Friday, 7 April 2017

Chemical weapons: the good, bad and the ugly- how Britain helped arm Assad with chemical weapons

Conservative Party Defence Secretary Michael Fallon toured the TV and radio studios on Friday morning backing the US cruise missile strike on a Syrian airforce base allegedly from which Syrian planes took off before using  chemical weapons munitions on a Syrian town near Idlib, asserting to the BBC about the attack, which he called “appalling”:  "The Americans believe they've exhausted all possible diplomatic and peaceful ways of dealing with the use by the regime of chemical weapons and they have been determined to try to prevent future attacks like this so they've taken this action today."  (

Conservative Republican President Trump.  who ordered the strike, called the dispersal of chemical weapon poisons an ”affront to humanity”. (

Yet former British Conservative Prime Minister Mrs Thatcher- over thirty years ago -  herself called for the use of chemical weapons. A file released by National Archives in late 2014 reveals the then Prime Minister examined how UK could retaliate in case of Soviet chemical attack, at a cost of up to £200m   

Thatcher, trained as a research chemist, considered that her  government might be considered negligent for failing to acquire a “retaliatory capability” at the height of the Cold War.

“Any significant step … to improve our retaliatory capability will involve serious political and presentational difficulties,” a secret policy document admitted. In February 1984, Mrs Thatcher attended a chemical weapons briefing ing in the chief of staff’s room at the MoD,  along with the then defence secretary, Michael Heseltine, plus senior army and intelligence officers and the government’s chief scientific adviser.

But public relations  problems were anticipated. A policy document rated “Secret UK Eyes A” said: “A sharp turn in HMG’s policy on CW basing or acquisition, after 25 years of no direct involvement with such weapons, will provoke political controversy just when the public debate over the basing of cruise missiles is showing signs of declining.

Thatcher’s top foreign policy advisor, Charles Powell, advised: “The Americans should be encouraged to move forward with modernisation of their capability … Public opinion in the UK could be brought gently to a better and wider perception of the imbalance between Soviet and Nato capabilities in chemical warfare while avoiding an upsurge of alarm.”

(“Thatcher considered UK chemical weapons programme, documents show,” Guardian, 30 December 2014;


Moreover,  on a number of occasions since 2008, the UK Government- both Labour and Conservative-led Coalition, have licensed dual –use technologies that may be used to  help make chemical weapons precursors, to be sold to Syria, then, as now-led by President Bashar al Assad.

Arms Trade

27 March  2012 : Columns 1132-3W

Sir John Stanley: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills what arms export licences have been revoked subsequent to the Government's response, Cm 8079, to the First Report of the Committee on Arms Export Controls, on Scrutiny of Arms Export Controls (2011), HC 686; and if he will provide this information in the same format as that used in Annex 1 of Cm 8079. [101393]
Mr Prisk: Further to the Government's response to the First Report of the Committee on Arms Export Controls (CM8079), on Scrutiny of Arms Export Controls (2011) there has been no further revocations in north Africa and the middle east, since we responded to named day parliamentary question 71627 tabled by my hon. Friend on 10 October 2011,Official Report, column 258W.

The one licence that was revoked and previously referred to in 71627 is:

End user country
Annual report summary
reason for revocation
Small arms ammunition
Due to the arms embargo imposed by the EU this licence was reassessed and found to contravene Criteria 1

Values of items licensed for export have been provided for extant Standard Individual Export Licences. No values are given for extant Open Individual Export Licences because there no generally no limit to the quantities that may be exported under these licences and it is not possible for exporters to provide this information when they make a licence application.





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The US continues to operate a huge chemical weapons complex  at Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, very close to Washington DC.

Maybe President Trump should schedule a visit there soon.

The Edgewood Chemical Biological Center's (ECBC) science and technology expertise has protected the United States from the threat of chemical weapons since 1917. Since that time, the Center has expanded its mission to include biological materials and emerges today as the nation's premier authority on chemical and biological defense.


ECBC Historical Timeline





Shell Filling Plant1917

  • The Bureau of Mines establishes the War Gas Investigations at American University in Washington, D.C.
  • President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation that designated Gunpowder Neck, MD, as the site for the first chemical shell filling plant in the United States.
  • The Bureau of Mines produces the first 25,000 gas masks for U.S. Army soldiers during World War I.



