Below the headlines: CBW matters (10)

(A weekly digest from the internet on chemical and biological warfare issues. Emphasis is on incidents and perspectives, but inclusion of an item does not equal endorsement or agreement with the contents. This issue covers items collected between 17 – 23 April 2017.)

Chemical warfare in Syria

The chemical strike against Khan Sheikhoun

  • Did Iran just violate the Chemical Weapons Convention? (Majid Rafizadeh, 10 April 2017): Both Iran and Syria are signatories of the international treaty, the Chemical Weapons Convention. International attention has been directed toward the Syrian government for the use of chemical weapons against innocent people. Nevertheless, the critical role that Assad’s staunchest ally and bedfellow, the Islamic Republic of Iran, has played in these attacks should not be overlooked.
  • Did Russia know of Syria chemical attack in advance? U.S. officials want to know (Matthew Schofield, 11 April 2017): White House officials on Tuesday said they have strong suspicions that even as Syrian jets lifted off with ghastly Sarin-loaded bombs, Russia was aware of the horror about to be dropped on the town of Khan Sheikhoun. Senior White House officials, who conducted a briefing on the attack on the condition of anonymity, described “with a high level of confidence” that Syrian warplanes dropped “at least one munition” loaded with Sarin that ended up killing about 86 people in the Syrian town April 4. They insisted that Russia and Syria had been running a disinformation campaign to create doubt internationally about the attack.
  • What we know about the April 4 chemical attack in Syria (Dino Pisaniello, 11 April 2017): The April 4, 2017 chemical attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in Syria led to at least 70 deaths and more than 100 people requiring medical attention, prompting an outcry from the international community. It led to the April 7 US bombing of the Shayrat air base. It is alleged that sarin was used in the Khan Sheikhoun attack. This particular chemical became famous in 1995 with the Tokyo subway attack, launched by members of the cult movement Aum Shinrikyo.
  • Die Indizien, die Verschwörungstheorien, die Fakten (Fabian Reinbold, Christoph Reuter und Christoph Sydow, 12. April 2017): Für die USA ist der Fall klar: Syriens Regime ist für den Giftgasangriff auf Chan Scheichun verantwortlich. Moskau und Damaskus bestreiten das, im Netz blühen Verschwörungstheorien. Ein Blick auf die Fakten.
  • Iran Helped Syria to Launch Chemical Warfare (Iran Focus, 18 April 2017): While the US strike on the Shayrat Air Base in Syria was seen as a defiant strike against the dictator Bashar al-Assad; it was also a strike on Iran, who helped supply Syria with the chemical weapons to kill its own people. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) were at Shayrat when the US dropped their bomb; a place that they would have no business being anywhere near, if, as they’ve said, they were not involved in the Syrian Civil War.
  • France says it will prove Syria’s Assad used chemical weapons (John Bacon, 19 April 2017): French intelligence services will soon provide proof that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s military used chemical weapons in an attack this month that killed scores of civilians, most of them women and children, Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Wednesday.
  • Clarity required over Khan Sheikhun attack (Yasar Yakis, 19 April 2017): Mutual recriminations are still being traded between the Syrian regime, Russia and Iran on one side, and the rest of the international community on the other, over the regime attack on Khan Sheikhun on April 4. The first victim of war is usually the truth, and this crisis is no exception. There are several unclear points in the incident, but most of them are verifiable. A transparent investigation will end speculation, and both sides have already suggested this.
  • Syria’s chemical program: Rubio ‘gravely concerned’ about Iran & Russia complicity (Benjamin Weinthal, 20 April 2017): Florida Sen. Marco Rubio told Fox News he’s “gravely concerned” about Iran’s role in helping Syria develop its chemical warfare program that ended up killing dozens of people weeks ago. While the Trump administration accused Moscow of covering up the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons attack, the U.S government has not mentioned Iran’s possible role.
  • With Error Fixed, Evidence Against ‘Sarin Attack’ Remains Convincing (Theodore A. Postol, 21 April 2017): In my report published April 19 on Truthdig, I misinterpreted the wind-direction convention, resulting in my estimates of plume directions being exactly 180 degrees off. This article corrects that error and provides important new analytic results that follow from correction of that error.
  • UN commission on Syria not ruling out various sources of ‘chemical agent release’ in Idlib (RT, 22 April 2017): The UN commission investigating allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria says it cannot yet say for certainty what the source of the gas allegedly used in Idlib really was. The body says the release of gas coincided with airstrikes in the area.

