The dark agents of espionage have long relied on toxic substances to eliminate their problems.
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I was reminded of this last week when evil North Korean dictatator Kim Jong-Il took the concept of “political poison”to another level with the fratricidal despatch of his half brother at KL airport.

Kim Jong-nam was wiped out with a dab of VX, the most potent of the known chemical warfare agents, sending a clear message to political dissidents everywhere –beware reality TV pranksters.

Not that the unsuspecting agents of this dirty deed done cheap had any idea they were about to kill someone.

They thought they were taking part in some reality TV hijinks. Dream come true (but not for Kim Jong-nam), it did end up on on CCTV, and it was real.

Speculation was rife in the aftermath that the use of VX indicated a new level of threat from Kim Jong-il, adding chemical warfare to his nukes and implausible denials.

But as the furore settles, the consensus seems to be that VX was used simply because it is so reliable –a handy consideration when you’re trying to kill someone.

Like most airport food, VXis clear, tasteless and odourless, and works by penetrating the skin. A dropcan kill in minutes.

Compare that to the three weeks it took radioactive polonium-210 to kill Russian ex-spy and investigator Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. Tardy.

A similar dose took out Russian businessman Roman Tsepov in September 2004.

The delivery system on this occasion was a cup of tea, which inducedvomiting and diarrhoea, suggesting Tsepov had also ingested airport food, only to pass away two weeks later in glowing non-health.

I don’t mean to make light of these dark moments, but history (Wikipedia) revealsa cavalcade of hits- some self-administered, others with non-consensual assistance– dating back to ancient times.

Casualites include Socrates (Hemlock), Cleopatra (asp) and more recently, Phar Lap (still not clear).

Other standouts involved the attractively named Abram Slutsky, head of the Soviet spy service, who was poisoned with hydrogen cyanide by the NKVD in 1938.

Japanese Kabuki actor Bandō Mitsugorō VIII ate no less than four livers of fugu fish to prove just how immune he was to their deadly delights, before promptly expiring.

And Sunni jihadi fighter Ibn al-Khattab died in 2004 via a poisoned letter sent from Russia, yet again, with no love at all.

Perhaps the more macabre interest lays in the list of political figures who MAY have been poisoned.

They include Yasser Arafat who died of cirrhosisof the liver, even though he was a non-drinker. True, you don’t have to drink to get cirrhosisbut it probably won’t hurt if you’re an enemy of Mossad.

Stalin was allegedly poisoned on the orders of his minion Lavrenti Pavlovich Beria who was later excecuted on the orders of Krushev. No one really cares how they went, just so long as they did.

And then there’s the numerous kings, queens and popes who have fallen foul of poisoned figs, apples, mushrooms, you name it – underlining just how unhealthy eating fruit and veg can be if you’re a VIP.

I don’t want to dwell on death, unnecessarily, but this trip down murderous-memory lane reallyresonated with me this week.

And not just because I am in the process of nominating a binding beneficiary for my super and the talk lately has been about my hypothetical, yet obviously appealing (to some) death.

Clearly, we all have to go some way, and it makes you wonder how you might be filed.

Under “A for assassination” perhaps (see above); or “D for death during consensual sex” (alleged luminaries who knocked off on the job includeBilly Sneddon and Matthew McConaughy’s dad); or maybe “O for announcing the wrong movie of the year at the Oscars”. Talk about La La Land, dying on stage and as an accountant, all at the same time.

But if it’sreal dramayou want, let’s talk “death by duelling” –an ignominious practice from days gone by, long banned, but quitepopular if you were a cad and a good shot.

In most situations, I’d probably take dishonour before death, because I’m a coward. Unlike the players who routinely chose pistols at dawn if they felt their good name sullied.

Amusing among a multitude of not-so-famous encounters is theshowdown between Missouri congressman Spencer Darwin Pettis and American miliitary heroThomas Biddle in 1831 on the aptly named Bloody Island.

When challenged by the feisty Pettis, Biddle, being short sighted, settled on pistols at a suicidal five paces. Records suggest their arms crossed as they blew each other into the hereafter.

A reliable ploy that even King Jong-il would applaud, if not for its bloody-minded stupidity, then surely its effectiveness.

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