CHAPTER X


DMBs Supply Nerve Gas Plants


"The USSR is highly dependent on Western chemical technology.

Central Intelligence Agency


Chemical technology is an all-important prerequisite for modern warfare. Explosives require chemical technology and, for example, under wartime circumstances fertilizer plants can be quickly converted to manufacture of explosives. Many nerve gases require chemical technologies similar to those used for production of agricultural insecticides. This interrelationship between chemical technology and warfare is well known in Washington, yet the Soviets have traditionally been allowed access to the latest of Western chemical technology under so-called cooperation agreements, through "turn-key" plants which have been used for military end uses.

A Central Intelligence Agency assessment report30 made in the late 1970s concluded that the "USSR is highly dependent on Western chemical technology." At that time the CIA estimated that Western equipped plants accounted for the following proportions of Soviet chemical production:

40 percent of complex fertilizers
60 percent of polyethylene 
75-80 percent of polyester fiber
85 percent of ammonia production

The CIA report did not, however, report on another critical fact: that Soviet plants producing these and other chemicals use almost entirely technology copied or reverse engineered from Western equipment. There is no indigenous Soviet chemical technology.


State Department Concurs in Explosives Manufacture

Import of U.S. chemical technology for military purposes goes back to the 1920s and has always received State Department support.

A 1929 agreement stipulated that the Soviets could use Du Pont processes for the oxidation of ammonia to manufacture 50-65 percent nitric acid. Du Pont agreed "to place at the disposal of Chemstroi sufficient data, information and facts with respect to the design, construction and operation of such plants as will enable Chemstroi to design, construct and operate ammonia oxidation plants."

Later in 1932, negotiations were concluded between Du Pont and the Soviets for construction of a gigantic nitric acid plant with a capacity of 1,000 tons per day. This approximates 350,000 tons annually. Twenty-five years later, in 1957, the largest Du Pont-process nitric acid plant in the United States, at Hopewell, had an annual capacity of 425,000 tons. Under the 1929 earlier contract, Du Pont also supplied technical assistance to the USSR for a period of five years. The firm inquired of the State Department whether this plant of "excessively large capacity" would meet with objections from the U.S. government: "While we have no knowledge of the purpose of the proposed plant, yet the excessively large capacity contemplated leads us to believe that the purpose may be a military one."31

The State Department position is summarized in a memorandum of April 6, 1932, which reviewed export of military materials to the Soviet Union and concluded that the department would have no objection to construction of such a large nitric acid plant.32

The Soviets bought from Du Pont its ammonia oxidation and nitric acid technologies. Du Pont had expended over $27 million developing these processes. In requesting advice from the State Department, Du Pont argued that the process was neither secret nor covered by patents, that the end-use of nitric acid is the manufacture of fertilizer, that if Du Pont did not supply the process, it could be bought elsewhere, and that several plants had already been erected in the USSR by Casale and Nitrogen Engineering of New York.

The letter from Du Pont to Henry L. Stimson of the State Department with reference to the proposed contract (dated April 20, 1929) states in part, "It is true of course that nitric acid is used in the manufacture of munitions." Du Pont then claimed, "It is impossible to distinguish between chemicals used for strictly commercial purposes and chemicals used for strictly munitions purposes." And as justification for its proposal, the firm said, "We submit that the contemplated contract will in no way give assistance for the manufacture of munitions which cannot easily be acquired elsewhere by the Soviets."

Further, the company argued, there was nothing exclusive about the Du Pont process. The copy of the agreement in the State Department files indicates that the Soviet union

[wishes] to use in Russia the Du Pont process for the oxidation of ammonia and [Du Pont] to place at its disposal sufficient data with respect to the design, construction and general information as to permit the satisfactory operation of such plants... the Company shall serve the Russian Corporation in an advisory capacity and furnish upon request services of engineers and chemists so as to accomplish the purpose of the contract.

By the late 1930s a Nitrogen Engineering-designed complex at Berezniki employed 25,000 workers and manufactured thermite, powder, and nitroglycerin.

