Thursday, June 29, 2006

HORSE DROPPING OR COW DROPPING? More terror camping on the Internet

In last Sunday's New York Times book review ("TheirSpace" -- hah-hah -- clever, on page 21) reporter Robert F. Worth discovered Gabriel Weimann's "Terror on the Internet: The New Arena, The New Challenges."

By now, you know what comes next. Al Qaeda has transformed into e-Qaeda, a term coined by the Washington Post. In the transformation, the terrorists had moved their training camps to cyberspace. And what would be electronic training camps without the distribution of electronic documents?

"No more need for Afghanistan: would be terrorists can download manuals . . . that show them how to make chemical weapons and poisons, and a library of tips on how to use them all effectively. The danger is not just theoretical," writes Worth.

And that's the same utterly brainless script the author of this blog has drubbed repeatedly over the past two years. The New York Times op-ed page asked readers to believe you could download a pamphlet on how to make botulism and poison the milk supply last summer. And we wiped our feet on the claim many times, including -- most recently here.

And the Washington Post, the paper that coined the term e-Qaeda, asked its readers to believe similar idiotic claims. Jihadists could download bioterror pamphlets -- one called the Mujahideen Poisons Handbook, and one called Biological Weapons, and make botulism and other bad things. And these claims were thoroughly trashed here -- in a discussion of the ludicrous jihadist Botox Shoe of Death plan.

Unbelievable as it may seem, journalists love these ridiculous stories. Perhaps they enjoy them because they are fun to write. One can say sensational and ridiculous things. And no editor will say nay, no one will exhibit a shred of critical thinking. All that one must to do is keep the reader from seeing what the documents actually look like and find an expert or two to insinuate that something found in any such benighted Islamist electronic pamphlet is very bad.

It is difficult to know who is the biggest purveyor of bull in the NY Times review of Weimann's book. It could be the author, it could be the journalist, it is hard to say.

It can be said that Weimann ought not to be taken seriously when talking of Islamist training on the Internet for chemical or biological terror.

He writes, in "How Modern Terrorism Uses the Internet," here:

Another manual, The Mujahadeen Poisons Handbook, written by Abdel-Aziz in 1996 and "published" on the official Hamas website, details in twenty-three pages how to prepare various homemade poisons, poisonous gases, and other deadly materials for use in terrorist attacks . . .

The Mujahideen Poisons Handbook has been debunked as a training manual. It is real and attributed to a jihadist, but it contains nothing of practical use, unless you consider its value as low bowel humor. As evidence, it recommends the production of botulism toxin by the method of throwing meat and excrement into a jar. "Use 1.5 to 2 spatulas of fresh horse dropping ( . . . cow dropping can be used if horse is not available.)"

"Leave the jar in a dark warm place . . . After ten days, if the preparation has been successful," and it won't have been, "MEDICAL GLOVES, A GAS MASK, A HEAD COVER AND A FULL BODY COVER IS ESSENTIAL."

This item asks for repetition. Produce botulism through "horse dropping" or "cow dropping." Nevertheless, the mainstream press, including the Washington Post, has tried to
portray the nonsense
as legitimate, so Weimann is certainly not in bad company.

This story is rooted in complexity and it says more about the desire of the media and some terrorism experts desire to present a cooked story, one that is rife with suggested menace but pleasing in its simplicity. Al Qaeda is training in the biological and chemical terrorism on the Internet and as proof, here are the documents. And then the media relies on ignorance about the nature and origin of said documents to fulfill the aura of menace.

But readers should know by now that the Mujahideen Poisons Handbook takes its recipes and others from Maxwell Hutchkinson's The Poisoners Handbook , published in the United States in the Eighties. And that book, which has been thoroughly combed through by this writer, contains nothing of value to terrorists. It paints fantasies about killing the Pope with toxic rosary beads and poisoning government employees with letters soaked in invisible toxins. Its recipes are not reproducible because they are trivial nonsense. "Botulism is fun and easy to make," writes Hutchkinson, and he was taken at his word by many, including Abdel-Aziz, the author of the Mujahideen Poisons Handbook.

"Fill a jar with corn, green beans or chopped beats. Drop in a few pieces of meat and about a tablespoonful of fresh dirt. . . Put this jar in a dark, moderately warm area for ten days. At the end of this period . . . " you will have "botulism." "As this can be a hit-and-miss method, use two or three jars at a time," finished Hutchkinson.

Even more to the point for the sake of discussion is this entry, again from the Mujahideen Poisons Handbook, on the production of laughing gas:

"Can be obtained by heating ammonium nitrate between 250 to 260 degrees [the jihadist "chemist" doesn't know much about this elementary procedure] . In a closed room your victim will laugh to death."

For terrorists adept at using the Internet, as Weimann, the Post, and many others have maintained, the jihadist "poisoner's" pamphlet isn't nearly as high quality as this teenager's home chemistry experiment published in Popular Mechanics and now on the Internet or this procedure, on-line courtesy of the Creighton University chemistry department.

Why do big mainstream media reporters persist in perpetrating this sham? Probably because it's too complicated to do otherwise.

That Islamic bioterrorists, or people wishing to be chemical terrorists, pass documents on the Internet which allege to impart knowledge on the subject, is a fascinating story. And it is a story that they certainly have a desire to become chemical and biological terrorists. But this is where everyone stops.

Regrettably, it's not the end of it. The complete picture is that the Islamists have exhibited no capability and precious little learning in the subject by analysis of these materials.

And they have taken much of their text from American sources, sources that gurgled out of the neo-Nazi survivalist American right in the Eighties. And these English-language source materials were similarly passed around in cyberspace by sympathizers and teenagers in the Nineties. Indeed, now there are two sets of electronic bio and chemical terror documents in circulation: One in English for the American survivalist fringe, and one in Arabic for the Islamist lunatic and wannabe biochemical terrorist.

One might also be tempted to make the argument that the cyberjihadist, as portrayed in these media depictions, is inept. Websites and mailing lists are seemingly easily penetrated, there's no obvious tradecraft and their documents are taken, translated and sold as booty by private sector intelligence gatherers who market themselves to suckers. There seems to be no self
realization that better sources of information exist on the Internet than self-published poison
handbooks. Put another way, there is not a lot of evidence which shows even an educated beginner's facility for scientific information. (But we will leave this and the implications of it for another day's chit-chat, we promise.)

In any case, this is not the story that terror beat and national security reporters will tell. Certainly, they have been informed of it, and their editors lack the necessary enthusiasm. For example, if you are eager to use the Internet to find out about the Mujahideens Poisons Handbook and similar documents, you cannot pump it into Google and somehow miss the riches of embarrassments that have been levied upon it.

So how is one supposed to take this grand story? As horse dropping or cow dropping?

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

BUY CYANIDE HERE! You tin-plated dopes ...

It's slightly discouraging to read personal weblog statistics and spy the search phrases buy cyanide salts in america or dmso contact poison among similar mean-spirited choices. However, the disappointment is mitigated by the hard truth that the "people" pumping such search terms into Google are hopeless failures in terms of technical savvy. Try to be more subtle, gentle readers.
THE TIP OF THE SPEAR: Generals announce strategy to defeat asymmetrical warfare at Guantanamo

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

IMPROVISED CYANIDE MUNITION: Prototype by government agency

In the original blog entry on the Mubtakkar of Death, it was mentioned that many could design, with little effort, a plan or mock-up of a cyanide-producing machine. Indeed, poison gas-producing shells and contraptions are present in the literary favorites of the domestic terrorist. The book, Silent Death (Festering Publications, 1997), for example, contains a few plans for them. However, whether they would work as advertised entails another set of questions entirely. (And why should anyone waste time correcting the errors of omission and commission in these sorry excuses for books, anway?)

Today, what is presented below is a picture of an improvised cyanide bomb, circulated in a memo from the North Dakota Department of Health Health Alert Network in September of 2003. The NDDH cites the information as a relay from the Department of Homeland Security, citing a possible terrorist threat and the ease with which the device can be made. It does not resemble the Mubtakkar of Death as described by Ron Suskind here.

Presumably put together by government agency for purposes of show and tell (the document isn't clear on this matter,) the photograph shows a large paint canister with holes drilled in it, soda bottles containing a chemical -- probably hydrochloric acid for the case of cyanide gas production -- and two glass jars, one with a white crystalline material -- a salt of cyanide for the sake of the discussion, and one containing an explosive. A detonator is also included. [The third compound is described in the follow-on story, linked at the foot of this entry.]

Without going into a great deal of technical detail, the immediate limitations or drawbacks of it are these: (1) It's not particularly concealable; and (2) it purports to produce a contained explosion which serves to initiate the chemical production of cyanide gas without rupturing the larger canister which is the improvised outer casing.

A number of things could happen, some of them working against the production of significant amounts of a poison gas. These could be but are not limited to -- the bursting of the canister and the scattering of its chemicals (in which case, shrapnel would be a bigger hazard), the ignition and consumption of amounts of the desired product, and an entire variety of efficiencies in production of gas from hopeless failure to more optimistic yields, depending on a significant number of variables.

Attributed to DHS
" . . . gas readily dissipates," reads the memo. "[T]herefore it would need to be generated quickly to avoid lethal levels . . . " And this is one detail which influenced the Japanese and US military in their production of cyanide munitions during the World War II period. They chose large bombs because of the difficulties in achieving lethal concentrations of gas under ambient conditions. The US government's improvised device from 2003 is not a 500 or 1,000 pound, or even one three hundred-pound cyanide bomb.

That said, it might do something. And if it produced even small quantities of cyanide gas, the news and impact of such an actual thing in action would probably be substantial.

The reader should also be aware that the actual design pictured could might as well have been in response to a domestic "terror" case. In April of 2003, the FBI had raided a storage unit in Texas owned by a dangerous gun nut, William Joseph Krar. Krar was said to have built an improvised cyanide munition from a military ammunition box, about two pounds of sodium cyanide, and two vials of hydrochloric acid. By November of 2003, he had copped to one plea of possession of a chemical weapon. (Reynolds, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Nov/Dec 2004.)

The alert reader will also notice that neither descriptions for the Mubtakkar of Death and the Krar device fit the government-made cyanide munition. And none of these, of course, are the equivalent of "the splitting of the atom" in the world of terrorist chemistry.

Continued Update: Improvised Cyanide Munition, II: Translated jihadist plan (with error), identical in design to Department of Homeland Security physical prototype. Which came first?

Monday, June 26, 2006

MORE ON TIME'S TERROR PLOT INFOTAINMENT: Stupidest claim in many years

"That is the stupidest statement I have heard in many years," [Milton] Leitenberg said, adding that the concentrations at which the key chemicals were present in household materials were so low "you would get next to nothing" by using them.

This quote is excerpted from a Sunday story by United Press International security reporter Shaun Waterman. In an article piling on Pulitzer-winner Ron Suskind's pleasing tale of al Qaeda's Mubtakkar of Death, Leitenberg, a colleague of mine, was refering to Suskind's fantastic claim that the Mubtakkar was "the equivalent of splitting the atom. "Obtain a few widely available chemicals and you could construct it with a trip to Home Depot and then kill everyone in the store," and that's it, according to Suskind.

"Knock the hell out of that splitting that atom claim," wrote Leitenberg in e-mail last week and so we did here. In the continued criticism of Suskind's story, this blog has made it clear you couldn't buy Fisher Scientific salts of cyanide at Home Depot. It did not matter to Suskind, because his grasp of the science was feeble although his talent for exaggeration certainly was not. For National Public Radio's Fresh Air last week, in relating a description of the device he told incredulous interviewer Terry Gross that the Mubtakkar used sodium chloride and whatnot. (Simply read to the bottom of my Mubtakkar piece for the link to the radio transcript.)

Throughout last week the mainstream media declined to be critical with Suskind in any great way. National Public Radio even invited me for an interview. It turned out like this and the interview was 86'd.

While journalists enjoyed relating the pleasing tale of the Mubtakkar of Death -- terror plot infotainment for their readers, viewers and listeners -- they were not eager to convey a natural skepticism from others. When I stated that the "splitting of the atom" and "Home Depot" claims were risible, as any reasonable person might have done, NPR did not wish to hear it.

But getting back to Waterman's article:

Leitenberg and other scientists 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.

The way facts about the device were presented in the book, it appeared they were "coming through the filter of someone who is not well-versed in the science," said George Smith, a molecular biologist and senior fellow with the Washington-area think tank

Leitenberg pointed out that Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese religious cult which is the only terrorist group to have ever used chemical weapons, had "much more access to money and equipment" and other resources than al-Qaida does, but had still failed to make an effective delivery device.

