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Sarin

Jeff Stein
Intelligence Columnist

For a long time, the U.S. got rid of chemical weapons by dumping them at sea.



From Bug Spray to Seldom-Used Killer Weapon

Chemical Weapon

A chemical weapon (CW) is a device that uses chemicals formulated to inflict death or harm to human beings. They may be classified as weapons of mass destruction, and have been condemned by the civilized world. They are separate from biological weapons (diseases), nuclear weapons and radiological weapons. | Photo: Archives | Chemical Weapon, Poison, Gas, War, Violence, Tear Gas, Cruel, Military,

From Bug Spray to Seldom-Used Killer Weapon

Jeff Stein
Intelligence Columnist

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[Comments] It started out as bug spray, in Germany (of course).

But it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out sarin could disable enemy soldiers as well. Sources are vague on whether sarin shells were actually used in the two world wars (1914-1918 and 1939-1945), but the Allies and Axis powers were ready then, as were the United States, Britain and the Soviet Union for much of the Cold War.

In the 1950s the United States, Britain and the Soviet Union experimented with sarin as a chemical weapon. One death was recorded: a Royal Air Force engineer. Many more could have perished inside the secretive Soviet Union. The U.S. stopped producing sarin in late 1950s, the USSR in 1987.

If bugs could talk, they'd say it was a killer.


The effects of even limited exposure to sarin are immediate, with sweating, watery eyes, a runny nose and muscle twitches, according to the CDC. A larger dose can quicky lead to convulsions, paralysis, unconsciousness, respiratory failure and death.

The horrors of gas warfare in the trenches in World War One evidently scared the big powers away from using them.

But not Saddam Hussein, who attacked the Kurdish city of Halabja with sarin gas cluster bombs in the late 1980s. Over 5,000 residents were killed and more than 65,000 were wounded there from both sarin and mustard gas.

Although Saddam claimed to have destroyed his sarin stockpiles before the U.S.-led 2003 invasion, it showed up again in Iraq in 2004, when insurgents attacked a U.S. convoy with a sarin shell. Although little of the gas was released, two American soldiers were treated for symptoms of poisoning.

The most infamous use of sarin gas, and its only known terrorist use, was by the Japanese apocalyptic cult Aum Shinrikyo. In 1995 Aum operatives released sarin into the Tokyo metro system, killing 13 people. A previous attempt in 1994, when they released the gas from several different sites in the city of Matsymoto, resulted in 8 deaths. While deadly, the attacks were considered some what of a failure--Aum hoped to bring on the end of the world.

Beginning in 2012, US officials began fielding reports about the Syrian government using sarin gas against the rebel forces.

In 2013, the Israeli government found evidence of sarin poisoning after artillery attacks in Homs and Aleppo.

Then came this week's announcement.

While the 1993 United Nations Chemical Weapons Convention prohibits the production and stockpiling of chemical weapons, including sarin, evidently it was easy for the Syrian government to retain stocks of the gas.

Postscript: For a long time, the U.S. got rid of chemical weapons by dumping them at sea.

The last such disposal of chemical weapons was on August 18, 1970, when 12,508 M55 sarin rockets, three 155 mm sarin projectiles, and one M23 VX land mine were dumped in the Atlantic Ocean 250 miles east of Cape Kennedy, Florida, according the Marinelink web site.


Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein, Intelligence Columnist : [ Click here to
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] Bronze Star recipient, author, and investigative reporter, specializing in U.S. intelligence, defense, and foreign policy, Jeff Stein. Stein was born in Philadelphia but grew up in New England, moving with his family to Maine in 1954. After attending school in Providence, Rhode Island, he moved to Hingham, Massachusetts, where he graduated from high school in 1962. Following high school, he... (more...)