Shell Filling Plant No. 11918

  • The Gas Defense Service of the Medical Department produced an improved mask, called the R.F.K. mask. Over 3 million of these masks were produced during the war.
  • The U.S. War Department creates the Chemical Warfare Service (CWS) to include the Research Division at American University.
  • Shell Filling Plant No. 1 became operational and 75mm chemical filled shells were readied for shipping.


Mask factory1920

  • All chemical warfare functions were centralized at the Edgewood Arsenal, including the CWS chemical school, research division, and gas mask production factory.



  • Edgewood started development of a portable field laboratory to provide frontline chemical analysis capability. The result was the M1 Field Laboratory, standardized in 1936.



  • Edgewood standardized the M1 Collective Protector system for use in forts and other military installations. Edgewood has developed other collective protection systems over the years for use in building interiors and military vehicles.


Decon Vehicle1938

  • Edgewood developed the M4 Decontaminating Agent (DANC) to counteract chemical agents. Edgewood also developed a series of portable sprayers designed to disseminate the decontaminating agents.



  • Edgewood developed the M1 Stationary Oil Smoke Generator for non-mobile smoke screens.



  • Edgewood standardized the M4 Vapor Detector Kit, which could detect faint concentrations of mustard agent using a new reagent that reacted with mustard to produce an intense color change. All the components of the kit were stored in a wooden box.



  • Edgewood standardized the U.S. Army’s first biological agent sampling kit, the M17, which was designed to collect samples of contaminated soil, air, and other materials for dispatch to an appropriate medical laboratory for identification.



  • The first nerve agent detector and alarm, known as the M5 Automatic G-Agent Fixed Installation Alarm, was standardized.



  • The riot control agent CS was standardized and used extensively by both military and civilian police forces.
  • To resolve problems associated with earlier masks that required a separate canister, the M17 mask was developed in 1959, which eliminated the need for a separate canister by placing filter material in the cheek pockets of the mask.



  • DS2 Decontaminating Agent was developed. DS2 is effective against all known toxic chemical agents and biological materials (except bacterial spores) if sufficient contact time is allowed. DS2 is used with portable decontamination equipment or can be applied with brooms and swabs. DS2 is still in use today.



  • Edgewood developed the M8 Portable Automatic Chemical Agent Alarm, the first mass-produced field detector for nerve agents. This was a significant accomplishment in chemical defense and this new fielded technology corrected a major deficiency that had made U.S. soldiers vulnerable to a surprise nerve agent attack.



  • Edgewood started development of the Biological Detection and Warning System (BDWS) to meet a critical need for a field biological agent detection system. The BDWS continued development until 1983.


M157 Smoke Generator1986

  • Edgewood standardized the M157 Smoke Generator, which provided the Army with its first mobile smoke generation capability.





Berger Laboratory1989

  • The Bernard Berger Laboratory Complex was built. This laboratory provides increased capabilities of non-surety defensive development work. It consists of three interconnected buildings, and each has its own functional purpose in carrying out research, development, and engineering for chemical defense.





  • During Operation Desert Shield in 1990, the Army issued the first XM93 series Nuclear, Biological, Chemical (NBC) Reconnaissance Systems (Fox). The XM93 Fox was a dedicated system of NBC detection, warning, and sampling equipment integrated into a high speed, high mobility armored carrier. The Fox was capable of performing NBC reconnaissance on primary, secondary, or cross-country routes throughout the battlefield and had the capability to find and mark chemical and biological contamination.
  • Edgewood accelerated the delivery and limited fielding of the Army’s newest mask (M40) to soldiers in the Persian Gulf. This mask is still used today.
  • In support of Desert Storm, Edgewood activated an Emergency Operations Center as the focal point for operational and logistical inquiries pertaining to chemical defense equipment.


Process Engineering Facility1991

  • The Process Engineering Facility, which is now known as the Bioengineering Laboratory, was built. It is a research and development facility dedicated to providing the Department of Defense with the equipment and physical plant requirements for the research and production of proteins, enzymes, antibodies, or other cellular products.