OPCW investigation

  • Statement by H.E. Ambassador Sir Geoffrey Adams, Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the organisation for the prohibition of chemical weapons (13 April 2017).
  • Chemical weapons experts collect samples in Syria attack investigation (Thomson Reuters, 13 April 2017): A team of experts from the global chemical weapons watchdog has been sent to Turkey to collect samples as part of an investigation into an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria last week that killed 87 people.
  • British chair to both OPCW probes on Syria ‘chemical attack’ is against int’l principle – Lavrov (RT, 18 April 2017): It is “a strange coincidence” that both OPCW fact-checking missions investigating the alleged chemical attack in Syria’s Idlib are headed by UK citizens, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, adding that it “runs contrary to the principles of an international organization.”
  • Russia calls on OPCW to end fruitless public disputes over Syria (Tass, 18 April 2017): The situation surrounding the alleged chemical weapons incident in Syria requires international experts to make a prompt visit to the town of Khan Shaykhun and the Shayral airbase, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said ahead of the special session of the Executive Council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), scheduled to resume in The Hague on April 19.
  • OPCW Director-General Shares Incontrovertible Laboratory Results Concluding Exposure to Sarin (OPCW, 19 April 2017): The Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) reconvened today to further address the allegation of chemical weapons use in the Khan Sheikhun area of southern Idlib in the Syrian Arab Republic. OPCW’s Director-General, Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü updated Council members on recent developments regarding the OPCW Technical Secretariat’s activities. He underscored that the Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) continues its work using procedures and methodologies consistent with its mission and reaffirmed that the FFM has been endorsed by the relevant decisions of the Executive Council and applicable resolutions of the UN Security Council. He reiterated his full confidence in the professionalism and impartiality of colleagues comprising the Fact-Finding Mission teams.
  • Sarin was used in deadly Syria attack, chemical weapons watchdog confirms (Louisa Loveluck, 19 April 2017): The deadly nerve agent sarin was used in an attack that killed scores of civilians in northern Syria this month, a global chemical weapons watchdog group said Wednesday.
  • OPCW Head Confirms Sarin Presence in Syrian Khan Shaykhun Victims (Sputnik, 19 April 2017): The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) fact-checking mission investigating the alleged use of chemical weapons in Khan Sheikhun in Syria’s Idlib province has found traces of Sarin in attack victims’ bodies, OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu said Wednesday.
  • Russian foreign minister questions OPCW’s Syria probes (Iran Daily, 19 April 2017): Russian Foreign Minister Segei Lavrov has questioned the impartiality of probes being carried out by an international organization into accusations of a chemical attack in Syria.
  • West does not want to investigate incident in Idlib, Russian diplomat says (Tass, 20 April 2017): Western countries do not want to properly investigate the incident with the possible use of chemical weapons in the Syrian province of Idlib, Alexander Shulgin, Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) told TASS.
  • The defense Ministry did not believe the findings of the OPCW on the Syrian Zarine Khan Sheyhun (Interfax, 20 April 2017): “The statement of the representative of the organization Ahmed Uzumcu about the alleged use of sarin in Khan Sheyhun raises serious questions,” said Thursday the official representative of the defense Ministry major-General Igor Konashenkov.
  • Moscow demands OPCW explain how White Helmets emerged unharmed in Syrian sarin attack (Tass, 20 April 2017): No representatives of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) visited Syria’s Khan Shaykhun where an alleged chemical attack took place, so the origin of samples the OPCW claims to have is unclear, said Russian Defense Ministry Spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov. “In the past two weeks, not a single OPCW representative was seen there.” “Where do these samples come from? Who of the OPCW members was able to study them so fast while standard procedures stipulate a complex research which requires time, as we can see in the case of mustard gas use in Aleppo,” Konashenkov said.
