SIDNEY KATZ reports on the most secret weapon in the arsenals of both East and West — “the mind poisons” Their purpose is conquest without slaughter, and already some military leaders are calling them “humane”

Maclean’s associate editor April 21 1962


SIDNEY KATZ reports on the most secret weapon in the arsenals of both East and West — “the mind poisons” Their purpose is conquest without slaughter, and already some military leaders are calling them “humane”

Maclean’s associate editor April 21 1962



Maclean’s associate editor

SIDNEY KATZ reports on the most secret weapon in the arsenals of both East and West — “the mind poisons” Their purpose is conquest without slaughter, and already some military leaders are calling them “humane”

Of all the new and fearsome ways of waging war — the H-bomb, the missiles and the letha nerve gases — the greatest secrecy surrounds a group of weapons known as “the psychochemicals,” compounds that can make a healthy man, temporarily, go crazy. Unlike nuclear and high-explosive weapons, the psychochemicals, in the words of Maj.-Gen. Marshall Stubbs, chief of the U. S. Army Chemical Corps, “confuse the enemy's mind and break his spirit rather than destroy his body.” Because the psychochemicals are less destructive than nuclear bombs, many military leaders 1 spoke to believe that it is now possible to wage a “humane” war, a view which Norman Cousins, the American writer and editor, describes as “a painful commentary on the human situation of our time.” Many of the psychochemicals are odorless, colorless and tasteless. One of the problems now occupying military scientists is how to distribute the chemicals among the enemy. With modern technology, however, they will undoubtedly discover — or have discovered — a way of delivering the drugs in solid, liquid or gaseous form over large areas. The psychochemicals can incapacitate for lengths of time ranging from a few hours to several days. They can totally demoralize the finest body of troops by producing confusion, exhaustion, deep despondency, extreme exhilaration or incoherence. They can cause hallucinations and delusions and distort a man's sense of space and time. They can cloud a brilliant commander’s ability to make sound decisions; a soldier’s ability to respond intelligently to a command. “The bravest soldier can, temporarily, be turned into a coward," says Maj.-Gen. Stubbs. Battalions of disciplined, seasoned soldiers who had been dosed, would meekly surrender and laughingly allow themselves to be herded into the stockades. By spreading certain chemicals in aerosol form or in the water supply, the entire civilian population of a city could be deprived of the will to resist. They would welcome the invader with open arms. Testifying before a U. S. House of Representatives committee, Maj.Gen. W. M. Creasy, former chief officer with the U. S. chemical corps, said, “We have drugs that could set you congressmen dancing jigs on the desk or shouting communist speeches.”

These “off-the-rocker” drugs — as they are referred to by the mili-

tary — make it impossible for the soldier to perform the exacting tasks of modern warfare. He can't aim or fire a gun, operate radar, land a jet plane or pilot a ship. To further incapacitate an able-bodied soldier, there is another group of closely related chemicals known as “on-thcground” agents which primarily attack the body. They can temporarily impair vision and hearing; they can induce nausea and vomiting and can cause complete paralysis for as long as twelve hours. “Soldiers must think, see, hear, stand, lie, move and calculate time and distance to manipulate weapons and tools,” says Lt.-Col. Walter Miller Jr., of the U. S. Marines. “If they can’t, then a military unit becomes a disorganized group of individuals who can't take or give orders.”

While everybody who has access to it boasts about the destructive power of the H-bomh, there’s a strange reticence among generals about chemical warfare. They’re aware that the public has a deep distaste for gas weapons of all kinds. This stems from the horrors of 1915 when the Germans unleashed a surprise attack of chlorine gas against Canadian and French troops in the Ypres salient. As a result, the major powers — with the exception of the United States — ratified the Geneva Protocol of 1925 which banned the use of chemical and germ gases in future conflicts.

However, the current military view is that the advent of superbombs — both nuclear and otherwise — has changed matters. Many military leaders claim that biological and chemical weapons, particularly the psychochemicals, are a relatively humane way of fighting a war. “The public's attitude is emotional and unrealistic,” says Dr. A. H. Zimmerman, chairman of the Defence Research Board in Ottawa. "With enough education, people would pray for this kind of warfare.” Maj.-Gen. W. M. Creasy, former chief of the U. S. chemical corps, told me that, in his view, it is now possible to wage a war virtually without property damage or death. “You can use biological and chemical weapons in planned phases,” he says.