He said the group had spent "perhaps $20 or 30 million," and had a team of up to 20 scientists working on making chemical weapons. "They weren't in caves," he said, "Photos of their lab look like a commercial research or manufacturing facility."

Nonetheless, when the group attacked the Tokyo subway system with the nerve agent sarin, its members ended up dispersing it by punching holes in plastic bags.

Waterman contacted Suskind for comments and the Pulitzer-winner fell back upon a rascal's defence: Important security anonymoids had said it was all true. "Suskind defended his reporting about the device and the plot to use it, telling UPI it was based on 'senior intelligence sources.'"

You can read the entire UPI article here.

Sunday, June 25, 2006


The Sunday New York Times always contains some humorous atrocity on popular music. Today was no exception with a feature bemoaning the physical entropy which time administers to all. Only it's worse for stadium rockers because the big entertainment business bottom-line suffers. Or so it was said.

Jesus fucking wept!
"Iron Man Slows and So Does The Industry" read the title. You can guess the script. Ozzy Osbourne can't do as many dates at Ozzfest this year. He has to take a bit of a rest from the rigors of the stage. Last year around this time, he was promoting a CD set and telling talk show hosts how he beat down a robber who had invaded his castle. Some were less than generous in their opinions.

"Keeping veteran rockers on the road is getting harder every year," writes the Times. " . . . the industry's war horses are going to do their best to keep going. In part that means reining in old excesses."

Kiss takes more ibuprofen than cocaine. "Aerosmith makes regular use of a nutritionist."

And a p.r. firm to tell the world of their infirmities.

When singer Steven Tyler had to take time out for surgery in late spring, it was an opportunity for a publicity mailing.

Osbourne has an eye, ear, nose and throat man on call. Miami Steve van Zandt has a special diet and warns to cut down on meat-eating. Of course, the rock 'n' roll generation's Lawrence Welk believes his comrades have more energy than the young and "when we're gone, it's over." Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

SOME POWER BLOOZ -- Highway Kings style

Someone pleased with their recent purchase of old Dick Destiny vinyl:

Dick Destiny & the Highway Kings -Brutality (Destination)

Brutal late-eighties biker-metal on a small label out of Allentown, Pa. These guys mostly played bars in central PA and apparently blew away every major band they ever opened for. There's more hair on the lead-singer's back than on the heads of everybody in Cinderella, yet Cinderella is hair-metal... Really good, short furious songs, no wanking, lotsa genuine attitude.

Less hair on heads than on backs
"Brutality" was made in '87. The pic is from one of the many stands at The Four G's Hotel in Bethlehem, probably between '88 and '89. At the time, that part of Bethlehem was an unrepentant slum, making it easy to play as loud as necessary with no worries about noise complaints to the owner. Sometimes in the mid to late-90's, the G's caught fire, getting the city out of destroying it on the taxpayer dime. The mayor called the fire "fortuitous" in the local newspaper. My city was gone.

This song, called "Internal Revenue Boogie" isn't from "Brutality," but it gives you the same tone and idea.

Friday, June 23, 2006

THE TIP OF THE SPEAR: US general says Iran is aiding Iraq rebels

Thursday, June 22, 2006

NCPMHEP: Noise made by escape of flatus or hiccup?

On June 20, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton moved to establish a national center for public mental health emergency preparedness in case of bioterrorism.

"Mr. President, I rise today to introduce the Public Mental Health Emergency Preparedness Act of 2006. This bill would take several important steps toward preparing our nation to effectively address mental health issues in the wake of public health emergencies, including potential bioterrorist attacks," said Clinton into the Congressional Record (Page S6157-S6162).

Keep in mind there has been only one bioterrorist attack -- the Amerithrax incidents in late 2001 -- that was considered MAJOR. Outside of the perpetrator or perpetrators of it and the Rajneesh group of Oregon which used salmonella bacteria on food in 1984, "no other terrorist group . . . is known to have cultured any pathogen," according to researcher Milton Leitenberg in Assessing the Biological Weapons and Bioterrorism Threat (US Army War College, 2006).

However, the citizenry and its politicians have been conditioned by repetitive news and announcements that bioterror attack is likely and that when it comes, it will be devastating. So announcements for legislation to create a mental health preparedness center for it -- perhaps --seem logical to some. But not at Dick Destiny blog.

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the events of September 11, other recent natural and man-made catastrophes [and catastrophic bioterrorism -- Ed.] have sadly taught us that our current resources are not sufficient or coordinated enough to meet the mental health needs of those devastated by emergency events," declaimed Clinton. So her colleagues should work together with her to form "the National Center for Public Mental Health Emergency Preparedness (referred to in this subtitle as the `NCPMHEP')."

NCPMHEP! (nik-pum-`hep) has a peculiar sound to it when you try to say it. It has a kind of percussive and ejecting fricative quality, so is it like the sound of a hiccup? Or a fart?

The NCPMHEP will "address mental health concerns and coordinate and implement the development and delivery of mental health services in conjunction with the entities described in subsection (b)(2), in the event of bioterrorism or other public health emergency."

"The NCPMHEP shall-- ``(1) prepare the Nation's emergency health professionals to provide mental health services in the aftermath of catastrophic events, such as bioterrorism ... "

The NCPMHEP appropriation will be ``(1) $15,000,000 for fiscal year 2007; and ``(2) such sums as may be necessary for fiscal years 2008 through 2011.''

Since Senator Clinton is no expert on bioterrorism, the NCPMHEP probably should be defeated with haste and great vigor.

RERUN: Judith Miller and Bill Patrick, tainted warriors for the biodefense

This week's pleasing tale of the Mubtakkar of Death reminded me of how there is always a market for big reporter literature of Doomsday put off and black future implied. In October of 2001, we were still in the middle of Amerithrax and I reviewed Judith Miller's book, Germs, for the Village Voice.

That book, as well as her minor connection to the Amerithrax case, was a selection of incredible stories -- some true, some probably greatly exaggerated or delivered with more embellishment than necessary -- and it made her an instant terror expert and celebrity. She was common on the evening news and the talk show of her friend, Larry King. Peddled by a famous right wing speaker's bureau, Benador Associates, along with a host of neocons urging the case for war in Iraq, Miller was ubiquitous in the news on bioterror.

Eventually she was swept out the door by the New York Times, which in a fit of self-examination, had looked at her reporting on weapons of mass destruction from the front-lines of the war with Iraq and found it wanting. Patrick, who had been another big newsmedia favorite on bioterror, had long gone silent. He had been questioned by the FBI in connection with the Amerithrax case when the investigation turned to the theory that the mailed anthrax was of domestic origin.

It was said that Patrick became a consultant, perhaps unpaid to the FBI, after they had cleared him of suspicion. Whatever had happened, the American guru of biowarfare was muzzled. No longer did he tell tales of how good his microbial preparations had been. Newspaper articles on him flying about the country to deliver seminars on bioterror, one -- for example, in Hollywood, for an audience of the well-to-do and reported in the Los Angeles Times, stopped. His rambles to reporters on how easy it was to dispense powders of silent death over Maryland and the capitol were silenced. With the Iraq war a mess, the preliminary reporting on it a disgrace, and Amerithrax unsolved, the world moved on right over Miller and Patrick, removing her from the big word processor and zipping their flapping lips.

Here's my old review on Germs:

Plagued Out Book by Times Reporters Overexposes Readers to Bioterror

On Sunday, October 14, Judith Miller of The New York Times wrote of her personal anthrax scare, "As I washed my hands and tried to dust off the powder that clung to my pants and shoes, I thought about what Bill Patrick, my friend and bioweapons mentor had told me . . . "

We should all be so lucky to have as friend and "bioweapons mentor" someone who, according to Miller's book, Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War, infected "volunteers" with Q fever microbes to see what dosages were effective in producing illness, a man who was "overjoyed" when a field test on animals went south and people who weren't supposed to get sick did, because it proved his team of sorcerer's apprentices were producing "a product that was very, very good." The reader is informed that everyone survived. That made it all right?

In a better world, a Bill Patrick would have been given the bum's rush a long time ago, but, like it or not, we are saddled with him as one of our bioterror gurus. Why? Because the inverse logic seems to be that if you spent most of your life making things to sicken people fatally, you are, perhaps, more valuable as an adviser on the subject of biological evil, malfeasance, and mischief than someone who benightedly dedicated their life to defeating infectious diseases.

Patrick's fermentations seep through almost the entirety of Germs. He's Dr. StrangeBug, talking to a military group about how the U.S. supposedly had a plan to attack Cuba with two microorganisms to pacify it ("killing less than two percent of the population"), deriving statistics on how many people might be slain or made seriously ill with his viruses and bacteria, giving a now unintentionally idiotic play-by-play description of how someone with his expertise could hose down half the people in the World Trade Center with tularemia armed only with a trusty garden sprayer.

In Germs (Simon & Schuster), Miller and her co-authors, Times journalists Stephen Engelberg and William Broad, cover a wide swath of people, groups, and nations who have, at one time or another, been deeply engaged in this nasty game. While almost all of it has been published in the Times or elsewhere, it probably has not previously been as thoroughly annotated.

In the quest to inform readers on the subject of biological weaponry, the pro forma rule in writing on the subject has been horrification for the sake of horrification. One need only look at the reputation of Richard Preston, the genre's equivalent of the splatter-movie director. In influential investigative articles on bio-terror for The New Yorker and a novel about the same, The Cobra Event, Preston never met a virus that did not melt bodies, induce people to mutilate themselves, or cause the spurting of quarts of black and red ichors. In this respect, Miller and her co-authors' work stands out, being largely free of nauseating descriptions of the terminal stages of disease.

But Germs is also filled with well-researched arcana that, while academically interesting, would have little meaning with regards to the current predicament, in which tiny lots of bad stuff touch small numbers through the mails. While the authors could not foresee into what milieu their work would be published, the book is still too much about big numbers and the alleged capacity for creating thousands of illnesses with blinding speed.

The minute attention to the bureaucratic arguments involved in working out the details of the technology of killing is deadening. For example, just how interested are you in knowing the debate over how much anthrax it would take to kill perhaps half the people in Washington, D.C. A five-pound bag? An 80-pound bag? Or a 50-pound bag? It turns out, Germs reveals, that Patrick had the answer: The 50-pound bag. And Bill Clinton's Defense Secretary William Cohen certainly exaggerated when he held up a five-pound bag of sugar on TV and said that if it was anthrax it could do the same. Hey, knock yourself out.

The savage dilemma of Germs and books of the type is that, without exception, they implacably develop into a generic litany of speculations, extremely terrible news--some hearsay, some not--and fearsome applications said to be possible right now or in the not-too-distant future. Common sense dictates that if it is all true, we will only be spared a gruesome end by blind luck or intervention of the deity.

Germs, according to Larry King on Monday, is a national bestseller. Maybe so, but if you think you've been overexposed to anthrax already, avoid it like the plague. Please have mercy, dear authors. We get the idea.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

TERROR PLOT INFOTAINMENT: Some more notes from the field

Pulitzer-winner Ron Suskind made the rounds of cable news yesterday with his tales from the war on terror. First up was Wolf Blitzer's "Situation Report" on CNN and it delivered standard good practices in major media terror plot infotainment. In terror plot infotainment, the teller of tales gets to read from his book, or the host reads from the book, and the producers throw the page of interest on the tube for the sake of pleasing tales. No one asks substantive questions like "Why should we believe your fantastic claims?" or "What do you mean when it is said the Mubtakkar of Death can be built at the Home Depot? Can you just buy Fisher Scientific cyanide salts at the hardware store?" (The answer: NO.)

Instead, hosts -- like Blitzer, ask leading soft pitch questions like, "Tell us about . . . " or some variation thereon. The toughest questions asked, if tough is the right word, were basically, "Abu Zubaydah -- crazy or not?" and "Did we torture a crazy man?"

On Hannity and Colmes, Suskind had less time. But the message was similar: Here's the real stuff from the war on terror. The terrorists had worked for "twenty years" to perfect the Mubtakkar of Death. No simple question like, "If they worked two decades to perfect it, why haven't we seen it?" Dick Destiny blog is sure there's an answer, one like this: Al Qaeda is entreprenurial and Zawahiri said no.

If you watched terror plot infotainment, you got to see how much fun it was. It's all smiles when talking about the Mubtakkar of Death or other plots and revelations. No one has a bad time or frowns when talking about the really bad things said to be averted. It's jolly good sport.

