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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 September, 2003, 14:06 GMT 15:06 UK
Buying chemicals of mass disruption
Darius Bazargan
Assistant producer, Kenyon Confronts

As Kenyon Confronts reports on security flaws which could allow determined terrorists to strike in the UK, assistant producer Darius Bazargan explains how the team went about planning the investigation.

Mustard Gas, Sarin, Hydrogen Cyanide, VX, Phosgene.... Chemical weapons have cast a shadow over humanity since first making an appearance during World War One.

In three weeks the team had bought all the ingredients for Mustard Gas
They were deployed by Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, further cementing their reputation as one of the nastiest forms of killing known to man. But since 9/11 a new fear has gripped the world's imagination: what would happen if terrorists got their hands on chemical weapons?

The Kenyon Confronts team set out with a mission: could we find the recipes for chemical weapons, then buy the ingredients and lab equipment necessary to make them for cash, no questions asked and without being caught?

First we identified websites in the US selling downloadable instructions for chemical weapons. We bought several, for about $3 each and sent them to Leeds and Cambridge University based chemistry professors who authenticated them.

'Buying chemicals'

Next we set up a front company. PK Sciences, an off-the-shelf firm cost 75. A website (whose meaningless drivel about "outsourcing your custom synthesis requirements to maximise customer product satisfaction in a fast moving chemical environment" were cribbed from an American corporate website) cost a similar amount.

We hired a small office on an industrial estate in Acton for a peppercorn rent and stuck a fax in it. Then we started buying chemicals.

We had enough poison potentially to murder thousands
Darius Bazargan
What was most chilling was how easy it was - and how cheap. Within three weeks we had bought all the ingredients for Mustard Gas, Phosgene and even got our hands on half a kilo of Cyanide, a bargain at only 20, cash in hand.

On its own, the cyanide could kill 500 people. Mix it with another readily available substance and you get Hydrogen Cyanide gas - and we had enough poison potentially to murder thousands.

The chemical industry says that it is self regulating, that laws on the export of dangerous chemicals - and so-called "dual use" products that could be used for weapons - are already in place. But our investigation showed that with patience and a little cunning, a committed terrorist could easily circumvent the powers that be.

Dirty bomb

Another big security service fear is a dirty bomb wherein terrorists pack a conventional bomb with highly radioactive material.

When exploded, the radioactive material spreads itself out as a vast carcinogenic poison cloud.

Everywhere the particles settle becomes a serious health risk and needs decontaminating - in especially bad cases, tracts of our cities may have to be abandoned. This is not a nuclear explosion, but a device of contamination and fear. Not a Weapon of Mass Destruction, so much as a Weapon of Mass Disruption.

Could it be that some of the most dangerous substances known to man were subject to less security protection than a cash delivery to the local Co-Op?
Darius Bazargan
Stories abound of the Russian mafia trying to sell radioactive materials to terrorists. But the fact is that many thousands of these highly radioactive sources already exist in the UK. Why bother dealing with dodgy Slavic villains when you could steal all you need back home in Blighty?

Radioactive sources have numerous beneficial civilian uses; from x-ray machines to chemotherapy, from engineering to food treatment. Most of them are too weak to be of interest to terrorists, but some engineering and medical sources are extremely radioactive; substances like Iridium 192, Caesium 137 and Cobalt 60 could all be used in a dirty bomb.

Our investigations uncovered a company specialising in distributing these sources. A number of phone calls and an undercover visit later and we got a good idea about delivery times, what sources were available, how powerful they were and - crucially - what the weak link in the security chain was.

'Lack of security awareness'

It turned out that these dangerous radioactive products are shipped around the country in unprotected delivery vans.

At first it seemed unbelievable: could it be that some of the most dangerous substances known to man were subject to less security protection than a cash delivery to the local Co-Op?

But worse was to come. Detailed surveillance operations, including days spent tailing the delivery vans in unmarked cars showed a complete lack of security awareness on the part of the drivers.

Doors to the vehicles were left unlocked - and even wide open, drivers seemed to have no idea they were being followed for hundreds of miles or that the product they were carrying could be on a terrorist's shopping list.

The company responsible for this transportation says it complies with all current regulations. When we showed our video evidence to some security specialists they said the vehicles were sitting targets.

Kenyon Confronts: Shopping for Terror was broadcast on Wednesday, 1 October at 19:30 GMT on BBC One.

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