Wednesday, July 26, 2006

WHO DESIGNED THE CYANIDE BOMB? An answer, shrouded in secrecy

Readers of Dick Destiny blog know it has spent some time asking about the true origin of the cyanide-producing bomb discussed in Improvised Cyanide Munition: Prototype by government agency. The US-made prototype, described by photograph and memorandum distributed by the Department of Homeland Security in September of 2003, purported to show what intelligence had revealed of an Islamic terrorist design. (See photo at foot of page)

In picture and words, it did not fit the model in the much publicized story of Pulitzer-winner Ron Suskind's Mubtakkar. Suskind, whose grasp of the science of hydrogen cyanide production could best be described as feeble, described the Mubtakkar as a two-compound weapon, one in which hydrochloric acid was mixed with a cyanide salt. But the memorandum distributed by the Department of Homeland Security described a different bomb, one composed of three compounds -- hydrochloric acid, a salt of cyanide and potassium permanganate. The permanganate and cyanide salt in this weapon would react with hydrochloric acid violently.
Whether the weapon would work as advertised in another matter entirely.

As publicity around Suskind's story increased, some terror hunters became excited by a jihadist-drawn diagram of a cyanide bomb, which they also called a Mubtakkar. Described in this article, sponsored by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), the diagram was said to have been on al Qaeda-affiliated websites as early as late 2005 and its errors and limitations are discussed in Jihadist cyanide bomb -- complete with error. (Drawing at foot of page, below DHS-distributed photograph.)

But the jihadist diagram was also an exact duplicate of the photo of the US-made weapon distributed in 2003. This led to the very legitimate question: Did the American prototype, distributed in cyberspace, result in the jihadist diagram? Or was the US device, made for illustrative purpose, actually based on a jihadi design, the original of which the Department of Homeland Security chose not to publicize?

Since al Qaeda terrorists have copied from US literature in the past for their plans on chemical and biological weapons, without knowing the dates of generation of the designs and photos of the two cyanide bombs, it was difficult to determine which came first.

But donning our Senior Fellow at GlobalSecurity.Org digging helmet, answers -- of a kind, were unearthed.

But they don't come free of strings or in the clear. Since the US intelligence apparatus does not share its information easily, the information comes by way of the insider, the anonymous source with a history of knowing.

And the story is, although no diagrams or paper can be provided to verify it, that the US-made prototype was -- indeed -- made from the jihadi diagram and that it had been found on an al Qaeda-affiliated website prior to the distribution of the Department of Homeland Security memorandum in September of 2003.

Readers will recall that the various designs for a jihadi cyanide-bomb were critically regarded by this writer and a number of trained colleagues in the wake of journalist Ron Suskind's claims that the Mubtakkar weapon was a revolutionary step, equivalent to the terrorist splitting of the atom.

It would, perhaps, create a bang and a splash: " . . . other scientists [which included Dick Destiny blog] that UPI spoke to about the reaction, which uses acid and cyanide crystals to produce hydrogen cyanide gas, stressed that it was a highly volatile process, which generates a huge amount of heat as well as gas -- and would likely destroy the device itself.

Inside information seems also to have indicated this theoretical assessment was correct. Again encumbered with secrecy, and not publicized, a jihadi-made cyanide bomb based on the discussed design was used in Afghanistan. It did not work. And no other information was provided. Take it as you will.
Photo of cyanide bomb from DHS memorandum
Jihadi diagram of three-stage cyanide bomb


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