On Tuesday, I was asked to be part of a segment on this issue for National Public Radio's On the Media. So I trotted down to Pasadena City College's public radio affiliate, KPCC-FM. It's a pleasant place to go on a sunny day and I know the studio because I'd been there in the past to talk about various things for GlobalSecurity.Org.

This time it was a non-starter. As a radio show on the media, the arc of interest and story-telling was deemed insufficient. For better or worse, about fifteen minutes in I realized that the host and I were talking past each other. Asking where the Mubtakkar of Death actually was, if it was anywhere, was not radio friendly. The CIA made it. Let's move on.

Why should we doubt what our government experts tell us? Well, it's possible to explain why and this blog, over the past two weeks, with regards to chemical and biological "plans" from al Qaeda, has said why. But in this context of a show in which the media examines itself, this time -- it wasn't something that could be easily said.

Opinion was the conversation had become splintered and unsuitable for a linear radio show. And that seemed to be an honest assessment.

The subject is, after all, complicated. You have to get into the history of chemical and biological terror reporting by the media as contrasted to what is actually known from solid evidence on capabilities, not from reports in which an authority says so, to know why it is reasonable to look askance at TIME/Suskind's story of the al Qaeda cyanide-gas machine.

It also asks that a logical requirement be that fantastic claims require more rigorous standards than a hyperbolic narrative by a Pulitzer-winning reporter pushing a book and reliance on government sources of unknown (and possibly little) expertise and veracity.

It's legitimate to regard a claim about a device being the equivalent of "splitting the atom" as risible. One expert on the subject, a colleague of Dick Destiny blog, remarked in e-mail that Suskind's Mubtakkar wasn't even the equivalent of Rutherford's diagram of the atom. It's a funny putdown if you know a little science history. And since Suskind invoked particle physics in his pleasing story of the Mubtakkar of Death, we feel free to use the father of particle physics in a humorous slag of it.

The media does have an institutional aversion to outside criticism after the sensational chemical or biological terror story has been widely reported. Sometimes the allergy is as obvious as a simple "Get away!" Sometimes it just seems to happen by accident or by reflex.

Last year, when Milton Leitenberg and I were critiquing the scare over botulism in the milk the media came calling. Often they expressed interest, but then they didn't actually want to hear what either of us had to say. A funny example of this occured when a big evening news program sent its satellite truck out to interview Leitenberg. Video was taped and when it came time for the segment to air -- it was replaced by a lifestyle bit on rumba dancing and never seen again. The story about botox in the milk and thousands dead from drinking it was a pleasing one. But the story that the same thing was 99 percent nonsense was less pleasing than an entertainment segment.

Not enough terror plot infotainment to it or "I just really liked that story on rumba dancing more"? Who can say?

Some interesting history and technical detail: In e-mail, arms control research scholar Milton Leitenberg informs that with regards to cyanide munitions made by combatants in World War II, it was difficult to get ambient field concentration high enough to do damage. As a consequence, "In the 1933 to 1945 period, the US and Japan decided that the only way to get battlefield concentrations of hydrogen cyanide over the Ld50 level [the dose required to kill half the members of the target population] was to use very large quantities. So the Japanese picked 300 lb. bombs and the US picked 500 and then 1000 lb. ones."

Draw your conclusions.

Monday, June 19, 2006

TIME'S MUBTAKKAR OF POISON: Swallow it, lose sense

On Sunday, Pulitzer winner Ron Suskind's tale of the Mubtakkar of Death and its role in a plot against the New York City subway was fantastic. "Easily constructed and concealed, mass casualties were inevitable if it could be triggered in any enclosed public space," wrote Suskind for TIME. It was the equivalent of "splitting the atom" in the world of terrorism," he added. Go to the Home Depot, build one with off the shelf parts, and set if off, killing everyone as you leave the store.

But Zawahiri, al Qaeda's Number Two had called it off. Why, no one knew. In an interview with itself, TIME and Ron Suskind ventured an answer:

TIME: Why do your sources think al-Qaeda hasn't used the mubtakkar?

Suskind: Al-Qaeda has a kind of loose, almost entrepreneurial structure with lots of cells in various countries that are semi-independent. I think for a weapon like this, even outliers or wannabes among the world's jihadists would probably do a check-in with the al-Qaeda leadership before they used something that would be viewed as a weapon of mass destruction.


Colorfully and hyperbolically written for maximum impact, by Monday TIME's tale had been repeated in over 700 competing news venues, according to the Google News tab.

"An al-Qa’ida cell in the United States came within 45 days of launching a cyanide attack on the New York subway system that could have killed as many people as the attacks of 11 September 2001," wrote the Belfast Telegraph.

"The attack was called off by Osama bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, for reasons that remain unclear . . ." it continued. "[Suskind's] book describes the rank fear inside the White House . . . "

"According to the investigative report by Ron Suskind, an informant close to al-Qaida leaders told U.S. officials that Ayman al-Zawahri had canceled the plan in January 2003, despite the likelihood that the strike would have killed as many people as the Sept. 11 attacks," wrote the Houston Chronicle.

Not everyone gave so generous an interpretation to Suskind's story, like Dick Destiny blog here. And according to an unnanmed intelligence expert in the Telegraph: "They’d be lucky if they killed everybody on one car [with it] – you can do that with a 9-millimetre pistol."

But as befits a fantastic tale of secret terror put off, the story was already changing. From reasons unclear for Zawahiri's cancellation, to reasons crystal clear.

"Al Qaeda decided not to launch a deadly cyanide gas plot in New York's subways because it wouldn't have killed enough people, according to the author whose bombshell book revealed the frightening scheme," wrote the New York Daily News on Monday morning.

According to Suskind, "Al Qaeda's thinking is that a second-wave attack should be more destructive and more disruptive than 9/11 . . . Why? Because that would create an upward arc of terror. ... That fear and terror is a central goal of the Al Qaeda strategy."

What could not be argued with was the upward arc of sensation caused by TIME's tale of terror deferred.

Since no Mubtakkar of Death, or cyanide, or even hydrochloric acid was present as evidence other than invocation by name, many were free to theorize. So Congressman Pat Roberts of Kansas got inside Zawahiri's head. That Zawahiri had made the decision to call off the attack "was correct," reported the Daily News."I think, when any terrorist considers an attack, they also consider the public reaction." Not enough mass death. Whew, dodged a bullet.

And for someone who knew only the particulars of what had been repeated in the newsmedia, where the hard facts were few, the man sure had all the information.

But perhaps what should have also been considered was that when journalists consider an attack a story, they also consider the public reaction, and often design it accordingly.

When a tale of secret terror postponed is told, one with such little evidence in hand other than say-so and hearsay, is delivered with such good packaging, planning and fanfare, who is being terrorized? Is it a public service, an effort to genuinely keep the public well-informed? Or does it deserve its own special genre: terror plot infotainment?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

THE MUBTAKKAR OF DEATH: Accurate assessment or more government and news media exaggeration?

Today, TIME magazine went with a brief but sensational story on the Mubtakkar of death, a cyanide-producing device that al Qaeda was set to unleash in the New York subway in 2003.

It was quickly picked up by all newsmedia and spread around the country with the lurid insinuations that the attack would have potentially caused more death than 9/11. It was seeded with the usual unbalanced buzz-terms of exaggeration and hyperbole that should set warning bells ringing.

TIME magazine even interviewed itself as a mechanism for reiterating the sensational points of its story, using one reporter to question the man with the scoop, Pulitzer-winner, Ron Suskind.

TIME: "Is the mubtakkar device easy to make, once you have the design?"

Suskind: "It is fairly easy to make. You need someone only modestly skilled to do it."

Readers of the literature on al Qaeda chemical and biological plots know by now that in the media, everything is easy to make. Botulism is easy to make. Ricin is easy to make. Any number of very bad things are easy to make. Death is always inevitable.

"Easily constructed and concealed, mass casualties were inevitable if it could be triggered in any enclosed public space," wrote Suskind for TIME. It was the equivalent of "splitting the atom" in the world of terrorism," he added. You could take a trip to the Home Depot, make it there, and set if off at once, causing mass death. Does Home Depot sell pure sodium or potassium cyanide? Nope.

The newsmedia and counterterror experts are literally possessed by things that are easy to make or easy to do and which can cause mass death. And, lacking clear and concrete evidence to the contrary, it is reasonable to be suspicious of them.

For example, In the trial of the London ricin ring, it was claimed: "The impact on the public, if he [Kamel Bourgass] had succeeded in what he wanted to do, is incalculable." And of the poison plans seized by British authorities: "These were no playtime recipes ... These are recipes that experts give credence to and experiments show work. They are scientifically viable and potentially deadly."

But arguments from authority were preserved only when people didn't see the original information. When they did, as displayed here -- the fear evaporated under the light.

Details for the mubtakkar of death were seized on a Bahraini's computer. CIA-men rushed to test the truth of the device by examining the plan. While there was no device to inspect, and no chemicals seized, they prepared a "prototype" based on the theoretical machine, "which comprised two separate chambers for sodium cyanide and a stable source of hydrogen, such as hydrochloric acid. A seal between the two could be broken by a remote trigger, producing the gas for dispersal." And they showed their mechanism to the President.

Again, alarm bells go off. The first red flag is the CIA recreation of the device to generate and disperse hydrogen cyanide gas, an original of which is not in their possession. The literature of chemical and biological terror hype is replete with examples of CIA and other government agency exercises in which weaponization is conducted as a barometer, or measuring stick, of how easy it is for terrorists to do something. And we have come to learn that such exercises cannot be trusted. They are often dog and pony shows in which resources which terrorists do not have are employed, or the dots and gaps in their understanding and technical skill are filled in by teams of experts, all so as to provide an example of a working threat.

Can a chambered device be made which exists to allow a reaction of a cyanide salt and hyrdrochloric acid. Yes, certainly. And can it be done remotely? Yes, certainly, the chemical industry knows how to do it because if one plans on manufacturing hydrogen cyanide, it's one of the ways to do it. And Dick Destiny blog, and many others, could come up anything from diagrams to a "prototype " that did something without even needing to look at the plans of a jihadist. And would it look frightening to others? It might easily.

Does that mean its a breakthough akin to "splitting the atom" in the world of terror? Not without a lot more in the way of concrete details.

The second red flag is Suskind's uneasy grasp of the science. The reaction of hydrochloric acid, a common reagent (an antique name for it is muriatic acid), and sodium cyanide is a simple one to explain, not a breakthrough. To emphasize, it is not equivalent to splitting the atom, and "stable source of hydrogen" is an awkward and unusual way to describe HCl in this context. It indicates someone who was not a scientist or perhaps knowledgeable on the fine details, if there are any.

In any case, the production of hydrogen cyanide has been present in Islamist literature for years, from the Mujahideen's Poisons Handbook to the notes of the convicted killer, Kamel Bourgass.

Futher conspiracies are spun in Suskind's tale for TIME. The US government was rushing to find the details of the plot when Saudi intelligence conveniently killed the best source of information. Was it an accident? Or was it, as insinuated, possibly a way of helping to cover al Qaeda tracks? Suskind doesn't know. And no one knows why the cyanide attack, which was alleged to be 45 days away from launch, was called off. It's all hearsay. There is no mubtakkar of death, handcrafted by terrorists, to show and examine.

Suskind ventures an explanation as to why mubtakkars of death did not go off in TIME's interview of itself. It was maybe because al Qaeda "has a kind of loose, almost entrepreneurial structure" and jihadists would want to "check-in" with the bosses before using something "viewed as a weapon of mass destruction." And when they checked in with their boss, al Zawahiri, he called it off. Well. what else is there to say?

But why, if the mubtakkar of death is so easy to make has it not been seen since, or employed in Iraq, or used anywhere there have been other terror attacks?

Questions, questions, questions.

Of course, it's difficult to know how much truth is in Suskind's expose, excerpted from a forthcoming book. We know their are terrorists and they have plans. And they have claimed their desire and efforts to make chemical and biological attacks which include the use of cyanide. In this, they have also been motivated by the preponderance of statements from American experts and the newsmedia that it is easy to do and quite deadly. The latter assertion has yet to be answered.

Is TIME and reporter Suskind's expose a few small nuggets of information spun into an ecompassing plot of horror narrowly averted by luck and coincidence? Or is it all absolutely true? Is the mubtakkar of death, as a weapon of mass destruction, easy to make, and it's only a matter of time before we see the macabre nature of it in rows and rows of bodies in the morgue?