  • Russian Foreign Ministry says no steps taken to investigate chemical incident in Syria (Tass, 20 April 2017): No serious steps have been taken to investigate into the alleged chemical incident in Syria’s Khan Shaykhun, Director of the Armaments Non-Proliferation and Control Department at the Russian Foreign Ministry Mikhail Ulyanov said.
  • Only Chlorine, Not Sarin, Involved In The Khan Sheikhun Incident (Moon of Alabama [blog], 20 April 2017): Those who blame the Syrian government for the allegedly chemical incident in Khan Sheikhun are now pushing the analysis of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to the front. But the results of the OPCW tests are inconsistent with the observed technical and medical facts of the incident. The OPCW did not conclude that a chemical attack occurred in Khan Sheikhun. It suggested nothing about the incident itself. Instead it talked about bio-medical samples – nothing more, nothing less.
  • Russia disappointed by OPCW’s vote results of investigation proposal on Syrian chemical attack (Xinhua, 21 April 2017): The results of the vote determined by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on a draft decision to launch a new investigation into a suspected chemical attack in Syria was disappointing and was done under far-fetched and unconvincing pretexts, the Russian Foreign Ministry said late Thursday.
  • ‘OPCW lacks transparency and lucidity on Syria chemical incident’ (Martin Jay, 21 April 2017): We’re not getting the answers that we deserve. We just don’t know at this stage what evidence this is based on. Is it the British scientists? There have been some other reports that have filtered through that some sort of agents were sent by the OPCW. Whether they were investigators themselves, or whether they were local proxy operators on the ground – we just don’t know.
  • Kazakhstan: Blocking OPCW probe into Idlib’s alleged chemical attack aimed to oust Assad – Lavrov (Ruptly TV, 21 April 2017): Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated in Astana, Friday, that the blocking of Russia’s proposal to send international experts to probe the alleged chemical attack in Syria’s Idlib province was aimed to push for regime change in Syria.
  • Secretary Tillerson’s Call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (Office of the Spokesperson, 21 April 2017): Secretary Tillerson spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov today to follow up on bilateral issues discussed during his April 11-12 visit to Moscow. The Secretary and Foreign Minister also discussed a range of other topics, including the OPCW investigation into Syria’s use of chemical weapons on April 4. The Secretary reiterated his support for the OPCW’s existing investigative mechanism.
  • Russian FM presses Tillerson over Syria probe (AFP, 22 April 2017): Assad’s allies seek separate investigation by chemical weapons watchdog into April 4 sarin gas attack. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov voiced “regret” in a phone call with his US counterpart Friday at Washington’s opposition to a Moscow-backed plan to investigate an alleged chemical attack in Syria.
  • Tillerson reiterates support for OPCW’s investigative mechanism in phone call with Lavrov (Tass, 22 April 2017): Earlier on Friday a State Department spokesperson told TASS that Washington sees no point in the formation of a new mechanism to investigate the alleged chemical attacks in Syria. According to the representative of the State Department, “the OPCW’s Fact-Finding Mission (FFM), which is currently conducting the investigation, is already empowered to investigate chemical weapons (CW) attacks in Syria.” “Once the FFM determines CW use, the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) works to determine attribution,” the spokesperson said, adding that both the FFM and the JIM are “independent and impartial mechanisms, and they have the full support of the United States.”
  • Russia complains to US over exclusion from Syria chemical probe (AFP, 22 April 2017): Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov voiced “regret” in a phone call with his US counterpart Friday at Washington’s opposition to a Moscow-backed plan to investigate an alleged chemical attack in Syria. In the call with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson which “took place at US initiative,” Lavrov raised the probe proposal made by Russia and Iran at the global chemical arms watchdog, the OPCW, said the Russian foreign ministry.
  • OPCW Verdict on Sarin in Idlib Reminds ‘Making Diagnosis Without Seeing Patient’ (Sputnik, 22 April 2017):  According to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (OPCW) [sic]:yell:, sarin was used in Khan Sheikhoun in the Syrian province of Idlib. Radio Sputnik discussed the issue with an ex-member of a UN commission on biological and chemical weapons, Igor Nikulin.

