Ricin machines and rent-seeking

Posted in Bioterrorism, Ricin Kooks at 1:51 pm by George Smith

Alleged ricin-making machine, Matthew Buquet.

From the wire:

Matthew Buquet, 37, entered not-guilty pleas during an appearance before U.S. Magistrate Cynthia Imbrogno.

He is charged with producing and transferring a biological toxin called ricin; mailing a threatening communication to the president of the United States; and mailing a threatening communication to a federal judge. He faces up to life in prison if convicted.

No motive has been offered for the mailings, and the federal government has sealed most of the court documents in the case.

Last week, a case of rent-seeking behavior on the hazard of ricin from a laboratory funded by Homeland Security, by reporter Tom Sowa of the Spokesman Review newspaper:

As federal prosecutors build a case against a Spokane man charged with sending ricin-laced letters to the president, the CIA, a federal judge and Fairchild Air Force Base, one of the legal challenges they’ll face is proving that the substance is indeed ricin, a lethal poison derived from ground seeds of the castor plant.

[Note: This is untrue. There straightforward lab procedures used to test for active ricin. Typically, the FBI sends suspect samples, be they castor seeds, castor powder, or both, to the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center (NBACC). NBACC, which was built for the war on terror, then outsources the lab work to a firm like American International Biotechnology Services (AIBiotech) in Richmond, VA. Why does the NBACC, one of the most well-funded science installations in the country, outsource this work? Interesting question, one perhaps to be answered in the future.]

[Investigators] also can use tests to figure out how the ricin was made, which can help link a suspect with the chemicals used in the process or determine how much advance planning took place. New versions of those analytic tests are being developed at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, at the Chemical and Biological Signature Sciences Laboratory.

[Although the documents in the Buquet case are sealed, the FBI reporting agent will already have a very good idea of how the tainted letters were made. This is again not really accurate news, shaped to make the work at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory appear more valuable.]

Among the lab’s goals is developing better tools to identify the exact methods used to make ricin or other toxic substances, said David Wunschel, a biochemical researcher at PNNL.

There is an urgency to the lab’s work, because for many would-be terrorists, the ease of access and relatively simple production method has made ricin the “weapon of choice,??? Wunschel said.

[But ricin is not a weapon of choice of terrorists. This is, again, untrue and the researcher must know it. The alleged perpetrators in the cluster of three ricin cases — J. Everett Dutschke, Matthew Buquet, and Shannon Richardson — are not “terrorists” in the sense of the war on terror. A look at their pictures and what is known of their lives shows everyone that this is the case.

The choice to make ricin mail, in these cases, appears to be trivial. One case, that of Shannon Richardson, looks like it could have been a partial copy-cat of the J. Everett Dutschke incident, one where the primary aim is to draw attention and frame another person.

It is not difficult to understand this. However, rent-seeking behavior, that is the justification of continued work, or research on a matter that is of little value to average Americans, requires that a different story be told — that ricin is a “weapon of choice” of terrorists.

During the war on terror, zero people have been killed by ricin.]

Ricin is a “one-to-one??? attack that relies on getting a potential victim to breathe or swallow the toxin. Unlike poisonous gases or viruses, ricin isn’t absorbed easily through the skin.

Even so, the bioterror scenarios include the possible distribution of dozens of ricin-laced packages to a government office, causing a lot of disruption and requiring extensive cleanup, Wunschel said

Wunschel joined the PNNL staff in 2000. Following 9/11, the new Department of Homeland Security started funding projects to give law enforcement better tools in dealing with bioterrorism. The ricin study has been underway in Richland since 2005.

Scientists say extracting ricin from castor seeds may be relatively simple if someone follows a series of steps deliberately and carefully. But if someone uses a less-complex method with fewer steps, the result is a less pure and less lethal product, Wunschel said.

Ricin accounts for roughly 1 percent of the weight of the dry castor seed.

Ricin isn’t a contact poison. It’s not absorbed through skin anymore than a piece of lunch meat is, period.

But there you have it, once again. Ricin is simple to make. The purification of ricin is beyond the people being arrested in the US on ricin-making charges.

Ricin just does not make a very good weapon. One of the reasons is that there isn’t much of it in a castor bean. A bean is generally mostly oil and 1 percent as ricin is only a start point. Any protein purification must, by definition, result in less because that is the nature of the work.

Currently, war on terror rent-seeking in the national security complex has funded the development of two research ricin vaccines.

One is being pursued by a company mentioned infrequently here — Soligenix. The other is in development at USAMRIID, once known as Fort Detrick in Frederick, MD., that national lab facility on bioterror defense that, in turn, spawned the idea for the NBACC.

Two other ricin-making machines, one human and the other a seed grinder that spews castor hulls and powder into the air.

The rest of the world does not care about the bullshit on castor beans, terrorism and ricin peddled by the American national security complex.

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