It's impossible to say without knowing more. The careful assessment now requires that arguments from authority, be they delivered by government expert or Pulitzer-winner, be taken with an entire shaker of salt. And again, part of the nut of the matter lies hidden in the alleged diagrams or plans for it seized on a jihadist's computer. Is this material more substantial than that discussed in The Annals of Terrorism two weeks ago and the Botox Show of Death last week?

Or is it more of the same practice, al Qaeda materials and capabilities spun, stretched and twisted out of shape, shaped by the searing experience of 9/11, so as to provide more of a cracking good fright story? Is it, in other words, like the poison plot of Kamel Bourgass and the London ricin ring, one that, according to authorities, could have caused "incalculable" harm had it gone off as planned in Britain?

Perhaps time will tell and the documents will be released for view. While I'm not betting on that, I invite anyone with inside knowledge to let me know of the truth of the matter. Just ask for George Smith, Ph.D., at GlobalSecurity.Org in Alexandria. (Phone: 703-548-2700.) Confidentiality is guaranteed.

In any case, historically, there haven't been many examples, if any, of small -- by scale -- devices lethally dispersing cyanide gas as described by TIME. In World War II the Nazis used it in their sealed death chambers.

In World War I, it was used in some quantity on the battlefield with results that left the combatants searching for more lethal compounds and mixtures. A limitationa of hydrogen cyanide was that it dissipated rapidly. It is also highly flammable, making its battlefield use in munitions difficult.

Chemistry students and researchers know about the hazard of accidental mixing of acids and salts of cyanide in the lab and its bad potential. And the mining industry, which uses a great deal of it, is also profoundly aware of the risks.

But while the production of hydrogen cyanide is easy to understand, it is not so clear the production of it for use in mass death is well understood. Is it very easy with death inevitable, the equivalent of the terrorist splitting of the atom? Well, the devil is in the details, a good reason to argue for seeing the plans in the light of day, unencumbered by the usual reasons for turning them into a sensation story.

Additional reading: The British went paranoid over an alleged poison gas vest of death earlier this summer. Here is a discussion of threat analysis and the related imbroglio.

Postscript (Monday, June 19): Government agencies have warned of gas attack plans by al Qaeda off and on since 9/11. As part of the lore of chemical and bioterror hype, Dick Destiny blog has written most of them off as wretched interpretations of capabilities and warnings in the absence of verified threats.

Paul Sperry, the author of a book called Infiltration: How Muslim Spies and Subversives Have Penetrated Washington circulated e-mail pointing to a series of stories he reported for the Internet tabloid, WorldNetDaily. Sperry calls Suskind's scoop old news, having retrieved a threat memo from Department of Homeland Security in 2003, one that briefly claimed the existence of a makeshift device for emitting poison gas into a ventilator in enclosed spaces or a subway. It is viewable if you read carefully and page down from this index.

Once again, it reveals the shortcomings of "intelligence" delivered by government agency experts. Since DHS does not reveal the actual hard information and the statements are brief --buried at the end and only a couple sentences in length, one cannot determine if they are fabrications, a product of paranoia, hearsay from a really lousy source, or based on the type of trashy al Qaida-attributed documents Dick Destiny has examined.

Defensetech pitches in with a good practical observation on Suskind's alleged Mubtakkar of Death here.

IMPROVISED CYANIDE MUNITION: Photo of prototype developed for illustrative purpose by US government. Distributed in a 2003 warning from the Department of Homeland Security, see entry here.

MORE NOOZ -- June 22: As far as the mainstream media was concerned, Ron Suskind's news of the Mubtakkar of Death was a pleasing tale. He went from media outlet to outlet, repeating his claims to all. No one asked questions which would be regarded as rude and interrupting to the narrative. But for National Public Radio's Fresh Air on the 20th, Suskind was peerless.

For host Terry Gross, Suskind repeated his script on the cyanide-producing Mubtakkar, but with a few additions. The terror device that was the equivalent of splitting the atom, used sodium chloride and a hydrogen substance or whatnot. Here is a partial transcript of the Pulitzer-winning reporter, describing the details of a selling point for his new book.

The Nazis used it -- Zycon B [sic] -- I suppose in the gas chambers. And Al Qaeda and other terrorist cells around the world have been trying for years to figure out a way to deliver it. What they came up with was this device called the mubtakkar which is an elegant portable delivery system. It's sort of like two Mason jars together in a little paint can -- I think that's the best way to put it -- and between the two jars, one of which has sodium chloride and the other some hydrogen substance like hydrochloric acid or whatnot, and then in between a triggering catalytic element, a seal that can be broken with a cellphone, just like the other bombs. It mixes these two liquids quickly and sends out a fairly potent cloud of the deadly gas . . .

Heed the words of the expert on al Qaeda chemical terror for a couple of days, sprinkling table salt into the dread Mubtakkar -- Morton's and some whatnot. (Note: This would make your stomach a miniature Mubtakkar.) The Nazis used it -- he supposed -- in the gas chambers.

Listen to the amazing and pleasing story of the sodium chloride Mubtakkar here. Oof!

More: Cyanide bomb diagram and photo, their provenance and discussion.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

MY WEEKNIGHT WITH ZAKK: It was not cakk.

(From Maximum Guitar magazine, Summer 2006) Zakk invented me to his house for this interview.

"Pardon me, bub, but I'm still a little sleepy from the two quarts of jack and six cases of Lucky Lager last night," said Wylde sheepishly as he opened the door. As fearless sideman to Ozzy Osbourne, Wylde is known as the strongest and fittest man in rock. Wylde's sessions of weightlifting and beer drinking are legendary in the music industry.

Not everyone can pose on a chocolate cupcake.
But showing not a trace of weakness, Wylde's fingers flew as he demonstrated the picking dynamics of his classic heavy metal tunes, transcripts of which you can download on the Maximum Guitar website. The he insisted we go down stairs to pump iron. As we worked our way around the free weights and exer-gym, Wylde mentioned off-handedly that these were the same barbells he had used when pumping up for the pose that was used for the Limited Franklin Mint Edition Zakk Wyle Signature Sculpture.

"But I look like a fool," he growled. "It was supposed to be me on top of a frost-covered mountain with skulls at my feet. Instead it looks like I'm standing on top of chocolate cupcake with white icing."

His cell-phone rang and Zakk answered. "Pardon me, can you give me a couple minutes?" he asked. "I have to take this call from Victor Conte."

That done, we retired to Zakk's living room to watch a selection from his collection of porn videos and to drink beer while reclining in zebra-striped Barcaloungers. Just when I was beginning to feel woozy Zakk suggested we go out for steak. All the naked women and boners had filled him with blood and awakened his hunger for flesh.

Arriving at Steroid Steer House, Wylde order two Belt-Busters, 24 oz. pieces of meat that come free if you can eat them in 30-minutes. We'll not say what I did with mine after fifteen minutes but Wylde was not at all incommoded by his meal and was ready to go out for four more hours of carousing at the gentleman's club of lap-dancers he'd bought as an investment two years ago.

Next month: Slash's two eighteen-wheelers full of guitar gear, a closetful of 300 tophats, and his collection of 30-foot long rock pythons and anacondas.

Sgt. Rock, now a general... News item: "The general charged with investigating where Marines tried to cover up the killing of 24 civilians in Haditha has completed his report finding Marine officers failed to ask the right questions...

"Expeditionary forces in Iraq failed to demand a 'thorough explanation' of what happened in Haditha."

It was said the report would be filed with another general who could wait as long as he liked to arrive at a conclusion on it.

Friday, June 16, 2006

DIGITAL SAND FOR THEIR FACES: Music reviewers indifferent

Music journalists have the spines of jellyfish. They're thought to be easy to push around, they act easy to push around, and so they are pushed around. Ask a free-lancer. Or ask a features music writer at a daily newspaper. They're only a little better off, getting a salary for the privilege of being shoved about.

The next item shows one aspect of this. I filched it off I Love Music's "Rolling Country 2006" thread. Here music-writers and fans convene to talk about stuff wonderful and lousy from the world of country music. The thread is long -- book length almost -- as a result of the energetic and enthusiastic contributions of its readers.

Anyway, posted into the thread by a regular was the news that Universal Nashville was pulling a nasty under the sham of modernity. "Hello to all, Universal Music is proud to announce, effective immediately, the digital distribution of all advance and final music via email and the Promo Only program/player," began an e-mail from Universal Nashville p.r. to one record reviewer for US altie-weeklies. "Most of you are probably familiar with this delivery in working with our sister labels (Interscope, Geffen, Verve, etc...)," continued the excerpt.

Universal would happily walk you through registering for the service of promotional distribution.

Music journalists -- rock critics -- get most of their review copies of new music the old-fashioned way, through the mail. But driven mad by the leaking of product onto pirate networks, big corporate record companies have fought back by adopting methods of controlling the remote computers of consumers, and by extension, record reviewers. In this case, Universal is trying to get rock critics sucking on the teat of promotional copy to download digital rights enforcing software to their computer so that the listening to of new music can be administered by the corporation. Universal's policeware is called "the Promo Only program/player."

And its cheery e-mail is a way of saying, "Here, take this shit sandwich and eat it."

But since many rock critics are so used to having sand kicked in their faces, now some of them pretend to like it. This is because if you do anything to make the record company angry, they churlishly take you off their distribution lists. And when they've judged you against the game plan, sub-optimal and not cost-effective, oh no -- no more promotional copies. And since everyone else who agrees to eat the crap sandwich will still get something, those who won't, work handicapped with respect to the intellectual cripples who cave in.

It's a cynical move designed to harass and it's another reason to detest major record labels. By its very existence, it blames music journalists for leaking music for purposes of piracy and tells them they have to put the company's manacles on so they don't do inappropriate things with promotional copies. This at a time when Biblical floods of independent artists (read that people doing it on their own dimes) distribute review ccopies daily with no strings whatsoever attached.

Of course, no promotions person at a big major label is going to stop sending the weekly physical bale of new music CDs to daily newspapers and big journalism outfits. They know the people on staff get flooded with material. And that if they give someone a choice, an opportunity, or a reason to ignore their product -- as in, do I want to go to an Internet portal, jump through hoops and download an unknown quantity of policeware to the company PC I'm working at, or do I wanna move on through that pile of 50 CDs on the desk, then lots of people will probably just hit delete.

At least, the intelligent ones would.

But what if you couldn't take advantage of Universal Nashville's plan of digital control and distribution?

"We will keep you on the hardcopy list so that you will still get cds," was posted into I Love Music. "We'd appreciate if you give the program a chance b/c it's so convenient and the quickest way for us to get you new music promptly but understand that not all are compatible with this. And just know that you don't have to download the music to hear it. Of course, it still requires you sitting at your computer. "

Yes -- conveniently and quickly download the Universal music administering policeware to your computer. Because, you blood-sucking parasite, you won't ever again leak our music to the Internet!

Of course, rock critics don't like to think about policeware. They don't think about it making a hash of their system, or making things work poorly, or giving the company permission to do anything it wants when they click "I agree" on the contract page that they didn't read. And they don't care for a moment if the company's policeware does something the opposite of what it said it would do, because that's too complicated. And when their computer stops working or makes listening to music such a chore that it can't be listened to because Universal Nashville's policeware is arguing with the policeware of other companies, who could figure that out? (Whew- it makes me sweat just typing it.) And it's not an issue editors would let you take up, anyway.

Too technical! I just wanna review records!

Actually, an editor at the Village Voice did let me take it up in the "essay" section, which was later sacked. Here it is: A policeware bad thing and why you're a jellyfish if you cooperate with anyone's similar plan.

So consider, once you've been saddled with Universal's policeware "Promo Only program/player" and something eventually goes wrong, will the promotional person make a housecall to reboot your computer?

Thursday, June 15, 2006


Absolutely perfect artwork
Witchfinder General's Live '83 is getting as much time in the changer as Def Leppard's Yeah! They both came out of the same era and longitude/latitude in Britain. Leppard went forward and upward. Witchfinder General went sideways for a mercilessly brief period and floundered after putting out two tasteless records, Death Penalty and Friends of Hell.

But tasteless is often a synonym for great in heavy metal, and so it was with Death Penalty. The band placed a topless model rinsed in theatrical blood on the sleeve in '82. By the second LP in '83, [the cynical efforts -- another blood-spattered model] "succeeded only in losing what little support the band had ... " according to Larkin's Encyclopedia of Heavy Rock.