In the late 1950s and 1960s, the Soviets lagged in all areas of chemical production outside the basic chemical technology absorbed in the 1930s and 1940s. This lag had major military implications and since 1958 has inspired a massive purchasing campagin in the West. In the three years 1959-61 alone, the Soviet Union purchased at least fifty complete chemical plants or equipment for such plants from non-Soviet sources. The American trade journal Chemical Week commented, with perhaps more accuracy than it realized, that the Soviet Union "behaves as if it had no chemical industry at all." Not only was Soviet industry producing little beyond basic heavy chemicals, but of greater consequence, it did not have the technical means of achieving substantial technical modernization and expansion in a product range essential for a modern military state.

Western firms supplied designs and specifications, process technology, engineering capability, equipment, and startup and training programs. These contracts were package deals that provided more than the typical Western "turn-key" contract. Such contracts are unusual in the West (except perhaps in underdeveloped areas lacking elementary skills and facilities) but were very attractive and highly profitable to Western firms.

Many of the chemical plants built in the 1960 and 1970s programs had direct military applications. In 1964 a British company Power Gas Corporation, Ltd. built a $14 million plant for the manufacture of acetic acid in the USSR. In 1973 Lurnmus Engineering built another vast acetic acid plant with Monsanto technology and U.S. Export-Import bank loans.

Hygrotherm Engineering, Ltd. of London contracted to supply an automatic heating and cooling plant (with heat generators, circulating pumps, and control equipment) and other equipment for use in the manufacture of synthetic resisn. A plant was supplied for the production of synthetic glycerin, which is used in explosives manufacture. Other plants were for the production of ethyl urea, synthetic fatty acids, sodium tripolyphosphate, carbon black, and germanium. All these products have military end-uses.

Sulfuric acid, the most important of inorganic acids and industrial chemicals, is required in large quantities for explosives manufacture. Production of sulfuric acid in Russia increased from 121,000 tons in 1913 to just under 3,000,000 tons in 1953, 4,804,000 tons in 1958, and 8,518,000 tons in 1965.

The Soviets have always utilized basic Western processes for the manufacture of their supply of sulfuric acid and have reverse engineered the equipment in their own machine-building plants. A recent Russian paper on sulfuric-acid manufacture indicates that in the mid-1960s, 63 percent of sulfuric-acid production was carried out according to a standardized version of one Western process. The remainder was produced by a "Soviet process" (utilizing fluidized bed roaster, electric precipator, towers, and contact apparatus) similar to the contact processes in use in the West. In 1965 Nordac, Ltd. of the United Kingdom sold a sulfuric-acid concentration plant with a capacity of 24 tons per day of 78 percent sulfuric acid to update Soviet sulfuric acid technology.

Up to 1960 Russian output of fertilizers was mostly in the form of low-quality straight fertilizers. There was no production of the concentrated and mixed fertilizers that are used in the West. Fertilizer plants are easily converted to explosives plants. Part of the fertilizer expansion program of the 1960s was the purchase from the Joy Manufacturing Company of Pittsburgh of $10 million worth of equipment for potash mining. Congressman Lipscomb protested the issue of a license for this sale (Congressional Record, Aug. 28, 1963). While Lipscomb pointed out that potash can be used for manufacture of explosives, Forrest D. Hockersmith, of the Office of Export Control in the Department of Commerce, replied, "Our decision to license was heavily weighed by the fact that potassium fertilizer can best be characterized as 'peaceful goods'" (Aug. 21, 1963). Hockersmith did not, of course, deny that potash had an explosives end-use.

A cluster of ten gigantic fertilizer plants for the Soviets was arranged by the Occidental Petroleum Corporation (Armand Hammer's company) and built by Woodall-Duckham Construction Company, Ltd., and Newton Chambers & Company, Ltd., of the United Kingdom. Other fertilizer plants were built by Mitsui of Japan and Montecatini of Italy. Ammonium nitrate, an ingredient in fertilizer manufacture, also has an alternate use in explosives manufacture. It is used, for example, in 60/40 Amatol in the explosive warheads of the T-7A rockets.

