The story starts over a year ago with a Marine blogger in Iraq. On June 2nd 2004 "The Green Side" - we’ll get back to the signficance of this source later - describes suicidal attacks by insurgents in Fallujah: “We could not understand why they kept coming but they did.” The reason, it turned out, was drugs: “…these ‘holy warriors’ are taking drugs to get high before attacks. It true, as we pushed into the town in April many Marines came across drug paraphernalia (mostly heroin). Recently, we have gotten evidence of them using another drug BZ that makes them high and very aggressive.”
BZ is not your typical substance of abuse. It’s a hallucinogenic chemical weapon. This weird concept originated in the 1950’s when “better living through chemistry” was a slogan to live by and warfare without blood was the goal. As the Washington Star noted in 1965:
New chemical weapons that win by creating confusion rather than death and destruction have proved so successful that they have been quietly added to the Army's arsenal. The latest and best, a gas called BZ by the Army, put a number of soldier guinea pigs out of action during field tests at a Utah Army base last November, and did it without harming a man.”
BZ or "Agent Buzz" is the military name for 3-quinuclidinyl benzillate, an extremely powerful hallucinogen. After experimenting with a whole stash of mind-altering substances including cocaine, heroin and LSD, the Pentagon selected BZ for weaponizing. Its major advantages are that it can easily delivered in an aerosol cloud, and it is very safe. With many substances, the effective dose can be dangerously close to the amount needed to kill - ask any anesthetist. With BZ, the tiny effective dose (maybe two milligrams) is around one-thousandth the lethal dose. It is also odorless and invisible, and there is currently no means of detecting it.
Agent Buzz was tested between 1959 to 1975 on some twenty-eight hundred US soldiers at several locations. It proved extremely effective as an incapacitant. The physical effects are increased heart rates, pupil dilation, blurred vision, dry skin and mouth, increased temperature, and flushing of skin – as a med school mnemonic has it “blind as a bat, dry as a bone, hot as Hades, red as a beet.”
But the psychological effects are more important than the physical ones, as the subject is also rendered “mad as a hatter.”
It also produces uncontrollable aggression, Wouter Basson, the man behind South Africa’s chemical and biological warfare program, notes. His version of BZ, in fact, was modified with CB (Carboxy-Methoxy-Benzoxytropane) specifically to reduce this effect.
The Serb army manual on their BZ munitions implies a violent reaction: “it can be expected that such individuals or groups will subsequently, under the effects of [this chemical agent], inflict great damage and losses on their own forces.”
Over a hundred thousand pounds of BZ were produced by the US. However, it fell out of favor because its effects were considered to be too unpredictable. Destruction of the BZ stockpile commenced in 1988 and was reportedly completed in Pine Bluff in 1990.
Could any be in Iraq? In 1995, the British reported that Iraq had produced Agent 15, similar or identical to BZ, and possessed ‘large stocks’ of it. A later CIA report discounts this and concludes that "Iraq never went beyond research with Agent 15—a hallucinogenic chemical similar to BZ—or any other psychochemical.” The British do not agree and as of the last updated in 2004, the MoD maintains its claim. This would appear to be the most likely source of any insurgent supplies.
Lt.Col.Bellon in Fallujah.jpgI did not initially take the report from The Green Side too seriously. Posted in the form of letters home from a Marine to his Dad, it looked like just keeping in touch with the folks at home and recording a piece of personal history, not an intel report. But the blog turns out to be the work of Lt Col Dave Bellon (right), not just another Marine but intelligence officer for the First Regimental Combat Team. The blog can no longer be easily accessed as it has now disappeared behind a USMC security screen.
Given Lt Col Bellon’s access to inside information, his rather specific claim about BZ becomes more serious. Other US sources do not mention BZ by name but do describe drug use by insurgents.
The account of the November 2004's "Fall of Fallujah" by Bing West in the Marine Corps Gazette mentions “crazies” rushing out in suicidal attacks as well as others “sustained by drugs.”
Elsewhere, Dan Senor, a Senior Advisor from the CPA stated: “Our delegation has been told by Fallujan leaders that many of the individuals involved with the violence are on some - are on various drugs. It is part of what they're using to keep them up to engage in this violence at all hours
Other drugs were clearly involved as well, and Lt Col Bellon’s information about BZ may simply be wrong. But it’s quite possible than coalition troops are facing a number of aggressive, paranoid insurgents, unable to tell friend from foe and unable to realize that there was anything wrong with them, beyond control and hallucinating their worst fears.
Could the guerillas be taking BZ -- sometimes called “the ultimate bad trip” – willingly? This seems unlikely: blurred vision, paranoia and hallucinations are not assets in a firefight. But the British Navy traditionally issued a half-pint ration of rum before action and there were always plenty of takers. In Iraq, cynical leaders might dole out BZ to unwitting cannon-fodder. A homicidally aggressive fighter, even an impaired one, is more useful than one who won’t fight against insane odds. This may remind some people of the fabled assassin cult, but don’t believe everything you read in Dan Brown.
Back during the first Gulf War, some in the tinfoil-hat crowd tried to argue that the US used BZ on Iraqis. Wouter Basson even claims to have found traces of BZ in the urine of supposed victims. As with the other alleged BZ attacks mentioned above there is no independent confirmation of this. And reading the incredible story of Basson’s involvement in the whole area of chemical and biological weapons – mind-boggling only begins to describe it – you can assess his credibility yourself. Anyone making such claims will need solid evidence.
But just in case: if anyone offers you any performance-enhancing substances with the words “Dude, this is weapons grade…” – just say no.