« | Home | »

Made in USA

Tags: | |

As the number of wounded and killed has climbed in Egypt in recent days, a number of journalists and bloggers have reported that several of the tear gas canisters being fired at protesters in Tahrir Square carry blue ‘Made in USA’ stamps, and indications that they were made by a company based in Jamestown, Pennsylvania, called Combined Tactical Systems. Comparing a recently posted picture of one such shell with the illustrations on CTS’s website suggests it may well be a 40 mm projectile with the catalogue number 4230.

CTS’s product #4230 is a CS gas canister designed for riot control, appropriate in its own bleak way to the dispersal of large crowds, but allegations have been multiplying over the last couple of days that weapons of considerably greater toxicity are being used. Eyewitnesses report that protesters have been coughing blood or convulsing after being exposed to incapacitating agents, and suspicions are rife that the authorities are using CN gas (mace) and CR gas. CS gas has never unequivocally been shown to be lethal, but the other two have claimed several lives over the years, and their sustained deployment in downtown Cairo is exposing civilians – many of whom are entirely peaceful – to very high levels.

The use of chemical weapons marked ‘Made in USA’ is causing outrage in Egypt. And though America’s export of CS canisters hardly proves an anti-Arab plot – not least because noxious substances have been used against protesters in the US in recent weeks – the Israeli flag flying alongside the Stars and Stripes at CTS headquarters is a reminder that fears can be wildly exaggerated without being entirely unfounded. At the very least, it suggests that CTS may not be entirely indifferent to the political sympathies of its customers in the Middle East.

CTS aspires to a degree of corporate transparency. The name of its website, www.less-lethal.com, nods, however modestly, to its participation in the business of death, and a slick online catalogue displays its weapons with some pride, even if it insists on obscuring their purpose with such phrases as ‘indoor grenade solutions’. Given that it manufactures at least one of the products that is currently being associated in Egypt with unusual respiratory injuries, CN gas, I’ve asked the company if it is prepared to confirm or deny that it is supplying CN gas products to the Egyptian government. I have not yet received a reply. It would also be useful to establish precisely what CTS tells its customers about the safe use of its less lethal solutions. It certainly offers some advice: a safety data sheet observes that CN gas can aggravate the respiratory tract, and it warns that attention should be sought from qualified medical persons ‘if any medical problem arises from the use of this product’.

There is little sign that health and safety concerns are restraining the Egyptian authorities, however, and none at all to suggest that anyone is considering the possibility of unusually serious effects being cause by the extended use of crowd dispersal agents. I’ve asked CTS about that, too. Even an arms manufacturer has a minimal duty of care, and any firm that boasts of limited lethality presumably considers itself bound by a relatively high moral standard – if only by comparison to those whose products unashamedly maim and kill.

Comments on “Made in USA”

  1. Geoff Roberts says:

    They’ll probably use the standard lines of defence taken by arms manufacturers all over the world. First they will flatly deny that any of their products have been sold to an Egyptian authority. (No, they are sold to a wholesaler who does the rest of the work.) Then they will claim that they have no connection with said wholesaler, who broke an agreement by selling to Egypt. (No, the wholesaler did through expensive connections, not directly.) Then they say that a ‘small number’ of their products ‘might have been leaked to Egypt’.( Unable to deny the facts.) Then they will point out just how hard-working Americans want to go on working, saving the world from this and that. That’s how Heckler & Koch did it when quantities of the weapons turned up under Gadaffi’s bed.

  2. david.vandusen says:

    Under the circumstances, — that is, given the profit-driven manufacture & indiscriminate sale of (lethal & non-lethal) arms; & their use against civilians, as the author notes, in the U.S. as in Syria, Iran, Bahrain, — this is uninteresting, & the suggestion of non-Egyptian culpability is wholly unconvincing.

Comment on this post

Log in or register to post a comment.


  • Recent Posts

    RSS – posts

  • Contributors

  • Recent Comments

    • mideastzebra on Swedish-Israeli Tensions: Avigdor Liberman was not foreign minister November 2015.
    • lars hakanson on Exit Cameron: Europe will for good reason rejoice when the UK elects to leave. The country has over the years provided nothing but obstacles to European integration...
    • Michael Schuller on Immigration Scandals: The Home Office is keen to be seen to be acting tough on immigration, although I'm not sure that the wider project has anything to do with real number...
    • Geoff Roberts on What happened in Cologne?: The most surprising thing about the events in Cologne (and the most disturbing) is that some 600 incidents of theft, harrasment and rape were reported...
    • EmilyEmily on What happened in Cologne?: The author's argument is straightforward: Sexual violence is one beast; fears about migrants is another - let's not confuse the two. Alfalfa's poin...

    RSS – comments

  • Contact

  • Blog Archive

  • From the LRB Archive

    Chris Lehmann: The Candidates
    18 June 2015

    ‘Every one of the Republican candidates can be described as a full-blown adult failure. These are people who, in most cases, have been granted virtually every imaginable advantage on the road to success, and managed nevertheless to foul things up along the way.’

    Hugh Pennington:
    The Problem with Biodiversity
    10 May 2007

    ‘As a medical microbiologist, for example, I have spent my career fighting biodiversity: my ultimate aim has been to cause the extinction of harmful microbes, an objective shared by veterinary and plant pathologists. But despite more than a hundred years of concentrated effort, supported by solid science, smallpox has been the only success.’

    Jeremy Harding: At the Mexican Border
    20 October 2011

    ‘The battle against illegal migration is a domestic version of America’s interventions overseas, with many of the same trappings: big manpower commitments, militarisation, pursuit, detection, rendition, loss of life. The Mexican border was already the focus of attention before 9/11; it is now a fixation that shows no signs of abating.’

    James Meek: When the Floods Came
    31 July 2008

    ‘Last July, a few days after the floods arrived, with 350,000 people still cut off from the first necessity of life, Severn Trent held its annual general meeting. It announced profits of £325 million, and confirmed a dividend for shareholders of £143 million. Not long afterwards the company, with the consent of the water regulator Ofwat, announced that it wouldn’t be compensating customers: all would be charged as if they had had running water, even when they hadn’t.’

Advertisement Advertisement