23 July 2004
THE RECIPE FOR RICIN, Part III: US patent 3,060,165
CASTOR SEEDS AND AGRIBUSINESS: The United States left behind
PROTECTING TRAFFIC LIGHTS FROM NUCLEAR ATTACK
THE BAD GUY FOREIGN LEGION
THE RECIPE FOR RICIN, Part III: US patent, "the production of toxic ricin," intellectual property of the US Army.
Another parcel of misperception contributing to the lore of the poison ricin and the belief that it can be cooked up in the kitchen is US Patent 3,060,165.
Filed in 1952, it took another ten years until the patent was granted in October of 1962. Attributed to H. L. Craig and others, the patent explains its basis. "...it becomes necessary, for purposes of toxicological warfare, to prepare relatively large quantities [of ricin] in a high state of purity," write the authors.
This is an important statement because nowhere in the patent do the creators demonstrate by procedure, data or even anecdote that pure ricin was obtained. In fact, what evidence of there is of the quality of the material which can be gleaned from the print patent, indicates the opposite.
The reasons for this are complicated and have a great deal to do with the nature of ricin itself and the knowledge of protein chemistry exhibited by the inventors at the time of the development of the procedure covered by the patent.
Ricin is a plant protein, a macromolecule, one of many contained within the castor bean. And generally speaking, the isolation and purification of plant proteins is a complex undertaking requiring substantial training in biochemical methods.
As a protein, ricin is comprised of two subunits, an A and a B chain of amino acids linked into a dimer by a single covalent chemical bond. Each chain has an approximate molecular weight of 30,000 and each perform distinct tasks. The B chain of ricin is thought to be responsible for transporting the A chain across a cell wall. The A chain, once inside a living cell knocks out protein synthesis, the poison's mode of toxic action.
Without going into even greater scientific detail, it is clear from a straight reading that the patent's intent was to produce a product for use in a biological weapon. It is equally obvious to the expert that as published it contains fundamental errors in the application of biochemical methods of protein purification. In fact, some of the methodology would actually denature an active protein rather than preserve it, a piece of information that is not at all to be seen in layman literature commenting upon it.
The most generous interpretation of the patent procedure would grant that it could extract a coarse mixture of proteins and other macromolecules from castor seeds, of which ricin would be only one component. There is no indication in the patent itself that the authors of the patent even knew with any degree of scientific precision the toxic activity of their preparation or that it was analytically characterized in a meaningful way. They show no knowledge of the molecular nature of ricin and do not seem to realize that their procedure is a not state of the art, even for the time period. Primarily, it a water extraction, a precipitation and collection of ALL soluble macromolecules in the castor seed.
The authors of the patent only vaguely grasp that during purifications, proteins are degraded by rough-handling and heat. They admit that their preparations were damaged by exposure to steam ("...considerable detoxification results") in the text of the patent, which would be natural to expect in the practice of protein chemistry. And they mill and grind their rough preparation, noting "... dry ball and hammer milling ... produced considerable detoxification perhaps due to the generation of excess heat."
Such results would, for example, provide evidence to a good scientist that making a ricin bomb or artillery shell might be counterintuitive, shearing forces from blast and vigorous heating generally being unavoidable in such things.
In any case, there is no reliable information that this author could find indicating that a US biological weapon relying upon this patent worked. More succinctly, simply because there is a US Army patent for the purification of ricin does not mean that it is valid or good science. It would also be a bit of a stretch to call the patent merely fair science.
This patent has been made available on the Internet, a subject which like every other recipe for ricin, has been the target of substantial distortions.
"It is still easy to find crude amateur recipes for turning castor beans into ricin. They have been printed in books on unconventional weapons like 'Silent Death' and 'The Poisoner's Handbook,' and intelligence agencies have said that translations of those recipes have been found in al Qaida hideouts," wrote the New York Times on February 4, 2004. "A five-minute Internet search Tuesday produced a kitchen recipe using lye and acetone, which did contain a warning that making it at home could be fatal ... [and as] recently as last year, a 1962 Army patent for making weapons-grade ricin was available on a public computer at the U.S. Patent Office."