International response

  • ‘No Doubt’ Syria Behind Chemical Attack, Mattis Says (Kevin Baron, 11 April 2017): There is “no doubt” Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is behind a last week’s chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhoun, Defense Secretary James Mattis said Tuesday. The top U.S. military leader claimed the Syrian regime’s “inexplicably ruthless murders” violated a United Nations convention dating to before World War II, and issued a warning against the further use of chemical weapons.
  • Defense Ministry: No complaints about chemical incidents in Syria’s Idlib (Tass, 18 April 2017): Neither citizens of Khan Shaykhun, in Syria’s Idlib Governorate, nor experts of the White Helmets group have complained about poisoning over the past two weeks since reports about the alleged chemical attacks, official spokesman for Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Tuesday.
  • NYT Mocks Skepticism on Syria-Sarin Claims (Robert Parry, 18 April 2017): The New York Times and other major media have ruled out any further skepticism toward the U.S. government’s claim that Syrian President Assad dropped a sarin bomb on a town in Idlib province. Particularly on foreign policy issues, the major U.S. news outlets, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, apparently believe there is only one side to a story, the one espoused by the U.S. government or more generically the Establishment.
  • The real cost of Trump’s ‘fake news’ accusations (Callum Borchers, 18 April 2017): Secretary of State Rex Tillerson mostly avoided reporters on a visit to Moscow, in keeping with his previously stated position that “all of the things we’re going to do, you will know them after they’ve happened.” Because Tillerson’s team refused to keep U.S. journalists up to date throughout the visit, Russia was in control. At one point, the Associated Press reported a Kremlin claim that the United States and Russia had agreed on the need for a United Nations investigation of the use of chemical weapons in Syria. An hour and 43 minutes passed before the State Department told the AP that there was no such agreement.
  • Syrian Accountability Project: Matt’s Memo (Matt Mulcahy, 20 April 2017): When Syrian President Assad ordered the Sarin Gas attack on his people April 4th word quickly spread around the world of the suffering. The chemical attack also triggered a protocol set in place by Professor David Crane of the Syrian Accountability Project. He instructed his team of highly engaged graduate students to compile a White Paper that described the Sarin gas attack. The report would gather first hand accounts from Syria. It would sample media coverage, gather official statements. It would cite legal standards such as the Pro Se ban of the use of Sarin gas under the 1925 Geneva accords. (Read the full White Paper report here.)

US retaliatory strikes

  • The Limits of Going It Alone in Syria (Dalia Dassa Kaye, 14 April 2017): Last week’s missile strikes against a Syrian government airbase in response to a horrific chemical weapons attack against civilians is becoming the latest Rorschach test for U.S. regional policy. For those backing stronger U.S. intervention in Syria, these strikes mark the beginning of more forceful American efforts to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad from power, either directly or by driving a wedge between Russia and Assad. Others see the strike as a deterrent against future chemical weapons use by Assad and possibly even a deterrent to other regional actors like Iran.
  • Opinio Juris: The Missing Link in Trump’s strike on Syria (Abraham Joseph, 17 April 2017): While it has been argued that Trump’s strike in Syria, irrespective of its legality has created a new norm in international law since it is evidence of a new State Practice it is argued that it is not the case as it is doubtful whether the United States as a country had the sufficient opinio juris necessary to trigger the emergence of new norm.
  • Why America Cares About Chemical Weapons (Dominic Tierney, 18 April 2017): The core underlying reason for the U.S. air strike is rarely if ever discussed in public: upholding the norm against chemical weapons gives the United States a strategic edge, by helping the U.S. military win wars.
  • Deterrence Isn’t Enough to Keep Syria from Using Chemical Weapons (Cindy Vestergaard,
    19 April 2017): A policy based primarily on counterproliferation is challenged by its limited use of diplomacy.