  • Edgewood standardized the M56 Motorized Smoke Obscurant System, known as the “Coyote.” The Coyote was the first multi-spectral large area smoke system to provide both visual and infrared obscuration on the battlefield. The M56 Coyote is a motorized system mounted on an M1113 Expanded Capacity High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV).



  • Edgewood type classified the first passive infrared detector of chemical agents on the battlefield, known as the M21 Remote Sensing Chemical Agent Alarm.


BIDS Truck1996

  • The M31 Biological Integrated Detection System (BIDS) was standardized, providing the world’s first battlefield integrated biological detection capability. The M31E2 BIDS, which includes a fully automated biodetection system, began in-house production at ECBC in 2002 via a partnership with Letterkenny Army Depot.
  • At the direction of Congress, ECBC became the lead agency charged with implementing the Domestic Preparedness (DP) Program to enhance the capability of federal, state, and local emergency responders in incidents involving Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). This program provided training, exercises, equipment and a variety of technical assistance which enhanced domestic WMD response capabilities. The DP program put lifesaving knowledge and skills into the hands of our nation's emergency responders and was used as the blueprint for WMD response efforts across the country. It also served as a springboard into the new business area of homeland defense and opened the doors of many new start national defense preparedness programs at ECBC.
  • Edgewood developed alternative neutralization-based technologies for the disposal of the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile. These technologies are currently being used to destroy bulk mustard and nerve agents.


McNamara Building1997

  • Edgewood completed the Bernard McNamara Life Sciences Research Facility, which was designed to gather life scientists into a modern facility for cutting-edge research in chem-bio defense. The building was dedicated to Dr. Bernard P. McNamara, a world-renowned toxicologist whose federal career spanned 39 years.




  • Researchers at Edgewood developed multiple enzyme-based formulas that effectively decontaminate nerve agents and organophosphorous pesticides.



  • Edgewood established the Critical Reagent Repository to store and validate all immunological and DNA-based biodetection reagents for the Department of Defense.



  • The Biological Attack Warning System (BAWS) was developed, providing early warning of a biological warfare attack to a fixed installation. Edgewood received an Army R&D Achievement Award in recognition of this accomplishment.
  • ECBC began work on the next generation of masks for all the U.S. services. The XM50/XM51 Joint Service General Purpose Mask (JSGPM) is a revolutionary advancement in protective mask technology, providing increased soldier, marine, airman or sailor performance. The mask began production in 2006.


BL3 workers2001

  • The Biosafety Level 3 (BL3) facility was completed in the McNamara Life Sciences Laboratory, allowing researchers to safely work with indigenous or exotic agents that may cause serious or lethal disease as a result of exposure by inhalation.


  • Edgewood researchers and technology aid in the U.S. fight against terrorism. Since September 11, 2001, various military and federal departments have called upon Edgewood scientists for information and guidance on CB defense issues. Technologies developed at Edgewood such as protective masks, biological agent detectors, and decontaminants were deployed to protect U.S. soldiers and civilians.



  • ECBC supported the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to address national defense issues such as building safety, rapid risk assessment, and water security. As a result, two notable milestones were achieved: the construction of the Water Test Loop and the discovery that an existing medical sterilant that uses hydrogen peroxide would meet some of EPA's building decontamination requirements. ECBC also used this sterilant to provide DoD with a proven capability to decontaminate buildings and aircraft through the use of a decontamination technology that uses hydrogen peroxide. This technology was demonstrated effective against both biological and chemical contamination.
  • In a collaborative effort with the National Institute for Standards and Technology and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, ECBC developed CB standards for Air Purifying Respirators and Escape Masks for civilian application. ECBC also tested numerous civilian protective masks and clothing ensembles for efficacy against chemical and biological agent exposure.



  • Advanced Chemistry LaboratoryECBC opened its new state-of-the-art Advanced Chemistry Laboratory, a 75,000 square foot facility designed and equipped to conduct chemical agent operations. These operations include analytical chemistry, chemical weapons treaty support, filtration and decontamination technology development and the evaluation of chemical agent detectors. A central feature of the lab is the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance suites, where the properties and effects of chemical threat materials are studied.