But reporters do not necessarily make good scientists. What should have been a red flag went unnoticed.
The US Army patent and "lye and acetone" recipes for ricin, from a scientific standpoint, are not similar. The Army authors, in fact, employ a weakly acidic water solution in their procedure, rather the opposite of "lye," which is a strong base. In addition, strong base denatures proteins, a fact of life also noted in the third paragraph of the US Army's patent.
Yet in this article both recipes are presented as simple magic wands for the production of ricin, something that can be done in the kitchen, like scrambling eggs as opposed to poaching them.
In the matter of the book, "Silent Death," as is standard practice in news about ricin, much is omitted in the dispensation of lore about it. For example, on February 3 after news of ricin mailings to the Senate, CNN correspondent Mike Brooks claimed in what has become the standard practice: "You can go online. There's a book and video called 'Silent Death' that tells you exactly step by step how to make ricin."
"Silent Death" (Festering Publications, 2nd edition, 1997) can be purchased through the Internet. At this point, all of the news about it departs significantly from reality.
As allegedly a poisoner's handy instruction book, it does not come with a video. It is a self-published volume that does come with factual errors of chemistry and biology. However, a layman is not likely to be able to discern them. So, this has not impeded it from being cited in discussions of bioterror potentials. It is, at best, however, a source of misinformation. "Silent Death" cribs from US patent 3,060,165 with the author adding his own <i>untested</i> modifications, seemingly for the sake of embellished storytelling. Delivered in a chapter entitled "Ricin -- Kitchen Improvised Devastation," the selection is also quite notable for the fact that it does not live up to its own billing. The described procedure quite obviously <i>cannot be performed with kitchen materials</i>.
The US Army's patent also cannot be duplicated, as has been so sensationally put, in the kitchen. It could be duplicated in a collegiate biochemistry laboratory but the procedure, as documented, in materials and methods, is well beyond an "amateur" or even a curious computer geek working near the household sink.
Why there should be so many distortions and outright falsehoods concerning this matter is not obvious or clear. Hurried news reporting, a general lack of acuity in chemistry and biology, or the determination of the truth of something being judged by the number of people repeating it (or in this case, publishing it) -- perhaps all play a role. Or, maybe it just boils down to the words of the puppet heads from "Mystery Science Theatre" when viewing yet another gobbler: "They just didn't care."
Because news reporting about the Army's ricin patent implied that plans for a WMD could be downloaded for free from the US Patent Office's website, it was pulled from the patent office database. However, mirrors of the database still carried it and other Net denizens immediately jumped into action to put it back on the Internet for downloading without having to go through all that folderol. In one case, this was not because anyone was affronted with the censorship of knowledge but, according to an e-mail received by National Security Notes, because everyone ought to have access to "practical ricin purification," a belief that seems to originate -- disappointingly -- from Americans, not al Qaida terrorists.
Other elaborate procedures for the purification of small quantities of ricin for legitimate research purpose remain in the US patent database. They have seemingly gone unremarked either because they weren't developed by the US military or finding them is beyond the capability of newsmen or Netizens wishing information to be free. In any case, they are not procedures that can be duplicated in basements, caves, kitchens or some cinder block hut said to be in northern Iraq.
The Army patent does have historical value. It is part of the record of the beginnings of US war efforts in the development of biological weaponry. And it can be compared with other scientific efforts that actually did produce weaponry for World War II. Most notably, as allegedly a recipe for a weapon of mass destruction, it invites contrast with the Manhattan Project. The Manhattan Project changed the world. Its scientists were men of stellar intellect, worldwide leaders in their fields. The US Army's World War II ricin project did not change the world. And to say nothing more of it is to say everything.
CASTOR SEEDS AND AGRIBUSINESS: The US left behind
Jayant Oil Mills is an Indian firm that processes thousands of tons of castor seed a year in the production of castor oil. It's homepage points to a history of castor oil processing that is informative.
The history tells readers, "... in 1972, economic pressures created circumstances which led to the United States losing its domestic supply of castor oil and the US became dependent on foreign countries for both the seed and the oil ... As a result, the US is many years behind in the expression technology. However, the expression of the oil from this seed is done in a similar manner to most other oil seeds."
