By H.P. Albarelli Jr. and Ran Daniel
Over the past several months the world has witnessed the heinous and lethal effects of sarin gas being deployed in Syria, where an estimated 1,500 people died from its effects in just one attack on the outskirts of Damascus.
Yet virtually unknown is the long history of this deadly chemical compound, including its roots entangled with Nazi Germany and the United States’ acquisition and exploitation.
Sarin was invented in 1938 in Germany by I.G. Farben company chemists who were trying to create potent pesticides.
Quickly found to be a lethal nerve agent to humans, the compound was further refined and then named in honor of its developers: Gerhard Schrader, Otto Ambros, Franz Ritter and H.J. Van der Linde.
After Farben’s refinement of sarin, information about its possible warfare use was brought to the attention of Nazi military officials by Ambros, a chemist who was also a member of the board of directors of the company.
Ambros informed the officials that sarin, even used in extremely low concentrations, could be fatal to humans in less than one minute. He explained that the gas rapidly brought on suffocation, and that non-lethal exposure could rapidly produce permanent neurological damage. It was an ideal chemical weapon in many ways, Ambros emphasized.
Nazi officials responded by initiating the mass production of sarin as a weapon of mass destruction. The Nazis stockpiled thousands of sarin-filled artillery shells, some weighing more than 1,000 pounds.
In addition to sarin, wartime researchers at Farben also invented Zyklon B, the lethal gas used to murder millions of Jews in German concentration camps. Indeed, Farben’s Zyklon B manufacturing plant was located on the grounds of the infamous Auschwitz camp.
Ambros, who forced thousands of camp inmates to work as slave laborers in building and operating the plant, oversaw its construction and management.
In May 1943, following Germany’s heavy losses at Stalingrad, Nazi leaders began to seriously explore the possible use of sarin and tabun nerve gases on the Russian front.
Ambros met with Adolph Hitler and erroneously informed the Nazi fuehrer that the allies were fully knowledgeable about German nerve gases and that if Germany were to use such weapons the allies would respond in kind with their own sarin bombs.
In fact, the allied forces, at this point in time, knew nothing about the Nazi’s production of sarin bombs.
Hitler stormed out of the meeting and Germany never used nerve gases, but Farben plants continued to mass-produce sarin weapons.
The company also continued to conduct extensive experiments with sarin as a nerve agent.
Later, after the war, it was revealed during the Nuremberg trials that, early during the war, the Nazis, dissatisfied with sarin experiments on small animals, began to use apes imported at a high cost from other countries. Because so many apes died in transit to Germany, the Nazis then decided to only experiment on Jews in the concentration camps. A post-war British intelligence report states that Ambros and Farben officials “justified the experiments not only on the grounds that the inmates of concentration camps would have been killed anyway by the Nazis, but also on the grounds that the experiments had a humanitarian aspect in that the lives of countless German workers were saved thereby.”
At about the same time that Ambros was meeting with Hitler, one of his associates, SS Capt. Alois Brunner became a close assistant to Nazi Adolf Eichmann, the architect of the Holocaust, later apprehended, tried and executed in 1962 by the Israelis.
Brunner, a virulent anti-Semite, was selected by Eichmann to oversee the Drancy internment camp outside of Paris, where he was responsible for the deportation of nearly 130,000 Jews, many young children, who were gassed to death in concentration camps.
Brunner was relentless in his hunt for Jews. According to historian Julian Jackson, in Nice, Brunner routinely dispatched teams of SS officers to drive the streets picking up any men they thought was Jewish. Those snatched off the sidewalks were forced to undress and if circumcised were arrested on the spot and trucked off to the Drancy camp.
Following the war, in 1946 Ambros was arrested by the U.S. Army, but then allowed to continue work as a senior research scientist at Germany’s largest chemical conglomerate, BASF.
Ambros was placed on trial in 1948 at Nuremberg for war crimes, including slavery and mass murder. Found guilty, his sentence was only eight years imprisonment. Incredibly, Ambros was released after serving only four years. Ambros was promptly recruited by the U.S. Army Chemical Corps at the direction of John Jay McCloy, the U.S. appointed High Commissioner of Germany.
McCloy was instrumental in the notorious recruitment of hundreds of former Nazis scientists to work with the U.S. Chemical Warfare Corps and various U.S. corporations with strong ties to the Pentagon. The recruitment program became known as Project Paperclip, and it is worth noting that McCloy in the 1930s was an attorney for I.G. Farben. [In 1963, McCloy was appointed as a member of the Warren Commission investigating the assassination of JFK.]
Ambros became a highly-paid consultant and adviser to the U.S. Army Chemical Corps and to American corporations, Dow Chemical and the J. Peter Grace company. As can be expected, U.S. Army biochemists at Fort Detrick and Edgewood Arsenal, both in Maryland, were especially interested in everything Ambros could tell them about sarin and other deadly nerve gases developed by the Nazis, including tabun and soman.
A declassified U.S. Chemical Warfare Service report states: “The existence of G-agents [the U.S. Army's term for nerve gases] was unknown to great Britain and the United States until German chemical shells were captured and analyzed in 1945.”
Investigative reporter Linda Hunt, in her book on Project Paperclip, “Secret Agenda,” reported that U.S. military scientists found “the German gases so superior that after the war sarin became America’s standard nerve gas, while the USSR choose tabun.”
Despite consistent claims to date by the United States that it did not know about Germany possessing sarin, tabun and soman gases, declassified British documents clearly state that both the United States and Britain were aware that the Nazis were producing large amounts of bombs filled with nerve gases.
Meanwhile, in 1954, Alois Brunner was tried and condemned to death in absentia in France for crimes against humanity. Brunner had escaped capture by Allied forces. After working briefly under a false name as a driver for U.S. Army officials in Berlin, Brunner fled Germany and traveled to Rome and then to Egypt, where he engaged in arms smuggling and trafficking.
About 1959, Brunner relocated to Syria, where he became a close adviser to the Syrian government on weapons procurement, torture and enhanced interrogation techniques. Former French intelligence officers report that Brunner was a major player in Syria’s development of a chemical weapons capacity, including sarin and tabun, and that for about five years he oversaw the procurement of products Syria needed to manufacture its own arsenal of nerve gas filled bombs.
Brunner’s life in Syria played out like a Hollywood action film. In the 1980s, after the Israelis became aware of his presence there, Mossad sent Brunner at least two letter bombs, which caused him to lose an eye and five fingers. Reportedly, Israeli hit teams twice tried to assassinate him, while at the same time Israel, France, and Germany attempted to have him extradited. The Syrian regime denied that Brunner was in their country, but in 1985, he granted an interview to Germany’s Bunte magazine.
Brunner, accompanied by several Syrian bodyguards, told the magazine that “Israel will never get me” and that he had “no bad conscience” for “getting rid of that garbage,” a reference to his sending thousands of Jews to death camps. The magazine also reported that Brunner was a close adviser to Rifaat al-Assad, the brother of Syrian President Hafez al-Assad. Brunner reportedly died in Syria of natural causes at least 10 years ago, but his death has never been verified.
H.P. Albarelli Jr. is the author of “A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Franck Olson and the CIA’s Cold War Experiments” and the recently published, “A Secret Order: An Investigation Into the Synchronicity and High Strangeness in the JFK Assassination.” Ran Daniel, an accomplished writer and researcher, lives in Israel.