Thursday, 18 April 2013

U.S.: ''Ricin'': FBI & Poisonous Instructions

On Tuesday afternoon, news broke that an envelope addressed to Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) had tested positive for a deadly poison known as ricin. On Wednesday morning, the Secret Service revealed that a letter addressed to President Obama may have been laced with the same toxic substance.

A ''ricin'' is a slow-acting poisonous chemical found naturally in castor beans. As little as 500 micrograms of it — about the size of the head of a pin — can kill an adult. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ricin is made from the waste left over once the beans are processed into castor oil (used typically as a laxative or auto lubricant), and can come in powder, mist, or pellet form. In medicine, it's been experimentally used to kill cancer cells, and the U.S. military even experimented with weaponizing the agent on a large scale in the 1940s.

The federal offices and the white house were put on high alert. Days later political analysts and bloggers discovered something surprising: The FBI has lightly encrypted instructions on how to make ricin on its website.

Star, arrow, rune, figure eight -- at first glance, it looks like nothing more than a series of hieroglyphics strung together on the website of the FBI, the federal investigating authority of the United States. But it's an easy-to-follow recipe for the deadly poison ricin, handwritten in a code that even laymen can decipher.

The text was published in March 2011 on the pages of the Cryptanalysis and Racketeering Records Unit (CRRU). There it served as an example of the work of the bureau's decoding experts. Curiously enough, no secret is made of the document's contents. The photo is captioned: "Enciphered instructions for making ricin poison found in the notebook of a lone bomber in Virginia."

The instructions do indeed describe how to produce the highly deadly substance with little more than a few household appliances. "It's a very crude method for the enrichment of proteins, generally speaking.

Ricin is contained in the seeds of the castor oil plant, and is considered one of the most poisonous protein substances that appears in nature. In its isolated form, it takes just one milligram to kill an adult person. The FBI document wouldn't result in the deadliest form of ricin, but the end product would still be extremely poisonous.

What's even more surprising is that the encoded instructions on the FBI site are not particularly hard to crack. If the FBI doesn't want it to be decoded, they shouldn't have put it up on their website. The algorithm isn't that clever.

This begs the questions why the FBI has lightly encrypted instructions on how to make ricin on its website ?

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist