On Monday, February 13th, Kim Jong-nam, half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, was assassinated in the shopping concourse at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia. Allegedly, two women accosted him briefly and attacked him with VX nerve agent or a close derivative, which is classified as a weapon of mass destruction by the United Nations.
One of the suspects was apprehended shortly after the incident, and claimed that she thought the whole thing was a “prank” organized by a TV station, and that she thought she was spraying “baby oil” on Nam:
Aisyah thought the substance she rubbed on Kim’s face was “a kind of oil, baby oil, something like that,” said Andreano Erwin, Indonesia’s deputy ambassador to Malaysia. But Malaysian police said Friday that tests on Kim’s eyes and face revealed the presence of the VX nerve agent.
And if she really expected the authorities, or anyone else for that matter, to believe that VX could be confused with baby oil, she was clearly mistaken.
It doesn’t make much sense that two women could “spray” something as deadly as VX, and emerge unharmed. How could something that volatile be mistaken for “baby oil” without the assassin having proper training? I spoke with an Army Laboratory Research technician, and he all but confirmed that these were well trained assassins:
The attacker didn’t exhibit symptoms. VX is of a sufficiently low molecular mass to penetrate latex gloves, and would penetrate nitrile gloves quickly. You need butyl rubber gloves for any kind of prolonged contact. Butyl rubber gloves are usually very thick and obvious.
Their narrative is that they thought they were pranking the guy by smearing baby oil on him. Who would ask them to wear gloves for that? Furthermore, if they were given gloves, their thick butyl rubber gloves would be more noticeable.
Apparently one of the women was exhibiting symptoms, but I haven’t been able to find any supporting news releases to confirm this. Allegedly one attacker was vomiting while being hospitalized for symptoms, but we need more info to say if she was affected. VX is nasty stuff though, it wouldn’t take much to get someone to exhibit symptoms.
Some people are saying that they could have used a binary agent (QL and sulfur) to produce VX on the victim. That’s one possible method – a sulfur solution in the spray can to mask the smell, and QL on the rag. Apparently one of the women paid cash for everything and cut her hair shortly before or after the attack.
Could NK have devised the right gloves that looked like normal hospital gloves? Sure. Could they have dabbed the gloves in VX right before the attack, then ripped them off immediately after, limiting exposure? Sure. But Occam’s Razor says they knew exactly what they were doing.
An article from Friday essentially confirmed the above analysis:
One of the woman who attacked Mr Kim suffered symptoms of vomiting, which Malaysian officials say was probably due to exposure to the agent.
Weapons expert Bruce Bennett says a small quantity of VX was likely to have been put on cloths used by the attackers to touch his face, with a separate spray possibly used as a diversion.
Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar previously said the fact the woman who accosted Mr Kim immediately went to wash her hands showed she was “very aware” that she had been handling a toxin.
What a surprise – a leader who uses anti-aircraft guns to execute those who so much as look at him the wrong way, is brazen enough to have assassins use a banned chemical nerve agent to execute his half-brother, the former heir apparent of North Korea? The only thing less surprising than finding out Kim Jong Un assassinated his half brother using VX, was hearing North Korea deny that he had any involvement:
“The investigation by the Malaysian police is not for the clarification of the cause of the death and search for the suspect, but it is out of the political aim,” North Korean Ambassador Kang Chol said.
In his comments, Kang referred to Kim Jong Nam as “Kim Chol,” the name listed on the passport he was carrying when he collapsed at Kuala Lumpur Airport last week, and subsequently died at a nearby hospital.
Malaysian probers had “pinned the suspicion on us,” Kang said, insisting that the two countries join forces to investigate.
Like so many events in the world today – stunning, but hardly surprising.