Monday, July 31, 2006


Today we immediately go to the GlobalSecurity.Org senior fellow bookshelf for a copy of Shame: Confessions of the Father of the Neutron Bomb, by Sam Cohen, self-published on Xlibris in 2000.

On page 445, in a chapter bluntly called "We Should be Terrified!" -- Cohen begins talking about red mercury, a substance he claimed could be used in a class of miniaturized fusion bombs the size of baseballs!
Picking through the wreckage left by the dread red mercury bomb!
"Specifically, at issue here is an extremely small pure-fusion mini-neutron bomb, roughly the size of a baseball, which in all probability the Soviets designed years ago with the knowledge of Boris Yeltsin and the Russian Mafia and what used to be called the KGB have been smuggling the technology and even the bombs themselves to known terrorist states and others who feel the need for them -- at a price, a big one," writes Cohen breathlessly.

"The triggering material, known as red mercury, is a remarkable non-exploding high explosive which technically is one of a very special class of so-called 'ballotechnic' explosives which apparently Los Alamos has been investigating (at the classified level) in nuclear weapons research," he continues. "Red mercury produces vastly more energy per pound than conventional explosives but does not explode in the conventional sense . . . Instead, upon being detonated, it becomes very hot, extremely hot, which allows pressures and temperatures to be built up that are capable of igniting the heavy hydrogen [also in the mechanism] and a pure-fusion mini-neutron bomb."

Fascinating, frightening, and none of it real.

Cohen motors on, writing that "[Edward Teller, one of the father's of the hydrogen bomb] openly denounced me at a conference where I warned the audience about red mercury and its horrendous implications . . . [Teller said] 'Red mercury is nonsense. I could not find any physical evidence anywhere, classified or unclassified, that is other than pure imagination. I believe, however, that there is not a particle of evidence that there is here a basic new discovery. That this could be at present something important for the terrorist, I think, is nonsense.'"

Cohen was undeterred, coming the conclusion in his book that Teller did know of red mercury, but said the opposite because he was afraid of what the US government would do to him if he told the truth.

And such is the material out of which the whole cloth of conspiracies and extravagavant miracle weapons is spun.

Although red mercury is a sham, we're not going to go into 'why' here anymore than someone would care to explain why a housecat can't make a campfire. Suffice to say, enough rhapsodizing on it exists in newspapers, magazines and the Internet to ensure that some people will always think it's real.

Fast forward to a jihadist terror trial in Britain, just ended, in which the men in the dock -- dubbed the Red Mercury Gang -- were cleared in a curious plot to obtain the nonexistent substance.

From Reuters:

Three men accused of plotting to buy a dangerous radioactive material known as "Red Mercury" to sell on to a terrorist group for profit were cleared of all the charges at the Old Bailey on Tuesday.

The three men, Abdurahman Kanyare, 53, Roque Fernandes, 44, and Dominic Martins, 45, had been on trial for almost three months accused of trying to buy hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of the substance.

But the man they were trying to buy the material from was reporter Mazher Mahmood, a well-known journalist with the News of the World, famed for duping criminals and celebrities using his undercover "fake sheikh" persona.

The court heard that Mahmood had taped conversations with the suspects during August and September 2004 and informed the police of their intentions.

But the three men, who had pleaded not guilty, were cleared after the defence questioned the newspaper's tactics. The three men said their intentions were just to make money and argued that they did not know what the substance would be used for.

One of the men, Fernandes, also said he intended to tip the police off about Mahmood's actions once he started talking about toxic substances.

More briefly, the jury didn't cotton to the idea of a dodgy newspaper, the News of the World, and its reporter, entrapping some alleged terrorists/dunderheads in a scam designed to sell some copy.

According to various British sources, trial testimony seemed to have degenerated into unintentional comedy.

From the BBC:

The prosecutor, Mark Ellison, admitted the police had no idea if there even was such a thing as red mercury - supposedly the main ingredient for a "dirty bomb" which could have devastated London.

But he told the jury at the outset: "The Crown's position is that whether red mercury does or does not exist is irrelevant."

He warned the jury not to get "hung up" on whether red mercury actually existed at all.

Testimony was received that alternately described red mercury as a compound with which to wash soiled money or a "faith medicine."

Detectives described searches conducted off one defendant's computer looking for red mercury and focusing on an article on it, published on by a bead-work artist and free-lance writer, which described some of the maniacal elements put forward by Sam Cohen in Shame.

The BBC then finished one of its articles with a waffle and a needless tease. Although red mercury does not exist, journalists -- it would seem -- often just can't say so if authority figures like the police and justice are involved.

Of course, this leaves plenty of Internet-published reference material for future stupid people looking for red mercury. Indeed, even this blog entry will, in the fullness of time, become flypaper for nincompoops interested in red mercury. That's why the sensational title! Ha-ha!

Wrote the Beeb:

In the early 1990s, in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, several articles were published claiming that a pure fusion device had been invented.

It reportedly weighed around 10 pounds and was no bigger than a baseball.

If such a device existed, and was capable of triggering a nuclear explosion, the threat to the world - especially the western world - would be catastrophic.

But no such bomb has been discovered and nobody - not even Osama bin Laden from his mountain base in Afghanistan or Pakistan - has even threatened to use one.

So is red mercury just a hoax?

Let us hope so.
Using the logic of the trial of the red mercury gang, you can have your own fun with what constitutes terrorism in the crazy world of 2006.

For example, if you were to talk of hatching a plot to ignite the phlogiston -- an ancient imaginary element thought to cause combustion and present in everything -- in the Golden Gate Bridge or the Statue of Liberty or even the walls of the Lincoln Tunnel, would you be a terrorist if the police were informed. Or just a crazy and stupid person?

Remember, don't get hung up on the fact that phlogiston doesn't exist.

An analysis of the red mercury gang farce in the Old Bailey, by the Register, is here.

"[Sam Cohen's] 'Shame' is not a good book in any conventional sense. It is long, whiny, profane, and self-indulgent. It seems to have escaped editing altogether. Part reminiscence, part crank manifesto, it is a mess. But it is an honest and compelling mess that students of nuclear history will not want to miss," wrote Steven Aftergood's Secrecy News a few years ago.
More on Shame here and where to get it in .pdf on-line here. The alert reader will notice that the link takes you to the the third edition of Shame, which has been raffishly retitled, F--- You, Mr. President! We are informed the "first edition" is obsolete. Alas, the third edition does not include the keen story of red mercury.

James Woolsey testimony, archived at GlobalSecurity.Org, on Organized Crime and Nuclear Security in which red mercury is briefly mentioned as scam material.

Run of the mill farcical discussion of red mercury by assorted net ninnies.

Review of "Imaginary Weapons" by Sharon Weinberger, a book on the hafnium bomb, another weapon that doesn't exist but which the Pentagon was interested in. Hafnium isomer, which does exist, or more accurately -- can be made to exist in miniscule quantity -- is of the 'class' of materials into which the mythic "red mercury" was said to fall.

Weinberger writes: "Journalists love a good story about exotic new weapons. Perhaps they love it even more if it turns out to be true, but does it really make any difference in the end?"

She calls red mercury the "equivalent of Elvis sightings." Amen.


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