This is such a battle plan: First, the enemy’s food supply is destroyed by the use of bacteria aimed at his crops and livestock. This is followed by a germ offensive which would cause thirty


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"It's tasteless, colorless, odorless and potent. I know

percent of the population to fall ill. Only ten percent of the people would die, but practically everybody in the country would be busy coping with the health emergency. At the time of the actual military offensive, extensive use of psychochemical weapons would make co-ordinated resistance impossible.

“War will never be less than horrible,” says General J. H. Rothschild, a retired U. S. Army expert in chemical warfare, “but chemical and biological warfare offers at least a small hope of carrying it on without unnecessarily destroying large numbers of troops, their families and their cities.”

Just how much money and effort is being expended on the psychochemicals remains unknown. Defense budgets conceal such information from potential enemies. It is known that this year the U. S. Army Chemical Corps is spending $84.1 million for research and development — twice their budget two years ago. According to Maj.-Gen. Stubbs, the chemical corps is “investigating about 400 potential compounds a month, received from drug and pharmaceutical houses.” The corps also maintains a complex of some twenty establishments across the country — arsenals, manufacturing plants, research, testing and training centres. In the United Kingdom, it is believed that the investigation of psychochemicals is included in the annual $22 million allotted for “Miscellaneous Effective Services.”

The annual expenditure of Canada’s Defence Research Board for research and development is $32 million. This covers the cost of maintaining a huge research and testing station at Sufheid, Alberta, on which stand I 12 miles of fence. In a hangar-Iike building, according to one visitor, cages of experimental animals line the walls from floor to ceiling and airplane motors circulate experimental gases. Canadian. American and English military scientists meet regularly to exchange information and avoid duplication of effort. “We are aware of developments.” replied Dr. Zimmerman, when I asked him about the psychochemicals. He emphasized that Canada’s concern with bacteriological and chemical warfare is strictly defensive, not offensive. “We have no stockpiles and we have no manufacturing plants,” Dr. Zimmerman said.

Allied interest in the psychochemicals has been spurred by Russian activities in the field. Premier Khrushchov has made it clear that he intends to use all kinds of weapons in the event of war. “This is the logic of war, the logic of struggle,” he said. Statements by Soviet scientists indicate that they have some sophistication in chemical warfare research, which is under the direction of brilliant chemists. “Special significance attaches itself to the so-called psy-

chic poisons which are now used for the simulation of mental diseases,” wrote General Drugov of the Russian medical corps, in a 1957 military publication.

Of the thousands of “psychic poisons” considered by the U. S. Army Chemical Corps, only a few have been publicly identified: LSD-25—lysergic acid diethylamide; psilocybine — the active principle found in a family of lethal Mexican mushrooms; mescaline — contained in the flower of a cactus which grows in profusion in the southwestern United States and South America; and methedrine.

Judging by the number of times it has been mentioned. LSD-25 appears to be in high favor with the military. Its advantages, as a potential weapon, are numerous: it is tasteless, colorless, odorless and potent. Twenty micrograms can produce hallucinations in a healthy, normal adult (a microgram is one millionth of a gram). It dissolves readily in water and remains unaffected by boiling or chlorination.

I can testify to the effectiveness of LSD-25. As a participant in a research project conducted by the Saskatchewan Committee for Schizophrenia Research, 1 swallowed some LSD-25 — an amount so small it could fit easily on the head of a pin. My experience for the following twelve hours, which 1 have described in detail ( I was a madman for twelve hours. Maclean's, October 1. 1953) were unforgettable. I suffered terrifying hallucinations, wherein various parts of my body seemed to float off into space. I saw strange visions in blazing technicolor. I couldn’t think, see or hear clearly. I was highly suggestible and could easily be put in a state of terror. At times 1 forgot who I was. I lost track of time. Needless to say, any soldier or civilian, dosed with LSD-25 in wartime, would be useless.

No decisions, only fantasies

Dr. M. Van Sim of the U. S. chemical corps tried LSD-25 on himself. The influence of the drug persisted for three days. He says he sat in a chair for hours at a time, “perfectly content to enjoy my fantasies. I was uncommunicative. I was reticent to make simple decisions on matters upon which I had previously decided the policy of action.” Dr. Van Sim then administered the same drug to groups to see whether or not they could carry out an assigned task. “They failed to do the job,” he said. Commenting on its possible use against civilians, one scientist speculated. “A small amount of LSD-25 dumped into the water supply of a city as large as New York, Toronto or Montreal, might produce dramatic results."

