Bad people, or people who think they of themselves as clever and evil, are fascinated with poisons. And often they tend to believe ludicrous things about death by toxin, simply because the tales are excellent.
Take this one from a Nigerian tabloid called the Saturday Sun on assassination by toilet paper. In a story entitled "Hi-tech murder," from Google's "news" tab:
The toilet paper killers succeeded and the man died of a heart attack, reported the Saturday Sun.
"... a medical history revealed that the man suffered from external haemorrhoids. As it was, the ‘piles’ often became inflamed and bled profusely. This information was enough to make the assassins finally arrive at a solution. A roll of toilet paper coated with a special poison that when the target wiped himself after using the loo, could be absorbed into his blood stream.
There were problems; the first of which involved finding out the brand of toilet paper the man’s wife usually bought. "
It sounds ridiculous but it's a fine campfire-side story and good for a chuckle.
Similar stupid tales were published by the neo-survivalist fringe in the United States in the Eighties. Circulated in self-published pamphlets and books, they were filled with alleged methods of mayhem that scratched some itch in men from the fringe who thought the government was coming for their guns or that the IRS was going to invade their living room. The illustration to the left, for example, is Dick Destiny blog's rendition of a drawing of what to do with your bowl of ricin poison, published in Kurt Saxon's "The Weaponeer" in 1984.
This subject matter and its manner of conveyance continues to have great appeal and the FBI and ATF finds it, as originals or copies of copies of copies, when they arrest a half a dozen or so white men a year, men who've been turned in by associates or relatives who have arrived at the conclusion that a weird and anti-social hobby has crossed over into actual planning.
One of the primary contributors to this pseudo-literature of terror toxicology is Maxwell Hutchkinson's The Poisoners Handbook. Published in 1988, its recipes for home made ricin, botulism and other alleged kitchen-made deadlies were copied into electronic form by American teenagers, distributed on bulletin board systems, and then moved to the world wide web.
This is a fact that has occasionally escaped authorities. For example, in the case of the alleged London ricin ring, Porton Down scientists, the UK government's experts on chemical and biological terrorism, were completely unaware these types of recipes had been translated from the original English and subsequently copied around the world and through the web. The information blindsided them. When that happened, the prosecution was unable to link the terror recipes presented as evidence against the alleged poison plotters to al Qaeda in Afghanistan, something they appeared to think it would be easy to do. At that point, their case fell apart.
In their original hardcopy, the recipes of the American kook right's would-be poisoners travelled around the globe, even to Afghanistan, where they were translated into Arabic and given to fighters opposing the late stages of the Soviet occupation of that country. Since the CIA was backing the rebels, it's possible taxpayer dollars paid for this.
One of the best examples of Hutchkinson's translation into jihadist documents was the "Manual of Afghan Jihad." In the United States, the US government conveniently and mistakenly called it an al Qaeda document. Actually, it predates al Qaeda and nowhere in it is that organization mentioned.
Obtained in Manchester in April 2000 by British anti-terrorism agents, it was subsequently turned over to the FBI's Nanette Schumaker. A translation of the portion of that document, mislabeled as an al Qaeda paper, and directly related to Hutchkinson's handbook, is here.
While significant portions of it have been translated over to Arabic for the benefit of terrorists and aspiring suicide killers, Hutchkinson's book, published by Loompanics in the Eighties in the United States is best interpreted as romance literature for the neo-Nazi right. It doesn't contain much of anything that an educated person could take seriously about the chemistry of poisons. But for the uneducated, it has enough of a sinister air to make it a bodice-ripper for nuts living in the woods, inspired by sentiments like this: " . . . if our Capitol should fall to the enemy within, I expect you to do your duty." And your duty was to destroy enemies and "foreign devils" with "speed and vigor." These words, acting as great advertising and printed on the back of a companion volume to Hutchkinson, Kurt Saxon's "The Poor Man's James Bond," explain something of the psychology of the literature's attraction.
"The Poisoner's Handbook" is only 88 pages. But Hutchkinson uses it to merrily describe plans that would be close to the heart of the angry white man with a felony firearms conviction -- like poisoning government employees or the Pope.
To kill religious people, use rosaries made of jequirity beans, which contain the poison abrin (which is similar to ricin) writes Hutchkinson. In this, Hutchkinson's ire is reserved for Catholics:
"Wearing leather gloves, very carefully puncture about a dozen minute holes in each bean on a rosary. When you are finished, spray the string of beads with [dimethyl sulfoxide] which will dissolve and carry the abrin . . .
"These items make wonderful presents for the religious target ... we'd send one to the Pope but he already has . . . [enough] Christian spoils to adorn himself with."
