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Members of a UN chemical weapons investigation team collect samples after a suspected sarin gas attack in Ain Terma, Syria.

AP Photo

Analysis & Opinions

Syria, the OPCW, and Chemical Weapons 101

| November 7, 2013

Following a U.S.-Russian proposal and UN Security Council resolution in September, the challenging task of securing, transporting, and ultimately destroying Syria's chemical weapons has fallen largely to the technical experts of the Nobel Prize-winning Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). To provide a background on chemical weapons and the OPCW's challenges ahead, research assistant Andrew Wojtanik asked Dr. Matthew Meselson, Thomas Dudley Cabot Professor of the Natural Sciences, for his insights.

Book Chapter - Stanford University Press

The Yellow Rain Affair: Lessons from a Discredited Allegation

| June 2008

"U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig, in a speech in West Berlin in September 1981 and in a detailed report to the Congress the following March, charged Soviet-backed Laotian and Vietnamese forces with waging toxin warfare against Hmong resistance fighters and their villages in Laos and against Khmer Rouge soldiers and villages in Cambodia. The charges were repeated with additional details in a further report to the Congress and to the member states of the United Nations in November 1982 by Haig's successor, Secretary of State George Shultz.

The investigation on which the allegation was based, however, failed to employ reliable methods of witness interrogation or of forensic laboratory investigation; it was further marred by the dismissal and withholding of contrary evidence and a lack of independent review. When the evidence for toxin attacks or any other form of chemical/biological warfare (CBW) was subjected to more careful examination, it could not be confirmed or was discredited. In what became known as the "Yellow Rain" affair, these charges — that toxic substances called trichothecenes were used in CBW — were initially pressed vigorously by the U.S. government and, even when the allegations proved unsustainable, they were not withdrawn...."

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Journal Article - Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Weapons Lab

| January / February 2007

"The lack of transparency in U.S. biodefense work is fostering a widespread perception that we are secretly developing novel threat agents and exploring novel bioweapons concepts. This constitutes a kind of psychological proliferation that risks eroding the constraints against military and paramilitary use of biological weapons. And aside from security considerations, secrecy in biological research will impede rather than foster the discovery and development of practical methods of prophylaxis and therapy of infective disease."