OF NEWT AND TOE OF FROG"
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil & bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting
Lizard's leg & howlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell broth boil and bubble.
Macbeth Act IV, Scene 1
Most persons familiar with the witches scene from Macbeth treat these lines as little more than nonsense rhymes meant
to portray insanity. But the witches
who dabbled in these recipes were not as crazy as they might appear. The poison produced by certain frogs, known
as betrachotoxin and used by Colombian Indians to tip blow gun darts, is 25
times deadlier than cobra venom. The lowly newt produces tetrodotoxin, another
poison of awesome potency. A brew made
from the eye of newt and toe of frog, properly devised by a well-informed old
crone, could quickly dim the roving eye of a feudal swain or forever alter the
destiny of a medieval prince or dynasty.
Much has been written about biological warfare.
But some diseases, like botulism, are often considered weapons of
biological or bacteriological warfare along with anthrax and other living
organisms that reproduce. But death is
caused by the chemical poisons that the organisms secrete. These toxins are not living things. They cannot reproduce.
Naturally occurring, they cannot be grouped
with the synthetic poisons of the industrial age -- phosgene, mustard agent, or
nerve agents that form the basis of chemical warfare.
But their potential in warfare is real and they can and have been
The world is a cornucopia of
poisons. Mankind is surrounded by other living creatures that produce
chemical substances that can kill him. Even
the most innocent of decorative house plants --such as the colorful croton-- can
be a deadly killer. Ricin, the poison produced by castor beans (used to make
castor oil), is nearly one hundred times as deadly as cobra venom. Oleander can
bring on death within a few short hours.
These are only a few.
Primitive man gained his knowledge of poisons simply by observing the
casualties from eating certain animals or plants, or their roots, nuts, berries
or juices. They extracted these
substances to stun or kill fish, or to tip their arrows before hunting as with
curare in the Amazon.
Many of these primitive concoctions for hunting, combat or ritual, have
been chemically reproduced. Curare, in
small doses, has a medical value as it can relax the muscular system without
damage. Ancient man found other natural
poisons useful in producing intoxication, visions or abortions when applied in
controlled quantities. Some were used
in religious rituals, Inca sacrificial victims were given cocoa leaf to chew to
deaden their sense to the numbing cold at 20,000 feet. Others included opium, strychnine, caffeine,
atropine, digitalis and ergotamine. For
magical visions, pain-killers or group therapy there was a choice of nightshade,
henbane, mandrake, thorn apple, marijuana, betel nut, peyotl and assorted
mushrooms. Other nuts, roots, berries and juices were especially useful for
suicide, murder and ritual trial (the accused was forced to swallow a potion or
chew a twig and guilt or innocence was determined by whether he or she died).
Not much more than a century ago, less in some
areas, everyone was familiar with folk poisons to some extent or knew someone
who was. In 1895, the fourth edition of
John Reese's Text-book of Medical
Jurisprudence and Toxicology stated that poisoning was still "the most
frequent of all the causes of violent death, the casualties of war
excepted." As Western societies
became more urbanized, people became estranged from their traditional close
association with plants and animals, except as pre-packaged groceries and
ornamentals shrubs. Sources of poisons
were lost or forgotten, or buried in the back of most people's mind. The poisons produced by herbs, fungi,
reptiles, amphibians and marine creatures not only live on in murder mysteries
but in the military plans of the past and present.
or T2 toxins
Biotoxins in Warfare
Plague of Athens
Xenophon, Pompey and
the Honey Of Trabzon
Biotoxins as An Assasin's Weapons
The Strange Case of
The Men with the
Biotoxins As Weapons: Potentials & Realities
As a Terrorist's
As a Weapon of Mass
Appendix: Famous & Infamous Victims of Poison
Anyone who has ever suffered the agony of vomiting, nausea, cramping and
diarrhea after eating improperly handled or contaminated food knows that
bacteria can produce toxins. Simple staphylococcal food poisoning
("ptomaine poisoning") usually leaves it victims afraid they will die
in its initial phases, then, as the disease progresses, afraid that they won't
die. Like other enterotoxins, staphylococcal toxin remains even after the
organism dies. The symptoms it produces
are the body trying to rid itself of the toxin. Proper handling of food is the simplest way to prevent it. But there are more fearful bacterial toxins
-- one of them is the reason mothers instruct their children never to buy
dented or bulging canned good.
