Debris from the war on terror years

Posted in Bioterrorism, Culture of Lickspittle, Ricin Kooks at 10:34 am by George Smith

Early in the week I received an e-mail query about the old Mujahideen Poisons Handbook. Many readers will remember it as a .pdf pamphlet that figured prominently the US government’s and media’s received wisdoms passed out on al Qaeda and its capabilities with regards to weapons of mass destruction.

A historian was asking where to find a clean copy because she was writing a book about “popular manuals and their challenges to free speech. She explained this went back into the 19th century.

Loompanics, an American publisher based in Port Townsend, Washington, specialized in fringe books on mayhem and other unsavory topics. It was part of this literature in the United States, although its heyday ran only from the mid-Seventies to the early Nineties.

When the digital networks began to arrive in the early Nineties bits of the detritus from Loompanics and other fringe US publishers were copied into cyberspace, usually by young men, and distributed out of their bedroom-based bulletin board systems.

This copied samizdat electronic literature went around the world.

Paradoxically, this phenomenon and the rise of the web put Loompanics out of business. Which wasn’t a bad thing considering the collateral cost in ruined lives possession of the works of Loompanics and other similar publishers has caused as a result of the war on terror.

Free speech guarantees the right to publish odious materials of little social value. But there can be severe random and unintended costs associated with it.

The war on terror produced such things and continues to do so.

Specifically, with regards to Loompanics, the brief e-mail discussion
dealt with the Mujahideen Poisons Handbook.

I refuted it often around the middle of the decade, most famously when it showed up in a Sunday feature at the Washington Post on “e-Qaeda” and how the terror organization was using the web to train its minions.

The graphic above is the Post’s. It was utter trash on the making of “betaluminium poison,” presented as a real potential menace, evidence of a real capability where none existed.

‘”[Contrary] to the Post story line, the cited library materials suggest a startling lack of technical competence,” wrote Steve Aftergood in his Secrecy News Bulletin. “Unfortunately, the Post did not critically examine the materials that it presented.”

Specifically, the bit on “betaluminium” was a garbled excerpt on botulism from a Loompanics book, Maxwell Hutchkinson’s (a pseudonym) The Poisoner’s Handbook. (On which I’ve regrettably written quite a bit.)

Most of the information in both the Mujahideen Poisons Handbook and Hutchkinson’s Poisoner’s Handbook is laughable in terms of accurate chemistry and biology. However, over the decade, many counter-terror and police forces never got that.

And you couldn’t tell them.

Perhaps it was too inconvenient to the time and their purposes to admit to such things. Or maybe their analyses were just always done by “experts” who were really incompetent.

Both pamphlets were apparently written/composed/put together by people who seemed to have very little idea about chemical or biological terrorism, or poisoning, but wished to create appearances that they did. They wrote as if they had performed procedures that simply do not adhere to reality.

Nevertheless, these writings became documents that put you away, ruining a life and reputation once news is published and convictions handed down.

In England they became seditious materials, a crime to possess because they fell into the category of things deemed likely to be of material use to terrorists.

In the United States, possession of recipes or related materials copied from them and other similar publications are always presented as evidence of intent to commit acts of terrorism in domestic trials.

I’ve been consulted in three such trials on these publications and recipes, two in England years ago. And more recently, one which is set to run soon in Georgia.

The Washington Post’s story, published in 2005 and written by Steve Coll and Susan B. Glasser, was not the only mainstream news organization that disseminated ridiculous claims on the nature of these types of documents and what they allegedly showed al Qaeda could do. Many did it, far too many.

But the Post’s article, by dint of the importance of the newspaper, puts it in the forefront in terms of the damage it did to public information and perception on these things.

During the war on terror, al Qaeda never possessed the capability to make weapons of mass destruction. The best it could manage was apparently videotaping, very early on, the cruel killing of a puppy with cyanide in a room used as a gas chamber.

However, the government and very-important-person thinking on the matter was just the opposite.

They were very wrong. And if they continue to think such things, they still are. The Post’s reporters and editors, and too many others to count in the mainstream media, got it all wrong.

In 2005, Steve Coll won the Pulitzer for his book, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001. Today he is the president of the New America Foundation, “a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy institute that invests in new thinkers and new ideas to address the next generation of challenges facing the United States.”

The belief that weapons of mass destruction can be simply made from recipes included in the publications of the American fringe, migrated to the desperate places of the world, is now irreversibly embedded in our culture.

I see it almost every week, from ex-anti-virus king John McAfee’s ridiculous stories about Hezbollah using Belize and Nicaragua to ship massive amounts of ricin powder into the United States to a new television movie in England called Complicit, a drama dealing with a “jihadist plot to smuggle ricin … from Egypt to the UK with a view to killing thousands …”

Comments are closed.