The Ricin Thing

So, as you may or may not know, a vial of “100% pure ricin” was found in a residential motel here in Vegas last night.

I’ve been calling around trying to get information from Metro, the Feds, and even the CDC, but nobody’s gotten back to me yet.

The cops are saying they don’t think it’s a terrorist plot. But I wonder. I really wonder.

The story is this: on Valentine’s Day, a guy called for an ambulance from the Extended Stay America residential motel over on Valley View and Flamingo (Valley View, the I-15 freeway and the Las Vegas Strip all run parallel to one another). He’s got respiratory problems. They take him to the hospital, where he falls into a coma.

Then, last night, some guy — who may or may not be a relative of the first guy — comes into the motel office with a vial or something. (I’m not really clear on this, and neither are the news reports). Cops are called, the vial is found to be ricin, there’s castor beans (which ricin is made from) in the room, the maids and the on-scene cops are sent to the hospital, where they are reportedly found to be perfectly fine. Meanwhile, the motel is still, so far as I know, quarantined off.

So I have some questions I want answers to.

1) The news and authorities keep stressing that ricin can be used to treat cancer. Yeah, maybe, in small doses, but not a vial of it. (200 micrograms is enough to kill an average human. That much ricin will cover half of the head of a pin.) Also, they found castor beans in the room, which suggests that the dude was, in fact, making it himself, possibly actually in the room. I think we can rule out medical purposes here.

2) At the Metro press conference I saw a bit of on CNN, the deputy spokesperson said that the man was hospitalized on February 14th for “respiratory difficulty”. But the CDC’s ricin fact page says “Death from ricin poisoning could take place within 36 to 72 hours of exposure, depending on the route of exposure (inhalation, ingestion, or injection) and the dose received. If death has not occurred in 3 to 5 days, the victim usually recovers.” So this guy’s in a coma for (as of now) fifteen days, but he’s not dead and he’s not recovering?

3) According to the Center for Defense Information, ricin is considered the third most toxic substance after plutonium and botulism. The CDI page also points out that “Ricin’s potential as a powerful terrorist weapon is high, as it is relatively easy to produce and has no antidote. Indeed, it takes so little ricin to kill one human being that its use can be undetectable. It also offers a method to instigate panic and disorder as a ‘disabling agent’ if used to pollute water and food supplies.”

4) The CDC page referenced above also points out that “It would take a deliberate act to make ricin and use it to poison people. Accidental exposure to ricin is highly unlikely.” According to another site I found, which I’m not going to link to here, making ricin is a relatively simple process, but it requires lye and acetone. It’s not something you could accidentally do.

5) In a 2005 article for the Atlantic called “Ten Years Later” — a sort of speculative “what-if” piece — former national counterterrorism coordinator Richard A. Clarke suggests a fictional attack on Las Vegas. Vegas, as he points out, is “Sin City”, almost the very symbol of everything about Western culture that Islamic extremists most despise. And it’s a city where literally hundreds of thousands of people walk around, in and out of casinos, all day, every day, totally unchecked. An IED or biological attack on a casino floor could easily kill hundreds or potentially thousands of people. Which leads us to…

6) You’re telling me that the same federal law enforcement agencies that have been hysterically shrieking about terrorist plots for the last seven years are really just shrugging off the discovery of a relatively large quantity of a deadly toxin (that can be administered via air, liquid or food) in a city where at least two of the 9/11 terrorists hung out before the attacks — a city which is the symbol of Western decadence? I call absolute bullshit. I think they’re not talking, but somebody’s shitting their pants right now.

7) This is NASCAR weekend in Vegas. 300,000 people at the Speedway. NASCAR is as synonymous with America these days as apple pie and waterboarding. I’m just sayin’.

Look: if you read this blog you know that I think the hysteria over the boogeyman of “terrorism” is idiotic. I don’t see terrorist plots behind every corner. I’m dismissive of most of what Homeland Security does.

And I’m telling you that I think there’s something going on here that they’re not talking about.