Of all the earth's natural poisons few are
as deadly as botulin toxin, the chemical secretion of Clostridium botulinum. Botulism takes its name from the
Latin word for sausage because it was first identified in 1793 when thirteen
people in a small German town fell sick after eating the same sausage. The bacterium was isolated a hundred years
later when band members in a small Belgian town fell sick after eating a
ham. Shaped like a stout rod, Clostridium boutlinum commonly and
harmlessly grows in the oxygen free layers of the soil. When environmental conditions do not favor
continued growth it produces nearly indestructible spores that can lie dormant
The organism can be found everywhere and spores constantly contaminate
food of all types. If the food is not
cooked properly before canning, to kill the spores, they survive inside the can
or bottle. In the oxygen free
environment provided there the spores germinate and the bacteria rapidly
multiply, secreting their lethal toxin.
Whoever eats the food becomes dizzy, tired, and develops severe
headaches. Vision grows blurry. The toxin damages the autonomic nervous
system by blocking the transmission of nerve impulses. Eventually death occurs by asphyxiation when
the respiratory muscles submit to paralysis.
Commercial canning processes rarely allow the survival of C. botulinum spores. The last outbreak traced to a commercial
packer in the United States occurred in 1925.
The handful of cases that still occur are associated with either home
canned products (where a vacuum is not created) or products not heated properly
in which a partial vacuum exists (such as sausage). Bulging cans are the sign
of anaerobic bacteria gas-producing activity and in the early years of this
century it was common practice for some unscrupulous store owners to dent cans
in this condition. The hitting of the
can rediffused the gas. Mothers warned their children not to purchase dented
cans, a piece of folk wisdom that continues to this day.
The greatest cause of death in the Middle Ages, aside from pestilence,
was bread. After the collapse of
classical enlightenment agriculture was conducted with neither care nor
wisdom. The planting and harvesting of
grain was done in dismal ignorance.
Once harvesting was completed landlords hoarded it to maintain stocks in
the face of famine or to squeeze higher prices from the hungry. Europe's damp winters and improper storage
set the stage for further misery. In
the rye, wheat, barley, rice and oats a variety of fungal poisons and molds
grew, producing toxins in the grain.
Grain that would have been rejected by any Roman, Egyptian, Arab or
Greek farmer were turned into bread or fed to livestock. Epidemics of Saint Anthony's fire and other
mycotoxins killed thousands of people and livestock.
The most familiar of these ghastly fungal poisons was ergot.
Ergot is first mentioned in an Assyrian tablet dating from 600 BC as a noxious
pustule found on the ears of grain. A
sacred text of the Farsis of Persian from 400 BC speaks of a deadly grass that
caused abortions in cattle. One chronicler
described the impact of an epidemic in France in 943 AD:
"Shrieking, wailing and writhing men collapsed in the street. Many
stood up from their tables and rolled like wheels through the room; others
toppled over and foamed in epileptic convulsions; still others vomited and
showed signs of sudden insanity. Many
of then screamed "Fire! I'm burning!"
The symptoms were called holy fire, occult fire, Saint Anthony's fire, or
Saint Vitus' dance. The symptoms of
ergotism combined a sensation of cold hands and feet (cause by the contraction
of vein and arteries in the extremities) followed by terrible burning because
of the cutting off of circulation. Then
came gangrene. The limbs quickly turned
black from necrosis and finally arms, legs, ears and genitalia fell off. Death followed shortly afterward. A recent novel by Robin Cook suggests that
ergotism was the root cause of the Salem Witch trials.