In Washington recently I learned of other experiments which employed unidentified chemicals. Speedy, a black and white female cat. was placed in a cage with a mouse. She acted in the expected way: she pounced on the rodent, shook it in her mouth and killed it. 1 he cat was then injected with a psychochemical; another mouse was placed in her cage after a delay of ten minutes. Now she was terrified by the mouse. She cowered and climbed up the sides of the cage trying to escape. An army general explained the possible tactical use of this substance: “We could make cringing, whimpering cowards out of the finest, bravest troops." In another demonstration. Sparky, a small black dog, was placed in an air-tight chamber into which was released a small amount of a certain gas. After a few whiffs, the animal became listless, then lay on the ground motionless and paralyzed. An antidote was administered. A few minutes later, the dog completely recovered. I he ability to temporarily paralyze an enemy on the battlefield, by means of chemicals.

could be an overwhelmingly powerful weapon.

In another test — reported in an army publication — a disciplined squad of soldiers were dosed by slipping a psychochemical into their coffee. The drill sergeant was not drugged. After the coffee break the sergeant gave his commands as before. He might just as well have saved his breath. The soldiers were inattentive, fatigued, lacked co-ordination. Some of them were seized by uncontrollable fits of laughter; others simpered like idiots.

Under combat conditions a psychochemical could be employed most effectively and economically by administering it to key officers. This was demonstrated in another U. S. army test. Just before a large-scale army exercise a senior staff officer was secretly drugged. Shortly after, the general commanding the manoeuvre summoned him for a briefing. What happened at this meeting was later reported in a military publication. The general talked but the staff officer didn't seem to understand him. He seemed to be preoccupied. unable to concentrate. He became increasingly drowsy. “Finally." concludes the report, “despite all efforts to remain awake, alert and coherent, the senior staff officer literally fell asleep on the commanding general's desk in the midst of the briefing."

Experiments with human volunteers have also been carried out by the British at the Defense Experimental Establishment at Poi’on. a village on the bleak Salisbury Plains. The government tersely admits that such tests are conducted but withholds details. However, one volunteer, Daine Bryce Kelman, a twenty-six-year-old RAF airman who later moved to Vancouver, has publicly described his experiences at Porton. He was one of twelve men who w'ere given a few whiffs of an unknown, invisible, odorless gas. It made him feel strange in several ways and severely affected his vision. “We had to light each others’ cigarettes because we couldn’t focus well enough to bring the match and cigarette together,” he said. "We tried to play pool but couldn’t hit the ball with the cue stick. Because of our disturbed vision, we weren’t allowed to drive a vehicle for two days.”

Using human volunteers to test new chemical and biological agents is not without risk. The English experiments have resulted in at least one death which was discussed in the House of Commons. During the past ten years, in the American program, it is reported that there have been at least three deaths and some 715 cases of illness and injury of “varying intensity." The American volunteers are recruited from the penitentiaries and the armed forces. Many of the human guinea pigs in the latter group have been young Seventh Day Adventists. Pacifists by conviction, they prefer to engage in nonmilitant activities while in the army.

It is almost certain that some of these volunteers have taken psilocybine, since it is repeatedly mentioned in the military literature. No army reports on this psychochemical have been made public, but Dr. Max Rinkel and his associates administered psilocybine to four men at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center and carefully noted the results. The drug became effective in forty-five minutes and a variety of strange reactions persisted for sixteen hours. “Some of the volunteers were relaxed and happy; others tense and wanting to jump about . . . There were changes in mood, marked by euphoria. There was a feeling of lightheadedness, nausea, pressure in the back or front of the head ... a feeling of weakness in the legs which subjects described as ‘rubber-like.’ ‘plastic’ or ‘waxy.’

. . . One subject felt very tall and very short at times and that his legs were detached from his body . . . Speech was slur-

red. concentration was difficult . . . One subject, a musician, was unable to play the piano. He missed notes, failed to sustain the tempo, slurred passages. He gave up playing, feeling annoyed with himself."

In addition to psilocybine. the number of unnamed psychochemicals being considered or tested must be thousands. Most of them come from pharmaceutical houses. 1 asked twelve of the largest drug firms for further information. Most of them told me that for security reasons they could not provide me with details, (has. Pfizer & Company, in New York, said, "We have supplied the government with a number of unusually toxic substances which turned up in the company's research but we don't know the exact use the army research people made of them. But we have learned that some of them are useful." I asked an army spokesman what kind of drugs he solicits from pharmaceutical firms. He said. "We ask them to send us compounds which have adverse effects on the mind and hotly and hence are of no use to them."

