Operation Avarice Involved Buying and Destroying Iraqi Nerve Gas to Keep it Out of Terrorist Hands

Nerve gas is one of the most horrifying developments of warfare in the 20th century and has devastating and frequently fatal effects on its victims. One of the most feared chemical weapons was a favorite of former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein and went by the name Sarin—a particularly potent gas that can kill within 1 to 10 minutes of inhalation. Because of its potency, the UN considers Sarin to be a weapon of mass destruction.

Iraq used this nerve gas against Iran during its war in the 1980s. While Saddam Hussein claimed to have reported all of Iraq’s chemical weapons to UN weapons inspectors after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, this clearly was not the case. Iraq had actually maintained secret stockpiles of Sarin. With the instability of the country during the Iraq War, the US government feared that these remaining chemicals could end up in the hands of terrorists.

The potential of this scenario called for drastic action. Sources told the New York Times that the CIA worked with American troops during the Iraq war to buy this nerve agent from a nefarious source and destroy it, all in an effort to keep it off the black market.

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From 2005 to 2006, the CIA ran Operation Avarice out of its Baghdad station in collaboration with an Army Military Intelligence Battalion. In particular, the CIA sought Borak rockets manufactured by Saddam Hussein’s government. These types of rockets disperse chemical weapons when fired.

Since they had been around for more than 20 years, many of these rockets were in poor condition. While some were empty or filled with nonlethal liquids, others contained highly pure Sarin and would have posed grave danger had they ended up in the wrong hands.

Working with an unidentified source, the CIA purchased as many chemical weapons as they could get their hands on. They succeeded in acquiring at least 400 Borak rockets and were able to destroy them without incident. Thus, this classified operation was a huge success and helped reduce the chances of terrorists obtaining chemical weapons.