Ah -- sell when you can when you're not for all markets, it can be said.

The years have been kind to Witchfinder General. Many who write about hard rock with genuine knowledge continue to enjoy their old records. They were a Black Sabbath imitation when Black Sabbath no longer made the heavy music purists wanted.

Not many are good at that art. The standard fan probably doesn't know of Count Raven or Sheavy and you won't see WG cited in any casual dork-from-a-newspaper's rave on Wolfmother.

(N.b.: Actually, if you consult the Internet, you can dig up some cross-references. The good ones boil down to this: If you like Wolfmother a great deal, you probably don't know Witchfinder General, or if you think you do, you don't. Listen again. And if you like Witchfinder General a lot, you've no use for Wolfmother.)

I should have died my hair black!
But Witchfinder General was there first with the Sabbath emulation and Live '83 is proof of it. The production is lo-fi and it works to the band's advantage. The drums are a moving fog of rolling cannonade, Phil Cope's guitar issuing ropey mid-tempo riffs and jazzy-modal lead licks taken from Tony Iommi. The tribute is good.

All the songs you want to hear from Death Penalty are rendered. Heck, the band's entire recorded catalog seems to be delivered. So with DP, you get the songs "Burning a Sinner," "Witchfinder General" and the title tune. "Sinner" has singer Zeeb wailing over and over, "Burn her, burn her, burn her 'til she dies," which would seem assured. "Witchfinder General" is about more incineration of witches, "Death Penalty" is similar and "Love on Smack" has the woman dieing again. "She's dead!" spurts from the singer before the recording ends, in case you weren't sure. Do you get the feeling the Generals might have been using the old Hammer film with Vincent Price as a witchburner as a metaphor for frustration in physical love?

Anyway, "No Stayer" disposes of the antique references. Zeeb shouts "This is about having a good fuck and then going home. You all like to have a good fuck, don't you?" "Invisible Hate" has him telling the audience, an audience you can't hear (for a "live" record, they are absolutely silent), that the things he must have are sex, rock and beer. "Gimme-gimme-gimme-Ma-beee-er!"

These tunes aren't that cruel to women but they have the necessary things going on with them that drove girls from venues and guaranteed a small audience of loyal young men willing to endure piss in their shoes from the plugged bathroom. And that's where Def Leppard had them. The Leps wanted women to like them a lot and worked hard at it in their music. Of course, they wrote better songs, too.

"Quietus" pulls out all stops. Zeeb's voice drops into full sepulchral Ozzy imitation, and he announces "This is a song about a death finishing stroke, it's called qui-ate-us!" That's not coitus. It's ten minutes long, sounds like 'ludes, and "For anyone who likes real heavy rock, this has gotta be the number," asserts Zeeb. And, you know, he was right.
APOCALYPSE INEVITABLE: Just hope you live long enough to be there

"With a team of scientific experts behind them, the producers of [Sci-Fi Channel's "Countdown to Doomsday"] look closely (and graphically) at such possible horrors as volcanoes, asteroid impacts, gamma ray bursts, solar flames [sic, it was solar flares in the show], pandemics and the like," wrote a simpleton for the Hollywood Reporter yesterday.

As bemoaned at Dick Destiny blog a few days ago, the Sci-Fi channel insulted its viewers once again with a shockumentary aimed at allowing the feeble-minded to to pick their apocalypse. With Matt Lauer as celebrity whore and a raft of scientists, many of them either crazy or selectively edited so that only the gloomiest declarations were aired, a number of doomsdays were judged inevitable. And when inevitable is in the room, it was always accompanied by, "not a matter of if, but when." Since most of the "experts" who are into doing the doomsday beat for the news and entertainment medias never see all the shows, articles and reports they're involved in, they never seem to be aware of how much they repeat themselves.

Inevitably, they can be counted on to lay on the same adjectives and cliches. One could only wish they be made to watch a "blooper" reel of their common usages strung together back-to-back for fifteen minutes.

Inevitable disasters were flu worse than the flu of 1918 -- probably from the bird strain which kills 50 percent of its victims, a supervolcano exploding under Yosemite National Park -- laying waste to the United States and causing global winter and famine, a cometary hit causing a worldwide disaster, an asteroid hit possibly causing a planetary extinction, a dirty bomb -- which wouldn't cause a Doomsday but which would mess up New York City, and a bioterror attack -- probably with smallpox. But other microbes were allowed, too.

Not inevitable -- "a gamma ray burst" -- which comes out of a black hole and explodes the atmosphere, sterilizing the planet in minutes; a solar flare -- which knocks American civilization back to the Stone Age and fries some people but not all of us at the same time, global warming, an invasion by superior aliens who kick civilization over like an ant hill, a one megaton blast over an American city, instigated by terrorists (who did they get the hydrogen bomb?), and a war between robots and man in which the machines win. Another not quite inevitable US-centric takedown of Biblical proportion was a supervolcanic explosion in the Canary Islands that caused a giant rock to fall into the Atlantic Ocean, causing a tsunami that would obliterate the east coast.

Almost all of these scenarios have been worked over ad nauseum by the mainstream press and Hollywood so Sci-Fi channel had no difficulty finding appropriate stock footage of the planet being pulverized.

Dick Destiny blog might have preferred it at half as long and with fifteen minutes devoted to instruction on how to build a time machine or lengthen lifespans to a couple thousand years so he might have a good chance of witnessing one or two of the apocalypses. But only one futurist described how to do that. Put our DNA in an arc and either send it to another planet, or put in a deep hole in the ground, a mineshaft ala Strangelove, so as to ensure survival after a "gamma ray burst."

As usual, all the apocalypses are aimed at the United States. The giant rock falling into the ocean off Africa causing a tidal wave that washes Miami into the sea, the gamma ray burst exploding the atmosphere over North America, the dirty bomb in New York, the flu in every city -- like New York -- causing mayhem ala Katrina in New Orleans, a hydrogen bomb going off over New York, smallpox in New York, an asteroid explosion ala Tunguska that would destroy New York, a solar flare that would destroy your precious iPods and MySpace vanity pages. (Ok, I made the part about the iPods up.)

We're always not doing enough even when doing a lot wouldn't change a thing. Not enough money looking for asteroids, not enough money for the "gamma ray burst satellite" upkeep, not enough money for hospitals in case of flu but enough smallpox shots, even though we'd still take it hard. Of course, not enough money for how to slow down and stop global warming, but that just seemed petty because the gaphics aren't so good up against the showy stuff like gamma ray bursts, solar flares, alien invasions, robot uprisings, supervolcanic blasts and near earth body collisions. The latter could be caused by a space rock called Apophis in 2036. I might be around for that.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


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:

"... 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. "

The toilet paper killers succeeded and the man died of a heart attack, reported the Saturday Sun.

It sounds ridiculous but it's a fine campfire-side story and good for a chuckle.

Spray your enemy in the nose with a ricin-laced Fleet enema
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.

A book only an idiot could love 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:

"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)."

Comparison of every poison recipe in the "Manual of Afghan Jihad" alongside Hutchkinson's handbook show excellent matching.

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."

Horse dung or cow dung?

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.

More dung from grass-eating animals 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:"

Poison the infidels with poison on your shoe

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.

Taught by Rosa Klebb?
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.

Monday, June 12, 2006

BIOTERROR TRAINING: Can this procedure make you a bioterrorist?

The layman's conception of what is the bioterror threat in the United States has been so twisted by counter-terror experts and dog-and-pony presentations in the media that elementary and trivial documents recovered from jihadists have influenced policy and federal spending. Over the past couple years, I've witnessed it first hand. Since it's a complicated story, one that doesn't fit the usual scripts of menace and superterrorism, it's told only in out of the way places.

But as has been written here, the jihadist chemical and biological terror documents are only useful when they go unseen or are not presented opposite real technical literature which a genuine expert finds commonplace. Take for instance, last week's blog entry on the Annals of Terror.

If you skip to the last paragraph and click on the final link, you will be returned an eye-popping number of references on the characterization, isolation and purification of botulinum toxins. All from the very legitimate refereed and heavily cross-referenced scientific literature.

But do newspaper reporters, editors or counter-terror experts ever compare jihadist literature with such papers, perhaps to determine the worth of the latter? Hardly ever. Of course, it's unfair to tar everybody. I know of some exceptions who have labored to get the more complex story told but you can count them on the fingers of one hand. So if you're reading this and you think I mean you when I'm talking about those who provide scripts, you're mistaken. Or if you're reading it and you think you're one of the good guys delivering the truth, of course you are.

In any case, years ago, I edited an e-zine called The Crypt Newsletter. It occasionally commented on media misperceptions, too. For one article or book long in the past, someone had claimed freeze-drying biochemical preparations, or perhaps microorganisms, into a powder was a complicated process.

Since weaponized microorganisms or their products are the instruments of bioterrorism. They are, in matter of fact, biochemical preparations.

Since I'd done it many times with hardware store equipment, I described it briefly on the Crypt Newsletter website. Not many people read it and I forgot about it entirely until sometime after 9/11 when I started getting the occasional e-mail questioning my sanity for posting it. These went on for a little while, always coming from odd places and including vituperative language aimed at getting me to remove it from the web for the greater good. Finally it hit me -- counter-terror experts were scouring the web for documents they thought could teach the finer technical details of bioterrorism.

In time, they faded away, probably as the arrival of ready access to the scientific literature on the web made the point moot.

Here's the example. (The original is here) Is it an ominous bioterror training document? Answer at foot of article.

[I will] now tell the reader just how cheap lab scale "freeze-drying" of bacteria is to do.

"Freeze-drying," or lyophilization, is a useful process in which a solution or suspension of bacteria or bacterial products is reduced to a dry powder. The conversion to a powder greatly reduces the volume of any fermentation and provides a form in which the material of interest is easily stored.

"Freeze-drying" relies upon the idea that one can freeze an aqueous sample of interest and remove the water from it by exposing it to a vacuum. Under these conditions, water sublimes away from a sample, from solid to vapor, and is drawn off under vacuum and trapped in a jacket cooled to sub-freezing temperature. What is left behind is a powder or crystalline matrix.

Equipment and materials needed:

One vacuum pump, used: $100 - 200.00 tops. Most high school chemistry labs have one.

Vacuum pump oil -- a few quarts. Price -- nominal.

One 25 pound block of dry ice wrapped in butcher paper: $25.00

One hammer, to smash the dry ice into fragments easy to use. Price: nominal.

An ice cream cooler to keep the dry ice in until you're ready to use it (a freezer will do, too).

Price: Whatever an ice cream cooler, new or used, costs.

Five gallons of non-reagent grade ethyl alcohol, reusable.

One Dewar bucket, 4 - 5 gallons. Price: $120.00.

One tube of vacuum grease. Price: $10.00.

Twenty feet of vacuum hose, an excessive length. Price: $20.

A knife or scissors to cut the vacuum hose into appropriate lengths. Price: nominal.

One glass vacuum trap. Price: $200 - $300.

Some plastic sample vials or round-bottom vacuum flasks. Price: $200 - $300.

Glass wool. Price: nominal.

One white lab coat (optional). Price: $17.

To make a "freeze-drying" bath, the dry ice is smashed into pieces and some pieces are added to the Dewar bucket full of ethyl alcohol. Chunks of dry ice are added
until the mix isn't bubbling vigorously.

Assembly and use is a rather obvious process to anyone who has ever had experience lyophilizing biological samples or products of a fermentation in the laboratory.

Definitely not expensive . . . and not complicated to anyone who has seen it done once or twice.
Answer: Trick question. If it was translated into Arabic and then translated back into English for a counter-terror expert to give to a reporter, it is a bioterror document. If it's the original, it isn't.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

REALITY-BASED UFO SHOW: Brain rots on contact

Halfway through last month I was contacted about a new show in development for cable. Hold your breath at the novelty -- it was supposed to be a reality-based take on The X-Files. It came about because I'd written a column for the Village Voice called "Weapon of the Week" during the "whoopie" phase of the Iraq war.

(See here. They remain entertaining and I'm still proud of them over three years later. Read this one for a good example of the why's and wherefore's.)

Since the column was sometimes about weird semi-secret weapons and useless gee-gaws the military was infatuated with during the two-week wow-look-how-great-we-are stage of the war, it stayed in some people's minds and apparently was the reason I'd been contacted, given a feeler as it where, over whether I wanted to be or would be suitable to a part of the thing. No working title was given and it was described in a hush-hush way. The development project was looking to assemble an "investigative team" to look into UFO videos and photography. For each episode, the team would endeavor to divine the truth of such matters.

