- In The Futurological Congress (1971), Polish writer Stanislaw
Lem portrayed a future in which disobedience is controlled with hypothetical
mind-altering chemicals dubbed "benignimizers". Lem's fictional
work opens with the frightening story of a police and military biochemical
attack on protesters outside of an international scientific convention.
As the environment becomes saturated with hallucinogenic agents, in Lem's
tale the protesters (and bystanders) descend into chaos, overcome by delusions
and feelings of complacency, self-doubt, and even love.
- If the Pentagon's Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate
(JNLWD) has its way, Lem may be remembered as a prophet.
- The Advantages and Limitations of Calmatives for Use
as a Non-Lethal Technique, a 49 page report obtained last week by the Sunshine
Project under US information freedom law, has revealed a shocking Pentagon
program that is researching psychopharmacological weapons. Based on "extensive
review conducted on the medical literature and new developments in the
pharmaceutical industry", the report concludes that "the development
and use of [psychopharmacological weapons] is achievable and desirable."
These mind-altering weapons violate international agreements on chemical
and biological warfare as well as human rights. Some of the techniques
discussed in the report have already been used by the US in the "War
- The team, which is based at the Applied Research Laboratory
of Pennsylvania State University, is assessing weaponization of a number
of psychiatric and anesthetic pharmaceuticals as well as "club drugs"
(such as the "date rape drug" GHB). According to the report,
"the choice administration route, whether application to drinking
water, topical administration to the skin, an aerosol spray inhalation
route, or a drug filled rubber bullet, among others, will depend on the
environment." The environments identified are specific military and
civil situations, including "hungry refugees that are excited over
the distribution of food", "a prison setting", an "agitated
population" and "hostage situations". At times, the JNLWD
team's report veers very close to defining dissent as a psychological disorder.
- The drugs that Lem called "benignimizers" are
called "calmatives" by the military. Some calmatives were weaponized
by the Cold War adversaries, including BZ, described by those who have
used it as "the ultimate bad trip". Calmatives were supposed
to have been deleted from military stockpiles following the adoption of
the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1993, which bans any chemical weapon
that can cause death, temporary incapacitation, or permanent harm to humans
- Calmative is military, not medical, terminology. In more
familiar medical language, most of the drugs under consideration are central
nervous system depressants. Most are synthetic, some are natural. They
include opiates (morphine-type drugs) and benzodiazpines, such as Valium
(diazepam). Antidepressants are also of great interest to the research
team, which is looking for drugs like Prozac (fluoxetine) and Zoloft (sertraline)
that are faster acting.
- Biochemicals and Treaties: Many of the proposed drugs
can be considered both chemical and biological weapons banned by the Biological
and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC), and the Chemical Weapons Convention
(CWC). As a practical matter, biological and chemical "calmatives"
must be addressed together. As the agents are explicitly intended for military
use, and are intended to incapacitate their victims, they do not fall under
the CWC's domestic riot control agent exemption. Toxic products of living
agents - such as the neurotoxin botulinum - are considered both chemical
and biological agents. Any weapons use of neurotransmitters or substances
mimicking their action is similarly covered by both arms control treaties.
The researchers have developed a massive calmatives database and are following
biomedical research on mechanisms of drug addiction, pain relief, and other
areas of research on cognition-altering biochemicals. For example, the
JNLWD team is tracking research on cholecystokinin, a neurotransmitter
that causes panic attacks in healthy people and is linked to psychiatric
- Powerful Drugs: The drugs have hallucinogenic and other
effects, including apnea (stopped breathing), coma, and death. One class
of drugs under consideration are fentanyls. The report's cover features
a diagram of fentanyl. According to the US Drug Enforcement Administration
(DEA), the biological effects of fentanyls "are indistinguishable
from those of heroin, with the exception that the fentanyls may be hundreds
of times more potent." The report says that the drugs' profound effects
may make it necessary to "check for the occasional person who may
stop breathing (many medical reasons in the unhealthy, the elderly, and
very young...", as well as victims who "'go to sleep' in positions
that obstruct their airway".
- Failed Drugs: The report points out that pharmaceutical
candidates that fail because of excessive side-effects might be desirable
for use as weapons: "Often, an unwanted side-effect... will terminate
the development of a promising new pharmaceutical compound. However, in
the variety of situations in which non-lethal techniques are used, there
may be less need to be concerned with unattractive side-effects... Perhaps,
the ideal calmative has already been synthesized and is awaiting renewed
interest from its manufacturer."
- Chemical Cocktails: As of March 2002, the team was researching
a mix of pepper spray ("OC") and an unidentified calmative agent.
