Did you know you can buy a WMD on eBay? It's true. Right here.
Those are rosary peas, seeds of the Crab's Eye weed, which is commonplace in Florida and known as ratti in India. It also contains the protein abrin, which is more toxic than ricin, another similar enzyme.
Somehow mankind has muddled through, managing not to exterminate itself with rosary peas, which have been used in ornamental jewelry and ripped out of lawns by annoyed gardeners.
That is, until the US-led war on terror, a war in which the incompetent concoct terror scenarios about weapons of mass destruction, scenarios which toss common sense and critical-thinking out the window. With GlobalSecurity.Org Senior Fellow T-shirt on, it has been determined that this is done so that "readiness" may be practiced and the public convinced the tax dollars going to the Dept. of Homeland Security are well spent.
By-lined FORT INDIANTOWN GAP (a dilapidated Pennsy US army post where Cuban refugees were once held and DD rode in an armored personnel carrier as a Boy Scout), the Lebanon Daily News reported a week or so ago:
"With the early morning frost still coating the grass, the men raised their guns and slowly moved in.
"Clad in white-and-blue HazMat suits, bulletproof vests and gas masks, the men split into three groups and waited for the signal. Then, with the sudden crash of battering rams smashing into doors, they sped into action.
"The raid at the Gap was part of 'Exercise Wide Vigilance,' a bigger training simulation held yesterday by the South Central Pennsylvania Regional Counter-Terrorism Task . . . "
And what was the terror plot that was being broken up? A lab said to be using rosary peas to make a weapon of mass destruction.
"...Lebanon and Lancaster HazMat teams were also on hand to get a bit of practice dealing with a highly dangerous situation," reported the Lebanon newspaper.
"According to Dr. David E. Marx, an associate professor of chemistry at the University of Scranton and the 'evil chemist' in yesterday’s scenario, the chemical being made in the [terror] lab was abrin, a close cousin of ricin and sarin, the latter of which was used in the bombing of a Tokyo subway in 1995. Abrin has no known antidote. Marx set up the faux lab to mirror what authorities could expect to find in a real lab.
"'It’s as close as you can get without really doing it,' [Marx] said."
"Terrorists planned to explode bombs at the two sites, sending the [abrin] into the air. Marx said that, according to his calculations and the size of the lab, enough of the chemical was made to kill 2,500 people."
But abrin has never been used as a WMD. And it is not listed in the US military's blue book on chemical and biological warfare/terrorism, Medical Management of Biological Casualties. [NB, it is a statistic in an appendix of relative toxicities of natural poisons in the back of the book. But it is not handled as part of the threat spectrum with the other recognizable agents in the volume.]
Capable of killing thousands of people, according to this clowning exercise, the rosary pea is more sensibly explained at this garden shop in Florida. Call the FBI! Summon the SWAT team! Get the emergency technicians and throw everyone's clothes into a burn bag!
Without getting into the technical details, it's not possible to make rosary peas into a WMD. Technically speaking, it is possible to envision people being individually poisoned by abrin, if they were a target of a single assassination, or somehow mistakenly chewed and ate a couple rosary peas. Because of the latter, the FDA has been doing a small bit of work aimed at examining how to look for abrin in food.
But the US government has gone well beyond this, constructing a public belief system in which demonic menace is said to lurk everywhere and where death by exotic means is easy to achieve. It's a system in which terror advisors and consultants simply make things up on a frequent basis. And they make such useless exercises up because it is a way in which to get paid by the government for aiding in alleged terror preparedness.
"Yesterday’s exercise, the biggest of its kind in the region, was funded through the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security" wrote the Lebanon newspaper.
Readers of this blog may suspect that the addled concept of rosary peas as a WMD has filtered down from sources it has read of previously. Like the benighted chemical warfare recipes in the Afghan Manual of Jihad or Maxwell Hutchkinson's Poisoner's Handbook.
And they're right!
The Hutchkinson book, which has been responsible for so much trash belief re the capabilities of terrorists and their chemical dreams of mass death, does not disappoint. It furnishes the usual "wisdom" - wisdom in this case meaning the lack of it - on the subject.
On abrin, from page 8, in a section entitled "precatory beans:"
"Precatory bean plants may be purchased at nurseries nationwide.
"Some years ago, a few very stupid people came up with the idea of using the attractive scarlet and sable beans for rosary beads... If your target is strongly religious, then these beads can easily be modified to kill."
Hutchkinson continues with the advice to scarify the rosary peas so that the abrin might leak out and poison anyone who handles them. Since abrin is a protein, it can't be much of a contact poison, any more than you can eat a piece of meat by putting it on your skin, but Hutchkinson, of course, does not know this. He is more interested in poisoning the Pope.
"As the abrin slowly kills your target, an interesting cycle will begin," he writes. "The worse your target gets, the more he will pray with his rosary beads, which will only make him worse... "
"These items make wonderful presents for the religious target. We'd send one to the Pope, but he already has nineteen hundred years of Christian spoils to adorn himself with."
So what is to be thought when a local government carries out a terror exercise in which the threat is based upon such wretched mythology? To paraphrase Hutchkinson, "Some days ago, a few very stupid people came up with the idea . . ."
The abrin terror simulation and exercise was brought to you by the same people who furnished this one about two weeks ago. These are put together by an occupational safety consultancy known as Cocciardi and Associates, located in eastern Pennsylvania, a business which has been successful in selling to local governments. ®
This article was originally published at Dick Destiny.
George Smith is a Senior Fellow at GlobalSecurity.org, a defense affairs think tank and public information group. At Dick Destiny, he blogs his way through chemical, biological and nuclear terror hysteria, often by way of the contents of neighborhood hardware stores.