Status of CW disarmament in Syria

  • How Obama’s Syrian Chemical Weapons Deal Fell Apart (Hisham Melhem, 10 April 2017): President Donald Trump’s decision to mount a punitive missile strike against a Syrian air base last Thursday had its antecedent in the infamous 2012 warning, from former president Barack Obama to Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, that the use of chemical weapons would cross a “red line.” Obama’s failure to follow through on this threat when the Assad regime crossed that line in August 2013, killing more than 1,400 civilians in a sarin gas attack near Damascus, has continued to haunt America’s involvement in the Syrian tragedy. The subsequent U.S.-Russian agreement to dismantle Syria’s chemical arsenal did not prevent the horror of April 4, when the U.S. says Assad’s forces mounted a new sarin attack on civilians that killed some more than 70 people. The failure of the chemical-weapons deal is a tale of Syrian deception, Russian duplicity and American dithering.
  • Syria Attack Exposes Failed Deal to Rid Regime of Chemical Weapons (Nour Malas, 11 April 2017): The suspected sarin gas attack in Syria last week revealed one of the worst-kept secrets in international diplomacy: A 2013 deal brokered by Russia and the U.S. failed to cripple the Assad regime’s ability to make or use chemical weapons.
  • 3 Tons of Chemical Weapons (AP, 19 April 2017): Israeli defense officials say that Syrian President Bashar Assad still has up to three tons of chemical weapons. They delivered the assessment on Wednesday, weeks after a chemical attack in Syria killed at least 90 people.
  • Israel says Assad’s forces still have several tonnes of chemical weapons (Reuters, 20 April 2017): Israel’s military said on Wednesday it believes Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces still possess several tonnes of chemical weapons, issuing the assessment two weeks after a chemical attack that killed nearly 90 people in Syria.
  • Syria still has chemical weapons, U.S. defense secretary says (Thomas Gibbons-Neff, 21 April 2017): The Syrian government has retained an unspecified amount of chemical weapons and dispersed its aircraft after a U.S. cruise-missile attack this month, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Friday. Mattis spoke alongside his Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Lieberman, as part of a tour of the Middle East, and addressed reports that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad still had a significant amount of chemical weapons.

Chemical warfare in Iraq

  • Syria has faced international condemnation for using chemical weapons. But Islamic State has them too (Molly Hennessy-Fiske, 17 April 2017): When the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun was hit this month with an attack of poison gas, the incident drew international condemnation and prompted the Trump administration to launch a retaliatory missile strike. On Friday, there was another incident: A rocket loaded with chlorine gas struck the neighborhood of Abar in the Iraqi city of Mosul, injuring several soldiers. This one, though, was not fired by the government. Iraqi military officials said it was launched by the militant group Islamic State.
  • Australian soldiers caught up in Islamic State chemical attack in Mosul (Stephanie March, 19 April 2017): The Pentagon said it was aware of what it said was a “low grade” chemical attack on an Iraqi unit in west Mosul, which has been the scene of heavy fighting as Iraqi forces and their allies battle Islamic State militants for possession of the city.
  • Mosul Gas Attack: US Army Not Ready for Daesh Chemical Guerilla Warfare in Iraq (Sputnik, 19 April 2017): Daesh (ISIL/ISIS) terrorists carried out a mustard gas attack against US and Australian advisers attached to an Iraqi army unit in Mosul over the weekend. Military expert Anton Mardasov says that unfortunately, the jihadists are likely to continue using such dirty guerrilla tactics, and that it will be difficult for US troops to combat this threat.
  • ISIS low-grade chemical attack hits Iraqi military unit with Australian advisers (Michelle Mapa, 19 April 2017): Islamic State has attacked an Iraqi military unit in west Mosul. A defence official said that U.S. and Australian advisers were with the unit during the chemical attack. The advisers were medically screened and the results showed no signs of exposure.
  • ISIS Touts Chemical Weapons Attacks, But Iraqis, US Play it Down (Hollie McKay, 20 April 2017): The Islamic State may be on the brink of defeat in Mosul, but the radical Muslim terror group isn’t giving in without a bloody — and blistering — pushback. More than two dozen Iraqis stationed with U.S. and Australian military advisers in the Mosul vicinity required treatment after being hit Sunday by a chlorine gas attack. A day earlier, seven Iraqi soldiers were documented to have been injured in a similar attack in the Abar neighborhood of western Mosul.
  • The Islamic State threatens more chemical attacks in Mosul after loss of senior ISIS commander (Derek Gannon, 20 April 2017): After one confirmed mustard gas attack and one that has yet to be identified; the Islamic State is threatening more chemical attacks on the beleaguered northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

Other allegations of CBW use

Other CBW-related incidents

  • Acid attack suspect Arthur Collins is arrested (Press Association, 23 April 2017): Police have arrested key suspect Arthur Collins over the east London nightclub acid attack that left two revellers partially blinded and others disfigured.

