, pesticides, and other products, it was only available in large amounts from two domestic manufacturers—Mobay Corporation (a joint venture between Monsanto and Bayer) and Occidental Chemical Corporation. Up until this point, the entire history of nerve agents had been one of, if not complacent, then at least witting cooperation between governments and the chemical industry. In 1989, the US government found itself in an awkward position.12 Mobay and Occidental refused to sell it the thionyl chloride it wanted. Mobay, owned by Bayer and inheritor of a lineage going all the way back to Gerhard Schrader, was cognizant of possible references to its Nazi past. It was also wary of its role in producing chemicals that went into the manufacture of chemical warfare agents. Bayer had a company policy since 1984 of not selling goods for use in chemical weapons manufacturing.13 Occidental cited its own corporate policy of not contributing to narcotics or weapons production.  This caused no end of consternation in the US government. The ostensibly pro-business conservative Bush administration even considered invoking an old piece of Korean War-era legislation called the Defense Production Act to force suppliers to make the thionyl chloride. However, going to court to enforce this would have been expensive and harmed relationships with the chemical industry that were vital for other things of possibly greater importance, like rocket fuel and explosives. It would also have exposed a degree of hypocrisy in Washington. Other arms  


TOXIC of the Washington bureaucracy were busy pushing a valid nonproliferation agenda. Chemical arms control was becoming a serious topic and the American government was leaning on West Germany and West German companies to stop exporting thionyl chloride, which also had use as a Sulfur Mustard (“Mustard gas”) precursor. As Mobay was part owned by a German corporation, this was certainly a muddled situation. “How dare you not produce the stuff we told you not to produce” is not a policy position that is easily defended. The impasse with industry was never fully resolved before the end of the binary programme, and the DC production facility did not operate at capacity.  The next step at Pine Bluff was technically more dangerous but politically less fraught. DF was produced from DC in a specific DF plant complex. This replicated the work that had been done by Rocky Mountain Arsenal. The DF plant used a building that had made Mustard during the SecondWorld War. As DF is quite dangerous in itself, this building operated under negative pressure and had quite serious scrubbers to remove hazards from effluent. Because of the aforementioned DC supply problems, it had to be obtained off-site. The first production runs at Pine Bluff were forced to use the literal dregs of the US nerve agent arsenal. Ancient 1957-vintage DC which had been left over in storage at Rocky Mountain Arsenal was shipped to Pine Bluff by rail. It had degraded significantly and needed to be refined before it could be turned into DF.  In a very dangerous process, the DC was reacted with hydrogen fluoride, itself extremely dangerous, in a specially constructed fluorination reaction vessel. The crude DF was then distilled in a specially made apparatus. For security reasons, the reaction vessel, the distillation apparatus, and the various pressures and temperatures are not described in available literature.  All of the DF produced at Pine Bluff was taken to the M20 fill line facility. Some DF was intended for use in the MLRS rocket, 154

BINARY DECISIONS but that part of the programme never reached maturity. Empty M20 canisters were produced off-site by the Marquardt Company, a main contractor on the binary nerve agent project. A pipeline carried DF to the M20 filling line. Empty plastic M20 canisters were purged with nitrogen to make sure they contained no air or moisture, and were then filled with DF. The height of the filling was checked, as any small deviation would throw off the weight of the artillery shell and thus alter its range. Whatever void was left in the canister was filled with a small amount of helium, an inert gas. A helium detector was used to detect for leaks. Then the canisters were placed in their steel jacket, which was welded shut, painted, and stencilled. The M21 canister, filled with the alcohol and amine mix, was made by Marquardt. The M687 shells were assembled at Louisiana Army Ammunition Plant, near Shreveport, Louisiana. The M21 canister was installed into the shell. However, the shells never came close to the M21 canisters. They were were stored separately, at Umatilla Chemical Depot in Oregon and Tooele Army Depot in Utah. Marquardt was consistently behind in production of the canisters, so this part of the programme did not live up to expectations either.  The Pine Bluff compound had several other plants on it. The QL plant was designed to produce the vital chemical 2-diisopropyl-aminoethyl methyl-phosphonite, the binary VX precursor thankfully reduced to a nickname: “QL”. The three-stage process to make QL is too recondite to explain here. This plant was never completed. The Bigeye plant consisted of several buildings that would build and fill the Bigeye bombs. It was completed in 1990 but never went into full operation, although the Army tested the process with simulant chemicals. The XM-135 plant was never finished and all the Pine Bluff facilities were razed as part of the chemical demilitarisation programme and accession to the CWC and OPCW.  What lessons can be learned from the ill-fated binary programme? It was a technical and administrative failure. Every step  


TOXIC of the process was plagued by delays. Only one of the four proposed weapons systems ever got to the manufacturing stages. The M687 had taken decades to go from drawing board to depot, and only some of that delay could be blamed on Nixon’s moratorium on offensive testing. The Bigeye was a lesson in failure. The 8-inch shell programme nearly outlived the cannon that was meant to shoot it. The XM-135 never got anywhere. Some of the issues could have been fixed with bigger budgets and more personnel. But much of the programme suffered from fundamental flaws. Binary VX is troublesome and the weapons never worked properly. The XM-135 relied on a new chemical agent, for which a manufacturing process had not actually been worked out. The entire history of nerve agent manufacturing up to this point shows that working such things out is never as easy as it seems at the outset.  Administratively, things were shambolic as well. Most phases of the programme were behind schedule and overbudget. Companies underperformed. Some refused to perform. If the Army was forced to threaten litigation to compel companies, in peacetime, to supply chemicals to it, this showed that it could no longer rely on the private sector to provide the necessary support to a chemical agent manufacturing programme. From a policy perspective, this experience revealed the difficulties the United States would face when re-entering the chemical weapons manufacturing business.  On the other hand, the programme was not without its benefits. Politically and diplomatically, the binary programme was more of a success. Arguably, its only real purpose was to have a bargaining chip in order to get the Soviet Union seriously to commit to chemical arms control. Viewed from this angle, the binary programme may, despite its practical failures, have been an overall success. 156



The Cold War chemical arms race between the Americans and the Soviets was tense and plagued by misunderstandings. For much of the Cold War each viewed the other as being ahead in the race, thus inspiring efforts to catch up. What this really meant, in practice, was that the US raced ahead in the 1950s with Sarin and the 1960s with VX, in the full belief that the Soviets were doing the same. Then, in 1969, with Nixon’s policy decrees, the Americans stopped or slowed most aspects of their chemical programme. In fact, the Americans stopped making Sarin before the Soviets had even begun and had ceased producing VX before Nixon came into office. His ban kept the last few production runs of VX from being put into weapons.  The Soviets, lagging behind, and strongly suspecting that they were, kept moving after 1969. While the American programme was trapped in deep freeze, its Soviet counterpart continued to grow in the 1970s and 1980s. The USSR launched an effort to find new nerve agents in a programme known as “Foliant”. It was, like all chemical warfare projects, cloaked in secrecy. Much


TOXIC of what we know about Foliant comes from a handful of disgruntled former employees, and must be viewed through that filter. The chemist Vil Mirzayanov is a key source of information. His book, State Secrets, contains useful data on Foliant and equally useful insights on the institutional culture of the chemical warfare industrial complex. He also gave extensive interviews to Jonathan Tucker for his War of Nerves.  Part of the reasoning behind the development of the newer nerve agents—the “Novichoks”, a term simply meaning “newcomer”—was the nature of Soviet bureaucracy. If you employ thousands of scientists, you want them to do things. The people working in the secret chemical warfare industry had better pay and more privileges than their equivalent colleagues in normal science and industry, hence the chemical warfare bureaucracy had a large internal imperative to justify its size and special privileges. Within its many institutes and laboratories, the bureaucratic imperative steamrollered the scientists and engineers. These specialists were constantly under pressure to justify their privileged existence and extra pay and perquisites under the Soviet state. Institutions and people had to show some sort of progress, whether actual or contrived.  They busied themselves in numerous ways. Many sought to further pure science, and many papers were published on theoretical subjects. Others sought to improve aspects of the existing chemical warfare establishment, by improving safety, increasing the quality of its products, or effecting changes to industrial processes. Some tried to exploit developments from the West and apply them to Soviet industry. Some generated a lot of paper and little work, a speciality across Soviet industry and science. Amid this wider effort, chemists worked on investigating new compounds, some of which were nerve agents. Rivalries were rife, both between organisations and between individuals. In addition, secrecy was extreme, and most work was heavily compartmental 


THE NEWCOMERS ized. The practical result of this was that there were often multiple projects with identical or overlapping aims.  Underlying all of this, the Soviet Union was convinced that the chemical warfare efforts of its adversaries were continuing. The open existence of America’s large stockpile of Mustard and nerve agents added to this impression. In particular, the threat of hostile chemical warfare by the USSR’s adversaries was necessary to motivate the scientists and engineers that worked on the programme. However, by the 1970s when the Foliant project emerged, the threat from the West was imaginary. The successful US counterintelligence programme “Operation Shocker” no doubt went a long way to stoke Soviet fears.  There were many reasons newer nerve agents could represent an improvement over Sarin, Soman, and R-33 (the Soviet version of VX). Higher toxicity would mean that less material would be needed to achieve the same effects, so that fewer bombs and shells would be required for any particular desired tactical effect. A useful binary agent that actually worked without difficulty would easily be an improvement in terms of munition storage and handling. Economy of manufacturing would gain favour with management. Soman was extremely expensive. As many of Russia’s possible conflict areas are often quite cold, nerve agents with physical characteristics amenable to use in very cold climates would be useful. Nerve agents resistant to medical countermeasures could be useful as well.  R-33 presented a number of problems. It degraded in storage, unlike American VX. Once dispersed in the environment, R-33 was more sensitive to moisture, which meant that in wet conditions it would degrade and not be as persistent as it was meant to be. As water is commonly used as a decontaminant, this is a drawback. Finally, R-33’s production process was messy. It could not produce pure R-33. According to Mirzayanov, making R-33 at purity higher than 90% was very difficult and the Soviet plant  


TOXIC produced it in the 85–87% range. One important strand of the Foliant work was to produce a binary version of R-33. Doing so would alleviate the problems of degradation in storage.  A particular concern for the Soviets was detection. When the nerve agents were first scaled up for mass production by the US and USSR, the means to rapidly detect them on the battlefield were crude. The advent of electronic automatic detectors for battlefield use, such as America’s M8 alarm, even if they were plagued by false positives, negated much of the tactical benefit of nerve agents. If NATO troops could have even a few seconds of warning, enough troops could don their masks and blunt the effects of a surprise chemical attack. The early nerve agent detectors were expensive and were programmed at the design stage. You could not just add another nerve agent to them, so making a new one that evaded NATO’s detectors would be very important indeed.  Arms control considerations were crucial too. Chemical arms control was creaking along and the USSR was paying lip service to the process. A treaty or agreement that prohibited certain chemicals or precursors would reduce the utility of existing nerve agents and the industrial processes to make them. Nerve agents that were unknown to the rest of the world would not be listed in treaties and those that used precursors not known beyond the USSR could evade possible arms control measures.  The Foliant programme pursued all of these angles and more as it examined hundreds of chemical compounds. This work was spearheaded by GOSNIIOKhT, the aforementioned State Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology.  The exact characteristics of the Novichoks are still unknown in the open literature. The Soviet and then successor Russian states never acknowledged their existence, let alone provided verifiable technical details. One is left to stitch together the story from fragments, knowing full well that some are missing. The 160

THE NEWCOMERS accuracy of the next few, sometimes speculative, paragraphs may well be disputed in the future if more information reaches the public domain.  The Novichok agents that were ultimately classified as weapons were given codenames starting with A. They were picked from a broad list of chemicals because they had characteristics that were improvements in some way on existing nerve agents. Hundreds of chemicals were examined as part of the project. One of the Novichoks, A-230, was also known as Substance 84. A-230 was based roughly on the same chemistry as Sarin and Soman, with an “acetoamydin radical” grafted on to the phosphorus atom at the core of the molecule. This resulted in a molecule that was significantly more lethal than R-33 in laboratory testing. One Piotr Kirpichev invented A-230 between 1971 and 1973. A-230 was not very volatile, so it could be useful as a persistent agent, a bit like R-33 or thickened Soman. Because of its increased persistency, fewer shells or rockets would be needed to contaminate an area. But it had another interesting feature. In 1977, during cold weather testing, the Soviet Army made a major discovery. If they added a chemical called N,N-dimethylforamid, the liquid agent would stay liquid at extremely low temperatures. Now the Soviet Army had a nerve agent that was useful in the cold Russian winter. Up to this point, the nerve agents had poor performance in sub-zero temperatures.  The next Novichok was A-232, also known as “Novichok-5”. Like the others, it was more toxic than earlier generations of nerve agents. Like A-230, it had reasonably good properties in cold weather. It was less persistent and more volatile than A-230, according to Mirzayanov. But the key advantage was that the GOSNIIOKhT team allegedly worked out a production pathway for A-232 that did not use prohibited or “scheduled” chemicals that were under consideration for the upcoming Chemical Weapons Convention. A-232 was a ready-made pathway for  


TOXIC evading chemical arms control regimes. The production infrastructure, in theory, could be hidden in other industries, which would use chemicals that would not be subject to international scrutiny. In addition, there was a reasonable prospect of making A-232 in binary form. Binary agents had tremendous safety and logistical benefits, but only if an effective dissemination device could be designed and perfected. A-232 had some disadvantages, though. It was less toxic than A-230 and had a tendency to break down in contact with water.1  Finally, there was A-234. Although we know little about A-234 (it is not mentioned in Tucker’s book, based on interviewing Mirzayanov, nor in the latter’s own volume, State Secrets: An Insider’s Chronicle of the Russian Chemical Weapons Program), it appears that it has properties, some of which we can only speculate about, that make it more persistent than other agents. The Soviet V-agent programme was plagued with quality control problems, so an improved persistent agent would certainly have suited Moscow’s requirements at the time. There is some debate as to the exact structure of A-234 in unclassified circles, as several different structures and formulae are circulating in the public domain, and they cannot all be correct. A persistent agent that could contaminate terrain and equipment for weeks and be resistant to water would suit Soviet chemical warfare doctrine. Traditional V-agents have various pathways for reacting with water, so a degree of water resistance would be useful to improve persistence and increase resistance to water-based decontamination. The only thing we really know for sure about A-234 is that it is highly persistent in damp environments.  We can only judge the mass production of these agents through the claims made by Mirzayanov in his book and various comments by Vladimir Uglev, a GOSNIIOKhT chemist involved in the programme. Whether these agents entered service in the Soviet arsenal in large numbers is unknown. Certainly, enough 162

THE NEWCOMERS of the “Novichoks” were made to support field testing. In 1976, a pilot plant in Volgograd was making kilogram quantities of A-230 and A-232 for testing and evaluation. The testing range at Shikhany in Saratov Oblast used guinea pigs, horses, dogs, and monkeys for live testing.  Development of the Foliant agents continued throughout the 1970s and 1980s. A new research facility, a branch of GOSNIIOKhT, was opened at a location called Nukus, in Uzbekistan. This facility allegedly included a pilot scale production plant for the Novichok agents and an animal testing facility. Work on these agents was not without hazard. In an incident in 1987 in Moscow, a chemist named Andrei Zheleznyakov was working on binary A-232. He accidentally was accidentally exposed to vapours and became ill. His co-workers gave him a drink and told him to leave but he collapsed on his way home. KGB handlers took him to hospital, and lied about the cause of his illness, blaming bad sausages. The treating doctor assessed his signs and symptoms and administered atropine, which saved his life. However, Zheleznyakov was never the same. He spent months in hospital and died in a state of disability in 1993.2  During this same period, the Soviet Union was engaging in a hypocritical charade. Both international arms control and bilateral negotiations with the US were making progress in the 1980s. American Vice President George H.W. Bush had presented a draft treaty in Geneva in 1984. After much diplomacy, in 1986 Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev had publicly agreed in principle to much of the draft CWC treaty. The one hold-up was “challenge” inspections of sites. In 1987, the Soviets surprised everyone and opened up their facility in Shikhany, and invited journalists, military attachés and diplomats to a briefing about the Soviet chemical warfare programme.  A full tour of the Shikhany facility took place on 3 and 4 October. Dutch journalist Hans de Vreij was present and  




TOXIC describes the visit on his website.3 Soviet Army officers gave a full briefing on a wide variety of shells, rockets, bombs, spray tanks, missile warheads, and other munitions. A soldier in protective gear poisoned a laboratory rabbit with Sarin. General Pikalov, head of the chemical troops, was insistent that he was showing off everything. We now know that he wasn’t. No binary agents or weapons were present. Nobody even thought to ask about “Novichoks” as nobody outside the Soviet government had heard of them. The USSR was continuing with research, development, and manufacturing, whilst displaying only partial transparency by revealing its older agents and weapons.  The Novichoks became very controversial when their existence leaked. Vil Mirzayanov was instrumental in their becoming known to the rest of the world. The chemist had done a lot of research on the safety and security of the Novichoks programme and had been concerned with concealing their research and production. In particular, he had spent a great deal of time determining what sort of information could be gleaned from exhaust and effluent from laboratories and factories, as he was a specialist in identification instrumentation. His endeavours showed that the chemical warfare industrial complex was an appalling safety and environmental hazard.  In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed and a new democratic future beckoned for Russia under Boris Yeltsin. Mirzayanov had started working with Lev Fedorov, who was passionate about protecting the environment. They believed that it was wrong, deceptive and hypocritical for Russia to continue with the Soviet Union’s work on Foliant, given that the new Russian government had agreed to uphold the 1990 bilateral agreement with the US and was stating publicly that it would sign and ratify the CWC.  Mirzayanov and Fedorov became whistle-blowers. They published a series of articles in 1992 in the weekly newspaper Moskovskiye Novosti (“Moscow News”) about the chemical war164

THE NEWCOMERS fare industrial complex in the Soviet Union and thence Russia. Among the revelations in the articles were those concerning the existence of Novichoks. The Moscow-based American journalist Will Englund published articles in the Baltimore Sun repeating these revelations and in October 1992 Mirzayanov was arrested by the authorities.  Mirzayanov was put on trial for disclosing secrets and theoretically faced a lengthy prison sentence in punitive conditions. However, newly democratic Russia was in a conundrum. If Novichoks did not exist, then how could someone be tried for releasing secrets? Mirzayanov’s trial eventually collapsed due to the inherent contradictions of the case. Perhaps the Russian state had thought that pushing it harder would just prove Mirzayanov’s point. In any case, Russia wanted to adopt the CWC, and if a long drawn out trial had been covered in the press it would be embarrassing. Mirzayanov was released when charges against him were dropped in March 19944 and in 1995 left for the United States.  After the Mirzayanov affair, Novichoks almost disappeared from the public eye. Optimists may have hoped that they were indeed discontinued. They were omitted from the CWC schedules of prohibited chemicals and nor did they feature in the Russian declaration when they acceded to the CWC. Perhaps inspections of facilities and demilitarisation efforts ended up degrading the ability of Russia to mass produce such weapons.  In the mid 1990s, in an episode still shrouded in secrecy, a small sample of one of the Novichoks was smuggled out of Russia and ended up in the hands of the BND, the German intelligence service.5 The sample, which may have been A-232, was sent to the Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI) laboratory for analysis and the results shared among Germany’s allies. Heated discussions about what they revealed took place among Western specialists and I remember attending highly classified briefings on the  


TOXIC topic in 1997–98. But nothing really came of it. The euphemism “next generation agents” was occasionally referenced in documents, but only the specialists in my field cared. Novichoks retreated into the background. For a while, at least.




In September 1980, Iraq went to war with its neighbour Iran, a conflict that lasted until August 1988. There is no scope here for a thorough analysis of this complex and bloody conflict and simplifications are perilous. However, it is not too much of a simplification to say that the Iraqi military felt outnumbered and resorted to chemical warfare in an attempt to even the odds against a numerically superior enemy. Iran had a much larger population, with an ample supply of military-age men.  The Iran—Iraq war is the first major example of nerve agents being used on the battlefield. Iraq had been gearing up to produce chemical weapons for almost fifteen years before the war began. The chemical corps of the Iraqi Army was established in 1964. Based on the Egyptian experience in Yemen, as well as perceived threats from Israel and Iran, Iraq made the decision in the late 1960s to acquire its own offensive chemical warfare capability. In 1971, the Iraqi chemical corps had its own research laboratory at Al-Rashad on the outskirts of Baghdad. It had a staff of chemists educated abroad, and they were able to make very small amounts of Mustard, Tabun, and Sarin. By


TOXIC 1973 or 1974, the Iraqi effort had grown and was called the “Al-Hazen Ibn Al-Haitham Institute”. It was allegedly part of the Ministry of Education1 but headed by a chemical corps officer. The Iraqi government set up a Strategic Planning Committee to oversee unconventional weapons development, chaired by one Saddam Hussein, who later became president. During this period, Iraq received technical assistance from Egypt, the Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia.  Iraq’s research on chemical weapons expanded and the laboratory at Al-Rashad was improved and placed under the Al-Hazen Ibn Al-Haitham Institute. In this period, the synthesis of Tabun and VX, at laboratory scale, appears to have been a focus of the research. The Institute was eventually abolished, but research at the Al-Rashad laboratory continued. Work continued to develop a production facility. A state-owned construction contracting company began using recruitment consultants in Lebanon to assemble chemical engineering expertise across the Arab world. A similar effort went into procuring special equipment, such as chemical reactors and pipes covered in corrosion-resistance substances. The cover story was that Iraq intended to build a 100ton per month pesticide factory to make organophosphate pesticides like parathion at a place called Rutbah, near to existing sources of phosphorus-bearing minerals. The Iraqi government attempted to get the US firm Pfaudler, a world expert in glasscoated steel, to assist the effort. Two Pfaudler employees, Joseph Culotta and Morris Gruver, voiced concerns about the project’s safety and rushed timetable. Their concerns caused Pfaudler to call off the deal in a meeting at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in mid 1976.2 But by this point the Iraqis had obtained a large amount of technical information on the manufacture of organophosphate pesticides from the negotiations. The Iraqis then turned to Britain. Both ICI and Babcock and Wilcox, two major British firms, were suspicious and distanced themselves.3 Various 168

WARS IN IRAQ AND IRAN German firms were also approached. Sources vary as to how much actually happened at the Rutbah site.  The war with Iran spurred an escalation in the effort to make chemical weapons. Iraq expected a rapid victory, but by 1981 successful counter-offensives by Iran had stalled Iraq’s advances. Iraq then decided to use chemical weapons as a force-equalizer. Many of the Iranian troops wore beards, which would inhibit correct wearing of gas masks. Further, the Iranian army’s gas masks were of US origin. Replacement spare parts, such as fresh filters, were in short supply due to US sanctions. The Iraqis viewed their enemy as particularly vulnerable to chemical attack and also unlikely to retaliate in kind.  In June, 1981, the chemical warfare programme was stepped up, placed under direct Ministry of Defence control, and named Project 922.4 Around the same time, Iraq also reached an agreement with Egypt for technical assistance on chemical weapon production. A larger factory was planned and constructed at Al-Muthanna, northwest of Baghdad. It was called the “State Enterprise for Pesticide Production” (SEPP). At SEPP, lab facilities were built, including a sealed chamber for animal testing, where imported German beagles were used.5  At least thirty Western firms supplied chemicals or equipment to Al-Muthanna. Companies in West Germany, Netherlands, France, the USA, and Switzerland were all part of the supply chain. In the era before serious chemical arms control, either some companies did not ask too many questions, or believed the pesticide story.  From 1982 onwards, the US government supported the Iraqis in subtle ways. Iraq was removed from the State Depart­ ment’s list of terrorism supporters, and “dual use” technology was no longer blocked from sale to Iraq. Iran had long been the US proxy in the region, but the Iranian revolution followed by the bitter Iranian hostage crisis had turned Iran from ally into


TOXIC enemy. Iraq was seen as a counterbalance to new Iranian revolutionary impulses. On a more cynical note, some in the US and elsewhere felt that Iran and Iraq, both being unsavoury regimes, were best engaged fighting each other to a standstill. The US also supported Iraq with intelligence, including satellite images.  Although the US made efforts quietly and unofficially to support Iraq, Washington did not directly supply chemical weapons systems or chemical warfare agents to Baghdad. The US did turn a blind eye to others doing so, however, particularly in the earlier phases of the war. This was, no doubt, aided by a lack of an international framework of rules and a lack of verification and enforcement regimes.  Weapons do not make themselves. In addition to the foreign labour that had staffed the programme since the 1970s, domestic labour was conscripted or otherwise induced to work for the chemical warfare programme. The factories and labs were staffed by some of the finest chemists and chemical engineers that Iraq’s universities could produce. New graduates faced military conscription in the middle of a horrible war, so it was not hard to compel the available supply of chemists and engineers to work in labs and factories rather than serve in the infantry.  The Iraqis had a shortage of weapon systems to fill with their new chemical agents. They procured thousands of artillery shells, bombs, and rockets in the west. Many were designed for use with white phosphorus—a substance used to create smokescreens and mark targets—but ended up being filled with chemical warfare agents. This proved expensive, so by 1984 Iraq bought machinery to manufacture its own shells, rockets, and bombs.  The Iraqi programme started out with tear gases and Mustard, which are safer and easier to produce than nerve agents. Some 85 tons of Mustard had been made at Al Rashad, and the new SEPP plant produced over 100 tons in 1983.6 Iraq 170

WARS IN IRAQ AND IRAN first used chemical weapons during “Operation Ramadan” in July 1982. Mortar shells containing the riot control agent CS were used near Basra7 to cause panic on the battlefield and disrupted an Iranian infantry division. By 1983, Iraq was using Mustard in small-scale operations. The Iranians protested to the UN, and the supply of thiodiglycol from Belgium necessary to manufacture Mustard was choked off. Eventually, the restrictions in exports to Iraq forced the Iraqis to build a factory complex at Fallujah to produce the necessary precursors.  Production of nerve agents lagged behind the production of Mustard. However, SEPP eventually ended up with a Tabun production process very similar to the one that Ambros’ team had used at Dyhernfurth. By early 1984 militarily significant quantities of low-grade impure Tabun were available for use. Iraq’s Tabun only ever reached average purity of 50% to 60%,8 but they judged it to be pure enough for field use. By the end of 1984, SEPP had produced about sixty tons of Tabun. Research continued on production of Sarin and other agents, but that was proving to be more difficult. Over the course of the war, approximately 140 tons of Tabun were used, mostly in combat operations.  The first major use of Tabun in the war (and possibly the first major use of Tabun in any conflict) was during the Iranian offensive known as “Operation Badr”. It was an attempt by the Iranians to capture part of the highway between the capital Baghdad and the port city of Basra. In some of the most ferocious combat yet seen in the war, Iraq threw everything it had to blunt the offensive, including artillery barrages with Tabun shells. However, this was only a small sector of the overall fighting. Perhaps a few hundred Iranian casualties out of many thousands were due to Tabun.  The following year, the so-called “Battle of the Marshes” was an Iranian offensive that saw extensive use of “human wave” attacks in the Hawizeh Marshes. Iran’s only real advantage in the


TOXIC war with Iraq was in having a much larger number of troops, many of whom were poorly trained cannon fodder. “Human wave” attacks were a crude attempt to capitalise on this sole advantage. Mustard was used by the Iraqis as an area denial weapon and to cause attrition, as Mustard blisters can take a soldier out of the battle for weeks. Tabun was used for immediate casualty effect. Both sides suffered heavy casualties, but the battle is considered a pyrrhic victory for Iran.  Further military operations continued to use both Mustard and nerve agents. Iraqi handling of chemical weapons improved and there were fewer incidents of Iraqis accidentally affecting their own forces. Iraqi military doctrine for the use of chemical weapons also made advances, and chemical warfare operations used classical approaches from Soviet and US military doctrine. Persistent Mustard could be used to channel enemy movement and deny areas for use. As an oily liquid, it could float on top of the marshes that were being used as avenues of approach by Iranian infantry. Tabun, and later Sarin, were used in concentrations to cause immediate death and incapacitation. Chemical warfare became integrated into both offensive and defensive operations. As the war progressed, more chemicals were used in battles.  By 1985, Iraq had finally worked out a method for mass production of Sarin. In 1987, Tabun production tapered off as Sarin became the primary nerve agent. However, Iraq’s Sarin was very low quality, the end product being only 40 to 60% pure.9 This meant that it could not be easily stored for very long. Much of the mix was HF, which ate everything it was stored in. The useful shelf life of this product was only a matter of months, although some smaller amounts of Sarin were present in older shells and rockets discovered years later. Iran seems to have known that the Al-Muthanna site was involved. At some point in 1985, Iranian F-4 Phantoms conducted an airstrike on the 172

WARS IN IRAQ AND IRAN SEPP facility, but the extent of damage to nerve agent production is unknown.  By 1987, four major Iranian offensives were disrupted by use of Iraqi nerve agents against its troop concentrations. By this point, the threat of chemical weapons use had begun to have effects off the battlefield. Repeated Iranian incursions into Iraq prompted the retaliatory “War against the cities” in which Iraq launched at least 200 Scud missiles and made strategic bomber raids against major Iranian cities. Although none of these attacks included chemical weapons, the Iranian public lived in fear that any of them might involve Mustard or nerve agents. The presence of chemical weapons at the front served as a multiplier of the terror effect hundreds of miles behind the front lines.  Eventually, by the late 1980s, the Iraqis had the ability to manufacture VX and Cyclosarin, a chemical cousin of Sarin. Some weapon systems contained a cocktail of Sarin and Cyclosarin. Some significant work went into developing Soman, and the Iraqis investigated techniques for making pinacolyl alcohol, the necessary precursor for Soman. However, the Iraqis did not progress to the point of making large quantities of Soman. Once again, the difficulty and expense of making pinacolyl alcohol was the stumbling block.  By 1987, the Iranian Army had improved its defences against chemical warfare. Atropine was widely used to treat nerve agent poisoning and by this point Iranian medics had years of experience in treating nerve agent casualties. Chemical protective clothing and masks, as well as the medical remedies, once scarce, were in more widespread use along the front. In addition, Iranian commanders were more aware of Iraqi chemical tactics.  Nerve agents were used not just on the battlefield. As mentioned in the prologue to this book, the Iraqi state used them to commit truly horrific atrocities against civilians. From 1986–89, the Iraqi government inflicted a reign of terror on the Kurdish


TOXIC people called the Al-Anfal campaign. A wide variety of tactics were used, which have been characterised as attempted genocide. Many villages were destroyed. Many thousands of Kurds, both civilians and combatants, were killed, tortured, or imprisoned. Al-Anfal was led by General Ali Hassan al-Majid, a cousin of Saddam Hussein. Widespread use of chemical weapons in Al-Anfal earned al-Majid the nickname “Chemical Ali”.  A truly dreadful attack happened in the context of this campaign against the Kurds. In March 1988, Kurdish Peshmerga forces joined with Iranian “Pasdaran” Revolutionary Guards near the city of Halabja and launched an offensive against Iraqi forces. This offensive was successful and forced an Iraqi retreat. In retaliation, Saddam Hussein decided to strike a crushing blow against the Peshmerga and their civilian supporters by committing a savage attack on Halabja.  On the morning of 16 March, the Iraqi army commenced a conventional artillery barrage on Halabja. Iraqi air force fighterbombers started a series of air raids with conventional explosive and incendiary bombs. Thousands of people took refuge inside air-raid shelters, basements, and other improvised places of refuge. Accounts on the exact timing vary, but the agreed narrative is that during the day, the conventional attack paused. A series of airstrikes, described as having six to eight aircraft during each sortie, dropped bombs on Halabja. Unlike the previous bombs, these bombs did not explode with a loud bang. They detonated with only a thud or a thump. Observers at a distance from the city saw a number of clouds of whiteish smoke rise from the bombing sites. As repeated sorties of planes continued to drop bombs and cluster munitions, a mist engulfed the city. Survivors later reported a number of odours, including garlic and sweet apples. Animals fell to the ground, writhing in convulsions, and birds dropped from the sky.  The attack included Sulfur Mustard (the garlic smell) and nerve agents. The Iraqis possessed Tabun, Sarin, and VX at the  


WARS IN IRAQ AND IRAN time and it has been difficult retrospectively to determine exactly what cocktail of nerve agents was used. The sweet apple smell may have been Tabun, and the smell of apples has become a totemic symbol for this tragic attack. All of these warfare agents, in the form of an aerosol of small droplets or vapours, are heavier than air. The agents would pool in low-lying areas, such as the shelters and basements in which civilians were taking refuge from the conventional attack.  Many people died very quickly. Some were described as laughing hysterically, probably describing a mixture of respiratory distress, strange and confused behaviour, and convulsions, all of which are nerve agent symptoms. Symptoms of Mustard exposure take hours to evolve, and indeed, many hundreds of people developed serious signs of Mustard exposure in the hours and days after the attack. The death toll is uncertain, as is the breakdown between deaths from conventional attack (which were numerous that day) and deaths from various chemical agents.  Thousands of people fled. Many of them died from chemical agent exposure as they fled their shelters out into the streets. Others were massacred as they escaped the city, as aircraft using conventional bombs and machine-gun fire struck the fleeing refugees, adding to the death toll. Because of the contamination present in the city, large swathes of it were abandoned. There are now two Halabjas—the site of the chemical attack and the newer town, built since.  The Halabja attack rates as the worst nerve agent atrocity ever, and certainly the most horrendous chemical attack since the First World War. It combined several different aspects of chemical warfare to synergistic effect. First, conventional attack forced people into positions where they were highly vulnerable to chemical attack. Then a mix of chemical agents was used. Rapidacting, non-persistent agents killed many hundreds, if not thousands, in and very near their places of refuge. Persistent agents


TOXIC killed and injured people as they fled, and rendered the city uninhabitable, forcing them to abandon homes and buildings. Finally, conventional firepower was used on the routes of escape out of the city, killing more people as they fled. Halabja was the grimmest of war crimes and a key example of why chemical warfare agents are banned.  There was immediate outrage. Naturally, Iraq denied everything and blamed Iran, as if there were a plausible reason for Iran to bomb a city under its own occupation. Iranian troops in chemical protective gear were seen in the streets during the attack and dozens (if not more) of eyewitnesses saw Iraqi planes dropping the bombs. As if the dead and dying were not enough evidence, it soon emerged that the US government had radio intercepts of Iraqi pilots talking to forward observers who were calling in the air strikes.10  Iraq’s military did not re-capture Halabja immediately and the Iranians retained control for some months, thereby allowing journalists to visit the city, albeit under escort and for propaganda purposes. Reporters found no fragments of bombs or shells. Likely, the Iranians had cleared up much of this, or did not take journalists to places where they would be exposed to persistent agents. However the huge numbers of dead bodies, including women, children, and the elderly, were stark evidence that an atrocity had occurred. The Iranian regime’s media strategy on this appears to have been manipulative, trying to maximise the shock value, while reducing risk to visiting parties of journalists from munition residue. Alas, photos of munition fragments might have made for more convincing evidence of Iraqi culpability.  Some of the Halabja theories proposed that hydrogen cyanide was actually the causative agent in some or many of the deaths at Halabja. The cyanide claims are worthy of comment, as they occasionally appear to this day. Some Iranian doctors claim that 176

WARS IN IRAQ AND IRAN they saw signs of cyanide poisoning in some victims. Others noted blue lips on corpses, a condition known as cyanosis. However, none of this means that hydrogen cyanide, itself an impractical chemical warfare agent, was employed alongside or instead of other agents. It is highly likely that Tabun was used, as it was, by far, the most commonplace nerve agent in the Iraqi arsenal at the time. Cyanide is a by-product in the last step of Tabun production and it is feasible that Iraq’s production process may have left a significant amount of cyanide residue in their Tabun. Hydrogen cyanide gas is one of the decomposition products produced when Tabun degrades in contact with moisture. Finally, cyanosis occurs in many cases of lack of oxygen. It shares an etymological root with the word “cyanide” and this has confused many in the past. Cyanide poisoning can cause cyanosis. But other things can cause cyanosis, including nerve agents. The mechanism of death in nerve agent poisoning is lack of oxygen, and cyanosis11 is noted in some nerve agent victims.  Halabja provoked an international outcry, albeit one somewhat dimmed by unenthusiastic backing for retaliation against Iraq by the US. Some in the States still saw Iraq as their proxy state against their enemy Iran. The UN Secretary General Perez de Cuellar pushed for an independent investigation, but Iraq refused, citing its own sovereignty. Some even tried to claim Iran was responsible, citing the cyanide theory mentioned above. In the end, though, Halabja forced something of a shift. Fighting Iranians was one thing, but chemical warfare started to be a liability. By the end of the war, the US government was prosecuting American companies for selling chemicals to Iraq. Indeed, in 1989, a US firm and two individuals, an American and a Dutch national, were prosecuted for selling thiodiglycol, the Mustard precursor, to Iraq.  The Iran—Iraq war continued, without clear victory for either side, and several other chemical attacks occurred after the  


TOXIC Halabja atrocity. The second battle of al-Faw saw heavy use of Mustard and nerve agents against outnumbered Iranian forces. Casualties were high, and it is reported that US satellite intelligence was given to the Iraqis to help with the targeting of attacks.12 In August 1988, the conflict ended when Iran accepted a cease-fire under UN Security Council Resolution 598.  It was only the end of the war that put an end to the use of chemical weapons. Despite the various weapons used in the bitter conflict, chemical casualties only contributed a small percentage of the overall deaths and injuries of the war. The total number of nerve agent casualties incurred by the Iranian military over the course of the war is not known, but certainly runs well into the thousands. Record keeping was poor in that messy war and cause of death was not always recorded. Indeed, many victims likely lie buried in unmarked graves. Large numbers of Mustard victims were reported, but the majority of victims were injured, not killed. Mustard exposure leaves visible scarring and often causes life-long disabilities. Such victims are more easily counted. The long-term effects of Tabun exposure are not easily distinguishable from PTSD and are not visible to the naked eye. The Tehran Peace Museum, which has been a strong proponent of chemical disarmament, claims13 that Iraqi chemical warfare agents killed 5,500 Iranians and that 100,000 Iranians were treated for serious chemical weapons effects. The Iranians do not provide a breakdown by chemical agent, but given the low lethality of Mustard, the majority of the 5,500 reported dead are likely due to nerve agents. It is also quite likely that these statistics do not adequately count dead Kurdish combatants or civilians.  It did not take long for Iraq to re-enter the world news. In August 1990, Iraq invaded and occupied its neighbour, Kuwait. This brazen act caused a global mobilization. A lengthy effort to send troops to Saudi Arabia to block further Iraqi advances became known as “Operation Desert Shield.” A multinational 178

WARS IN IRAQ AND IRAN coalition, led by the United States, began to amass large numbers of military forces along the Iraq-Kuwait-Saudi border areas. Eventually, the effort shifted from deterring further Iraqi aggression towards planning for the liberation of Kuwait. “Desert Shield” transitioned into “Desert Storm” when the broad multinational coalition militarily defeated Iraq, first in an extended bombing campaign and then in a ground invasion that crushed the Iraqi armed forces.  Chemical warfare plays only a peripheral role in what has now become known as “the First Gulf War”. However, fear of chemical warfare, and of nerve agents in particular, heavily influenced military planning. The US military was caught in a poor state of preparedness against chemical and biological threats. The previous five years of the end of the Cold War had seen a general drawdown in the Chemical Corps. Many chemical defence positions were not filled. Much of the force structure of the Chemical Corps had been in (then) West Germany and many of these detachments and companies had been shut down or were in the process of demobilising. Much of the mission for chemical defence had been shifted to the reserve components, but many of these reserve units were not up to strength yet—it can take five or more years to start a new reserve or National Guard unit from scratch in the US Army.  However, despite the lack of preparedness, in August 1990 a widespread mobilization made up for some of the shortfalls. A bureaucratic panic ensued, which resulted in crash procurement of equipment, including chemical agent monitors from the UK and chemical reconnaissance vehicles from Germany. Support from allies, including quite new allies, was helpful. Specialist chemical reconnaissance troops were brought to Saudi Arabia from newly democratic Czechoslovakia, in part due to personal intervention by none other than Shirley Temple Black (the child actress Shirley Temple who went on to be a career diplomat in adult life), who was US Ambassador in Prague at the time.14


TOXIC  The mounting build-up was the largest military build-up under perceived threat of chemical attack since the First World War. Soldiers spent weeks wearing chemical protective suits, which doubtless increased the number of heat casualties during the deployment. Many soldiers were dosed with the drug pyridostigmine to improve their ability to recover from possible nerve agent injury. A significant amount of the logistical effort to prepare for the liberation of Kuwait went into chemical and biological defence efforts. Fighting in the desert meant that a lot of water was needed to support the forces. However, huge amounts of water would also be needed for decontamination. Allied doctrine and equipment for decontamination of equipment, such as tanks and artillery systems, was designed to use water. A major logistical undertaking was executed to stockpile water for use in the event of chemical attack.  In the end Saddam Hussein abjured from using chemical weapons against the US-led coalition forces. Perhaps he reckoned that they would be futile, as they were making visible efforts to prepare for chemical attack. Perhaps he feared retaliation, possibly even by nuclear weapons. In any case, the international coalition liberated Kuwait and soundly defeated Iraq.  Shortly after the end of offensive operations, the US Army occupied the Iraqi military’s ammunition storage depot at Khamisiyah, in southern Iraq, west of Basra. This was a vast 50 sq km of warehouses and storage bunkers. The US Army’s 37th Engineer Battalion and the 60th Explosive Ordnance Disposal detachment were tasked with demolition of this vast stockpile of war materiel. They sifted through the depot looking for the unusual and exotic, although there was no way they could find everything. They rigged two large explosions to destroy the place on 4 March 1991 and 10 March 1991, as well as a number of smaller explosions.  Although nobody knew it at the time, it turns out that a large number of chemical munitions were stored at Khamisiyah. A  



WARS IN IRAQ AND IRAN later estimate15 by the CIA was that 7,875kg of low purity nerve agents Sarin and Cyclosarin were blown up along with other munitions. Significant efforts have gone into modelling, retrospectively, how much agent was released and where it went. Many thousands of allied troops may (or may not) have been exposed to low levels of the nerve agents or their decomposition products. It should be noted that a large percentage (nobody will ever actually know how much) of the nerve agent would have been consumed in the conventional explosion.  Throughout the 1990s, veterans of the First Gulf War, primarily but not only in the US and UK, began to report a variety of signs and symptoms. This became known as “Gulf War illness” or “Gulf War syndrome”, and many thousands of people began to report illnesses and disabilities that they believed stemmed from their service in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. The number and degree of signs and symptoms vary greatly across the veteran population. The phrase “Gulf War syndrome” is not really a diagnosis, but a description. The whole phenomenon remains unresolved. Exposure to nerve agents or organophosphate insecticides are often mooted as possible causes, as is pyridostigmine. The release of nerve agents from Khamasiyah is often cited as a possible root cause of illnesses and disabilities. A full exploration of Gulf War illnesses is beyond the scope of this book, and nerve agents are only one of a number of hypothesized causes, including depleted uranium, oil well fires, combat stress, and anthrax vaccinations. Readers interested in this subject are strongly advised to read the “GulfLINK” website,16 which compiles a broad range of information.  The aftermath of the First Gulf War saw the imposition of strict sanctions on Iraq. Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party government remained in power, but it was under strict conditions of probation. United Nations Resolution 687 established the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) to oversee the destruction of


TOXIC Iraq’s chemical, biological, and missile programmes. (Iraqi nuclear programmes were dismantled by a sister programme run by the International Atomic Energy Agency.) UNSCOM systematically set about identifying and destroying the chemical and biological arsenal and infrastructure as best it could. Indeed, it was UNSCOM inspectors who uncovered the fact that rockets containing nerve agents had been blown up at Khamasiyah.  The end result of the UNSCOM work was that inspectors had access to some, but not all, of the weapons, technology, and infrastructure for the Iraqi nerve agent programme. Some of it had been destroyed in the war. Some of it had been abandoned after the war with Iran ended. But the extent to which some of it was being hidden was never quite established. Over the course of UNSCOM’s existence, cooperation with Iraqi authorities varied greatly, and the 1990s ended without UNSCOM being able to determine if the nerve agent programme was actually dead, dormant, or merely hidden. In 1999, a new organisation, the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) took over from UNSCOM with much the same role.  In 2001, the terrorist group Al-Qaeda unleashed its September 11 attack on the US. This led to a US invasion of Afghanistan, and a general re-examination of America’s real or perceived enemies in the world. Post 9/11 American foreign policy was forceful but often muddled. Iraq, under sanctions but still led by Saddam Hussein, was considered a threat to the world. The work of UNSCOM and UNMOVIC had left a degree of ambiguity as to whether Iraq held “weapons of mass destruction”—including nerve agents.  In 2003, a multinational coalition led by the USA invaded Iraq. The conventional wisdom holds that no actual “WMDs” were in Iraq and that the invading forces did not discover any. Like many absolute statements, this one is not quite correct.  


