Project Coast

Project Coast was a top-secret chemical and biological weapons (CBW) program instituted by the South African government during the apartheid era. Project Coast was the successor to a limited post-war CBW program which mainly produced the lethal agents CX powder and mustard gas; as well as non-lethal tear gas for riot control purposes. Project Coast was headed by Wouter Basson, a cardiologist who was the personal physician of the then South African Prime Minister PW Botha.

In the late 1970s, South Africa became increasingly involved in Angola in operations against Soviet-backed SWAPO, Cuban and Angolan troops. A perceived threat that its enemies had access to battlefield chemical and biological weapons, led South Africa to begin ramping up its own program, initially as a defensive measure and in order to carry out research on vaccines. As the years went on, however, research was carried out into offensive uses of the newly-found capability. Finally, in 1981, then-president PW Botha ordered the South African Defence Force (SADF) to develop the technology to a point where it could be used effectively against South Africa's enemies. In response, the head of the SADF's South African Medical Service (SAMS) division, responsible for defensive CBW capabilities, hired Dr Wouter Basson, a cardiologist, to visit a number of countries and report back on their respective CBW capabilities. He returned with the recommendation that South Africa's program be scaled up, and in 1983, Project Coast was formed, with Dr Basson at its head.

In order to hide the program, and to make the procurement of CBW-related substances, Project Coast involved the formation of four front companies, Delta G Scientific Company, Roodeplaat Research Laboratories (RRL), Protechnik and Infladel.

Progressively, Project Coast created a large variety of lethal offensive CBW toxins and biotoxins, in addition to the defensive measures. Initially, these were intended for use by the military in combat as a last resort. To this end, a leaf was taken out of the Soviet book, with a number of devices, designed to look like ordinary everyday objects, being created with the capabilities to poison those targeted for assassination. Examples included umbrellas and walking sticks which fired pellets containing poison, syringes disguised as screwdrivers, and poisoned beer cans and envelopes. In the early 1990s, with the end of apartheid, South Africa's various weapons of mass destruction programs were stopped. However, despite efforts to destroy equipment, stocks, and information from these programs, still remain. This has led to fears that they may find their way into the hands of terrorist networks. In May 2002, Daan Goosen - the former head of South Africa's biological weapons program - contacted the US FBI and offered to exchange existing bacterial stocks from the program in return for 5 million dollars together with immigration permits for him plus 19 other associates and their family members. The offer was eventually refused, with the FBI claiming that the strains were obsolete and therefore no longer a threat.

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