(A weekly digest from the internet on chemical and biological warfare issues. Emphasis is on incidents and perspectives, but inclusion of an item does not equal endorsement or agreement with the contents. This issue covers items collected between 27 February – 5 March 2017.)
Assassination of Kim Jong-Nam
- Killing Kim Jong Nam With VX Nerve Agent Crossed a ‘Red Line’ (Brian Barrett, 24 February 2017): That this particular chemical weapon would be used in a political assassination in a third country is very alarming. It’s a red line. It should be considered a new threshold that’s been crossed in terms of unconventional weapons.
- Did the nerve agent VX kill Kim Jong Nam? (Poison Review, 24 February 2017): Despite the announcement that VX was identified, there are still some puzzling details that don’t seem to fit.
- Duped into killing Kim? 2 suspects say it looked like prank (Tran Van Minh, 25 February 2017): The two women told officials from their embassies in Malaysia that they believed the entire operation was a harmless prank for a reality show. Malaysian police say the attackers knew what they were doing and had been trained to go immediately to the bathroom and clean their hands.
- North Korean leader’s half brother suffered a ‘very painful death’ within 20 minutes, Malaysian officials say (Anna Fifield, 26 February 2017): Malaysian authorities suggest he was exposed to a huge amount of VX.
- Kim Jong-nam: VX dose was ‘high and lethal’ (BBC, 26 February 2017): Kim Jong-nam was given a very high amount of the toxic nerve agent VX, Malaysia’s health minister says. No antidote would have worked.
- Why N. Korea may have used VX to kill leader’s half brother (Kim Tong-Hyung, 26 February 2017): A South Korean military researcher said while VX can be made as a binary agent, it does not synthesize easily, so wiping a person’s face separately with two of its component chemicals may not be a surefire way to kill him. What’s more likely is that the North Koreans who allegedly organized the assassination coated the women’s hands with protective chemicals before putting VX on them.
- Was a brother’s poisoning a warning to dissenters? (Jean H. Lee, 26 February 2017): The Malaysian police may never be able to prove that the North Korean regime was responsible for the death. But the rampant speculation that Kim ordered the attack is enough to send a chilling message to the North Korean people: Kim Jong Un’s reach and power can extend to all corners of the earth.
- High Dose of VX Nerve Agent Killed Kim Jong Nam Within 20 Minutes (Ben Otto and Yantoultra Ngui, 26 February 2017): Malaysian authorities check for traces of poisonous substance at international airport, condominium.
- Essential Science: The poison behind the killing of Kim Jong-nam (Tim Sandle, 27 February 2017): While the geo-political ramifications of the murder continue to be discussed, the focus of this article is the VX agent.
- VX nerve gas and Kim Jong-nam: a murder that doesn’t add up (Dr Roger Henderson, 27 February 2017): One possible way an assailant could protect themselves from being killed by VX would be to take a high dose of the drug atropine ahead of the attack. This can block the effect of VX, but is a high-risk strategy in view of the strength of the nerve agent, and does not explain why medics treating Kim were not affected, since VX can remain active on clothing for up to 30 minutes after use.
- Britain urges Malaysia to share evidence on Kim VX attack (Afp, 27 February 2017): British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft urged Malaysia to share evidence from the lethal VX nerve gas attack with the United Nations, which could take action against North Korea, and with the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
- Kim Assassination: 3 Suspects Likely to be Indicted Wednesday on Murder Charges (RFA, 27 February 2017): Malaysian authorities are expected to press murder charges Wednesday against a North Korean chemist and two women.
- [Editorial] Biochemical weapons (Korea Herald, 27 February 2017): S. Korea, US should heed NK’s chemical, biological warfare threats.
- N. Korea’s use of nerve agent (Korea Times, 27 February 2017): It is necessary to join forces with the international community to put stronger pressure on Pyongyang to stop producing and stockpiling chemical and biological weapons.
- Suspects charged with murder in airport nerve agent attack (Eileen Ng, 28 February 2017): Appearing calm and solemn, two young women accused of smearing VX nerve agent on Kim Jong Nam were charged with murder Wednesday.
- Russia breaks with Trump in U.N. veto over Syria chemical arms (Laura King, 28 February 2017): Russia, backed by China, vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution on Tuesday to punish the Syrian government for using chemical weapons — marking the first major public clash between Moscow and the Trump administration.
- North Korea’s Chemical Weapon: Inside Deadly VX Nerve Agent Attack (Jason Diamond,
28 February 2017): What was the chemical weapon behind the ‘very painful’ death of Kim Jong-un’s half-brother, Kim Jong-nam?