WARS IN IRAQ AND IRAN Many people, including serious analysts and chemical/biological warfare experts did not accept the repeated denials by the Hussein regime and believed or at least strongly suspected that efforts to make and hold chemical and/or biological weapons were still underway. The Iraqi government appeared to have been largely telling the truth about getting rid of its unauthorised arsenal. The occupying forces searched high and low. An “Iraq Survey Group” of experts scoured the country. The various reports generated after the war make for interesting retrospective reading on the history of WMD programmes in Iraq. Of special interest is the publicly available Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCI [Director of Central Intelligence] on Iraq’s WMD.17  Regardless of the broader geopolitical context, two things are clear. First, Saddam Hussein at one point made and used a lot of nerve agents. Second, nobody truly knows where they all went.




The 1990s witnessed the only instance of a group other than a national government making quantities of nerve agents. A religious sect called Aum Shinrikyo developed the capability to produce Sarin and several other nerve agents. Aum employed Sarin in several incidents, also proving that nerve agent terrorism was a real phenomenon and not just paranoid fiction.1  The Aum Shinrikyo cult was founded by Shoko Asahara. “Shoko Asahara” was not his actual birth name. He was born in 1955 as Chizuo Matsumoto. Matsumoto suffered from infantile glaucoma. He was blind in one eye and only partially sighted in the other. As a student in a school for the blind, he used his partial eyesight to great advantage as a bully.2 As an adult he studied traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture and dabbled in many religious and mystical traditions.  In the mid 1980s, Matsumoto founded a group that eventually took on the name Aum Shinrikyo. He changed his name to Shoko Asahara. In 1989, Aum received state recognition as a religious sect. A full exploration of the religious beliefs of the Aum cult is beyond the scope of this book. However they can be


TOXIC summarised as a doomsday cult, believing that some catastrophic end to the world as we know it was imminent, and only the elect (i.e. Aum) would survive. Cult members were often cut off from mainstream society. They had both real and imaginary enemies, as Aum often had poor relations with the communities in which they lived.  The group grew, gathering thousands of members both in Japan and in post-Soviet Russia. Aum organised themselves as a parallel society, establishing offices, called “ajid”, all over Japan. Various compounds were acquired for residential use. Seeing itself as a state-within-a-state, Aum organised itself in ministries. There was a ministry of finance and a ministry of education. But there was also a ministry of intelligence and a ministry of defence. Among this “government” there existed a ministry of science and technology, which was tasked with acquiring or manufacturing advanced weapons, including chemical and biological weapons.  Aum assembled an entire enterprise devoted to the development of nerve agents. Someone had to do the actual work. One interesting feature of Aum was its apparent appeal to people with intelligence and education. Aum assembled a cluster of highly skilled individuals to run the nerve agent development project. Hideo Murai was the “Minister of Science and Technology.” He had a physics degree from Osaka University and had research and development experience from a job at Kobe Steel. Masami Tsuchiya was a chemist who had a master’s degree in the subject from Tsukuba University. He left a scientific career to become a devoted member of the cult. Fumihiro Joyu had a degree in electronics and became the cult’s man in Moscow. Kyohide Hayakawa, who was born in 1949, was one of the cult’s older members. He had a degree in agricultural engineering from Osaka Municipal University and many years of civil engineering expertise in the private sector. He became instrumental in run186

THE TOKYO ATTACK ning the supply chain and worked in the cult’s Russian operations. Tomamosa Nakagawa had a medical degree and was also Asahara’s personal physician in addition to helping with development of chemical agents.  The nerve agent enterprise grew. Aum built a compound near Mount Fuji in a placed called Kamikuishiki. Tsuchiya the chemist assembled his own chemical warfare laboratory in a prefabricated building, while a much larger building known as Satian 7 was constructed nearby. The exact origin of the knowledge to make nerve agents remains unclear. Aum obtained some technical data in Russia and the plans for the Satian 7 facility appear to have been bought on the black market there. Aum gave 10 million Yen to Oleg Lobov,3 an official at Russia’s National Security Council. Although this is circumstantial, it is the clearest hint as to where Aum sourced its information on nerve agent production. Front companies were set up to buy equipment and precursor chemicals. Aum procured five reactor vessels made from the specialty metal alloy “Hastelloy”, which can resist the HF acid encountered in Sarin production. In the pre-OPCW era, many of these purchases did not set off the alarms that they would now. One company, “Hasegawa Chemicals” was specifically established as a front for buying chemicals without arousing suspicion.  Because several of their other unconventional attacks with germ warfare agents had been abject failures, it is rumoured that some testing occurred. Aum acquired a remote property in Western Australia, Banjawarn, where it is alleged the cult tested Sarin on sheep. The Australian Federal Police made this claim4 based on their investigations into the ranch. It is possible that this location was used for Sarin testing. Some cult members dispute that this happened, and the Danzig Report comes to no compelling conclusion either way.  Aum’s first nerve agent attack was in the city of Matsumoto in June 1994. Aum was in the midst of a legal dispute about land.


TOXIC Various landowners had taken Aum to court, alleging that the cult had bought land fraudulently. By June 1994, it was looking as if Aum would lose the case and the results would be heard on 19 July. The three judges who were to rule on the case lived in Matsumoto. Supreme Leader Asahara ordered an attack on the judges. Even without this particular court case, Asahara held a dislike for the place. A petition among the citizenry of Matsumoto against Aum land purchases had gained approximately 140,000 signatures, more than half of the electorate.5  A mechanical engineer named Kazumi Watanabe and some technicians modified a commercial refrigerator truck which they fitted with a steel tank to hold Sarin. A large heater plate was wired to thirty car batteries. Sarin would drip onto the heater plate and sturdy electric fan would blow Sarin vapour out the side of the van through a small window. After waiting for a warm, dry day in the belief that rain and humidity would reduce the effectiveness of their attack, Hideo Murai and his team drove the refrigerator truck to Matsumoto on 27 June. Not having done a proper rehearsal before setting out, they discovered that the half-ton of extra batteries made the truck heavy and slow. By the time they arrived at the courthouse in Matsumoto, the work day was over. Instead, they went to the Kaichi Heights neighbourhood, where the three judges had their official housing. Donning their improvised protective gear made from oxygen cylinders, they parked the Sarin truck upwind of the judges’ dormitory.  At around 10:40pm the Aum team opened the valve on the Sarin tank and switched on the heater plate. They opened the window and started the fan. However, something immediately went wrong. The back of the truck filled with fog. The Sarin was not pure and contained residual acids, an inevitable by-product, which reacted with the hot plate. However, eventually, a Sarin fog wafted from the side of the truck, drifting downwind towards  



THE TOKYO ATTACK the judges’ housing. The attackers drove off, but shortly thereafter, the wind shifted. The fog of Sarin drifted towards a different apartment building. It being a pleasant summer night, many residents had their windows open. People immediately began to feel ill. One resident, a salesman named Yoshiyuki Kono, lived in a house near to the judges. At 11:09pm he called the emergency services to report that his wife was having convulsions. Paramedics were summoned, and they took Kono, his wife, and their two daughters to the local hospital.  Toshie Koibuchi, a housewife living nearby, told the Japan Times about her experiences.6 She had taken a bath, with the window open. Around 11pm she got out of the bath: Just after I got out of the bath, my nose started to run. It wasn’t a normal runny nose, it was like water. And when I looked at a lightbulb, all I could see was a pinprick of light. I felt very strange. Then I got diarrhea and headaches. It was indescribable. I had no idea what it was.

 Further victims were discovered. Five people were found dead in their homes, and two died later in hospital. One more victim died many years later and is often counted as one of the casualties from the incident. Nearly three hundred people were seen in hospital for effects of Sarin poisoning, of whom fifty-four were admitted. The three judges survived, but were too ill to work. The court case was indefinitely delayed.  Neither Sarin nor Aum was immediately implicated in the attack. The killing potential of Sarin was demonstrated. Aum escaped notice. The judges were incapacitated. Aum considered the attack a success. The police investigation was not technologically equipped to deal with such a scenario. Mr Kono was wrongly blamed at first. The police found chemicals in his home, purchased for his photography hobby. Blood tests of the victims showed depressed AChE counts, which is indicative of nerve agent exposure, but it was not until nearly a week after the attack  


TOXIC that a police laboratory in Nagano identified traces of IMPA, the decomposition product of Sarin, near where the van had been parked. The police suspected that Kono had made Sarin from pesticides, which is not possible and inconsistent with the chemicals he owned.  Kono stuck to his story. The local police generally relied on confessions more than physical evidence, so when Kono refused to confess, the investigation was deadlocked. Kono was savaged in the press. It was not until the Tokyo Sarin attack the next year that Aum was definitively tied to the Matsumoto incident. Back at the Aum compound, the truck was sanitised and all traces of its modification were removed. The truck was decontaminated. Kono’s wife was in a coma for years, and when she came out of the coma, she never regained her speech or vision. She died in 2008, becoming the sixth victim of the attack. Despite the fatalities, the Matsumoto attack did not attract widespread coverage outside Japan, largely due to the fact that, at the time it occurred, Sarin was not immediately identified as the cause of the attack.  During the second half of 1994 and into the early months of 1995 Aum made an effort to increase production of Sarin. The Satian 7 facility was a purpose-built Sarin factory, allegedly constructed from plans obtained in Russia. About 100 Aum members assisted in its construction. The problem with Satian 7 was that it never quite worked. Reminiscent of the German, American, British, and Soviet experiences, they had huge problems scaling up the production process from Tuschiya’s lab in the prefabricated building into an industrial process. Simple steps like stirring ingredients became difficult as steel and Teflon stirrers corroded and broke, fouling the equipment with impurities and metal particles. Pipes leaked. Every stage of the process suffered from contamination as by-products from the previous step were never quite refined out.  I was able to form my own impression of the Satian 7 facility. Some months after the attacks, working at the Pentagon, I was 190

THE TOKYO ATTACK shown diagrams and drawings from the facility. I was also able to solicit the advice of a handful of remaining US specialists with knowledge of Sarin manufacture. It struck us at the time that Satian 7 may have been intended to produce Sarin in a continuous industrial process rather than as specific batches. They had worked out the steps that would progress from basic precursors and end up with Sarin. But Sarin needs to be made step by step, in batches, as mentioned earlier in this book. Given the setup of the facility, there was no real way to achieve the volume of production that Aum desired.  By early March, the noose was drawing tight on Aum and Asahara. His rhetoric was becoming increasingly dire. Asahara had just published a book predicting imminent doomsday for all but his elect band of followers. The crisis came to a head on 16 March. Two Self Defence Force (Japan’s army in all but name) sergeants, both Aum members, had learned that the police had requested three hundred sets of chemical warfare suits and masks from the military. This meant only one thing. A raid was imminent. Asahara convened a crisis meeting in an Aum-owned restaurant. It was decided that an attack would occur the following Monday, 20 March.  There was a small glitch with this plan. There was no Sarin. The Satian 7 plant had never worked, so Tsuchiya would have to spend all weekend in his lab making as much Sarin as he could. Nor did Aum have any particular way of disseminating the Sarin. They would have to knock something together in a couple of days. One of the many reasons why more people did not die in the Tokyo Sarin attack was that it was less thought out than the Matsumoto attack.  The Supreme Leader gave the order on a Friday for an attack on the Monday morning, without any of the logistics being in place. His minions would just have to come up with something.  Tsuchiya was in a something of a panic: he had no Sarin. The illegal chemicals had been purged when the Satian 7 plant was  



TOXIC cleansed. He was therefore taken aback when Nakagawa produced several jugs of DF that he had secretly hidden earlier. Tsuchiya managed to make a low-quality batch of Sarin, with many impurities. He added the organic base N,N-Diethylamine (DEA) to try to neutralise the residual acid, which would likely eat through any containers. Tsuchiya threw in so much DEA, the solvent hexane, as well as an industrial chemical called acetonitrile, that the final batch of 6 to 7 litres of Sarin solution was seriously diluted. In the Tokyo Sarin, perhaps a little more than 2 litres of the blend were actually Sarin, and the rest consisted of by-products and additives.7  The cult also did not have a weapon or mechanism to disseminate the Sarin. A rather inelegant plan emerged. Tsuchiya filled thick plastic bags with the Sarin blend and heat-sealed them. Each team would carry several of these bags in a shopping bag. They would surround the bags with wadded newspaper, which would absorb the Sarin. The Aum attackers obtained umbrellas and sharpened the tips of each umbrella. The five attackers were to puncture the Sarin bags and exit the subway car as soon as possible, leaving the bags in the subway car so that the Sarin would leak out, soak into the newspaper, and evaporate.  The Tokyo Sarin attack was designed to disrupt the Japanese government, both in general terms and by targeting the Tokyo Metropolitan Police and the National Police Agency. The subway lines and specific trains were selected to deliberately target personnel from those agencies as they were on their way to work as part of their normal morning commute. The attack would be synchronised with the 8:30am shift change for police staff, which was also the period when upper management would be arriving for work. The time and place of this attack would, Aum felt, kill or injure enough police personnel to cause a major disruption in their ability to operate. Little or no thought was given to the subway employees or other members of the public. Haruki 192

THE TOKYO ATTACK Murakami’s book Underground describes the feelings of the attackers. Some of them claim to have had doubts and hesitations but went through with it because of their faith in their religion and leader. The hastily planned attack involved a tenperson team: five attackers and five getaway drivers who would be positioned in cars near station exits to allow the attackers to escape. Dr Hayashi, who was among the attackers, handed out syringes filled with atropine, should any of the attack team accidentally expose themselves.  One team would attack a southwest-bound train on the Hibiya Line. The attacker was Yasuo Hayashi, aged thirtyseven. One of the oldest members of the Ministry of Science and Technology, he had a background in artificial intelligence and had studied at Kogakuin University. Seeking religious enlightenment, he had frequented yoga ashrams in India and eventually joined the Aum cult. Hayashi volunteered, and received an extra ration of Sarin for the attack. Each team was to have two bags, but there was one bag left over. Murukami speculates that Hayashi needed to prove his loyalty, and had expressed a “tough guy” attitude uncommon among the attackers.8 Hayashi was assisted by Shigeo Sugimoto, who would serve as getaway driver. Sugimoto worked for the Internal Affairs Ministry and had spent time as Asahara’s chauffeur. He is alleged to have strangled an Aum member in the early 1990s. Hayashi boarded train A720S at Ueno station. When the train arrived at Akihibara station, Hayashi dropped his parcel of Sarin bags and newspaper onto the floor of the crowded train. Using his sharpened umbrella, he stabbed a number of holes in all three Sarin bags right before getting off the train. He stabbed his bags more times than any of the other four attackers. He got in the getaway car and was back to the Shibuya ajid at 8:30am.  The Sarin on train A720S started to cause problems. Sarin itself is odourless, but the various additives and by-products in  


TOXIC the Aum Sarin smelled odd. People in the carriage started to feel ill. At the next station, Kodenmacho, one of the passengers, assuming that the damp newspaper parcel was the problem, kicked it off onto the station platform. In the confined area of the small platform at Kodenmacho, many people were affected. Four victims died there. But there was a pool of Sarin on the floor of the carriage as the train continued its journey.  The next team also targeted the Hibiya Line. Toru Toyoda was the attacker. Born in 1968, he was an elite member of the “Chemical Brigade” in Aum’s ministry. Toyoda had a background in applied physics, having been at the University of Tokyo. He abandoned his doctoral studies to join Aum. Murukami describes him as highly motivated, with a serious demeanour. Toyoda had been part of the team trying to make Sarin in Satian 7. The getaway driver for this part of the attack was Katsuya Takahashi. Takahashi dropped off Toyoda at the Nakameguro station on the Hibiya line. Toyoda bought a newspaper and wrapped his two bags of Sarin in the pages of that morning’s Hochi Shimbun and boarded train B711T.  Another team was tasked with attacking the Chiyoda line. Ikuo Hayashi was one of the oldest members of the cult, born in 1947. (He is unrelated to the other Hayashi.) He had been trained as a medical doctor and had left a promising career as a heart specialist to join Aum in 1990. Supreme Leader Asahara had appointed him to lead the Ministry of Health in Aum’s fake “state”. His driver was Tomomitsu Niimi. Niimi was Aum’s “Minister of Internal Affairs” and had turned thirty-one only days before. He had been one of Asahara’s enforcers, having killed at least three people in the past. Niimi bought communist and Buddhist newspapers, and in the end chose Akahata, the newspaper of the Japanese Communist Party, to wrap the Sarin in. Hayashi boarded train A725K at Sendagi Station.  The final two teams targeted the Marunouchi line. Kenichi Hirose was the designated attacker, supported by driver Koichi 194

THE TOKYO ATTACK Kitamura. Hirose, aged thirty at the time, had been a top honours graduate in applied physics at Waseda University. He never took up the various serious offers of employment he received and joined Aum instead. He worked with Aum’s “Ministry of Science and Technology”, both on chemical weapons and firearms. Kitamura (not to be confused with the actor of a similar name) was in his mid twenties, and little is written of him. Hirose was driven by Kitamura to Yotsuya station, where he changed trains at Ikebukuro station to get to his appointed train.  The final attack team consisted of Masato Yokoyama and Kiyotaka Tonozaki. They were assigned to attack a Marunouchi line train. Yokoyama comes across as a human cipher, with few remarkable details known about his life. Born in 1963, he had a degree in applied physics and had worked for an electronics firm before joining the Aum cult. Up to this point, Yokoyama had had little to do with the cult’s chemical warfare efforts and had worked on making rifles in another branch of the cult’s operations. Tonozaki was equally indistinguishable, having worked in Aum’s Ministry of Construction. The pair argued over which newspaper to buy to wrap their pair of Sarin bags. Yokoyama then donned a wig and fake glasses as a disguise. Tonozaki dropped Yokoyama off at the subway station in Shinjuku. At 7:39am he boarded train B801.  The five Sarin attacks resulted in utter chaos. Commuters were fleeing trains and stations. Sick people were collapsing on the floor of trains and platforms. Affected victims spilled out onto the streets. Confused and muddled reports flooded in to police, fire department, ambulance service, and public transit command centres, often with contradictory information. Fifteen stations were affected. Some of the reporting was confused, as authorities originally thought they were dealing with an explosion or fire. Underequipped emergency personnel became part of the problem as they started to be affected by Sarin exposure.


TOXIC Many trains continued to run, discharging passengers into dangerous environments. It took a considerable period of time before the transit authority could understand the nature and scope of the problem and provide reasonable control measures. Only the attackers knew that it was Sarin.  Victims were having difficulties seeing or adjusting to daylight, due to miosis. Headaches were prevalent. People had difficulty breathing and were producing copious amounts of mucus. The more seriously affected were frothing at the mouth. Some vomited. Many had difficulty breathing. All of this led to frantic evacuations of stations, leading to a lot of physical traumas such as falls, sprained ankles, and related injuries. Strange and confused behaviour was widely noted. TV crews began to cover the chaos. People across Japan and the rest of the world began to see footage of people foaming at the mouth and staggering around in a confused state.  Over 100 ambulances evacuated hundreds of victims to area hospitals. Many thousands of others arrived at hospitals and clinics by other means. Over 3,000 victims were treated by hospitals and clinics, and approximately 490 were admitted to hospital. (Quoted figures on injuries vary from source to source.) Tokyo St. Luke’s hospital kept excellent records which have proved useful for further study.9 Responders in the field and hospital staff had significant problems with secondary contamination, as traces of Sarin were present on many people’s clothing. A number of minor to moderate Sarin exposures happened in places like ambulances and hospital treatment bays. Even people only exposed to Sarin vapour ended up “off-gassing” Sarin after the event.  Eight people died on the day, and four more subsequently died from their injuries. A number of people were “worried well” who had no signs of physical exposure to Sarin.10 A few may have had signs or symptoms from exposure to other contents of 196

THE TOKYO ATTACK the Sarin bags, such as the acetonitrile. Hospitals and emergency services did not readily identify Sarin as the culprit early on. Acetonitrile was suspected as the culprit, and indeed was present as a dilution agent. However, acetronitrile did not explain the signs and symptoms. Eventually, hospitals and police identified Sarin as the culprit, but only much later in the day.  Not every injury was obvious. Many people turned up at work, only to be told by co-workers that they were ill. A number of the accounts show unclear thinking, anxiety, and memory loss. Some people literally do not remember how they got to their places of work. Some only sought help later in the day. This is consistent with the neuro-psychiatric aspects of nerve agent exposure.  Although the Japanese police and security services had been lethargic up to this point, the identification of Sarin as the culprit, when put into context with the earlier Matsumoto findings, crystalized their response. Efficiency and expedience trumped the innate conservatism of the Japanese authorities. The entire weight of the Japanese state was employed against Aum. A nation-wide manhunt was instituted against the culprits. Aum premises were searched and a large volume of evidence was seized. The main cult compounds were raided by police wearing protective equipment. The leadership was arrested. Eventually, all of the perpetrators of the Sarin attack were arrested. Although the gears of Japanese justice grind very slowly compared to some other countries, the middle and upper management of Aum paid dearly for this escapade. All of the attackers and accomplices were eventually arrested and prosecuted, although the trial stretched out for many years in some cases. Many of the perpetrators, including Shoko Asahara himself, were eventually executed for their deeds. Aum itself survives, as a smaller group known as “Aleph”.  There were those (as always) who questioned the veracity of Aum’s involvement in the attacks. Most prominent among these


TOXIC were American academics, James Lewis and J. Gordon Melton, who flew to Japan and held a press conference claiming that Aum could not possibly have made nerve agents. It transpired that these claims were based on their examination of documents provided by Aum, but neither of them had any expertise in nerve agent science. Furthermore, the Washington Post disclosed11 that their trip to Japan had been funded by Aum.  There are many lessons that science and medicine can learn from a large cross-section of a civilian population exposed to a wide range of exposures to Sarin, ranging from very slight exposure to absolutely lethal concentrations. There are very many victims of Sarin in Iran and Iraq, but these people are largely inaccessible to study by scientists and scholars. Unlike the casualties during the Iran—Iraq war period, the Tokyo victims were seen quite rapidly in modern hospitals with modern diagnostic laboratories. Many medical samples were taken within a day of exposure. Most of the medical care was heavily documented. The Tokyo incident created a large body of scientific knowledge that is still very useful to this day. Previously, most studies had been on animals, with few human studies, most of which involved healthy young males. Questions such as “Can you tell, weeks after the fact, if someone was exposed to Sarin?”12 and “Does CPR work on a Sarin victim?”13 have been addressed by scientific work based on data from the Tokyo experience. The answer to both questions is “Yes, at least some of the time”.  The Tokyo incident also offered valuable insights into the neurological, psychological, and emotional aspects of exposure to nerve agents. The Aum attacks gave the world the chance to examine not just how Sarin affects the body, but also how it feels, both during and after exposure. There are both scientific studies and anecdotal accounts. Even given the reluctance of many people to speak of their experiences, the affected population in Tokyo was a rich data source for science. Some studies  


THE TOKYO ATTACK that focused on physical signs and symptoms experienced after the fact also asked questions about mental and emotional aspects, with the conclusions that many people experienced irritability and depression.14 Other studies specifically explored cognitive or emotional aspects, such as insomnia,15 depression,16 and posttraumatic stress disorder.17 Nightmares and hallucinations are described in Murukami’s book. The various clinical studies merely affirm what the anecdotal experience tells us. Many people, by no means everyone though, experienced wide-ranging mental and emotional effects, both on the day of the attack and for a long time after.  There are also many lessons that can be drawn from the casualty count. Only twelve people died from the attack. If Sarin is one of the most poisonous substances known to man, surely thousands should have died, not a dozen? The Tokyo attacks demonstrated that terrorists have the same problems as military specialists. Theoretical toxicology in a laboratory is one thing; successful delivery is another thing entirely. The delivery mechanism was incredibly poor and succeeded in giving a lethal dose to only a small number of people. In military terms, the “munition efficiency” of the dripping plastic bags was laughably poor. Things like spray tanks and artillery shells that had a good munition efficiency for Sarin had explosive or mechanical mechanisms to create an aerosol and were the result of laborious development and testing efforts.  The other significant conclusion has to do with the level of effort expended. The Aum experience with Sarin is sometimes cited as an example showing that non-state groups can make nerve agents. On the face of it, this assertion is technically correct. However, one needs to look at the overall level of effort involved. By operating as a state within a state, Aum’s chemical weapons programme was on a par with that of a small national programme. The budget, personnel, facilities, and raw materials


TOXIC were equivalent to a small or medium size country trying to do the same thing. In this way, it is an unfair comparison to consider Aum equal to some group operating in, say, Syrian refugee camps. One of the key points to remember is that, even given the massive effort and expenditure, Aum was still only able to make small quantities of Sarin. Tsuchiya was a competent expert who could make bench-top quantities of nerve agents. But despite a massive chemical engineering effort, Aum could neither scale up to any kind of large production nor could they purify their products. In fact, the only reason they managed to pull off the Tokyo attack was because they had hidden a small residual stock of DF left over from the Matsumoto effort.  A final lesson was that of resilience. Tokyo got back to business very quickly. Trains were taken out of service for cleaning, and Japan Self Defence Force soldiers cleansed the affected stations. Decontamination was executed with ruthless efficiency and the daily business of Tokyo was not disrupted for very long.




It stands to reason that chemicals that mess around with the function of nerve cells will have an effect on the brain. After all, the brain is the biggest cluster of nerve cells in the body. Is there a link between nerve agent exposure and mental illness? Reading the accounts in the Murakami book about the Tokyo incident certainly give one the idea that there is some reason to think that there is. Anecdotally, many people who worked in manufacturing and storage facilities in the US programme during the Cold War were not really considered “normal” by their friends and families. Then there is the aforementioned “Gulf War Syndrome.”  Reading about some, although not all, of the signs and symptoms of so-called “Gulf War Syndrome” leads me to think that at least some of it may derive from exposure to, if not nerve agents, then pre-treatment for nerve agents which was prevalent at the time. Some of the answers may lie not in military data about nerve gas attacks but in the history of pesticide use—pesticides being a far more common and widely used form of organophosphate and carbamate materials. Nerve


TOXIC agents do not just include the military agents, but also a variety of pesticides. One speculates that use of organophosphate pesticides might be linked to poor mental health in rural environments where such chemicals have been used. Is there a link between, say, sheep dip and rural suicides? Further research in this field may uncover some interesting information, but is beyond the scope of this book.  A brief examination of the scholarly literature shows some degree of correlation between mental health conditions and exposure to pesticides related to the nerve agents. There are a number of studies showing individual cases or small numbers of cases of neuropsychiatric problems after either acute or chronic exposure to these chemicals. Doctors in India describe a case where a woman had a manic episode days after accidental ingestion of chlorpyrifos.1 An article describes neuropsychiatric problems after chronic exposure to Malathion in Nepal.2 A search in the British Library shows dozens of such articles published over the last forty years.  But one thing that is within the scope of this book is human narratives of military nerve agent victims. There are living victims of nerve agents and they can tell us what it is like. With the help of New York Times journalist C. J. Chivers, I was able to find one such person, who was happy to talk.  I interviewed an American soldier who found a nerve agent artillery shell and who was exposed to its contents, likely Sarin. Michael Yandell was a young man from Tennessee. Like many of his generation, he enlisted in the US Army in September 2002, in the aftermath of 9/11. He entered the prestigious speciality of Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD), which has a lengthy period of training.  Yandell was assigned to the 752nd EOD Company, based in Pine Bluff Arsenal. His unit was deployed to Iraq on a half-year deployment from February to August 2004. EOD technicians  



THE PSYCHOLOGICAL EFFECTS OF NERVE AGENTS worked in small two person teams, and covered wide areas of responsibility, responding to incidents involving improvised explosive devices, unexploded or discovered military ordnance, and investigating explosions that had occurred. This is busy, stressful, and dangerous work. It is one of the most hazardous assignments in the Army.  In May, 2004, Yandell was working on a Forward Operating Base (FOB) near Baghdad. The other half of his two-man EOD team was Army Staff Sergeant James Burns. They shared EOD duties at the FOB with a small US Navy EOD team. Early in the morning on 15 May 2004, Burns and Yandell were dispatched to what had been reported as an explosion on Route Irish, one of the main routes out of Baghdad airport. Their response package consisted of Burns and Yandell in a truck with their EOD equipment, a few medics in their vehicle, and two trucks with a security element to protect the medics and technicians. They drove towards the site of the alleged explosion.  As was often the case, radio traffic gave an evolving picture of the situation. They were now advised of the possibility that the situation had a “secondary device.” A secondary device is some sort of hazardous device that is employed subsequent to an initial attack or explosion, often for the purposes of targeting the people responding to the initial incident. Arriving at the scene, Burns and Yandell saw what appeared to them to be something very similar, if not identical, to a 155mm artillery shell attached to a telephone wire. (It later turned out to be a 152mm artillery shell, the Soviet/Iraqi general equivalent to an 155mm artillery shell.) Old artillery shells were, and are, routinely used as explosive devices in Iraq. This shell was old and filthy. The original explosion had been quite small. Old, filthy shells are what EOD techs get used to seeing, and it was not obviously a chemical shell. Burns reckoned it looked like an illumination shell (basically a large flare) that he’d seen in a very similar incident some  


TOXIC weeks before. Burns and Yandell used their robot to assess the shell, and determined that it was not going to function, either as an explosive artillery shell on its own, or as an explosive IED. “There’s no IED mechanics to this thing anymore…it’s not going to explode. We’d seen where the fuse well had been blown out,” Yandell said to me. So, this shell might have been an IED, but wasn’t one any longer.  What they did not realise at the time was that this was a chemical shell, containing nerve agent. They reckoned that it was safe to pick up the shell, put it in the truck, and drive it back to their base, for eventual disposal on a demolition range. This was common practice, given that sniper fire was common in the area and they wanted to spend as little time exposed in the open as possible.  Yandell, the junior member of the pair, drove. Although they did not know it at the time, they started feeling the effects of nerve agent exposure. Michael recalls getting a sudden, severe headache. In itself, this wasn’t unusual enough to get them to worry in a desert environment. “We could have been dehydrated from before… We both didn’t think much of it until we both started getting confused.” Burns and Yandell’s conversation with each other was disjointed. They were confused and started to have difficulties seeing properly. Yandell’s recollection of how they actually got back to the FOB is foggy and he struggles to remember the fine details. “Maybe kind of a drunken feeling… sort of a swimmy headed feeling. I could still see. Losing focus would be a way to put it.” Confusion and partial memory loss are not uncommon symptoms, and many of the Tokyo accounts are vague on specific details. It was likely, Yandell says, that they would have gotten lost if they were not following the truck in front them in their four vehicle convoy.  They arrived back at the FOB. Burns, by his account related in the New York Times years later, was becoming quite uneasy of  


THE PSYCHOLOGICAL EFFECTS OF NERVE AGENTS this artillery round in the back of the truck. It had leaked liquid, which is not at all what an illumination shell should do. Yandell started to get agitated when he looked at himself in the mirror by the showers. His eye pupils had shrunk to almost nothing, which accounted for his difficulty seeing. The pair of them gave what Yandell describes as a confused and disjointed account to their three Navy EOD colleagues. Correctly suspecting that something was seriously awry, the Navy team persuaded Burns and Yandel to see the medical team on the FOB. Initially, the medics thought that these two EOD technicians were behaving very oddly, even possibly suspecting drug use. However, at least one of the medics who had accompanied them to the site of the chemical shell was there and vouched that they had just returned from a mission. The medics came to the correct conclusion that Burns and Yandell had been exposed to nerve agents.  Yandell described being intensely decontaminated in the showers for at least ten minutes. His eyes were flushed out. Eye drops containing atropine were administered. This counteracts the pinpointing of the pupils. The medical team deduced that they were not so acutely affected as to need injections of nerve agent antidote kits. Indeed, as they were walking and talking and breathing normally after a reasonable interval following the exposure, the dose in an antidote kit might have been too much for them. Blood samples taken at the time later confirmed that Burns and Yandell had been exposed to Sarin. The Navy EOD team followed correct procedures. They donned protective clothing and masks and safely packaged the artillery shell for later analysis. Mr Yandell was pronounced fit after several days under observation. It took a number of days for his vision to return to normal and the headaches to abate. “We went back to duty… I felt like I was up to it at the time.” Yandell doesn’t really fault the Army, as it seemed that there wasn’t much else that the Army could think of to do with them. “You’d think they’d want to do  



TOXIC some scientific stuff on us” was his general comment. Indeed, perhaps this was a scientific opportunity wasted.  Life changed for Michael. In his own words, from that point on he “just wasn’t right.” He suffered from insomnia and headaches, and the treatment he received for it was generic rather than specific to nerve agent exposure. Michael’s local medical care at the clinic at his base was rudimentary. “It was the kind of stuff, breathing exercises, that anyone could find on Google.” Although insomnia can have many causes, US military medical literature3 describes insomnia as a central nervous system symptom after nerve agent exposure.  Eventually, Yandell’s tour ended and he rotated back to Pine Bluff Arsenal with his unit. He got promoted to Sergeant quite quickly. Like every military EOD technician stationed in America, he did a lot of work in support of the US Secret Service as 2004 was a busy Presidential campaign year. However, in mid 2005, as his unit was preparing to deploy overseas again, Yandell described to me a gradual descent into mental illness. “I’ll be very frank, because I don’t keep any of this a secret any more.” Michael describes it as an “existential crisis” or even a “breakdown.” His superiors were helpful. A psychiatrist was quietly brought in. His commanders were trying to keep him on his job. However, local efforts did not help. He self-harmed in the autumn of 2005 and was hospitalised, ending the prospects of him deploying with the unit back to Iraq. It also put his career in peril. “This is the beginning of a new story…the Yandell might not be staying in the Army story.”  He was left in Pine Bluff with another NCO who also had medical issues. Much of this time, Michael was in a holding pattern and he was seeing a variety of medical providers. Several of them diagnosed him with PTSD. The limited scope of the medical facilities at Pine Bluff Arsenal meant that Yandell had to undertake long trips to places like Fort Sill, Oklahoma and Fort  


THE PSYCHOLOGICAL EFFECTS OF NERVE AGENTS Hood, Texas to see specialists. There was little continuity to his medical care and he often had to see a new doctor each time, having to explain his story from the beginning each time. “It all took on a whole surreal time…” Not a lot of the doctors took his story of being exposed to Sarin seriously. Eventually, he was sent to the Army’s Walter Reed hospital in Washington DC for serious consultations with some of the Army’s best neurological authorities. Finally, an Air Force doctor at Little Rock Air Force Base took it upon himself to ensure that the appropriate paperwork was completed. Eventually, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and medically discharged from the Army. But it took to the end of 2006 for this discharge to take place.  My lengthy conversation with Mr Yandell led to a serious discussion of the nature of the non-physical signs and symptoms of nerve agent poisoning. The way Michael felt on the day of the incident was driven by the changes in the chemistry in his nervous system. But when it is weeks, months, or years after the incident, with psychological symptoms that he felt were real; were they caused by nerve agent exposure? Many of the victims of the Tokyo attack claim that people did not feel well for long periods after the attack. But it is equally clear that there are people with signs and symptoms quite similar to Michael’s, or to various Tokyo victims, who have never in their life had an acute exposure to nerve agents. Post-Traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can give a person many, perhaps all, of the same subjective symptoms reported by Mr Yandell and various Tokyo victims. Certainly, a six-month deployment as an EOD technician in Iraq gives ample scope for situations that can cause PTSD.  Part of Michael’s experience, at least as it seemed to appear to me, was that he didn’t know how much was the nerve agent and how much was to do with other factors in his life. Could nerve agent exposure, itself a highly stressful occurrence, cause PTSD, or be an aggravating factor that makes the PTSD that was going to arise from a broad set of circumstances worse? Is it a force  



TOXIC multiplier for trauma? “In my experience, anecdotally, I can support that hypothesis,” Yandell told me.  I corresponded with Dr Newmark, the (now retired) Army neurologist. He highlights the issue quite well:  

It’s my anecdotal, non-quantitative impression that the commonest complaints of people who have been exposed are sleep disorders and headaches. The problem is that their spectrum of complaints is so similar to PTSD, not to mention postictal [the altered state of consciousness after an epileptic seizure] symptoms after someone has seized (in the patients who went so far as to develop seizures when they were exposed), that it has been very, very difficult to separate out any effects which are specific to organophosphate or nerve agent exposure from those effects which one could attribute either to cerebral hypoxia (in the severe exposures, often those with seizures associated) or just to PTSD.

 Is it PTSD? Is it nerve agent exposure? Is it brain damage from lack of oxygen, in the more serious exposure cases? It is not possible to tell merely by looking at the signs and symptoms. But the signs and symptoms are real and cause human suffering.  Despite all the drama, Michael has ended up in a better position than many. He bears no great animosity to the Army and feels that they did what they could with him. Talking to Yandell, one gets the sense that the Army was, institutionally, at a bit of a loss as to how to handle people in his situation. He was given a medical retirement from the Army and not merely a discharge, which was likely the best outcome for him. He’s received some follow-up care and has medical insurance. His medical retirement from the Army gives him more security in hard times than many.  

* * * Pre-treatment for Nerve Agents In the 1970s and 1980s, much medical research went into finding ways of reducing harm from nerve agent exposure. One way to 208

THE PSYCHOLOGICAL EFFECTS OF NERVE AGENTS do this is by so-called “pre-treatment” with drugs that reduce the ability of nerve agents to cause lasting harm. All of the military nerve agents described in this book are so-called “irreversible” AChE binders. They bind to AChE, and after a period of time, that bond becomes irreversible. But there are many “reversible” AChE binders as well. One of these is pyridostigmine, a chemical not dissimilar to the Calabar bean mentioned in the prologue. These binders lose their effect over time, releasing the bound AChE back into use. Also, the bond between AChE and the medicine is easily broken by oxime drugs.  The principle behind pre-treatment is simple. Giving someone a reasonable dose of reversible, mild nerve agent, like pyridostigmine, acts to tie up some AChE that cannot be bound with Sarin or similar irreversible nerve agents, as the AChE molecules cannot be bound twice. This creates a reserve of AChE that will return to service, either over the course of time as the drug wears off (pyridostigmine only lasts hours, not days) or by use of oxime drugs.  The protective benefit of this is mixed, and varies depending on the nerve agent involved. For agents with long “aging times” like Sarin, the benefit might be nominal, or even negative. But for agents like Soman with short aging times, pre-treatment might save lives. For this reason, pre-treatment was part of US defensive doctrine in the late Cold War, as much of the Soviet arsenal was Soman.  Many thousands of US and UK military personnel, as well as an indeterminate number of allied troops, took small doses of pyridostigmine during the lead-up to the liberation of Kuwait. Although the doses for nerve agent pre-treatment are well below that of some of pyridostigmine’s mainstream medical uses, side effects did occur. Many commentators link the widespread administration of this drug to recurring medical problems after the war. The issue remains unresolved, as there are many people


TOXIC who report symptoms who did not take pyridostigmine. There are also many people who took pyridostigmine who reported minimal or no symptoms.




