Friday, January 30, 2009

PREDATOR STATE SECURITY: Ideas for writers of murder mysteries

Today DD received a query from a writer of mystery novels. The question, which occasionally comes up from others as well, is how to do better than the Roger Bergendorff's of the world.

Courtesy of predator state security and some literary license, murder mystery authors can do a lot better.

In recipes for home purification, everyone is looking at the wrong end of things.

First, think internal threat.

Let's continue by thinking our professional maniac is someone who want a finished product off the shelf, work done by vetted scientists.

And to that let's add con man, or a sociopath capable of convincing not particularly attentive scientists and businessmen to sell them anything as long as the voice, credentials, purchase order number and official letterhead seem convincing.

Since ricin is purified and sold for research purposes, there is a readymade product for the maniac poisoner.

In the US, the government has a program which is supposed to monitor ricin. That is, no one but scientists are supposed to be able to get hold of small amounts of purified material. And when they have it, they are subject to securing it and subsequent audits of their inventory.

However, botox -- which is much more poisonous than ricin -- is subjected to even greater attention and control.

But it is also clear that charlatans bypassed the government system directly through the inside while posing as a research firm, ordering purified botulinum toxin directly from a company which furnishes it to the biodefense research industry. From there, it was diverted for a business scheme.

With the proliferation of laboratories involved in chemical and bioweapons research in the US, the chance of dangerous lab-grade pure materials being diverted for nefarious use has increased in the past ten years, not decreased. This is now fairly well accepted as a potential hazard.

There is nothing stopping any author in positing some story device in which purified ricin is diverted into the hands of your murderer. And then the murderer finds himself in the position of the commie state security group implicated in the killing of Georgi Markov.

It is much better to have pure ricin furnished by experts than lame castor powder ground from a bag of seeds in your garage. In fact, it's far more likely to be of practical use if obtained in this manner.

The only tricky part is delivery and covering tracks. Do you want your villain to use the deadly bumbershoot approach? Or do you put it in a salad bar's shredded cheese container? And with pure material -- while you would not have a lot of it, it would come with some assayed measure of toxic activity which would help toward establishing the delivery of a minimum lethal dose.

The other catch is in its diversion. If a front company, it needs to be an empty shell when the authorities come looking. If it's diversion from a research lab, someone else has to be there to take the blame. Or it could be a lab or agency in which everyone is a potential suspect, like Ft. Detrick.

And even if the diversion can be traced, it can be years before the criminals are brought to book.


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