CBW disarmament

CBW armament

  •  The science of the Syrian chemical attack (Sarah Cate Baker, 11 April 2017): In 1938, a lab in Germany developed the chemical sarin for use as a pesticide. In 1939 the Nazis began producing it as a potential chemical weapon; they never used it. In the 1970s the Chilean secret police assassinated Pinochet’s enemies with it. In 1988 Saddam Hussein’s regime used it to massacre three to five thousand Kurdish civilians. It was used twice in the 1990s by a Japanese religious cult, killing 19. In 2013, Bashar al-Assad’s regime used it in the Syrian Ghouta attack, which killed somewhere between three hundred and two thousand people. And on April 4, 2017, the Syrian government released it on the town of Khan Sheikhoun.
  • Anatomy of a Sarin Bomb Explosion (Part II) (Dan Kaszeta, 20 April 2017): All of the nerve agents affect the human body’s nervous system. The binding of acetylcholinesterase leads to a build-up of acetylcholine, which then in turn leads to a syndrome called a “cholinergic crisis”. In effect, the nervous system starts to over-act and muscles and glands start to work over-time and cause serious problems. The signs and symptoms will vary in severity and timeline depending on the route of exposure and dose.

History

  • [Book review] ‘Dirty War’: Inside Rhodesia’s chemical warfare by Glenn Cross (Simon Massey, 10 April 2017): I have been looking into the Rhodesian “Bush War” for many years after growing up in the country through this period. I have an old copy of Plague Wars by Tom Mangold sitting right next to me and have recently read “The Myth of Smith” by Doug Schorr, “Assignment Selous Scouts “by Jim Parker and “Special Branch War” by Ed Bird. All of these books describe in some way the indiscriminate use of chemical weapons or false flag atrocities by the pseudo-terrorist Selous Scouts (Schorr). The book begins with a brief overview of the Rhodesian war mindset. It describes how Rhodesians were subject to a propaganda campaign that sought to dehumanise and demonise their black enemy. Of course, Rhodesian civilians were the same colour as the terrorist insurgents.
  • The first chemical weapons ban was the Strasbourg Agreement against poison bullets in 1675 (Shane Croucher, 10 April 2017): Chemical and biological weapons are a blight on humanity. But while we think of them as a modern problem – from the mustard and chlorine gases used in the trench warfare of WWI, to the horrifying murder by the Syrian regime of civilians with chemical agents – governments have been trying to put restrictions on the use of toxins in war for over three centuries.
  • The History of Chemical Warfare – and Israel’s Own Murky Experiences (Amir Oren, 11 April 2017): It is vital to remember that in May 1948, ahead of the declaration of the establishment of the state and the expected invasion of the Arab armies, Ben-Gurion ordered the military industries and intelligence corps to prepare chlorine shells.
  • Ethiopia — A History of Chemical Weapons, Selective Punishment and Global Hypocrisy (Nurhussein Mohammed, 17 April 2017): All the recent talk about chemical weapons took me back to my school days in Ethiopia when I came to learn about the atrocities of the Italian invasion in 1935. It was an attack from two fronts, one from Eritrea in the north under Marshal De Bono, who was later replaced by Marshal Pietro Badoglio. The other was an attack from what was then the Italian colony of Somalia under General Rodolfo Graziani. The invasion from the north did not go well initially as patriotic Ethiopian forces pushed back and nearly defeated the invaders. To avoid a repeat of the 1896 Battle of Adwa debacle when Emperor Menelik II’s forces destroyed a huge Italian army, Marshal Badoglio ordered wholesale use of mustard gas on unsuspecting Ethiopians who died of agonizing suffocation and surface body burns by the thousands and their forces were decimated.
  • The Nobel Laureate Who Pioneered Chemical Warfare (Evan Andrews, 21 April 2017): Few historical figures have a more complicated legacy than Fritz Haber. The German-born chemist won a Nobel Prize for his synthesis of ammonia, a groundbreaking process that transformed agriculture and eventually saved millions of lives. Yet by the time Haber received the award in 1919, he had been widely denounced as a mass murderer for his other major scientific project—developing poison gas for Germany during World War I.
  • In 1943, America Killed Its Own Troops with Poison Gas (Michael Peck, 21 April 2017): It was December 2, 1943. And the Nazi bomber crews flying over the Italian port of Bari might have wondered whether they were actually in a war zone. Gleaming below, despite the wartime blackout, was a harbor so brightly lit that it illuminated more than than thirty ships supplying the Allied armies advancing up the Italian peninsula. Aboard those transports were the usual necessities of modern warfare: ammunition, fuel, food, spare parts. Except one ship was different: the American Liberty ship John Harvey. That blandly named vessel carried one hundred tons of mustard gas, contained in hundred-pound bombs, which the United States had sent to the Mediterranean in case Hitler unleashed chemical weapons in a last desperate bid to stave off the invasion of Fortress Europe.