Nerve agents faded out of public consciousness again after the Tokyo incident. Apart from old munitions like that found by Michael Yandell in Iraq, nerve agents were not used in war or by terrorists for over fifteen years. The world adopted chemical arms control by signing the Chemical Weapons Convention and joining the OPCW. Very few countries were hold-outs. The large chemical arsenals in the US and Russia were gradually being dismantled and demilitarised under OPCW supervision. However, events in 2012 and 2013 brought nerve agents back to the world’s attention.  The so-called “Arab Spring” brought a wave of demonstrations and unrest to a number of countries in the Arab world. In 2011 in Syria, violent crackdowns by the Syrian government on largely non-violent protesters escalated into civil war. The combatants have used chemical weapons including Sarin numerous times during the still-ongoing conflict. This notoriously brutal civil war did not start with nerve agents, but it escalated to that point over the course of several years. Much of what we now know about Syria’s chemical arsenal comes from revelations during and after various incidents from 2012 to date.1  


TOXIC  The Syrian state had long had a chemical warfare programme. It was one of the few states not to have adopted the Chemical Weapons Convention. The Syrian chemical warfare research, production, and resulting stockpile date to the early 1970s, when Syria and Egypt were briefly unified as a single state called the “United Arab Republic.” Like other Arab states in the region, the Ba’ath regime of Syria felt that chemical and biological weapons were needed as a counterbalance to Israel’s suspected nuclear bomb. Early in its history, the programme got significant help from the Egyptian chemical weapons programme, and possibly even from Germans in Egyptian employ. The latter is strictly rumour. However, Syria under the Assads gave refuge to Nazis after World War II. The convicted SS war criminal Alois Brunner, right-hand man to Eichmann, worked for the Syrian government for many years and died in Damascus.2  In the 1970s and 1980s, the programme received at least some assistance from Yugoslavians. The USSR provided technical information, assistance, and training, as Syria was considered a valuable ally during the Cold War. A report in 1993 alleged ties between Syrian and North Korean chemical warfare efforts.3  The Syrian chemical warfare programme is run by an organisation with the nondescript name “Scientific Study and Research Centre” (SSRC) which is organised into various crypticallynamed sub-elements named as numbered “institutes”, “branches”, or “units”. SSRC also runs a number of supposedly commercial companies that are actually fronts for its activities. These are based in various locations around Syria. The SSRC is involved in many types of secret work beyond chemical weapons, such as missile technology. Institute 3000 is responsible for chemical and biological weapons research. Underneath it is Branch 450, responsible for the actual production of agents and munitions.4  The agents were designed for a possible war with Israel. Indeed, Syrian chemical warfare advances caused a disproportion 


THE SYRIAN WAR ate shock in 1973. In the early 1970s, in the aftermath of the Nixon declarations on chemical warfare, the US Army abolished the Chemical Corps, the branch of the Army responsible for chemical defence. This brief era of premature optimism was rudely cut short by the Arab-Israeli war of 1973. The Israelis captured Soviet military equipment, such as air filters for tanks and protective clothing that showed that chemical warfare issues were being taken seriously.  The Syrian government decided in late 1982 that it needed its own production programme. By 1985, it was being reported in reputed defence publications that Syria had the capacity to manufacture Sarin. It is possible that the early stages of the programme also involved Tabun, and one reference in the early 1990s claims there was a Tabun production capability.5 By 2013, however, there was no evidence of contemporary Tabun manufacture.  In 2007, in conditions still shrouded in secrecy, an accident happened at a Syrian military facility near Aleppo.6 This base was trying to develop a chemical warhead for a Scud-C missile. Some kind of explosion dispersed chemical warfare agents and ended up killing fifteen Syrian military personnel. Interestingly, some Iranian technicians also allegedly died in the incident, showing possible ties between Iran (a famously and publicly anti-chemical warfare country) and the Syrian chemical warfare programme.  The Syrians had worked out the fundamentals of producing both Sarin and VX, but the accident suggests that they had some serious quality control and/or safety problems. They decided not to manufacture and store large quantities of nerve agent. Instead they would manufacture Sarin and VX quickly before use from the necessary components. Special mixing and filling machines were designed and fabricated for this purpose. Some were mobile so that mixing could be done close to the point of use or point of filling the weapons. The OPCW encountered some of these in a hangar at an airfield. As with other national chemical weapons


TOXIC programmes, Sarin was designed for immediate production of casualties and VX was intended for long-term contamination of terrain and equipment, such as airfields and ports in Israel. The majority of the munitions built were aerial bombs and warheads for Scud missiles. Older rocket warheads and artillery shells were also available.  As unrest escalated from civil disorder to outright internal conflict in Syria, several things became clear to many observers. First, it was evident that the Syrian civil war was not going to end quickly. Second, the structure of the war was becoming complex as there were many sides to the conflict, not just the regime and some sort of unified opposition. Third, most of the sides in the conflict were willing to engage in extreme brutality. It seemed that no level of atrocity was off the table. Fourth, the Assad regime was viewing the conflict, with some justification, as an existential crisis. Those of us who knew or strongly suspected that the Assad government had chemical weapons, including nerve agents, were worried that the war would escalate into the chemical arena. Numerous accusations began to fly, but in the heat and chaos of wartime Syria it was difficult to determine the veracity of any particular allegation.  Worries of chemical warfare were well-founded. But chemical warfare came incrementally, almost by stealth. The brutal nature of the war meant that some of the existing Syrian chemical weapons were not feasible for use in close-in fighting, due to their range constraints, both minimum and maximum. Longrange missiles designed to attack Israel were not suited for house to house fighting in urban areas. Various indigenous weapons were made by the regime to use nerve agents in ways not foreseen by the logic of 1980s-era Syria versus Israel conflict. The first efforts to use nerve agents were modest and improvised. They had an additional benefit of ambiguity, in that there could be room for dispute as to whether the Assad regime or someone else had used them. 214

THE SYRIAN WAR  In July 2012, the Syrian government issued public statements threatening to use chemical weapons to defend their regime. The American President Barack Obama responded by declaring, on 20 August 2012, that chemical warfare was a “red line” that Syria could not cross without provoking intervention by the rest of the world.  The first uses of nerve agents in early 2013 were ambiguous. One of the earliest incidents occurred in the early hours of 19 March 2013. A rocket containing Sarin was used in an attack at Khan al-Assal, about 12 kilometres west of Aleppo. Rebel forces had just seized control of a police academy nearby. The rocket landed shortly after 7am and a cloud of Sarin droplets drifted to the nearby neighbourhood of Haret al-Mazar. Accounts of the aftermath vary but around twenty to twenty-six people died and eighty-six to 120 people were made seriously ill in the incident. Recriminations began almost immediately, with each side claiming the other had carried out the attack. Some sources claimed chlorine had been used, but even the Syrian government’s own health ministry gave accounts7 that matched nerve agent use, not chlorine. Russia claimed to have samples and made the claim (long since debunked) that rebels had made the Sarin under “cottage industry” conditions. On the other side of the coin, the Americans had blood samples showing exposure to Sarin. At the time, the regime’s unambiguous responsibility for the incident was not clear. Indeed, part of the logic may have been to create a scenario with ambiguity, thus allowing plausible denial in future incidents.  While the finger-pointing over Khan al-Assal was going on, another attack occurred in Saraqib, in Idlib province. On 29 March 2013, a helicopter dropped three mysterious objects. This had to have been carried out by the regime because no other side in the conflict had helicopters. At least two of these grenade-type objects contained Sarin. A 52-year-old woman died  




TOXIC from exposure to Sarin, and her body was examined in Turkey. A UN report later confirmed the cause of death as nerve agent exposure. Her daughter-in-law had moderate nerve agent poisoning and recovered after treatment with atropine. Several others claimed symptoms consistent with nerve agent exposure. One of the Sarin “grenades” did not function properly and was captured as evidence by the French intelligence services.8 The device contained approximately 100 grams of Sarin. However, this was not disclosed at the time and only became public knowledge long after the incidents.  Over the following months, concern increased, and a joint UN-OPCW mission was assembled and equipped and sent to Syria to investigate the two incidents. While the team was in Damascus, a dramatic new set of nerve agent attacks took place. In August, 2013, all ambiguity was blown away.  During the early hours of 21 August 2013, the Syrian government perpetrated a massive nerve agent attack in the rebel-held outskirts of Damascus, in an area known as Ghouta. In the small hours of the morning, two areas, Moadamiyah and Zamalka, neither of which were under government control, were attacked by rockets. Almost immediately after the rocket attack, thousands of people, mostly civilians taking refuge in basement-level shelters, become violently ill. Unlike previous attacks, the Ghouta attacks were obvious and widely recorded on video, and the attack was circulated on social media almost immediately.  The Ghouta attack came in two waves. The first wave of the attack happened at about 2:30am in the Zamalka neighbourhood of East Ghouta. At least eight, possibly twelve or more 330mm rockets landed in a target zone 500 metres wide and 1,500 metres long. The weapon was the so-called UMLACA or Volcano rocket. This system is a 330mm diameter chemical warhead attached to a Soviet/Russian-style 122mm “GRAD” unguided artillery rocket. Each rocket contained at least 50 or  


THE SYRIAN WAR 60 litres of Sarin. The explosive charge was relatively small, as can be inferred from the relatively intact warheads that were seen at the impact sites. Many of the impact sites and rocket components were photographed and can be seen on open source intelligence sites such as Bellingcat. Conventional variants of this rocket system were used by Assad regime forces in other incidents prior to the Zamalka attack and were not used by other parties to the conflict.  The Moadamiyah neighbourhood in West Ghouta was attacked several hours later, at about 5am. The attack consisted of a volley of M14 140mm artillery rockets containing Sarin. These were either made in the Soviet Union or were made to Soviet specifications. Several sources claim that these rockets came from Egypt in the 1960s. Each rocket contained about 2.2kg of Sarin. The warhead mechanism for the 140mm rocket had an explosive bursting charge, which accounts for the fact that only small fragments of the payload section were recovered as evidence. Eyewitness accounts say four rockets hit near the Rawda mosque, and another three approximately 500 metres east.  Why Sarin? It causes casualties quickly, it is heavier than air, and it disappears quickly after use. Of the chemical warfare agents in the SSRC stable, Sarin was the only one that was nonpersistent and immediately acting. Using the more persistent agents in the Syrian arsenal (Mustard, VX, and possibly Soman) would be counterproductive. They would leave evidence that would last much longer, and would make re-occupying the territory more difficult due to contamination. After all, Assad’s military campaign aimed to reclaim territory from factions opposed to the central government.  The Ghouta attack was vicious. It occurred in the context of conventional shelling which forced non-combatants into shelters in cellars, concentrating civilians as targets for slaughter. In addition, the small hours of the morning are generally the best time


TOXIC for attacks with non-persistent nerve agents as atmospheric conditions are more stable and the surface temperatures are low. These factors tend to keep the nerve agent vapours lying around at ground level longer than during the heat of the day. At some point in the evening, the conventional shelling turned into chemical shelling. Witness accounts are eerily similar to those from the First World War and the Iran—Iraq War in that they refer to explosions being muffled or merely loud thuds or thumps instead of the sharp explosions of conventional bombs. After the chemical attack, which was likely to flush people out of shelter, conventional shelling resumed.  Some of the underground shelters became abattoirs. Perhaps 1,400 or 1,500 people died. Estimates of fatalities range from 281 (a French intelligence estimate) up to 1,729 (Free Syrian Army), although most hover around 1,400. Thousands more were made ill and had little recourse to the necessary medical assistance. Médecins Sans Frontières estimated that 3,600 people were made ill and sought treatment at three medical facilities. It is likely that a much larger number of people had mild to moderate exposure to nerve agents and were not treated. It is not known how many people died from conventional munitions that exploited the chaos and confusion caused by the chemical attack.  Ameenah Sawwan was a volunteer who helped out at an improvised field hospital. She dodged the conventional high explosive shells that were the follow-on to the Sarin attack to go to work at her hospital. She reported queues of victims who were spasming violently and foaming at the mouth. She witnessed attempts at improvised decontamination, and saw failed efforts at CPR. Sawwan herself had mild exposure to Sarin and felt some effects. A whole family died in front of her. Consistent with the Tokyo example, some people were terribly confused. Sawwan’s best friend was hallucinating and was not lucid for over ten days.9 Many hours of video footage were uploaded to social media sites. These made for grim viewing.  


THE SYRIAN WAR  Denials and recriminations began almost immediately. And almost immediately, alternative theories were emerging to explain the Ghouta incident. (New conspiracy theories continue to emerge to this day.) Some of these theories sought to deny that Sarin had been used. Other theories sought to deflect blame for its use onto one or more parties other than the Syrian state. Yet others were so odd that they defied categorization. One theory alleged that the scenes were staged, with the bodies belonging to those who had been kidnapped elsewhere and killed by carbon monoxide. Many theories centred around rebel factions having killed themselves with the attack. Some conspiracy theorists and outright propagandists blamed Saudi Arabia, Turkey, or even the BBC for the attack.  Many of the conspiracy theories rely on someone other than the Syrian state having the ability to manufacture a large quantity of Sarin. Indeed, Bashar Assad himself referred to Sarin erroneously as “kitchen gas”, claiming that it could easily be made in a kitchen. If readers have come this far in this book and still believe that Sarin, particularly in a large amount, possibly as much as a tonne, such as was used in Ghouta, is easily made, this author has not done his job properly.  The timing of the Ghouta attacks was fortuitous from the perspective of chemical warfare forensics. A UN mission, led by Swedish expert Ake Sellstrom and staffed with experts from the World Health Organisation and the OPCW, arrived in Damascus only a few days before the Ghouta attack, with the intent of investigating the two earlier incidents. At the time, the OPCW was not allowed to assess blame. It could only provide the technical details, leaving that particular task to others.  After much negotiation with the Syrian government and several false starts, the UN mission was able to collect evidence in the field. They interviewed witnesses, visited hospitals, and took numerous photographs. Biomedical and environmental samples


TOXIC were collected, catalogued, and packaged. On 31 August, the UN mission left with their samples. These samples were sent for analysis in accredited laboratories in Sweden and Finland.  Soon, actual forensic fact started to cut through the web of denial, disinformation, and conspiracy theories. An interim report was released on 16 September 2013, and it was damning in its assessment.10 The appendices of the report summarised the results of the analysis of thirty environmental samples from Ghouta and blood samples from thirty-four victims. The report confirmed that Sarin was used. Sarin and various Sarin-specific by-products were found in the environmental samples, debunking the conspiracy theories which insisted that Sarin was not used. A further, more detailed report was published at the end of the year, confirming the results of the earlier report.  What the 16 September report could not do was blame anyone for the attacks. It was up to the rest of the world to look at the report and make up its mind. This left room for nonsense theories and deliberate disinformation. Russia and Iran, both of whom backed the Assad regime, had a vested interest in pushing the blame for chemical warfare onto other parties.  The fact that people were more exercised about the use, alleged or proven, of Sarin than they were about murders of children by conventional means showed that chemical warfare still touched a special nerve. Chemical warfare was considered beyond the pale in a way that even shelling and bombing civilians somehow wasn’t. Perhaps the Ghouta attack had been a deliberate attempt to push the political envelope. If international response had been a bit less robust, perhaps it would’ve been taken as a message that Assad could use Sarin with impunity.  As it was, the response was robust enough—just—to have an effect. The uproar following the Ghouta attacks deterred the Syrian government. A handful of dead people here and there in the earlier incidents could be brushed side, amid the blatant war  




THE SYRIAN WAR crimes and crimes against humanity ubiquitous in the war. But a thousand people dying on YouTube were harder to ignore. After decades of denials, Syria admitted to having an offensive chemical warfare programme. They agreed to sign the CWC and join the OPCW. The Syrian state had to open its doors to OPCW inspectors and declare its chemical warfare agents, manufacturing sites, and weapon systems.  The OPCW began a programme to destroy Syria’s declared chemical weapons. 1,230 unfilled chemical munitions were destroyed. 1,300 tons of chemicals were declared, mostly Sulfur Mustard and various precursors for Sarin and VX. Various intermediate and precursor chemicals were disposed of by commercial contractors. But Sulfur Mustard and a stockpile of DF, the Sarin precursor, were not shipped off to contractors. After much discussion, a US ship, the MV Cape Ray, was outfitted with two “Field Deployable Hydrolysis Systems” from the US Army. US Army civilian technicians operated these systems and destroyed the Mustard and DF at sea in 2014.  Even though the UN mission did not attribute blame in the Ghouta attacks, others, including this author, pieced together the puzzle. Eventually, enough evidence leached out into the public domain to prove that the Syrian state carried out the Ghouta attacks. The German intelligence service, the BND, had intercepted phone calls that incriminated the Syrian government, and this intelligence information made its way into the press following a briefing to German government officials.11 Evidently, the use of Sarin caused a panic even among pro-Assad forces, as they hadn’t been warned. But the bulk of the case against Assad’s government came from so-called “open source” freely available information.  A large open-source intelligence effort coalesced around the Brown Moses blog. A months-long effort to analyse every frame of video and every possible photograph yielded a lot of information about the attack. The known impact sites were geolocated  



TOXIC and examined in detail, as were hundreds of images of rocket fragments and components. The rockets were crucial pieces of evidence that implicated the Syrian government. Among thousands of videos and photographs of the war, not a single picture or frame of video showed any elements other than the Syrian state using the Volcano rockets.  The characteristics of the rockets were analysed in depth by Eliot Higgins. The possible range of the Volcano rocket was estimated, based on known characteristics of the “Grad” 122mm rocket and estimates of the weight and rather inelegant ballistic characteristics of the Volcano. (It is, basically, a barrel on a stick.) By looking at the shape of the impact craters and the orientation of the rocket debris, Higgins and others were able to roughly estimate the direction of travel of the rockets. A detailed effort looked at what terrain was and was not under the control of proAssad forces on the night of 21 August. It was then merely a matter of drawing circles on the map. This exercise led to an estimated launch position that was under control of the Syrian government’s infamous Air Force intelligence service.  The size of the impact area and the number of rockets involved meant that the overall size of the attack could be calculated. Twelve Volcanoes times sixty litres each adds up to a lot of Sarin. Hundreds of kilograms of Sarin were used, possibly as much as a ton. This meant that a serious industrial effort was needed. One simply does not knock up a ton of Sarin in improvised conditions and with no access to sophisticated equipment and expertise. The US journalist Seymour Hersh’s assertion that Syrian Sarin was made by combining “a couple of inert chemicals”12 does not hold up.  Although the UN mission’s report could not lay blame, it was riddled with clues that pointed at the Assad government. There were many chemicals mentioned in the reports, not just Sarin. Some, like isopropyl methylphosphonic acid (IMPA), are Sarin  


THE SYRIAN WAR degradation products, i.e. things into which Sarin breaks down in the open environment. IMPA has no industrial or commercial use and comes from Sarin coming into contact with water. It is as good a fingerprint of Sarin use as Sarin itself. DIMP was found too, and DIMP is an almost inevitable by-product of making Sarin.  There were other interesting chemicals reported by the laboratories. One of the chemicals was hexafluorophosphate (PF6). It was found on some of the fragments of the rockets. PF6 has a few industrial uses, but it is out of place on a bolt taken from a rocket containing Sarin. But PF6 occurs as a by-product in Sarin manufacturing if a specific step is taken. Part of the manufacture of Sarin, as discussed in earlier chapters, is the manufacture of DF from DC. There are several ways to add fluorine to DC to get DF. The existence of PF6 in Sarin helps to indicate the exact process used to make the DF.  Another chemical that was in the samples was hexamine. Hexamine was originally a head-scratcher. Why was it interesting? More importantly, why was it there? The results showed that pretty much every sample which had liquid Sarin or logical Sarin degradation products contained hexamine. Why was hexamine in the Sarin? Hexamine is commonly used as an anticorrosion additive in things like paint, as an intermediate ingredient in the manufacture of certain types of explosives, and as a cooking fuel. Up until 2013, there had been no instances of its use in nerve agent manufacture.  Hexamine came up again in an OPCW document. In November 2013, the OPCW issued a “Request Expression of Interest” document13 as part of the administrative process for contracting out the disposal of miscellaneous chemicals declared by Syria to the OPCW. Among the various chemicals listed for disposal was 80 tons of hexamine. But hexamine is not a CWC-scheduled chemical. So, why was the OPCW inter 




TOXIC ested in it? The Syrian government had declared 80 tons of hexamine to the OPCW. There was hexamine in the Syrian government’s chemical weapons programme. There was hexamine all over the target zones.  It turns out that hexamine is useful as an acid scavenger in Sarin. Readers will remember that residual HF acid has always been a problem in Sarin manufacture, so much so that the United States and the USSR went to great lengths to re-engineer their processes so that they had HCl instead of HF to deal with. Hexamine reacts with HF. One molecule of hexamine can latch onto up to four molecules of HF. Hexamine is a whitish crystalline solid. It is not very soluble in the Sarin or the precursors, but that turns out to not matter so much. It works just fine as an acid scavenger in a slurry. Hexamine was a bit of a smoking gun that tied the whole story together. It was Assad’s Sarin that murdered a thousand or more people in Ghouta in August 2013.  Hexamine-denial became a strand of Syrian conspiracy theories. Despite the fact that numerous chemists and chemical engineers could easily understand and explain how hexamine could be used to reduce HF acid, some critics of mainstream thinking went to great lengths to claim hexamine was a red herring. The most prominent of these critics was Dr Ted Postol, a physicist and retired professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Postol engaged in a lengthy debate with me on the subject. However, Postol has never been able to substantiate his statements to the satisfaction of technical authorities in this field.  Syria behaved slightly better after joining the CWC and OPCW. But not for very long. Much, but not all, of its chemical warfare infrastructure had been taken away. Instead of nerve agents, the regime made (and continues to make) prolific use of chlorine, a much less deadly, but still nasty chemical. Syria’s widespread use of chlorine seemed not to attract the same level of international condemnation as Sarin. It seemed, in 2014,  






THE SYRIAN WAR that at least nerve agents had been taken off the table in Syria. As with most positive developments in Syria, it was too good to be true.  Several years later, Sarin reared its ugly head again. The Syrian Air Force dropped at least one chemical bomb shortly after 6:30am local time near the town of Khan Shaykhun. One bomb landed in a road, leaving a crater. The bomb behaved exactly as an aerial Sarin bomb should. It detonated at surface level, leaving a bit of a crater. The crater was consistent with the size of bursting charge normally used for a bomb that size. The explosion turned a large fraction of the liquid Sarin into an aerosol, which drifted with the wind. Some Sarin remained in the crater, but would have evaporated rather quickly, in a matter of hours, or reacted with moisture in the soil and degraded into acids.  Dozens of people were killed and hundreds were made ill. As with Ghouta, exact numbers vary depending on the source. As with Ghouta, videos of victims were quickly uploaded on social media. Doctors and medics reported signs and symptoms consistent with nerve agent exposure, including the tell-tale pinpoint pupils. Possibly as many as 100 people died in the incident. Many were women or children.  By this point, the once ad hoc open source work of “Brown Moses” had evolved into a finely tuned open source intelligence analysis operation known as Bellingcat. Various efforts, both at Bellingcat and independent of Bellingcat leaped into action to analyse the Khan Shaykhun attack. Pictures and videos were analysed and Bellingcat analysts, including this author, were quick to dissect the incident.  A network of aircraft spotters called “Syria Sentry” noted that an SU-22 took off at 6:26am local time from a Syrian air force base in Homs. At around 6:30am on 4 April 2017, a Syrian air force SU-22 fighter jet dropped at least one chemical bomb near the town of Khan Shaykhun, in the Idlib governate of Syria.  


TOXIC Bellingcat was able to gain a lot of information from people in and around the affected area, and to examine, once again, gruesome videos. It was looking very much like Sarin again.  As with Ghouta, the denials, counterclaims, and conspiracy theories were launched within hours of the bombing. Russia claimed that the Syrian Air Force had bombed a warehouse containing weapons. This claim would provoke conspiracy theories that the Sarin resulted from binary components being detonated by accident. But bombing the binary components of Sarin—DF and pure isopropyl alcohol—does not result in the production of Sarin. Both are actually quite flammable on their own. If anything, bombing a warehouse with both components is a recipe for a massive fireball that will burn up the whole lot. It is akin to throwing an egg and butter out of the window and expecting to find an omelette on the pavement. Furthermore, Kareem Shaheen, a journalist writing for The Guardian, visited the area shortly after the attack. He found that the warehouse in question had not been recently bombed and had in fact been abandoned for some time.14  Eventually, the international community was able to analyse samples from Khan Shaykhun. Environmental samples were smuggled out of the attack site. Some of these were obtained by the Syrian government itself. International inspectors were able to attend autopsies of victims and collect biomedical samples from other victims of the attack. Dead birds and the hair of a dead goat were examined. Samples were examined in two independent laboratories in the OPCW’s network. A search of the debris from the site revealed an object that turned out to be the filler cap of a chemical bomb designed in the same way as a comparable Soviet-era chemical bomb.15  The laboratory results were published in summary form by the OPCW16 in June 2017. The samples contained Sarin and Sarin decomposition products. They contained the same additives (e.g. hexamine) and impurities as the nerve agent used in 226

THE SYRIAN WAR the Ghouta attack. The Sarin was made by the same methods as that in the Syrian state arsenal, which had been inspected in 2013 by the OPCW. The Khan Shaykhun, Ghouta, and Khan al-Assal Sarin matched with chemicals seized by the OPCW in late 2013 and early 2014.17 The forensic data test formed the foundation of a report by the OPCW-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism in October 2017, which firmly laid blame for the Khan Shaykhun attack on the Assad government. The UN-OPCW mission was clear in its language:  

In light of the marker chemicals identified in the DF and the Sarin, which are believed to be unique, the Mechanism concludes that the precursor chemical DF, which is necessary to produce binary Sarin, is very likely to have originated from the Syrian Arab Republic.18

 The French government made a related announcement. They let it be known that they had actually obtained one of the devices from the 2013 al-Saraqeb incident.19 This device had the unique Sarin-hexamine blend. (Surely, this revelatory evidence would have come in handy a few years earlier.) The chemistry, when combined with the fact that the delivery device was an aerial bomb in a conflict in which only one side had an air force, firmly put the blame on Assad.  As before, the drumbeat of conspiracy theory weirdness has not been silenced, and continues to this day. Some theories hinged on the belief that people in and near the crater would be killed days after the attack. A notorious photograph showed a person in sandals near the alleged crater. However, Sarin is nonpersistent. Sarin in this particular environment would have evaporated within hours, except for trace quantities absorbed into soil particles. Additional theories denigrated the “White Helmets”— the Syrian civil defence group that responded, for having inferior protective equipment. However, these responders were only in a position to receive secondary exposure after the fact. Even then, some of them suffered from nerve agent exposure.


TOXIC  During the various investigations into Khan Shaykhun, it became evident that a lesser-publicised attack in al-Lataminah a few days earlier, on 30 March, had also used Sarin. Victims were seen with similar signs and symptoms, and the OPCW later confirmed in June 2018 that the al-Lataminah attack had also involved Sarin.  The Khan Shaykhun and al-Lataminah attacks proved that Bashar Assad’s government still maintained the ability to make and use nerve agents. Their willingness and ability to use chemical warfare agents continues, principally with chlorine, regardless of the fact that Syria joined the OPCW. But Khan Shaykhun showed that their declarations with regard to nerve agents had been lies.  International reaction to Khan Shaykhun was firm. The US attacked the Syrian air base at Shayrat, from which the attack had been launched. Fifty-nine Tomahawk cruise missiles were launched from the USS Porter and USS Ross, US naval warships in the Mediterranean. Some Syrian aircraft were damaged or destroyed in the attack. Overall damage to the base was only moderate, given that Syrian aircraft took off on combat missions within a day of the attack. The US government also placed sanctions on a large list of named individuals associated with the SSRC.  There was, inevitably, a diplomatic outcry that resulted in very little concrete action being undertaken. Khan Shaykhun is, as of writing, the last proven Syrian use of nerve agents. However, chemical attacks using chlorine continue. A particularly vicious attack occurred in Douma, in southwest Syria, on 7 April 2018. At the time, some alleged that nerve agents were involved, but it transpired that the attack used large amounts of chlorine. It makes little operational sense to combine chlorine and Sarin in the same attack. A later OPCW investigation and report20 showed that chlorine was used in the Douma attack, not nerve agents. This fact was used selectively by propagandists and con 




THE SYRIAN WAR spiracy theorists to attempt to deny that any chemical weapons were used in the attack at all.  However, the Douma attack did goad the West into punitive attacks. On 14 April 2018, US, French, and UK forces launched a coordinated series of missile attacks. A massive US strike consisting of 57 Tomahawk and 19 JASSM missiles caused heavy damage to the Syrian SSRC chemical and biological research complex in Barzah, in the Damascus area. A combined volley of US, French, and British missiles also damaged an alleged chemical weapons storage complex at Him Shanshar, located west of Homs. The extent to which active chemical warfare efforts at these sites was actually ongoing at the time of the strike is a matter of some debate. The Barzah complex had been inspected by the OPCW in November 2017 and it had been reported that no prohibited activities were ongoing. Of course, a lot can change in six months.  One question that comes up repeatedly in discourse on the Syrian war is “Why would Assad bother with chemical weapons?” This leads to conspiracy and denial narratives like “Assad is winning the war—he has nothing to gain from this, so it must be a false-flag to make him look bad.” However, there is both military and political logic to the use of chemical weapons, including Sarin, in Syria. Two articles explore both the tactical and strategic aspects of Assad’s chemical war efforts. Luke O’Brien and Aaron Stein point out21 that agents such as chlorine and Sarin are more effective at targeting underground bunkers and tunnels than unguided munitions. In attacking urban areas, there are advantages to a weapon that is heavier than air. Chemical weapons can flush out people from shelter, thus making them more vulnerable to attack by cheap conventional munitions. It could take hundreds of artillery shells to flatten a building, and it may leave improvised bunkers in the cellar untouched. But a single Volcano rocket full of Sarin or barrel bomb of chlorine could  


TOXIC force the occupants out onto the street, where only a handful of artillery shells would finish them off.  Chemical weapons also have their own dark logic as part of a broader military strategy against enemies of the state. Tobias Schneider and Theresa Lütkefend published an interesting paper22 in 2019 on the overall logic of Assad’s chemical campaign. They point out that chemical weapons make sense in the mind of a tyrant. Chemical weapons are part of a broader campaign to make areas outside of Assad’s control uninhabitable. In this context, chemical weapons are like bombing hospitals and attacking food and water supplies. It is part of a “draining the sea” approach that punishes people for living in rebelling regions. The conspiracy theorists and denialists often refuse to see the logic that a person who drops a bomb on a hospital will also drop Sarin on an apartment building. Few of the Assad regime’s chemical attacks have been against front-line fighters. They have been behind the lines of active combat and have targeted civilians more than combatants. This lends credence to this “draining the sea” theory of employment of Sarin and chlorine.  At the time of writing, the Syrian war continues. The Assad regime, although much depleted, appears to be creaking towards a victory. The story of nerve agents in Syria may be over or it may not. Thousands of people are already affected, many of whom will have long-term problems. One cannot attribute the refugee crisis in the region merely to chemical warfare, but chemical warfare certainly adds to the long list of problems causing people to flee their homes. The spill-over effects of this refugee crisis have caused political problems elsewhere in the region and in Europe as the fundamental underlying problem, the Syrian civil war, continues to burn.




Nerve agents have re-appeared in recent years as a poison for specific acts of assassination. Several illustrative cases show that nerve agents are not just for acts of chemical warfare or indiscriminate large-scale terrorism. They can be targeted quite specifically.  In early February 2017, a man travelling under the name of Kim Chol travelled from Macau to the Malaysian resort island of Langkawi. On 13 February, “Kim Chol” was returning to Macau through Kuala Lumpur International Airport. A woman grabbed him from behind and splashed liquid in his face. Another woman covered his face with a cloth that was damp with some sort of liquid. Mr. Chol reported the incident to airport security staff. Shortly thereafter, the man felt very ill. He sought help at the airport’s medical clinic, where a doctor and nurse attended to him. Kim Chol had difficulty breathing, displayed pinpointed pupils, and was sweating and salivating profusely, according to the medical team’s later testimony.1 Despite medical care and administration of atropine, the victim died on the way to a local hospital.  



TOXIC  This situation became even more complex upon investigation. “Kim Chol” was actually Kim Jong Nam, the forty-fiveyear-old brother of Kim Jong Un, leader of North Korea and son of the previous leader, Kim Jong Il. His rucksack contained approximately $100,000.2 Toxicology tests showed that Kim Jong Nam had a very low acetylcholinesterase count. Most concerning of all was analysis by the Malaysian government’s laboratory which indicated that the material smeared on his face was VX. It was later revealed that Kim Jong Nam’s bag also contained twelve vials of atropine, a strong indication that he feared such an occurrence.3  The two young women who applied the VX were quickly identified from surveillance footage. Doan Thi Huong, a twentyeight-year-old Vietnamese woman and Siti Aisyah, a twentyfive-year-old Indonesian woman, were both arrested for the murder. It became abundantly clear to most observers that neither woman had made or procured the VX on their own. Both Huong and Aisyah had been recruited under false pretences and claimed that they thought they were participating in a prank for a television show. Although both were arrested, neither of the two women was the mastermind behind the plot or the source of the nerve agent. They had evidently been selected because they were naïve and easily duped. The North Korean intelligence services were behind this chemical murder.  Commentators in both mainstream journalism and social media immediately asked questions. The most pressing one was why the perpetrators had not died from their proximity to the nerve agent. Although the full scenario remains unclear, it appears that the contact time was short. They only had a limited exposure to VX, which was on their hands. Absorption of VX through skin alone is very slow. Only one or two percent of the VX is absorbed per hour. It is also possible that they had some protection. Even a thin layer of some sort of protective  


ASSASSINATIONS liquid, such as petroleum jelly (Vaseline), will slow down the absorption of VX through skin. It also seems likely that they quickly washed their hands. At least one of the attackers, Ms Huong, was reported to have been ill after the attack and was seen on camera holding her hands up away from herself on the way to a restroom to wash.4  By comparison, the victim had direct contact of the agent through his nose, eyes, and mouth. This provides for far faster absorption into the system, as some percentage of this will be inhaled, even if a very small amount. Some of this will come into contact with mucous membranes, which provide far less protection than skin and subcutaneous fat. The poison worked in minutes.  One hypothesis that continues to circulate about the Kuala Lumpur incident is that it somehow involved VX in binary form. The general theory is that one person had one binary component of VX on their hands and the other person had the other component. This actually does not make sense given the reports from the scene. The two components of binary VX are the chemical QL and elemental sulfur in powder form. The elemental sulfur is a bright yellow powder. The QL-sulfur reaction requires a lot of mixing and creates much heat. QL is a liquid that reacts with water and has a strong fishy smell. Any sort of moisture in or near the binary VX reaction can lead to flame and explosion, as a hydrolysis product of QL has a flash point of only 28° C and an autoignition temperature of 40° C. There would have been yellow stains on the people involved, as well as burns. No burns were reported, no fishy smell either, and nor was any evidence of a bright yellow powder reported.  This incident had few ramifications beyond confirming that the North Korean state can make nerve agents. This has been widely believed for decades, so it was not a revelation. Whether North Korea could mass produce nerve agents is still unknown because the capability to produce laboratory quantities for assas 


TOXIC sinations is not the same thing. North Korea was considered an outlaw state before the attack, and this murder merely confirmed minds on that subject.  A year later, an attempted assassination with much broader implications occurred.  In early 2018, the world’s attention was drawn to the United Kingdom. A man most people had never heard of, and his daughter, were both sick in a hospital with nerve agent poisoning. Sergei Skripal was not a household name. He lived in a normal house in the town of Salisbury, in Wiltshire, and made no great effort to hide from public life, although he generally kept a low profile.  A strange set of events led to this man and his daughter ending up in hospital. On 2 March 2018, two Russian men arrived on a flight from Moscow and passed through customs and immigration at London’s Gatwick Airport. They both appeared to be about forty years old and travelled on passports with the names Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Bushirov. They travelled into the capital, where they checked into a room at a budget hotel called City Stay Hotel in Bow, in East London. On 3 March, the pair travelled by train to Salisbury. It should be noted that Bow is not exactly convenient for travel to Salisbury, as it is on the opposite side of the vast capital to Salisbury. The team travelled into London to travel out of London.  Camera footage of them has been recovered. The CCTV evidence now available shows the pair heading away from the city centre. They went up the Wilton road, turning left at the bottom of the station car park, instead of right as tourists always do. The Cathedral spire is clearly visible from the station entrance. They returned to the train station, and then to London. The next day, the pair inexplicably made another visit to Salisbury, where cameras once again captured them leaving the station. Again, they turned left and went under the rail tracks, walking away from the  



ASSASSINATIONS city centre. They returned to the station, took the train to London, and then flew back to Moscow. At the time, their visit was not remarked upon or noticed by anyone of importance. At some point on their second visit, they applied a small amount of the Novichok nerve agent A-234 to the door handle at Sergei Skripal’s house.  On 3 March, a Russian woman in her mid thirties got off a plane from Moscow and travelled to Salisbury. She arrived at an unremarkable address in an unremarkable normal suburban neighbourhood outside the town centre, at the end of a cul-desac on Christie Miller Road. In fact, if you were to walk there from the station, you’d turn left at the bottom of the station and go under the tracks. I walked it myself in 2019 and it took me about twenty-five minutes. Her father, a man in his sixties, lived there.  The father and daughter stayed in the house the morning of Sunday 4 March. Early that afternoon, they travelled by car to Salisbury’s centre. They parked their car at the “Maltings” car park in the city centre then walked to the nearby Bishop’s Mill pub. At approximately 2:20 pm they arrived at Zizzi, an Italian restaurant, where they ate lunch. The man had been agitated, even angry, for some reason, when he paid his bill and left at 3:35pm. They went to sit on a nearby park bench, not far from the local library. All of these places are within a few minutes’ walk of each other. They brought bread with them to feed the ducks.  Shortly after 4pm, the pair were in a state of ill health. The weather was cold, but both of them were sweating profusely, as if they had a fever. The man had difficulty seeing. The woman fell over and slumped to the ground. The man stared at the sky. People passing by assumed, wrongly, that these were two drug addicts. The city centre of Salisbury has seen drug overdoses and a wide variety of people using drugs. However, the sight of the  



TOXIC woman slumped on the ground was too much. Someone called the paramedics.  Two women were passing by. One was a senior nurse in the British Army and the other was a doctor. It was clear to them that the two victims were dying. Paramedics were on the scene, police officers too. The victims had pinpointed eye pupils. They could not breathe very well. Their pulse and blood pressure dropped. The paramedics assumed that the couple were suffering from an overdose of opioids, like fentanyl or heroin. Many of the clinical signs were there so accordingly they proceeded with treatment. It is likely that they administered naloxone, a specific opioid antagonist which directly counteracts opioid overdoses. This would have had no effect in this scenario. But the paramedics definitely administered another drug, atropine, already well known to the readers of this book. Atropine is a standard treatment for bradycardia—low heart rate. In retrospect, this drug was lifesaving.  It was a slow afternoon in Salisbury, so police detectives turned up too. The man and woman were transported by ambulance to Salisbury District Hospital. It is not clear whether it was still while the couple were being treated near the park bench, while they were en route, or in the hospital, but the police went through their personal effects and identified the victims. The man was named Sergei Skripal and the woman was his daughter, Yulia Skripal. When these names were entered into the computer database by the police, the entire system screamed red. Sergei Skripal was well known to the British security services.  Sergei Skripal had been an officer in the GRU, the Soviet Union’s and then Russia’s military intelligence service. He served in Afghanistan. As an intelligence officer operating under diplomatic cover, Skripal had overseas postings in Malta and Spain. In 1995, he was recruited to spy for MI-6, the British foreign intelligence service. He was eventually caught by Russia and sentenced 236

ASSASSINATIONS to thirteen years in prison in 2006. The Skripal Files by the BBC journalist Mark Urban is a thorough account of the life of Sergei Skripal, for those seeking a deeper treatment of the subject. At the time of writing, a second and updated edition is available with new information on this episode.  Skripal had been released from prison as part of a spy swap. The US government had arrested an entire ring of ten Russian agents on 27 June 2010. In an episode reminiscent of the Cold War, they were deported from the United States and flown to Vienna on 9 July 2010 and exchanged for five Russians who were in Russian government custody for spying for the West. One of these Russians was Sergei Skripal, who was pardoned by the President of Russia as part of the process. Mr Skripal took some time to adjust to his new surroundings and eventually bought a house in Salisbury and settled down. Whether or not he was really a high priority target for retaliation by Russia is a matter for debate. Clearly, there are other Russians of high interest who live permanently in hiding such as Vladimir Rezun (aka “Viktor Suvorov”) and Oleg Gordievsky. Skripal was not trying to hide, so it is likely that the perception of risk to him was relatively low.  Both Sergei and Yulia were in poor condition in the Radnor Ward of Salisbury District Hospital. Exact details of the treatment received by the Skripals is still covered by patient confidentiality but certain details have emerged. The overall clinical picture was one of organophosphate poisoning. The Skripals were treated with frequent doses of atropine. Oximes and anticonvulsants were administered along with additional medicines. They were kept sedated for a long period of time to help manage their condition and allow for invasive measures to keep them alive, such as intubation. Yulia Skripal shows the visible scars of intubation through her trachea. Eventually, both Sergei and Yulia survived and were discharged, although the extent of their shortor long-term disability is not clear.  




TOXIC  Fortunately, the responders on the scene and the staff in the hospital were not exposed to A-234. One protective factor was gloves. It is universal practice to don gloves in emergency medical situations and even the cheapest ones provide a reasonable protective barrier. It is also worth noting that the Skripals were sweating profusely and had likely washed their hands at least once along their itinerary. All of the nerve agents react with water. A-234 reacts slower than others. But water also works as a removal agent. So, it is possible that some or even most of the Novichok had come off the Skripals’ hands by the time they came into contact with medical first responders.  Blood test results for AChE eventually came back from the laboratory and the enzyme was almost non-existent. This is a strong indicator of exposure to nerve agents, although it does not indicate exactly which agent. Various biomedical samples were taken for analysis. A bombshell hit when the news emerged that the Ministry of Defence’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down identified the poison as not only a nerve agent, but one of the exclusively Russian Novichok agents, A-234.  The British public wondered where the Skripals had come in contact with the poison. Theories emerged about luggage handles, a steering wheel, or other possible sources. It is now certain that Sergei and Yulia absorbed nerve agent from a contaminated door handle at Sergei’s house. This is consistent with nerve agent poisoning through dermal exposure, which can take many hours, and depends on things like skin moisture and subcutaneous fat. A-234 is very persistent. Small amounts of it were transferred elsewhere, presumably by the Skripals after having touched the initial spot of contamination on their door handle. Indeed, it now appears that Sergei and Yulia were exposed on their way out of the house. Contamination that was spread inside the house likely came from police searching the crime scene, transferring amounts of Novichok with their gloves. 238

ASSASSINATIONS  The “transfer hazard” was highlighted by the third case of injury. A police Detective Sergeant named Nick Bailey was treated for nerve agent, having been exposed while searching Skripal’s residence. Eventually, very small trace amounts of the A-234 turned up in various places along the Skripals’ itinerary. Bailey had been in their house that Sunday then returned to Bourne Hill police station. At some point, likely while removing his gloves, he came into contact with a small amount of nerve agent through his hands.5 Onset was slow, and he did not seek medical help until the next day. Overall, his situation was far less critical than the Skripals’. He made a recovery and was released. It was later revealed that a second, unnamed police officer was exposed, but suffered effects that were much less serious than Bailey’s.6 These two cases of illness highlight the dangers and difficulties of forensic work in this field.  Evidence recovery and decontamination efforts were substantial. Both military personnel and civilian specialists from various government agencies were drafted in to help. Tall stories about Skripal’s roof being taken away7 and police cars being buried8 were rampant. The effort took months and tied up the city centre as cordons were enforced long after the incident.  As the events unfolded in Salisbury, a serious political crisis emerged. The identity of the material as A-234, being strictly of Russian origin, caused a diplomatic rift between Russia and the UK. The British government rightly got the OPCW involved, and it confirmed the former’s findings, although the more sensitive details (such as the exact identity of the A-234 molecule) were redacted from public versions of documentation. In what could only be described as an incident far too exotic to be a coincidence, Russian spies were caught red-handed by Dutch security services in April 2018 attempting to hack into the OPCW’s computer networks.9 They were arrested and deported, but their equipment was retained by the Dutch. This likely yielded much useful intelligence.  


TOXIC  Prime Minister Theresa May was indignant over the Skripal affair. Foreign Minister Boris Johnson made claims about the Novichok being manufactured in a Russian lab that could not be technically substantiated at the time. Exact details which would have been helpful to make a public case were kept close, but invariably leaked out. The British authorities and many of its allies expelled a large number of Russian intelligence personnel operating under diplomatic cover.  Just as the scandal was dying down and life was returning to normal in Salisbury, another incident occurred. In late June 2018, two residents of nearby Amesbury, Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley, fell seriously ill. On 30 June, Sturgess was taken to hospital in a serious condition. Rowley had been in the habit of scrounging for items of value in rubbish dumps. At some point before 27 June, he found what appeared to be a Nina Ricci perfume bottle in its original packaging. Rowley’s public account is not exactly clear. However, memory loss is common in nerve agent exposures. Rowley gave the perfume to Sturgess, who in turn sampled it. It had no perfume-like odour, which was odd. She became quite ill and was taken to hospital. Rowley became ill not long after. Both had signs and symptoms similar to the Skripals’. Sturgess was worse off than any of the other victims. Eventually, on 8 July, Dawn Sturgess was declared dead, becoming the first homicide victim of the Skripal affair. Rowley eventually recovered enough to be released from hospital. Much of the media coverage verged on victim-shaming as both Rowley and Sturgess had drug problems and lived on society’s fringes.  By now, Salisbury District Hospital knew what an A-234 Novichok victim looked like. The police and security services circus that had engulfed Skripal’s neighbourhood re-appeared in Amesbury. Eventually, the perfume bottle was recovered and examined in detail. It contained A-234.  What nobody really knows is the story behind the perfume bottle. Was it also used to deliver the Skripal poison? If so, where  




ASSASSINATIONS was it from March to June? Possibly, it was a back-up supply, left somewhere in a dead-drop. Did someone throw it out after it was no longer needed? If Charlie Rowley hadn’t found it, it likely would have ended up concealed forever in a landfill. Is there some other stash of A-234 or another poison out there, still waiting to be found? The mystery of the perfume bottle is unresolved at the time of writing.  Another bombshell hit when the attack team was publicly identified. The British authorities provided photographs and an itinerary of “Petrov” and “Boshirov”. Russia responded with a farcical press conference on the network RT wherein the pair, whose existence had previously been denied, were produced live on television to deny everything. They claimed that they were sports nutrition salesmen who had wanted to see the cathedral in Salisbury.10 Russian media, rarely LGBT-friendly at the best of times, hinted that they were a gay couple.11  Eventually, Bellingcat (although not this author), cracked the identity of the two men from Russia who had visited Moscow immediately before the Skripals were poisoned. The pair were Colonel Anatoli Chepiga12 and Doctor Alexander Mishkin.13 Both were serving officers working for the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence service. Further biographical research by Bellingcat made it abundantly clear that Chepiga and Mishkin, despite inane protestations of innocence, were intelligence operatives. Chepiga, in fact, had been awarded the Hero of the Russian Federation award, the highest order in the land, and his photograph hangs on the wall in the Far Eastern Military Academy, which he had attended.14  If the identities of this pair of spies travelling to Skripal’s neighbourhood on the weekend of the poisoning were not damning enough evidence, additional physical evidence was found. Investigators had recovered small traces of A-234 in the hotel in Bow where they had stayed. Russia was clearly respon


TOXIC sible for the attempted, if possibly bungled, assassination of Skripal. Chepiga and Mishkin had been sent to kill him.  The Skripal case, being recent and well-documented, tells us several things about the use of nerve agents in the current era. The first is that Russia has nerve agents that it has not declared. This is a challenge to the established diplomatic order. The extent to which Russia maintains a capability to make nerve agents is unknown and needs to be explored fully. The machinery of international diplomacy is creaking in the right direction. Novichoks, which were not actually listed in the schedules of the CWC, are being reviewed by the OPCW and are now likely to be added to the treaty. How Russia will react to this, and how the world will deal with Russia on chemical warfare subjects, remains to be seen.  Another significant aspect of the Skripal affair was the information warfare surrounding it. The stigma associated with nerve agents, combined with the taboo of murdering people brazenly in other countries, meant that Russia had much to gain by denying their involvement in the affair. Their effort to deny and obfuscate was extensive. Even without Russian perpetrators, the Skripal poisonings and the follow-on Amesbury incident provided ample scope for conspiracy theories. There had to have been a secret plot to poison Sergei Skripal, and there’s nothing like an actual secret conspiracy to get the pot boiling with speculation. In this age of social media, some degree of conspiracy theory fermentation would occur, inevitably and organically, after such an odd event.  In addition, the Russian state-owned media immediately began to promote existing conspiracy theories and to espouse new ones, practically on a daily basis. Both well-known and new conspiracy theorists quickly amplified the Russian misinformation efforts, which tagged onto even the most insane conspiracy theories. Quite early on, Russian official media and 242

ASSASSINATIONS an army of social media accounts, likely Russian, started pursuing what can be best termed as a “shotgun strategy.” A general theme of “Russophobia” was pursued—any criticism of Russia meant that the critic was obviously a Russophobe, and thus a de facto racist. Beyond the drumbeat of “Russophobia”, specific alternative explanations of the events were pushed on both Russian domestic media and Russian state-owned media’s various foreign language outlets.  Five conspiracy theories came out on 8 March, almost as if they were had been pre-prepared for dissemination. Russia 1 started along the “Russophobia” route and claimed it was an incident to provoke Russophobia. RIA Novosti claimed that it was an accidental overdose of some kind of drug. (False rumours that it was fentanyl still circulate). Russia 24 claimed it was an accidental leak from Porton Down. RT claimed it had to do with testing of some sort at Porton Down. Indeed, Porton Down plays a significant role in many of these theories. Russia 1 then claimed it was suicide, as addiction and stress are commonplace among defectors. All of these alternative narratives were floated in a single day.  Additional fake narratives spilled out onto social media, often citing Russian media sources as “evidence.” Russia 1 claimed on 11 March that it was the British government who did it, to provoke Russophobia and possibly a boycott of the World Cup.15 The same network blamed the Americans on 12 March and the Ukrainians on 13 March. On 13 March Zvezda said it was the work of Theresa May, for the apparent reason that she is a friend of Gina Haspel, the director of the CIA. Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, claimed it was an exaggerated British response to distract from Brexit, on 14 and 15 March. The website MK.RU claimed on 14 March that the culprit was Yulia’s mother-in-law to be. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed on 17 March that only the British, the Czechs, the  










TOXIC Swedes, or the Slovaks had the “Novichok” weapons and that this poisoning was meant to undermine Russia’s role as a peacemaker in Syria. Simultaneously, Russian social media accounts were claiming that there was no such thing as “Novichoks”; that they were a myth.  18 March saw a spate of accusations. Zvezda, the media arm of the Russian MOD, claimed that it had been the result of a drone strike. President Putin asserted that all Russia’s chemical weapons had long been destroyed and that if it was a military operation the targets would have died on the spot. The same day, Russia 1 claimed that Bill Browder, the famous anti-Putin campaigner, was responsible. After this, there was a pause, presumably to find more fictions to print. 26 March saw claims by Russia 1 that Theresa May had invented Novichoks (presumably confusing her with another female PM who had been a chemist) and that English gentlemen have a tendency to kill people who they think are beneath them, invoking a hitherto unseen class warfare angle. Sputnik, meanwhile, on the same day, claimed that the Americans were actually the ones who had created the Novichoks. Komsomolskaya Pravda entered the fray with the claim that the British had poisoned Ivan the Terrible, therefore it was likely they were responsible for poisoning the Skripals. Alexander Grushko, on 3 April, claimed it was a British plot to justify higher military spending.  On 14 April, a fairly creative fake narrative was circulated by Foreign Minister Lavrov. He let loose a bombshell that Spiez Laboratory, the Swiss national laboratory for chemical and biological analysis, and a member of OPCW’s network of accredited laboratories, had detected the presence of the chemical warfare agent BZ in samples from Salisbury. He further stated that BZ was an American and British substance that had never been made by the Soviet Union or Russia. This “BZ nerve agent toxin” story continues to get recirculated, despite the fact that BZ is neither  





ASSASSINATIONS a nerve agent nor a toxin. It is a hallucinogenic compound that was weaponised by the US, USSR, and Yugoslavia as an incapacitating agent. It is generally considered to be non-lethal. In fact, BZ works on the human body in a way similar to atropine and is in itself a crude antidote for nerve agent exposure. The Skripals and the policeman Nick Bailey had no signs or symptoms of BZ exposure. In addition, the Soviet Union did mass-produce it, referring to it as “Substance 78”.  In reality, the OPCW had followed its own processes and procedures and included “positive control samples” containing a compound of interest—QNB—a chemical related to, but not the same as, BZ. This is a well-established procedural safeguard to ensure that the laboratory in question is indeed detecting the kinds of things that it should be detecting and is not having problems with cross-contamination. Both Spiez Laboratory and the Director General of the OPCW condemned this calumny in strong terms. Indeed, RT even committed a rare act of backpedalling on 18 April.16 Spiez Laboratory’s 2018 annual report strongly denies that BZ was present in any sample.17  The poisoning of the unfortunate Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley in nearby Amesbury on 30 June caught the propaganda machine asleep, but within a few days a veritable firehose of theories was flooding out of Russian media in response to the new developments. While this was ongoing, various online commentators claimed, predictably given their form on other subjects, that it was obviously the fault of Israelis, Zionists, and/or Jews, with the customary conflation and overlapping of such terms. Repeating an equally ancient and now customary conspiracy theme, a commentator claimed the whole thing was a hoax perpetrated by Freemasons. Others claimed it was a complete hoax and never happened. While these theories did not originate in the Russian media, many of the same accounts freely propagated them.  




