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?


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