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Your mind is a target: weaponizing psychoactive drugs. (Civil Liberties Watch).

In October 2002, a two-day hostage siege in a Moscow theater--where fifty Chechen rebels held 750 people captive in a desperate act to draw public attention to the ongoing war in their province--ended in a cloud of knockout gas. The military rescue authorized by Russian president Putin began the raid by pumping an unidentified gas into the theater, which debilitated or rendered unconscious almost everyone exposed to it. In addition to knocking unconscious the fifty Chechen captors--who were then shot dead in their sleep by Russian storm troopers--the gas is responsible for the deaths of at least 129 hostages. The Russian government initially refused to release the name of the gas, and in doing so made it difficult for health providers to know what measures to take to treat those suffering from its effects.

The Russian government belatedly admitted that the drug they used was Fentanyl, a potent synthetic opiate first developed in 1962. U.S. specialists, however, speculate that the drug applied to the theater crowd wasn't just Fentanyl but a mixed psychoactive compound of Fentanyl, halothane, and perhaps even BZ (3-quinuclidinyl benzillate), a hallucinogenic drug and known chemical warfare agent.

As the Chechen incident drew to a close, questions arose in the United States about similar drug weapons that might be in American military and police arsenals. According to the Sunshine Project, a nonprofit watchdog organization that seeks to bring to light global abuses of chemical weaponry, the United States has actively been pursuing its own research into the application of mind-altering drugs in similar conflict scenarios. Shortly following the Russian incident, the New York Times cited statements from scientists who said that for nearly a decade the United States has been conducting its own research on Fentanyl as a human incapacitant. Documents secured by the Sunshine Project prove that the U.S. government has indeed worked to develop psychoactive chemicals as conflict intervention tools. Ethical and legal questions regarding where, when, and how such psychoactive weapons are to be deployed have gone largely unaddressed.

As democratically starstruck Americans, they tend to be very concerned about "evil" foreign powers' use of chemical weaponry, but they should be at least equally concerned about their own government's potentially unscrupulous use of dangerous, if not lethal, substances. Calmatives, a particular subset of chemical weapons, are psychotropic chemical compounds that affect, to varying degrees, the way the central nervous system works and consequently the way people think and behave. Calmatives are neurochemical weapons funded by the U.S. military as defined in a 2000 research report entitled The Advantages and Limitations of Calmatives for Use As a Non-Lethal Technique prepared for the Department of Defense's Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate (JNLWD) by the Institute for Emerging Defense Technologies (a subunit of the Applied Research Laboratory at Pennsylvania State University):
 Compounds known to depress or inhibit the function of the central nervous
 system ... [including] sedative-hypnotic agents, anesthetic agents,
 skeletal muscle relaxants, opioid analgesics, anxiolytics, antipsychotics,
 antidepressants and selected drugs of abuse.

The JNLWD produces law enforcement and military research aimed at developing and implementing an array of enforcement tools with non-lasting, non-lethal effects. In addition to available stun guns, people catcher nets, and sonar devices, the JNLWD believes that calmatives hold the additional promise of providing ways to subdue large, unruly sectors of a human population by blanket sedation.

Barring such results as those the Russians faced when 116 innocents were inadvertently killed by the pumped gas, calmatives are a seductive form of "non-lethal weapons" for use in crowd control because of their "reversible effects." While international treaties forbid the wartime use of chemical weapons (Chemical Weapons Convention, Geneva Protocol) and demand military protocols that respect human rights, international law gets fuzzy with regard to what the U.S. military calls "Operations Other Than War" (OOTW). Even more alarming is the nebulous suggestion that the forcible use of neurochemical agents on individuals without their prior consent is "reversible" in its effects.

The right of a person to liberty, autonomy, and privacy over his or her own mind is at the core of what it means to be a free individual. The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, protects cognitive liberty or freedom of thought. U.S. military or law enforcement OOTW's use of calmatives violates cognitive liberty and threatens mental sovereignty.

The Advantages and Limitations of Calmatives for Use As a Non-Lethal Technique examines the viability of using various psychopharmaceutical agents in a number of military and civilian contexts. This report (with its cover page displaying the molecular model of Fentanyl) conveniently brackets ethical questions regarding the use of calmatives as "beyond the scope of this project."

The chilling prospect of forcibly using new drugs to chemically subdue or indiscriminately "calm" an assembly of people suggests a gross overreach of government authority by not only controlling a person's behavior but preemptively invading a person's private mental state. Indeed this report documents an alarming conflation of potential behavior and states of mind with the need to induce in crowds "a calm, non-agitated behavioral [mental] state." Indiscriminate intervention--not making distinctions in an array of military or police applications--would produce indiscriminate results affecting all those who might be exposed to these psychopharmaceuticals. This was a clear lesson learned by the Russians.

While most Americans don't object to their state governments opting to put fluoride in the drinking water for stronger teeth, what would we say if our government decided to administer, in small doses via the water we drink, behavioral control drugs that work by affecting the mind? This idea, as preposterous as it might sound, is suggested in this government-funded calmatives report. "Different environments," its authors explain, would require tailored means of drug distribution:
 In many cases the choice of administration route, whether application to
 drinking water, topical administration to the skin, an aerosol spray
 inhalation route, or a drug-filled rubber pullet, among others, will depend
 on the environment.

Examples of potential use environments for calmative drugs include "a group of hungry refugees who are excited over the distribution of food and unwilling to wait patiently," "a prison setting," an "agitated population," and "hostage situations."

While I would like to believe that I could trust my government to judiciously use these new (mostly) nonlethal weapons, the U.S. military unfortunately already has a muddy record when it comes to unethical and unconstitutional psychoactive drug experiments on civilians. The government's now infamous MKULTRA program and others like it are cases in point. In the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s the U.S. government illegally and unethically drugged unwitting citizens with psychoactive substances including LSD, as part of projects BLUEBIRD, ARTICHOKE, and MKULTRA--all in an attempt to develop techniques of mind control. Richard Helms, the chief planner of MKULTRA, wrote in The Mind Manipulators (Paddington Press, 1978) a planning memorandum explaining that the program was designed in part to:
 Investigate the development of chemical material which causes a reversible
 non-toxic aberrant mental state, the specific nature of which can be
 reasonably well predicted for each individual. This material could
 potentially aid in discrediting individuals, eliciting information, and
 implanting suggestions and other forms of mental control.

While the MKULTRA program began with tests in the laboratory on willing volunteers, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) quickly saw the need to expand the testing to determine what the effects of such drugs as LSD would be on unsuspecting people. Thus, in 1953 the CIA moved its mind control program into the streets of America and began, according to the 1963 Inspector General's Report on MKULTRA, the "covert testing of materials on unwitting U.S. citizens."

With such a sordid past and given the recent lessons learned by the Russian drug deployment, we have good reason to question the U.S. government's new foray into weaponizing psychoactive drugs in civilian contexts. In a free society no one should be subjected to drug technologies that directly interact with the brain against their will or become a target for their thoughts.

Wrye Sententia is the director for Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics.
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Article Details
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Author:Sententia, Wyre
Publication:The Humanist
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:00WOR
Date:Jan 1, 2003
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