In the "Manual of Afghan Jihad," Hutchkinson's advice is copied over fairly verbatim -- complete with intellectual mistakes.
"The [abrin or ricin] is mixed with [dimethyl sulfoxide] and when the enemy touches the poison, he will die slowly within 15 minutes to an hour.Use a rosary of jequirity beans, implies the author:
Comparison of every poison recipe in the "Manual of Afghan Jihad" alongside Hutchkinson's handbook show excellent matching.
"Put on a pair of leather gloves and very carefully bore about twelve holes in each of the prayer beads. After completing that, spray the prayer beads with DMSO (Dimehtyl Sulfoxide)."
However, the one recipe that sticks out, and which has fascinated jihadists since 9/11 in documents alleged to instruct on the art of bioterror, is Hutchkinson's "recipe" for botulism toxin which simply advises the readers to throw some food and dirt in a can and wait awhile.
The advice takes up about half a page. "Botulism is fun and easy to make," writes Hutchkinson. "As .000028 of one gram will kill a person, this poison is quite lethal. When ingested symptoms occur in twelve to thirty-six hours, and include fatigue, dizziness, headache, constipation and vertigo ... "
From the "Manual of Afghan Jihad:"
"Since .000028 grams will kill a person, this poison is absolutely lethal. After consumption, the symptoms appear in 12 to 36 hours. They include dizziness, headaches, constipation ... "
The transcription from Hutckinson is virtually exact.
In any case, these recipes were and are worthless but they filtered extensively through jihadist literature, picking up changes, some odd, some senseless, some seemingly created out of the desire of their respective unknown authors to add their own seasoning to the pot. But from documents recovered in Afghanistan after the fall of Kabul, to the items found in the possession of Kamel Bourgass of the alleged London ricin ring, as well as other papers reported on by the news media, the fancy that botulism can be made by simply tossing together garbage, or excrement and dirt, is triumphant.
But was this story reported by the US newsmedia? No, of course not. No reality check allowed. Newsmen were able to rely on the fact that most people had not seen the documents, preserving an air of mystery and present danger which they in no way deserved. And so great tales were spun.
Instead the New York Times op-ed page chose to run a column that asserted botulism could be made from a jihadist's electronic pamphlet. That pamphlet was also fascinated with the ease of it, asserting the organism would be cultured from "soil-lakes" and "animal feces."
The above jihadist recipe for botulism toxin -- descended from Hutchkinson -- is from the "Mujihideen Poisons Handbook." Here, the jihadist gives you a choice in materials: "fresh horse dropping" or "cow dropping." It's so easy, farms could be turned into botulism-making factories.
And that's enough for another horse laugh, like the tale of poisoned toilet paper aimed at the piles.
But the Washington Post had no sense of humor in 2005, and little sense, period, when it published this front page Sunday feature in a serious effort to get its readers to believe al Qaeda was training in bioterrorism on the world wide web by distributing this document.
But the Post didn't stop there. It had MORE and its reporters were going to tell their story no matter how that tale had to be twisted to make points about menace and the ingenuity of terrorists.
This excerpt comes from a jihadist document called "Biological Weapons" and it was again put forward by the Washington Post as an example of training on the part of al Qaeda, carried out on the world wide web. Like "Preparation of Botulism Toxin," written about last week, this piece of intel was sold by a corporate private sector information-gathering firm cited as a source of expertise in the Post's expose, an expose used to sell readers on the idea that al Qaeda had rebuilt its Afghan terrorist training camps in cyberspace.
Readers weren't given any clue to the nature of "Biological Weapons," except that it was probably dangerous. There was no mention of getting botulism toxin from dung and dirt, not a peep that the author, in a moment of self-examination, even admitted he didn't have a clue. "May God forgive me," he wrote.
Also from the same "paper:"
In this case, and it comes near the end of the paper, the jihadist engages in a little theoretical work, ala Maxwell Hutchkinson. There are a couple factual mistakes in even this small snip of text but the biggest howler is the musing that the botulism toxin should be deployed on shoes. Botulism is a form food poisoning, so unless someone was planning to get the enemy to lick the shoes of the suicide warrior, it's actually more humorous than threatening.
The botox shoe of death was not mentioned by the Washington Post. If reporters knew, or bothered to even read the thing, the shoe of death would have certainly spoiled the fun.
Once again, stories of jihadist training and terror, when based on documents such as these, remain intact only when most people don't see the original papers. These papers demonstrate only a desire for a capability, or a type of wishful-thinking, on the part of their authors. Why such a yearning? Because American terror experts have said it is easy. Because Maxwell Hutchkinson said so in his handbook. And it's been in print in the newsmedia. How can you go wrong?
Additional read: Sunday June 18: The Mubtakkar of Death.