There is no fuss about ricin in this tale. The processing of castor seed is straightforward and mechanically uncomplicated. The history brightly states, "[Castor seeds are] cleaned, decorticated, cooked and dried prior to extraction. Cooking is done in order to coagulate protein, which is necessary to permit efficient extraction, and to free the oil for efficient pressing. It is done at 80 C, under airtight conditions."
This process denatures the proteins, including ricin, in the castor seed. The resulting mass can be reused as fertilizer or, potentially, additives to animal feed.
Jayant Oil Mills is not a plant producing a weapon of mass destruction although in the climate of misunderstanding that exists currently in the United States, it might be thought to be so, particularly if it had been found in Iraq or other country thought to be a terrorist training ground.
In the past, the United States did process castor seeds.
On the world wide web page of an American animal feed and fertilizer company, it said, "In 1857, "H.J. Baker & Bro., Inc., [built] the Baker Castor Oil Company in Jersey City, New Jersey." "... Of great importance [was castor seed oilcake] ... This material [was] the first fertilizer product offered ..."
This being the case, castor seed oilcake and seeds containing ricin would have had to travel the roads of the country. If one searches further, reference to it can be found in municipal codes for the transporting of "hazardous materials" via trucking. Castor seed oilcake is a material that does not require a 24-hour emergency phone hotline listed on the shipping manifest. In the Texas city of Laredo's municipal code, the materials, referred to as "castor bean," "castor meal," "castor flake," and "castor pomace" are things deemed of the same hazard, or lack of it, as "dry ice," "fish meal," "fish scrap," "battery powered equipment," "battery powered vehicle," "electric wheelchair," and "refrigerating machine."
Why is this germane?
Straightforwardly: Internet recipes for ricin extraction, excluding the US Army's patent which constitutes a special case, produce a residue that is not obviously more refined than castor plant oilcake. In fact, what few exist are less complicated, ignorant in the manner of simpletons, of long established procedures in castor milling. Yet the current thinking on the matter, indeed the interpretation of provisions in the Patriot Act for prosecuting bioterrorists, technically make criminal activity the physicochemical processes that would be commonly found in a castor mill.
Of course, this no longer matters in the United States since the great bulk of castor seed processing has been elsewhere for some time. However, it was not always so and the presence of municipal provisions for the shipping of castor seeds and mash of them is revealing. Such materials, once very reasonably considered to be at the level of hazard posed by a truck of fish scrap or electric wheelchairs are now enough to send a person to prison for fourteen years if caught with small amounts and Internet recipes. Ken Olsen, a Spokane, Washington, man found this to be the case when he was recently convicted under the Patriot Act.
Consider the bad wages of the war on terror.
A world history of castor oil production:
PROTECTING TRAFFIC LIGHTS FROM NUCLEAR ATTACK
On July 22, the House Armed Services Committee spent time listening to experts describe the threat of electromagnetic pulse attack on the United States. In such an attack, one or more ballistic missiles carrying high yield nuclear weapons would be detonated in the sky over the United States, generating electromagnetic storms which would destroy Yankee civilization by shorting circuiting electronics.
Although almost totally eclipsed by the 9/11 Commission's report, the experts from the defense industry and thermonuclear destruction labs also submitted a paper.
Entitled "Report of the Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) Attack," it was yet another analysis that delivered news of very bad things coming if the nation does not act.
"Several potential adversaries have or can acquire the capability to attack the United States [with electromagnetic pulses]," write the authors. "A determined adversary can achieve an EMP attack capability without having a high level of sophistication," they continue.
Russia, China, North Korea and Iran are named as potential plotters of electromagnetic attack. But anyone, including terrorists, could be in on this. It is difficult to know.
In an EMP attack everything would fail, everything is at risk, readers are told. Traffic lights would conk out (page 9), trains would halt (page 36), cars would stall and create giant traffic jams (page 37), and no one would eat because the "food infrastructure" would be burned out (page 40). Starvation would roam the land and punishments would be Biblical. Such weaknesses "invite and reward attack if not corrected" conclude the EMP attack experts.
