The Surprising, Sordid Story of Sarin, Syria's Alleged Chemical Weapon

7: SHELL OIL GETS INTO THE SARIN BUSINESS In the early 1950's, the U.S. began producing Sarin for use in artillery shells and rockets. For a time, it partnered with Shell, the gas company, to manufacture and stockpile the weapons at the Army's Rocky Mountain Arsenal in Colorado.

(Those weapons include the "Honest John" warhead shown above, containing dozens of bomblets that each contained about a pound of Sarin.)

"Shell produced dichlor for the Army," according to an official military historical account. "The Army used dichlor in an intermediate process in the manufacture of GB nerve agent." (Photo: US Army/Wikimedia Commons)

8: SARIN, AN ENVIRONMENTAL DISASTER In addition to nerve weapons components, Shell produced 18 insecticides & herbicides at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal. "Aldrin, dieldrin, and endrin were produced by Shell" on the Army base "and successfully marketed worldwide until their use was banned in 1974."

Production of Sarin and these other compounds was dangerous and created many toxic waste byproducts, which the military and its contractors dumped carelessly. (Authorities used test rabbits, like the one shown above, to check for deadly vapor leaks on the base.)

According to an investigation by Colorado authorities, "From 1942 until 1982, activities of the Army and Shell at the Arsenal resulted in the release of at least 176,000 tons of hazardous substances into the environment." (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

9: VITRO CORP, THE ARMY'S LEAKY SARIN PARTNER The Army's main corporate partner in Sarin production, however, was a contractor called the Vitro Corporation, which produced the chemical at a leak-prone plant in northwestern Alabama. The deadly concoction was transported to Rocky Mountain Arsenal in special nickel-plated railroad cars.

After a series of acquisitions and bankruptcies, Vitro merged with British Aerospace to create BAE Systems, one of the largest defense contractors in the world. (Photo: National Archives/Wikimedia Commons)

10: THE SARIN-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX COMES FULL-CIRCLE BAE now helps produce most of the U.K.'s military ships and submarines and many of its aircraft, such as the Harrier fighter jet. BAE also supplies many of the U.S.'s land and naval guns, as well as systems on many of its fighter planes.

This means that if the U.S. and U.K. launch a military offensive against Syria, they will use BAE-supplied ships and aircraft to punish the Syrian regime for using Sarin nerve weapons, which a BAE subsidiary once perfected for the US military's use decades ago. (Photo: Royal Navy/Wikimedia Commons)

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