TOXIC  A few of the conspiracy theories beg for specific rebuttals. The relative proximity to Porton Down plays a large role in many of the conspiracy theories. Porton Down’s history of involvement with chemical and biological warfare material is well known in Britain. Porton Down is on the outskirts of Salisbury. The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) is there, as is a significant branch of Public Health England and a number of biotech firms. The fact that DSTL is allowed by the OPCW to have small amounts of prohibited chemical warfare agents for scientific research purposes only adds to the hysteria. The “something leaked from Porton Down” narratives avoid practical matters of physics. Novichok A-234 is made as a liquid. Even assuming that some amount of Novichok A-234 was stored at Porton Down, a liquid would have to leak from a container, likely into another container, escape a room in a secure building designed to contain nerve agent hazards, flee the building, and fly across miles of intervening English countryside, harming neither man nor beast along the way, and land, coincidentally and precisely only on the door handle of a former GRU spy.  The other “proximity theory” is that someone from Porton Down must have taken the nerve agent to Skripal. While there are not the technical absurdities of the “leak narrative” in this concept, it relies heavily on the assumption that British assassins could only operate in a short radius around Porton Down. Are they reduced to a bicycle or walking distance? There’s nothing inherent about Novichok to say that it would have to be used within miles of its point of production or storage. It would make a poor military agent if that were the case.  Several factual inaccuracies were amplified and retweeted by obvious Russian bot and troll accounts. One is that nerve agents have no cure. This is untrue, as the clinical treatment protocols for nerve agents, both mundane (organophosphate pesticide) or exotic (Sarin or Novichok) are well established in the scientific 246

ASSASSINATIONS and medical literature around the world. The nerve agents all provoke the same cholinergic crisis, whether it is caused by exposure to Tabun from a pipe leak in Dyhernfurth, a Sarin shell on the side of the road in Iraq, or eating Calabar beans. The cure for a nerve agent-induced cholinergic crisis is the same, regardless of whether it is caused by a 1970s vintage Novichok or a 1938 vintage Sarin molecule. The treatment is atropine to defeat the heightened acetylcholine count and an oxime to free up the acetylcholinesterase, combined with appropriate supportive care.  A variant on this misunderstanding is that the Skripals would have succumbed very rapidly to a nerve agent, and therefore they were not exposed at Sergei’s home. However, we know that Sergei and Yulia were exposed through dermal exposure. Novichok A-234 is a liquid with extremely low vapour pressure. In bulk form on a surface, such as a door handle, it does not have a way to become an inhaled hazard, which would work very quickly. The world knows, as will anyone who has read to this point in this book, that absorption through the skin takes hours, not minutes. There was not a mechanism for rapid absorption of the agent in the Skripal case, so there was a slow progression of signs and symptoms over a matter of hours, ending in acute illness.  Yet another variant is that exposure to nerve agents is always fatal. Once again, anyone who knows anything about poisons in general, or nerve agents specifically (at this point, I include all of the readers who have survived to this point), knows that there are lethal and non-lethal doses of poisons, including nerve agents. Furthermore, almost none of the toxicology studies ever carried out on nerve agents to calculate lethal doses and concentrations have provided any medical treatment to the test subjects, for the simple fact that doing so invalidates the experiment. As has been well-established throughout this book, nerve agent exposure is a treatable condition.


TOXIC  A final conspiracy theory was that because the Skripals survived exposure, British doctors and scientists must have had a specific antidote for Novichok. In this particular view, poisons only have highly specific antidotes and one has to have the actual nerve agent in hand ahead of time to make the antidote. This is true of some snake venoms, which are made by a process that includes acquisition of the specific snake venom in question. It is not at all true in the case of nerve agents. Atropine and oximes are effective because they work on the effects of the nerve agent molecules; they are not specific antagonists to the nerve agent molecules themselves. The synthesis of atropine has nothing to do with whether or not one has any nerve agent. Atropine is a generic medicine, stocked on every National Health Service ambulance for a number of uses.  The sober reader would ask what is the point of so many conspiracy theories and alternative narratives? Even the most deranged of commentators cannot claim that they are all true. Sergei Skripal cannot simultaneously have attempted suicide, been accidentally poisoned by bad fish, and have succumbed to a leak from Porton Down. It cannot be a hoax, BZ, and a Mossad murder squad all at once. The perpetrators of this information warfare campaign, almost certainly the Russian state aided by useful idiots and willing co-conspirators, do not want or expect many people to believe a particular fake narrative. Rather, the objective was to muddy the waters of the popular discourse to the point that confusion reigned supreme. The perpetrators’ disinformation campaigns seek to get people to the state where they throw up their arms, give up, and say “this is all so complicated… we may never know what really happened.” This sort of intellectual surrender is considered a victory for those who engage in disinformation. The perpetrators, in this case the Russian state, want a state of confusion wherein the general public are too confused to seek a definitive answer. 248

ASSASSINATIONS  Regardless of the furore and noise provided by the barrage of disinformation and conspiracy theories, two intertwined questions come up any time the Skripal affair is examined. Why Skripal? And why “Novichok” nerve agents? While the definitive answers are yet to emerge, certain theories appear to have some degree of merit. The motivation to target Skripal might have multiple motivations and objectives.  First, there is Skripal himself. Was his death the primary objective? Or was the method of the attack designed to provoke Britain into a broader response? There is only so much the Russian state can do, with any level of efficiency or effectiveness, to crack down on its diaspora based in Britain. However, if Britain itself can be goaded into some sort of heavy-handed backlash against Russians in Britain, the Russian state could get others to do its work for it. By perpetrating an outrage that was so clearly Russian in origin, was the objective to provoke reprisals against Russians in Britain as well as the Russian state? Could the Theresa May government, not known for its sophistication, be tricked into a crackdown on wealthy Russians?  The British government could easily have taken a far more aggressive stance than it did. Hundreds or even thousands of Russians in Britain could have faced scrutiny from the tax authorities. Bank accounts and real estate transactions could be scrutinised. The newly instituted “Unexplained Wealth Order”—a legal measure compelling the recipient to explain the reasons for their accumulation of wealth—could have been issued to hundreds of Russians. Various measures to clarify the ownership of assets and companies could have been instituted. A longawaited crackdown on money laundering in British territories such as the Cayman Islands and the Channel Islands could have snared much Russian activity. No doubt, millions of pounds in assets could have been seized and tax revenues could have been recaptured for the Treasury.


TOXIC  British immigration officials could easily have conducted a wide variety of measures. Arriving Russians could be questioned for hours about their business affairs. Visas could be denied or renewals delayed or lost. (The UK Home Office is notorious for delays, refusals, and losses of visa paperwork.) It should be noted that the Skripal affair was occurring at a point when the “Windrush” scandal was unwinding. The British government had been caught out detaining and deporting numerous British residents who were citizens or who had legal permanent resident status. If the government felt that it could get away with deporting people with a legal right to be in the United Kingdom, surely a few plane loads of Russian citizens would pose no problem? Had the authorities extended its “hostile environment policy” to Russians there would have been little sympathy for them. Britain could do Putin’s work for him and cause the flight of Russians and their money to other places. At a minimum, the discomfort among the Russian émigré community in Britain would be heightened in a way that no single act of attempted murder could be reasonably expected to on its own.  For this sort of plan to work, the act would have to be an outrage and one that is clearly Russian in origin. If Mr Skripal was found intoxicated and drowned in a river, it would not be enough. But the use of Novichok A-234, in pure form, sends a very clear signal as to the perpetrators. And the perpetrators themselves used what appears to have been poor tradecraft. They were rumbled not just by the authorities but by citizen journalists at the website Bellingcat. The overall appearance was one of clumsiness, not finesse. But, perhaps, this was a feature of the operation rather than a mistake. The degree of cack-handedness of the operation may have been calculated to let the entire world know that it was Russia that did it. If this “Provoke Britain into an anti-Russian crackdown” theory is to hold any credibility, it needs an act that logically leads to Moscow. I consider this a plausible, but unproven theory.  


ASSASSINATIONS  A widespread backlash against Russians did not come to pass. The government’s overall response to the Skripal affair was a bit mixed and confused, but focused on retaliation against the Russian state and not against Russians themselves. However, just because an operation did not work as planned did not mean that it did not have this particular outcome in mind.  The Skripal episode did however offer me, for once, an opportunity to visit a community affected by nerve agent terrorism and talk to those affected by it. For lack of a better idea, and to get a grip on Salisbury’s reaction as a whole, I met with Nick Holtam, the Bishop of Salisbury. While he is neither the official spokesperson for Salisbury nor the only one, he’s certainly well positioned to comment on the situation. The damage to trust was a key problem, he told me. While certainly no utopia, Salisbury has a reputation of being a nice place to live and being open to visitors, an assertion several Salisbury residents were keen to point out to me. Suspicion of who might be living in Salisbury and who might be coming to visit the town had not normally been the sort of thing that went on. But suspicion, or even just a vague unease, became more normalised after the Skripals were poisoned.  People living in or near Salisbury often went to the edge of town instead of into the city centre during the height of the Skripal affair. Tourism plummeted. Salisbury Cathedral, the key feature of the city, and an architectural delight that is one of England’s great places to visit, suffered a 40% loss of revenue after the Skripal and Rowley/Sturgess poisonings. Tourists were simply going elsewhere, and it had a knock-on effect on the whole economy.  There are issues beyond those of money, footfall, and tourism numbers. For lack of a better term, there is the social, psychological, and cultural impact. Do people feel different? I went to Salisbury in June 2019 expecting to find at least some


TOXIC residual gloom and doom. I found none. Life in Sergei Skripal’s cul-de-sac had returned to normal. The care home only a few metres away continues to operate. Skripal’s house on Christie Miller Road has a few traffic cones in the drive but no other sign of anything untoward. People spoke freely of the affair in a nearby pub, on condition that I wouldn’t write anything down or name names. This unscientific sample of residents just wanted to get on with life. The idea that Russian tourists would get lost looking for the cathedral and end up in their bit of the city was laughable.  Bishop Holtam advised me to talk to Reverend Kelvin Inglis, who kindly granted an me an interview for this book. Revd Inglis is the rector of St Thomas’s Church, and his parish includes much of the city centre of Salisbury. In addition to 3,500 or so residents, the parish of St Thomas’s also includes the main swathe of retail and hospitality businesses of central Salisbury. The pub at the Maltings, the park bench, and the Zizzi restaurant are all very close to Inglis’s church, which is a hub for community events, and hosts the City Council’s annual service. Inglis opened his church to staff from Public Health England and made his affable presence known among the many police officers from around the country seconded into his patch. For a parish priest, he had the unusual experience of receiving various members of the Royal Family and the Prime Minister. Bishop Holtam and Revd Inglis later held a service of “cleansing” and sprinkled the area with holy water six weeks after the incident, the first experience I’ve heard of “spiritual decontamination” in the history of nerve agents.  Revd Inglis told me about the media circus that descended on Salisbury. He estimated that he did fifty or sixty interviews or media appearances. Some of the media was looking for, and occasionally reporting, a “city in fear”. He says that this was not the case from his perspective. Excitement and a feeling that 252

ASSASSINATIONS the city had been violated, yes; but Inglis can point to nobody he knows who was living in fear. Even the subsequent wave of excitement when Sturgess and Rowley were afflicted was less an atmosphere of fear and terror than one of disappointment that the drama was not yet over. People wanted to get on with life and put the episode behind them. That Public Health England issued an “all clear” a year after the incident was less than helpful to a populace that had in any case been living as normal the whole time, Inglis says.  Can any good come out of the Salisbury situation? Both Bishop Holtam and Revd Inglis were more sanguine than I had expected. There has been a concerted effort to put the city back together and to engage in economic development, assisted by public funding. There is discussion about what kind of place Salisbury wants to be, which might not have otherwise happened. Perhaps being the centre of attention for a while gave Inglis an opportunity to literally and figuratively preach about civic virtue. He urged Salisbury to practise the virtues of rule of law, peace and prosperity, and caring for others. It is because Salisbury already had a reasonable bedrock in these virtues that life managed, largely, to get back to normal as soon as the police cordons were removed. * * * As of early 2020 the Salisbury assassins remain at large. The broader diplomatic issues are unresolved. Nobody actually knows whether all of the Novichok is accounted for. The Skripals are in hiding. Their long-term health, both physical and psychological, may be damaged. Perhaps a second edition of this book will have more to say.



Having worked through the threads of this story from Calabar beans to a door handle and a perfume bottle in England, it is clear that the story of nerve agents is a complex one. The events in Syria, the Kuala Lumpur airport assassination, and Salisbury testify that nerve agents are still with us as a threat, despite decades of diplomacy to eliminate them. But are there broader conclusions to be drawn from this tale?  One conclusion is inescapable. Synthetic nerve agents built and used as weapons are an inheritance from the Nazis. The nerve agent family tree and the lineage of knowledge of how to produce nerve agents leads directly back to Nazi roots. The Third Reich took the nerve agents from the laboratory and expended an enormous amount of labour, money, and raw materials to transform esoteric molecules into weapon systems. This was done at a time when other countries were making only slight improvements to earlier generations of chemical warfare agents.  Transmission of the Nazis’ knowledge of nerve agents occurred in several ways. The West benefited from scooping up most of the German scientists who had worked on nerve agents, while the Soviet Union acquired its expertise largely through painful reverse-engineering. In the West, Gerhard Schrader sang like a


TOXIC bird, filling hundreds of pages of interrogation records. Otto Ambros only reluctantly divulged the secrets of industrial nerve agent production, while the pilot plant at Raubkammer gave an example of both how to make Sarin and how not to make it. In the East, the partially destroyed plants at Falkenhagen and Dyhernfurth, aided by von Bock, yielded secrets. Later efforts, whether it be Sarin at Rocky Mountain Arsenal, Tabun in Iraq, or Aum’s poisons, can all be traced to these acts of technology transfer. Every subsequent act of nerve agent production can be connected, step by step, to its origins in the Third Reich.  The second, related, conclusion is that nerve agents would not have existed as military weapons without the significant research that Nazi Germany devoted to break the back of a difficult problem. Smart and hard-working scientists at Spandau, Raubkammer, Dyhernfurth, and Falkenhagen spent years investigating how to make nerve agents. It is questionable that such a project would have been undertaken by either East or West in the aftermath of the Second World War. “Gas warfare” had largely fallen out of vogue. The generals of 1939 had been junior officers in the First World War, when chemical weapons did not live up to their expectations, caused friendly casualties, and failed to win battles. Many thought it was simply not worth the effort. Nor were chemical weapons used in the Second World War, except in China. The post-war discoveries by the Allies prompted some to revise their “chemical warfare isn’t worth the trouble” opinions because nerve agents were a fundamental “improvement” over the chemical weapons deployed in the First World War.  A further conclusion is that history shows us how very difficult it is to make nerve agents. Preparing even a small stockpile of nerve agents is an expensive and difficult undertaking. It requires a huge expenditure in terms of research, development, manufacturing, and testing. Furthermore, it also requires a high degree of collaboration between the chemical industry and gov256

CONCLUSION ernment. All of this is apparent from the Nazi and later Cold War efforts. Indeed, the final phases of the American nerve agent programme ran aground when private industry no longer wanted to produce chemical warfare materials.  There are also examples where states have totalled up the potential expenses involved and decided the whole enterprise wasn’t worth the effort. Furthermore, the history of nerve agent production is full of human tragedy, both intentional and accidental. It is also replete with environmental disaster. The indirect expenses incurred by nerve agent production drag on for decades after the actual manufacturing ends.  Given the industrial and managerial difficulties involved in setting up and operating a nerve agent manufacturing enterprise, why would anyone bother? It is questionable whether anyone would have bothered developing nerve agents during the Cold War had the Nazis not already invested a huge effort into making them. If none of this research in the Third Reich had been undertaken, would either side in the Cold War have done it anyway? This seems a questionable proposition. The British DFP effort could have led to Tabun, but did not, and was abandoned. There were no comparable developmental efforts in the USA along the lines of organophosphate weapons. The Soviet exploratory attempts along these lines were theoretical. Certainly, post war pesticide research in organophosphates might have eventually led to Tabun and Sarin. But if chemical warfare had been relegated to history by that point in favour of nuclear weapons, there would not have been the relationships between industry and government to push poisons into weaponry. Industry discovers toxic substances all the time, and they do not get made into weapons unless governments are seeking chemical weapons.  This leads to another conclusion, namely that much of the history of nerve agents is based on the perceived threats presented by others. Otto Ambros thought the Americans likely had


TOXIC nerve agents, and that Nazi Germany should not draw on its stockpile. The United States, the United Kingdom, and France worked on nerve agents in the correct belief that their Soviet adversaries in the Cold War were doing the same thing. The Soviets firmly held the view that the Americans were farther ahead than they were in developing nerve agents. Indeed, both sides pushed hard because they were convinced the other side was ahead of the game, and in doing so amassed a vast arsenal of nerve agents.  Most of the nerve agents that were manufactured came into existence to deter others and were never meant to be used. Although there are a number of incidents and uses already covered in this book, the bulk of the nerve agents produced were stockpiled for use in major conflicts. They were meant as a deterrent to enemies who also possessed them. This may have proved effective. But as the Cold War only ever went “hot” in proxy conflicts in places such as Vietnam and Korea, we will never actually know if this deterrence worked. Was it lost in the broader context of nuclear deterrence?  Apart from a few engagements in the Iran—Iraq war, nerve agents never won any battles. Nor did they win any wars. Would they have been useful in conflict? The answer remains uncertain. Although nerve agents, in many ways, represented a fundamental degree of improvement over the earlier chemicals used in warfare, they rarely, if ever, live up to the claims of their promoters and their actual effectiveness in the field.  In respect to the broader lore that surrounds nerve agents, one salient myth has to be dealt with once and for all. They are not an omnipotent killer. The historical track record of nerve agents as actual killers in field conditions is, at best, mixed. All of the major incidents described in this book had many survivors. People were affected by the nerve agents involved but did not actually die. In many cases, such as Tokyo, there was a very wide ratio between the ill and the dead. 258

CONCLUSION  At some point, the economics of nerve agents must also be questioned. Are they worth the money? If you add up the costs of the Aum Shinrikyo nerve agent programme, the bill per actual victim killed works out to at least $1 million in current values. For both state and non-state actors, nearly every other method of death and destruction is more cost-effective. Terrorist groups are likely to want to devote their resources to thriftier methods of killing people, like firearms and explosives.  Another conclusion about nerve agents is that they are a particularly unreliable form of weapon, either for warfare or terrorism, because their effects are unpredictable and disproportionate. Even the most well-crafted chemical munition is still obedient to the laws of physics and falls sway to the changing nature of the weather. When you fire a chemical artillery shell or drop a nerve agent bomb, even the best possible guess as to what will happen when it hits the ground is still a guess. Rarely have nerve agents behaved according to plan. One can get into tricky moral and ethical arguments over whether, in principle, nerve agents are better or worse than guns or conventional bombs. However, it is easy to point out that unreliable and unpredictable weapons are unethical because they have a tendency to hurt people who are not the intended targets.  The greatest sin of nerve agents is their disproportionate effect on the innocent and unprotected. Modern armies can protect themselves from nerve agents and avoid most casualties through the use of protective clothing, equipment, and procedures. Civilians do not have such defences. Further, the practical history of actual incidents shows that many uses of nerve agents have had effects disproportionate to their size. Few of the Tokyo victims had anything at all to do with the Aum cult’s byzantine disputes with the Japanese authorities. A relatively small amount of agent resulted in many injuries and much disruption, even if it did not result in the number of deaths expected. The victims


TOXIC in Ghouta were mostly civilians cowering in shelters. In the Salisbury case, the property damage, decontamination expenses, and effect on business are far out of proportion to the small amount of material actually involved.  Finally, it should be noted that international efforts devoted to arms control and diplomacy have largely succeeded. The majority of chemical warfare agents, including nerve agents, have been destroyed without them ever getting close to a battlefield. This is, arguably, a success, and the OPCW is a justifiably worthy recipient of the Nobel Prize that it was awarded in 2013. The uses of nerve agents have been the exceptions instead of the rule. Regrettably, however, the events in Syria and Salisbury show that nerve agents are not merely of historic interest.



What are nerve agents? Chemical warfare agents have long been classified by their mode of action. Blister agents, such as Sulfur Mustard (“Mustard Gas”) cause blisters. Blood agents, such as the cyanides, cause changes in the blood. It is no great surprise therefore that “nerve agents” affect the nervous system, on which they have a very specific effect in terms of the chemistry of the human nervous system. Tabun, Sarin, Soman, VX and its cousins, and the so-called “Novichok” agents are the primary “nerve agents” considered in this book.  The human nervous system is a vast network of cells that connect the brain to every bit of the body. This network handles two-way traffic, carrying commands in one direction and taking messages, like pain, in the other direction. The nervous system uses exceedingly complex electrical and chemical processes to do its work.  The nervous system is composed of nerve cells called neurons. You can think of these as the wiring of the human body, transmitting electrical signals up and down their length. The nervous system is a chain of these neurons, as opposed to a continuous


TOXIC pathway. Electric signals do not pass directly from one cell to another; instead there is a small gap between the neurons called a synaptic cleft. Chemicals called neurotransmitters are used to send signals across this gap. The human body has a number of neurotransmitter chemicals in employment all the time. But for the purposes of this book, one particular neurotransmitter is vitally important—acetylcholine.  Acetylcholine sends signals between neurons. When the brain issues a command, such as to move a finger, this message is sent from the brain to the finger through a chain of small bursts of acetylcholine. However, the body needs a way to turn off the signal, or else your finger is going to keep moving. Acetylcholine works in conjunction with an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase (AChE). AChE is a type of an enzyme called a hydrolase. AChE inactivates acetylcholine. It does this with such efficiency that one molecule of AChE degrades about 25,000 molecules of acetylcholine every second. The widely used metaphor is that acetylcholine is an “on switch” and AChE is the corresponding “off switch” in the nervous system.  The nerve agents are acetylcholinesterase inhibitors—they bind to AChE and prevent it from working. Because one molecule of AChE is working to shut down 25,000 molecules of acetylcholine, an awful lot of acetylcholine is going to build up very quickly if even a single molecule of AChE is tied up. The nerve agents bind with AChE and keep it from working. This causes a build-up of acetylcholine, which if unchecked, leads to a serious medical crisis. Nerve agents take out the “off switch”.  This bond between acetylcholine and AChE can be reversible or irreversible. Calabar beans, for example, or pesticides and medicines in the carbamate family, are reversible inhibitors. Their bond to AChE is always a temporary one and can be reversed with antidotes. The organophosphorus compounds, which include all of the military nerve agents in this book as well 262

APPENDIX 1 as many insecticides, are reversible only for a period of time. They have an “ageing time” after which the reversible bond becomes irreversible. This ageing time varies greatly from agent to agent, but it means that there is a specific window in which some of the medical treatments are more useful. While the times are only approximately defined by scientists and vary from study to study, they range from minutes in the case of Soman to about five hours for Sarin, ranging upward to many hours for some pesticides and VX.1 This has implications on treatment.  Other chemical substances might do things to the nervous system, but they are not nerve agents. For example, riot control agents cause painful irritation. Pain is transmitted by the nervous system. As a result, some uninformed commentators as well as a few misguided stories in the popular media have erroneously referred to tear gases as nerve agents.2 The Physical Characteristics of Nerve Agents Despite the fact that chemical warfare agents are often referred to as “poison gas” and that nerve agents are sometimes referred to as “nerve gases”—the military nerve agents are liquids under normal conditions. Some of the pesticide nerve agents are solids and there are one or two military agents that might be solids under some situations, such as very cold weather.  Nerve agents vary greatly in their characteristics as liquids. Some are thin and runny, like water. Others are thick and oily. In their pure form, they tend to be clear. If they are foggy, it is because of other things in them. Some are colourless, while others have some hint or shade of colouring to them. Tabun, when pure is clear to amber in colour. Sarin is clear, and looks just like water or alcohol, as is Soman. VX is a clear liquid, but it looks a bit like motor oil in appearance and consistency. Nobody identifies these substances just by looking at them.


TOXIC  One of the most important physical characteristics of a liquid nerve agent is vapour pressure, which goes up when temperature rises. Things with a low vapour pressure stay as liquids; things with high vapour pressure tend to evaporate into vapour form. This is why, for example, water evaporates more quickly on a hot day than on a cold day. It is also important to understand the concept of an aerosol. An aerosol is a finely divided mist of small droplets (or particles, if the material is a solid) that behaves in many ways like a gas or a vapour. As the nerve agents are not gases at room temperature, you can dispense them as an aerosol and they will behave in many ways like gases.  Sarin has one of the highest vapour pressures among the nerve agents. It evaporates more quickly than the others and its rate of evaporation is not that different from water. However, on the other end of the spectrum, there are nerve agents that are thick and oily. One of these is VX, which has a very low vapour pressure, significantly lower than Vaseline. It will stay in liquid form for weeks or months before it fully evaporates. At cold temperatures it can lurk about indefinitely. Nerve agents which evaporate quickly are “non-persistent agents” and ones that stay in liquid (or solid) form for a long time are “persistent agents”.  Chemical warfare specialists classify chemical warfare agents into the categories of persistent and non-persistent based on how long they last in the environment. Persistency varies greatly with temperature, wind, and other environmental factors, such as the type of surface a liquid agent is absorbed into and the presence of moisture. Further, exact definition of “persistent” and “nonpersistent” varies from country to country, and even within a country. Furthermore, a persistent agent might be non-persistent in very hot weather, and a non-persistent agent might be very persistent at sub-zero temperatures. The issue is further complicated by additives. Various things can be added to a liquid nerve agent to make it more persistent. Tabun and Soman, for example, 264

APPENDIX 1 might be persistent or non-persistent depending on temperature and additives.  Although many variables affect persistency, a few broad rules of thumb have emerged from the development of nerve agents as weapons. Non-persistent agents, such as Sarin, are intended to lead to immediate death and incapacitation. A weapon containing a non-persistent nerve agent is likely to be optimized to turn as much of the liquid into an aerosol as possible, so that the casualties are caused by aerosol and vapours more than by liquids. They create a great hazard, but a hazard that goes away quickly in all but the coldest environments.  Persistent agents create longer term contamination of the surfaces that they land on. Such weapons, when created to ideal specifications, create lots of droplets that can land on things and contaminate them. While such a weapon might form an aerosol that could cause immediate casualties, these agents are designed to contaminate land and equipment to make them difficult to use. The intent is to cause casualties through skin contact and to create hazard areas that last for weeks or months. Routes of Entry In order for nerve agents to harm people, they somehow must get into the human body. A puddle of liquid does not have magic properties; will not mysteriously leap across a room and hurt someone. A “route of exposure” is a way into the human body for a substance. One of the reasons that nerve agents are superior as chemical weapons is that they are dangerous through many different routes of exposure, although the speed at which they work differs greatly from route to route.  The fastest and, historically most lethal, route of exposure for nerve agents is through inhalation. The lungs are designed to rapidly infuse oxygen into the blood stream and remove carbon


TOXIC dioxide from it. The respiratory and circulatory systems are optimized for this task. Freshly oxygenated blood leaves the lungs and is pumped throughout the whole body. This also means that things that end up in the lungs can be rapidly distributed through the body. Nerve agent vapours and aerosols that are inhaled will have immediate effect on the surfaces they encounter, such as mucus membranes. More dangerously, they will quickly enter the blood stream and circulate throughout the whole body.  The next significant route of exposure is through the skin, or “dermal exposure”, through which nerve agents can enter the tissues of the human body. This can happen with liquid, vapours, or aerosols. However, for it to occur efficiently in most realistic scenarios, it really needs to be a liquid, given the amount of vapour required to cause serious problems through dermal exposure is quite high. The most important aspect of dermal exposure is that it is a slow process. Numerous studies undertaken in the USA and the UK during the Cold War show that it can take many hours for serious signs and symptoms to appear from small exposures to skin. For example, a study3 showed that VX can take an hour to show any signs or symptoms from even a lethalsize dosage on skin in laboratory animals and that concentration of VX in the blood were not reached until four hours after exposure. Another study, with human test subjects, showed that after skin exposure to VX, only 0.4% to 0.6% of the VX was absorbed after three hours. Studies with human skin in laboratory showed a maximum absorption rate of 1% to 2% an hour.4 When one looks at animal test data on skin absorption of nerve agents, there is also a wide variance in rate of onset of signs and symptoms. This is largely due to the fact that skin thicknesses vary. Also, different parts of the body have greater or lesser thicknesses of subcutaneous fat, which might slow absorption of poisons. With non-persistent agents like Sarin, it is likely that 266

APPENDIX 1 someone with Sarin on their skin or clothing would be more quickly affected by inhaling vapours than by absorption. Indeed, studies show that if one gets Sarin on the skin, 98% of it is likely to evaporate before it gets absorbed.5 Finally, with absorption through skin, localised effects will happen more quickly than any kind of systemic (body-wide) effects. For example, if you touch a bit of nerve agent with your hand, you are far more likely to experience local sweating and twitching in that hand long before you start to get things like pinpointed eye pupils or difficulty breathing. The whole absorption through skin phenomenon is slower than most people expect. This is why one should be completely unsurprised in situations such as the Skripal case where a person was exposed to a persistent nerve agent liquid through the skin. In that instance, there was a period of some hours between exposure and the progression of signs and symptoms to an incapacitating level.  Absorption through the eyes is another way nerve agents can enter the body. Vapours or drops can have immediate effects, which are more significant for their incapacitation effect than their lethality. Someone getting nerve agent directly in their eye is likely getting a dose through other means as well. Injection is possible, but this is really only a hazard in exotic circumstances, like assassinations. It is theoretically possible that someone could get affected by injection if they are hit by fragments of a chemical weapon such as an artillery shell, with such fragments becoming embedded in human tissue. Finally, there is ingestion. If you eat or drink nerve agents, they will make you very sick and possible kill you. This is not really an aspect relevant to battlefield use, but contamination of food or water is at least a theoretical possibility. While there have been ample human examples of dermal and inhalation exposures to military nerve agents, the ingestion examples are largely scenarios involving pesticides.


TOXIC Signs and Symptoms—How nerve agents affect the human body Exposure to nerve agents causes a syndrome called a cholinergic crisis. Like any poison, the dose is important. Even though nerve agents are deadly, it is highly feasible to get a sub-lethal dose. Both the severity and the speed of onset depend on how much nerve agent has been absorbed and the route of exposure. The signs and symptoms of nerve agent exposure are numerous. “Signs” are things that external observers can sense or measure, while “symptoms” are things sensed by the victim. Practical experience from various incidents shows us that signs and symptoms vary widely from person to person.  With exposure to vapour or aerosol, a person typically suffers both inhalation exposure and some ocular exposure. This mode of exposure works quickly as the nerve agent is brought into the body efficiently by the lungs and distributed throughout the body by the heart and blood. The effects begin seconds to several minutes after exposure, depending on the dose absorbed by the body. Mild effects include pinpointed eye pupils (as discovered by Schrader in his car), dimness of vision, headache, runny nose, sweating, excess salivation and drooling, and tightness in the chest. More severe exposures include all of the mild effects and progress to more serious problems. Case studies and animal studies show difficulty breathing, generalised muscle twitching, loss of consciousness, flaccid paralysis, and convulsions. Loss of bladder and bowel control is possible with the convulsions. Vomiting is possible but not universally reported. Death comes from loss of control of the muscles that control breathing. The mechanism of death is by lack of oxygen as the lungs no longer work. Heart rate can increase or decrease with nerve agent exposure, but depressed heart rate is a later sign. With exposure to high concentrations, the victims might not even have a chance to notice dimness of vision before losing consciousness. 268

APPENDIX 1  Exposure by skin contact works far slower. In humans it can take up to eighteen hours after exposure to show signs and symptoms6 with smaller exposures, although heavy exposures may occur as quickly as two minutes after skin contact. The effects start locally at the area of exposure and progress eventually to body-wide as the poison is absorbed. Increased sweating and muscle twitching (“fasciculations”) at the site of absorption are the first signs. These progress to general fatigue and a general feeling of being unwell. Gastrointestinal distress, such as nausea, diarrhoea, or vomiting may follow. Serious exposures will progress to loss of consciousness, twitching, convulsions, paralysis, and difficulty breathing. The tell-tale miosis—pinpointed pupils—may not even occur7 or occur very late. As with respiratory exposure, death will come when breathing stops.  Subjective effects are less well documented, particularly with the most severe exposures. The dead people cannot fill out questionnaires. People with a serious dose of a chemical that interferes with the chemistry of the nervous system may not be in a position to accurately describe how they felt at the time. Psychological and behavioural effects have been noted. The Tokyo incident, discussed in depth in a later chapter, offers a good sample set to work from. People have experienced memory loss, confusion, short attention span, and giving vague or indistinct answers to direct questions. These can happen even with small doses.8 Studies with drugs in the same family as nerve agents have yielded a variety of similar mild to moderate psychological and behavioural symptoms, although very few severe ones. Mild confusion and memory loss need to be taken into account when talking to victims of nerve agent attacks and terrorism incidents.  It is important to note that people’s experience with nerve agents differs and, as with any poison, the exact effects will vary somewhat from person to person. Everything described here is a


TOXIC generalisation. Even the earliest tests with Tabun by the Nazis on animals showed that some animals survived high doses and some died from smaller doses. Various subjective experiences with nerve agent exposure will be discussed within their historical context in later chapters. Compared to other medical conditions, the set of data of human exposures is not large. Many animal studies have been done, but extrapolating from animals to humans has a margin of error. Early studies of mild exposure were from human research volunteers who were healthy adult males and a small set of accidental exposures. There is interesting information from the Iran-Iraq war, the Japanese incidents, and scraps of information from Syria. The overall picture shows how nerve agents affect people, but also reveals that there is considerable deviation from the average. Toxicology: How deadly are they? The popular media will tell us that nerve agents are the deadliest substances in the world9 and that they cause instant death.10 Neither is particularly true and such accounts lack a sense of context and proportion. Lethal doses and concentrations not only vary from nerve agent to nerve agent, they likely vary from person to person. And the calculations as to how much will injure or kill a person vary from study to study, which are largely based on calculations from experiments involving animals. To a certain extent, nerve agent exposure can be cumulative, except at the lowest levels. What this means is that a little inhaled over, say, the course of thirty minutes, causes a similar level of harm as a larger dose inhaled over the course of five minutes. Perhaps the best source of data all in one place is US Army Manual 3–11.9, which compiles the toxicity and lethality data from a wide variety of studies. We simply do not have good statistics on the newer so-called “Novichok” agents devel270

APPENDIX 1 oped by the Soviet Union. To generalise, however, Tabun is less lethal than Sarin or Soman. VX is more lethal by human absorption than the Tabun, Sarin, or Soman. As a general rule, it takes about ten times less VX to kill you than Sarin or Soman. In any situation involving inhalation, it is a matter of tens of milligrams per cubic meter of air per minute to cause serious life-threatening illnesses. With the exception of VX, it is a matter of small droplets on the skin, over a period of time. With VX, a small pinpoint is likely enough, given time for absorption and lack of decontamination.  These numbers probably mean little to most readers on their own and they beg for some interpretation. In order to understand this information, look at the numbers for Sarin. Concentration is measured in milligrams per cubic meter. To give you an idea of what we are looking at here, a cubic centimetre of cold water (1 cm x 1 cm x 1cm cube) is almost exactly one gram. Dividing that by 1000 gets you a milligram, which in real world terms is not much material. Also, there is a time dimension involved here. As there is almost nothing in toxicology that’s instant, concentration is measured over a time domain. So for things like vapour exposure, the figures used are in milligrams per cubic meter per minute. For example 50 mg-min/m3 means 50 mgs of Sarin per 1 cubic meter of air for a period of 1 minute.  The key figure for toxicity by inhalation is something called 50th percentile Lethal Concentration—LCt50. This is the concentration that is reckoned to kill half of the exposed population, assuming a normal adult male (these studies were all based around Cold War soldiers) breathing at 15 litres of air per minute. This is equivalent to a solider engaged in moderate activity. (Someone asleep will be breathing more slowly, someone running full tilt is likely to be higher.) So, for Sarin, breathing 35 mg Sarin in aerosol or vapour, per cubic meter of air, continuously for two minutes, will kill about 50% of the exposed people.


TOXIC This is extremely lethal. By comparison, the similar figure for phosgene, the most lethal chemical weapon used in World War 1, is about 1500 mg-min/m3. For severely debilitating effects, the figure for Sarin is 25 mg-min/m3, again over the course of two minutes, not much less than the lethal figure. It is likely that there would be some lethality at this level. For mild effects, the threshold is around 0.4 mg.  Nerve agent vapor and aerosol can enter through the skin. However, if you examine the table, these effects require a far higher level of concentration and longer exposure. Lethal concentrations (LCt50) for this route of exposure are 6000 to 12000 mg-min/m3 for much longer durations of exposure (30 mins to 6 hours). This is an entirely difference exposure scenario. (The differences in the figures in the table are that the higher numbers are for warmer temperatures.) So, yes, Sarin is lethal through a route of permeation through the skin, but only at levels that are literally hundreds of times higher than the levels that are dangerous for respiration. The figures for severe effects (4000–800) and minor effects (600–1200) are correspondingly lower, but still greater than effective concentration levels for absorption via the respiratory route. A very dense aerosol may result in some condensation or deposit of liquid on skin, which behaves as described in the next paragraph.  Exposure through liquid on skin takes longer. A large blob of Sarin landing mostly on outer clothing and almost instantly removed by decontamination may result in less net absorption of Sarin into the body than a small droplet on the back of the neck that goes unnoticed until symptoms appear. LD50 for Sarin is calculated at 1700 mg for a 70 kg male. This means that, for a normal 70kg human male, 1700 mg of Sarin absorbed into the human body would kill about half of the people with that level of poisoning. Statistically, some would die with less, and some could survive with a much higher exposure. ED50 is the level of  


APPENDIX 1 exposure for serious, disabling effects. For Sarin it is 1000 mg for the same assumptions. Note that at this level of dose, some are likely to die. This is an awful lot of Sarin when compared to the amounts that are needed to kill or seriously incapacitate people through inhalation. All of these calculations can be repeated for the other nerve agents, including pesticides.  It should also be noted that none of the lethality figures quoted for nerve agents account for situations where medical treatment is administered to the victim. Treatment There is actually much that modern medicine can do to help people exposed to nerve agents. Despite the serious nature of the syndrome caused by nerve agents, even very powerful lethal doses can be treated if the appropriate care can be administered quickly enough. Every major nerve agent incident has had survivors. With every significant incident involving nerve agents, there was a reasonable ratio of living to dead victims. The annals of chemical warfare medicine include some situations where overwhelming doses of nerve agents were absorbed by a victim, yet the victim survived. While much is made of the use of medicines, such as antidotes, a serious poisoning with nerve agents requires a broad approach that relies not just on specific medicines, but also on aggressive supportive care.  First, it is vital to establish and maintain an airway. Ensuring an open airway is critical to treating many medical emergencies. In cases of serious nerve agent exposure, saliva and mucus will be produced in great quantity and the human body’s normal abilities to clear these things away through coughing, spitting, and other actions may be impaired due to loss of muscle control. Someone could die of suffocation from their own sputum or vomit. Various methods, both crude and advanced, can be used to maintain a


TOXIC patient’s airway. Suction, intubation with artificial airways, or even just placing someone in the “recovery position” can help.  Maintaining breathing and circulation are also very important. Death from nerve agents is usually from lack of oxygen caused by the lungs and heart not working properly. Providing ventilation, preferably with oxygen, but even with ambient air, will increase the amount of oxygen available. Ventilation with a bagvalve mask or similar device can be live-saving if a nerve agent victim stops breathing. Likewise, efforts to keep the blood circulating, such as cardiac resuscitation, will save lives. They will also keep medicines circulating in the blood. Aggressive measures to support breathing and circulation, such as intubation and CPR, saved several lives in Tokyo in 1995.11  Drug therapy is critical in treatment of nerve agent poisoning. The earliest medical research on the military nerve agents showed that their effects could be reversible by rapid administration of certain medicines. Early incidents at Raubkammer12 revealed that atropine and scopolamine were useful in combating the effects of nerve agent exposure, both in animals and in humans. These drugs are called anticholinergics, a family that works by blocking the action of acetylcholine. In this sense, they are the exact opposites of nerve agents. They directly undo the biological mechanism that nerve agents use to cause harm.  The most widely used anticholinergic drug is atropine. Originally developed as an extract of the belladonna plant, this generic drug is widely used in medicine for low blood rate and to dilate eye pupils. When injected into muscle or in intravenous infusion, it is fast acting. US military doctrine uses autoinjectors to administer intramuscular doses of atropine until the patient improves or until an intravenous line can be established. Intravenous atropine is faster and more efficient, but even with training it can be nearly impossible to establish an IV line in a convulsing patient while dressed in full protective equipment. In 274

APPENDIX 1 a patient with compromised circulation, much of the injected medicine will sit at the injection site. Even very large doses of military nerve agents can be counteracted with sufficient atropine. In the Iran-Iraq war, an Iranian doctor reported administering up to 200 mg of atropine to save seriously exposed soldiers.13 Atropine also has the advantage of having good clinical signs to show the medics that enough atropine has been given, namely by monitoring signs like heart rate. Early administration of atropine was critically helpful in the Skripal case.  Other drugs work in a similar way to atropine and could theoretically be useful as nerve agent treatments. Scopolamine, which naturally occurs in such plants as Jimson Weed and Henbane, works reasonably well, but not as efficiently as atropine Some antihistamines are theoretically useful The more commonly found antihistamines typically are not sufficiently fast-acting or the dose required would be too high to be practical for serious nerve agent exposures. However, research into antihistamines has been a legitimate line of inquiry in nerve agent therapies for decades.  Another category of medicinal drugs called “oximes” work to reactivate the AChE that has been bound up by the nerve agent, so that these molecules can go back to work inactivating the acetylcholine. Because acetylcholinesterase is so tremendously effective at deactivating acetylcholine, getting even a small amount of it back to work is a very effective tool in fighting nerve agent exposure. However, the oximes have difficulty reactivating AChE that has gone through the ageing process mentioned above.  Several drugs in the oxime category have been in routine use for treatment of nerve agent exposure. They include pralidoxime (also known as 2-PAM), obidoxime, and a drug called HI-6. Others have been looked at, or are under investigation. 2-PAM has been in standard use with the US military for many decades in autoinjectors. Some autoinjectors are now combined injectors with both atropine and an oxime. Like atropine, the oxime


TOXIC drugs can only work effectively if they are administered in a way that makes them available to the human body very quickly. This generally means intravenous or intramuscular injection. Like atropine, intravenous injection is faster, but harder to achieve in the field.  Anticonvulsant drugs like diazepam (“Valium”) can be helpful. It can be frightfully difficult to administer all of the other medical care measures if the patient is convulsing, so controlling convulsions is critical. Some countries, including the US, issue autoinjectors containing diazepam for use by trained soldiers. Studies have investigated other drugs in the same family, such as lorazepam and midazolam.14  Recovery from nerve agents can take days, weeks, or months. Time is an important element. If the human body can survive the initial crisis and the source of exposure to nerve agent can be eliminated, such as through decontamination of skin and removal of contaminated clothing, then the body will start to regenerate its own AchE. This is a slow process and it can take weeks for a significant amount of AChE to be restored. Research efforts into increasing the body’s own supply of AChE may yield new treatments. Cleaning up: Decontamination Decontamination is useful as part of first aid and medical treatment, but also as a necessary part of incident management. Decontamination is usually defined as the techniques and processes for neutralising, removing, or otherwise dealing with contamination. Contamination is best thought of as “being dirty”. In a nerve agent context, skin, hair, clothing, equipment, land, vehicles, and practically anything else can become contaminated.  Contamination from non-persistent nerve agents, such as Sarin, may go away through evaporation or environmental deg276

APPENDIX 1 radation before any decontamination is possible. Contamination from persistent nerve agents, like VX or thickened Soman, may last a long time and require decontamination.  In a medical context, decontamination is often, but not always necessary. Removing the patient from further exposure to the poison is essential, not just for the purposes of making the patient better but also to protect medical personnel, who can easily become affected by nerve agents brought to them on the person or clothing of a victim. In theory, vapours can be trapped in clothing for a short period of time after exposure. In practice, removal of clothing will eliminate this hazard. In practice, decontamination is mostly about removal of any liquid hazards. Safe removal of all clothing that might be possibly contaminated is often the first and best thing that can be done.  A variety of substances and methods can be used for decontaminating human victims. Both generic and specialty products have been used. Again, a detailed discussion is too far away from the history of nerve agents to be relevant. Removal, such as with soap and water, is the most venerable of techniques. Many of the nerve agents are not just soluble in water, they actually react with water over time. Things like soap in the water help with removal of the hazard, much in the same way that soaps and detergents break up oil and grease when you wash the dishes. More advanced techniques might involve neutralisation, such as things like chlorine bleach in the water. This is recommended only in quite a high dilution for use on human skin, but chlorine compounds like bleaches are highly effective at neutralising nerve agents. However, care must be taken not to use so much chlorine as to cause skin damage and chemical burns. More advanced products react with nerve agents to neutralise them. Other decontamination strategies use absorbents to safely absorb nerve agent liquids. Various decontamination strategies are discussed in the reference books cited in the bibliography.