Although effects would seem like Yahweh had commanded the destruction of the United States, the report still recommends that "correction is feasible and well within the Nation's means and resources to accomplish." That's Nation with a capital "N."
The "corrections" recommended by the experts on EMP attack start with annihilating the enemy before he strikes. "We must hold at risk of capture or destruction anyone who has such weaponry, wherever they are in the world" and "The methods and materials that could encourage an EMP attack must be added to the current list of threats being sought out and annihilated."
However, intelligence on the enemy not being so hot these days, the wrong culprits might be annihilated, or worse, the operation of annihilation might not occur before an EMP attack is carried out.
Therefore, since EMP attack invites and rewards foes, training is recommended. "Operators and others in positions of authority must be trained to recognize that an EMP attack in fact has taken place ..." perhaps because it might be hard to notice high yield nuclear weapons exploding in the sky.
"Conducting and evaluating the results of training" is of signal importance. "Simulate, train, exercise ... simulators must be developed for use in training" and "recovery personnel must be adequately trained." Even the people who run trains needs to be trained. "Heighten railroad officials' awareness of the possibility of EMP attack..."
You and I need to be trained, too. Although telecommunications will have failed catastrophically, the President, the rest of the government and the citizenry must get together after an EMP attack to "answer a host of questions, which if not answered, are certain to create more instability and suffering for affected individuals, communities and the Nation as a whole." And that's Nation with a capital "N," before the singing of Kumbaya around the campfire after EMP attack because only matches will still be working.
Other recommendations include having a replacement on hand for every traffic light and switching box in the "Nation." Prayer, since it is cheap and cannot be supplied exclusively by defense contractor, is not recommended. "A crisis such as the immediate aftermath of an EMP attack is not the time to begin planning for an effective response."
If such a "report" had been published by Mad magazine or the Onion, it would qualify as biting satire or fit for a remake of "Dr. Strangelove." However, it is put forward as august judgment, written by allegedly learned people and approved by government body. As such, it's an example of intelligence insulting pathological policy, something which purports to serve a purpose but which, in fact, serves none except to spend taxpayer money on the active location and assessment of a demonical doomsday menace with which to frighten the stupid and perpetuate some manner of funding.
The report can be found here:
THE BAD GUY FOREIGN LEGION
The United States is set upon by bad guys. We know this because it is in the news every day. The bad guys are hovering, waiting for a moment of weakness. Then they will kill and destroy.
The presence of the bad guy can also be regarded as one more totalistic reference from the war on terror. These two words, risen from the military, are now a national invocation and incantation, used to reduce complicated and troublesome affairs that perplex the brightest to inarguable polarities digestible by idiots. If you don't see all the bad guys and the necessity of smiting them, then you are probably a bad guy, anyway.
Like Sax Rohmer's sinister Dr. Fu Manchu and his murderous henchmen, the Si-Fan, there are bad guys fit for every fear and political persuasion. And even when they falter in these tasks, there are always others available in the wings who can be fitted with bad guy suits. Bad guys are here, there and everywhere, smarter and faster than us, coming up the Baghdad road with machine guns blazing, brewing poisons, laboring to overthrow the election, evolving in sophistication, chattering, multiplying even while being put down, urinating in the ice cube tray, always bedeviling.
This being the case, the national response equates to the simple programming of a twenty dollar computer game. All that needs to be done is to shoot and blow up all the bad guys. And that's certainly been working damn good.