Pepper spray is the most powerful chemical crowd control agent in use,
and has been associated with numerous deaths. Adding a pharmacological
"calmative" to OC would create a hideous concoction. The report
prioritizes Valium and Precedex (dexmeditomidine) for weaponization, and
it is possible that these are the agents that could be mixed with OC. The
researchers also suggest mixing ketamine with other drugs (see below).
The chemical cocktail proposals bear a resemblance to South Africa's apartheid-era
weapons research, whose director claimed under oath to have attempted to
develop a BZ and cocaine mixture for use on government enemies.
- Torture: Precedex is sedative approved for use in the
US on patients hospitalized in intensive care units. The report draws attention
to an "interesting phenomenon" related to Precedex use - the
drug increases patients' reaction to electrical shock. The researchers
suggest sensitizing people by using Precedex on them, followed by use of
electromagnetic weapons to "address effects on the few individuals
where an average dose of the pharmacological agent did not have the desired
effect." Obviously, such a technique might be considered torture,
and certainly could be used to torture. To add to hypnotic and delusional
properties, the researchers suggest that psychopharmaceutical agents could
be designed to have physical effects including headache and nausea, adding
to their torture potential.
- The researchers suggest that transdermal patches and
transmucosal (through mucous membranes) formulations of Buspar (buspirone)
under development by Bristol-Myers Squibb and TheraTech, Inc. "may
be effective in a prison setting where there may have been a recent anxiety-provoking
incident or confrontation."
- Use in the War on Terrorism: Of course, uncooperative
or rioting prisoners would be extraordinarily unlikely to accept being
drugged with a transdermal patch or most conventional means. Any such application
of a "calmative" would likely be on individuals in shackles or
a straightjacket. The US has admitted that it forcibly sedates Al-Qaida
"detainees" held at the US base in Guantanamo, Cuba. Former JNLWD
commander and retired Col. Andy Mazzara, who directs the Penn State team,
says has he sent a "Science Advisor" to the US Navy to assist
the War on Terrorism.
- Modes of Delivery: A number of weaponization modes are
discussed in the report. These include aerosol sprays, microencapsulation,
and insidious methods such as introduction into potable water supplies
and psychoactive chewing gum. JNLWD is investing in the development of
microencapsulation technology, which involves creating granules of a minute
quantity of agent coated with a hardened shell. Distributed on the ground,
the shell breaks under foot and the agent is released. A new mortar round
being developed could deliver thousands of the minute granules per round.
The team concludes that new delivery methods under development by the pharmaceutical
industry will be of great weapons value. These include new transdermal,
transmucosal, and aerosol delivery methods. The report cites the relevance
of a lollipop containing fentanyl used to treat children in severe pain,
and notes that "the development of new pain-relieving opiate drugs
capable of being administered via several routes is at the forefront of
drug discovery", concluding that new weapons could be developed from
this pharmaceutical research.
- Dart Guns: The researchers express specific interest
shooting humans with guns loaded with carfentanil darts. Carfentanil is
a veterinary narcotic used to tranquilize large, dangerous animals such
as bears and tigers. Anyone who has watched wildlife shows on television
is familiar with the procedure. In the US, carfentanil is not approved
for any use on human beings. It is an abused drug and a controlled substance.
Under US law, first time offenders convicted of unlicensed possession of
carfentanil can be punished by up to 20 years in prison and a $1 million
- Club Drugs: Most of the JNLWD team's weapon candidates
are controlled substances in most countries. Some are widely used legitimate
pharmaceuticals that are also drugs of abuse, such as Valium and opiates.
The Pentagon team advocates more research into the weapons potential of
convulsants (which provoke seizures) and "club drugs", the generally
illegal substances used by some at "rave" and dance clubs. Among
those in the military spotlight are ketamine ("Special K"), GHB
(Gamma-hydroxybutrate, "liquid ecstasy"), and rohypnol ("Roofies").
The latter two in particular are called "date rape drugs" because
of incidences of their use on victims of sexual and other crimes. Most
are DEA Schedule I or II narcotics that provoke hallucinations and can
carry a sentence of life imprisonment. For example, according to the DEA,
"Use of ketamine as a general anesthetic for humans has been limited
due to adverse effects including delirium and hallucinations... Low doses
produce vertigo, ataxia, slurred speech, slow reaction time, and euphoria.
Intermediate doses produce disorganized thinking, altered body image, and
a feeling of unreality with vivid visual hallucinations. High doses produce
analgesia, amnesia, and coma."
- Edward Hammond is director of The Sunshine Project, based
in Austin, Texas. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Additional information, on relationships between these
weapons and protection human rights, medical ethics, and drug research
is forthcoming. A summary of the report is available on the Sunshine Project