CBW threats

  • Dept. of Defense aims countermeasures at WMD, synthetic biological threats (Kim Riley, 24 March 2017): The United States must prepare for surprise attacks at home and abroad from traditional weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and from the new, emerging and largely unknown consequences posed by synthetic biological threats, a senior defense official told House congressional members on Thursday.
  • Bill Gates: Terrorists could wipe out 30 million people by weaponising a disease such as smallpox (Sarah Knapton, 19 April 2017): A bioterrorist attack which could wipe out 30 million people is becoming increasingly likely because it is easier than ever to create and spread deadly pathogens, Bill Gates has warned. The Microsoft founder, who was speaking before a speech at the Royal United Services Institute in London (RUSI), warned that an outbreak of a lethal respiratory virus such as smallpox would be more dangerous than even a nuclear attack.
  • The next super weapon could be biological (Peter Apps, 19 April 2017): With the threat of chemical weapons in Syria and nuclear arms in North Korea, the risk of biological weapons has largely dropped off the international agenda. But evolving technologies and genetic engineering may open the door to new dangers.
  • The Benefits of a Total Field View (Marc Saner, 20 April 2017): As the field of synthetic biology advances at a rapid pace, it necessarily raises regulatory and ethical questions which must be assessed and addressed. The following is an independent piece presented by Dr. Marc Saner of the Institute for Science, Society and Policy (ISSP) at the University of Ottawa. In it, Dr. Saner offers his take on the benefits of a total field view and a focus on “responsible innovation” in synthetic biology within both Ontario and Canada.

Dual-use research

  • New Policy: Dual Use Research of Concern (Penn State University, 17 April 2017): Penn State has just released a new policy on Dual Use Research of Concern (DURC) for researchers working with 15 select agents and toxins (Document here).
  • The Benefits of a Total Field View (Marc Saner, 20 April 2017): As the field of synthetic biology advances at a rapid pace, it necessarily raises regulatory and ethical questions which must be assessed and addressed. The following is an independent piece presented by Dr. Marc Saner of the Institute for Science, Society and Policy (ISSP) at the University of Ottawa. In it, Dr. Saner offers his take on the benefits of a total field view and a focus on “responsible innovation” in synthetic biology within both Ontario and Canada.

CBW defence, protection and preparedness, and industry matters

  • PyroGenesis Announces Successfully Destroying Simulated Chemical Warfare Agents for the US Military; Exceeding 99.9999% Destruction Efficiency (Marketwired, 19 April 2017): PyroGenesis has, in coordination with the US-based Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), successfully completed long-duration performance tests using the Company’s tactical Plasma Arc Chemical Warfare Agents Destruction System (“PACWADS” or the “System”) using surrogate chemical warfare agent material. These tests supported the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Agnostic Compact Demilitarization of Chemical Agents (ACDC) program and far exceeded minimum requirements with over 99.9999% destruction efficiency.
  • The anti-chemical weapons technology that could help rebuild Syria (Anjuli Shere, 20 April 2017): The US “Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency” (Darpa) is an elite organisation tasked with developing secretive military technologies. True to form, its logo is oddly reminiscent of a supervillain’s – imposing and stark. Some of its projects, too, are futuristic weapons with darkly amusingly self-aware names, such as Mahem – a kind of self-forging molten metal spear that can penetrate armour. But not all of Darpa’s programmes add to the chaos of conflict. They have recently developed prototypes of a self-contained treatment system to neutralise chemical weapons and “scrub” the chemical-tainted earth clean.
  • Operation Toxic Dagger: Elite commandos train to storm an ISIS chemical weapons factory in Britain (Mark Nicol, 22 April 2017): The crack troops staged the UK’s biggest-ever chemical weapons exercise in recent years in a direct response to intelligence assessments that suggest terrorists will try to smuggle the deadly substances into the UK, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.
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About JP Zanders

Jean Pascal Zanders (Belgium) has worked on questions of chemical and biological weapon (CBW) armament and disarmament since 1986. He was CBW Project Leader at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Director of the BioWeapons Prevention Project and Senior Research Fellow responsible for disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation questions at the European Union Institute for Security Studies. He now owns and runs The Trench.