Ergot is a black or dark purple mass, a long, hard clubbed shaped
structure formed by the mold Claviceps
purpurea. The mycotoxins,
which form in grains stored in dampness, contain alkaloids that are derivatives
of lysergic acid. They block nerve
impulses, cause constriction of the veins and arteries, stimulate and depress
different parts of the brain and cause progressive paralysis and uterine
contractions. With the restoration of
agricultural know how, ergotism disappeared from area where proper storage of
grain could be maintained and hunger did not drive persons to use grains they
would otherwise reject. But ergotamine
is not the only mycotoxin derived found in bread.
Another grain mycotoxin was
identified in Russia in 1891 in the Ussuri district of eastern Siberia. Called the "staggering sickness"
because its victims were stricken with vertigo, headache, chills, nausea and
vomiting, the disease made several recurrences in the Soviet Union in 1934 and
throughout the 1940s. The primitive
harvesting methods still practiced in the midst of revolution, famine and war
led to practices assuring its growth. It
was common practice, particularly in the Caucasus, to leave grain in the fields
over winter. But the cycle of thaw,
refreeze and thaw promoted the growth of mold. The grain, now thoroughly
infested was gathered up by hungry peasants determined not to waste a single
stalk. Grain poisoning added to the
Soviet doctors christened the disease alimentary toxic aleukia
(ATA). The mycotoxins, produced by Fusarium poae and Fusarium sprotichiodes, were called trichothecenes or T2 toxins.
Outbreaks of ATA continued through 1947.
Similar afflictions struck horses and cattle in Russia and Eastern
Europe in 1958-9 through infected feed grains.
There have been instances of T2 poisoning all over the world.
An outbreak killed 100,000 turkeys in England
in 1960 after they ate peanut meal contaminated with aflatoxin, another T2
T2 toxins are very stable, especially in solid form and may be stored for
years at room temperature without loss of potency, even at temperatures of 100
F. They are easily absorbed through the
skin or internal membranes. A dose as
small as 0.1 mg/kg is fatal, making it more dangerous than cobra venom. These
characteristics brought them to the attention of Soviet and American unconventional
warfare experts, as
will be discussed.
In the 1970's a University of Wisconsin co-ed adopted the current fashion
of wearing a necklace of polished beans purchased in Mexico.
She nervously rubbed the beads in class then
rubbed her eyes. A few hours later she
was unable to see and was violently ill from an ancient poison.
Centuries earlier Gypsies had worn similar
necklaces as a means of keeping the poisons handy for use on their enemies.
The toxin is known as ricin.
The source of ricin, the castor plant, is an attractive
household ornamental, which can grow up to thirty or forty feet in height.
Its leaves are maroon and silky when young,
dark green or dark red when mature. The
entire plant is poisonous, particularly the smooth oval seeds about
three-quarters of an inch long. But
when they are pressed to produce castor oil (which is not poisonous) the
remaining residue is a supertoxin. When eaten by humans, the toxin has a
delayed effect of about ten hours. The
symptoms are severe burning in the mouth, throat and stomach, nausea, vomiting,
cramps, delirium, convulsions and death after ten to twelve days.
However, there are many illnesses that can
cause similar symptoms. Unless a doctor
knows or suspects that ricin is involved there is no way that it can be
detected, even by an autopsy, since the poison is metabolized completely.
This makes ricin a perfect and ancient means
1952, under the code-name M. K. Naomi, the CIA identified
another biotoxin for use as a suicide pill for its agents to swallow
when captured. The World War II
era potassium cyandide capsule was not
satisfactory. Cyanide can take up to fifteen minutes to work and causes an
agonizing death by asphyxiation. Agents were understandably reluctant to use
Saxitoxin, a mollusk
poison produced by a tiny marine plankton known as a dinoflagellate was
identified as a possible replacement.
The dinoflagellate involved is the cause of red tides --the
unpredictable sporadic red-colored murk spreading over large stretches of ocean
in warmer zones. During red tides
shellfish become toxic and can cause paralysis or death if eaten.
In its purified form the saxitoxin is incredibly deadly.
After swallowing toxin or receiving it in a pinprick, the victim feels a
tingling sensation in the fingers and lips.
Ten seconds later he is dead.
U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers carried saxitoxin in the grooves of a tiny
drill bit concealed in a silver dollar in his clothing on his historic fight
over the Soviet Union.