At the root, it's one more potential intelligence-insulting piece of TV among many on cable pandering to ignorant Americans and their love of conspiracies and the paranormal. And one sees the pitiless logic of making entertainment dollars on these gullible and benighted audiences .

I watch the Sci-Fi channel regularly, by way of example, and one of its popular shows is called Ghost Hunters. It's an unwatchable "reality-based" (unwatchable unless you're an idiot) show in which a team of intrepid white-trash guys in baseball caps, armed with worthless electronic junk from the Spy Store and Radio Shack, go out and investigate ghosts in the homes of others.

Bryant Gumbel -- slumming from dealing with cretins in pro sport, was also a whore for the paranormal, hosting an especially atrocious vehicle on UFOs, the military and a coverup in Pennsylvania called The New Roswell: Kecksburg Exposed for Sci-Fi. And one the network is now shilling for summer features Matt Lauer, pretending to be a simpleton, so that it can be determined whether or not the world is about to meet a variety of Biblical calamities -- like blowing up!

Did I make it clear these are beyond awful -- lacking even the small guilty pleasure that can come from watching a movie on the same network on Saturday night in which Judd Nelson fights a black hole that's eating St. Louis?

So I told the fellow in charge of the search -- a good journalist by the name of Roger Trilling -- that I didn't believe in UFOs, which more or less destroys the point of such a reality-based television show. And I answered a number of progessively more foolish questions.

"What would I do with an air force man or a civilian who had a UFO on film or in a photograph that was not explained away by reflections and optical phenomena?" Besides roll your eyes? Answering the truth, of course, would have been impolite.

Such questions made me feel dumb. And it wasn't the interviewer's fault they were idiotic. Anyone having to actually find a team of serious people with more than half a brain for such a project is going to be hard put to avoid the ludicrous.

It is possible to envision a show in which the point is to make fools of the people who turn up "evidence" of the paranormal, but I've never seen anything like that on television as a series. The Amazing Randi has never been a hit in TV-land.

I was told many of the ideas were being built around the research efforts of someone who runs a website called (No link provided for obvious reasons.) The intellectual currency of the show and site, it was said, was derived from years of retrieval of government documents through the Freedom of Information Act. And to this it can be said that a mountain of FOIA paper or the will to accumulate isn't automatically worth something, as anyone who has done it for a long time will tell you.

The X-Files, in fact, once made a small joke of this, one that had meaning on a couple levels.

The nerds who were the Lone Gunmen had just received a heavy carton from the government, one thought to contain a stack of sensational and invaluable information released by FOIA. They open the box and find a cinderblock.

It's a shame you can't get paid in cash upfront for consultations of this kind. If I ever recognize the show on cable, I'll let ya know about it.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

THE ANNALS OF TERRORISM: Abandon all skepticism

I've had some experience evaluating the alleged work and capability of jihadi "terrorists" since 9/11. A chronicle of the work can be read here. One formative experience was consulting to the legal defense of a group of alleged terrorists being prosecuted in what became known as the trial of the London ricin ring.

The London ricin ring crashed into the news in January of 2003 when British anti-terror forces raided a dingy apartment in a section of London called Wood Green. The raid was part of an anti-terror sweep called Operation Springbourne in which many young Islamic young men were arrested. As the story was originally told, an al Qaida poison ricin had been discovered at Wood Green and the terrorist plot to attack Londoners had been foiled.

The intelligence gathered in this raid was said to be astonishing and on February 5, Colin Powell linked the London ricin ring to the al Qaida terrorist, al Zarqawi, operating in the north of Iraq. The linkage was provided, Powell claimed, by a "detained al Qaida operative." More simply, al Zarqawi was giving marching orders or training to the London ricin ring and this was one reason among many presented to go to war with Iraq.

(Sidenote: On Thursday, while the mainstream newsmedia went into overkill on al Zarqawi's elimination, they briefly cited his place in the Powell debacle at the UN. What they didn't dwell upon was the original connection to a ricin plot, which was simply imaginary. Since they never looked at the results of the trial of the London ricin ring, they were free to repeat the established meme that al Zarqawi had expertise in ricin and had exported it to Europe, or perhaps London, in the guise of the Wood Green poison plot. This stemmed from only two pieces of information: Colin Powell's discredited speech at the UN Security Council, already mentioned, and a very brief spot by NBC's Pentagon correspondent, Jim Miklaszewski in 2004. Miklaszewski certainly did not know if al Zarqawi was making ricin and the story was poorly sourced to Roger Cressey, a confederate of Richard Clarke's, who had become well known for going to the newsmedia with information aimed at discrediting the Bush administration -- in this case, that opportunities to kill him in a missile strike had been forfeited.

Subsequently no reliable or concrete evidence of ricin production by Zarqawi in Iraq has been published. The most that can generously be said of the information is that it is rumor -- hearsay from American intelligence or journalistic sources of dubious quality. In matter of fact, ricin in ground castor beans, or castor cake, was found in Iraq. And it was written up in the final report of the Iraq Survey Group, which also published a picture of a bag of castor seeds. Attributed to a party ISG called the al Abud network, a group of Iraqis, the ricin effort was undertaken by a Baghdad chemist painted as sympathetic to the anti-US cause. The castor seeds had been ground into castor cake post-invasion and the project was broken up by American forces. But this was not connected to al Zarqawi. What the ISG said was this: "ISG has found no evidence to confirm or deny that the al-Abud network is an integrated and coordinated piece of a larger insurgency campaign in Iraq. However, the al-Abud network’s efforts are likely known to the insurgency because of the proximity in Fallujah of the al-Abud leadership and insurgent Zarqawi network..."

Since the truth was awkward and rather complicated, it has again essentially been forgotten by the US news media. Instead, the meme of al Zarqawi as a ricin-maker in the north of Iraq has become entrenched.

And since then it has become a talking point for the left which uses the meme -- the misinformation, actually -- to bash the administration over the head for allegedly not attacking and finishing off al Zarqawi years ago. Since it is a politically useful fraud it's become unstoppable. On Thurday and Friday it was repeated again and again around the web, spread in histories of the dead terrorist and a long news analysis by David Corn of The Nation, who requoted liberally from Miklaszewski's 2004 piece as if it was proof of something.)

In any case, the trial of the ricin ring took months and ended in April of 2005 with the jury finding everyone in the dock innocent except for one loner, Kamel Bourgass, whom the prosecution could not link to al Qaida or al Zarqawi. In addition, no ricin had actually been found at the London apartment and the training in poison-making was revealed as three sheets of handwritten rubbish, copied from Yahoo computers in Palo Alto. It had not come from al Qaida, or Afghanistan, or even the north of Iraq. And Bourgass -- convicted in the stabbing murder of a police officer -- was sent to prison for a long time.

Very little of this was covered by the US newsmedia. The story didn't fit the script of sensational superterrorism. It made Americans and British anti-terror experts look bad and the threat of alleged chemical or bioterrorism exaggerated and foolish. Other shames included the fact that a prosecution source in the British case, one who was not brought to testify but who set the preliminary tone of news coverage and prosecution strategy, was assumed to have been tortured into a confession, as was the US "detained al Qaida operative" cited by Powell at the UN. More proof, if anyone needs it by now, that torture doesn't work.

The London ricin ring was important news for the American media and statesmen just prior to the war with Iraq. But when it had been dismantled by simple inconvenient truths, it suddenly wasn't news in the States.

I had access to the secret terrorist documents presented at the trial and saw how stupid they looked. So I put images of the translated court copies on the web. Their air of menace, you see, was preserved only when they were kept secret. And if they had been released to the general public in the month before the war on Iraq, maybe Colin Powell would not have chosen to use the London ricin ring in his show before the UN Security Council. It would have saved him at least one embarrassment out of many.

This practice -- the making secret or withholding of terrorist documents -- has become a repeating game, one in which papers are seized from alleged plotters, and trumpeted by the media as evidence of something horrible lurking in the shadows. But their import is disguised when they are kept from from the general public, allowing those with a certain story to tell to interpet them.

Enter the New Yorker magazine earlier this year. A journalist had been assigned to profile the head of a private intelligence firm called the SITE Institute. Located in northern Virginia, The SITE Institute translates and distributes documents it liberates from jihadist websites. It does it for a price and provides this service as intelligence to various clients.

Normally, I don't pay attention to SITE Institute's product. I'm wary, as most people should be, of for-profit firms that purport to either compete with or replace functions of the work of national intelligence agencies, no matter how lousy one may think such agencies are. An inescapable fact of the war on terror is that capabilities and threats are frequently exaggerated. To get people to listen to your story or stories, to make them buy something you are selling, you have to frighten them. And if the evidence at hand isn't sufficiently scary, or the people who you aren't attentive enough, then the temptation is strong to embellish and sell the goods like something they ain't. (Another good example are the forged documents, peddled for money, that purported to show Hussein attempting to get uranium in Niger.)

In summer of 2006, the New Yorker finally published its story on the work of Rita Katz and the SITE Institute in "Annals of Terror."

Writer Benjamin Wallace-Wells, who hangs his hat at the Washington Monthy, contacted me to discuss a document published by the SITE Institute. I had bought one called "Preparation of Botulism Toxin." Secured from a jihadist website, it purported to inform how to brew botulism, a singularly deadly toxin produced by the bacterium, Clostridium botulinum.

"Preparation of Botulism Toxin" became important in mid 2005 when the New York Times ran an editorial by a Stanford business professor who cited it in a warning that terrorists could poison the nation's milk supply rather simply, killing hundreds of thousands. The op-ed defied logic. Possess a jihadist paper on botulism and you're possibly a superterrorist, one that makes the 9/11 plotters seem like pikers?! No way. But it was necessary to actually have a look at the damn thing before making an evaluation, at which point I found it was for sale by SITE Institute.

I secured a copy and along with colleague and biological arms control expert Milton Leitenberg at the University of Maryland, we set out our take on the subject. It was a strong and unequivocal rebuttal, one we took to the New York Times. The Times had taken the unusual step of publishing an outrageous claim, one that put the potential for botulism poison production in the hands of terrorists, and delivered it through authority. And the SITE Institute's document was a central piece of it. In the simplest possible language, we politely called it nonsense.

The Times declined to print our counter-argument. In the coming days, for practical purposes, it didn't matter. It was published on the website of the Federation of American Scientists and pointed to by Steven Aftergood's Secrecy News. At that point, lots of other people became interested from staffers in Congressional committees, to contractors for the CIA being briefed on bioterrorism, to people in the dairy industry who had worked on securing the milk supply and who objected to this new unverified theory of terrorist threat.

Wallace-Wells, for the New Yorker, was told this. I put it to him as an example of the way alleged pieces of intelligence are misrepresented and misused to create the impression of a clear danger. And I cited another document, again sold by the SITE Institute as well as a competitor in the same business, the Terrorism Research Center, this one on the production of plague.

These documents weren't what they wound up being cracked-up as, either.

I pointed out that someone had shopped them to the news media. The Washington Post had bitten on the latter and published a Sunday feature of al Qaeda on the world-wide web and how it was judged to be training in bioterrorism through a couple of these jihadist "papers."

The Los Angeles Times had also been trawled and one of its reporters contacted me for an evaluation of the materials he had been given. After giving him the same briefing I give everyone on these types of things, the newspaper never published a story.

You see, when one can weave a story of menacing documents taken from the web, it's always good to go. But when the intelligence documents are shown to reveal the opposite, editors and reporters lose interest. The reality is awkward and not sufficiently seasoned with potential fear. Their ability to grab the reader is lessened.

For the New Yorker, I was written out of the story. What I had to say was reduced to a sentence, and a not very accurate one: "Katz has many critics, who believe that she is giving terrorists a bigger platform than they would otherwise have, and that the certainty and obsession that make her a dedicated archivist also make her too eager to find plots where they don’t exist; she publicized a manual for using botulinum in terror attacks, for example, which experts later concluded was not linked to any serious threat."

This was a sneaky way for the New Yorker to get around saying that the document I had analyzed was a piece of crap. Of course experts later concluded it was not linked to any serious threat. As a practical matter, the only thing you could do with "Preparation of Botulism Toxin" was print it out, roll the paper into a cylinder and use it to swat flies.

