FSO Editorials

by Joseph D. Douglass, Jr.
December 20, 2004

Viktor Yushchenko, handsome candidate for president of Ukraine � and thorn in the Russian shoe � has been poisoned. His reward for challenging the former communists is a bloated and severely scared face along with seriously impaired internal organs and digestive system. His condition is a clear warning to others who might follow in his footsteps.

Not only that. Should Yushchenko recover and win the re-election that is to take place December 26, will he be the same courageous champion of reform, or might he be wary, knowing how little it might take to finish the poisoning?

The question raised by the poisoning is simple: Who would have been so monstrous as to cut down a youthful opponent in this manner? As in most covert operations, the truth likely will never be known. What is even more unfortunate, neither political nor public awareness of the underlying problem is likely to be triggered. No one, particularly officials in government and the news media, is in any sense interested in opening this Pandora�s box. The last thing wanted is to wash a lot of dirty laundry in public, especially that which raises questions about the evil nature of communism and its continued presence.

Almost any way this poisoning operation is examined, the Russian intelligence services along with their former surrogate are the lead suspects. There is no nation that has been more active in the development and use of chemical and biological substances in eliminating political opposition. The USSR�s development and test programs began in the late 1920s. These efforts have continued unabated since that time. Never has there been a slacking off. Various arms control treaties and agreements were repeatedly ignored and flaunted. Moreover, as technology advanced with giant steps following World War II, the Russian efforts grew in parallel, assisted by hundreds of talented East European scientists. Today, the magnitude of these still ongoing efforts is massive beyond comprehension.

Accomplishments of the Russian development program advanced most noticeably after World War II, thanks to their acquisition of German and Italian scientists and the emergence of a new field in pharmacology, neuropharmacology. The new capabilities were first noticed in the West with the Russian witch hunts of the late 1940s and early 1950s. This is when hundreds of communists and non-communists �confessed� to make-believe crimes in show trials. It was also during this time that Western intelligence learned that even larger numbers of people were being disciplined with various chemical drugs and substances to �encourage� them to change their ways and beliefs. Those that remained steadfast in their political orientation were most often killed or induced to commit suicide through use of other chemical and biological substances in development.

In the 1950s, U.S. and British intelligence services became aware of the Russian advances in the covert use of chemical and biological weapons. This concern was the primary motivation behind the major expansion of intelligence programs designed to understand these covert weapons and learn how they might be countered or defended against. The best known (although still little understood) such U.S. development program was MKULTRA. It was formally initiated in the spring of 1953.

Both Western and Russian scientists quickly recognized the truly tremendous potentials in special chemical and biological substances designed for covert application. These were the antithesis of mass destruction chemical and biological weapons. The targets were individuals, not mass casualties. Their effects were extremely selective and discriminate. What made this new field of covert intelligence chemical and biological warfare so interesting and expanding was the newly emergent field of neuropharmacology. By the late 1950s, neuropharmacological advances were showing up in prescription drugs. Concern over the nefarious potentials of this science was clearly raised in the medical community in the �Control of the Mind� Symposium sponsored in 1961 by the University of California Medical School at San Francisco. As warned by the medical school provost in his introduction: �There now existed," he stated, �a vast array of drugs influencing the specific activity of the brain � providing a full spectrum of chemical agents which can be used for the control of the mind in the majority of its activities. � Despite the new-grown optimism � there is � especially among thoughtful physicians � a deep sense of disquiet. . . . Here at our disposal, to be used wisely or unwisely, is an increasing array of agents that manipulate human beings. . . . It is now possible to act directly on the individual to modify his behavior instead of, as in the past, indirectly through modification of the environment.�

By 1961, a wide variety of intelligence chemical and biological agent development objectives had been approved and were in development in both the Russian and U.S./British intelligence services. One of the most important was the development (and use) of substances designed to �undermine� political opposition. At one extreme in this tasking area, were assassination weapons that worked in a way as to mimic natural causes of death � heart attacks, serious illnesses, and diseases for which there were no cures. Some weapons were less sophisticated and designed to discipline, warn, or harass political threats. As in the case of Yushchenko�s poisoning, they were designed or selected to induce severe pain and follow-on health problems. Military chemicals, such as mustard and dilute nerve agents, were often used � they caused pain � but without killing, to serve as an example or warning. While the application was covert, the illnesses and other effects suffered were clearly noticeable, thus sending an obvious message to others. Another common application in the 1960s was drugs used to render a person unconscious. While in this state the individual often was posed in sexually compromising settings and the pictures released in cases to the media.