BIOTOXINS IN WARFARE
The first uses of poison in warfare almost certainly involved dabbing
them on the points of arrows and spears.
Shortly afterward, enterprising strategists began poisoning the water
supplies of besieged cities.
Around 600 BC misguided individuals in Delphi's port city, Cirrha, stole land deeded to Apollo's temple.
Called upon to right this wrong, Solon
besieged Cirrha and built a dam across the Plesitus River, cutting off the
city's water supply. Drinking well and rain water, the Cirrhaeans held on for
several months. Solon then tossed
hellebore roots into the dammed water, let them dissolve and then released the
river to its channel. The Cirrhaeans
drank the water and developed violent and uncontrollable diarrhea.
With the defenders otherwise occupied, Solon
seized the unguarded walls. Such
practices were widespread. During the
second year of the Peloponnesian War in 430 BC when plague broke
out in Athens, the Spartans were accused of poisoning the cisterns of
the Piraeus, the source of most of Athens' water.
There were other methods as well.
In 401 BC Xenophon led his Greek soldiers in a hasty retreat from
Babylon. To the Greeks the campsite
near Trabzon looked very much like
heaven. Fish were available from the nearby sea,
the hills were covered with beautiful rhododendrons, and the woods harbored
rich beehives. The soldiers than feasted on
honeycombs. The result, as Xenophon recorded, was unpleasant.
All the soldiers who ate of the
honeycombs lost their senses, and were seized with vomiting and purging, none
of them being able to stand on their legs.
Those who ate but a little were like men very drunk, and those who ate
much, like madmen and some like dying persons.
In this condition great numbers lay on the ground, as if there had been
a defeat, and the sorrow was general.
The next day none of them died, but recovered their senses about the
same hour they were seized. And the
third day they got up as if they had taken a strong potion.
Xenophon had been lucky. The pursuing
Colchian army had not attacked during the army's prostration and near
In 67 BC the Roman General Pompey set out to conquer King Mithridates IV
of Pontus. Over the course of a year
Mithridates slowly retreated before the Roman advance until the two armies
confronted one another near Trabzon, on the black sea coast of Turkey.
Although the Romans thought the retreat was
unplanned the maneuver and the direction were urged by Mithradites
chief adviser, the Greek physician Kateuas.
Pompey's hungry troops repeated the honey-feasting of Xenophon's
troops. Modern science calls the poison
in Trabzon's honey a grayanotoxin.
Grayanotoxins are produced by various species of rhododendrons and
laurels and are present in the nectar of these plants, which is collected by
bees for making honey. The toxins
selectively bind to the sodium channels in cell membranes.
When excitable cells such as those in nerves
or muscles start pumping sodium out through their membranes grayanotoxins
prevent the pumps from turning off, and so the cells remain in an excited
state. Like the Greek army three and a
half century earlier, the Romans went into drunken convulsions.
This time the Pontians, cued by Kateuas,
were waiting for the result of the "mad honey poisoning."
The army did not escape but was massacred.
War continued to be fought through the millenia and poisons were used
whenever it was considered advantageous.
In World War I synthetic chemical weapons were used for the first time
with deadly effect. The emphasis on
these weapons and their control caused many to forget that the biotoxins still
On September 13, 1981 Alexander Haig, then Secretary of State accused
Soviet-backed Communist forces in Southeast Asia of using a novel toxin weapon
in Southeast Asia -- "potent
mycotoxins, poisonous substances not indigenous to the region and which are
highly toxic to man and animals."
The basis of the charge was the analysis of a leaf, a one inch length of
stem and fragments of other leaves from an area on the Thai/Cambodia border
which Vietnamese planes allegedly attacked.
The samples were carefully parceled out to a handful of laboratories for
analysis. Biologists, unaware of the
source of their samples, concluded that the leaf was covered by Fusaria fungus and contained three
different mycotoxins. The
concentrations were 20 times higher than any recorded natural outbreak.