TOXIC Ultimately, if you don’t know what to do, plenty of soap and water is a good default strategy.  Decontamination is also important for preventing additional casualties and harm to the environment, as well as putting needed infrastructure and equipment back into use, whether for military use (like tanks and runways) or in civilian settings (such as the Tokyo subway system). Often, decontamination of objects and buildings can be destructive to the materials they are made out of. Sensitive items like electronics are still difficult to decontaminate without highly specialised processes. Taking “Chemical Agents” and turning them into “Chemical Weapons” It is important to understand how nerve agents are used as weapons. A liquid nerve agent in a tank or a bottle is not going to hurt anyone unless the container leaks. Nerve agent liquids, for they are all pretty much liquids, do not have many exotic properties other than being poisonous. They generally don’t burn very well and are not explosive. Many are corrosive, but in their pure form they are corrosive over a period of years, not minutes. Nerve agents follow the rules of physics. When they are in vapour form, they are heavier than air. The follow the wind. When they are in liquid form, they follow the rules of gravity. Sometimes, given some tinkering around with formulations or in really low temperatures, they can even be solids. The thing that takes a nerve agent and transforms it from a chemical warfare agent, i.e. a chemical useful for killing or injuring into a chemical weapon is hardware that provides for a way of disseminating the nerve agent. Nerve agent in a glass jar is basically a glass jar, as long as you don’t break it or open it. Nerve agent in a specialty artillery shell is a whole other matter. It is a weapon.  For effective use in warfare, nerve agents need to be disseminated in a way that is consistent with their routes of entry into 278

APPENDIX 1 the human body and their physical properties. The engineers who designed chemical weapons sought to have high “munition efficiency”—they wanted to have as high a percentage of nerve agent used effectively. The general idea is that non-persistent nerve agents are for immediate production of casualties, so that you want an aerosol, which is a fine mist of small liquid droplets. This works best in munitions that detonate at ground level. For the more persistent nerve agents, the tactical objective is often to contaminate land or equipment, with prompt casualties as a secondary concern. For these situations, the weapons need to be able to disperse their agent filling above ground, but not at too great a height.  The most commonly encountered form of nerve agent munition is the artillery shell. A nerve agent artillery shell has a filling of nerve agent and some kind of fuze and conventional explosive bursting charge. Mortar shells are basically the same from the perspective of chemical weapons design, the only difference being the device that fires them. The shell needs to be full so that liquid sloshing around does not affect the accuracy of the weapon. The wall of the shell has to be thick enough to survive the force and shock of being fired out of an artillery piece. It also needs to be thick enough to contain the agent safely in storage, if the artillery shell is meant to be filled and stored for a long period of time, as many of the nerve agents can be corrosive to metal over time. It’s also helpful that the shell not shatter on impact, as that would just create a puddle of liquid agent. The explosive charge needs to be big enough to break open the shell case and create a mist of droplets of the liquid nerve agent. But it can’t be so big that it destroys the nerve agents. Too small a ratio of agent to explosive makes for a poor weapon. The fuze needs to be right, too: Sarin shells must detonate on surface contact for best effect, whereas a shell full of thick oily VX is best detonated some metres above ground.


TOXIC  Rockets are another means of delivering nerve agents. A rocket typically has a much thinner and lighter case than an artillery shell, as it undergoes somewhat less shock when fired from the tube. (Cannons fire all of the propellant in one big explosion, whereas rockets burn the propellant over a period of seconds.) However, the thinner and lighter case of a rocket must also accommodate the rocket fuel as well as the explosive charge. This can make for more dangerous conditions in storage.  Bombs dropped from aircraft are another way of delivering nerve agents. Again, they could be fuzed for surface detonation or to detonate slightly above ground, depending on the persistency of the agent. Bombs can be generally divided into two categories. The simpler design is basically similar to a rocket or large artillery shell and is a large amount of liquid agent and an explosive bursting charge. The other approach is the so-called “cluster bomb.” They are not to be confused with conventional cluster bombs, but operating in the same general way. The “bomb” is actually just a case for a load of smaller bombs called “bomblets” or “submunitions”. The bomblets, which could be the size of a hand grenade or a tin can, contain nerve agent and an explosive charge. The cluster bomb is designed to burst open at a reasonable altitude and scatter the bomblets in a pattern. The exact figure, often still classified decades later, was determined by extensive trial and error. A third, relatively unique type of bomb, the “Bigeye”, is an exotic device which is discussed elsewhere.  Missile warheads are much like artillery shells, only bigger. They do not need to survive the shock of being fired out of a cannon, but they must survive the heat of re-entry into the atmosphere. In principle, a warhead could be a volume of liquid agent and a bursting charge just like an artillery shell. In practice, making this work proves difficult but not impossible. Liquids expand when heated, so a warhead that bursts open too early is not much use. A more practical approach was to use 280

APPENDIX 1 bomblets, as with the cluster bomb. The missile warhead bursts open at a calculated altitude, scattering the bomblets over a wide area. As missiles are expensive, especially when compared to artillery shells, and the trial and error associated with developing an effective warhead is a substantial technical barrier.  Aerial spray tanks are very much as they sound. They are tanks of liquid agent which are attached to an aircraft. The aircraft flies at a reasonably low altitude, generally at a straight line at a particular speed worked out painstakingly through trial and error. This dispenses a narrow cloud of droplets of agent which then gets dispersed by the wind. A key issue here is safety of the aircrew. Flying low and slow in a straight line is a good way to get shot down. If done improperly, the aircrew can be exposed to nerve agents and an expensive aircraft can be contaminated. Even a very small amount of nerve agent can cause vision problems for a pilot. Aerial spray tanks can be made to work, but it takes time and effort. In practical testing, they elicit a mixed verdict.  A few countries have developed chemical land mines, generally with persistent nerve agents. These are used like conventional landmines in order to create a barrier to movement of military forces, both on foot and in vehicles. Unlike normal explosive landmines, such mines become a barrier that lasts beyond the detonation of the mine. Such minefields are harder to clear because any sappers or combat engineers clearing one would need to do so while wearing cumbersome protective equipment.  It is also worth mentioning things that generally make for poor nerve agent weapons. Hand grenades, naval gunnery shells, and shells for firing from tank cannons are all theoretically possible, but have little track record of being made or used.  Finally, there are improvised devices as might be used by terrorists. Because of their improvised nature, such devices are not standardised and are likely not the product of incremental improvements through rigorous iterations of development, mod


TOXIC elling, and test firing. This is not to say that such a device would not be dangerous, but that the danger posed by one would be highly variable and unpredictable. The CDTF My own experience with nerve agents started in the US Army. I was an officer in the US Army Chemical Corps, the branch charged with protecting the Army from chemical, biological, and radiological hazards. A bedrock of my training was a series of visits to the CDTF—the “Chemical Defense Training Facility”— then located at Fort McClellan, Alabama. The facility has since moved to Missouri, but is substantially the same experience. The lack of safe and realistic ways to train Chemical Corps soldiers in defensive tasks with chemical warfare agents had long been a shortcoming in the Army’s chemical defence readiness. The CDTF, which opened in 1988, gave everyone in the Chemical Corps a chance to see what Sarin and VX looked like.  The CDTF was a complex of buildings hidden down an unmarked road in a remote corner of the Fort. It was divided into clean and “dirty” sides. The area which contained toxic agent had a large bay with a tank and several other vehicles in it, and a number of smaller bays.  As a young officer, this was a two-day operation. The first day was orientation, mask fitting, and a full tour of the site. The staff showed us more or less everything, either in person or by video. We inspected the banks of filters and the instrumentation used to monitor nerve agent levels. We had our blood drawn for analysis and comparison, should they think we were accidentally exposed. If you broke one of the rules or somehow were thought to have committed an unsafe act, you were “redlined” and you had to have your blood drawn a second time for comparison.  The Army issued ragged old cast-off clothing and a full set of chemical protective clothing. We were divided into small groups. 282

APPENDIX 1 After several tests to ensure an adequate but not too tight a fit of one’s mask, you head outside. The CDTF veteran will quickly advise you not to put it on too tight, for fear of headaches. And headaches are a nerve agent symptom.  In outdoor training areas around the back of the buildings, there are mock-ups of the small and large training bays. You proceed, in your assigned small groups, around the bays and perform all of the tasks you are expected to do inside, only there isn’t any actual nerve agent outside. This is all a dry run. Everything is lock-step: for example “take a piece of paper from the booklet with one hand” or “use your left hand to open the packet”—nothing is left to chance. Everyone, from seventeen year old Privates to crusty old Brigadier Generals have faced the same processes. It was the most levelling experience of my mostly boring Army career.  The first time I did it, I was looking forward to getting it over with. It was Alabama, and it was hot. Inside, however, in the toxic nerve agent area, it was cool. We went inside for a bit to drink some water, go to the toilet, and get ready for the real thing. We got ready to go. We masked up again. Our gloves and boots were checked. Everyone checked their buddy. The instructors checked each other and all of us. The seal of everyone’s mask was checked once again. We walked through a series of doors. The inside of the toxic area is at a lower pressure than outside, so if there are any small leaks, air leaks in, not out. Doors slam shut behind you from the pressure difference. Before the last door, an instructor puts three nerve agent antidote kits into the cargo pocket of your overgarment. It was the first time I’ve ever actually had an actual atropine and oxime injector, rather than a training one. This is what made it feel real to me.  Inside, the mask hood was no longer laminating the side of my head in the Alabama sun. Over in the corner was the “goon squad.” If something bad were to happen, these were the guys


TOXIC who would drag you out, decontaminate you, strip your clothing off, and shove you through a special hatch, where, no doubt, the medics would turn you into a pin cushion with nerve agent antidote autoinjectors. My later experience would inform me that the goon squad was there largely for dramatic effect. Very few safety accidents ever happened in the CDTF. Some people don’t do well in masks, but such folk have largely been weeded out by the time it came to be in the CDTF, with entire days being spent in full gear. Heat casualties and anxiety attacks happened, but were rare.  We exited the central area and turned left into one of the small training bays. There was a jeep on jack-stands. It was ancient, and looked like it had been cast off from a war movie set. Everywhere the lighting was subdued. It wasn’t exactly bright, but nor was it dark either. Everything had a greenish tint to it. The walls and floors were light green. The jeep was dark green. Our mask hoods were matt green, the rest of us were in woodland camouflage “battle dress overgarments”. We are in pairs. A pair of “Agent Handlers” came through the door into the room. One of them carried what looked for all the world like a clear plastic “Tupperware” box full of clear liquid. The Sarin and VX were in syringes, kept submerged in liquid to neutralise them if the syringes leaked. One of the handlers put a few drops of Sarin and a few drops of VX on the bumper of the jeep. The Sarin looked just like water. The VX was oilier. It didn’t spread out the same way as the Sarin. Within a minute or so, the M8A1 nerve agent detector in the corner of the room started to wail. It was evidently quite sensitive.  One of was told to pick up an aged, well worn M16 rifle. An agent handler put drops of Sarin and an ironic smiley face of VX onto the side of the rifle I was holding. It just sat there in a blob. M8 detector paper VX turned a dark green colour and the Sarin turned bright gold, almost instantaneously. We used a decon284

APPENDIX 1 tamination kit to decontaminate the VX and the Sarin. To be fair, most of the Sarin was already gone through evaporation.  The next exercise was at the bumper of the jeep. We saw that the blobs of VX were still there. But the drops of Sarin had gone, having evaporated in a few minutes. More Sarin came out, a few drops, but on a different bumper from the VX. We were then instructed to go through the elaborate process of using the M256 chemical agent detector kit. It worked quickly for Sarin, which is relatively volatile, but very slowly for VX, which barely gives off any vapour.  We left the room as an instructor carefully examined our eyes for miosis. We filed out into the large training bay. A tank and several other vehicles were in the room. Here, we did much the same as before, only on a larger scale. I seem to recall it was pretty much just VX in this large bay, but I might be wrong. Nerve agent was placed onto the most forlorn tank in the US Army and a jeep. We used a Chemical Agent Monitor to detect the presence of nerve agent on the tank and jeep. It only worked if we moved very slowly. One could see that, at 1 cm per second, it would take a day to scan a tank. We decontaminated the side of the tank using the M11 and M13 decon sprayers, which had not changed in decades. The very noxious “Decontamination Solution Number 2” was reassuringly caustic. If left on too long, it will bubble the paint on a tank.  We then headed to the “doff line” which is where you undergo a carefully staged process to clean up and then remove protective clothing, one step at a time. Because you end up naked in the shower at the end, this is the one part of CDTF that becomes gender segregated. We had rehearsed the process, aside from the latter, outside in the clean areas. You begin by dipping your gloves in the buckets yet again and then scrubbing your buddy’s mask hood with a wet towel. Gradually, as we processed down the line, various bits of our kit got removed, till we were wearing


TOXIC nothing at all, having dropped your mask at the last point before exiting the toxic environment.  What did the experience teach us? Officially, it taught that we could be in an environment with nerve agents and that our equipment would protect us. It did that. And it showed us how our detection and decontamination equipment would interact with actual nerve agents. Did it give us bragging rights over the rest of the Army? Certainly. Once it was all over, it didn’t actually seem to be that big a deal. Did it give us confidence? I can’t actually say. But I know that many of us were scared before we did it and full of bravado afterwards. Poisoning the monkey In 2003 I was sent to a course in Edgewood, Maryland at the US Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense. The class was called “Field Management of Chemical Casualties.” This course was designed to give people who already had some medical and CBRN training a good basis in emergency treatment of people exposed to chemical warfare agents.  The Field Management class was thorough and very focused on pre-hospital medicine, hence the “field” in the title. Most of the attendees were enlisted medics from various branches of service. A handful were doctors. The staff at Edgewood were extremely knowledgeable and the lectures were a veritable firehose of information. Many of the things that I had understood from an operational or logistical angle were explained in a biological and medical context. The course covered not just nerve agents, but Mustards, Lewisite, Chlorine, cyanides, phosgene, the hallucinogen BZ, the vomiting agent Adamsite, and the various riot control agents. We also covered various hazardous materials found in military settings.  The theory and the practice of treating nerve agent exposure was taught in great detail. Case studies from research on ani286

APPENDIX 1 mals, accidental exposures during the Cold War, and the Tokyo attack were discussed at length. By far the most interesting part of the course was the animal exercise. We treated an African green monkey for nerve agent exposure. For understandable ethical and safety reasons, the monkey was sedated through the experience. The Army had decided that using real warfare agents would require too much safety and security effort, so the poor monkey was subjected to intravenous physostigmine. This is the exact same chemical found in the aforementioned Calabar bean. Like Sarin and VX, this chemical substance is an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor. In the right dose an IV injection of it causes the same cholinergic crisis that an exposure to Sarin would cause, only without the paperwork and safety concerns associated with Sarin and VX.  I was worried about having to intubate a monkey and find veins for an IV. Fortunately, the skilled veterinary technicians of USAMRICD did the hard work for us. Our monkey was sedated, intubated, and had a good IV drip going courtesy of the veterinary techs. This particular monkey was the size of a small human child, so paediatric medical instruments and devices were the right size. As physostigmine has to be ingested or injected, we did not have to have chemical protective clothing or masks. We wore normal medical gear—surgical masks, gloves, and visors.  The instructors let us take baseline vital signs on the victim. Heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure were all assessed. A pulse oximeter reported the oxygen saturation of the monkey’s blood. One of the technicians administered a potent dose of physostigmine through the already emplaced IV line. The agent started to work quite quickly. I recall that the monkey started reacting in well under a minute. We saw the classic signs of nerve agent exposure. His pupils shrank to a tiny pinpoint. Mucus and saliva appeared. I had no idea that a furry monkey could sweat, but I learned that day that at least this particular species of mon


TOXIC key sweats on their palms and soles. At first, the monkey’s heart rate increased. It might have choked to death had it not already been intubated, due to the profuse saliva. Its heart rate was careering around and he began to twitch all over. I was glad that the monkey was sedated as this was clearly an unwell animal. The muscle twitching must have affected the heart and lungs, as suddenly the heart rate started to go down. Breathing was not very effective, and the pulse oximeter started to show a decline in the oxygen in the blood.  Up to this point, we were not treating the monkey. The intent here was to drive the monkey to the point where it would likely die, then let us save him. Finally, the instructors let us spring into action. We used a bag valve ventilator and oxygen to assist the monkey’s breathing. We stood ready to give chest compressions should his heart stop. The drugs came next. We gave atropine through the IV line. The technicians had already calculated the correct doses, as the adult human-sized autoinjectors we were familiar with were too big. We gave a little at first. The monkey started to get a bit better, but was still convulsing. In went some diazepam, the anticonvulsant. Then some more atropine. Then pralidoxime. The monkey stopped sweating his heart rate stabilized. Breathing stabilized. We no longer needed the bag ventilator. Once the breathing had stabilized and the heart rate started going up, he had turned the corner. The monkey would live to see another day. I later learned that these particular monkeys only “worked” for a few days a year. This particular exercise is no longer performed by the US Army, partly out of concern for animal welfare. Did Speer Plan to Kill Hitler with Tabun? Nerve agents have their own folklore attached to them and one of the most durable fables is Albert Speer allegedly considered 288

APPENDIX 1 assassinating Hitler with Tabun during the siege of Berlin. Albert Speer spent twenty years in prison after his trial at Nuremburg, locked up in Spandau. He wrote thousands of pages of notes during his incarceration, some of which found their way into his book Inside the Third Reich, published in German in 1969 and in English in 1970.  In his memoir, Speer claims that, by February 1945, Hitler’s “scorched earth” policy—of leaving nothing left of Germany for its foreign occupiers—was the final straw. He claims to have plotted with Dieter Stahl, an industrialist who worked for Speer in his ministry supervising armaments manufacture, to try to kill Hitler and claimed that he had looked into procuring a quantity of Tabun, and was planning to pour it into the air intakes of Hitler’s bunker.15 By Speer’s account, he was put off by the fact that the air intake was actually camouflaged as a chimney, more than ten feet high. Speer himself points out that this is sensible, given that most chemical warfare agents are heavier than air.  Speer made a few remarks on this alleged plot. First, he says that he had significant problems obtaining any Tabun. This seems probable, given the nature of bureaucracy. An American Secretary of Defense has thousands of nuclear weapons and tanks under their purview but summoning them for his personal perusal in the office is a tall order. Speer also claimed that existing German filters would not block Tabun. This was not true, as hundreds of technicians wore masks with German filters at the factory in Dyhernfurth and during tests at Raubkammer. This is an implausible claim. More improbably, he said that Tabun was a solid, and would only be effective if employed in a chemical artillery shell with an explosive burster charge to scatter the chemical agent into small particles. This does not correspond at all to the physical characteristics of Tabun. Finally, we’re expected to believe that Hitler’s architect was unable to find a ladder.  Digging deeper into this story, one encounters some serious problems with Speer’s account. When his memoir was published,


TOXIC his interrogation files were still secret. But we can read them now. Edmund Tilley interrogated both Speer and one Dietrich Stahl16 and devoted an entire file to investigating the plot to poison the Führerbunker.  The problem with Speer’s Tabun claims is that neither he nor Stahl mentioned Tabun in their interrogation. Rather, their plot involved a “solid poison gas.” Stahl’s interrogation is very clear about this. He describes a solid substance that needed to be dispersed in fine particles to work effectively. This was almost certainly the chemical warfare agent “Clark I” (diphenylchlorarsine) or “Clark II”—(diphenylcyanoarsine). Both are solids. This is a First World War-era chemical, and it is a strong irritator rather than a lethal agent. First World War-era masks were not very effective against these agents and they were used by the Germans to clear out trenches due to its highly irritating but generally non-lethal effects, including uncontrollable sneezing. Moreover, for Clark I and II to work as designed, they need to be in quite small particles to work their way through the filters in use at the time. All of this meshes quite closely to Speer’s mangled explanation of Tabun. Speer was either confused or exaggerating when he wrote his memoir. [Nerve agents and the Holocaust] One cannot write about poisonous chemicals and Nazi Germany without addressing the use of toxic chemicals for extermination purposes. The Third Reich imprisoned a vast number of people based on ethnicity, religion, or other categories. Jews, Romany / Gypsies, Slavs, communists, socialists, Freemasons, disabled people, Jehovah’s witnesses, homosexuals, people of African descent, and many others were sent to labour camps, concentration camps, and extermination camps. Many died from starvation, disease, hanging, and shooting. However, a number of the 290

APPENDIX 1 camps systematically used toxic gas to execute millions of people. The development of nerve agents in Nazi Germany is well known, as is the use of poisonous gases in the camps. As a result, some people have come to the incorrect conclusion that nerve agents were used for extermination purposes in the camps. The truth is that the mass murder of the Jews and others in the Holocaust was carried out without nerve agents.  The substance used for the evil extermination camps was known as “Zyklon-B”, which was not a nerve agent. Zyklon-B is what military chemical warfare experts termed a “blood agent.” It is a granular substance which has the chemical warfare agent hydrogen cyanide impregnated into an absorbent material called diatomaceous earth. When used, hydrogen cyanide would desorb from the granular pellets. Hydrogen cyanide works by interfering with the body’s ability to use oxygen in cells, causing hypoxia and death. It has been used, with a very mixed success rate, as a chemical weapon in its own right.  There are several reasons why nerve agents were likely not used in the Nazi extermination camps. First was timing. By the time Tabun was effectively in mass-production, the death camps were already using Zyklon B. Decisions had been made and contracts had been let. Zyklon B itself was not a secret, as it was a commercial product used for fumigation. It was far less expensive to produce than Tabun. Another issue was the physical characteristics of Tabun. It was a liquid, and if you used it in a confined space, it would likely contaminate the bodies and the chambers for a day or longer. This simply did not suit the logistical requirements for rapid turn-around and for safety of the personnel running the camps. Tabun was too persistent and too dangerous for the camp guards to use. The hydrogen cyanide gas is extremely non-persistent and does not contaminate surfaces or bodies.  Organizationally, the SS was a bitter rival to the Wehrmacht. Nerve agents were paid for by the Army and jealously kept as an


TOXIC Army secret, a new technology they were determined to keep from their rivals in the SS. As a general rule, the entire nerve agent enterprise was fairly well firewalled off from the SS. The use of Zyklon B for extermination was a monstrous act, but it was entirely discrete from the development of nerve agents.



The nerve agent family tree started with a German programme, which then branched both east and west. However other, smaller, nerve agent programmes have sprung up since 1945. Generally, these lesser programmes are shrouded in secrecy. They are not documented the way that the German, American, British, and Soviet nerve agent programmes are. By necessity, this appendix provides less detail on these smaller programs as not much information exists in the public domain about them. The nerve agent programmes in Iraq and Syria actually resulted in use of nerve agents and deserve deeper examination and are discussed in the foregoing chapters. France France developed a nerve agent programme starting in the late 1940s. Its provenance is still mysterious, and there are many gaps in the story that are hard to fill. However, the story started with the French joining the Americans and British in occupying a sector of Germany after the war. The IG Farben headquarters at Ludwigshafen ended up in the French occupation zone.


TOXIC  Some lower- or mid-level German personnel may have ended up in French custody. Otto Ambros spent nearly half a year in the French occupation zone, avoiding arrest. As it would have been easy for the French to give him over to the British or Americans, it is easy to speculate that he was valuable to the French. Given Ambros’ mendacity, there is little doubt he would have sold information for money if given the opportunity. In addition, some German Tabun made it into French hands from captured stockpiles. The French had captured some stocks of German artillery shells filled with Tabun. French chemists were skilled, so some amount of reverse engineering is possible.  In the immediate aftermath of the war, relations were strained between the French and their British and American allies. However, they improved later, and American-French defence relations were generally good in the 1950s. America had a network of military bases in France. Some degree of technical cooperation between France and America may have transferred some expertise on nerve agent manufacture.1  The French, like their American and British allies, pursued the development and manufacturing of nerve agents in the 1950s and 1960s. The French chemical warfare research establishment was re-founded in April, 1945 and was called Centre d’Etudes du Bouchet (CEB). It was located just south of Paris near the town of Vert-le-Petit.  The French government ran a testing area in a remote rural part of Algeria, at a place referred to as B2-Namous.2 Its formal name was the “Seasonal Experimentation Station” and it was about 800 m above sea level and approximately one hundred km east of the Moroccan border, near a valley called Oued Namous. This facility dated back to 1935, when the French military had decided to test chemical weapons outside mainland France for safety and security purposes.  In 1947, a French article disclosed the chemical structure of Tabun and Sarin.3 By 1948, the French were producing some 294

APPENDIX 2 quantities of Tabun. By February 1949, if not earlier, the French army was routinely testing Tabun munitions in open air testing at B2-Namous. Colonel Loucks flew out to Algeria to watch a Tabun test.4 Because of this fact, it can be deduced that the French had opted to go down a Tabun manufacturing route rather than holding out for an eventual ability to mass produce Sarin. If this is the case, the French would have been the first of the western allies to take nerve agents into production.  By 1959, armed with technical data from Swedish papers and some information gleaned from US and British sources, the French synthesized a chemical compound in 1959 that they called “A4”. It was, in fact, VX. In 1962, the US Army, with permission from the UK, officially transferred technical data on VX production to their French colleagues. (As this book was going to press the UK government file on this technology transfer is reported as “missing” from the National Archives.) The French cracked the secret to mass production of Sarin by the early 1960s.  From 1963 to 1965, the French set up a pilot-scale nerve agent plant at the ancient powder works in Braqueville, in southwest France, near Toulouse. It was referred to as “Le demi-grand chimique.” According to Tucker, several tons of Sarin and 400 kg of VX were made at the facility. Based on the testing at B2 Namous, 105mm artillery shells and artillery rockets were being developed for the French military. In the early 1970s, the decision to make more chemical agent was taken, but by 1976 it was reversed and the Braqueville plant ceased operations.  One must not forget that a bitter war for independence was underway in Algeria in the 1950s and early 1960s. Algerian independence threatened not only the chemical testing facilities at B2 Namous, but also the French nuclear weapons testing areas. The Evian accords, which granted Algerian independence, gave the French temporary custody to these areas for five years. The


TOXIC French frantically tried to find a replacement to B2 Namous in French possessions like French Guiana or New Caledonia, but without success. The Algerians drove a hard bargain for a five year extension. The French flogged off other military bases and equipment to the Algerians at a huge discount in order to keep B2 Namous. In addition, they agreed that the French military operating there would operate in plain clothes. In addition, the French provided training at the French military chemical defence school near Grenoble and gave some of the technical data from B2 Namous. The fact that this did not, in fact, lead to a chemical weapons programme in Algeria is quite fortunate.  In 1972, the lease was up for B2 Namous again. A more difficult bargain was struck. The Algerians wanted observers present for any chemical weapons trials and tests. They also wanted to have the right to veto any particular test. The French agreed, but started to taper off their tests in Algeria. In the early 1970s, some of the B2 Namous testing was moved to Camp de Mourmelon, near Reims. By 1977, the last test in Algeria had been conducted. The site was decommissioned and decontaminated. In 1981, it was handed over to the Algerian government.  A French arsenal of over 400 tons of chemical agents was resting in arsenals, but research efforts continued. The experts at CEB were working on a binary “intermediate volatility agent” in the 1980s. This would be something more volatile than VX, but less volatile than Sarin. Some information on this programme was shared with the US, which was researching along similar lines for its own binary programme. The French system became known as the “ACACIA” and was a binary rocket. However, by 1987, President Mitterrand suspended the programme and in 1991 it was formally cancelled. France acceded to the CWC and joined the OPCW. It rid itself of nerve agents and now participates in chemical arms control diplomacy around the world. 296

APPENDIX 2 The Warsaw Pact Allies of the USSR The various eastern European states allied with the Soviet Union were incorporated into overall Soviet military strategy and doctrine. All of these countries had military chemical troops organised and equipped along Soviet lines. There is little evidence of mass production of nerve agents. However, all of the Warsaw Pact countries (East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria) had military chemical laboratories which had the ability to make small quantities of nerve agents. Hungary, Poland, and Czechoslovakia all had chemical warfare programmes in the interwar era. A 1977 military chemistry textbook from East Germany contains highly accurate methods for benchtop production of all of the nerve agents known at the time. It is also reasonably well-substantiated that expertise from eastern Europe was used to aid the chemical warfare efforts of the Soviet Union’s middle eastern allies like Syria and Iraq. The Czechoslovak military chemical laboratory near Brno was a leading part of the Soviet bloc’s defensive efforts and was (and still is, in its new form) a centre of expertise on detection, protection, and decontamination. Likewise, the Polish chemical warfare laboratory outside of Warsaw had the capability to make small quantities of nerve agent.  It is possible that some of the supply chain for Soviet chemical weapons came from its eastern European allies. Many chemical factories had, at least nominally, wartime missions that were different from their ostensible peacetime use. Doubtless, many documents were lost or destroyed during the transition from communism, so the full extent of the involvement of eastern Europe in the Soviet chemical warfare enterprise is still not fully explored.  In 2015 in Bulgaria, an attempted assassination may have used either a chemical warfare agent or a pesticide. This may be linked


TOXIC to Russia and have little to do with Bulgarian nerve agents, if ever any existed.5 Egypt Egypt has had a secret chemical warfare programme for decades. Some old Mustard may have been recovered from abandoned British or Italian munitions which had been stockpiled during the Second World War but never used. In the 1950s, it was rumoured the Egypt was recruiting German chemical warfare experts. Egypt had some rocket experts from Nazi Germany, but the extent to which anyone involved in the Nazi Tabun and Sarin programmes ended up working in Egypt remains largely unknown. Leopold von Sicherer, who was one of the Spandau chemists who originally examined Schrader’s Tabun in the 1930s, allegedly was approached in the 1950s by the Egyptians who were seeking to hire him.6 In addition, the Nasser regime (1954 to 1970) received military assistance from the Soviet Union which may have included chemical warfare expertise. By 1963, the Egyptians likely had Sulphur Mustard and phosgene, produced at a site called “Military Plant 801” at Abu Za’abal which had research and production facilities. This site was referred to as “The Company for Chemicals and Pesticides.”  The Egyptian chemical warfare programme came into the world’s notice in the 1960s during one of several Yemeni civil wars. Egyptian military forces were intervening in the Yemeni conflict, fighting against royalists. Between 1963 and 1967, a series of airstrikes by the Egyptian air force dropped chemical bombs. These air strikes were carried out by Soviet-supplied Ilyushin 28 bombers and they dropped chemical bombs with Cyrillic characters on them. The bombs seem to have contained Mustard, phosgene, and the riot control agent CN.7 Whether or not nerve agents were used is a matter of debate. From April 298

APPENDIX 2 1967, the Saudi government submitted a series of claims to the UN that attacks had included an unknown nerve agent. In the absence of physical or medical evidence, and a mechanism for fairly evaluating such evidence, we must consider these claims possible but unproven.  By the early 1970s, Plant 801 was producing Sarin. Technical assistance had been received from the Soviet bloc, allegedly through the Technical University of Budapest in Hungary. VX was developed at some later point. Some Sarin was available by the time the Yom Kippur War with Israel broke out in 1973. In the aftermath of that short war the Egyptian government, now led by Anwar Sadat, apparently considered their chemical weapons to be a deterrent against possible nuclear weapon use by Israel. During this period, Egypt shared chemical warfare technology with Syria and Iraq. Iraq helped underwrite Egyptian efforts by sending money to support the research, in return for technical knowledge.8  Further information on Egypt and nerve agents reached the public domain in the 1980s. The facility at Plant 801 was accidentally exposed to the Egyptian public in 1983 during a  trade union dispute. By 1985 the El Nasr Pharmaceutical Company, a state-owned enterprise, was building a factory for chemical production. A Swiss company, Krebs AG, had been contracted to build the plant and the US firm Stauffer Chemi­ cals was approached to supply vital equipment. Both the US and Swiss governments pressured the Egyptians to specify what chemicals were to be produced.9 The Egyptians refused, but evidence strongly suggested that the plant was for making phosphorus trichloride, a precursor for nerve agent production. By the time the Swiss and Americans had taken effective sanctions action the plant was already built, highlighting the deficiencies of the non-proliferation processes of the day. Egypt’s current status is opaque. It is one of the only countries that


TOXIC has not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention and joined the OPCW. Rhodesia / Zimbabwe The so-called Chimurenga or Bush War in Rhodesia burned from 1964 to 1979. This was a complex conflict, wherein the ethnically white government of the former British colony of Southern Rhodesia distanced itself from its old colonial power and sought to maintain white rule over a black majority population. As a newly declared republic, it then fought a bitter civil war to maintain white rule against several different black African nationalist movements. The war was, by all accounts, a dirty one, with terrorism of various types being used by both sides of the conflict.  It is alleged that various chemical and biological weapons were used during the late 1970s in the “Bush War”. A 2017 book, Glenn Cross’s Dirty War, comprehensively assembles the evidence that the Rhodesian government, in particular its Central Intelligence Organisation, deployed chemical and biological substances in its counterinsurgency campaign against various insurgent groups. Cross’s own research indicates a total of 765 deaths among insurgent forces, nearly all in the east of the country, attributed to chemical and biological weapons. It is likely that there were also a serious number of illnesses as well, although there is less data on this.  While most of this campaign did not employ nerve agents, one part of it seems to have used a commercial nerve agent. It is alleged in Cross’s book, with some degree of credibility, that part of the chemical and biological covert action campaign used the chemical Parathion. Parathion is a commercial pesticide invented by none other than Gerhard Schrader during his wartime work at IG Farben. After the war, the patent was seized by the allies and other companies manufactured it. Parathion is quite a deadly 300

APPENDIX 2 poison and its use as a pesticide is either banned or heavily restricted in many parts of the world. It is very much a nerve agent along the lines of Sarin or Tabun, but its characteristics make it less useful in military weapon systems. It can burn, and it is a solid in storage. In its commercial employment, it is meant to be used in dilution in solutions of 0.05 or 0.1%.  Parathion was commercially available and could be openly procured. It appears that the Rhodesian security services bought the pesticide through a front company. Diluted solutions could easily be refined to get stronger concentrations than were available in commercial products. Parathion, like the military nerve agents, is an absorption hazard through the skin. The Rhodesian covert military operation contaminated clothing with Parathion. They had studied which parts of the body absorbed the poison most effectively and determined that the groin and armpits were good targets for poison. The crotch and armpits of various items of clothing were treated with Parathion and left in places were guerrillas were likely to find them or were given to itinerant clothing vendors who would sell them in areas where there were known to be insurgents. The Parathion may have been used in conjunction with another chemical, DMSO, which purportedly increases the rate of exposure through human skin.10  Local hospitals started reporting a marked increase in hospitalisations from exposure to organophosphates. Both dermal exposures and ingestion exposures increased, suggesting that guerrillas got chemical agent on their hands and then ate. Although accidents involving organophosphate pesticides were not unknown in Rhodesian hospitals, they were relatively rare before 1975. From 1976, the number of cases started to increase, according to medical statistics quoted in Cross’s book.11 It appears that the project veered away from Parathion after an accidental exposure hospitalised one of the Rhodesian security forces staff. 12 While this particular episode is very much a foot


TOXIC note in the history of nerve agents, it highlights two points. One is that industrial chemicals, such as Parathion, can have potential uses as weapons. The other is that it reveals a direct lineage from Schrader’s work for IG Farben. Although the harshest and most dangerous organophosphate pesticides are not as prevalent as they once were, most of them are still readily available on the market for people wanting to procure them. The South Africans evidently played a supporting role in the Rhodesian chemical and biological effort, although the relationship between the two was not always a smooth one. South Africa South Africa has had a defensive interest in chemical weapons research ever since South African soldiers were exposed to chemical warfare agents in the First World War. South Africa had helped Britain to produce phosgene and Mustard during the Second World War. In 1960, the South African military set up a chemical company called Mechem, which largely produced riot control agents.  Apartheid-era South African governments generally had a highly defensive world view according to which they were surrounded and outnumbered by hostile black states, many of which they viewed as either communist or leaning towards communism. The decades of varying levels of violence, both internally and in the form of bush wars in neighbouring countries, was viewed as a struggle for national survival. In 1978, President Botha promulgated a “total strategy” against threats to the regime. This action made siege mentality an official policy and would lead to many actions that went above and beyond normal defence and security efforts. One of these was the development of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons.  The South African covert programme to develop chemical and biological weapons was called “Project Coast”. Dr Wouter Basson 302

APPENDIX 2 was one of the leaders of the project. Established in 1981, the details of Project Coast are obscure. However, research into a large variety of exotic chemical and biological weapons was undertaken. The focus appears to have generally been on unconventional weapons and substances for crowd control. Basson’s Project Coast appears to have run through a number of cover companies for purposes of secrecy.  The tale of Project Coast is an interesting one, but it is largely beyond the scope of this book for the simple reason that they didn’t make or use much nerve agent. One of the network of companies set up by Project Coast, RRL, produced small quanties of Sarin and VX for testing protective equipment. There’s zero evidence that any industrial effort to produce nerve agents was ever contemplated, although it was certainly within the realm of feasibility for the South African chemical industry. However, one of the poisons that Basson’s group worked on for assassination use was the compound paraoxon,13 a chemical related to the pesticide parathion. This compound is, technically, a nerve agent. Rumours of nerve agent use in Angola are unsubstantiated.  My own discussions with South African specialists in the field led me to believe that, given the state of protective clothing and equipment in the apartheid era, South Africa did not feel that it could sustain extended offensive operations in a nerve agent environment without its own forces grinding to a halt from heat casualties. Sudan It is possible that a facility in Sudan may have been producing VX. In 1998, the US launched a cruise missile attack against a pharmaceutical factory. The Al-Shifa Pharmaceutical Factory was built on the northern outskirts of Khartoum between 1992 and 1996. The complex had four buildings and employed hundreds of staff making drugs for medical and veterinary uses.