- Global anti-chemical weapons watchdog denounces use of VX in Kim Jong-nam’s killing (Yonhap, 28 February 2017): The OPCW has denounced as “deeply disturbing” the use of a banned chemical weapons agent in the killing of the half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
- Malaysia has expertise to detect, analyse VX Nerve agent (The Sun Daily, 28 February 2017): Malaysia has the expertise and technology to detect and analyse the VX Nerve Agent which was used in the killing of Kim Jong-nam despite not having the experience in handling the chemical.
- Kim Jong-nam: Malaysia charges two women with murder (Oliver Holmes and agencies, 28 February 2017): Malaysia has charged two women – an Indonesian and a Vietnamese – with murdering the estranged half-brother of North Korea’s leader using a super-toxic nerve agent that killed in minutes. They could be hanged if they are convicted.
- Trump Is Doing Nothing About North Korea (James P. Rubin, 28 February 2017): A shocking assassination at an international airport demands a robust U.S. response. Where is it?
- Kim Jong-un should be ‘punished’ by the UN says South Korea as two women are charged with murdering his half-brother (News Corp Australia Network, 1 March 2017): South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se told the UN’s Conference on Disarmament that the use of the banned nerve toxin in the killing was a ‘wake-up call’ to the international community. The world should react swiftly, he said, by taking direct action against North Korea.
- DPRK refutes allegations of connections with “events in Malaysia” (Xinhua, 1 March 2017): The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) rejected here Tuesday allegations by the Republic of Korea (ROK) that it was connected with “the events in Malaysia.”
- Use of nerve gas in Kim Jong-nam killing causes increased international pressure on North Korea (Hankyoreh, 1 March 2017): US could again designate North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism, after removing designation in 2008.
- China calls for calm on North Korea U.N. suspension call (Reuters, 1 March 2017): China urged calm and restraint on Wednesday after South Korea called for the possible suspension of North Korea’s seat at the United Nations to punish it for using chemical weapons to kill the half-brother of its leader.
- Chemical Assassination: The Role of International Organizations (Cindy Vestergaard, 2 March 2017): Under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), States Parties can consult and cooperate directly among themselves, through the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) or other international procedures (such as those within the United Nations) on matters related to the Convention, including alleged use of chemical weapons.
- North Korea Says Kim Jong-Nam ‘Died Of Heart Attack’ Not Poisoning (Chris York, 2 March 2017): North Korea has insisted the half-brother of leader, Kim Jong-un, was not assassinated with a highly toxic nerve agent but most likely died of a heart attack.
- North Korea says Kim Jong Nam VX poison claim absurd (Eric Talmadge, 2 March 2017):
North Korea is strongly denying the findings of a Malaysian autopsy that suggest the deadly VX nerve agent was used to kill leader Kim Jong Un’s half brother.
- Use of Nerve Agent in Kim Jong-nam Killing Is Condemned by Malaysia (Richard C. Paddock and Choe Sang-Hun, 2 March 2017): The Malaysian Foreign Ministry said Friday that it was “greatly concerned” by the use of a banned chemical weapon in a public place to assassinate Kim Jong-nam, the half brother of North Korea’s leader, and has asked for international help in responding to the episode.
- N Korea asks again, how did duo survive contact with VX nerve agent? (Malaysiakini, 2 March 2017): The North Korean high-level delegation to Malaysia wants to know how the two women who had purportedly killed Kim Jong-nam using the highly toxic substance VX nerve agent could survive.
- Malaysia to ‘fully cooperate’ with OPCW on VX probe: Ministry (Channel News Asia, 3 March 2017): The Foreign Affairs Ministry says it “strongly condemns” the use of toxic chemical in Kim Jong Nam’s alleged murder and declares it has “complied entirely” with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention Act.
- Malaysia Condemns Use of Chemical Weapon in Kim Jong Nam Killing (Associated Press, 3 March 2017): Malaysia ramped up the pressure on Pyongyang on Friday, issuing a statement condemning the use of a banned toxic chemical weapon in the killing of the half brother of North Korea’s leader.
- Kim Jong-Nam case: Ministry waiting for DNA samples to confirm identity of victim (Aaron Ngui, 4 March 2017): The Health Ministry is waiting for DNA samples as well as medical and dental records from the relevant authorities to verify and confirm the identity of a North Korean man killed with a nerve toxin.
- Malaysia expels North Korean ambassador over Kim probe (Eileen Ng, 4 March 2017): Malaysia said it expelled North Korea’s ambassador on Saturday for refusing to apologize for his strong accusations over Malaysia’s handling of the investigation into the killing of the North Korean leader’s half brother.