Further supporting this were reports among
refugees that they had been subjected to air attacks by low flying planes that
had diffused a yellow powder. After exposure to this "yellow rain"
they became ill with a variety of symptoms suggestive of T2 toxin poisoning and
The mycotoxin reported was a T2
toxin. In the ensuing months controversy surrounded the
charges. Evidence suggested that the State
Department did not know what it was talking about when it claimed the mycotoxin did
not appear in Southeast Asia, which it
did. Some scientists suggested that the "toxin" was actually
little more than bee feces which was eventually proven to be the
case. Anthropologists raised serious objections
to the way interviews were conducted with the underlying assumption on the part
of the interviewer being that an attack had
occurred. They questioned the American government's motive in making the
charge, suggesting it was part of a propaganda ploy to step up chemical and
biological warfare production.
The critics had their own axes to grind.
The most vociferous were participants and architects of the 1972
Biological Warfare Convention. Evidence
that the Soviet Union was producing mycotoxins would invalidate the crowning
achievement of their careers. No resolution
has ever been achieved in the case, but it serves as a reminder of how difficult
detecting such weapons can be.
SHARPER THAN A SERPENTS TOOTH
Poison has a long
and rich tradition as an assassin's weapon. Very few famous and
infamous persons have died suddenly without someone raising the charge of
poisoning. At the same time there is
little question that it has been used to eliminate those who for reasons of
state (or personal revenge) needed to be removed from the scene in a discreet
and/or sure manner.
of botulism as a weapon of war was
not in the elimination or wholesale disabling of a population.
But, in assuring the death of one man on May
27, 1941 on a street corner in Prague, Czechoslovakia.
In addition to the anthrax bomb, Porton Down was working on BTX, the
botulin toxins. Botulism, as described
earlier, generally appears as a particularly virulent form of food poisoning,
with an average mortality rate of 60%.
It can also appear as "wound botulism" -- a rare complication
that occurs when a puncture wound becomes infected with botulinum spores and
heals partially, creating an anaerobic chamber the organism can live in.
If the toxin is introduced directly into the
bloodstream the course of the disease is exactly the same as if the victim had
ingested contaminated food.
British Secret Service turned to Paul Fildes, director of Porton Down's
research for help when, in October 1941 they began to plan Operation
Anthropoid. Its object was the
assassination of Reinhard Heydrich.
Heydrich had already acquired a fearsome reputation as the ruthless head
of the Sicherheitdienst (SD), the
Nazi Security Service. Hitler's
personal choice as the man to succeed him as Fuhrer, Heydrich was appointed Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia
in September 1941.
Despite his reputation for ruthless suppression, or possibly because of
it, Heydrich was very successful in his
new role. By means of both the carrot and the stick he turned the Protectorate,
with its extensive arms industries, into an important component in the German
war economy. After only one season, the
Reichsprotektor's charges were eating
better and working shorter hours -- while being more productive -- than any
other area in the Greater Reich. The
British decided he had to go. Operation
Anthropoid was launched.
In December 1941 seven Czech
assassins were parachuted in semi-moonlight near the small Bohemian town of
Lidice. They carried British arms,
radio and cipher equipment. Two weapons
were handled with extreme care. They
were British No. 73 Hand anti-tank grenades.
Normally the grenades were 9.5 inches long and weighed 4 pounds.
The grenades the Czechs carried were special
conversions, consisting of the top third of the grenade, with adhesive tape
thickly binding the open end. The
grenades each weighed just over 1 pound.
They had been personally prepared by Fildes at Porton Down and given,
perhaps personally by Fildes to the Czechs there.
The assassins, led by Jan Kubis and Josef Gabick, went into hiding with
the help of the Czech underground. Over
the next five months they built up a detailed picture of Heydrich's movements.
On the 27th of May, having found out precisely where he would be, they struck.
Precise details as to what happened differ but there were six assassins
-- four men armed with submachine guns and grenades, one with a mirror to flash
a signal when Heydrich's car rounded the hairpin bend near the Troja Bridge in
a suburb of Prague, and Rela Fafek, Gabick's girl friend.
She would precede Heydrich's car, signaling
whether he had a military escort or not.
Surprisingly for such a high-ranking Nazi, he rarely traveled with an
armed escort, today was no different.
