When the United States first started such programs is not immediately clear. American Rifleman, a publication of the National Rifle Association, published an article in 2008 describing Project Eldest Son, a doctored-ammunition program run by the Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency in Vietnam. The article credited Col. John Singlaub with prodding to life that particular chapter in the spiked-ammunition story. An excerpt is below:
At Camp Chinen, Okinawa, Singlaub watched a CIA technician load a sabotaged 7.62×39 mm cartridge into a bench-mounted AK rifle.
“It completely blew up the receiver and the bolt was projected backwards,” Singlaub observed, “I would imagine into the head of the firer.”
After that success began a month of tedious bullet pulling to manually disassemble thousands of 7.62 mm cartridges, made more difficult because Chinese ammo had a tough lacquer seal where the bullet seated into the case. In this process, some bullets suffered tiny scrapes, but when reloaded these marks seated out of sight below the case mouth. Rounds were inspected to ensure they showed no signs of tampering.
When the job was done, 11,565 AK rounds had been sabotaged, along with 556 rounds for the Communist Bloc’s heavy 12.7 mm machine gun, a major anti-helicopter weapon.
Several memoirs by American veterans of the war in Vietnam shared similar details. John Steinbeck, who covered the war for Newsweek in 1966 and 1967, came across the practice as well. He wrote of it more than 45 years ago in a cagily sourced letter in which he discussed the tactic’s effects (“heads were terribly torn, in some cases practically blown off”) and said he had seen weapons damaged by the doctored rounds. Mr. Steinbeck appeared to approve. “Carefully done, it would be almost impossible to detect the doctored round except by firing it, in which case your knowledge would go with your head,” he wrote. He added that the military would not confirm the practice and gave him “the fish-eye treatment” when he inquired about it. *
I was appalled when I read that article on Project Eldest Son in the American Rifleman
back in 2008. Somehow it offended my sense of "what's cricket" and I was just a wee bit less proud of my country. Sure, soldiers and insurgents aren't "innocent civilians," but it just bugged me.
(*Quote from cited article for educational purposes.)