Albion Monitor /Commentary

The Weapons in our President's Palace

by Alexander Cockburn

The U.S. has a long history of researching, stockpiling, and using lethal biological weapons
The United States' lethal stockpile of nerve gas weapons is one of the darker chapters of the Cold War era. The story largely begins in Nazi Germany, where in 1936 I.G. Farben's chemical labs produced the first nerve agent, a toxic gas it marketed as Tabun. This was soon followed by Soman, Sarin and Zyklon-B. These nerve agents were thousands of times as lethal as the mustard gas and blistering agents deployed to such ghastly effect in World War I.

At the close of World War II, U.S. intelligence agencies raided Farben's labs, seizing more than 1,000 tons of Tabun and Sarin gas, which it sent back to the United States in large canisters labeled chlorine. Thither also intelligence agencies smuggled dozens of Nazi chemists. One of the more infamous was Walter Schreiber, a veteran of the grotesque aviation "medical" experiments at Dachau, where Nazi doctors -- among other atrocities -- injected insecticides into the blood and livers of concentration camp prisoners. Schreiber landed in Texas, where he continued his chemical-weapons research until he was exposed in 1952 by columnist Drew Pearson and fled to the friendlier terrain of Argentina.

In 1956, then Rep. Gerald Ford pushed through a change in U.S. policy, giving the military "first strike" authority. But the big boom in U.S. chemical-weapons production occurred during the Kennedy administration, when annual spending on chemical weapons rose from $75 million to more than $330 million. The stockpiling of chemical weapons was overseen by Robert McNamara, who referred to the weapons as "a national asset." Under McNamara's direction, the United States began deploying its chemical arsenal in Vietnam in 1964.

One of McNamara's assistants, Harold Brown (later secretary of defense under Jimmy Carter), extolled the humanitarian virtues of chemical weapons: "Of particular interest is the possible use of non-lethal chemicals. That, of course, is an option which chemicals provide you that nuclear and high explosives do not. These weapons can incapacitate enemy forces with only a small percentage of fatalities."

During the Johnson administration, the Pentagon begged for the chance to use some its arsenal against civil rights and anti-war protesters to demonstrate to the American people the "efficacy" of the chemicals. "By using gas in civil situations, we accomplish two purposes: controlling crowds and also educating people on gas," said Maj. Gen. J.B. Medaris. "Now, everybody is being called savage if he just talks about it. But nerve gas is the only way I know of to sort out the guys in white hats from the ones in the black hats without killing any of them."

The U.S. Army's chemical-weapons program was a lucrative source of cash for dozens of universities, chemical and aerospace companies and academic researchers. Napalm was developed by Harvard scientist Dr. Louis Frisues, who also concocted a mad scheme to have bats drop tiny bombs on Japan during World War II. The Stanford Research Institute was given a $2 million federal grant to study the possibility of dispersing chemical agents from the exhaust of solid-fuel rockets.

The research into biological weapons was just as bizarre. One of the biological agents developed for deployment in South East Asia was Rift Valley Fever, an extremely infectious virus against which Asians are particularly vulnerable. The Los Angeles-based Litton Industries, founded by Tex Thornton, a former spy for OSS (precursor to the CIA), developed a delivery system for the virus. Litton's project was called "Supersonic delivery of dry biological agents." Meanwhile, the Air Force paid Goodyear more than $5 million to develop a packaging system for its virus, so the lethal germs could be safely transported around the globe.

On May 6, 1971, the first swine fever ever found in the Western Hemisphere was detected in Cuba. Six weeks later, Cuba had to slaughter half a million pigs to halt the epidemic -- a disaster for a poor nation. Recall England's recent bellowings at having to kill off a mere fraction off its cattle.

On Jan. 9, 1977, the Newark Star-Ledger and Newsday simultaneously published a story by Drew Fetherston and John Cummings, reporting that "a U.S. intelligence source" had been given the swine-fever virus in a sealed, unmarked container at Fort Gulich in the Panama Canal Zone, where the CIA also operated a paramilitary training center. The source said he'd been instructed to turn over the virus to an anti-Castro group, which landed it on Cuba's southern coast near Guantanamo Bay in March 1971. On July 26, 1981, Castro said the CIA was responsible for an epidemic of dengue fever that killed 113 Cubans, including 81 children. This charge was given added credence in 1984 when Eduardo Arocena testified at a trial on unrelated charges that he carried "some germs" to Cuba in 1980.

Many of the research grants for biological and chemical weapons were funneled through the University of Oklahoma, disguised as funding for "ecological research in Alaska and Utah." These research projects were actually conducted at Fort Greeley, Alaska, and the Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah. Some of the funds went to study the feasibility of "seeding the winds with chemical and biological agents." But most of the research concentrated on the development of MEF, Mortality Enhancing Factors.

In 1984, Ronald Reagan enormously complicated the current task of safely disposing of the weapons by ordering over a half million M55 rockets retooled so that they contained high-yield explosives as well as VX gas. The Army now claims that many of these rockets are "unstable," are leaking nerve agent and may "self-detonate" if they are not destroyed by the year 2005.

© Creators Syndicate

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Albion Monitor March 9, 1998 (

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