The thick, glass wall

Fven a cursory review of recent medical journals reveals that there is no dearth of available compounds which have adverse psychological effects, l ike other substances, tetrabenazine often induces depression. Maj.-Cen. Stubbs, chief of the U. S. Army Chemical Corps, pointed out that a depressant drug has an obvious military application. "To launch an offensive military action, high troop morale is desirable. If your men were to be depressed by the use of psychochemicals there's a good chance that the operation would fail miserably." Two potential psychochemicals that defense authorities in Washington. Ottawa and London may have already tested are related compounds — adrenolutin and adrenochrome. As members of the Saskatchewan Committee of Schizophrenia Research. two psychiatrists. Dr. Humphry Osmond and Dr. Abram HofTer. have had wide, firsthand experience with both these drugs.

For some days after taking adrenolutin. Dr. Hotfer was jittery, irritable, depressed, indecisive and paranoidal. He told me later, "It was so hard to make a decision that it used to take me twenty minutes to decide whether 1 wanted coffee or tea after dinner." The most conspicuous effect of adrenochrome on Dr. Osmond was an extreme sense of disinterest and detachment. While under the influence of the drug, Osmond. who is normally a friendly and talkative person, went to a medical meeting and entertained friends at home. “I sat there for hours without uttering a single word." he later told me. "It was though I was separated from the world by a thick, glass wall."

One of the stated aims of the defense scientists is to produce an effective psychochemical which "paralyzes the will.” The ideal agent may be the ololiuqui seed, which is one of the many substances the intrepid Dr. Osmond has tried on himself. On one occasion, he chewed and swallowed a hundred seeds, which are round, hard and bitter and resemble a small sweet pea. It is the seed of a large, woody vine known as Riven eorymbosn, and was the favorite narcotic of the ancient Aztecs. The plant still flourishes in Central and South America. The paralyzing effects of the drug can best be described by quoting directly from Dr. Osmond's notes:

12.30: (a half hour after taking the drug) I feel apathy, loss of energy, weakness. 1 doubt whether I can hold the microphone of the tape recorder.

1.34: A curious thing happened. I raised my hand above my head but couldn't get it down. Voluntary effort

made little difference. No urging from my friend made any difference ... So much effort is required to do even the smallest thing that there is temptation to remain totally immobile.

3.30: I'm hungry but I’m too lethargic to do anything about it. Intellectually, I’m aware that this is an interesting experiment but I don’t have the energy to be interested in it . . . An extraordinary lack of energy ... an extreme unwillingness to do anything at all.

Two hypothetical examples of the possible tactical uses of drugs like the ones I have described were recently given by Major E. M. Gershater, an American strategist:

"During a vigorous U. S. attack on an Aggressor position, the operations officer of the enemy corps opposing our advance rushes to the corps commander for an immediate decision on implementation of a counterattack plan. To his dismay, he finds the Old Man silent, introspective, even dreamy . . . No decision is forthcoming. The deputy corps commander is incoherent and appears to be drunk, although it is well known about headquarters that he is a teetotaler.”

In Major Gershater’s second imaginary situation, U. S. troops are attacking “ ‘Briickepont’ bridge, an objective vital to our mission. Our troops find the Aggressor defenders sound asleep, as if in a paralyzing stupor. Three hours later, after the bridge is secured, the enemy guard detail is in a POW cage. These soldiers are stunned and cannot seem to recall what had happened.”

With their technical skills, modern chemists can identify the active principle in a plant, synthesize the crystalline essence in the laboratory, then manufacture it in quantity, usually in solid, liquid or gaseous form. The people of the Far East, for centuries, consumed the root Ranwolfia serpentina for its miraculous healing qualities. Chemists went to work on Ranwolfia and gave us reserpine. which today, is one of the most widely used tranquilizers in North America. The search for psychochemicals is probably following the same kind of leads.

It’s entirely possible that one Haitian plant, cohoba. is already under military surveillance. It has long been consumed by the natives to empower them "to communicate with the dead.” Dr. V. L. Stromberg. of the National Heart Institute, has already identified the active ingredient in cohoba as bufotenin. Its effect on normal people has been reported by Dr. Howard Fabing and Dr. J. R. Hawkins in Science. It was injected into the veins of a young man. His face immediately turned purple and he saw reddish spots before his eyes. At times his eyes seemed to be looking through a yellow filter. His perception of time, space and of himself was seriously impaired. “I am here and I am not here,” he said.