- Russian Dissident Survives Second Poisoning Attempt: I Felt ‘Like I Was Suffocating’ (Ken Dilanian, Richard Engel and Erin Calabrese, 3 March 2017): Within 15 minutes of waking up, Russian opposition journalist and activist Vladimir Kara-Murza knew immediately what it was: He’d been poisoned — and it wasn’t the first time.
Chemical warfare in Syria
- Document: Text of draft resolution condemning use of chlorine in Syrian civil war.
- Russia: Don’t Veto Sanctions for Syria Chemical Attacks (Human Rights Watch, 27 February 2017): Russia and other United Nations Security Council members should support a proposed resolution that would impose sanctions on Syrian government officials responsible for chemical attacks, Human Rights Watch said.
- Russia pledges to veto UN sanctions resolution on Syria (Edith M. Lederer, 28 February 2017): Russia pledged to veto a Western-backed U.N. resolution Tuesday that would impose sanctions on 21 Syrian individuals, organizations and companies allegedly involved in chemical weapons attacks in the war-ravaged country.
- Russia and U.S. Clash Over Syria in Security Council Vote (Somini Sengupta, 28 February 2017): Russia and the Trump administration clashed in a vote at the United Nations Security Council for the first time on Tuesday, as the Kremlin vetoed a measure backed by the United States and its Western allies to punish Syria for using chemical weapons.
- Russia, China veto at U.N. on Syria chemical weapons is ‘outrageous,’ U.S. says (Karen DeYoung, 28 February 2017): The Trump administration accused Russia and China of “outrageous and indefensible” action Tuesday after they vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have imposed new sanctions on Syria for using chemical weapons against its own citizens.
- Putin says draft U.N. resolution to sanction Syria ‘inappropriate’ (Reuters, 28 February 2017): Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday a draft U.N. Security Council resolution put forward by Western powers to sanction Syria’s government over the alleged use of chemical weapons was inappropriate because it would undermine trust in the negotiating process.
- Syria war: Russia and China veto sanctions (BBC, 1 March 2017): Russia and China have vetoed a UN resolution to impose sanctions on Syria over the alleged use of chemical weapons.
- The U.S. should use its leverage on Syria (Opinion, 1 March 2017): President Trump’s relations with, and intentions toward, the Russian regime of Vladimir Putin remain troublingly opaque. So it was a pleasant surprise on Tuesday when his ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, excoriated Moscow for blocking action against the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad for its illegal use of chemical weapons.
- Double Veto Prevents Security Council from Adopting Draft Resolution Intended to Impose Sanctions for Use of Chemical Weapons in Syria (ReliefWeb, 1 March 2017): Report of actions and statements.
- Surprise Surprise: MSM Ignores What UN Report on Syrian Gas Attack Actually Said (Sputnik News, 1 March 2017): On Tuesday, Russia and China vetoed a resolution proposing tougher sanctions against Syria, based in part on a recent OPCW-UN report on the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons in 2014 and 2015. Asked to comment, respected security analyst Charles Shoebridge pointed out that most media didn’t even seem to bother reading the report.
- US Sponsors New Sanctions Against Syria At UN Security Council (Brandon Turbeville, 2 March 2017): In a draft initiated and supported by the United States, U.K., and France, a plan was put forward to impose new sanctions on the Syrian government in the form of a ban on all shipments of helicopters to the army or the government. The draft resolution received nine votes, the minimum necessary for passing such a document. However, both the Russians and the Chinese as well as the Bolivians vetoed the measure with Egypt, Kazakhstan, and Ethiopia abstaining.
- UN watchdog examines 8 alleged gas attacks in Syria this year (AFP, 4 March 2017): The OPCW is examining allegations of eight toxic gas attacks in Syria since the beginning of this year, according to a report released today.
Chemical warfare in Iraq
- Civilians fleeing ISIS in Mosul are being treated for chemical weapon agents (Maher Chmaytelli and Isabel Coles, 3 March 2017): The number of civilians escaping the fighting in Mosul has increased significantly as battles intensify between U.S.-backed Iraqi forces and Islamic State militants, and some have been exposed to chemical agents, the Red Cross said on Friday.
- ‘First chemical attack’ in Mosul battle injures twelve (BBC, 3 March 2017): Twelve civilians have been injured in Mosul in what appears to be the first chemical weapon attack in the battle for the IS stronghold.
- Daesh terrorists launch chemical attack on eastern Mosul: Cmdr. (PressTV, 3 March 2017): A high-ranking Iraqi military commander says Takfiri Daesh terrorists have used internationally-banned chemical weapons in a recent attack on the liberated areas in eastern Mosul as government forces and their allies are pushing to expel the extremists out of the country’s second largest city.
