Renewing the mythology of the London ricin cell

Not worth a tin full of beans


For the Strategic Insights piece, the ricin recipe is said to be from Hutchkinson. However, it isn't. Hutchkinson's, as well as other recipes for ricin, contains a step that calls for the addition of lye to castor seeds. Bourgass's recipe does not include it.

While it may seem like a fine point, since the publication of the two ricin recipes in the United States in the Eighties, they have been copied to many places, scattered across hard-copy documents and the internet, by many different people. Along the way, the recipe - and other poison purification methods associated with it - have picked up trivial modifications added by their different anonymous copyists. These changes do not separate the recipe from its common origins in hardcopy by Saxon and Hutchkinson. But they do distinguish the subsequent recreations of it from each other. I furnished copies from the two originals to Campbell and, by definition, the British court.

Experts from Porton Down were unaware of this. As a result, the prosecution was unable to link the Bourgass recipe to al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Campbell found Bourgass's poison formulas on Yahoo! servers.

The other important feature of Bourgass's poison recipes were that they were basically nonsense, contrary to the assertion of Nigel Sweeney. "The London Ricin Cell" article makes no mention of this, probably because it would spoil the reasoning that the case showed the existence of a "WMD proliferation cell".

Porton Down scientists stepped through the Bourgass recipe, which was simply to grind a weight of castor beans and degrease the subsequent mash. This process destroyed roughly ninety percent of the active toxic protein in the mixture, making it rather obvious that it is more hazardous to simply do nothing to castor beans.

Bourgass's recipes also included one for "rotten meat poison". Paradoxically, this recipe was descended from Maxwell Hutchkinson's book and it supposes one can create botulinum toxin, the most deadly of poisons, by simply throwing corn flour, water and meat in a can. There is absolutely nothing "shown to work by experts" about it, although it has proven fascinating enough to the simple-minded to have ensured multiple unique translations of it in jihadi electronic documents.

"It was therefore concluded that a WMD proliferation network existed in the case of the London Ricin Cell to acquire toxic substances by individuals with similar ideological and/or theological purposes," writes Segell. To buy this is to believe that the trivial recipes of Kamel Bourgass constituted a step toward a valid WMD program and some manner of training. Little could be farther from the truth.

As part of this "WMD proliferation network," Segell also restates a claim that anthrax was discovered in Afghanistan by US forces. While this idea continues to circulate due to the inevitable persistence of very bad news reports in Lexis, bioweapons expert and historian Milton Leitenberg has exposed it as a canard. Having done research including interviewing of the military and declassification of documents on the subject, Leitenberg has stated and written unequivocally that no anthrax was found.

In late July, Mouloud Sihali, one of the alleged members of the "ricin cell" related in interview to The Guardian how he came to be part of the Kamel Bourgass trial, even though he did not know that man until he saw him "in the dock". Sihali had been dragged into it by bad luck and coincidence, by the fact that a man with which he had shared a room for a brief period, Mohammed Meguerba, had his address in a pocket when authorities arrested the latter in an immigration raid. The police subsequently arrested Sihali. In the meantime, Meguerba had been released and fled to Algeria where he was recaptured and tortured into a confession that yielded Bourgass's name.

Sihali would probably be dismayed but unsurprised to find that he was still unfairly painted, although not by name, as a member of a "WMD proliferation network" in an American scholarly journal devoted to the study of war and terrorism. The demands of the war on terror often require a supply of bad guys, new and old, even when they're not. ®

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.


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