Perhaps it could be confusing in a scary way to a layman, but it was still useless, with no potential in weapons applications. Second, I could care less what platform terrorists have. It's a reporter's misinterpretation of a complicated set of issues which cannot be reduced to a single sentence. As has been discussed in this blog entry, terrorist documents are exaggerated by different parties, but often for similar reasons -- to make them appear to be evidence of a capability that is not possessed, to tell a frightening story, to get people to entertain the conceit that valuable counter-terror and intelligence work is being done. The documents taken from the claimed London ricin ring were exaggerated and as long as people bought that simple distortion, they believed a complicated bioterror plot was afoot in London. "The Preparation of Botulism Toxin" was likewise distorted.

In fact, "Preparation of Botulism Toxin" would have remained an obscure bit of electronic detritus produced by jihadists if it had not been given the imprint of authority on the editorial page of the New York Times. After that it became part of a larger effort to scare people over the safety of the milk supply, one that had ramifications that are ongoing. (By example, on June 1 the US government announced it was awarding Cangene, a Canadian firm, $363 million to produce 200,000 doses of botulism anti-toxin, which comes out to $1,815 per dose on the taxpayer dime.)

Instead, the New Yorker chose to publish a story in which value statements -- the usual journalist's he-said/she-said -- are presented as weapons and jousts in a duel between talking heads of counter-terrorism. On one side, the SITE Institute and its boosters, battling hard in the war on terror and against the slow ineptitude of the intelligence agencies. On the other, people who begged to differ.

But back to the New Yorker phrase -- "publicized a manual for using botulinum in terror attacks . . . "

It's too generous. So I thought about it and decided to give you, the reader, the capability for using botulinum in a terror attack from the publicized manual.

For this to work, you will have to suspend your natural sense of disbelief and common sense. You will have to believe that by reading jihadist statements -- no matter how trivial or inapt -- you have the potential to be a superterrorist in your head.

First, let's skip right to the juicy part of "Preparation of Botulism Toxin," entitled HOW TO USE THE TOXIN AS A BIOLOGICAL WEAPON.

"The first step is to dissolve the toxin in water using any detergent in a concentration of 0.1 to 1 percent . . . it may be either used as

"1 -- spray form..." writes the jihadist(s). To use it in a spray, put it in a nebulizer.

"2 -- Addition of toxin to water tanks or food supplies . . ." says the jihadist. This is the part that grabs the attention of the easily impressed or the person looking to tell a scary story.

"3 -- using carriers . . . " More unimportant and brief gibberish deleted.

Not very exciting, huh? Seems empty, devoid of content.

Skipping forward in "Preparation" brings us to the crux of the issue. To have any hope of using botulism toxin as a weapon, you have to be able to find and grow the right toxic strain of Clostridium botulinum. It's one of the complicated parts and if it can't be achieved, all the rest of the singing and dancing is fancy bull.

So in SEARCHING FOR THE BACTERIA (Clostridium botulinum) type A or B and there [sic] ISOLATION:

"In the following steps, we will isolate the bacteria . . . from soil and identify them.

"The samples used to isolate the bacteria are samples Either from soil-lakes -- animal faces [sic] . . . "

The terrorists mean "animal feces."

Then there are a few pages on bacterial cultivation taken from a simple lab text on microbiology, but that's pretty much it. Just find it in "soil-lakes" and animal dung. It's a trope that is found in many Islamic terrorists' documents, ones that purport to show an interest in making botulism toxin. Its allure is that it sounds easy -- just get the bacteria from "soil-lakes" and horse crap. Indeed, a similar form of it was found in the papers of Kamel Bourgass, the man convicted in the trial of the London ricin ring.

However, "Preparation of Botulism Toxin" is a more complicated document than those found in the expunging of the London ricin ring. It contains many pages of lab procedures, none of them particularly revealing or indicative of much knowledge in the art of microbial preparations, copied from unnamed clinical lab texts.

Finally, the jihadists get to ISOLATION OF THE TOXIN AND ITS PURIFICATION. Since they don't know what methods have been used by national biowarfare programs and are unfamiliar with the great amount of scientific literature on the isolation and characterization of the botulism toxin, they wing it by shotgunning a few briefly described methods taken from first year biochemistry lab. Lucky you, I once taught biochemistry lab and recognized them.

You can use "cell fractionation," write the bioterrorists. Since "there are too many methods for cell fractionation," pick your own, they indicate.

"BEAD MILL HOMOGENIZATION" is described in half a page.

And ENZYMATIC LYSIS with lysozyme is given another half page.

But I'm betting your getting bored with this game. As bored as I was having to read "Preparation of Botulism Toxin" a year ago and arriving at the conclusion that it had been used as a prop to sell a scary story, one that certainly seems to have contributed to the idea that Islamo-terrorists could kill 200,000 people with botulism toxin if we don't buy a cure ahead of time.

Anyway, "Purification of Botulism Toxin" can't teach you to be a bioterrorist. That was the right message. Awkward, and certainly not scary, but the truth. Click here if you want more precise technical information on Clostridium botulinum than the authors of "Purification" had access to. And click here for even more. Nyah!

RELATED READING: From the Poisoner's Handbook to the Botox Shoe of Death! More from the little black books of jihadists.

Monday, June 05, 2006

WHAM BAM CANUCK GLAM: Crash Kelly -- sugar-coating defeat through boogie rock

"You're 33 on the charts," sings Crash Kelly. As Canadians, they're self-knowing, an assesment that they're not crashing the top ten, but headed for the bottom, in hearts or on the hit parade, no matter what. The tuneful collisional hard rock on Electric Satisfaction surpasses their last LP, one with a great glam rock single, "Penny Pills." Tsar's (and you don't know who they were -- a band from the UC Santa Barbara frats in Isla Vista, CA) Band-Girls-Money did this a year ago with less handclaps and not as much happy-sounding keyboard devoted to the task of making fist-pumping pop metal of regret and confusion.

Crash Kelly's nasal singer shakes his head and whispers in your ear while the guitars do "Louie Louie" thump forward, backward and sideways, the lead guitar squealing in all the right percussion holes, the background singers mimicking the Beatles. Like Def Leppard's Yeah! , it's a hard rock dance fest. But this one isn't about the golden sun of the "Waterloo Sunset." Instead, the girls are always grinding smokes out on your face.

"She Put the Shock" opens with super-crunch fuzz riffola, the rock 'n' roll back beat driven through by roadhouse piano. Boogie licks shoot fireworks left and right, harmony leads work towards a "jukebox Lizzy song" while a girl puts the lead in Crash's pencil. Near the end, the band sticks in multiple quotes from Thin Lizzy.

"Rock and Roll Disasters" is from "That 70's Show" -- the episode, whether it happened or not, where Eric suffers from erectile dysfunction. Teenage hearts break and degrade, Donna forgives him, and spends the rest of the night mending a shattered ego. "You dumbass," says Red, many times.

"You're a drag when you're high, and you're friends have left for greener pastures" sings Crash on a tune of the same name. The guitars trumpet, the harmony singers swell in regret: "Best get used to spending nights alone." Ouch. Don't let the tight smile slip. Could be an allegory for middle age and a simultaneous crisis in morale.

The album closes with "Cold Ethyl" from Alice Cooper's Welcome to My Nightmare tour. If you get exotic the dame you want, you'll be cold, icycle blue, stuck in refrigerator heaven.

Mea culpa: A big "Oops." The original review bungled the name of Crash's new album as Electric Fascination. It's Electric Satisfaction. "You dumbass," said Red.
WHAM BAM BRITISH GLAM: Def Leppard's "Yeah!"

In the same day: Crash Kelly's Electric Satisfaction and Def Leppard's Yeah! Decisions, decisions, but Dick Destiny is leading with Leppard because they take the album name from Brownsville Station's Yeah! from 1973. And that's the fundamental vintage of the Leppard CD, give or take two years to either side.

Why guys want to play electric guitar.
There's no "Smokin' In The Boys Room," but the Leppard's know the vice, anyway. What's the brand -- Rothmans instead of Cub Koda's three packs a day, and rock 'n' roll fun? Who knows, it's veddy British, with a great transcription of the Kinks' "Waterloo Sunset." No Beatles here, but ELO's "10538 Overture" gets close, which is the idea. Either that, or you can pretend the Leps are imitating Cheap Trick at its most florid. Following it, Roxy Music's "Street Life" in form that dumps the art rock and elevates the swaggering glam ballroom beat.

Another pleasant surprise, ""He's Gonna Step On You Again," by a Brit "two-hit" wonder, John Kongoes. Who he? Someone from 1970-71, entangled with Elton John/Gus Dudgeon. And maybe there should have been more of him because the tune sits up, barks and asks you to play it a few times.

The track programming is crushing: "Little Bit of Love," Free doing Motown, "The Golden Age of Rock 'n' Roll" (Mott the Hoople), "No Matter What" (Badfinger) -- all wham-wham-wham, climaxed with the jungle beat of "Step On You" and Thin Lizzy's crunching "Don't Believe a Word." If your hips used to move to rock 'n' roll, they might twitch once again. Don't embarrass youself, wait until everyone's out of the room except the pets. They can't talk.

For those who want the he-man stuff, there's guitar, lots of it, and solos. Check Phil Collin's on "No Matter What" and the finger-flyin' zinger he tosses over the shoulder into "Golden Age."

The booklet comes with every bandmember dressed-up to rep a favorite iconic '70's glam rock album cover. Guitarist Vivian Campbell's Marc Bolan (if you can't guess the album, you don't want this record); Phil Collin's head is Photoshopped onto Raw Power's Iggy Pop. Heh- don't we all wish, guy. (Attention kids, if you play guitar, you too might get to look like this!) In the pamphlet, the band member's explain why they like the songs they do. Read a couple to get the idea, skip the rest and put the CD. You didn't get this to imagine their gums flapping into a tape recorder.

Every year, I find a few new glam rock records to make me flip. It's dependable, for people who like to play electric guitar and sing, no matter their age, always like it. And this article, from last year, goes on about it even more.

The psychology of Clara Petacci: Def Leppard too shallow? Then read a big newspaper pop music recommendation

Saturday, Dick Destiny continued explaining the cliche of newspaper music journalists and the presentation of pop music as something of intellectual value for the upper-middle class. It's gotta be earnest, it has to mean something, it has to be intelligent, so much so that if you have any and like pop music you'll set down the paper and go outside with a glass of ice tea.

So for Saturday, the Los Angeles Times presented some trivial computer mash-up artist who taken filth-rocker GG Allin, someone who was way to in your face for almost everyone, and actually recommended music that had turned him into the equivalent of a tube of Gleem toothpaste.

On Sunday, it was Scott Walker, who has a new album. Of course, Walker's the equivalent of intellectual musical B-12 vitamin in the rock critic lexicon, an unpalatable horrible-tasting no-sale but always good for you. "Autodidactic"! "Genius"! "Pretentious"! "Eccentric"! All in the same sentence!

Walker "crystallizes rock's idea of high art." Of course he does. His "operatic" voice make him "more rebellious. . . " And if you are still the doubter, Walker delivers some "T.S. Eliot," the psychology of fascism" because one song is about Mussolini's girlfriend, Clara Petacci; "the impact of terrorism" and other stuff that I could have programmed the artificial intelligence program robot on my old BBS in 1995 to say under the theme: "Rock critic trying to persuade
you take your medicine."

Saturday, June 03, 2006

WHAT IF GG ALLIN HAD BEEN A NEW WAVE SISSY? Someone in a newspaper 's arts section would think it was great

In early entries, Dick Destiny has explained how the majority of music journalists at newspapers avoid having anything to do with hard rock.

A lot of it's an unconscious class thing. The writers are primarily nice upper-middle class snobs. But they don't know anything about hard rock and don't get it even when it manifests in the extremes and craps on their feet. Gay Talese was on O'Reilly on Friday night, and he said that compared to his days as a reporter at the New York Times, that the employees of newspapers had generally moved away from being grounded in the unconnected middle class, so you don't have to take it from someone like me. Demographically, it just makes sense.

Anyway, Dick Destiny subscribes to the Los Angeles Times and couldn't get through a day without reading it over lunch. But its music coverage -- whenever it touches upon anything grubby from the world of rock 'n' roll -- has always been ludicrous. If you're sincere and intellectual, good boys and girls, painfully white and lip-pursingly collegiate and indie, something for children whose moms drive them to punk rock rehearsals, benign novelties, or some combination of these, you're in great hands, but if you're a hard rock band from a hard rock town, forget it. What the Los Angeles Times Calendar section chooses to present as news from that world is delusional.