Heydrich's open topped green Mercedes rounded the bend, where Gabick was
standing in the middle of the road with a submachine gun.
Gabick's gun jammed.
Heydrich screamed at the chauffeur to put
his foot on the accelerator but the driver, a last minute replacement, kept
slamming on the brakes. Jan Kubis, the
other leader, threw one of Fildes' grenades at the car.
It missed but the explosion tore off the
door. Splinters embedded themselves in Heydrich's body.
Heydrich leapt into the road, cursing and
screaming, then suddenly dropped his service revolver.
Clutching his right hip he staggered
backwards and collapsed. The gunmen
Heydrich, in considerable pain and bleeding from his back was driven,
fully conscious, to the nearby Bulovka Hospital. Examined by physicians, he had
several serious wounds. A splinter of
either the grenade or car body was in the chest wall near the spleen, a rib was
broken and the diaphragm had been pierced.
The wounds were not a cause for alarm nor were they considered
mortal. An operation was performed to
removed the splinters from the wound which was about three inches deep.
A day later Heyrich's condition unexpectedly
deteriorated. By the end of the day he was in a
coma. On June 4th he
died. His general degradation was accompanied
by symptoms consistent with botulin poisoning --extreme weakness, malaise,
dry skin, dilated and unresponsive pupils, dry coated tongue and mouth. These
were accompanied by a progressive muscular weakness with facial paralysis
and weakness of arms, legs and respiratory
muscles. His death, according to the Czech doctor who initially examined
him, was "totally unexpected."
The heads of the German Institute of Pathology and the German Institute
of Forensic Medicine, drew up a joint report on the cause of Heydrich's
death. They stated that death occurred
as a consequence of lesion in the [vital] organs cause by bacteria and possibly
poisons carried into them by the bomb splinters."
There is no written evidence of Fildes' involvement in
Heydrich's death. The files on the
entire operation are still sealed. There
is only the circumstantial evidence of the grenades, the suspicious nature
of Heydrich's demise, and the claims of Fildes
himself. To Alvin Pappenheimer, then a young American biologist and later
a Professor of Microbiology at Harvard, Fildes bragged that Heydrich's murder "was
the first notch on my pistol."
Man and an Umbrella
If the cause of Heydrich's death is unclear, that of Georgi
Ivanov Markov is not. Markov had been
a successful Bulgarian playwright in
Sofia. As comrade of artists, actresses and performers
in the state theaters, he came in close contact with the leaders of the
Communist party and government officials who mixed with the performers, partied
with them and conducted furtive affairs.
In 1969 Markov defected. He soon
found a job with the British Broadcasting Company (BBC), covering the cultural
affairs of Eastern Europe. In his
off-hours he wrote and broadcast political commentary for Radio Free Europe.
Corruption was his favorite target and he used his
experience in the theater scene to portray a vivid picture of
aparatchikluxury amidst the general poverty in
Bulgaria. He recounted his personal memories of senior party leaders
including descriptions of their intimate behavior and occasionally giving the
names of their mistresses.
On September 7, 1978 Markov was returning from lunch when he felt a sharp
sudden pain in the back of his right thigh.
It was the point of an umbrella.
A powerfully built man had poked him as he passed.
That evening Markov became
ill. His health deteriorated rapidly and on September 11th he
died. During the autopsy the pathologists
noticed what they took to be a tiny metal pinhead in Markov's right
thigh. They summoned the British Anti- Terrorist
Squad who took the tiny pellet to Porton Down.
The pellet turned out to a 1.52 millimeter spherical jeweler's watch
bearing. Two holes had been drilled
through it at right angles to each other producing an X-shaped hollow in the
pellet. The holes were empty.
Two week earlier, on August 26th, Vladimir Kostov had suffered a similar
stinging sensation in his back while leaving the Metro station under the Arc de
Triomphe. Kostov, another Bulgarian
defector developed a raging fever, but recovered. Acting on a hunch the British
examined an X-ray of Kostov's back and discovered a pellet identical to that
which had been taken from Markov's thigh.
Kostov was called to the hospital and the pellet removed.