A recent selection of usages, culled from the daily news:
"But how much information [on security] do we give the public that we're also telling the bad guys?" -- Maryland Gazette Newspapers, July 15
" ... spokesman Doug Wills said the airlines support the core concept of CAPPS II as 'a program that would use computers that would separate the bad guys from the [good guys]'..." -- CNN, July 15
"If they turned out to be bad guys, they were sent up to Baghram [a US base near Kabul, the Afghan capitol] or Gitmo [Guantanamo Bay], the US military base in Cuba." -- Golden Valley Sun Post, MN, July 15
"I do believe that the Defense Department should never have been asked to rebuild Iraq. It should have been asked to go after the bad guys," said [an official]. -- Stamford Advocate, July 15
Time is never our ally in the struggle against bad guys:
"And time is on the side of the bad guys ... " -- "Zarqawi's Savagery," New York Daily News, July 15
Those confusing bad guys:
"Baathists were the bad guys, then Baathists were our buds." -- Salon, July 15
"Fox News was notorious for taking a gung-ho, unashamedly partisan approach to the Iraq war with presenters talking about 'good guys' and 'bad guys.'" -- The Telegraph, July 15
The next sentence would seem to be an aberration: " ... create a mind set in which America's rulers are the good guys who, despite all of their faults and foibles, are saving the world from the really really bad guys ... " -- Axis of Logic, July 15
Bad guys at the ramparts of airports:
"Fences were put up without any kind of assessment. But all they do is keep honest people honest. It slows the bad guys down but doesn't keep them out. -- Oak Brook Business Ledger, IL, July 14
An anonymous official serves a double helping of bad guy, in celebration of the arrest of one al Qaida man in a wheelchair:
"'It's easy to overstate his importance,' a US official said. 'It's clear that a lot of bad guys have been caught, but there remain a lot of bad guys out there.'" -- Los Angeles Times, July 14
October Surprise bad guys:
"Sometime in the next several months, we'll be able to announce that we've captured or killed one of the big bad guys, to demonstrate how well our 'war on terror' [is going]..." -- Democratic Underground, July 14
And bad guys are attracted to high technology like flies to sugar water:
"... [high tech] companies [are in Huntsville] there to support military programs, [and] FBI presence in Huntsville is important, because where the technology goes, that's where the bad guys go ..." -- News Courier, AL, July 13
The bad guys are too hip:
"Above all the world, Americans are great image makers. Maybe we should create some especially for the bad guys with a lot less 'cool.'" -- Newsweek, Jul 13
Bad guys by sea:
"... [Devices are] built for catching potential bad guys trying to enter one of the world's busiest ports, including Hampton Roads ..." -- WVEC.com, VA, July 13
Bad guys in combat:
"Nicholas Zoeller of the 13th Corps Support Command: 'If the bad guys know we're coming, they can set up for us.'" -- Newhouse News Service, July 13
" ... I told them (on the radio) we got beaucoup bad guys coming toward us [south of Baghdad]." -- USA Today, July 13
We'll never know if we destroyed all the bad guys:
"It's impossible to tell if we're getting all the bad guys [in Iraq]. But we're trying to take out enough of them to provide some stability." -- Houston Chronicle, July 11
" ... [who] will actually be allowed to enter an American fortress-embassy intent on securing itself from terrorists and (as the military refers to them) the bad guys?" -- The Washington Post, July 11
The bad guys have better weapons:
"Most of them ... (the National Guard) are scared, so they let the Baathists go ... They don't have the large weapons that the bad guys do.". -- Seattle Times, July 11
Maybe someone does know who all the bad guys are:
"I mean, the beauty of turning the cities over to the Iraqis is the Iraqis know who the bad guys are, and they know where they are." -- San Antonio Express, July 10
Those bad guys make us so angry:
"It made me a little mad to have rounds hitting so close, but that gave me more of a reason to take those bad guys out. -- News-Leader, MO, July 10
Bad guys, grrrrrr:
"Matthew Edmonds, a 21-year-old ammo-pusher from Combat Service Support Brigade 7, loves the Marine Corps, hates the bad guys in Iraq..." -- Marine Corps Times, July 9
Bad guys menace the democratic process:
"But how credible is Ridge's supposed evidence of a pre-election attack? Will the bad guys hit one of the political conventions this summer?" -- Common Dreams, July 9
"We already know the bad guys are going to try to hit us again, somewhere, sometime. We're all scared to death ... " -- New York Daily News, July 9
Remembering fondly funny and old-fashioned pro wrestling bad guys:
"Ivan and Nikita Koloff were heels, the real bad guys - we all knew it, and we wanted some good red-blooded American boys to just kick their rear ends ... " -- The Times and Democrat, SC, July 13
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National Security Notes is edited in Pasadena, California, by George Smith, Ph.D. who is many things, including a protein chemist and a Senior Fellow at GlobalSecurity.Org.
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