TOXIC  American intelligence agencies suspected that the facility had ties to people involved in Iraq’s chemical weapons programme and Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda. The plant manager lived at the same address previously used by Osama Bin Laden.14 A covert CIA mission collected soil samples near the site. Upon laboratory analysis, it was claimed that these samples contained EMPTA. EMPTA is a possible intermediate chemical that could be used in the production of VX. However, it has other industrial uses.  The US strike came immediately after Al Qaeda’s attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, when the need to find ways to directly retaliate against Bin Laden’s group was acute, both for operational and political reasons; President Clinton was embroiled in the Lewinsky scandal at the time. On 20 August 1998, two US warships in the Red Sea launched 13 Tomahawk cruise missiles. The production areas of the factory were destroyed and the administrative building was heavily damaged. A night watchman was killed and ten workers injured.  It has not been conclusively been established whether any VX was ever produced in this facility. Both the company that operated the factory and the Sudanese government strongly denied any VX manufacture. The American intelligence was circumstantial. The verdict remains open, in my opinion. Michael Barletta, an American researcher provides an excellent discussion of the evidence and allegations.15 Libya In 1969, Muammar Gaddafi overthrew the Libyan monarchy and became leader of Libya. His idiosyncratic rule, which went by several names, lasted until his ouster in 2011. The Gaddafi regime aspired to acquire chemical weapons. Some sources16 speculate that Libya may have started as early as the 1970s, with 304

APPENDIX 2 unconfirmed rumours of transfers of chemical weapons from Egypt and technical assistance from East Germany around the same time. The Soviet bloc had close relations with Gaddafi’s Libya and much general military technology was transferred.  Rumours of earlier work aside, it is generally agreed that Libya seriously began its efforts with the construction of a manufacturing facility in Rabta in the mid 1980s. Variously described as a multipurpose chemical factory and a pharmaceutical factory, foreign firms were involved in the manufacture of the site. Two sites in Rabta were eventually built, referred to as Pharma 150 and Pharma 200. The German firm Imhausen Chemie was heavily involved in the construction of Libyan chemical warfare agent production facilities. It is altogether unclear how much Imhausen knew of the eventual end products. However, “wilful ignorance” is often a feature in such circumstances.  The first proper evidence of nerve agents being made in the Libya programme was an incident where sodium fluoride, which can be used as the basis for producing the fluorine compounds needed for making Sarin and Soman, was bought by the Libyan government in 1985.  Libya fought a war with neighbouring Chad in the late 1980s. Accusations of chemical warfare use by Libyan forces were made but unsubstantiated. None of the accusations involve any evidence of substances resembling nerve agents. One particular incident in 1987 may have involved Mustard. Evidence was allegedly turned over to the French, but nothing came of it. The Libyan Chemical Chronology17 compiled by the US-based Center for Nonproliferation Studies identifies only three possible incidents of chemical warfare during this conflict, and none of them involve nerve agents.  Despite the mess that Libya has later found itself in, the later years of the Gaddafi regime represent a victory in terms of chemical arms control and disarmament. The Libyan state eventually


TOXIC gave up its chemical weapons and signed the CWC in February 2004. According to their declaration to the OPCW, at the time of joining Libya had 24.7 tons of Mustard, 1,390 tons of precursor chemicals (including nerve agent precursors), and 3,563 empty aerial bombs. The OPCW put together an effort to ensure that the three declared production sites and the declared materiel were demilitarised. The demilitarisation effort was suspended because of the collapse of the Gaddafi regime and the ensuing period of strife. The safety and security of the remaining items was of concern. However, continued efforts, despite the conflict, assured that demilitarisation resumed. By September 2016, the last chemical warfare material was removed from Libya.18 Yugoslavia Communist Yugoslavia occupied an interesting position during the Cold War and had an offensive chemical warfare capability that included nerve agents. Although it is not well documented, the pre-war Kingdom of Yugoslavia had a limited chemical warfare programme, as did many countries in Europe. Yugoslavia had, in fact, both imported Mustard from Britain and developed its own manufacturing capacity. The chemical warfare agent manufacturing plant was destroyed in 1941 during the Nazi invasion of Yugoslavia and the relatively small Yugoslav chemical arsenal taken back to Germany. At the end of the war, this stockpile was not returned to Yugoslavia. It was disposed of by the allies after the war by being sunk at sea.  The leader of Yugoslavia, Josep Broz Tito, was able to maintain a large degree of independence from the Soviet Union and his Yugoslavia never came firmly under the Soviet yoke. While it was very much a communist state, it had strained relations with Moscow. It formed a bridge between East and West, and very much maintained its own independent policies under the idio306

APPENDIX 2 syncratic Marshal. Tito was fully capable of espousing Marx and Lenin, and running a police state regime, whilst hosting his friend Princess Margaret (Queen Elizabeth’s sister) at one of his retreats or flying to Ethiopia to go on safari with his friend Emperor Haile Selassie.  Tito figured that if both East and West were going to have chemical weapons, then he would as well. Post-war Yugoslavia pursued a policy of industrial development and built up a reasonable chemical industry for a medium-sized European nation. Both offensive and defensive technology for chemical warfare was manufactured by the Yugoslav government. This programme combined ideas from both East and West, as well as indigenous developments. Indeed, during a period of rapprochement with the West in 1956–1961, the US Army hosted a number of Yugoslav officers at Chemical Corps training courses in the US.19 A reasonable amount of knowledge of the US nerve agent programme may have been gleaned by these officers. Indeed, the Yugoslav M-1 gas mask, which entered service around 1960, appears to be a very close copy of the then-current US M9 mask.  The core of the Yugoslav programme appears to have been a research and production facility called the Military Technical Institute. It was established in Potoci, near Mostar in BosniaHerzegovina and by 1958 had begun laboratory scale production of chemical warfare agents. Production appears to have first been centred on phosgene. However, Sarin was of keen interest to the Yugoslav military. Tabun and VX were also researched at various points by the institute in Potoci. By the early 1960s, small amounts of Sarin were being produced for testing in 152mm and 155mm artillery shells at firing ranges in Bosnia.  In the mid 1960s a facility at Prva Iskri, not far outside of Belgrade to the southwest, was working on development of a production process for Sarin. (The chemical complex there still exists and has been a producer of high explosives.) The key


TOXIC obstacle at the time was to achieve large scale production of “DC”—the same Sarin precursor that the Americans had manufactured at the “Phosphate Development Works” in Alabama. Without a reliable way of producing pure DC, it is impossible to make Sarin. In the same vein as the so-called “Phosphate Development Works” the Yugoslav government set up their DC production line in the “Miloje Blagojevic Powder Works” in Lucani in central Serbia. This complex had been used as a gunpowder production facility since the late 1800s. The facility was built with a production capacity of 180 kg of DC per day. The DC was shipped to Potoci for the actual production of Sarin. By 1970, an initial production run of 600 kg of Sarin had been made in Potoci, sufficient for testing and proof of concept, but by no means a large national stockpile. It appears that, once the programme had been proven as a viable concept, the production lines were not active in much of the 1970s. The idea was to bring Sarin into production as needed in the event of a general mobilization.  During the 1980s, there was low-scale production of Sarin in support of general testing and development of weapon systems for the army. Additional test firings were made to optimise the performance of Sarin-filled artillery shells. Further, the Potoci facility wanted to test its apparatus for filling artillery shells. Approximately 4.5 tons of Sarin was produced in order to support this programme. A trial run in the late 1980s filled 250 122mm artillery shells with Sarin. The Yugoslav chemical programme also involved Mustard, Phosgene, the hallucinogen BZ, the irritant chlorpicrin, and the riot control agents CN and CS.  For reasons not altogether clear, the Yugoslavian government made the decision in the late 1980s to amass a stockpile instead of just having the capability to do so in emergencies. A full production run of DC at the Lucani works was done, but at the last minute, it appears that the 40 tons of DC was not converted into 308

APPENDIX 2 Sarin but kept in storage at Potoci. The scientists and engineers at Potoci were also working on “binary” Sarin artillery shells, although it is not known if they were perfected.  Part of the “Non-Aligned” foreign policy of Tito-era was to pursue military relationships with many similarly “Non-Aligned” countries. Yugoslavia pursued fraternal relationships with many countries in the developing world, particularly those of at least a nominal “socialist” or “progressive” denomination. Nasser’s Egypt and the Ba’ath regimes in Syria and Iraq fell into this category. Sales of military equipment were not unheard of, and there was military cooperation between various governments and Yugoslavia. Part of these military relationships was professional military education in Yugoslavia, which extended into military chemical warfare defence training. Egyptian, Syrian, and Iraqi military officers, and almost certain some from other countries, attended the military chemical warfare training courses in Zagreb. Indeed, I have confirmed this with several former Yugoslav Army chemical warfare officers who had Syrian classmates in the late 1970s and early 1980s.20 The Yugoslavs passed on technical knowledge to Saddam Hussein’s government. Iraqi specialists are alleged to have visited Potoci and Lucani in 1981.21 It is possible that Yugoslavia helped convert Iraqi “Orkan” rockets to carry chemical warheads.22  Yugoslavia descended into a series of bitter and violent ethnic conflicts after its disintegration. The Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia splintered. As parts of Yugoslavia peeled off and formed their own independent states, various parts of the chemical warfare estate risked being lost to the newly independent countries. A rump Yugoslavia shrank to Serbia and Montenegro. From 1992, chemical weapons stockpiles and manufacturing infrastructure were systematically removed from non-Serbian parts of Yugoslavia. In 2002, the now Serbian Yugoslav government formally admitted to having had a chemical warfare pro


TOXIC gramme and began cooperating with the OPCW. In 2003, OPCW inspectors visit to verify the destruction of offensive capabilities and manufacturing. Gradually, both the nerve agents and the ability to make them were destroyed and verified by international inspectors. Chile It is alleged that the regime of Augusto Pinochet in Chile produced a small quantity of nerve agents for use in assassinations. “Project Andrea” was an effort by DINA, the Chilean secret police. Much of this is still shrouded in the secrecy and drama of the Pinochet era. Allegedly, the chemists Francisco Oyarzun and Eugenio Berrios operated out of a covert laboratory in a house in Vitacura, outside of Santiago. This house was the residence of a shadowy American, Michael Townley, who may or may not have been involved with or employed by the CIA. Allegedly, ingredients and equipment were procured in the US and Europe and flown in to Chile, often using pilots for the state-owned LAN airline as couriers. Several assassinations with Sarin may have occurred. However, the sources on this particular episode are narrow, accounts vary greatly from each other, and the overall situation is difficult to corroborate without extensive further research. Berrios disappeared, allegedly smuggled out of the country after the fall of Pinochet. He appears to have been killed in 1992. The American, Townley, served time in prison in the US for the notoriously brazen assassination of Orlando Letelier, former Chilean ambassador to the US. He went into hiding in witness protection after release and may or may not be alive. China China during most of the Cold War was a great mystery to Western intelligence services. For much of the Cold War, efforts 310

APPENDIX 2 were more focused on understanding the Soviet Union. Some sources report that China made some efforts to produce chemical weapons in the 1920s. Chemical warfare was used by Japan against China during the second world war, a situation that has been a complicating factor in China-Japan diplomacy for decades. There have been numerous instances of Japanese chemical weapons being discovered in China.23  Not long after the end of the Chinese Civil War, the People’s Liberation Army established a chemical warfare branch. China had an active offensive chemical warfare programme, but it appears to have centred on older non-nerve agent chemical weapons. When China signed the CWC in 1993 and joined the OPCW in 1997, it declared that it has previously produced Mustard, Lewisite, and phosgene but had destroyed them and the facilities that made them.  Given what is now known about the Chinese chemical industry, nerve agent mass production seems unlikely in the 1950s and 1960s, but was certainly technically feasible from the 1970s onward. However, actual evidence is sparse. A 1999 US National Intelligence Council report24 speculates at length about the possibilities of nerve agent manufacture, but fell short of stating that it has happened. A chemical compound with the nickname “Chinese VX” has circulated in some academic papers but evidence linking it to China is scarce. China has devoted significant effort to developing of defensive measures against nerve agents. It is possible that they made nerve agents, but no compelling evidence says that they have done so.  The losing side in the Civil War, the Republic of China, retreated to Taiwan, where it exists to this day. Taiwan has periodically been rumoured to have dabbled in chemical warfare. Taiwan likely captured some Japanese chemical warfare agents that were abandoned on the island, but Japan had not developed nerve agents. Scientists on Taiwan may have made small quanti


TOXIC ties of nerve agents for research purposes, such as testing detection techniques. Taiwan’s odd political status means that it is not eligible to join the CWC but it says that it follows the provisions of the CWC anyway. North Korea North Korea is widely believed to have between 2,500 to 5,000 tons of chemical warfare agents. This range of figures is frequently cited but is rooted in speculation and supposition. The truth is unknown. Extensive use of underground facilities for both production and storage, combined with the hypervigilant nature of North Korea’s totalitarian regime mean that few verifiable facts leak out.  The North Korean military organised a chemical defence branch shortly after the end of the Korean War in 1953 and by the late 1950s chemical weapons are reputed to have been in the communist regime’s five-year plan. Early assistance from the USSR is almost a certainty, and technical assistance from China is a strong possibility. A US think-tank document25 from 2017 identifies 5 research facilities, 19 possible chemical warfare production facilities and at least 8 storage locations. However, the same document also points out that the research and production facilities are likely dual use. This document, however, is not universally accepted among analysts and some of its sources are apocryphal. In the literature, it is the outlier, showing far more chemical warfare activity than other studies with little supporting detail. Defectors have been known to make exaggerated claims in order to get preferential treatment.  North Korea has the industrial infrastructure to support the production of nerve agents, but there is not much evidence of whether it has manufactured nerve agents in large quantity. One of the many unknowns in the North Korean chemical warfare 312

APPENDIX 2 programme is the degree to which the regime produces and stockpiles nerve agents, as opposed to older simpler agents like Mustard. A large amount of the programme could be chemical weapons other than nerve agents. Small amounts of nerve agents were allegedly supplied by the USSR in the mid 1960s. However, given the overall poverty of North Korea, it is entirely plausible that they do not bother with a nerve agent stockpile because of the difficulty and expense.  In 2009, Asahi Shimbun, the Japanese newspaper, reported that Chinese authorities had detected very small amounts of Sarin vapour on the China-North Korea border near the city of Dandong. This report was repeated in several other outlets, but appears to have not been independently verified. Various detection methods can result in false positives. This incident may be a red herring or attributable to organophosphate pesticides. It is an interesting revelation, however, that such sensors are used on the border.  The assassination of the Supreme Leader’s half-brother in 2017 in Malaysia was discussed in an earlier chapter, but this episode demonstrates that North Korea has the ability to make the nerve agent VX. North Korea is not a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention, is not a member of the OPCW, and repeated denies the existence of a chemical weapons programme. South Korea The Republic of Korea operated an offensive chemical warfare programme, but then declared it and eliminated it before the end of 2008 in accordance with arms control agreements. Few details are available about this programme. It was one of the first countries to be declared to be fully compliant with its declaration under the CWC, although South Korea’s declaration was originally confidential. Whether or not this programme contained nerve agents is not clear.


TOXIC India India acknowledged that it had a chemical warfare programme in the past, when it acceded to the CWC. However, it appears to have been based on Mustard agents, which were all destroyed after their declaration. There is no concrete evidence that this programme ever involved nerve agents. However, there have been situations where Indian chemical manufacturers have been accused of exporting chemicals useful as nerve agent precursors. Israel The existence and composition of a chemical warfare arsenal in Israel has been an area of indecision and scrutiny for decades. Israel is surrounded by adversaries with nerve agent production, and Israel is one of the few countries that is not a signatory of the CWC. We do know that Israeli scientists visited the French facility at B2 Namous in 1960.26  Israel features highly in conspiracy theories and dubious claims about Israeli use of alleged nerve agents are legion. If more information leaks into the public domain, perhaps this section can be revised in a future edition.


pp. [xv–6]


PROLOGUE 1. Christison, Robert. “On the properties of the ordeal bean of old Calabar, Western Africa”, Monthly Journal of Medicine, March 1855, 20(3), pp. 193– 204. 1. AXIS OF WEEVILS: GERMANY, 1920s TO 1939 1. Petroianu, G.A., “Toxicity of phosphor esters: Willy Lang (1900–1976) and Gerda von Krueger (1907-after 1970)”, Pharmazie, 65. (2010). 2. Lange, W., “Verfahren zur Herstellung von Arylfluorsulfonaten und ihren Derivaten”, German Patent DE 532.394, filed Aug. 8, 1930; issued Aug. 27, 1931. 3. Lang, W. and Krüger, G., “Über Ester der Monofluophosphorsäure”, Chemische Bericht, 765:1598,1932. 4. Krüger, G, “Zur Kenntnis einiger Phosphor und Fluor enthaltender Verbindungen”, Inaug. Diss., Berlin 1933. 5. Schrader, Gerhard. The Development of New Insecticides, British Intelligence Objectives Subcommittee report 714, 1945. 6. In order to conform with international agreements, the element sulfur is spelled with an ‘f ’ instead of a ‘ph’ throughout. 7. Ibid., p. 6. 8. Ibid., p. 9. 9. BIOS 714, p. 26. 10. Holmstedt, p. 432. 11. “Schrader Reports”, Foreign Office File FO 1031/239, National Archives, Kew.  



pp. [6–28]

12. Tucker, Jonathan, War of Nerves, Anchor, New York, 2006, p. 26. 13. Chemical warfare agents have had numerous names, and many of them will only be mentioned in passing. 14. FO 1031/105, pp. 4–6. 15. Holmstedt, p. 433. 16. Mauroni, Albert J., Chemical and Biological Warfare, Pentagon Press, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 146–8. 17. So called “Mustard gas” is actually an oily liquid, usually in the form known as distilled Mustard or Sulfur Mustard. It is unrelated to the plant and foodstuff. Any references to “Mustard” in this book refer to the chemical warfare agent distilled or Sulfur Mustard unless otherwise specified. 18. FO 1031/105, p. 6. 19. Military Intelligence Division (UK), Systematic Search for New War Gases, January 1946. 20. Timperley, p. 16. 21. Ochsner, p. 17. 22. Ibid., p. 15. 23. Groehler, p. 286. 24. CIOS 8, Appendix 1. 25. WO 189/2615, pp. 4–5. 26. Hogg, I., German Artillery of World War 2, Frontline Books, 2013, p. 48. 27. WO 188/1567. 28. Preuss J. (2017), “The Reconstruction of Production and Storage Sites for Chemical Warfare Agents and Weapons from Both World Wars in the Context of Assessing Former Munitions Sites” in Friedrich, B., Hoffmann, D., Renn, J., Schmaltz, F., Wolf, M. (eds), One Hundred Years of Chemical Warfare: Research, Deployment, Consequences. Springer, Cham. 29. FO 1031/105, Schrader interrogation, 1945. Unnumbered handwritten page. 30. Ochsner, pp. 16–17. 31. Groehler, 185.  


2. OTTO’S FORTUNES: GERMANY 1939–45 1. Ibid., p. 298. 2. Nuremburg Military Tribunal, Vol. 7, pp. 1254–5. 3. Kahlert, p. 9. 4.



pp. [29–63]

5. Edmund Tilley, Interrogation Notes, FO 1031/190, paragraph 175, National Archives, Kew. 6. DEFE 44/308, August 1950. 7. Ericson, Edward E., Feeding the German Eagle: Soviet Economic Aid to Nazi Germany, 1933–1941, Greenwood, 1999, p. 195. 8. US Strategic Bombing Survey, Appendix A. 9. Struss testimony to US Congress. 10. References to “Remanit” as being a plastic in interrogation files are an error. 11. FM 3–11–9, pp. II-15. 12. Tucker, p. 60. 13. Myers T, and Langston J, “Eating for Victory”, CBRNE World, February 2012. 14. CIOS, 8, p. 6. 15. Preuss, p. 309. 16. Albert Speer, Testimony to War Crimes Trials at Nuremberg, day 160, 21 June 1946. 17. Tansey, E.M., ‘Henry Dale and the discovery of acetylcholine’, Comptes Rendus Biologies, vol. 329, issues 5–6, 2006, pp. 419–425. 18. York, G., “Otto Loewi: Dream inspires a Nobel-winning experiment on neurotransmission”, Neurology Today, 4:12, December 2004, pp. 54–55.  


3. THE END: GERMANY, 1944–45 1. Tucker, p. 69. 2. Scholz, J K. “The Dyhernfurth Raid”, World at War, January 2009. 3. Harris and Paxman, p. 65. 4. Gladwell, Malcolm. “Fred Soper and the global malaria eradication programme,” Journal of Public Health Policy 23.4 (2002): pp. 479–497. 5. Coombs and Sauer, 1945. 6. MACBW, p. 46. 7. Walters, Guy, “Did Nazi scientist save Britain from Hitler’s deadly gas that could have killed millions?” Daily Mail, 7 July 2010. 8. Gorzkowksa-Sobas, Agnieszka. “Chemical warfare agents and their interactions with solid surfaces.” Norwegian Defence Research Establishment, 1 March 2013. 9. Ochsner, pp 35–36.  






pp. [64–89]

2. CSDIC (UK) Special Intelligence Report 14, undated, presumed 1943, in WO 193/723. 3. Alsos turns out not to be an acronym. It is the Greek word for grove. Major General Leslie Groves was the commander of the Manhattan Project. 4. Tarr is wrongly identified as “Paul Tarr” in a number of other books, but is clearly identified in US Army records as Philip Tarr. 5. Philip Thomson, ‘William Henry (1860–1935)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 22 March 2019. 6. Bronxville Press, 7 January 1937. 7. Private papers of Raymond Maunsell, 4829, IWM, pp. 51–52. 8. O’Sullivan, Adrian. Nazi Secret Warfare in Occupied Persia (Iran), Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, p. 201. 9.—Note that this photo wrongly describes Tilley as a Lt Col when he was, in fact, a Major at the time. 10. Longden, Sean, T-Force: The Race for Nazi War Secrets, Constable and Robinson, London, 2009, pp. 110–112. 11. Coombs and Sauer, 1945. 12. US Army, “Enemy Agent Munitions”, Secret Memorandum by Major General Porter, 29 May 1945. Declassified, 27 September 1958. 13. WO 189/2615 and WO188/2072. 14. WO 208/2183. 15. CIOS XXXI-86, Chemical Warfare Installations in the Munsterlager Area. 16. Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich, Simon and Schuster, 1970, p. 505. 17. CIOS XXV-49. This report does not appear in the index at the National Archives in Kew and appears to have been filed by accident in another file, namely FO 1031/93, a thick bundle of Tilley’s official papers. 18. Mauroni, Demilitarization, p. 32. 19. DEFE 44/308.  




5. MITES: VX, A BRITISH NERVE AGENT 1. Sloan, Roy, The Tale of Tabun: Nazi Chemical Weapons in North Wales, Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, 1998, pp. 38–43. 2. Ibid., pp. 53–54. 3. Timperley, p. 17. 4. Ibid., p. 18.



pp. [90–115]

5. Peaccok, F. C. (ed.), Jealott’s Hill: Fifty years of agricultural research, 1928– 1978, p. 51. 6. Gage, J.C., ‘A cholinesterase inhibitor derived from OO-diethyl O-pnitrophenyl thiophosphate in vivo’. Biochem J. 1953;54(3):426–30. 7. Fedorvo, J MedCBR Def 7:2009. 8. McCallum, Jack, Military Medicine: From Ancient Times to the 21st Century, ABC-CLIO, 2008, p. 68. 9. Lethality statistics for poisons such as nerve agents are expressed with the terms LD50 and LCt50, which are lethal dose 50th percentile and lethal concentration 50th percentile. They describe the dose or concentration which would affect half the exposed population. However, this is a statistical function, and for any given poison, there will be people killed by far lower than an LD50 dose, and there will be people who survive more than an LD50 dose. Poor Maddison was in the former category.  


6. ROCKS AND SHOALS—BUILDING A STOCKPILE THAT WAS NEVER USED: ALABAMA, COLORADO, AND INDIANA, 1950–70 1. Kirby, Reid. “Nerve Gas: America’s fifteen year struggle for modern chemical weapons.” Army Chemical Review, January 2006, pp. 42–43. 2. Reid Kirby, “The CWS Efforts to Obtain German Chemical Weapons for Retaliation Against Japan,” CBIAC Newsletter, Vol. 5, No. 1, Winter 2004, pp. 3 and 13. 3. Installation Assessment, 1980. 4. History of Rocky Mountain Arsenal, 1980, p. 2. 5. Bullock, Debra, Commerce City, Arcadia, 2010, p. 67. 6. Blue Book, A-129. 7. Mauroni, Demilitarization, pp. 19–20. 8. History of Rocky Mountain Arsenal, 1980, p. 9. 9. Van Poollen, H. K., and D. B. Hoover. “Waste disposal and earthquakes at the Rocky Mountain arsenal, Derby, Colorado,” Journal of Petroleum Technology 22.08 (1970): pp. 983–993. 10. Thorne, David S. Contaminants In Fish And Game Animals On Rocky Mountain Arsenal, 1977–1982. No. RMA-83042R01. Rocky Mountain Arsenal, Denver, Co, 1982.  







pp. [115–131]

2. Sennikov, B.V. Tambov rebellion and liquidation of peasants in Russia, Posev, 2004, ISBN 5-85824-152-2 [Full text in Russian]. 3. DEFE 44/308, p. 7. 4. Ibid., pp. 7–10. 5. Paul Maddrell, Spying on Science: Western Intelligence in Divided Germany 1945–1961, Oxford University Press, 2008, p. 111. 6. CIA, Atomic Energy Institute at Sungul, released June 2008. 7. Order of the USSR People’s Commissar NKHP on March 8, 1945 no. 45 on the implementation of regulations of the GFCS USSR from March 6, 1945 no. 7692 On export of equipment and materials of military-chemical plant “Anorgana Werk”, located in Dihernfurte (Silesia) Quoted in Fedorov, The Journal of Medical Chemical, Biological and Radiological Defense (hereafter J Med CBR Def). 8. Fedorov, J Med CBR Def. 9. 10. Grani, Chuvash Autonomous Republic, 29 December 1992, quoted in Fedorov, CW, pp. 15–16. 11. Mirzayanov, p. 204. 12. Rossiya 8 Dec 1993 and Khimiya i Zhizn 1993, pp. 67–70, quoted in Fedorov, CW, p. 21. 13. Levy, Clifford J. (May 27, 2009), “In Siberia, the Death Knell of a Complex Holding a Deadly Stockpile”, The New York Times. 14. David Hoffman, “Russia’s Forgotten Chemical Weapons”, Washington Post. 16. August 1998. 15. United States Intelligence Board, National Intelligence Estimate 11–11– 69: “Soviet Chemical and Biological Warfare Capabilities”, 13 February 1969. 16. WO 188/2563: “Russian nerve agents: research and publications”. 1 Feb. 1957 to 31 March 1972, National Archives, Kew.  






8. COMING OFF THE RAILS: THE UNITED STATES: 1968–70 1. Davidson, Lee, “Lethal Breeze”, Deseret News, Salt Lake City, Utah, 5 June 1994. 2. Tucker, p. 204 3. Some sources wrongly claim an A-4 aircraft was used. 4. Persons interested in reading the details of the investigation and the coverup or non-coverup, depending on one’s interpretation of the events, are encouraged to read Tucker’s War of Nerves and Al Mauroni’s work America’s  



pp. [132–147]

 Struggle with Chemical and Biological Weapons. Mauroni explores some of the unknowns in the situation, and makes strong arguments against some aspects of the mainstream narrative. Mauroni has a dissenting opinion that the evidence for VX being the culprit is an interesting counterpoint to the “US government did it” narrative. 5. Van Atta, Dale, With Honor: Melvin Laird in War, Peace, and Politics, University of Wisconsin Press, 2008, pp. 293–294. 6. Operation CHASE facts come from two US documents, W. Brankowitz, Chemical Weapons Movement History Compilation, US Army, 1987 and Off-shore Disposal of Chemical Agents and Weapons Conducted by the United States, US Army Research, Development, and Engineering Command, 2001. 7. Richard Lyons, “Nerve Gas Trains Will Cross 7 States”, New York Times, 31 July 1970. 8. Wagner, Travis. “Hazardous waste: evolution of a national environmental problem.” Journal of policy history 16.4 (2004): 311–312. 9. Richard Lyons, “Furor over plan to dump nerve gas”, New York Times, 9 August 1970 10. Wagner, p. 312. 11. Secretary of Defense confidential memorandum to Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, Office of Secretary of Defense control number 2282. Dated 30 April 1969. 12. Kissinger, Henry. National Security Decision Memorandum 35 (redacted), 25 November 1969. 13. Brankowitz, p. 23.  





9. BINARY DECISIONS: THE USA, 1970s TO THE 1990s 1. Mauroni, Demilitarization, p. 143. 2. Mauroni, America’s Struggle with Chemical-Biological Warfare, p. 86. 3. US Navy, Shipboard problems and requirements for shipboard handling and stowage of chemical munitions, 1961. 4. FM 3–11–9, p. II-72. 5. GAO, Bigeye Bomb: An Evaluation of the DOD’s Chemical and Operational Tests, May 1986, p. 11. 6. D’Amico, Comments on the flight stability of the XM736 8 Inch Binary Projectile, US Army Ballistic Research Laboratory, 1982. 7. Mr. Dee is deceased so I was unable to interview him. 8. Tucker, pp. 177–180.  



pp. [147–178]

9. Aviation Armaments Inc, Investigation of Telecartridge Dissemination Techniques, February 1964. 10. Guochang, p. 6, 1988. 11. Dept of the Army Pamphlet 5–6–1, FY 1987 pp. 99–100. 12. Ember, L. Chem. Eng. News, 1990, 68 (14), p. 4. 13. Smydo, J. Weapons Feud is Over, Mobay Says, Pittsburgh Press, 3 July 1990.  



10. THE NEWCOMERS: RUSSIA, 1970s TO THE 1990s 1. Tucker, p. 233. 2. Roth, Andrew and McCarthy, Tom. “‘It’s got me’: The lonely death of the Soviet scientist poisoned by novichok”, The Guardian, 22 March 2018. 3. (accessed 16 Septem­ber 2019) 4. Wise, David. “Novichok on Trial”, New York Times, 12 March 1994. 5. Osborne, Samuel, “Germany obtained novichok nerve agent sample in1990s, reports say”, The Independent (London), 18 May 2018.  




11. WARS IN IRAQ AND IRAN 1. United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), Unresolved Disarmament Issues: Iraq’s Proscribed Weapons Programmes, New York, 6 March 2003. 2. Timmermann, Kenneth, The Death Lobby: How the West Armed Iraq, Houghton Mifflin, 1991, pp. 36–38. 3. Ibid, p. 48–49. 4. Charles Duelfer, Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCI on Iraq’s WMD, Volume 1. Washington DC, 2004, Appendix 1. 5. Tucker, p. 250. 6. UNMOVIC, p. 141. 7. CIA, Iran’s Likely Reaction to Iraqi use of Chemical Weapons (redacted), 4 November 1983, declassified 2007. 8. UN Security Council Report S/2006/701, p. 6. 9. UNMOVIC, p. 142. 10. Bruce, J. and Banks, T. “Growing Concern over Iraqi Use of CW”, Jane’s Defence Weekly, 24 Sept 1988. 11. J R Army Med Corps 2002; 148: pp. 344–357. 12. Harris, S and Aid, M, “Exclusive: CIA Files Prove America Helped Saddam as He Gassed Iran”. Foreign Policy. (26 August 2013).  







pp. [178–198]

13. oral-history-en.html 14. The author was an intern in the Pentagon’s Office of Soviet and Eastern European Affairs at the time and took a phone call from Ambassador Black on this subject. 15. Central Intelligence Agency and US Department of Defense, Modeling the Chemical Warfare Agent Release at the Khamisiyah Pit, 4 September 1997. Accessed 12 Sep 2019 online at 16. 17. index.html  


12. THE TOKYO ATTACK 1. Readers interested in the Aum group and the subway attacks are strongly encouraged to read Underground by Haruki Murakami. It is mandatory reading in the canon of literature on nerve agents. In addition, the specific details of Aum’s development of chemical and biological weapons are thoroughly and digestibly analysed in Danzig, Richard, et. al., Aum Shinrikyo: Insights Into How Terrorists Develop Chemical and Biological Weapons (2nd edn), Washington, DC, The Center for a New American Security. 2. Holley, David, “Japanese Guru—A youthful bully’s quest for power,” Los Angeles Times, 27 March 1995. 3. Sugishima, Masaaki. “Aum Shinrikyo and the Japanese law on bioterrorism.” Prehospital and Disaster Medicine 18.3 (2003): pp. 179–183. 4. Danzig, et. al., pp. 50 passim. See also n 223. 5. Murphy, Paul, “Matsumoto: Aum’s Sarin guinea pig”, The Japan Times, 21 June 2014. 6. Ibid. 7. Danzig et al., p. 34. 8. Murukami, Hiroko, Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche, London, Vintage, 2003, p. 125. 9. Sadayoshi, Ohbu, et al. “Sarin Poisoning on Tokyo Subway,” Southern Medical Journal, 90.6 (1997): pp. 587–593. 10. Taneda, Kenichiro. “The sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system: Hospital response to mass casualties and psychological issues in hospital planning,” Traumatology 11.2 (2005): pp. 75–85. 11. Reid, T.R., “Tokyo Cult finds an Unlikely Supporter”, Washington Post, 5 May 1995.  





pp. [198–211]

12. Masayasu Minami, Da-Mei Hui, Masao Katsumata, Hirofumi Inagaki and Camille A Boulet, “Method for the analysis of the methylphosphonic acid metabolites of Sarin and its ethanol-substituted analogue in urine as applied to the victims of the Tokyo sarin disaster”, Journal of Chromatography B: Biomedical Sciences and Applications, vol. 695, Issue 2, 1997, pp. 237–244. 13. N. Yanagisawa, H. Morita, T. Nakajima, “Sarin experiences in Japan: Acute toxicity and long-term effects, Journal of the Neurological Sciences”, vol. 249, Issue 1, 2006, pp. 76–85. 14. Noriko Kawana, Shin-ichi Ishimatsu, Katsuya Kanda, “Psycho-Physiological Effects of the Terrorist Sarin Attack on the Tokyo Subway System”, Military Medicine, vol. 166, Issue suppl_2, December 2001, pp. 23–26. 15. Kawada, T., Katsumata, M., Suzuki, H., Li, Q., Inagaki, H., Nakadai, A., … Hirata, Y. (2005), “Insomnia as a Sequela of Sarin Toxicity Several Years after Exposure in Tokyo Subway Trains”, Perceptual and Motor Skills, 100(3_ suppl), pp. 1121–1126. 16. Asukai N., Maekawa K. (2002), “Psychological and Physical Health Effects of the 1995 Sarin Attack in the Tokyo Subway System” in: Havenaar, J.M., Cwikel, J.G., Bromet, E.J. (eds), Toxic Turmoil. The Plenum Series on Stress and Coping, Springer, Boston, MA. 17. Kazuhito Yokoyama, Shunichi Araki, Katsuyuki Murata, Mariko Nishikitani, Tetsu Okumura, Shinichi Ishimatsu, Nobukatsu Takasu & Roberta F. White (1998), “Chronic Neurobehavioral Effects of Tokyo Subway Sarin Poisoning in Relation to Posttraumatic Stress Disorder”, Archives of Environmental Health: An International Journal, 53:4, pp. 249–256.  










13. THE PSYCHOLOGICAL EFFECTS OF NERVE AGENTS 1. Mohapatra, S. and Rath N., J Neurosci Rural Pract. 2014 Nov; 5(Suppl 1): S86–S87. 2. Ghimire, S. and Parajuli S., Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2016; 12: 275–277. 3. MACW, 170.  



14. THE SYRIAN WAR 1. Because the Syrian War happened in the latest stage of the “information age” there was more scope for analysis of information. Widespread internet connectivity meant that numerous photos and videos were uploaded onto social media platforms by every side in the conflict. Video sites such as YouTube became repositories of thousands of videos of the civil war. There



pp. [212–222]

 were several amateur efforts to analyse these videos for details of technical or historical interest. By far the most useful and interesting effort was the Brown Moses blog, written by Eliot Higgins, who wrote the above foreword. The Brown Moses blog eventually grew and developed into an awardwinning open source intelligence and citizen journalism site now known as Bellingcat.   In the interest of full disclosure, I have been a contributor to this effort since its early Brown Moses days and have served as a chemical warfare consultant to this worthwhile effort. The Brown Moses blog was inaugurated to analyse possible uses of chemical weapons. For readers interested in a greater level of detail on chemical warfare and Syria, the various posts at are highly recommended. 2. Chandler, Adam, “Eichmann’s Best Man Lived and Died in Syria,” The Atlantic, 1 December 2014. 3. Joseph S Bermudez, Jr., “North Korea’s Chemical and Biological Warfare Arsenal,” Jane’s Intelligence Review, 5 (May 1993), pp. 225–228. 4. Hughes, Robin, “SSRC: Spectre at the Table”, Jane’s Defence Weekly, 29 January 2014, pp. 34–41. 5. Investigation: Syrian CW programs,” Middle East Defense News (Paris), 28 September 1992, pp. 5–6. 6. Robin Hughes, “Explosion aborts CW project run by Iran and Syria,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, 26 September 2007. 7. 2013/03/19/473349.htm 8. Lynch, Colum. “Syrian Scientists Made Sarin Used in Chemical Attacks, France Claims”, Foreign Policy, 26 April 2017. 9. Sawwan, Ameenah. “I survived the 2013 chemical attack on Ghouta”, Al Jazeera, 22 August 2019. 10. United Nations Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic, Report on the Alleged Use of Chemical Weapons in the Ghouta Area of Damascus, 16 September 2013. 11. Reuters, “German spy agency sees Assad behind gas attack, cites phone call”, 4 September 2013. 12. Goodman, Amy, interview with Seymour Hersh: “Sy Hersh Reveals Potential Turkish Role in Syria Chemical Strike That Almost Sparked U.S. Bombing”, Democracy Now, 7 April 2014. Accessed at https://www. on 20 August 2019.  













pp. [223–239]

13. Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Request of Expression of Interest, OPCW/CDB/EOI/02/2013, 20 November 2013. 14. Shaheen, Kareem. “The dead were wherever you looked—Inside Syrian town after gas attack”, The Guardian, 6 April 2017. 15. comment-page-1/ 16. Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Report of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission in Syria Regarding an Alleged Incident in Khan Shaykhun, Syrian Arab Republic, April 2017, June 2017. 17. Deutsch, A. “Exclusive: Tests link Syrian government stockpile to largest Sarin attack—sources”, Reuters, 30 January 2018. 18. Seventh Report of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical WeaponsUnited Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism, 26 October 2017. 19. Irish, John, “French intelligence says Assad forces carried out Sarin Attack”, Reuters, 26 April, 2017. 20. Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Report of the factfinding mission regarding the incident of the alleged use of toxic chemicals as a weapon in Douma, Syria Arab Republic, on 7 April 2018 S/17131/2019, 1 March 2019. 21. O’Brien, Luke, and Stein, Aaron. “The Military Logic Behind Assad’s Use of Chemical Weapons”, War on the Rocks, 15 June 2018, accessed at 22. Schneider, Tobias and Lütkefend, Theresa, “Nowhere to Hide: The Logic of Chemical Weapons Use in Syria,” Berlin, Global Public Policy Institute, February 2019.  









15. ASSASSINATIONS 1. Leong, Trinna. “Kim Jong Nam murder trial: Victim showed signs of poisoning, says doctor”, Straits Times, 4 October 2017. 2. Reuters, “Murdered North Korean Kim Jong Nam had $100,000 in backpack, police witnesses say”, 12 Oct 2017. 3. Reuters, “Kim Jong-nam had antidote to nerve agent that killed him in bag”, 1 December 2017. 4. Shim, Elizabeth, “Female suspect sick after Kim Jon Nam assassination, police say”, UPI wire report, 24 Feb 2017. 5. Urban, Mark. The Skripal Files, Pan Books, 2019, p. 221.  






pp. [239–270]

6. Murphy, Simon. “Met confirms second police officer was victim of Salisbury attack”, The Guardian, 15 August 2019. 7. BBC News, “Skripal Novichok poisoning attack house roof replaced”, 8 January 2019. 8. Multiple reporters, “Novichok case police cars dumped in Cotswolds landfill”, The Telegraph, 31 August 2018. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. Вести недели с Дмитрием Киселевым от 11.03.18 (the relevant footage begins at 1:27:20), Vesti Nedeli, 11 March 2018. 16. 17. LABOR_SPIEZ_2018.pdf  




APPENDIX 1: TECHNICAL VIGNETTES 1. Sidell, MACBW, 1999, 162. 2. 3. Van der Schans, M.J., Lander, B.J., Van der Wiel, H., Langenberg, J.P., and Benschop, H.P., “Toxicol” Appl. Pharmacol,191, pp. 48–62, 2003. 4. Vallet, V., Cruz, C., Licausi, J., et. al., Toxicology, 246:73–82, 2008. 5. John et al. in Gupta, p. 827. 6. MACW, 169. 7. Ibid., 170. 8. MACW, 175. 9. 10.


pp. [274–304]


11. Okumura T, Takasu N, Ishimatsu S, Miyanoki S, Mitsuhashi A, Kumada K, Tanaka K, Hinohara S: “Report on 640 victims of the Tokyo subway sarin attack”, Ann Emerg MedAugust 1996: 28:129–135. 12. Tucker TBC. 13. Newmark J., “The birth of nerve agent warfare: lessons from Syed Abbas Foroutan”, Neurology. 2004: 62:1590–1596. 14. MACW, p. 190. 15. Speer, pp. 575–577. 16. FIAT EP pp. 254–82, Stahl-Speer, 10 November 1945, in file FO 1031/90, National Archives, Kew. APPENDIX 2: THE REST OF THE WORLD 1. Part of this Franco-American relationship [0]is the Loucks connection. Colonel Loucks, the US Army’s chemical officer in Europe from 1948 had very good connections with the French. He had served as an assistant military attache to the French before the war and would have had training in French language to hold that post. His connections with French army officers during his post in Europe were excellent. He visited French chemical warfare establishments during his tenure in Europe.[0] 2. Vincent Jauvert, “Quand la France testait des armes chimiques en Algerie,” Le Nouvel Observateur, 23 October 1997, pages 10–22. 3. Valade, P., and J. Salle. “Apercu sur les nouveaux toxiques de guerre.” Rev. Vet. Milit. 33 (1947): 77. 4. Tucker, 118–119. 5. Walker, Shaun, “UK and Bulgaria investigate 2015 poisoning of Bulgarian arms dealer, The Guardian, 11 February 2019. 6. SIPRI Vol 2, p 240 and endnote 906. 7. Dany Shohame, The Evolution of Chemical and Biological Weapons in Egypt, Ariel Center for Policy Research, Israel, 1998, pages 2–13. 8. Ibid, 5. 9. Goshko, John M., “Egypt Acquiring Elements of Poison Gas Plant,” Washington Post, March 11, 1989, p. A20 10. Cross, 106 11. Ibid, 107. 12. Ibid, 108. 13. Jackson, Miles. Journal of International Criminal Justice, Volume 13, Issue 5, December 2015, Pages 933–950 14. Susman, Tina, “Bin Laden Linke: El-Shifa Factory Chief Lives in House He Used to Occupy”, Newsday, 30 April 2004.  



pp. [304–314]

15. Barletta, Michael. “Chemical weapons in the Sudan: Allegations and evidence.” The Nonproliferation Review 6.1 (1998): 115–136. 16. Wilkinson, Mark, Before Intelligence Failed, p138. 17. 18. “Libya hands over last stockpile of chemical weapon ingredients”, The Guardian, 1 Sep 2016. 19. Julian Perry Robinson, The Problem of Chemical and Biological Warfare: Volume II. CB Weapons Today (Stockholm: SIPRI, 1973), p. 249. 20. Interview with Z. Orehovec, Cavtat, Croatia, 2011. 21. Ernst Jan Hogendoorn, Clouds of War: Chemical Weapons in the Former Yugoslavia (London: Human Rights Watch: March 1997), p. 4 22. International Crisis Group, Arming Saddam: The Yugoslav, International Crisis Group Balkans report 136, December 2002, p 5. 23. Associated Press, “China says 2500 wartime Japanese chemical weapons destroyed”, 17 January 2017. 24. China and Weapons of Mass Destruction, US National Intelligence Council conference report, 5 November 1999. 25. Joseph Bermudez, Overview of North Korea’s NBC Infrastructure, Johns Hopkins University, 2017, pages 14–20. 26. Tucker, 196.



Notes on Sources Research into the early history of nerve agents was greatly aided by extensive documentation, both British and captured German, in the United Kingdom’s National Archives in Kew. As I discovered, many relevant documents there were poorly catalogued or buried within large files with diverse contents. This book only really scratches the surface. Likewise, much of the history of the UK nerve agent programme can be found in documents in Kew. My own career gave me a reasonably good grounding in the history of the USA’s nerve agent programme. Early in my career I was privileged to meet some of those who had worked in the US programme. The books by Albert Mauroni, a Chemical Corps veteran, various documents online at Defense Technical Information Center, and the online Rocky Mountain Arsenal Archive site were useful in filling in the gaps in my knowledge of the US programme. The CIA FOIA online archive has numerous, usually redacted, intelligence reports relevant to this history. The Federation of American Scientists has an extensive online archive of US documents at As with the German documents, there is easily a one thousand page book that could be written on the US programme alone. The Soviet nerve agent programme is harder to dig into, due to lack of access to archives and strict secrecy rules. The information sources are


SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY thinner and more reliant on single sources. However, the extensive writings by the environmental activist Lev Fedorov are revelatory. What little we know of Novichoks mostly comes from Vil Mirzayanov’s book. Readers interested in learning more about the Japanese Aum affair should read Underground by Haruki Murakami and the detailed report by Richard Danzig et al., detailed below. Numerous posts on the website Bellingcat are helpful to better understanding the use of chemical weapons in Syria and the Skripal affair. Mark Urban’s book the Skripal Files is an excellent probe into the Skripal poisoning. The physical characteristics of the military nerve agents are addressed in US Army Field Manual 3–11–9, which is freely available online. Many subjects are well addressed in Romano and Lukey’s Chemical Warfare Agents: Chemistry, Pharmacology, Toxicology, and Therapeutics. The medical aspects of nerve agent poisoning and treatment are well addressed in chapter 5 of Medical Aspects of Chemical Warfare, which is a volume of the vast Textbook of Military Medicine. It is available free online through the Borden Institute, an educational arm of the US Army’s Surgeon General’s office. Those interested in a deeper dive into the physical chemistry of the nerve agents can consult Best Synthetic Methods: Organophosphorus (V) Chemistry edited by Christopher Timperley. Air Ministry (UK), Operation SANDCASTLE: disposal of German chemical weapons. Air Ministry file AIR 17/91. National Archives, Kew. 1956. ———, Chemical weapons stored at Llandwrog. Air Ministry file AIR 1 AIR 2/12890. National Archives, Kew. 1954–1961. Anorgana. Annual Report. Contained within Control Commission for Germany files in Foreign Office File 1031/165. National Archives, Kew. Covers 1943–1944 company financial year. Associated Press, “China says 2500 wartime Japanese chemical weapons destroyed”, 17 January 2017. ———, “Syria says it will use chemical weapons if attacked”, 23 July 2012. Asukai N., Maekawa K. “Psychological and Physical Health Effects of the 1995 Sarin Attack in the Tokyo Subway System”. In: Havenaar J.M., Cwikel J.G., Bromet E.J. (eds) Toxic Turmoil. The Plenum Series on Stress and Coping. 2, Springer, Boston, MA, 2002.  





SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY Aviation Armaments Inc. Investigation of Telecartridge Dissemination Techniques, February 1964. Australian National University, National Centre of Biography. Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, 1990. Barletta, Michael, “Chemical weapons in the Sudan: Allegations and evidence,” The Nonproliferation Review, 6.1 (1998): 115–136. Bellingcat Investigation Team. Did Russia accidentally provide the best evidence of the Syrian government’s involvement in Sarin attacks? Bellingcat. com. 13 November 2017. Bermudez, Joseph, “North Korea’s Chemical and Biological Warfare Arsenal,” Jane’s Intelligence Review, May 1993. Brankowitz, W., Chemical Weapons Movement History Compilation, US Army, 1987. British Intelligence Objective Subcommittee, Report 562: The German Phosphorus Industry at Bitterfeld and Piesteritz, 1946. Bronxville Press, 7 January 1937. Bruce, J. and Banks, T. “Growing Concern over Iraqi Use of CW”, Jane’s Defence Weekly, 24 Sept 1988. Bullock, Debra. Commerce City, Arcadia, 2010. Central Intelligence Agency, Atomic Energy Institute at Sungul, 3 October 1955, released June 2008. ———, Chemical Plant 91 in Beketovka, 21 March 1950, released July 2004. ———, German Scientists in the USSR, 13 May 1953, released September 2009. ———, Iran’s Likely Reaction to Iraqi use of Chemical Weapons (redacted), 4 November 1983, declassified 2007. Central Intelligence Agency and US Department of Defense, Modeling the Chemical Warfare Agent Release at the Khamisiyah Pit, 4 September 1997. Chemical Defence Establishment Nancekuke (UK), CDE Nancekuke Progress Reports and Annual Reports, File WO 188/3076, National Archives, Kew, 1963 to 1971. ———, Closure of CDE Nancekuke, File WO 188/3150, National Archives, Kew, 1978–1979. Christison, Robert, “On the properties of the ordeal bean of old Calabar,  











SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY Western Africa”, Monthly Joural of Medicine, March 1855, 20(3), pp. 193–204. Combined Intelligence Objectives Subcommittee (CIOS). Chemical Warfare Installations in the Munsterlager Area, 1945 Combined Intelligence Objectives Subcommittee Report XXV-49, Included in Foreign Office file FO 1031/93, National Archives, Kew, 1945. Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Centre (UK), Special Intelligence Report 14, undated presumed 1943, contained in War Office File WO 193/723, National Archives, Kew. Control Commission for Germany (UK), Captured Otto Ambros Papers, Foreign Office file 1031/196, National Archives, Kew, File undated. Most contents of file date from 1941–1942. Coombs, Robert and Sauer, Charles, Investigations on MCE and MFI (US), Chemical Warfare Service Development Laboratory, Boston, Massachusetts, 1945. Cross, Glenn, Dirty War: Rhodesia and Chemical Biological Warfare 1975– 1980, Helion, 2017. D’Amico, W., Comments on the flight stability of the XM736 8 Inch Binary Projectile, US Army Ballistic Research Laboratory, 1982. Danzig, Richard, et. al., Aum Shinrikyo: Insights into How Terrorists Develop Chemical and Biological Weapons (2nd ed), Center for a New American Security. December 2012. Davidson, Lee, “Lethal Breeze,” Deseret News, Salt Lake City, Utah, 5 June 1994. Deutsch, A., “Exclusive: Tests link Syrian government stockpile to largest Sarin attack—sources”, Reuters, 30 January 2018. de Vreij, Hans, Correspondence with author, 2019 and 2020. Diab, M.Z., “Syria’s Chemical and Biological Weapons: Assessing Capabilities and Motivations,” The Nonproliferation Review 5, Fall 1997. Dubois, Josiah, The Devil’s chemists: 24 conspirators of the international Farben cartel who manufacture wars, Boston, MA, Beacon Press, 1952. Duelfer, Charles, Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the Director of Central Intelligence on Iraq’s WMD, Volume 1, United States government, 2004.  



SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY Eckhaus, Sigmund, Oral history interview, US Army Materiel Command Historical Office, 24 December 1985. Ember, L.,“Chemical weapons—Firms deny sale of chemical to Army,” Chemical & Engineering News, 68(14), 4–4, 1990. Ericson, Edward, Feeding the German Eagle: Soviet Economic Aid to Nazi Germany, 1933–1941, Greenwood 1999. Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport DDPS, Federal Office for Civil Protection FOCP (Switzerland), Annual Report 2018: Spiez Laboratory, May 2019. Fedorov, Lev, “The Big War,” Journal of Medical CBR Defense, August 2009. ———, Chemical Weapons in Russia: History, Ecology, Politics, Russian Centre for Ecology Policy, 1994. ———, “Introduction: Chemical Armament in the War against the People,” Journal of Medical CBR Defense, August 2009. ———, “A Portrait of the Soviet Battle Poison,” Journal of Medical CBR Defense, December 2009. Ferguson, Robert, Historic American Engineering Record: Written Historical and Descriptive Data, Newport Army Ammunition Plant, National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior, 1984. ———, Historic Properties Report: Newport Army Ammuntion Plant, Newport, Indiana, National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior, 1984. Field Information Agency (Technical), Ambros vertragsfragen Dyhernfurth dated 1940–1944, Foreign Office file FO 1031/197, National Archives, Kew, 1945. Field Information Agency (Technical), Captured Otto Ambros Anorgana files dated 1942–1944, Foreign Office file FO 1031/190, National Archives, Kew, 1945. ———, Captured Dyhernfurth files dated 1940–1944, Foreign Office file FO 1031/174, National Archives, Kew, 1945. ———, Captured Falkenhagen files dated 1943–1944, Foreign Office file FO 1031/179, National Archives, Kew, 1945. ———, Gerhard Schrader interrogation file, Foreign Office file FO 1031/105, National Archives, Kew, 1945–1946.  





SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY ———, Jurgen von Klenck interrogation file, Foreign Office file FO 1031/97, National Archives, Kew, 1945–1946. ———, File EP 254–82, Stahl-Speer interrogation files, 10 November 1945, contained within Foreign Office file FO 1031/90, National Archives, Kew, 1945. Gage J., “A cholinesterase inhibitor derived from OO-diethyl ­O-p-nitrophenyl thiophosphate in vivo”, Biochemical Journal, 1953; 54(3): 426–30. General Accounting Office (USA), Bigeye Bomb: An Evaluation of the DOD’s Chemical and Operational Tests, May 1986. Ghimire, S., and Parajuli S., “Chronic organophosphate-induced neuropsychiatric disorder: a case report.” Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 2016; 12: 275–277. Gilchrist, Harry, A Comparative Study of World War Casualties from Gas and other Weapons, US Army Chemical Warfare School, 1928. Gladwell, Malcolm, “Fred Soper and the global malaria eradication programme,” Journal of public health policy 23.4 (2002): 479–497. Goodman, Amy, “Sy Hersh Reveals Potential Turkish Role in Syria Chemical Strike That Almost Sparked U.S. Bombing”, Democracy Now, 7 April 2014, Accessed at sy_hersh_reveals_potential_turkish_role on 20 August 2019 Gorzkowksa-Sobas, Agnieszka, “Chemical warfare agents and their interactions with solid surfaces,” Norwegian Defence Research Establishment, 1 March 2013. Goshko, John M., “Egypt Acquiring Elements of Poison Gas Plant,” Washington Post, March 11, 1989. Groehler, Olaf, Der Lautlose Tod, Rowohlt, Reinbek bei Hamburg, 1989. Gupta, R. (ed.), Toxicology of Chemical Warfare Agents, 2nd edn, Elsevier, 2015. Harris, S and Aid, M “Exclusive: CIA Files Prove America Helped Saddam as He Gassed Iran”, Foreign Policy, 26 August 2013. Hogendoorn Ernst, Clouds of War: Chemical Weapons in the Former Yugoslavia, Human Rights Watch, March 1997. Hermitanio, Maui, “Toxic Chemicals: What are Nerve Agents and what do they do?”, Tech Times, 20 March 2018, Accessed online at https://  










SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY Hess, Jeffrey, Historic American Engineering Record: Written Historical and Descriptive Data, Rocky Mountain Arsenal, National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior, 1984. Higgins, Eliot, A History of Sarin use in the Syrian Conflict, 6 September 2017. Hiltermann, Joost, A Poisonous Affair: America, Iraq, and the Gassing of Halabja, Cambridge University Press, 2007. Hoffman, David, “Russia’s Forgotten Chemical Weapons,” Washington Post, August 16, 1998. Hogg, I., German Artillery of World War 2, Frontline Books, 2013. Holmstedt B., Cholinesterases and Anticholinesterase Agents, Koelle, G. B. (ed.), Springer-Verlag, Berlin, 1963. Holtam, Bishop Nicholas, interview with the author, September 2018. Howard, Brian, “The Surprising History and Science of Tear Gas”, National Geographic, 12 June 2013. Accessed online at https://www. Hughes, Robin, “Explosion aborts CW project run by Iran and Syria,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, 26 September 2007. ———, “SSRC: Spectre at the Table”, Jane’s Defence Weekly, 29 January 2014, pp. 34–41. Inglis, Kelvin, Interview with the author, 24 June 2019. International Crisis Group, Arming Saddam: The Yugoslav Connections, International Crisis Group Balkans report 136, December 2002. International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, Trials of War Criminals Volume 7: The I.G. Farben Case, pp 1254–1255. “Investigation: Syrian CW programs,” Middle East Defense News (Paris), 28 September 1992. Irish, John, “French intelligence says Assad forces carried out Sarin Attack”, Reuters, 26 April, 2017. Jackson, Miles, “A Conspiracy to Commit Genocide,” Journal of Inter­ national Criminal Justice, Volume 13, Issue 5, December 2015, pp. 933–950.  











SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY Jacobsen, Annie, Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program that brought Nazi Scientists to America, Hachette, 2014. James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, Libya Chemical Chronology, May 2010. Jauvert, Vincent, “Quand la France testait des armes chimiques en Algerie,” Le Nouvel Observateur, 23 October 1997. Jeffreys, Diarmuid, Hell’s Cartel, Henry Holt, 2010. Jyoti, Dhrubo, “Is Kuala Lumpur airport infected with chemical poison VX that killed Kim Jong-nam”, Hindustan Times, New Delhi, 24 February 2017. Kahlert, Heinrich, “Why Hitler did not deploy Nerve Agent in World War II” Conference paper presented at the Fifth International Conference on the History of Chemistry, 8 September 2005, Estoril, Portugal. Accessed online at pdf Kawada, T., Katsumata, M., Suzuki, H., Li, Q., Inagaki, H., Nakadai, A., … Hirata, Y. (2005), Insomnia as a Sequela of Sarin Toxicity Several Years after Exposure in Tokyo Subway Trains, Perceptual and Motor Skills, 100(3_suppl), 1121–1126. Kawana, N, Ishimatsu S. Kanda, K. “Psycho-Physiological Effects of the Terrorist Sarin Attack on the Tokyo Subway System”, Military Medicine, Volume 166, Issue suppl_2, December 2001, pp. 23–26. Kirby, Reid “The CWS Efforts to Obtain German Chemical Weapons for Retaliation Against Japan,” CBIAC Newsletter, Vol. 5, No. 1, Winter 2004. Kirby, Reid, “Nerve Gas: America’s fifteen year struggle for modern chemical weapons,” Army Chemical Review, January 2006. Kissinger, Henry, National Security Decision Memorandum 35 (redacted), 25 November 1969. Krüger, G, “Zur Kenntnis einiger Phosphor und Fluor enthaltender Verbindungen”, Inaug. Diss., Berlin 1933. Lange, W., “Verfahren zur Herstellung von Arylfluorsulfonaten und ihren Derivaten”, German Patent DE 532.394, filed Aug. 8, 1930; issued Aug. 27, 1931.  








SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY Lange, W. and Krüger, G., “Über Ester der Monofluophosphorsäure”, Chemische Bericht, 765:1598,1932. Leong, Trinna, “Kim Jong Nam murder trial: Victim showed signs of poisoning, says doctor”, Straits Times, 4 October 2017. Levy, Clifford J., “In Siberia, the Death Knell of a Complex Holding a Deadly Stockpile”, The New York Times, 27 May, 2009. “Libya hands over last stockpile of chemical weapon ingredients”, The Guardian, 1 Sep 2016. Longden, Sean, T-Force: The Race for Nazi War Secrets, 1945, Constable and Robinson, 2009. Lynch, Colum, “Syrian Scientists Made Sarin Used in Chemical Attacks, France Claims”, Foreign Policy, 26 April 2017. Lyons, Richard, “Furor over plan to dump nerve gas,” New York Times, 9 August 1970. ———, “Nerve Gas Trains Will Cross 7 States,” New York Times, 31 July 1970. Longden, Sean, T-Force: The Race for Nazi War Secrets, Constable and Robinson, London, 2009, pp. 110–112. Maddrell, Paul, Spying on Science: Western Intelligence in Divided Germany 1945–1961, Oxford University Press, 2006. Maunsell, Raymond, Private Papers, Catalogue number 4829, Imperial War Museum, London. Mauroni, Albert, America’s Struggle with Chemical-Biological Warfare, Greenwood Books, 2000. ———, Chemical and Biological Warfare, Pentagon Press, New Delhi, India, 2005. ———, Chemical Demilitarization: Public Policy Aspects, Greenwood Books, 2003. McCallum, Jack, Military Medicine: From Ancient Times to the 21st Century, ABC-CLIO, 2008. Military Intelligence Division (UK), Systematic Search for new war gases, January 1946. Minami, M, Hui, D, Katsumata, M, Inagaki, H., Boulet, C. “Method for the analysis of the methylphosphonic acid metabolites of sarin and its ethanol-substituted analogue in urine as applied to the victims of the  









SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY Tokyo Sarin disaster” Journal of Chromatography B: Biomedical Sciences and Applications Volume 695, Issue 2, 1997, pp. 237–244. Ministry of Defence (UK), Disarmament: includes Chemical Weapons Convention; visits by Committee on Disarmament to CDE’s Process Chemical Division, Nancekuke and a UK chemical plant, War Office file WO 188/2729, National Archives, Kew, 1966–1971. ———, Disposal of toxic agents and munitions, Nancekuke, War Office file WO 188/2453, National Archives, Kew, 1956–1974. ———, Disposal of toxic agents and munitions, Nancekuke, War Office file WO 188/2454, National Archives, Kew, 1975–1978. ———, Directorate of Scientific Intelligence, German Chemical Warfare Installation at Dyhernfurth, MOD file DEFE 44/308, National Archives, Kew, 1950. ———, Directorate of Scientific Intelligence, German Chemical Warfare Installation at Falkenhagen, MOD file DEFE 44/309, National Archives, Kew, 1950. ———, History of the Chemical Defence Establishment, Nancekuke, Cornwall, War Office file WO 188/2567, National Archives, Kew, 1965–1974. ———, Operation SandCastle, War Office file WO 188/2449, National Archives, Kew, 1955–1958. ———, Operation SandCastle, War Office file WO 188/2450, National Archives, Kew, 1954–1955. ———, Directorate of Scientific Intelligence, Otto Ambros Interrogation Files, MOD file DEFE 41/8, National Archives, Kew, 1950–1951. ———, Specialist Working Party on the Transport of Nerve Gas from Nancekuke to Porton, War Office file WO 188/2608, National Archives, Kew, 1969–1971. ———, Russian nerve agents: research and publications, 1 Feb 1957 to 31 March 1972, File WO 188/2563, National Archives, Kew, 1972. Ministry of Supply (UK), Nancekuke: Nerve Gas Production Unit, War Office file WO185/315, National Archives, Kew, 1952–1954. Mirzayanov, Vil, State Secrets: An Insider’s Chronicle of the Russian Chemical Weapons Program, Outskirts Press, 2009. Mohapatra, S., and Rath N., “Mania following organophosphate poison 



SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY ing.” Journal of Neurosciences in Rural Practice. 2014 Nov. 5 (Suppl 1): S86–S87. Murakami, Haruki, Underground, Random House, London, 2011. Myers T., and Langston J., “Eating for Victory”, CBRNE World, February 2012. Murphy, Paul, “Matsumoto: Aum’s Sarin guinea pig”, The Japan Times, 21 June 2014. National Intelligence Council (USA), China and Weapons of Mass Destruction, Conference report, 5 November 1999. “Nerve Agents,” (No author identified) Journal of the Royal Army Medical Corps, 2002. 148: 344–357. Newmark J., “The birth of nerve agent warfare: lessons from Syed Abbas Foroutan”, Neurology. 2004 62:1590–1596. Newmark, J., Email correspondence with author, 2019. O’Brien, Luke, and Stein, Aaron, “The Military Logic Behind Assad’s Use of Chemical Weapons” on the site War on the Rocks, 15 June 2018, accessed at Ochnser, Herman, History of German Chemical Warfare in World War II, Part I, United States Army Chemical Corps, 1949. Office of the Surgeon General, United States Army, Textbook of Military Medicine: Medical Aspects of Chemical and Biological Warfare, 1997. Office of the Surgeon General, United States Army, Textbook of Military Medicine: Medical Aspects of Chemical Warfare, 2008. Okumura T., Takasu N., Ishimatsu S., Miyanoki S., Mitsuhashi A., Kumada K., Tanaka K., Hinohara S.: “Report on 640 victims of the Tokyo subway Sarin attack”, Annals of Emergency Medicine. August 1996; 28:129–135. Orehovec, Zvonko, Interview, Cavtat, Croatia, April 2011. Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Request of Expression of Interest, OPCW/CDB/EOI/02/2013, 20 November 2013. Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Report of the fact-finding mission regarding the incident of the alleged use of toxic chemicals as a weapon in Douma, Syria Arab Republic, on 7 April 2018 S/17131/2019, 1 March 2019.  








SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Report of the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission in Syria Regarding an Alleged Incident in Khan Shaykhun, Syrian Arab Republic, April 2017, June 2017. Osborne, Samuel, “Germany obtained novichok nerve agent sample in1990s, reports say”, The Independent (London), 18 May 2018. O’Sullivan, Adrian, Nazi Secret Warfare in Occupied Persia (Iran), Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. Paxman, Jeremy and Harris, Robert., A Higher Form of Killing, Random House, London, 1982. Peacock, F. C. (ed.), Jealott’s Hill: Fifty years of agricultural research, 1928– 1978, Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd, London, 1978. Petroianu, G.A., “Toxicity of phosphor esters: Willy Lang (1900–1976) and Gerda von Krueger (1907-after 1970)”, Pharmazie, 65 (2010). Preuss J. (2017), “The Reconstruction of Production and Storage Sites for Chemical Warfare Agents and Weapons from Both World Wars in the Context of Assessing Former Munitions Sites,” in: Friedrich B., Hoffmann D., Renn J., Schmaltz F., Wolf M. (eds), One Hundred Years of Chemical Warfare: Research, Deployment, Consequences. Reid, T.R., “Tokyo Cult finds an Unlikely Supporter”, Washington Post, 5 May 1995. Reuters, “Murdered North Korean Kim Jong Nam had $100,000 in backpack, police witnesses say”, 12 Oct. 2017. ———, “German spy agency sees Assad behind gas attack, cites phone call”, 4 September 2013. ———, “Kim Jong-nam had antidote to nerve agent that killed him in bag”, 1 December 2017. Robinson, Julian, The Problem of Chemical and Biological Warfare: Volume II, CB Weapons Today, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 1973. Rofer, Cheryl, “‘A Naïve Set of Assumptions’—An Expert’s View on Ted Postol Hexamine Theories,” Bellingcat, 6 August 2018. Accessed online at Romano J. and Lukey B., Chemical Warfare Agents: Chemistry, Pharma­ cology, Toxicology, and Therapeutics, CRC Press, 2007.  












SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY Roth, Andrew and McCarthy, Tom, “‘It’s got me’: The lonely death of the Soviet scientist poisoned by novichok”, The Guardian, 22 March 2018. RT News, “BZ samples tested at Swiss lab in Skripal case ‘nothing to do’ with Salisbury—OPCW Chief ”,, 18 April 2018. Accessed online at documents/best-practices-securing-houses-of-worship.pdf Sadayoshi, Ohbu, et al., “Sarin poisoning on Tokyo subway,” Southern Medical Journal 90,6 (1997): 587–593. Sawwan, Ameenah, “I survived the 2013 chemical attack on Ghouta,” Al Jazeera, 22 Aug 2019. Sax, Boria, Animals in the Third Reich, A & C Black, London, 2000. Schrader, Gerhard, The Development of New Insecticides, British Intelligence Objectives Subcommittee Report 714, 1945. Schneider, Tobias and Lütkefend, Theresa, Nowhere to Hide: The Logic of Chemical Weapons Use in Syria, Global Public Policy Institute, Berlin, February 2019. Scholz, J.K., “The Dyhernfurth Raid”, World at War, January 2009. Schrader, Gerhard, “Schrader Reports”, Foreign Office File FO 1031/239, National Archives, Kew, 1945. Shaheen, Kareem, “The dead were wherever you looked—Inside Syrian town after gas attack”, The Guardian, 6 April 2017. Shim, Elizabeth, “Female suspect sick after Kim Jon Nam assassination, police say”, UPI wire report, 24 Feb 2017. Shohame, Dany, The Evolution of Chemical and Biological Weapons in Egypt, Ariel Center for Policy Research, Israel, 1998. Sloan, Roy, The Tale of Tabun: Nazi Chemical Weapons in North Wales, Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, 1998. Smydo, J., “Weapons Feud is Over, Mobay Says,” Pittsburgh Press, 3 July 1990. Speer, Albert, Inside the Third Reich, Simon and Schuster, London, 1970. ———, Testimony to War Crimes Trials at Nuremberg, day 160, 21 June 1946. Spring Grove Cemetery (Ohio), Records accessed online at http://www. springgrove,org/stats/170124.tif.pdf Sugishima, Masaaki, “Aum Shinrikyo and the Japanese law on bioterrorism,” Prehospital and disaster medicine 18.3 (2003): 179–183.  








SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY Susman, Tina, “Bin Laden Link: El-Shifa Factory Chief Lives in House He Used to Occupy”, Newsday, 30 April 2004. Syrian Arab News Agency, “25 Killed by Rocket with Chemical Materials Fired by Terrorists in Aleppo Countryside,” 19 March 2013. Taneda, Kenichiro, “The sarin nerve gas attack on the Tokyo subway system: Hospital response to mass casualties and psychological issues in hospital planning,” Traumatology 11.2 (2005): 75–85. Tansey, E.M., “Henry Dale and the discovery of acetylcholine”, Comptes Rendus Biologies, vol. 329, Issues 5–6, 2006. Tehran Peace Museum, Oral Histories, accessed online at http://www. Thorne, David S., Contaminants in Fish And Game Animals On Rocky Mountain Arsenal, 1977–1982. No. RMA-83042R01. US Army Rocky Mountain Arsenal, 1982. Timmermann, Kenneth, The Death Lobby: How the West Armed Iraq, Houghton Mifflin, 1991. Timperley, Christopher, Best Synthetic Methods: Organophosphorus (V) Chemistry, Elsevier Science, 2018. Tilley, Edmund, Interrogation Notes, Foreign Office files FO 1031/190, 1031/191, 1031/192, and 1031/193, National Archives Kew, 1945–1946. Tucker, Jonathan, War of Nerves, Anchor, New York, 2006. United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism, Seventh report of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism, 26 October 2017. United Nations Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic, Report on the Alleged Use of Chemical Weapons in the Ghouta Area of Damascus, 16 September 2013. United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission, Unresolved Disarmament Issues: Iraq’s Proscribed Weapons Programmes, 6 March 2003. United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission, Twenty-sixth quarterly report on the activities of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission in accordance with paragraph 12 of Security Council resolution 1284 (1999), August 2006.  







SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY United States Army, Dept of the Army Pamphlet 5–6–1 Fiscal Year 1987, 1986. ———, Enemy Agent Munitions, Secret Memorandum, 29 May 1945. ———, Field Manual 3–11–9: Potential Military Chemical/Biological Agents and Compounds, 2005. ———, Installation Assessment of Phosphate Development Works, 1980. (Redacted.) ———, Off-shore Disposal of Chemical Agents and Weapons Conducted by the United States, US Army Research, Development, and Engineering Command study, 2001. United States Department of Defense, Secretary of Defense confidential memorandum to Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, Office of Secretary of Defense control number 2282. 30 April 1969, United States Department of Justice, Assessment of CERCLA Hazardous Substances Released by Shell Oil Company and the United States Army at Rocky Mountain Arsenal, vol. 2. December 30, 1986. United States Government Printing Office, Elimination of German Resources for War: Hearings before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Military Affairs, United States Senate, Seventy-Ninth Congress, First Session, Pursuant to S. Res. 197 (78th Congress) and S. Res. 146 (79th Congress), 1945. United States Intelligence Board, National Intelligence Estimate 11–11–69: Soviet Chemical and Biological Warfare Capabilities, 13 February 1969. United States Navy, Shipboard problems and requirements for shipboard handling and stowage of chemical munitions, 1961. Urban, Mark, The Skripal Files, Pan Macmillan, London, 2018. Vallet, V., Cruz, C. Licausi, J., et. al. “Percutaneous penetration and distribution of VX using in vitro pig or human excised skin: Validation of demeton-S-methyl as adequate simulant for VX skin permeation investigations” Toxicology, 246:73–82, 2008. Van Atta, Dale, With Honor: Melvin Laird in War, Peace, and Politics, University of Wisconsin Press, 2008. Van der Schans, M.J., Lander, B.J., Van der Wiel, H., Langenberg, J.P., and Benschop, H.P., “Toxicokinetics of the nerve agent (+/-)-VX in anesthetized and atropinized hairless guinea pigs and marmosets after  








SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY intravenous and percutaneous administration,” Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, 191, 48–62, 2003. Valade, P., and Salle, J. “Apercu sur les nouveaux toxiques de guerre,” Revue vétérinaire Militaire, 33 (1947): 77. Van Poollen, H. K., and D. B. Hoover. “Waste disposal and earthquakes at the Rocky Mountain arsenal, Derby, Colorado.” Journal of Petroleum Technology, 22.08 (1970): 983–993. Wagner, Travis, “Hazardous waste: evolution of a national environmental problem,” Journal of policy history 16.4 (2004): 311–312. Walker, Shaun, “UK and Bulgaria investigate 2015 poisoning of Bulgarian arms dealer,” The Guardian, 11 February 2019. Walters, Guy, “Did Nazi scientist save Britain from Hitler’s deadly gas that could have killed millions?” Daily Mail, 7 July 2010. War Office (UK), Chemical Defence Advisory Board: trials with Tabun, War Office file WO 195/9837, National Archives, Kew, 1948. ———, Chemical Warfare Intelligence 1945, War Office File WO 193/724, National Archives, Kew 1945. ———, Chemical Warfare Intelligence 30 Sep 1939 to 30 June 1944, War Office File WO 193/723, National Archives, Kew 1945. ———, Employment of German scientists in the United Kingdom: appointment of Dr Gerhardt Schrader to the Chemical Defence Experimental Station, Porton Down, War Office file WO 188/2087, National Archives, Kew, 1947. ———, Field assessments, carried out at Raubkammer, Germany, by No. 1 Porton Group, of the value of German chemical warfare (CW) weapons and chargings, War Office file WO 189/2615, National Archives, Kew, 1945. ———, No 1 Porton Group at Raubkammer: trials on German chemical weapons, War Office file WO 188/2072, National Archives, Kew, 1945. ———, Reports Phosphorus-nitrogen compounds Tabun and Sarin, War Office file WO 208/2183, National Archives, Kew, 1945. ———, Reports on trials by 1 Porton Group at the Raubkammer chemical weapon experimental station, Germany, War Office file WO 189/4878, National Archives, Kew, 1945. ———, Tabular Summaries of German Field Trials, War Office File 188/1567, National Archives, Kew, 1945.  










SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY Wilkinson, Mark, Before Intelligence Failed: British Secret Intelligence on Chemical and Biological Weapons in the Soviet Union, South Africa, and Libya, Hurst, London, 2018. Wirtschaftsgruppe Chemische Industrie, Die Chemische Industrie. Nr. 29/30–297. Berlin, Germany, 24 July 1942. Wise, David, “Novichok on Trial”, New York Times, 12 March 1994. Yanagisawa, N., Morita, H., Nakajima, T., “Sarin experiences in Japan: Acute toxicity and long-term effects,” Journal of the Neurological Sciences, vol. 249, Issue 1, 2006. Yandell, Michael, interviews with the author, February 2019 and April 2019. Yokoyama, K. et. al., “Chronic Neurobehavioral Effects of Tokyo Subway Sarin Poisoning in Relation to Posttraumatic Stress Disorder”, Archives of Environmental Health: An International Journal, 53:4, 249–256. 1998. York, G., “Otto Loewi: Dream inspires a Nobel-winning experiment on neurotransmission”, Neurology Today. 4:12, December 2004.  






A-230 novichok, 161, 163 A-232 novichok, 161, 163, 165 A-234 novichok, 162, 235–53 A4, 295 Abu Za’abal, Egypt, 298 ACACIA, 296 acetoamydin radical, 161 acetonitrile, 192, 197 acetylcholine, 42, 90, 262, 274 acetylcholinesterase (AChE), 189, 209, 232, 238, 247, 262, 275, 276, 287 Adamsite, 286 aerial bombs, 16 Iraqi, 214 Libyan, 306 R-33, 126 Sarin, 108, 127, 132, 143 Syrian, 227 Tabun, 17, 18, 34, 56, 57, 71, 95, 96 VX, 112

aerosols, 7, 264, 265, 279 Sarin, 225, 271 Tabun, 11, 13, 14, 16, 96 VX, 147 Afghanistan, 182, 236 Afrika Korps, 64 Agent Orange, 136 Agfa, 4 Akahata, 194 Alabama, United States Anniston Army Depot, 113, 134, 135, 140 Fort McClellan, 282–6 Phosphate Development Works, 98–101, 151, 152, 308 Alaska, United States, 130 Albright and Wilson, 89 alcohol ethanol, 33 isopropyl, 43, 103, 104, 105, 141, 145, 151, 226 349

INDEX methyl, 100 pinacolyl, 43, 124, 142, 151, 173 Aleph, 197 Aleppo, Syria, 213, 215 Algeria, 294, 295–6 Alsos mission (1943–5), 65, 73, 76 Altona, Germany, 74 aluminium, 106 Alz river, 52 Ambros, Otto, 20, 54, 55, 75, 256, 257 ‘A’ in Sarin, 20, 21, 23 Allied invasion (1945), 52–3, 294 financial rewards, 25, 29, 41 Hitler, meeting with (1943), 54, 55 HWA meeting (1939), 21 Landsberg imprisonment at (1948–51), 80 paperwork, hiding of, 45–6, 75, 79 Sarin, production of, 38, 40, 97 slave labour, use of, 35 synthetic rubber, development of, 62 Tabun, production of, 22, 23–9 US chemical industry, views on, 55, 61 USCWS investigation of, 75, 76, 77, 79, 97 American University, Washington, DC, 69 350

Amesbury, Wiltshire, 240–41, 242, 245 Amiton, 90, 91 Ammendorf, Germany, 24 ammonia, 32, 49 al-Anfal campaign (1986–9), 173–8 Angola, 303 Anniston, Alabama, 113, 134, 135, 140 Anorgana Gmbh, 24, 28, 31, 35 anticholinergics, 274 anticonvulsant drugs, 276, 288 antihistamines, 31, 275 aphids, 1, 5, 43 Arab Spring (2011), 211 Arab–Israeli war (1973), 213, 299 Arbuzov, Aleksandr, 82, 116 Architectural Recordation of the Integrated Binary Production Facility, 152 Arkansas, United States, 113, 134, 140, 151, 152, 207 Arnett, Peter, 138 artillery shells, 278–80 binary systems, 144–50, 309 corrosion of, 105–6, 132 Edgewood Arsenal research, 96 Green Ring 3 shells, 16, 34, 68, 69 Newport Chemical Plant research, 111–13 Raubkammer research, 13–18, 56, 71 Rocky Mountain Arsenal research, 106–9

INDEX Soviet research, 127 arsenic, 9 Asahara, Shoko, 185, 188, 191, 193, 197 Asahi Shimbun, 312 al-Assad, Bashar, 214, 217, 219–22, 224, 227–30 al-Assad, Hafez, 212 Atomic Energy Commission, 99, 110 atropine, 247, 248, 274–5, 288 Germany, 65, 274 Iran, 173, 275 Japan, 193 Malaysia, 231 Soviet Union, 163 Syria, 216 United Kingdom, 236, 237, 275 United States, 205 Aum Shinrikyo, 185–200, 218, 258, 259, 274, 278 Auschwitz concentration camp, 76, 79–80 Australia, 187 autoinjectors, 274–6, 284, 288 B2 Namous, Algeria, 294, 295–6, 314 Ba’ath Party Iraq, 181, 309 Syria, 212, 309 Babcock and Wilcox, 168 Baerman, Lilli, 2 Baghdad, Iraq, 167, 203 Bailey, Nick, 239, 245

Baltimore Sun, 165 Banjawarn, Western Australia, 187 Barletta, Michael, 304 Barzah, Damascus, 229 BASF, 4 Basra, Iraq, 171, 180 Basson, Wouter, 302–3 Battle of al-Faw (1986), 178 Battle of Caporetto (1917), 8 Battle of the Marshes (1984), 171–2 Bavaria, 52 Bayer, 4, 153 beetles, 1, 5 Beketovka, Russia, 117, 118, 120–22, 124–6 Belgium, 171 belladonna, 274 Bellingcat, xiii, 217, 225, 226, 241, 250 Berrios, Eugenio, 310 Bigeye bomb, 146–9, 155, 156, 280 Bin Laden, Osama, 304 binary agents, 141–56, 159 A-232, 162, 163 R-33, 160 Sarin, 141–6, 149, 155, 156 Soman, 141, 142 VX, 141, 142, 146–9, 155, 156 biological weapons, 137 bipolar disorder, 207 Bitterfeld, Germany, 30 BLU-80/B bomb, 146 Blue Book, 102, 105 351

INDEX Blue Grass Ordnance Depot, Kentucky, 113, 135 BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst), 165, 221 von Bock, Bernd, 32, 52, 75, 118, 256 bombs, 280 Bigeye bomb, 146–9, 155, 156, 280 bomblets, 108, 280, 281 cluster bombs, 108, 280 glide bombs, 146, 148 Iraqi, 170, 174, 176 KC250 bomb, 16 M125 bomblets, 108 M34 cluster bombs, 108 R-33, 126 Sarin, 39, 97, 98, 108–9, 127, 132, 143 Syrian, 225–6, 227, 229, 230 Tabun, 18, 30, 34, 51–2, 56, 57, 69–71, 82, 86–8, 95, 96 VX, 112, 146–9, 155, 156 Bosnia-Herzegovina, 307 Bossert, Karl, 75 Botha, Pieter Willem, 302 Bow, London, 234, 241 bradycardia, 236 Branch 450, 212 Brandt, Karl, 41–2, 73 Braqueville, France, 295 von Braun, Werner, 73 Brauschweig University, 4 Breslau, Silesia, 26, 51 Brexit (2016–), 243 352

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), 219, 237 British Intelligence Objectives Sub-Committee (BIOS), 4, 66, 89 British Library, 202 Brno, Czechoslovakia, 297 Browder, William ‘Bill’, 244 Brown Moses blog, 221, 225 Brunner, Alois, 212 Building 1601, Rocky Mountain Arsenal, 106–9 Bulgaria, viii–ix, 297–8 Bülow, Wolfgang, 75 Buna plant, Auschwitz, 76, 79–80 Burgenland district, Germany, 52 Burghausen, Germany, 79 Burns, James, 203–5 Bush War (1964–79), 300 Bush, George Herbert Walker, 153, 163 Bushirov, Ruslan, 234–5, 241–2 BZ, 152, 244–5, 248, 286, 308 Cairnryan, Wales, 87 Calabar bean, xv, 116, 209, 255, 262, 287 Cambridge University, 85 Cambridge, Massachusetts, 69 Camp de Mourmelon, France, 296 Cape Ray, MV, 221 carbamates, xvi, 201, 262 Cassidy, Joseph, 123, 124 Cassidy’s Run (Wise), 123 caustic scrubbers, 32

INDEX Cayman Islands, 249 Center for Nonproliferation Studies, 305 Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), 119, 181, 243, 304, 310 Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), 300 Central Military Testing Site, Tomka, 122 Centre d’Etudes du Bouchet (CEB), 294, 296 Chad, 305 Channel Islands, 249 Cheboksarskie Novosti, 126 Chemical Ali, 174 Chemical Corps, 66 Chemical Defense Training Facility, 282–6 disbandment (1972), 213 Gulf War (1990–91), 179 Korean War (1950–53), 96 M687 shells, 144 Phosphate Development Works, 99 Pine Bluff Arsenal, 152 Sarin research, 80, 96 Second World War (1939–45), 57, 66, 80 Tabun research, 57 Technical Escorts, 143 Yugoslav officers’ training with, 307 Chemical Defence Establishment Nancekuke, 88 Chemical Defense Training Facility, 282–6

chemical demilitarisation, 139–40, 157 chemical neutralisation, 139 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), vii, 139, 211 China and, 311 Egypt and, 300 France and, 296 India and, 314 Israel and, 314 Libya and, 306 North Korea and, 312 Russian Federation and, 164, 165, 242 South Korea and, 313 Soviet Union and, 161, 163 Syria and, vii, 212, 221, 223, 224 Taiwan and, 312 United States and, 155 Chemische Fabrik GriesheimElektron, 4 Chemische Fabrik vorm, 4 Chemische Industrie, Die, 28 Chepiga, Anatoli, viii, 234–5, 241–2 Chibana Depot, Okinawa, 113, 132–3, 136, 137–8 Chile, 310 Chimurenga (1964–79), 300 China, 136, 150, 256, 310–12 Chivers, Christopher John, 202 Chlorine Trifluoride (ClF3), 39 chlorine, vii, 8–9, 98, 100, 102, 215, 224, 228, 229, 230, 277 353

INDEX chlorobenzene, 33–4 chlorpicrin, 308 chlorpyrifos, 202 cholinergic crisis, 247, 268, 287 Christison, Robert, xv–xvi Chuvash Republic, 125 City Stay Hotel, Bow, 234, 241 Clark I and II, 290 Clausen, Germany, 113 Clinton, William ‘Bill’, 304 cluster bombs, 108, 280 CN gas (ω-chloroacetophenone), 298, 308 CNN, 138 Cold War, xi, xii, 107, 120, 126, 201, 258 China and, 310–11 Sweden and, 91 Syria and, 212 Colorado, United States, 98, 100, 101–10, 128, 140, 151, 154 Colorado potato beetles, 1, 55, 77 Combined Intelligence Objectives Subcommittee (CIOS), 65–6, 68, 69 Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Centre, 67 Company for Chemicals and Pesticides, 298 Coombs, Robert, 69 Corporal Eric G. Gibson, SS, 134 CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), 198, 218, 274 crash programme (1953–7), 128 Cross, Glenn, 300  


CS gas (o-chlorobenzylidenemalononitrile), 138, 171, 308 Culotta, Joseph, 168 cyanide, 5–6, 9, 18, 33, 34, 176–7, 291 cyanosis, 177 CycloSarin, 151, 173, 181 Czech Republic, 243 Czechoslovakia, 179, 297 D-Day (1944), 56, 58–9, 68 Daily Mail, 58 Dale, Henry, 42 Damascus, Syria Barzah SSRC complex, 229 Brunner in, 212 Ghouta attack (2013), vii, xiii, xvi, 216–24, 227, 260 Dana, Indiana, 110 Dandong, Liaoning, 312 Danube river, 52 Danzig Report, 187 DC (methylphosphonyl dichloride), 98–100, 102–5, 151–4, 223, 308–9 DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane), 55 De Vreij, Hans, 163–4 decontamination, 276–8 Dee, William, 147 Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), 246 Defense Production Act (1950), 153 Dehra Dun, British India, 89

INDEX depression, 199 dermal exposure, 238, 247, 266 Deseret Chemical Depot, Utah, 113 Desert News, 129–30 detection, 160 DF (methylphosphonyl difluoride), 103, 141, 145 Aum Shinrikyo, 192, 200 Syria, 221, 223, 226 United States, 103–5, 144, 145, 151, 154–5 di-di reaction, 104 diazepam, 276, 288 dichlor, 98–100, 102–5, 151–4, 223, 308–9 diisopropyl fluorophosphates (DFP), 85, 257 diisopropyl methylphosphonate (DIMP), 105, 110, 223 diisopropylcardodiimide, 106 dimethyl hydrogen phosphite (DMHP), 100 dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), 301 dimethylamine, 31, 32, 81 DIMP (diisopropyl methylphosphonate), 105, 110, 223 DINA (Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional), 310 diphenhydramine, 31 diphenylchlorarsine, 290 diphenylcyanoarsine, 290 Dirty War (Cross), 300 Disney, Walter, 80 DMMP (dimethyl methylphosphonate), 153

DMSO (dimethyl sulfoxide), 301 Doan Thi Huong, 232, 233 Douma attack (2018), 228 Dow Chemical, 78 Du Pont, 54 dual use technology, 169 Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, 113, 129–32, 136, 146, 147 Dustbin (Schloss Kransberg), 73–4, 76, 77, 78, 81, 97 Dyhernfurth complex, Silesia, 26–37, 256 accidental exposures at, 37 aerial reconnaissance of, 63 dimethylamine production, 31, 81 low-level exposure at, 36 Operation Barbara (1945), 48–51, 117 Sarin production at, 38, 39, 40, 50, 56 slave labour at, 35 Soviet invasion (1945), 45–51, 83, 117, 119 Tabun production, 26–37, 41, 61, 63, 64, 100, 289 EA 5365, 151 EA 5774, 151 Earle, New Jersey, 134 East Germany (1949–90), 118, 297, 305 Eckhaus, Sigmund, 151 Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland, 81, 90, 96, 97, 107, 110, 123, 134, 140, 147, 286 355

INDEX Egypt, 67, 167, 168, 169, 212, 217, 298–300, 305, 309 Eichmann, Adolf, 212 Elberfeld, Germany, 4, 7, 12, 18, 28, 43 Empire Claire, SS, 87, 88 EMPTA (o-ethyl methylphosphonothioic acid), 304 Englund, Will, 165 Espelkamp, Germany, 68 ethanol, 33 Ethiopia, 16, 307 ethylene oxide, 2 Évian Accords (1962), 295 Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD), 202–8 Falkenhagen, Germany, 39, 45, 46, 51, 63, 72, 256 Soviet capture of (1945), 63, 83, 117, 119, 120 Fall Weiss (1939), 20 Fallujah, Iraq, 171 fasciculations, 269 Fedorov, Lev, 119, 120, 122, 125–6, 164 fentanyl, 236, 243 fertilizers, 1 FH Gr39 Grünring 3 shell, 16, 34, 68, 69 Field Deployable Hydrolysis Systems, 221 Field Information Agency, Technical (FIAT), 66, 68, 74, 78, 116 356

Finland, 220 First World War (1914–18), see World War I fleas, 5 fluorine, 2, 5, 18, 38, 85, 119, 305 fluorspar, 2 FMC, 111 Forrestal, USS 144 Försvarets Forskninganstalt (FOA), 91 Fort Belan, Wales, 87 Fort Hood, Texas, 206–7 Fort McClellan, Alabama, 282–6 Fort Sill, Oklahoma, 206 France, 169, 216, 218, 229, 258, 293–6, 314 Franco, Francisco, 14 Frankenburg, Germany, 68 Free Syrian Army, 218 Freemasonry, 245 French Guiana, 296 Friedrick Wilhelms University, 2 Gaddafi, Muammar, 304–6 Gage, J.C., 90 gas masks CDTF training, 282, 283–4, 285–6 Cold War (1947–91), xi, 160, 307 Iran–Iraq War (1980–88), 169, 173 World War I (1914–18), 8, 9, 115, 290 World War II (1939–45), 57, 58, 59, 80, 289

INDEX Yugoslav, 307 Gas Protection Laboratory, Spandau, 11, 19 Gebrev, Emilian, viii–ix Gendorf, Germany, 46, 52–3, 75, 76, 78–9 Geneva Protocol (1925), 10, 137 George Eastman, USS, 130 George VI, King of the United Kingdom, 68 German Chemical Society, 42, 76 Germany BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst), 165, 221 East Germany (1949–90), 118, 297, 305 First World War (1914–18), 1, 8–9, 13, 53, 59, 61 Nazi period (1933–45), see Nazi Germany Sarin production/research, 19, 20, 39–41, 50, 51, 56, 68, 69, 71–2, 97, 120 Second World War (1939–45), 4, 21–2, 23–43, 44–62, 63–83, 99, 212 Soviet Commercial Agreement (1940), 30 Tabun production/research, 11–13, 17–18, 26–37, 41, 61, 63–4, 71–2, 100, 288–90, 291 Treaty of Rapallo (1922), 10, 115–16 Treaty of Versailles (1919), 24