Because Kostov had been wearing a bulky sweater at the time of
his encounter, the pellet had not penetrated as deeply as
Markov's. A coating of wax, intended to melt at
body temperature had only partly melted and only a portion of the 450 micrograms
of the pellets contents had entered Kostov. Chemical analysis of the remainder
was clear. The contents were
ricin. The ancient Gypsy poison was still being
used in the Twentieth Century.
Biotoxins have the ability to kill large numbers of people in a very
short period of time. Small quantities
are sufficient to kill thousands.
Unlike biological agents, biotoxins are unable to reproduce or mutate
spontaneously so they are unlikely to turn on those employing them.
As a potential terrorist weapon biotoxins are
more than science fiction. The
distressing thing about "bioterrorism" is that it does not have to
succeed in actually harming anyone or anything in order to have an impact.
Consider, for example, the 1989 cases of the
two cyanide-laced Chilean grapes. No
one ingested cyanide and no one was harmed by the toxin.
In fact the amount found was too small to be
lethal. Yet the publicity surrounding
these two grapes caused a voluntary boycott by American consumers that resulted
in several million dollars worth of damage to Chilean agriculture, the
bankruptcy of more than a hundred growers and shippers and strained relations
between Chile and the United States.
Imagine the other sorts of damage a terrorist might do by simply
announcing that botulin or another biotoxin had been introduced into a city's
Fortunately heating destroys most living organisms and nearly all
of their toxins, so even if these agents were used to contaminate food or
water, cooking or heating would render them
harmless. Protection against this sort of "attack" may require
little more than adequate locks on access doors and hatches, supplemented by
As weapons of war biotoxins leave a great deal
to be desired. Not only are they highly unstable -- the US Army abandoned the
idea of using botulin as an aerosol when it discovered that simple sunlight
degraded it to impotency -- but extracting most of them is no simple task.
For example, one hundred pounds of shellfish
must be ground up in order to make enough saxitoxin to kill just a handful of
persons. Difficulties on this order of
magnitude make biotoxins unattractive weapons of mass destruction.
Military planners find it far easier and more efficient to rely on
something which can be mass produced, remains stable under a variety of
conditions and is easily delivered.
Biotoxins may have potential, but are not likely to replace more readily
obtainable and easier to utilize methods.
David W. Tschanz
FAMOUS & INFAMOUS VICTIMS OF POISON
Some proven, others speculative
The sudden death of powerful
individuals has often been accompanied by suspicion and charges of poison.
In the past, when toxins were not
detectable, all that needed to be looked for was a person with motive.
Anyone with a motive was considered a
potential assassin. In more modern
times, anyone dying under suspicious circumstances without an autopsy can be
the rumored (or perhaps real) victim of poison. (Author's comments in italics).
Suetonius claims that Augustus, in his
eighties, was done in by Augusta. He
claimed that she had smeared poison on the pears on a tree the Princeps was
particularly fond of. (Suetonius is often referred to in
historiography as a scandal-monger -- it seems unlikely that there was an
overwhelming need to assassinate a man in his eighties)
Actually he was poisoned by
his own hand. Found guilty of
corrupting the youth of Athens, he was forced to drink hemlock.
Another of Suetonius' poisoned
emperors. He apparently succumbed to
poisoned mushrooms served by his wife to make room for her son Nero.
Rumors abounded for several years that this
American President was done in by pro-slavery forces with either strychnine or
arsenic. Recent forensic evidence
suggests he was poisoned not by enemies but by the Salmonella he picked up from the potato salad at the dedication of
the Washington monument. The only
American president known to have died of food poisoning.
John Paul I (Albino Luciano). The shortest reigning pope in four
centuries, the youngest pope at the time death of his in 350 years and the
first pope to die unattended since 1600, his death caused a great deal of
speculation. The matter was complicated
further by the Vatican's refusal to perform an autopsy, and the official story
of his discovery not matching the reality.At least one author has woven a complicated conspiracy theory involving
the Vatican Bank, Jesuits, a FreeMason group called P-2, the fanatic Catholic
group Opus Dei and most of the Roman Curia.
are enough strange happenings in the death of John Paul I, the deliberate lies
and the strange behavior of certain church officials to render this as
"not proven" though the author personally thinks the conspiracy
theorists are wrong).