One good recent example of the Los Angeles Times in this regard was Wolfmother. Music writers peddled the conceit -- of course, they didn't think it was a conceit -- that the Australian band was like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath or the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

But every Saturday, the Times also presents a selection of downloadable pop musics from the web. These must also be sincere and intellectual, lip-pursingly collegiate and indie, a novelty, or some combination of the three.

Today was no exception.

Selected by Casey Dolan, first to be delivered was Bruce Springsteen's "Old Dan Tucker" which fulfilled the sincere and intellectual selection from the menu, much like a musical vitamin. Next was "Throw It All Away" by something called Zero 7, of which it was said "their new album . . . explores the whimsy of the marketplace and disposable culture..." That was a second course of intellectual and the first helping of lip-pursingly collegiate and indie.

Third was a song by a Minneapolis group called The Chambermaids. Take the name, note the use of the phrase ""thinking outside the box harmonically" and the assertion that the moniker is no indication of how "rough" the band sounds, expect exactly the opposite -- and you are there.

But the best unconscious fraud was the last selection -- a song said to combine the elements of the fastest rapper in the world according to a book of world records, Twista, and GG Allin. Put together by a duo called My!Gay!Husband!, it grabbed Dick Destiny's attention because GG Allin, when he was alive, sent a copy of his very first album (on David Peel's vanity label!) and one of his first singles, "Gimme Some Head," to me, back in the mid-80's. Dick Destiny subsequently wrote a computer virus named after a different Allin "tune," "Eat My Diarrhea." The virus displayed a colorful and annoying graphic dedicating itself to the Texas Nazis, one of Allin's many worthless but like-minded backing bands. Allin was told about this while serving one of his terms in prison, according to second-hand news, and was reportedly bemused by the idea. Over the subsequent years, my friends and I subsequently bought other GG Allin records.

For the Los Angeles Times, Casey Dolan was not anywhere near the same page as GG Allin, who was known to defecate onstage, demonstrating the truth of the statement that some music writers wouldn't know hard rock if it walked in the door and evacuated on their shoes. The "TWISTA vs. GG Allin" tribute/mash-up by My!Gay!Husband! was alleged to contain Allin's "scabrous blasts" and "cranium-knocking rock 'n' roll." The song was nothing of the sort. It is a computerized cut-and-paste of three guitar chords, sounding as played by a New Wave band trying to imitate the Beastie Boys, backed by a toy drum machine.

Allin's first album did contain some material at odds with the loud obscenity and free-flowing filth that subsequently established his reputation. One song, "Don't Talk to Me," even sounded poppy and this is what My!Gay!Husband! chose to sample. Not so daring to select from typical Allin material, the duo of computer music diddlers had trouble getting through the word "motherfucker" for the MP3 file, something that would have never impeded their subject. If you believed even a little of the Los Angeles Times' fluff on My!Gay!Husband! and expected the likes of "Stink Finger Clit," "Suck My Ass It Smells," "Sleeping In My Own Piss" and "Swank Fuckin'," your were outta luck. Move along, now.

Friday, June 02, 2006

GOBBLERS: Old men, young men, dead men, zombies -- they all eat it

The guy who told me I had a fondness for gobblers looked like this
When I was a kid at Albright College, I used to get invited to do a radio show with a student ten years older than me. He'd invite me to pick a few records from the station library. After he'd play them, he'd pronounce them "gobblers" and never allow me to mention them again. Everything I liked was a "gobbler." Cactus was a gobbling turkey. Lynyrd Skynyrd were "gobblers," plural. "Midnight at the Oasis," however, always received premium airtime. [If I had more wits about me then I might have asked him how he knew of "gobblers." Had he come to know "gobble-wallahs" on a deployment to India?]

But, thank heaven, Gobblers stuck with me. Now I use it a lot.

"Rebel Meets Rebel" by David Allan Coe and the Cowboys from Hell is a gobbler. The Cowboys from Hell are the multi-platinum selling heavy metal band, Pantera, and Coe is an old country singer with a good number of hits under his belt. Coe and Pantera were legitimately rebels once but by the time they got the idea for this pile of it, rebellion was well out of reach.

L to R: Dead man and gruesome singer.A coincidental mist of depression comes off the record as a result of the guitar-player, Dimebag, being pumped full of lead onstage by a crazy Pantera fan last year. It's impossible to escape the image of a homicidal maniac storming into the limelight of a claustrophobic dive while a band plays stiff and rotten heavy metal barband boogie fronted by a gruesome-looking country singer.

It's also impossible to sit through more than half of this CD without hitting eject. Doesn't matter where you start. Six tunes of a metal band completely unsuited to playing this kind of music, embellished with a guitarist who sounds like an angry but poor man's Eddie van Halen. And that's all you can stand, tops.

I have an allergy to it because groups like this were common on the bar scene in the Lehigh Valley in the mid-Eighties. At least half a dozen musicians on the circuit were facile imitators of Eddie van Halen and while their groups stumbled through drinking man's boogie persistently enough to keep the barmen busy, the axemen never desisted from loading the night with imitation's of "Eruption" jackhorned into the middle of songs like "Roadhouse Blues." You could live with it when smelling strongly of drink and bent to the task of securing a one-night stand, but outside that set of circumstances -- headache provoking.

Only two tunes stick in my brain: "Arizona Highways" which contains acoustic Led Zeppelin steals, and "Heart Worn Highway," which my ears kept mistakenly telling me Coe was singing "HeartWorm Highway."

Where's Toilet Roll Teddy?
"Rebel Meets Rebel" is musty chaff to smell above the moon next to Coe's landmark "Penitentiary Blues" from 1969. Paradoxically, Coe opened for the raging Grand Funk Railroad at the time with songs that delivered a warm and comfortable barroom boogie feel. Accompanied by someone named Toilet Roll Teddy, instead of Dimebag, he laughs his way through "Monkey David Wine," followed by the good-natured cynicism of "Walking Bum." But there's no sense of humor or good nature on "Rebel Meets Rebel." It's just a group of name stiffs who pitilessly laid down the iron until they had enough material to quit.

And sometimes you find gobblers that you actually wind up liking somewhat after persistence with the CD changer.

Presumed drunken Limey terrorist
Demented Are Go's "Hellbilly Storm" is one such record. Their routine is an idiotic one: profane zombies in bad monster movie make-up performing souped-up rockabilly. And, as goes without saying when dealing with the obscure, they're self-defeating. Demented Are Go's singer was turned away at the border by Homeland Security for beefs related to being a disgrace in a public barroom, which is where you'd think you ought to be able to be a public disgrace with little risk to the security and well-being of the nation.

But the record is catchy and harmlessly crass. The drunken lout at the microphone sings on "Pedigree Scum" about once being many and now being one. Which Homeland Security more or less made come true by rejecting him and not his bandmates. Near the end, he jauntily sings on "Jogging Machine" how he likes to watch his girlfriend stumble on the treadmill. "The only thing that turns me on is to watch you jog and fall."

Follow up to P.T. Barnum Metal:

One week after the New York Times magazine dubbed Sunn0))) and Boris to be cliche-plated "Heady Metal," both bands performed in the city. The Village Voice covered the show with entertaining vigor and style here.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

BEER-DRINKERS AND ORC-RAISERS: Pop metal music, all varietals

Very familiar with beer-barrel polkaDon't be afraid of the highwayman with antlers on the cover. Korpiklaani -- Backwoods Clan in Finnish -- are just signaling they want you to drink until you fall over on "Tales Along the Road." "Happy Little Boozer," the first song on the LP is polka metal, heavier on the oompah than guitar crunch. About half the songs are in English, half in Finnish. When in English, the band sounds vaguely United Kingdom but always Celtic.

Accordions -- button-boxes for you old wurst fest fans back in southeast Pennsylvania -- and bagpipes adorn the guitar rock. The oompah metal is not such a new sound. More matter of factly, it's the noise of people making happy, partying, eating a lot. Listen to it and you want to hit the 'fridge for refreshments, which is probably the best compliment the band could be given. If you still have your Seventies import vinyl rotting in the garage, these guys sound something like Horslips (they don't sing as well, actually), a band that once turned The Tain into rock opera and performed another, if one wasn't enough, about the Irish immigrant experience of coming to America in steerage. Right now, I'm giving Korpiklaani the edge for not being ponderous or important.

Orcs like to sit by scenic lakes and enjoy pastry Next up are The Summoning from Austria. No, your eyes aren't failing. You absolutely cannot read their name in the upper lefthand corner of the CD sleeve. Yes, it's that way on purpose.

It's so you know The Summoning are serious when they insist they have written the first song ever sung in the language of Orcs and it is on this record! I couldn't tell which one it was because all the vocals, and they are spare, sound the same. Think of the guttural grunting sounds by men in the theme musics of Ennio Morricone for the Fistfuls of Dollars/Good, Bad & Ugly movies.

If that sounds hard to take, be assured The Summoning's "Oath Bound"CD is pretty easy listening. It furnishes long relaxing stretches of mellotron or orchestral arrangement, pipes and synthesizer work. The drums are of the kettle variety, plodding and pounding in a stately manner, great for watching the old Alistair McClean movie, Where Eagles Dare, with the sound muted and subtitling on. (I tried it and can assure you it works.) In any case, the more I listened to "Oath Bound" the more I thought that if it truly was about Orcs, they must be in a fairly serene mood, eating pastry by a lake.

If you don't like watching old movies to The Summoning, feel free to be more modern. May I recommend it while surfing the Internet for porn or making a petty nuisance of yourself on chatboards under an alias?

I also realize this is not what the guys in The Summoning want to hear because they're sinister black metal fellows. But they have made good movie theme music and should be commended.

The fiddle player isn't as icky as he looksLast in this trio is Naio SSaion's "Out Loud." (And, nope, I don't know how to say their name.) The cover makes the girl and the fiddle player in the band look evil but that's for show. Naio SSaion are hit parade and Eighties/AOR-friendly. In fact, almost all of it is medium tempo pop metal with G-rated titles like "Teen," "Miss You," "Shut Up" and "Blah-Blah." Naio Ssaion are ready right now for a soundstage videotaping of a show for the Disney Channel, the girl's range and delivery falling into commercial teenpop with heavy metal guitar. A couple days ago Dick Destiny mentioned the Boston band, Damone, sounded like this group for the beginning of its new CD.

The fiddle player adds wistful and melancholy flavors to some of the songs because it wouldn't do to have listeners get the idea that this rock music was made by twenty and thirtysomething kids with no troubles at all.

All albums are on Napalm Records and in stores now.
THE REBELS WHO SHARE THEIR TOUR-BUS TOILET: Record debuts at #1, still not good enough for some reason

Uncle Larry announced the Dixie Chicks at Numero Uno last night but it's not good enough for the mainstream news. That's still evidence rural or country-lovin' or Leader-supportin' Americans are making the girls pay.

"Taking The Long Way," their third chart-topper, sold 525,000 copies in the week ended May 28, according to tracking firm Nielsen SoundScan. The figure ranks as one of the biggest openings of the year, and exceeds industry expectations by more than 100,000 copies. But it paled against the 780,000 copies that their last studio release . . ." transmitted Reuters.

Bet on the media -- which has already given the Dixie Chicks' script of earning woe and blows for talk deemed unpatriotic -- to keep chewing gums and pursing lips over this newest cruelty or petty slight, depending on your POV. By contrast, Tool, a California prog metal act which receives virtually no press on the order of the Dixie Chicks, alse debuted in the number #1 slot with its new album, which had move a bit over half a million copies.

That's the Chicks story and they're sticking to it, as they proved decisively on the Uncle Larry show. The "interview" afforded the chance for citizens to call in and make nice with the Chicks. No spittle-spraying mean drunks from Texas or other parts calling them sluts allowed, although everyone heard about the calumny of such. One foaming drunk, however, was allowed in over the phone and he was just the right tail-wagging kind of junkyard dog. That was the fellow who called Don Rumsfeld a coward and asked if the Chicks thought he was the same. They dodged around a little with talk about a Weaver -- it would be quite something, you know, to actually call someone a coward if you weren't smelling strongly of drink on primetime -- but it was still good for a Chicks & Larry giggle.

In the mean-time, another southern girl -- make that southern hemisphere girl -- Leanne Kingwell isn't doing so bad on the more modest college radio charts. According to Spins Tracking System, the Australian's tune "More," from her latest album on Krill Records, is at #7 behind offers by the Flaming Lips, Rob Zombie, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and a couple others.

Visit Leanne Kingwell here.