Some of the chemical and biological �weapons� designed to undermine the opposition were extremely sophisticated. They were developed to enable the target individual to �self-destruct.� Examples of such drugs were ones that would induce changes in mental attitude, acuity, or behavior. Decision-making capability could be impaired. So-called �loosen the tongue� drugs caused people to speak what was on their minds without regard for the consequences � a great way to enable a politician to dig his or her own grave. These were truly covert weapons. The changes induced led to self-defeating behavior and attitudes without there being any physical manifestations such as became evident following the covert administration of dioxin, or similar substance, to Yushchenko.

Another family of drugs simply put a damp wash cloth on the drive and ambition of the undesirable opposition. These were as effective as liquidating the opposition. Indeed, they were more effective. When the leader of a cause or organization was covertly administered such a drug, his damaged state would undermine the effectiveness of the cause or organization. This was much more effective than simply killing him because in the latter case someone even better might step forward to take the dead person�s place.

None of the above is second-hand or hearsay information. It all came from a top former East European official who was active in exactly these development programs and operations. Its existence and nature has been confirmed by several former KGB officials and a key Russian scientist to defected to the West in 1992. The information that now exists on the Russian program is extensive and most troublesome � not merely because of the threat it poses to champions of free societies but, almost incomprehensibly, because the attitude of Western intelligence has been to bury such information. We can only guess why. One explanation has been a fear that any unveiling of the serious nature of the psycho-active threat of special chemical and biological substances might trigger a backlash investigation of the accomplishments and practices in the similar U.S. and British programs that were also beginning in the 1950s and which have never been revealed.

The poisoning of candidate Yushchenko is not unusual. There is a long string of such events, some publicly known, but most not, going back fifty years. One classic example is the death of Pope John Paul I. (A wide variety of such examples can be found in the 1987 book America the Vulnerable: The Threat of Chemical and Biological Warfare.) The uses are not limited to mere attacks on political opposition. A large number of targets include a wide variety of individuals in positions of power and influence. (Examples of actual operations here range from heads of state to diplomats, industry executives, bankers, religious leaders, scientists, government officials and even Congressional staffers. See my 2000 book Betrayed.)

Where events have been recognized (a small percentage of the total) the usual reaction is official silence and a near absence of any media curiosity. Because of this, threat and damage potential continues to grow. The subject is simply �not nice� and definitely not politically correct. When chemical and other substances were used on individuals and officials who were on assignment in Russia, there were no U.S. government efforts to learn what happened. Rather, the victim was considered the criminal. More often than not, his or her career was terminated.

Right now, the three questions are:

Important as these are, these questions pale in comparison to the important strategic question: whether this tragic poisoning will trigger any serious investigation into the tremendous threat posed by the covert application of chemical and biological weapons in political and intelligence operations? Unfortunately, the likely answer is that nothing of that sort will ensue. Too many people in high positions simply do not want to know.


More extensive information on the Russian intelligence programs highlighted above can be found in the author�s recent book Betrayed.

© 2004 Joseph D. Douglass, Jr.
Editorial Archive

Joseph D. Douglass, Jr., Ph.D., is a defense analyst, author of The Soviet Theater Nuclear Offensive and co-author of CBW: The Poor Man�s Atomic Bomb and America the Vulnerable: The Threat of Chemical and Biological Warfare. His most recent books are Red Cocaine: The Drugging of America andBetrayed: The Story of America's Missing POWs.

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