Don’t Fear ISIS Chemical Weapons

Foreign Policy has an article about an ISIS laptop found in Syria that among other documents, including jihadi speeches, contains

a 19-page document in Arabic on how to develop biological weapons and how to weaponize the bubonic plague from infected animals.

Marcy Wheeler compares this laptop “discovery” to one in 2004 that later turned out to be a forgery that contained Iran’s nuclear program information.  Marcy says about this source

Either Abu Ali is lying, or he’s lying.

I am going to look at the media’s scare tactics, and in another post who we should really worry about with chemical weapons (it’s not ISIS). 

First, the story from the Foreign Policy article.

…after hours upon hours of scrolling through the documents, it became clear that the ISIS laptop contains more than the typical propaganda and instruction manuals used by jihadists. The documents also suggest that the laptop’s owner was teaching himself about the use of biological weaponry, in preparation for  

 a potential attack that would have shocked the world.

The information on the laptop makes clear that its owner is a Tunisian national named Muhammed S. who joined ISIS in Syria and who studied chemistry and physics at two universities in Tunisia’s northeast. Even more disturbing is how he planned to use that education: The ISIS laptop contains a 19-page document in Arabic on how to develop biological weapons and how to weaponize the bubonic plague from infected animals.

As you read the article further you see that it debunks itself.

Even the follow-up article debunks the story, while still being able to scare people 

Really difficult yet really easy!

The real difficulty in all of these weapons … [is] to actually have a workable distribution system that will kill a lot of people,” said Magnus Ranstorp, research director of the Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish National Defence College. “But to produce quite scary weapons is certainly within [the Islamic State’s] capabilities.

But the article still tries to scare us, but succeeds again only in debunking itself. (links are from the article)

“Al Qaeda has tried unsuccessfully for years to get such weapons”

Nothing on the ISIS laptop, of course, suggests that the jihadists already possess these dangerous weapons. And any jihadi organization contemplating a bioterrorist attack will face many difficulties: Al Qaeda tried unsuccessfully for years to get its hands on such weapons, and the United States has devoted massive resources to preventing terrorists from making just this sort of breakthrough. The material on this laptop, however, is a reminder that jihadists are also hard at work at acquiring the weapons that could allow them to kill thousands of people with one blow.

Yet with years of no success of acquiring chemical weapons, somehow they tested them on dogs in 2002

This isn’t the first time that jihadists have attempted to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Even before the 9/11 attacks, al Qaeda had experimented with a chemical weapons program in Afghanistan. In 2002, CNN obtained a tape showing al Qaeda members testing poison gas on three dogs, all of which died.

Even the original report tries to scare us, reporting that several experts said the video showed clear evidence of nerve agents, with similar language as the Foreign Policy article saying that Al Qaeda (now ISIS) had clear capabilities able to attack Americans with chemical weapons.  In the end however even this article debunks itself as it devolves from a nerve agent, to cyanide in gas form, to “something”

Scary Nerve Agent!

a sign, say some of the experts who were shown the tape by CNN, of a nerve agent.

Sarin!

a very powerful and quick-acting chemical that behaves like a nerve agent…such as sarin, which was used in the Tokyo subway terrorist attacks in the 1990s,” said John Gilbert, a chemical weapons specialist for Science Applications International Corporation who advises the U.S. government.

David Kay (UN Iraq WMD inspector in Gulf War and 2003)

Kay said he was convinced “above a reasonable doubt” that the gas on the tape is a nerve agent, possibly an improvised nerve agent or possibly sarin. 

Jonathan Tucker, a chemical and bio-weapons specialist from the Monterey Institute, to examine the tape. He, too, said he was shocked by what he saw. But Tucker believes that the dog’s reaction to the gas indicate a form of cyanide, not a nerve agent.

 Senior Bush Administration Official

The official, who has knowledge of chemical weapons issues, said the video of the chemical tests on the dogs suggest a very strong desire to acquire the capability to use such weapons “obviously against humans.”

 Jonathon Tucker

Jonathan Tucker, a chemical and bio-weapons specialist from the Monterey Institute, to examine the tape. He, too, said he was shocked by what he saw. But Tucker believes that the dog’s reaction to the gas indicate a form of cyanide, not a nerve agent.
“We saw visible fumes from the material that you would not see from a nerve agent, but it is consistent with production of crude hydrogen cyanide gas,” Tucker said, adding that it appears to be a very crude binary weapon that terrorists would be attracted to because it is low-tech and safe to use.

Hard to tell what it is

Frederick Sidell…retired from the U.S. Army’s Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense, said evaluation of the chemical is very difficult.
“The most common medical agent is something called mustard, which is a blister agent. And it’s certainly not that,” he said, adding that it also did not seem to him to be a nerve agent or cyanide.

Whatever it is, BE AFRAID!

Whatever the substance may be, the implication of the laboratory tests was unmistakable for the experts consulted by CNN.
“The implication is that al Qaeda, or another terrorist group, could create a number of different ways of attacking people, for example, in an enclosed area, such as an airport lobby, or in a theater or a train or a bus,” Gilbert said. “Another is that it could be used against individuals selectively, who are targeted for assassination.”

“There are a lot more questions this tape leaves than answers, unfortunately,” he said. “Well, the questions are really bad questions.”

I’m much more afraid of the bad journalism being repeated every time a new group emerges than their abilities with chemical or biological weapons.

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