I ate my wafer...


Quack medicine, Poisoned Beer, radation posioning, and other fun topics

So, I've been following the highly suspicious death of Alexander Litvinenko for the last couple of weeks. There are plenty of decent articles speculating on the degree of Russian involvement so I'm not going to rehash that. However, I do think there's some interesting tangents to the story that are relatively unexplored:

One of the reasons that Russian involvement is fascinating is the likelihood that they would have used some sort of Spy vs. Spy device to transfer the poison. Certainly, the ricin pellet umbrella that the Russians (back when they were Soviets) used to poison Georgi Markov seems straight out of fiction. To be fair, the KGB just built the umbrella and conveniently let the Bulgarian Secret Police borrow it.

There's probably a lot of ways to use polonium as an assassination weapon, but the cheapest (in terms of isotope requirements) would be an inhalation device. I have no idea if Litvinenko had asthma, but an inhaler spiked with polonium would be simple and fast. There are probably other everyday items that could be spiked as well. Besides the Soviets, the major player in poison assassination weapons used to be the South Africans, who came up with all sorts of devices, and definitely used some of them, such as poisoned beer, to eliminate apartheid era domestic problems. Just a glance at the South African weapon list shows how many possible ways to use poison weapons exist, and what an horribly difficult job the British police have. (I'm slightly disturbed that most of the South African devices involved beer or chocolate, two of my major food groups.)

Now, on a lighter note, polonium has an interesting history, as it is part of the Uranium-Radium decay, and was originally called Radium F. Back in the dawn of nuclear science, Radium (usually bottled willy-nilly with decay products like polonium) was considered an the end all and be all of patent medicine ingredients, namely because it wasn't regulated via the 1906/1914 Narcotics laws, and it glowed in the dark. It doesn't take much of an imagination to see the potential marketing advantages of a glow in the dark potion, especially compared to the more painful competition from the prostate warmer and Dr. Kellogg's 15 gallons enema machine. With the exception of a few decent ideas involving diet (Corn Flakes) and exercise, Dr. Kellogg singlehandly came up with all sorts of medically-ideas, from heavy use of radium to an incredible obsession with preventing masturbation via surgical methods.


Coast Guard Catches DIY submarine...

So Reuters has a news item about a group of Columbian that were busted using their homemade submarine to smuggle drugs. Which leads to the obvious questions:

A. Where can I get plans for a homemade submarine?

B. What the hell is the U.S. Coast Guard doing arresting people off the coast of Costa Rica and taking them to the continental U.S. for trial? No doubt, I was absent when that particular part of U.S. criminal law was explained. I suppose if there were documents in the sub that discussed the time and place of the cocaine delivery it might make some legal sense. Otherwise, even with the UN conventions about drug smuggling (1988 convention, I think), the initial boarding seems a bit fishy. Probably, the submarine was in Costa Rica's own waters, and they've cut a deal with the coast guard allowing searches. If it was in international waters, under a flag (Iran for example) that doesn't automatically allow USCG searches, it makes a much more interesting question.

C. Does the USCG only search unarmed, dinky little boats? I doubt the USCG runs around searching Cuban Naval vessels. Then again, the USCG did some boldly illegal stuff in the early days of world war two, including capturing a bunch of Norwegians, in Greenland, and charging them as illegal immigrants (all at least 6 months before Pearl Harbor!).

On second thought, since the Colombians weren't uniformed combatants, and drug smuggling is rather over-eagerly linked to terror, they're really lucky that they didn't wind up at Guantanamo.

(Does anyone have an url for the DEA's "Priceless" Mastercard parody ad that linked marijuana to terrorism? It was on during the 2002 superbowl)