Armand Hammer of Occidental Petroleum is, of course, Moscow's favored deaf mute capitalist, possibly vying with David Rockefeller for the honor. However, Armand has a personal relationship with the Soviets that could never be achieved by anyone with David's Ivy League background. One fact never reported in U.S. newspaper biographies of Armand Hammer is that his father, Julius Hammer, was founder and early financier of the Communist Party USA in 1919. Elsewhere this author has reprinted documents backing this statement, and translations of letters from Lenin to Armand Hammer with the salutation "Dear Comrade."

That Armand Hammer and Occidental Petroleum would supply the Soviets with massive plants that can quickly be converted to explosives manufacture is no surprise. What is a surprise is that Armand Hammer has had free access to every President from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan and equal access to the leaders in the Kremlin.33


The DMB and Nerve Gas Technology

Chemical weapons are poisonous gases used to kill or incapacitate with toxic fumes either through the respiratory system or the skin.

These gases are deadly in extremely small amounts, only one milligram of Sarin can be lethal. Their action is to inhibit the enzyme action and inhibit normal body functions. They are extremely effective, causing death within minutes or more painfully over several hours.

The most potent supertoxic lethal chemicals are nerve gases first developed just before World War II, never used in warfare and now stockpiled by the United States, the Soviet Union and France. These chemical agents were derived from research in insecticides.

The major nerve gases are the G agents, Sarin (GB), Soman, Tabun, and the V agents such as VX. The original agent, Tabun, was discovered in Germany in 1936 in the process of work on organophosphorus insecticides. Next came Sarin and Soman and finally the most toxic, VS, a product of commercial insecticide laboratories.

The Soviet Union produced chemical weapons during the 1920s by cooperating with Germany. During World War II the Soviet Union produced considerable amounts of chemical weapons. Soviet stocks were not destroyed after the war and Soviet production continues. According to the U.S. representative at the United Nations in 1981, the Soviet Union maintained and operated at least 14 chemical weapons production facilities. Soviet chemical weapons production takes place in sealed-off sections of "civilian" chemical complexes, most built by Western companies.

Soviet stocks consist of the nerve gas Soman, a mustard gas, hydrogen cyanide, and other chemical agents from World War II, e.g., phosgene, adamsite and tabun. Estimates of the total stockpile vary from about the same amount as U.S. chemical agents to three times greater.

There is no distinction therefore between commercial chemicals such as fertilizers and chemicals used for war. In fact, a fertilizer industry can, with little trouble, be converted into an explosive industry and insecticides are the basis for chemical weapons including nerve gases.

There are other direct links between the nerve gases and commercial production. The very close chemical and toxicological similarity of organophosphorus pesticides to the nerve agents has made commercial pesticides itself a major field of investigation regarding chemical weapons.

The best known example has been Agent Orange, a mixture of two herbicides, 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D, used in Vietnam. In the process of manufacturing trichlorophenol, an intermediate of 2,4,5-T, the highly toxic dioxin (TCDD) is produced in a side reaction. Dioxin is the same deadly chemical responsible for the disastrous accident at Seveso, Italy, where trichlorophenol was also manufactured as a feedstock.

While the nerve gases are the most lethal and dangerous chemical warfare agents, other lethal chemicals also exist, including those which caused the 1.3 million casualties of gas warfare during World War I. The major gases used were chlorine, phosgene and sulphur mustard. Other chemicals such as hydrogen cyanide and cyanogen chloride, which also have high toxicity levels, proved to be too uncontrollable for efficient use during the first war. These chemicals attack the lungs or the blood cells. They can cause permanent health damage, but to induce death must be deployed in much larger doses than the nerve agents. With the exception of mustard gas these are deceptive "dual purpose agents," widely used in industry for peaceful purposes, but capable of becoming weapons. Widespread use in the civilian chemical industry means that they are perhaps the most readily available chemical warfare agents for a country seeking a quick chemical arms stockpile.

Phosgene (Carbonyl Chloride, COCL2) is the most obvious example. 50,000 tons of this highly toxic chemical were used for weapons during World War I. Today millions of tons are produced for dyestuffs and polyurethane building materials. Hydrogen cyanide (Hydrocyanic acid, HCN) is used for chemical fibers and produced in large amounts.