Pius XI (Achille Ratti). Another 20th Century papal death.
This pope was rumored to be on the verge of
condemning fascism in 1939 when he died rather suddenly.
Poisoning theorists point out that his
physician was a relative of the Italian Foreign Minister.
Alexander VI (Borgia). This Renaissance pope was the father of Lucretia Borgia -- one of
history's most infamous poisoners. Alexander VI was reputed to achieved his
office by literally poisoning the opposition. Then, according to Onofrio Panvino, the official chronicler of the
Popes, he poisoned three cardinals and numerous church notables to keep them
from interfering with the succession of his son, Cesare Borgia, as the next
pope. But Alexander died before his
task was complete. At his funeral
rumors abounded that he had poisoned himself accidentally by drinking a
doctored glass of wine intended for an opponent at a dinner party on a country
The acquiescence of the relatively young
Napoleon to his exile on Saint Helena, and his early death are a matter of some
speculation. At least one author has
gone so far as to suggest that Napoleon's death was the result of deliberate
arsenic poisoning on the part of the British government.
Mrs. Harding gets accused of this one. Harding was said to have
fallen afoul of his wife because of his marital infidelities
At the same time the President, who was on a
cross-country tour, had told his wife of the Teapot Dome scandal about to
erupt. She decided to do him in to save
him the pain of the scandal while they were in San Francisco. The doctors
present agreed he died of a stroke.
XIV. The Sun King died of natural causes, but he was the
rumored object of another type of chemical potion, love
philtres purchased by the Marquise de
Montespan. So widespread was poisons in Louis's
reign that in April 1679, 319 writs of arrest were handed down by a special
tribunal in the infamous "Affair of the
Poisoners. Thirty four were executed, four sent to the galleys and another
thirty-four sent in exiles. Among the
convicted was Catherin Deshayes, Madame Monvoisin, several nieces of Cardinal
Mazarin and assorted princesses, dukes, marquesses and other royalty.
The "Mad Monk"
actually died from repeated gunshot wounds and being dumped in the frozen River
Neva on December 29, 1916. But Prince
Felix Yussopov and other conspirators had tried to poison him first with
massive doses of cyanide. Rasputin's inhuman resistance was most likely due to
a common practice in the Russian courts of taking progressively larger doses of
popular poisons to acclimate his system and build up resistance.
As commander of the famed Afrika Corps, the "Desert
Fox" had captured the imagination of the German people. Then in 1944
Rommel was implicated in the July 20th plot to assassinate Hitler.
Unwilling to have Germany's greatest hero
identified as a co-conspirator, the Fuhrer gave him a choice. Either Rommel
would be subjected to a court-martial, found guilty and sentenced to death and
his family would be disgraced, or he could select death by poison.
In the event of the latter, his family would
be untouched and his reputation unmarred.
Rommel selected the latter means.
Adolf Hitler. There is still some controversy over the method of Hitler's
death though nearly all the eyewitnesses agree he shot himself, possibly biting on
a cyanide capsule at the same time for
insurance. But Hitler was the target of at least two aborted poisoning
attempts by his Minister of Armaments and War Production, Albert Speer.
After his release form Spandau Prison, Speer
claimed that he had soaked a cigar in water with the intent of using the
powerful alkaloids released by the nicotine to kill Hitler by serving it in his
tea. Speer also claimed that he had
secured a toxic agent he intended to introduce into the ventilation system of
Saddam Hussein. There is no evidence that anyone has ever actually attempted
to poison the Iraqi strong man. But
the "Butcher of Baghdad" is taking no
chances. He has returned to the tradition of having a food taster.
For several years this post was held by the
son of Saddam's chef, a particularly Machiavellian way of assuring the chef's
loyalty. The position became vacant
when Udai, Saddam's son, killed the food taster in an argument.
Who has the post now is not certain, though
it is not likely to be a high demand job.
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Mithradites was fearful of being poisoned and
adopted the practice of building up resistance to poisons by taking increasingly