During my talks with Maj.-Gen. Stubbs, of the U. S. Army Chemical Corps, he spoke of interest in a psychochemical that would promote "hostility and antagonism to a point where a group of men would quarrel among themselves and perhaps even attack each other.” A likely supply of such an agent is to be found in a Peruvian vine, Banisteria caapi. Peruvian Indians prepare a thick, brown, bitter liquid from the vine and consume it on certain ceremonial occasions. The dramatic effects of caapi have been studied by Dr. L. Lewin, a famous German toxicologist, as well as other visitors to Peru. At first, the subject feels a certain exhilaration and beholds sights of great beauty. Colored birds fly about and the trees are laden with lush, ripe fruit. Suddenly, these idyllic visions are replaced by scenes of stark terror. The

subject imagines that he is about to be attacked by voracious beasts. To protect himself, he seizes the nearest weapons and strikes out at the people around him.

Another substance that promotes savage behavior is Amanita muscaria, a poisonous mushroom consumed by the primitive people of northeastern Asia to relieve the boredom of long winter days and nights. It induces hallucinations, which in turn often lead to violence and self-destruction. Amanita muscaria is probably the most durable of all the mind poisons, a quality which ranks high with military chemists. "This substance is notable for the potency of its active principle, which can survive several passages through the human body,” writes Dr. Humphry Osmond. "It is excreted in the urine and some Siberian tribes have developed from this an economic, bu to our taste an unesthetic, form of con viviality.”

Developing new and potent psycho chemicals is only one of the problem facing specialists in chemical warfare. The; must then devise effective means of delivering the agents to the right place, in the right concentration. “There arc thousand' of ways of dispersing such materials,” says Dr. A. H. Zimmerman, of the defense research board. Psychochemicals might be delivered to a point hundreds or thousands of miles away by means of missiles. They could be filed from submarines far out at sea. or sprayed directly from low-flyin*aircraft. They could be hurled at an enem. by means of artillery or mortar shells.

Because they are invisible and virtually undetectable psychochemicals are ideal weapons for saboteurs. A "pleasure boat.” traveling along the coast by night and aided by a gentle onshore breeze, coule1 disperse gaseous material over several hun^ dred square miles. As a prelude to an all! out attack, special agents, driving gas-laden trucks, could circle the thirty-five American missile sites and discharge loads that would convert the personnel into nonfunctioning cowards. An obvious target for the psychochemicals are the various military nerv centres. A few years ago, a harmless am detectable compound was placed in the airconditioning system of The Pentagon. It in fected the entire building within threç hours. If a psychochemical were to be used by an enemy, the results might be disastrous.

To contaminate the civilian population of a community, a well-trained saboteur has many avenues of approach: the water supply, dairies, soft-drink plants and other sources of food and drink. Spread by stealth, the psychochemicals would be doubly dangerous. "Because virtually everyone will be affected, irrational and dangerous behavior will be accepted as normal.” says Maj.-Gen. Stubbs. Dr. Bernard McNamara, an American army toxicologist. visualizes the aftermath of an at-

tack on a cuy wnere lethal gases and psychochemicals have been employed. “Imagine the mass confusion and panic which would occur as partially poisoned and psychotic survivors attempted to treat the sick, remove the dead and put the city’s utilities back into operation.”

Have we developed effective, specific defenses against the psychochemicals? Probably not. and for good reasons. To protect ourselves, we have to know what we’re protecting ourselves against. In a branch of warfare so new, we have no way of knowing exactly what agents may be hurled at us in the event of a war. The enemy, as Dr. Zimmerman suggested to me, “may have new and exotic substances.” Fven if the psychochemicals were known to us we would have to have the means of identifying and counteracting them quickly. From interviews and reading, it seems clear to me that we are far from achieving that skill. Granting again that we could detect and protect ourselves against some of the psychochemicals, could the defensive measures be applied quickly

enough? Psychochemicals are invisible and quick-acting.

It may be, as some military strategists argue, that the psychochemicals hold out the hope of conducting “civilized” wars. “For the first time in history,” says Maj.Gen. W. M. Creasy, “there is the promise —even the probability—that war will not mean death.”

In spite of these assurances, assaulting the human psyche with potent and littleknown chemicals could have devastating results. Large numbers of people might be seriously — and permanently — affected. “Our mental hospitals, prisons and cemeteries,” writes Dr. E. James Lieberman, in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, “substantially reflect some of the results of‘temporary insanity.’ ” Again, if we condone the mass use of psychochemicals, conscienceless governments might effectively use them to keep entire populations under control in peacetime. For, with continued research and testing, scientists will inevitably reach new levels of sophistication in chemical brainwashing. ★