A 19-year-old boy in south Florida is set to be imprisoned, possibly for life, as the result of a federal investigation of the Black Market Reloaded website, a replacement for the infamous Silk Road, where there were “numerous offerings for the sale of illegal and harmful goods, including but not limited to biological agents, toxins, firearms, ammunition, explosives, controlled substances, counterfeit goods and fraudulent documents,” according to an FBI document here.
Jesse Korff of Labelle, Florida, was arrested by agents of the FBI and Homeland Security Investigations when he delivered two vials of liquid containing a small but detectable amount of the poison abrin to them. It was the final part of a transaction started on the Black Market Reloaded site when one of the undercover men contacted Korff, inquired about buying the poison and advanced him 1.608 Bitcoin for it.
Like the Silk Road, Black Market Reloaded was hosted on the encrypted Tor network where many people seem to still believe federal agents cannot get at them. Black Market Reloaded was subsequently taken down and the sting shows that Homeland Security and the FBI are well into operations aimed at keeping similar websites and Bitcoin markets for crime under heavy surveillance.
From the Department of Justice website:
“HSI has worked tirelessly with the FBI and other law enforcement partners to combat underground websites such as BMR,” said Andrew McLees, Special Agent in Charge of HSI Newark. “Anyone who can sell abrin, a potential agent for chemical terrorism, must be stopped. The arrest of Korff shows HSI’s commitment to protecting the public from individuals who show a callous disregard for their safety in the interest of making a buck.”
Beginning in April 2013, HSI special agents conducted an investigation of illicit sales activity on BMR. The website provides a platform for vendors and buyers to conduct anonymous online transactions involving the sale of a variety of illegal goods, including biological agents, toxins, firearms, ammunition, explosives, narcotics and counterfeit items. Unlike mainstream e-commerce websites, BMR is only accessible via the Tor network – a special computer network designed to enable users to conceal their identities and locations. Transactions on BMR are conducted using Bitcoin, a decentralized form of electronic currency that only exists online.
Korff maintained a seller’s profile on BMR, through which he negotiated the sale of two liquid doses of abrin to the undercover agent. During their online conversations, Korff told the buyer about his delivery methods – concealing vials in a carved-out and re-melted candle – and discussed how much abrin was needed to kill a person of a particular weight and how best to administer the toxin.
Korff and the buyer agreed on a total purchase price of $2,500 for two doses of the poison. The undercover transferred a deposit – the equivalent of $1,500 in Bitcoin – from a bank account in New Jersey to Korff on Jan. 6, 2014.
A federal task force then raided the house where Jesse Korff was living. A local news report reads:
Investigators tell WINK News they found a pipe bomb, firearms, ricin and meth labs at Jesse Korff’s home in Muse. After hearing of the evidence, the judge said Korff should stay behind bars.
The photo of the task force raid is from this blog.
Abrin, a poison extracted from the fairly common Precatorius, or rosary pea plant, has, to my knowledge, never killed anyone in the US during my time. It doesn’t happen. It’s not a hazard, even accidentally.
Seeds and the plant can be easily purchased on-line. It is even common in the woods of south Florida.
Nevertheless, abrin is a poison, related to and more toxic than ricin.
And well over 20 years ago, before Jesse Korff was born, young men began copying the poison and bomb-making self-published pamphlets by America’s survivalist right into cyberspace. From there, they traveled around the world.
So one reads in the FBI document:
Abrin can be extracted from the seed. The extraction of the abrin from the seeds is relatively easy and does not require technical expertise. Procedures and methods for extracting abrin are available from open sources on the Internet.
With regards to abrin recipes and the poison’s lure as an efficient and untraceable way to put someone to death, Maxwell Hutchkinson’s pamphlet, The Poisoner’s Handbook, published by Loompanics in 1988, is the main source.
Many readers are familiar with my comment on it, which can be reviewed here.
Terrorists have never used abrin as a weapon of mass destruction although the FBI and Homeland Security special agents mention their expertise in WMDs in the Korff document.
Nevertheless, eight years ago at the height of the war on terror Homeland Security conducted exercises imagining they could.
This was part of the national security megaplex belief that everything deadly that could be dreamed up or theorized was “easy for terrorists” to do.
The notion of a hyper-competent terrorist who can easily overcome the physical and technical obstacles that perplex and detain ordinary mortals has become a common rhetorical trope in public discussions of terrorism.
George Smith of GlobalSecurity.org conducted a Nexis search for the phrase “easy for a terrorist” (and similar formulations) and found about one hundred mainstream media citations over the past two years.
Judging from press reports, nearly everything comes “easy” to terrorists:
“From food terror, to manipulating the flu virus, to blowing up chemical plants, to getting driver’s licenses, to coming across the Mexican border, to buying large caliber guns, to shooting down planes with ground-to-air missiles, to spreading hoof-and-mouth disease and destroying the cattle industry, to paralyzing Los Angeles by attacking power stations, to causing major blackouts, to putting anthrax in bagged rice,” Smith found. “There really is no end to it. It’s stupefying in its universality.”
Such glib assessments of terrorist capabilities are worse than simply wrong. They spread fear and a sense of helplessness, doing the work of the terrorists, and they threaten to dissipate limited security and financial resources in a hundred different directions.
I wrote about the Homeland Security exercise positing abrin as a terrorist weapon on the blog around the same time.
Did you know you can buy a WMD on eBay? It’s true …
[It's] 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.
Terrorists planned to explode bombs at the two sites, sending the [abrin] into the air. [One man who designed the exercise] 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.
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 . . .”
“[When] you handle the abrin you should were [sic] gloves,” Jesse Korff writes to an undercover agent at one point, indicating the lore of Hutchkinson, that you can poison someone with it through their fingers, has passed down through the terror age.
Well over a quarter of a century ago I was always able to find Hutckinson’s recipe for abrin at the end of a telephone line. With the squeal of a US Robotics modem you’d find it archived, along with lots of other alleged means to easy mayhem and malice, on bulletin board systems run off PCs in the bedrooms of young men.
With regards to the poison and other informations from the computer underground, what it was called back then, not much has changed.
You can do it cheaper and faster, and find a black market for it on the Tor network. You can even pay in Bitcoin!
But selling vials of a solution containing the grinding of rosary peas is a terribly awful way to earn money.
Why, yes! This blog now accepts BitCoin!