- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 6, 2002


The United States has made an attempt to develop mood-altering weapons similar to the gas used in a recent hostage crisis in Moscow but abandoned the program because it could not be reconciled with international law, a government-sponsored scientific panel said.

The disclosure is contained in a 250-page report issued Monday by the National Research Council, which urged the Pentagon to take another look at nonlethal weapons now that U.S. forces face a greater chance of getting involved in urban combat.

Research into fentanyl-based chemicals known as "calmatives" was sponsored by the Edgewood Chemical and Biological Command and conducted at the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland 10 to 15 years ago, according to the document.

The council described the program as "significant" but stopped short of revealing details, because they remain classified.

However, use of calmatives was discussed on a few occasions at the office of the secretary of defense and by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which has concluded that in their current form, these agents would be illegal under the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

"The physiological effects of all calmatives that have been examined occur as a result of depression of the central nervous system, accompanied by mood alteration and respiratory depression," the council said.

But the scientists also discovered it was very easy, particularly in combat situations, to cross the line in dosages beyond which calmatives could become lethal.

To solve the problem, they tried to add weakening components, but it all came to naught.

"The principal effect was still unconsciousness, which is unacceptable under most interpretations of the CWC," the report said.

At least 119 persons were killed in Moscow last month when Russian security forces pumped a fentanyl-based gas into a theater taken over by Chechen rebels seeking independence from Russia.

The gas knocked out many of the more than 800 hostages held in the theater as well as most of their captors.

Although the Moscow hostage crisis occurred when the report was already completed, the council said post-September 11 security challenges should compel U.S. military planners to reassess the importance of nonlethal weapons.

Defense experts believe that if President Bush decides to start a military operation against Iraq, U.S. soldiers will have to fight in densely populated urban areas, which will lead to inevitable casualties among the civilian population.

Minimizing collateral casualties and damage could become "of the utmost importance for maintaining fragile coalition relations with Middle Eastern states, in particular," the report said.

To these ends, the council displayed a vast array of stun guns that knock down people at more than 60 yards, immobilizing foams, noise-creating devices and a stink bomb designed to make people hold their noses and flee.

Work also is under way to address the situation created by the 2000 attack of the USS Cole, when a small explosives-laden boat approached the destroyer in the port of Aden and blew a hole in its hull, killing 17 U.S. sailors.

To keep crewmen from firing on every approaching boat, scientists are working on a nonlethal torpedo that would be able to stop small vessels without killing their occupants, according to the report.

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