Weimar period (1918–33), 2–3, 10, 24, 115–16 West Germany (1949–90), 113, 124, 154, 169, 179 Ghosh, Ranajit, 89 Ghouta attack (2013), vii, xiii, xvi, 216–24, 227, 260 GJ, 123 glide bombs, 146, 148 gold, 33 Golubkov, Sergei, 125 Gorbachev, Mikhail, 163 Gordievsky, Oleg, 237 Göring, Hermann, 23 GOSNIIOKhT, 120, 160, 161, 162, 163 Goudsmit, Samuel, 76 Gräber, Fritz, 47 GRAD rockets, 216, 222 Green Ring 3 shells, 16, 34, 68, 69 Gross-Rosen concentration camp, 35, 47 Gross, Eberhard, 5, 6–8, 12, 13, 18, 43 GRU (Glavnoje Razvedyvatel’noje Upravlenije), viii–xi, 123, 236, 241, 246 Grushko, Alexander, 244 Gruver, Morris, 168 Guardian, The, 226 Gulf War First (1990–91), 178–81, 201, 209 Second (2003–11), 182–3, 203–8 357

INDEX Gulf War syndrome, 181, 201 GulfLINK website, 181 GV, 151 Hahn, Otto, 76 Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia, 307 Halabja attack (1988), vii, xii, xiii, 174–8 hallucinogens, 152, 244–5, 248, 286, 308 halogen, 2 Hamburg, Germany, 86 Haret al-Mazar, Aleppo, 215 Harrier aircraft, 149 Hasegawa Chemicals, 187 Haspel, Gina, 243 Hastelloy, 103, 187 Hawaii, United States, 130, 137 Hawizeh Marshes, 171–2 Hayakawa, Kyohide, 186 Hayashi, Ikuo, 194 Hayashi, Yasuo, 193 al-Hazen Ibn Al-Haitham Institute, 168 Heereswaffenamt (HWA), 10, 20, 21, 28 Heidelberg, Germany, 76, 78, 79 Heisenberg, Werner, 76 helium, 155 Hemingway, Ernest, 8 Henbane, 275 Henkel, 4 Hersh, Seymour, 222 Hesse, Germany, 73 358

hexafluorophosphate (PF6), 223 hexamine, 223–4, 226, 227 hexane, 192 HF (hydrogen fluoride), 103–6, 142, 144, 145, 172, 187, 224 HI-6, 275 Higgins, Eliot, 222 Him Shanshar, Syria, 229 Hirose, Kenichi, 194, 195 Hirschkind, Wilhelm, 78 Historic Architecture Engineering Report CO-21, 102 Hitler, Adolf, 24 Ambros, relationship with, 29, 54, 55 chemical weapons policy, 34, 53, 55 N-stoff, interest in, 39 Nobel Prize, ban on accepting, 42 Sachsenheimer awarded Knight’s Cross (1945), 51 Soviet invasion (1945), 47 Speer’s assassination plot (1945), 288–90 Treaty of Versailles (1919), 24 Hochi Shimbun, 194 Hochwerk, 26–39, 40, 46–51 Hoechst, 4 Hoffmann, Friedrich, 81 Holocaust (1941–5), 35, 37, 47, 76, 79–80, 290–92 Holtam, Nicholas, 251, 252, 253 Homs, Syria, 225, 229 Hörlein, Heinrich, 7–8, 10, 21, 80

INDEX howitzers, 15, 96, 106, 107–8, 146 Hungary, 297, 299 Hunstadt, Germany, 68 Hussein, Saddam, 168, 174, 180, 181, 182, 183 hydrogen chloride (HCl), 32, 104, 105 hydrogen cyanide, 9, 33, 34, 176–7, 291 hydrogen fluoride (HF), 103–6, 142, 144, 145, 172, 187, 224 hydrolase, 262 Idlib, Syria, 215, 225 IG Farben, 4, 18, 20, 43, 52–3 HWA meeting (1939), 21–2 Ludwigshafen HQ, 28, 45, 75, 293 Parathion, production of, 300 N-stoff, production of, 39 Nuremburg trial (1947–8), 79 Sarin, production of, 40 slave labour, use of, 35, 79, 80 Tabun, production of, 7–8, 10–12, 13, 21–39 USCWS investigation of, 74–9 Imhausen Chemie, 305 IMPA (isopropyl methylphosphonic acid), 190, 222–3 Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), 89, 90, 168 Imperial War Museum, London, 79 India, 193, 202, 314 Inglis, Kelvin, 252–3

Inn river, 52 insects; insecticides, 2, 4–5, 18, 55 Colorado potato beetles, 1, 55, 77 mosquitos, 55 red spider mites, 90 weevils, 1, 31 Inside the Third Reich (Speer), 289 insomnia, 36, 199, 206 Integrated Binary Production Facilities complex, Pine Bluff, 152 interdiction, 150 Mustard, 61 Sarin, 91, 97, 110 Tabun, 58, 59, 61, 97 VX, 91, 110 Intermediate Volatility Agent (IVA), 150–55, 296 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), 182 Iran Battle of al-Faw (1986), 178 Battle of the Marshes (1984), 171–2 Iraq War (1980–88), xii, 167, 169–78, 198, 218, 258, 275 al-Muthanna airstrike (1985), 172–3 Operation Badr (1985), 171 Operation Ramadan (1982), 171 Revolution (1979), 169–70 Second World War (1939–45), 67 Syria, relations with, 213, 220 359

INDEX US hostage crisis (1979–81), 169 War of the Cities (1984–8), 173 Iraq al-Anfal campaign (1986–9), 173–8 Battle of al-Faw (1986), 178 Battle of the Marshes (1984), 171–2 CycloSarin production, 173, 181 Egypt, relations with, 299 Gulf War I (1990–91), 178–81, 201, 209 Gulf War II (2003–11), 182–3, 203–8 Halabja chemical attack (1988), vii, xii, xiii, 174–8 al-Hazen Ibn Al-Haitham Institute, 168 Iran War (1980–88), xii, 167, 169–78, 198, 218, 258, 275 Non-Aligned movement, 309 Operation Badr (1985), 171 Operation Ramadan (1982), 171 Mustard production, 167, 170, 171, 172, 174, 175, 178 al-Muthanna site, 169, 172 Project 922, 169 al-Rashad laboratory, 167, 168, 170 Rutbah site, 168–9 Sarin production, 167, 172, 173, 174, 181, 203–8 Soviet Union, relations with, 168, 297 360

State Enterprise for Pesticide Production (SEPP), 169, 170, 171, 172–3 Sudan, relations with, 304 Tabun production, 167, 168, 171–2, 174–5, 177, 178 UNMOVIC mission (1999– 2007), 182 UNSCOM mission (1990–99), 181–2 VX production, 168, 173, 174 Yugoslavia, relations with, 309 War of the Cities (1984–8), 173 isopropyl alcohol, 43, 103, 104, 105, 141, 145, 151, 226 isopropyl methylphosphonic acid (IMPA), 190, 222–3 isopropylamine, 145 Israel, 167, 212, 213, 214, 245, 248, 299, 314 Istanbul, Turkey, 67 Italy, 8, 16, 65 Ivan IV ‘the Terrible’, Tsar of Russia, 244 Jacobsen, Annie, 80 Jäger-Regiment, 48 Japan Aum Shinrikyo, xii, 185–200, 218, 258, 259, 274, 278 Chibana Depot, 113, 132–3, 136, 137–8 Second World War (1939–45), 58, 95 Sino-Japanese War, Second (1937–45), 311

INDEX Japan Times, 189 Jasło, Poland, 21 Jewish people, 2, 3–4, 35 Jimson Weed, 275 Johnson, Alexander Boris, 240 Johnston Island, 137–8, 140 Joyu, Fumihiro, 186 Jung, Gerhard, 53, 118 Kabachnik, Martin, 119 Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, 132 Kaichi Heights, Matsumoto, 188 Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Medical Research, 42 Kamikuishiki, Japan, 187 Kargin, Valentin, 117, 118 Kazan, Russia, 82, 125 KC250 bomb, 16 Keatley, Robert, 133 Keitel, Wilhelm, 52 Kentucky, United States, 113, 135 Kenya, 304 kerosene, 2 ketogenic diet, 36 KGB (Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti), 163 Khamisiyah, Iraq, 180–81, 182 Khan al-Assal attack (2013), 215, 227 Khan Shaykhun attack (2017), viii, xiii, 225–8 Khartoum, Sudan, 303 Khimprom Production Association, Chuvash, 125 Kim Jong Il, 232

Kim Jong Nam, 231–4, 255, 313 Kim Jong Un, 232 Kirpichev, Piotr, 161 Kissinger, Henry, 136, 137 Kitamura, Koichi, 194–5 Kleinhans, Wilhelm, 28, 32, 36 von Klenck, Jürgen, 40, 45–6, 51, 76, 79, 80 Kobe Steel, 186 Koch, Edgar, 53, 118 Kogakuin University, 193 Koibuchi, Toshie, 189 Komsomolskaya Pravda, 244 Kono, Yoshiyuki, 189–90 Korean War (1950–53), 96, 102, 153, 258, 312 Kotka, SS, 88 Krauch, Karl, 23, 76, 80 Krebs AG, 299 von Krüger, Gerda, 2–4, 5 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 231, 255 Kuhn, Richard, 42–3, 76, 80, 118, 124 Kükenthal, Hans, 5, 6 Kurds, vii, xii, xiii, 173–8 Kurgan, Russia, 126 Kuwait, 178–80, 209 Laird, Melvin, 136 Lake Charles, Louisiana, 152 Lake Chiemsee, Bavaria, 52 land mines, 281 Landsberg prison, Bavaria, 80 Lange, Willy, 2–4, 5, 65, 85 361

INDEX Langkawi, Malaysia, 231 Laos, 138 al-Lataminah chemical attack (2017), viii, xiii, 228 Lavrov, Sergei, 243, 244 LCt 50 (50th percentile Lethal Concentration), 271, 272 Le-100, 7, 10–11 Lebaron Russell Briggs, SS, 135 Lenin prize, 124 Leonidovka, Penza, 126 Letelier, Orlando, 310 Lethal Concentration, 50th percentile, 271, 272 Leverkusen, Germany, 77 Lewinsky, Monica, 304 Lewis, James, 198 Lewisite, 9, 57, 58, 61, 101, 102, 152, 311 Lexington, Kentucky, 113, 135, 140 Libman, Boris, 120–21, 122–3, 124, 125 Libya, 304–6 Libyan Chemical Chronology, 305 Little Rock, Arkansas, 207 Llanberis, Wales, 86 Llandwrog, Wales, 86–7 Lobov, Oleg, 187 Loewi, Otto, 42 lorazepam, 276 Lossa, Germany, 52 Loucks, Charles, 80, 101, 295 Louisiana Army Ammunition Plant, 155 362

Lucani, Serbia, 308, 309 Ludwigshafen, Germany, 28, 45, 75, 293 Lummus corporation, 111 Lüneberger Heath, Germany, 13 Luranil, 26, 27 Lütkefend, Theresa, 230 M11/M13 decon sprayers, 285 M121 shells, 107, 111, 144 M122 shells, 107 M125 bomblets, 108 M20 canisters, 144, 154–5 M23 chemical landmine, 112 M270 MLRS, 149–50, 154 M34 cluster bombs, 108 M360 shells, 106–7 M55 rockets, 106, 107–8, 112, 133, 134, 138, 142, 152 M687 shells, 144–6, 149, 155, 156 M8 alarm, 160, 284 M91 launcher, 107 Maadi, Egypt, 67 Macau, 231 Maddison, Ronald, 92 Maginot Line, 39 al-Majid, Ali Hassan, 174 malaria, 55 Malathion, 202 Malaysia, 231, 255, 313 Malta, 236 Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, 307 Marquardt Company, 155 Mary Cullom Kimbro, SS, 134

INDEX Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 69, 224 Matsumoto attack (1994), 187–90, 197, 200 Matsumoto, Chizuo, 185, 188, 191, 193, 197 Maunsell, Raymund John, 67 Mauthausen death camp, 47 May, Theresa, 240, 243, 244, 249 MC-1 bombs, 108, 109 McCain, John, 144 McCarthy, Richard, 131 Mechem, 302 Médecins Sans Frontières, 218 Melton, John Gordon, 198 Mendeleev Institute of Chemical Technology, Moscow, 121 Merz, Hans, 68 methanesulphonyl fluoride, 5 methyl alcohol, 100 methyl chloride, 100 methylphosphonyl dichloride (DC), 98–100, 102–5, 151–4, 223, 308–9 methylphosphonyl difluoride (DF), 103, 141, 145 Aum Shinrikyo, 192, 200 Syria, 221, 223, 226 United States, 103–5, 144, 145, 151, 154–5 MI6, 236 Mickey Mouse gas masks, 80 midazolam, 276 Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point, North Carolina, 135

Military Plant 801, Abu Za’abal, 298, 299 Military Technical Institute, Potoci, 307, 308–9 Miloje Blagojevic Powder Works, Lucani, 308 Ministry of Supply, 78 miosis, 3, 6, 7, 69, 196, 205, 225, 231, 236, 267–9, 285 Mirzayanov, Vil, 158, 159, 161, 162, 164–5 Mishkin, Alexander, viii, 234–5, 241–2 missiles, 60, 81, 108, 280–81 Iraqi, 173, 182 M139 bomblet, 108 Soviet, 127, 164 Syrian, 212, 213, 214 V-1 and V-2 missiles, 59–60, 66 Mitterrand, François, 296 MK.RU, 243 Mk116 bombs, 108, 109, 143 Mk94 bombs, 108 MLRS, 149–50, 154 Moadamiyah, Damascus, 216, 217 Mobay Corporation, 153, 154 Monsanto, 54, 98, 153 Montan Industriewerke, 24–5, 28, 38, 39–40 Montenegro, 309 Monturon, 40 Mormactern, SS, 135 Morocco, 16 Moskovskiye Novosti, 164 363

INDEX mosquitoes, 55 Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina, 307 Mount Fuji, Japan, 187 multiple-launch rocket launchers, 107 Münster, Germany, 13, 69 Murai, Hideo, 186, 188 Murakami, Haruki, 192–3, 194, 199, 201 Murmansk convoys (1941–5), 135 Muscle Shoals, Alabama, 98–101, 151, 152, 308 Mustard, xi, 11, 14, 20, 22, 24, 41, 97 Chinese production of, 311 Egyptian production of, 298 First World War (1914–18), 9 IG Farben production of, 53 Indian production of, 314 Iraqi production of, 167, 170, 171, 172, 174, 175, 178 Libyan production of, 305 Porton Group study of, 70 Sachsenhausen experiments, 37 Second World War (1939–45), 21, 57, 58, 59, 61, 62, 64, 69 Soviet production of, 116 Syrian production of, 221 thionyl chloride and, 154 US production of, 54, 96, 101–2, 113, 132–5, 137, 140, 152, 154, 159 yellow ring shells, 69 Yugoslavian production of, 306, 308 364

al-Muthanna, Iraq, 169, 172 n-stoff, 39–40, 41 N,N-dimethylforamid, 161, 192 Nagano, Japan, 190 Nakagawa, Tomamosa, 187, 192 naloxone, 236 Nancekuke, Cornwall, 88, 92 napalm, 102, 136 el-Nasr Pharmaceutical Company, 299 Nasser, Gamal Abdel, 298, 309 National Archives, Kew, 13, 46, 64, 295 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), 127–8 Nazi Germany (1933–45), xi, 1, 3–4, 9–22, 23–43, 44–62, 63–83, 99, 255–8 Fall Weiss (1939), 20 Egypt, relations with, 212, 298 Holocaust (1941–5), 35, 37, 47, 76, 79–80, 290–92 Operation Barbara (1945), 48–51 Sarin production, 19, 20, 39–41, 50, 51, 56, 68, 69, 71–2, 97, 120, 256 Soman production, 42, 43, 46, 76, 83, 117, 118 Speer’s assassination plot (1945), 288–90 Syria, relations with, 212 Tabun production, 11–13, 17–18, 26–37, 41, 61, 63–4, 71–2, 100, 288–90, 291

INDEX Nepal, 202 nervous system, 261–3 Netherlands, 169, 177, 239 New Caledonia, 296 New Jersey, United States, 134 New York Times, The, 135, 136, 202, 204 Newman, J.F., 89 Newmark, Jonathan, 208 Newport, Indiana, 110–13, 140, 151 Newport, Wales, 86 nicotine, 2 Nigeria, xv, 89 Niimi, Tomomitsu, 194 nitrocellulose, 108 Nitrogen Mustard, 24, 70 nitrogen, 32 nitroglycerine, 108 Nixon, Richard Milhous, 113, 127, 136–9, 141, 146, 149, 156, 157, 213 ‘no first use’ treaties, 10 Nobel Prize, 42, 260 Non-Aligned movement, 309 North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), 91, 123, 160 North Carolina, United States, 135 North Korea, 212, 231–4, 255, 312–13 North Plants site, Rocky Mountain Arsenal, 103 Novichoks, viii, 123, 158, 160–66, 270

A-230, 161, 163 A-232, 161, 163, 165 A-234, 162, 235–53 Mirzayanov affair (1992–4), 165 Skripal poisonings (2018), viii, xiii, 234–53, 255, 267, 275 Novocheboksarsk, Chuvash, 125 nuclear weapons, 62, 65, 66, 76, 80, 95, 118, 212, 295 Nukus, Uzbekistan, 163 Nuremburg, Germany, 26, 79, 289 O’Brien, Luke, 229 Obama, Barack, 215 Obanaghoro, Nigeria, 89 obidoxime, 275 Occidental Chemical Corporation, 153 Ochsner, Hermann, 12, 60 Oder river, 28, 34, 39, 40, 47, 48, 49 Oerrel, Germany, 69 Okinawa, Japan, 113, 132–3, 136, 137–8 Oklahoma, United States, 206 OKW (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht), 52 Olin Corporation, 151 open-source intelligence, xiii, 217, 221, 225 Operation Badr (1985), 171 Operation Barbara (1945), 48–51, 117 Operation CHASE (1964–70), 133–6 365

INDEX Operation Desert Shield (1990– 91), 178–81 Operation Dismal (1945), 86 Operation Dustbin (1945), 73–4, 76, 77, 78, 81, 97 Operation Paperclip (1945–59), 80–81 Operation Ramadan (1982), 171 Operation Red Hat (1971), 133, 137 Operation Sandcastle (1954–6), 87 Operation Shocker (1959–82), 123–4, 159 Operation Tailwind (1970), 138 opioids, 236 Oregon, United States, 113, 137, 140, 155 Orgacid, 24 Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), 139, 187, 211, 213, 216, 260 China and, 311 Egypt and, 300 France and, 296 Libya and, 306 Nobel Prize (2013), 260 North Korea and, 312 Russia and, 211, 239, 242, 244, 245 Serbia, and, 310 Syria and, 213, 216, 219, 221, 223–4, 226, 227, 228, 229 United Kingdom and, 246 366

United States and, 155, 211 organophosphate chemistry, 3, 5, 11, 18, 36, 43, 54, 85, 89–90, 257, 262–3 Orkan rockets, 309 Osaka University, 186 Oued Namous, Algeria, 294, 295–6, 314 oximes, 209, 237, 248, 275–6 Oyarzun, Francisco, 310 P-100, 6, 7, 10–11 Palm, Albert, 29, 47, 75, 118 Panama Canal, 55, 130 paraoxon, 303 Parathion, 89, 168, 300–302 Pentagon, Virginia, 97, 133, 137, 190–91 Penza, Russia, 126 Perez de Cuellar, Javier, 177 Persia, see Iran persistence, 58, 112, 122, 127, 175–6, 264–5, 279 land mines and, 281 Mustard, 61, 97, 172, 217 Novichoks, 161, 162, 238 R-33, 159 Sarin, 19, 38, 58, 91, 95, 110, 124, 147–8, 217, 227, 266, 276 Soman, 124, 217, 264 Tabun, 38, 58, 59, 61, 95, 97, 264 VX, 58, 110, 122, 147, 217 pesticides, 1–8, 30, 54–5, 77, 89–90, 201–2

INDEX ageing time, 263 Amiton, 90 DDT, 55 Parathion, 89, 168, 300–302 petroleum products, 2 psychological effects of, 201–2 petroleum, 2 Petrov, Alexander, 234–5, 241–2 PF6 (hexafluorophosphate), 223 Pfaudler, 168 phosgene, 9, 14, 20, 37, 61, 116, 298, 307, 308, 311 Phosphate Development Works, Alabama, 98–101, 151, 152, 308 phosphates, 3, 30, 96 phosphorus trichloride (PCl3), 99, 100 Phosphoryl chloride (POCl3), 31, 81, 100 white phosphorus, 96, 101, 170 physical characteristics, 263–5 physostigmine, 116, 287 Piesteritz, Germany, 30 pinacolyl alcohol, 43, 124, 142, 151, 173 Pine Bluff Arsenal, Arkansas, 113, 134, 140, 152–5, 202, 206 Pinochet, Augusto, 310 pinpointed pupils, see miosis Plant 801, Abu Za’abal, 298, 299 Plant 91, Beketovka, 120–22 Poland, 20, 21, 99, 297 Polygon, Tomka, 122 Porsche, Ferdinand, 73

Porter, USS, 228 Porter, William, 70 Porton Down, Wiltshire, 16, 68, 69, 70, 90, 92–3, 238, 243, 246 Porton Group, 70–72, 86 Portreath, Cornwall, 88 Postol, Theodore ‘Ted’, 224 Potoci, Bosnia-Herzegovina, 307, 308–9 pralidoxime (2-PAM), 275, 288 pre-treatment, 208–10 Production Facility Three, Chuvash, 125 Produkt 39, 31–3, 47, 118 Project 112, 130 Project 922, 169 Project Andrea, 310 Project Coast, 302–3 Project Shad, 130 Prva Iskri, Serbia, 307 PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), 178, 206, 207 Public Health England, 246, 252, 253 Public Law 91–121 (1969), 137 Pueblo, Colorado, 140 Putin, Vladimir, viii, 244, 250 pyridostigmine, 209–10 pyrolisation, 100 al-Qaeda, 182, 202, 304 QL, 111, 142, 146, 147, 151, 155, 233 QNB, 245 R-33, 122–3, 125–6, 128, 159–60 367

INDEX Rabta, Libya, 305 al-Rashad, Baghdad, 167, 168, 170 Raubkammer, Germany, 13–18, 20, 21, 53, 56, 57, 58, 64, 81, 82, 256 accidental exposures at, 37 aerial reconnaissance, 63 animal testing at, 14 British capture of (1945), 68 drug treatment at, 274 Porton Group mission (1945), 70–72, 86 Sarin production at, 38–9, 51, 68, 71, 72, 97 Tabun production at, 18, 27, 28, 29, 71, 72, 289 USCWS investigation of, 77 Vauzet Turm, 15–16 volunteers, testing on, 17 Vorwerk Heidkrug, 18 Rawalpindi, British India, 88–9 Rawda mosque, Damascus, 217 Reagan, Ronald, 141, 149 Redruth, Cornwall, 88 Rehden, Germany, 68 Reims, France, 296 Remanit, 32 Republic of China, 311–12 Request Expression of Interest documents, 223 Reuss, Henry, 131 Rezun, Vladimir, 237 Rhodesia (1965–79), 300–302 RIA Novosti, 243 368

Rif War (1911–27), 16 riot control agents, 92, 138, 171, 263, 286, 298, 302, 308 Robert College, Istanbul, 67 rockets, 280 French, 295, 296 Iraqi, 170, 172, 182, 309 M270 MLRS, 149–50, 154 M55, 106–8, 112, 133, 134, 138, 142, 152 Sarin, 106–8, 112, 127, 133–4, 135, 138, 142, 152 Soviet, 164 Syrian, 215–17, 222, 223, 229 Volcano, 216, 222, 229 VX, 111, 133, 152 Zuni, 144 Rocky Mountain Arsenal, Colorado, 98, 100, 101–10, 128, 143, 151, 154 Romania, 297 Rommel, Erwin, 8 Ross, USS, 228 Route Irish, Iraq, 203 route of exposure, 265–7 Rowley, Charlie, 240, 241, 245, 251, 253 Royal Air Force (RAF), 71, 86, 87, 88 Royal Mail, 88 Royal Society of Edinburgh, xv RRL, 303 RT, 241, 245 Rüdersdorf, Germany, 83, 118 Russia 1, 244

INDEX Russia 24, 243 Russian Federation (1991–) Aum Shinrikyo in, 186, 187, 190 CWC accession (1997), 165 Gebrev poisoning (2015), viii–xi Mirzayanov affair (1992–4), 165 Skripal poisonings (2018), viii, xiii, 234–53, 255, 267, 275 Syria, relations with, vii, 215, 220, 226 Vienna spy exchange (2010), 237 Russophobia, 243 Rutbah, Iraq, 168–9 Sachsenhausen concentration camp, 37 Sachsenheimer, Max, 48–51, 117 Sadat, Anwar, 299 Salisbury attack (2018), viii, xiii, 234–53, 255 Saraqib attack (2013), 215–16, 227 Saratov, Russia, 163 Sarin ageing time, 263 Arbuzov reaction, 82, 116 artillery shells, 106–9, 111, 279 Aum Shinrikyo production, xii, 185–200, 218, 258, 259, 274, 278 binary agents, 141–6, 149, 155, 156

Chilean production/research, 310 corrosiveness, 105, 106, 132 decontamination, 276–7 dermal exposure, 266–7 development of (1938–9), 18–20, 21, 22, 23, 43, 77 DIMP (diisopropyl methylphosphonate), 105, 110, 223 Egyptian production/research, 299 evaporation, 91, 93, 192, 225, 227, 264, 267 French production/research, 294 German production/research, 19, 20, 39–41, 50, 51, 56, 68, 69, 71–2, 97, 120, 256 IMPA (isopropyl methylphosphonic acid), 190, 222–3 Iraqi production/research, 167, 172, 174, 181, 198, 203–8 Libyan production/research, 305 long-term storage of, 106, 108, 132, 133, 142 North Korean production/research, 313 persistence, 19, 38, 58, 91, 95, 110, 124, 147–8, 217, 227, 266, 276 physical characteristics, 263 pre-treatment, 209 South African production/research, 303 369

INDEX Soviet production/research, 117–22, 124, 126, 127, 128, 159 Syrian production/research, viii, xiii, 213–30 toxicology, 271–3 UK production/research, 70–72, 86, 88–9, 92–3 US production/research, see Sarin, US production/research of vapour pressure, 264 Yugoslav production/research, 307, 308–9 Sarin, US production/research of, 95–110, 113, 157 binary systems, 144–6, 151 chemical demilitarisation, 139–40, 157 Chibana Depot, 113, 132–3, 136, 137–8 CDTF, 282, 284–5 Dugway Proving Ground, 129–32, 146 Edgewood Arsenal, 97 George Eastman experiment, 130 German programme, research of, 74, 80, 95 leaking shells, 108, 132, 133, 142 Operation CHASE (1964–70), 133–6 Operation Tailwind (1970), 138 Phosphate Development Works, 98–101, 151, 152 370

Pine Bluff Arsenal, 113, 152 Rocky Mountain Arsenal, 98, 100, 101–10, 128, 143, 151, 154 transportation, 143 Satian 7, Kamikuishiki, 187, 190–92, 194 Saudi Arabia, 178, 179, 181, 219, 299 Sauer, Charles, 69 Saunders, Bernard, 85 Sawwan, Ameenah, 218 Schact, Hjalmar, 73 Schenectady, New York, 67 Schieber, Walther, 42 Schloss Kransberg, Hesse, 73–4, 76, 77, 78, 81, 97 Schmitz, Hermann, 75–6, 80 Schneider, Tobias, 230 von Schnitzler, Georg, 76, 80 Scholz, Joachim Karl, 48, 50 Schrader, Gerhard, 4–8, 18, 153, 255–6, 268, 298 BIOS Report 714 (1945), 4, 89 Dustbin incarceration (1945– 6), 77, 97 fluorine research, 18 Hörlein, relationship with, 10 Kleinhans, relationship with, 28 Loucks, discussions with, 80 organophosphate research, 5, 11, 43, 85, 89–90 Parathion, development of, 89, 300, 302

INDEX Sarin development (1938), 18–19, 77 Switzerland holiday request, 54 Tabun development (1936), 6–8, 77 Schuchye, Kurgan, 126 Schulte-Overberg, Dr, 53, 118 Schusteritz, Ludwig, 72, 97 Scientific Study and Research Centre (SSRC), 212, 217, 228, 229 scopolamine, 65, 274, 275 Scud missiles, 173, 213, 214 Seasonal Experimentation Station, Algeria, 294 Second World War (1939–45), see World War II Seewerk, 40 Sellstrom, Ake, 219 September 11 attacks (2001), 182, 202 Serbia, 309 Sergeev, Denis, viii Shaheen, Kareem, 226 Shayrat, Syria, 228 sheep dips, 202 Shell, 54 al-Shifa Pharmaceutical Factory, Khartoum, 303 Shikhany, Russia, 122, 163–4 Shop 83, Chuvash, 125 shotgun strategy, 243 Shreveport, Louisiana, 155 von Sicherer, Leopold, 11, 298 signs and symptoms, 268–70

Silesia, 26, 47 Siti Aisyah, 232 Skripal Files, The, 237 Skripal, Sergei and Yulia, viii, xiii, 234–53, 255, 267, 275 Skull Valley incident (1968), 131, 136 slave labour, 35, 79, 80 Sloan, Roy, 88 Slovakia, 244 smoke bombs, 70 snake venoms, 248 Soborovksy, Leonid, 120 sodium cyanide 33 sodium fluoride, 305 sodium hydroxide, 125 Soman, 161 ageing time, 263 binary agents, 141, 142 decontamination, 277 German production of, 42, 43, 46, 76, 83, 117, 118 Iraqi production of, 173 Libyan production of, 305 persistence, 124, 217, 264 physical characteristics, 263 pre-treatment, 209 Soviet production of, 124, 125, 126, 127, 128, 159, 209 toxicology, 271 US production of, 150 South Africa, 302–3 South Korea, 132, 313 Southern Rhodesia (1923–65), 300 371

INDEX Soviet Russia/Union (1917–91), 10, 82, 113, 115–28, 156–64, 255 Amiton family, research of, 90 BZ production, 245 detection research, 160 Dyhernfurth, capture of (1945), 45–51, 83, 117, 119 Egypt, relations with, 298, 299 Falkenhagen, capture of (1945), 63, 83, 117, 119, 120 Foliant programme, 157–64 German Commercial Agreement (1940), 30 Germany, invasion of (1945), 45, 46, 49, 50, 51, 52, 72, 82–3, 117–20, 255 GOSNIIOKhT, 120, 160, 161 Iraq, relations with, 168, 297 mustard gas production, 116 North Korea, relations with, 312 Novichok research, 157–64, 271 Operation Shocker (1959–82), 123–4, 159 phosgene production, 116 phosphates in, 30, 41 physostigmine research, 116 Plant 91, 120, 121 R-33 production/research, 122–3, 125–6, 128, 159–60 Sarin production/research, 117–22, 124, 126, 127, 128, 159 372

Shikhany, opening of (1987), 163–4 Soman production/research, 124, 125, 126, 127, 159, 209 Spandau, capture of (1945), 51, 53, 63, 83, 118, 120 Syria, relations with, 212, 217, 297 Tabun, preparedness against, 59 Tabun production/research, 117–20, 122, 128 Tambov uprising (1920–21), 115 Treaty of Rapallo (1922), 10, 115–16 Yugoslavia, relations with, 306 Spain, 14, 16, 236 Spandau Citadel, Berlin, 11, 42, 64, 256 HWA meeting (1939), 21 prisoners, testing on, 37 Sarin production at, 19, 20, 38, 40, 51, 69, 97, 120 Soviet invasion (1945), 51, 53, 63, 83, 118, 120 Tabun production at, 11–13, 17, 28, 29, 64 Special Committee C, 28, 45 Speer, Albert, 28, 41–2, 73, 288–90 Spiez Laboratory, Switzerland, 244, 245 Sputnik, 244 SS (Schutzstaffel), 37, 46, 47, 79, 291–2

INDEX Stahl, Dieter, 289, 290 Stalingrad, Russia, 117 State Enterprise for Pesticide Production (SEPP), 169, 170, 171, 172–3 State Secrets (Mirzayanov), 158 Stauffer Chemicals, 299 Stein, Aaron, 229 Stosstruppen, 59 Stuhldreher, Dr, 53, 118 Sturgess, Dawn, 240, 245, 251, 253 Substance 78, 245 Substance 84, 161 Sudan, 303–4 Sugimoto, Shigeo, 193 suicide, 202 sulfur, 5, 14, 22, 142, 147, 151 Sun Rubber Company, 80 Sungul, Russia, 118 Suvorov, Viktor, 237 Sweden, 91, 122, 165, 219–20, 244, 295 Switzerland, 54, 169, 244, 245, 299 symptoms, 268–70 synthetic fuel, 62 synthetic rubber, 22, 62, 76, 80 Syria, vii–viii, 211–30 Branch 450, 212 CWC and, vii, 212, 221, 223, 224 Douma attack (2018), 228–9 Ghouta attack (2013), vii, xiii, xvi, 216–24, 227, 260 Egypt, relations with, 212, 299

Iran, relations with, 213, 220 Khan al-Assal attack (2013), 215, 227 Khan Shaykhun attack (2017), viii, xiii, 225–8 al-Lataminah attack (2017), viii, xiii, 228 Mustard production, 221 Nazi Germany, relations with, 212 Non-Aligned movement, 309 OPCW and, 213, 216, 219, 221, 223–4, 226, 227, 228, 229 Revolution (2011), 211 Russia, relations with, vii, 215, 220, 226 Saraqib attack (2013), 215–16, 227 Sarin production, viii, xiii, 213–30 Scientific Study and Research Centre (SSRC), 212, 217, 228, 229 Soviet Union, relations with, 212, 217, 297 Tabun production, 213 United States, relations with, 215, 228, 229 VX production, 213, 221 Syria Sentry, 225 T-Force, 66, 68, 73 Tabun, 11–38, 40, 41, 43, 46–62 Arbuzov reaction, 82, 116 373

INDEX binary systems, 150 development of (1936), 6–8, 77 dosage, 270 French production/research, 294–5 German production/research, 11–13, 17–18, 26–37, 41, 61, 63–4, 71–2, 100, 288–90, 291 Iraqi production of, 167, 168, 171–2, 174–5, 177, 178 long-term storage of, 82 persistence, 38, 58, 59, 61, 95, 97, 264 physical characteristics, 263 Porton Group investigation (1945), 70–72, 86 Soviet production/research, 117–20, 122, 128 Syrian production, 213 toxicology, 271 US research on, 57, 69–70, 74, 95–6, 106 Wales, stockpile in, 86–7 Yugoslav production/research, 307 Taiwan, 311–12 Takahashi, Katsuya, 194 Tale of Tabun, The (Sloan), 88 Tammelin, Lars-Erik, 91, 122 Tanzania, 304 Tarr, Philip, 66, 68, 72, 74, 78, 97, 117 Taunus mountains, Germany, 73, 76 374

tax avoidance, 249 tear gases, 138, 170, 171, 263 CN (ω-chloroacetophenone), 298, 308 CS (o-chlorobenzylidenemalononitrile), 138, 171, 308 Technical University of Budapest, 299 Tehran Peace Museum, 178 Temple, Shirley, 179 Tennessee, United States, 202 Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), 98 Ter Meer, Fritz, 21 Texas, United States, 206–7 Thalidomide, 80 thiodiglycol, 171, 177 thionyl chloride, 153 Tilley, Edmund, 66–8, 72–80, 290 Time magazine, 55 Tito, Josep Broz, 306–7 TMU-28 aerial spray tanks, 112, 130 Tokyo attack (1995), xii, 190, 191–200, 218, 258, 259, 274, 278 Tolkmitt, Heinz, 81 Tomahawk cruise missiles, 228, 229, 304 Tomka site, Volsk, 10 Tomka, Russia, 122 Tonozaki, Kiyotaka, 195 Tooele, Utah, 113, 129, 140, 143, 155 Toulouse, France, 295

INDEX Townley, Michael, 310 toxicology, 270–73 Toyoda, Toru, 194 trans-ester process, 111, 122, 123 treatment, 273–6 Treaty of Rapallo (1922), 10 Treaty of Versailles (1919), 24 tributylamine, 106 Trilon, 11, 20, 64–5 Tsuchiya, Masami, 186, 187, 190, 191–2, 200 Tsukuba University, 186 Tucker, Jonathan, 122–3, 130, 147, 151, 158, 162, 295 Tunisia, 64 Turkey, 67, 216, 219 Turon Gmbh, 40 Übungsplatz, Germany, 15 Uglev, Vladimir, 162 Ukraine, 243 Umatilla Army Depot, Oregon, 113, 137, 140, 155 UMLACA, 216 Underground (Murakami), 192–3, 194, 199, 201 Union College, Schenectady, 67 United Arab Republic (1958–71), 212 United Kingdom Amiton production, 90 BIOS, 4, 66, 89 Brexit (2016–), 243 CIOS, 65–6, 68, 69, 73 DFP research, 85–6, 257

Gulf War I (1990–91), 209 Imperial War Museum, 79 Nancekuke facility, 88, 92 National Archives, Kew, 13, 46, 64, 295 Operation Dustbin (1945), 73–4, 76, 77, 78, 81, 97 Operation Sandcastle (1954–6), 87 Porton Down, 16, 68, 69, 70, 90, 92–3, 238, 243, 246 Porton Group, 70–72, 86 Sarin production/research, 86, 88–9, 92–3 Skripal poisonings (2018), viii, xiii, 234–53, 255, 267, 275 Soviet Dyhernfurth thought exercise (1950), 83 Syria, relations with, 229 Tabun stockpile in, 86–8 T-Force, 66, 68, 73 VX production, 90–91, 92, 110 Windrush scandal (2018), 250 United Nations Iraq and, 177, 178, 181–2 Syria and, 216, 219–20, 221, 222, 227 United States Air Land Battle doctrine, 150 Afghanistan War (2001–), 182 Alsos mission (1943–5), 65, 73 Bigeye bomb, 146–9, 155, 156 binary systems, 141–56 Bush administration (1989– 93), 153 375

INDEX BZ production, 245 Chemical Defense Training Facility, 282–6 Chibana Depot, 113, 132–3, 136, 137–8 CIOS, 65–6, 68, 69, 73 DDT, development of, 55 Dugway Proving Ground, 113, 129–32, 136 East African embassy bombings (1998), 304 Edgewood Arsenal, 81, 90, 96, 97, 107, 110, 123, 134, 140, 147, 286 Egypt, relations with, 299 FIAT, 66, 68, 74, 78, 116 Gulf War I (1990–91), 178–81, 201, 209 Gulf War II (2003–11), 182–3, 203–8 Intermediate Volatility Agent (IVA), 150–55 Iran, relations with, 169–70, 177 Iraq, relations with, 169–70, 177 Korean War (1950–53), 96, 102, 153, 258 mustard gas production, 54, 96, 101–2, 113, 132–5, 137, 140, 152, 154, 159 National Intelligence Estimate (1969), 127–8 Newport Chemical Plant, 110–13, 140, 151 376

Nixon administration (1969– 74), 113, 127, 136–9, 141, 146, 149, 156, 157, 213 Operation CHASE (1964–70), 133–6 Operation Dustbin (1945), 73–4, 76, 77, 78, 81, 97 Operation Paperclip (1945–59), 80–81 Operation Red Hat (1971), 133, 137 Operation Shocker (1959–82), 123–4, 159 Operation Tailwind (1970), 138 organophosphate research, 54–5 Pentagon, 97, 133, 137, 190–91 Phosphate Development Works, 98–101, 151 Pine Bluff Arsenal, 113, 134, 140, 152–5, 202, 206 pre-treatment, 209 Public Law 91–121 (1969), 137 Reagan administration (1981– 9), 141, 149 Rocky Mountain Arsenal, 98, 100, 101–10, 143, 151 Sarin production/research, see Sarin, US production/research of September 11 attacks (2001), 182, 202 Sudan missile attack (1998), 303 Syria, relations with, 215, 228, 229

INDEX T-Force, 66, 68, 73 Tabun research, 57, 69–70, 74, 95–6, 106, 130 Vienna spy exchange (2010), 237 Vietnam War (1955–75), 132, 136, 138, 144, 258 VX production, see VX, US production/research of Yugoslavia, relations with, 307 United States Air Force, 112, 149 United States Army Alsos mission (1943–5), 65, 73 Chemical Corps, see Chemical Corps Chemical Warfare Service (CWS), 66, 69, 95 CIOS, 65–6, 68, 69, 73 Corps of Engineers, 112, 152 Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD), 202–8 FIAT, 66, 68, 74 Manual 3–11.9 (2005), 270 National Guard, 179 T-Force, 66, 68, 73 United States Marine Corps, 109, 146, 149 United States Navy, 109, 112, 133, 143 Bigeye bomb, 146–9 University of Edinburgh, xv University of Tokyo, 194 uranium, 99, 118 Urban, Mark, 237 Utah, United States, 82, 109, 113,

129–32, 136, 140, 143, 146, 147, 155 Uzbekistan, 163 V-1 and V-2 missiles, 59–60, 66 Valium, 276 Varshavsky, Semyon, 120 Vaseline, 233, 264 Vauzet Turm, 15 Vert-le-Petit, France, 294 Vertac Corporation, 151 VG, 90–91 Vienna, Austria, 237 Vietnam War (1955–75), 132, 136, 138, 144, 258 Villa Kohlhof, Heidelberg, 78 Vitacura, Chile, 310 Vitro, 99 Vogtland, MV, 87 Volcano rockets, 216, 222, 229 Volga river, 122, 125–6 Volgograd, Russia, 162 Volkovich, S., 116 Volsk, Russia, 10 Vorwerk Heidkrug, Raubkammer, 18 VX, 58, 91, 108, 110–13, 122–3, 130, 133 ageing time, 263 artillery shells, 111–13, 279 binary agents, 141, 142, 146–9, 155, 156, 233 decontamination, 277 dermal exposure, 266 French production of, 295 377

INDEX Iraqi production of, 168, 173, 174 North Korean production of, 232–3, 313 South African production of, 303 Sudanese production of, 303–4 Syrian production of, 213, 221 toxicology, 271 UK production of, 90–91, 92, 110 US production of, see VX, US production/research of vapour pressure, 264 Yugoslav production/research, 307 VX, US production/research of, 90–91, 123, 147–9, 151, 152, 157 Bigeye bomb, 146–9, 155, 156 Chibana Depot, 137 CDTF, 282, 284–5 George Eastman experiment, 130 Newport Chemical Plant, 110–13, 140, 151 Operation CHASE (1964–70), 133–6 Waffenprüfamt 9, Charlottenburg, 8, 11 Wagner, Travis, 135 Wagner-Jauregg, Theodore, 81 Wales, 86–8 Wall Street Journal, 133 378

Walter Reed Hospital, Washington, DC, 207 War of Nerves (Tucker), 122–3, 130, 147, 151, 158, 162, 295 Warsaw, Poland, 297 Warsaw Pact, 297–8 Waseda University, 195 Washington Post, 198 Washington, United States, 137 Watanabe, Kazumi, 188 weevils, 1, 31 Weiler Ter Meer, 4 Weimar Germany (1918–33), 2–3, 10, 24, 115–16 West Germany (1949–90), 113, 124, 154, 169, 179 West Helena, Arkansas, 151 Western Australia, 187 ‘Wet Eye’ bombs, 108, 143 Whalen, William Henry, 81 White Helmets, 227 white phosphorus, 96, 101, 170 White Sea, Beketovka, 125 Wiesbaden, Germany, 73 Wilson Dam Reservation, Alabama, 98 Windrush scandal (2018), 250 Wirth, Wolfgang, 11 Wise, David, 123 Wolfsschanze, East Prussia, 54 World Health Organisation (WHO), 219 World War I (1914–18), 218, 256 Battle of Caporetto (1917), 8 chlorine use, 8–9

INDEX Clark I and II, 290 gas masks, 290 Germany, 1, 8, 13, 53, 59 Hitler and, 53 Mustard use, 115 phosgene use, 9, 61, 115, 116 Porton Down and, 92 Raubkammer and, 13, 63 Russia, 115 South Africa, 302 Stosstruppen, 59 United Kingdom, 92 United States, 96 World War II (1939–45), 4, 21–2, 23–43, 44–62, 63–83, 99, 212 D-Day (1944), 56, 58–9, 68 Fall Weiss (1939), 20 Murmansk convoys (1941–5), 135 Operation Barbara (1945), 48–51 Operation Dustbin (1945), 73–4, 76, 77, 78, 81, 97

Wrocław, Poland, 26 Wurster, Karl, 75 XM-135, 150, 151, 155, 156 XM736 shells, 146, 149 Yandell, Michael, 202–8 yellow fever, 55 Yeltsin, Boris, 164 Yemen, 167, 298–9 Yokoyama, Masato, 195 Yom Kippur War (1973), 213, 299 Yugoslavia (1918–92), 168, 212, 245, 306–10 Zagreb, Croatia, 309 Zamalka, Damascus, 216–17 Zeidelhack, Max, 24 Zheleznyakov, Andrei, 163 Zimbabwe, 300 Zuni rockets, 144 Zvevda, 243, 244 Zyklon-B, 291–2