National Security Watch: A deadly nerve agent's history
A soon-to-be-released book reveals how the U.S. Army developed the deadly nerve agent sarin with help from German chemical weapons scientists in the late 1940s. The book, War of Nerves: Chemical Warfare From World War I to al Qaeda (Pantheon), is by arms control expert Jonathan B. Tucker, a senior fellow at the Monterey Institute of International Studies' Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Washington, D.C.
Previous reports have detailed how the Army recruited some 30 German chemical arms experts, some of whom came to work in America. But Tucker sheds new light by tracking down the papers of Gen. Charles E. Loucks of the U.S. Army Chemical Corps, including his 1948-49 desk diaries while working as an intelligence officer for the U.S. European Command in Heidelberg, Germany. The diaries reveal Loucks's hiring of former SS Brig. Gen. Walther Schieber, who "directed production of war gases" for the Nazis' Armaments Ministry, Loucks wrote.
The U.S. effort to develop sarin had run into problems, and Loucks asked Schieber for help. Schieber responded enthusiastically, recruiting a half-dozen German nerve agent experts who offered extensive data on the sarin production process. That information was incorporated into a pilot U.S. sarin plant at Edgewood Arsenal, Md., which served as the model for the Army's production of thousands of tons of sarin. The Army ultimately produced 31,000 tons of various chemical weapons, most of which is still waiting for destruction at eight depots across the country.