Unbelievably, Western companies have supplied not only "turn-key" plants, but the latest in information under long-term agreements. Here's a list of projects for the period 1975 to 1985.

Western Technical Assistance for Soviet Plants
with Chemical Warfare Capability 1975 to 1985

1975 to
1985
Schering AG, West Germany: license agreement  
License for production of the weed-killer betanal, up to 2,000 tons per year.
1976 to 
1986
Rhone-Poulenc S.A., France: major cooperation agreement
agreement (1) sale to USSR of technology and equipment to produce pesticides and fertilizers to FF 2.5 billion; (2) repayment by chemicals from Soviet Union, 1980-1990, (3) sale to USSR of Rhone-Poulenc products to FF 1 billion.
Financing equipment through FF 12 billion credit line. Buyback includes 30,000 tons per year of methanol and 10,000 tons per year of orthoxylene.
Supply of 2,000 tons per year plant at Sumgait to produce Rhone-Poulenc process lindane insecticide. Value FF 176 million, with construction and know-how from Krebs-France.
Supply of 10,000 tpa plant at Navoi to produce Rhone-Poulenc organophosphorous insecticide "Phosalone." Value $100 million, all equipment from France, with construction and know-how by the French engineering firm Speichem.
1976 to
1985
Monsanto, U.S.A.: technology  
Monsanto to provide process to make raw material thonitrophenal for the Navoi plant.
1978 to
date
Sandoz, Switzerland: license  
Agreement on cooperation in agricultural chemicals, Soviets have obtained six licenses for Sandoz pesticides, and more to be tested.
1980  Iskra Industries, Japan: cooperation agreement
Joint R&D to develop plant protection agents, pesticides and seed treatment agents.
1980 to
1990
 Rhone-Poulenc, France: long term cooperation agreement
10-year FF 30-40 billion agreement for trade in products and technology. Rhone-Poulenc to supply turnkey agrochemical plants, agrochemical products, chemicals, fertilizers and animal feed in exchange for USSR naptha, ammonia, methanol and crude oil.
1981 to
1985
ICI, United Kingdom: trade agreement
Agreement to trade L 63 million annually by 1985, including dyes, pigments, pesticides, insecticides, plastics, silicon compounds and surface active agents. USSR to supply bulk chemicals to ICI including acids, glycols, ammonia and methanol.
1981
to 1991
Rohm and Haas, USA; cooperation agreement
Renewed for 10 years, an agreement for cooperation with USSR in areas of petrochemicals, plastics, agrochemicals, ion-exchange resons. Exchange of information, seminars and symposia, with joint testing of products.
1981 to
1986
 Lurgi-Gruppe, West Germany
DM 370 million contract to construct plant in Volgograd by 1986 for a wide variety of insecticides. Lurgi has built a similar plant for the Soviets in Tashkent.
1981 Montedison (through Technimont), Italy
Montedison negotiated sale of L 100 billion pesticide plant in exchange for raw materials.
1981 Sogo, France
Soyuzchimexport order for cotton plant protection agents.
1981 Stauffer, USA
Stauffer to deliver 11,000 tons of herbicides from Belgium to the Soviet Union.


What we are faced with is obviously an unholy cooperation between capitalists and communists to develop and produce dangerous weapons of unusual barbarity. The Soviets have used chemical weapons in Afghanistan and through client states in the Far East. One would expect a storm of protest from Western environmental groups. So far, the silence is deafening. Only the International Federation of Chemical, Energy and General Workers Unions has raised its voice in protest (See Bibliography). The national and locals in the U.S. are slow to follow the lead of the international and this is the only voice of protest.

 

Footnotes:

30Central Intelligence Agency, National Foreign Assessment Center, Soviet Chemical Equipment Purchases from the West: Impact on Production and Foreign Trade, October 1978.

31U.5. State Dept. Decimal File, 861.659 Du Pont de Nemours & Co/5, Du Pont to Secretary of State Stimson, Feb. 19, 1932.

32U.S. State Dept. Decimal File, 861.659, Du Pont de Nemours & Co/l-11.

33The Armand Hammer story for the recent decades is covered in Red Carpet, cited on page one.

 

BACK