- Twelve treated for chemical weapons agents in Mosul since March 1: U.N. (Reuters, 4 March 2017): Twelve people, including women and children, are being treated for possible exposure to chemical weapons agents in Mosul, where Islamic State is fighting off an offensive by U.S.-backed Iraqi forces, the United Nations said on Saturday.
- ISIS militants accused of using ‘blistering chemical agent’ in attacks in Mosul (Loveday Morris, 4 March 2017): Twelve people, including a 2-month-old baby, from the embattled city of Mosul have been treated for suspected exposure to a blistering chemical agent, medics said Saturday, as Islamic State militants strike back at government-held neighborhoods while trying to hold off advancing government forces.
- UN: If confirmed, chemical attacks in Mosul a war crime (Associated Press, 4 March 2017): The United Nations warned that the alleged use of chemical weapons in Mosul, if confirmed, would be a war crime and a serious violation of international humanitarian law, according to a statement released Saturday.
- S. Korea to raise issue with N. Korea’s biochemical weapons threat on global stage: officials (Yonhap, 25 February 2017): South Korea has decided to raise its voice against North Korea’s possession of biochemical weapons in international meetings in Washington and Geneva following the Malaysian police’s announcement that a VX nerve agent was used to kill Kim Jong-nam.
- S. Korea, US moving to use latest detection gear to counter NK chemical biological threats (Yonhap), 26 February 2017): South Korea and the United States are moving to employ their latest detection equipment to prepare for North Korean chemical and biological weapons in the joint military drill planned for this year. The move is in response to Pyongyang being accused of using the lethal VX nerve agent to kill Kim Jong-nam.
- Retaliate With Chemical Weapons? (Michael Mazza, 28 February 2017): N. Korea has artillery within range of Seoul armed with WMD shells.
- We must be ready for chemical, biological warfare: Manohar Parrikar (IANS, 2 March 2017): Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and Army chief General Bipin Rawat expressed concern over possible use of biological and chemical weapons in warfare at an event where the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) handed over Nuclear, Biological, Chemical Reconnaissance Vehicle (NBCRV) and NBC treatment drugs to the Indian Army.
- Kim and Assad: The chemical cluelessness of dictators (Amy E. Smithson, 3 March 2017): Chemicals leave their version of fingerprints—a fact that ruthless dictators who use chemicals to kill can’t seem to grasp.
- Forget nuclear: Chemical weapons are the real weapons of mass destruction threat (Orsolya Raczova, 3 March 2017): There is a credible risk that ISIS or ISIS inspired terrorists in Western countries could obtain chemical weapons. Chemicals are the most widely available weapons of mass destruction and perhaps the least challenging sort to pursue. An attack involving chemicals can potentially result in civilian casualties, chaos and serious economic consequences.
- In southeastern Colorado, robots carefully disarm WWII-era chemical weapons (Megan Geuss, 26 February 2017): A tour of the training facility the US military is using to teach humans how to help robots help us.
- Kentucky Environmental Foundation Plans To Dispose Of Chemical Weapons (LEX18, 27 February 2017): Craig Williams, the project director with the Kentucky Environmental Foundation, says it will take about three years for the plant to get rid of all of the chemicals at the Blue Grass Army Depot.
Victims of chemical warfare
- VX survivor recalls brush with Aum assassin in ’95 (AP & Kyodo, 25 February 2017): Before killing about a dozen commuters and sickening 6,300 in Tokyo with evaporating sarin, Aum had tried using VX on at least three people. One, whom the cult suspected was a police informant, was killed.
- Emergency Drill Tests Anthrax Response (Tapinto Flemington-Raritan Staff, 2 March 2017): The county conducted a drill recently to test its response to an emergency such as an anthrax attack.
- Are Biosafety Failures the New Norm? (Saskia V. Popescu, 23 February 2017): Perhaps one of the most poignant points to take away from the recent CDC BSL-4 closure is that even industrialized and well-supported countries such as the United States can struggle with biosecurity and biosafety. If major countries struggle, where does that leave smaller or struggling countries in terms of securing their work with deadly pathogens?
Dual-use research and ethics
- When something useful becomes menacing – a debate on «dual use» research (Report, 27 February 2017): Young scientists discussed about their understanding of ethical research, the importance of open communication and the unpredictability of biological research.
- Worse Than Tuskegee (Sushma Subramanian, 26 February 2017): Seventy years ago, American researchers infected Guatemalans with syphilis and gonorrhea, then left without treating them. Their families are still waiting for help.