I’m waiting to see if anybody gets back to me on this so I can cover it for CityLife. I doubt I’ll hear anything before the weekend. The likelihood is that if anything happens, you’ll know about it when I do. (Cue spooky music.) But if anybody has any more information on this — not speculation but information — please let me know.

[Update: I spoke to Metro, but they didn’t really tell me anything new. They do say their investigation is just about to start.]

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0 Responses to The Ricin Thing

  1. Frank Beaton says:

    I’m kind of shocked they’re NOT pushing the panic button. I’m sure they will. The Bush administration wants us all good and scared.

  2. Michael R. Bernstein says:

    Well, I think it’s been pretty well established that this administration’s policy is to ratchet up anxiety and fear when politically convenient, but not do anything which would, you know, actually INFORM the citizenry of any actual threats, because that would just be giving the terrists free intelligence.

    I’ll also note the suspicious congruence with the FISA/telecom immunity conflict.

    BTW, while from a psychological POV NASCAR-in-LV (or NFR-in-LV) is an ideal target, I personally had my money (way back when) on an economic target like COMDEX (when COMDEX was still running) or Networld-Interop. Decapitating the tech industry in the middle of Sin City would have been a nasty one-two punch, especially if they could have done it with an infectious agent.

  3. Michael R. Bernstein says:

    Oh, and Frank, the PTB want us good and scared, but don’t want anyone to actually PANIC. That would be bad for business, and a panicked citizenry might, you know, actually BLAME THEM for not keeping us safe like they promised.

  4. Michael R. Bernstein says:

    Not to mention that panicked OFFICIALS can end up looking stupid (like in Boston), also reducing the credibility of fearmongers in general.

  5. Gomez says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who wasn’t shocked… not at this, but at how they’ve shrugged it off given their history with potential acts of terrorism.

    You think they indeed believe this is part of a larger terrorism plot, and they’re keeping silent as part of a larger psycho-chess game with whoever they’re after?

  6. Gomez says:

    There is, however, another factor: the tourism industry, and the fact that this could kill tourism revenue if they did react as they ought to have.

  7. Michael R. Bernstein says:

    Gomez, you can’t equate the vested interests of the local PTB and media (who mostly manage not to notice the violence and rioting that happens on the Strip every New Years for example) with the interests of the Feds and national media.

    At the national level, there is by now a clear track record of a policy to hype the most inconsequential ‘threats’ and advocate useless but highly visible naked grabs for power masquerading as security measures (actually security theater) while completely ignoring actual threats and refusing to pursue measures that would be more effective, but less sensational.

    cf. The War on Moisture, The War on Shoes, The War on Chemistry Sets, The War on Batteries, The War on LEDs… etc.

    Why, it’s almost as though the PTB were using the GWoT to push an unrelated agenda… Hmm…

  8. Chris says:

    May I draw your attention to to this gem in the wikipedia article?

    “Jan van Aken, an expert on biological weapons explained in an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel that he judges it rather reassuring that Al Qaeda experimented with ricin as it suggests their inability to produce botulin or anthrax”

    Mind you, if your homies think that ricin is the third most toxic thingum in the world, I’d better not offer to lend them this book “Venomous animals and their toxins” that I have sitting on my desk.

  9. Laura says:

    In addition to NASCAR, there is also the ASD/AMD Convention also starting this weekend with venues at Sands Expo, Mandalay Bay and Mirage – 63,000 attendess.

  10. Joe T. says:

    If this had been a simple break-in at a hotel room, or a robbery of the hotel`s cash box, or shooting at the hotel, the names of the suspects would be all over the newspapers. The fact that these people are not being identified by name, indicates that something unusual is up.

  11. Billy Kess says:

    They’re probably covering up a lot simply due to the fact that Las Vegas is a tourist spot and they don’t want to scare people away.

  12. CDC Peon says:

    The fact that so little is being released to the press is significant. CDC is ramping up for what they are calling a pandemic prep, but it could just as easily apply to a bioterrorism attack. Check out pandemicflu.gov (especially the PSAs).

  13. Alex says:

    Deep breath, ya’ll. This isn’t even the first time we’ve had ricin discovered here.

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