from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2005, Issue No. 33
April 11, 2005


The "UK poison cell" that was cited by Secretary of State Colin Powell as part of his February 5, 2003 presentation to the United Nations to justify U.S. military action against Iraq has proved to be yet another alarmist misrepresentation of elementary facts, according to a judicial ruling in London last week.

A British jury found that the so-called "UK poison cell" was "not guilty of conspiracy to murder by plotting ricin attacks and, generally speaking, not guilty of conspiracy to do anything," wrote George Smith of, who consulted in the trial.

The verdict followed a remarkable series of missteps and misunderstandings by intelligence analysts, law enforcement personnel and government officials.

Thus, for example, the supposed discovery of ricin in a London apartment used by the "cell" was false. No genuine traces of chemical or biological weapons were ever discovered.

Likewise, a purported recipe for purifying ricin that was found in a Manchester raid in 2000 was not from an "al Qaeda manual," as the U.S. government alleged, but derived ultimately from a popular handbook published in the U.S. Moreover, observed Dr. Smith, a chemist, the recipe would not achieve its intended result.

The tangled tale, which is or ought to be a source of embarrassment to both the U.S. and U.K. governments, is presented by George Smith in "UK Terror Trial Finds No Terror," National Security Notes,, April 11:


"During calendar year 2004, 1,758 applications were made to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for electronic surveillance and physical search," according to the latest Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) annual report to Congress.

That established a new annual record for domestic counterintelligence and counterterrorism surveillance and search activity.

A copy of the 2004 FISA annual report to Congress, dated April 30, 2005, is here:

Two FISA-related reports from the Congressional Research Service are:

"Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act: Selected Legislation from the 108th Congress," updated January 11, 2005:

and "The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act: An Overview of the Statutory Framework and Recent Judicial Decisions," updated September 22, 2004:


Some recent Congressional Research Service reports obtained by Secrecy News include:

"Sudan: Humanitarian Crisis, Peace Talks, Terrorism, and U.S. Policy," updated March 11, 2005:

"Chemical Plant Security," updated February 14, 2005:

"China and Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and Missiles: Policy Issues," updated February 22, 2005:

"F/A-22 Raptor," updated March 3, 2005:

"Peacekeeping and Related Stability Operations: Issues of U.S. Military Involvement," updated March 10, 2005:

"Space Launch Vehicles: Government Activities, Commercial Competition, and Satellite Exports," updated March 7, 2005:


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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