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Profile: Defence Science and Technology Laboratory

Defence Science and Technology Laboratory was a participant or observer in the following events:

Alleged ricin ingredients.Alleged ricin ingredients. [Source: BBC]Home Secretary David Blunkett and Health Secretary John Reid issue a joint statement claiming “traces of ricin” and castor beans capable of making “one lethal dose” were found in a raid on a flat in Wood Green, north London, which also resulted in several arrests (see January 5, 2003). The joint statement says “ricin is a toxic material which if ingested or inhaled can be fatal… our primary concern is the safety of the public.” Prime Minister Tony Blair says the discovery highlights the perils of weapons of mass destruction, adding: “The arrests which were made show this danger is present and real and with us now. Its potential is huge.” Dr. Pat Troop, the government’s deputy chief medical officer, issues a statement with police confirming that materials seized “tested positive for the presence of ricin poison.” A small number of easily obtainable castor beans are found. But the same day, chemical weapons experts at the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down in Wiltshire discover in more accurate tests that the initial positive result for ricin was false: there was no ricin in the flat. But this finding will not be released publicly for two years. [Independent, 4/17/2005] Dr. Martin Pearce, head of the Biological Weapons Identification Group, confirms that there was no ricin in the flat. This report is also suppressed. [Guardian, 4/15/2004] The Ministry of Defence later confirms that the results of the Porton Down test are not released to police and ministers until March 20, 2003, one day after war in Iraq begins. [BBC, 9/15/2005] It appears that there was the intention to create ricin, based on evidence discovered in other raids, but not the technical know-how to actually do so (see January 20, 2003 and January 5, 2003).

Entity Tags: Tony Blair, Martin Pearce, John Reid, Biological Weapons Identification Group, David Blunkett, Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, Ministry of Defence, Pat Troop

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

On September 13, after two months of legal argument in court, the British trial begins against Kamal Bourgass and his alleged co-conspirators Mouloud Sihali, David Khalef, Sidali Feddag and Mustapha Taleb. The trial reveals the true extent of the capabilities of the so-called “ricin ring.” The same day of the raid, January 5, 2003, chemical weapons experts at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down in Wiltshire had discovered in more accurate tests that the initial positive result for ricin was false: there was no ricin in the flat (see January 5, 2003). This finding was not released publicly for two years. [Independent, 4/17/2005] The trial also reveals that the results of the Porton Down test were not released to police and ministers until March 20, 2003, the day after the war in Iraq begins (see January 7, 2003). [BBC, 9/15/2005] George Smith, a scientist and senior fellow at GlobalSecurity.org, serves as an expert for some defendants in the trial and confirms that the discovery that the initial ricin finding was a “false positive” was made “well before the outbreak of the war in Iraq.” The alleged ricin plot was used by authorities, including Colin Powell, as evidence against Saddam Hussein’s regime in the build-up to war with Iraq. [Washington Post, 4/14/2005] The “poison recipes” discovered in the raid are found to have come from a website in Palo Alto, California, and are the invention of right-wing survivalist Kurt Saxon. His website sells books and CDs with bomb and poison manufacturing instructions. Journalist Duncan Campbell of the Guardian, called as an expert witness, further demonstrates that the instructions could have come from the Mujahedeen Poisons Handbook, which was written by veterans of the Afghan war and had been on the Internet since 1998. In fact, these recipes were useless in the production of weapons of mass destruction. [Guardian, 4/15/2005] The hysteria over the capabilities of ricin is also laid to rest during the trial. It is made clear that ricin is not a weapon of mass destruction and has only ever been used for one-on-one killings and attempted assassinations. Ricin was used by the Bulgarian secret service to kill dissident Georgi Markov on the streets of London in 1978. Professor Alistair Hay, a prominent authority on toxins, says Bourgass’s attempts to manufacture chemical weapons were “incredibly amateurish and unlikely to succeed.” He dismisses the allegations of suspected Algerian al-Qaeda operative Mohammed Meguerba that ricin would be smeared on door handles. To reliably kill, ricin has to be directly injected; swallowing ricin could kill, but is a thousand times less effective, while touching ricin is even less likely to kill. Hay’s testimony leads to the prosecution dropping Meguerba’s claims. They then suggest that Bourgass planned to smear ricin on toothbrushes, and put them back on a shop’s shelves. Professor Hay tells The Independent that this was a highly ineffective method. “The claims made before the trial about this major ricin plot were very, very questionable,” he says. [Independent, 4/17/2005]

Entity Tags: Duncan Campbell, Sidali Feddag, Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, Alistair Hay, David Khalef, Mouloud Sihali, Mustapha Taleb, Maxwell Hutchkinson, Globalsecurity.org, Kamal Bourgass, Mohammed Meguerba, Kurt Saxon, George Smith

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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