  • BiSKitTwo ECBC projects received the Federal Laboratory Consortium's Award of Excellence and transferred technology that benefited both the warfighter and homeland security. The Biological Sampling Kit (BiSKit) provided a more efficient and safe way to obtain environmental samples from potentially hazardous contaminated sites. The Automated Decision Aid System for Hazardous Incidents (ADASHI), a computer-based integrated decision support system, provided the capability to combine technical functions information with decision criteria for improved military and civilian response to chemical, biological, radiological, and explosive incidents.




Buffalo Surrogate2006

  • In support of the Global War on Terrorism, ECBC rapidly developed and produced Buffalo Mine Protected Clearance Vehicle (MPCV) training surrogates to aid in training combat units for Improvised Explosive Device defeat missions. These surrogates, M923A2 5-ton cargo trucks, were modified to simulate a Buffalo MPCV. They have been integrated into pre-combat training programs at Fort Irwin, Fort Polk, and Camp Beuhring.


ECBC 90th Anniversary2007

  • This year ECBC is celebrating its 90th Anniversary in conjunction with Aberdeen Proving Ground. Over the past nine decades, we have provided numerous battlefield enhancements to include smoke screening capabilities, collective protection systems, chemical and biological detection and warning devices, as well as new respiratory protection and decontamination equipment. During the last decade, our defense efforts expanded to include domestic preparedness, homeland security, and the current Global War on Terrorism. Now, ECBC has partnerships with nearly every federal agency and has truly grown into a national resource for chemical and biological defense.



  • TGERScientists at ECBC, working with scientists at the University of Montana and industry partners Bee Alert Technology, Inc. and BVS, Inc., discover in U.S. honeybees a virus only before identified in European honeybees. The invading bee virus newly discovered in the U.S. is called Varroa Destructor Virus -1 (VDV-1).  The virus was discovered using a technology, called Integrated Virus Detection System / Proteomic Mass Spectrometry, which was developed for battlefield detection of viruses.  The technology reveals virus by size and peptide information contained in a sample and compares that information against known genetic sequences.  This approach has provides important clues to scientists around the world working to find the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder —a mysterious malady that has caused rapid depopulation of beehives around the globe. This is the first detection of this virus in North America and will allow beekeepers in the U.S. the possibility of early control and quarantine of affected colonies.
  • ECBC deploys the Tactical Garbage to Energy Refinery (TGER), a prototype technology which converts waste to energy, to Iraq.  Victory Base Camp in Baghdad, Iraq was selected as the initial 90-day test site for the two existing models, TGER 1 and TGER 2. The test will provide the project team with a clear understanding of the unit’s performance capabilities under extreme conditions. Various wastes including food slop, plastic, paper and styrofoam are fed into TGER and converted by the hybrid systems using thermochemical and bio-catalytic technologies into either synthetic gas (similar to low-grade propane) or hydrous ethanol, respectively. The ethanol combined with the synthetic gas can be used to power a 60kw generator.



  • ECBC establishes a Patent License Agreement (PLA) and a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products, a leading producer of biological and chemical detection systems for military and commercial applications. The agreements will pave the way for collaboration between the federal government and industry to further develop and commercialize a low-cost, low-power, lightweight technology that utilizes semiconductor ultraviolet optical sources for reagentless detection of biological aerosols called the Tactical Biological Detector (TAC-BIO).



  • SRFU.S. Army officials honored the efforts of 51 ECBC staff members credited with completing a project to eliminate health and safety risks associated with continued storage of containers as well as other accumulated wastes. ECBC employees gathered at the Blue Grass Army Depot in Richmond, Ky., in 2007 to lend their expertise toward a project aimed at safely eliminate and manage three deteriorating steel containers of GB nerve agent and its breakdown products through a program called Operation Swift Solution. Less than two years later, the multi-agency effort ― conducted in collaboration with the Blue Grass Chemical Activity, the U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency (CMA), the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection and local stakeholders ― was completed, eliminating the health and safety risks associated with continued storage of the containers as well as other wastes accumulated during years of their management.
  • Scheduled completion of the Center’s new Sample Receipt Facility (SRF), which will be the only full-range national resource facility with the capability to receive, triage, sample, and screen unknown agents from units or organizations anywhere in the world.

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