In the Time article about the aborted attack on New York's subways, construction of Al-Qaeda's chemical bomb -- which supposedly combines sodium cyanide and hydrochloric acid -- is called "the equivalent of splitting the atom."Uh, not really, experts are answering.Globalsecurity.org's George Smith says that shows an "uneasy grasp of the science."
The reaction of hydrochloric acid, a common reagent... and sodium cyanide is... is not equivalent to splitting the atom... It indicates someone who was not a scientist or perhaps knowledgeable on the fine details, if there are any."This type of attack, whether the assailant realizes it or not, is going to be mostly psychological," an ordnance specialist adds.
Simply allowing the chemicals to intermingle without efficiently mixing them will not produce an effective chemical weapon. Even if it does, by some stroke of luck, emit a substantial amount of HCN, immediately leaving the exposed area and getting fresh air will limit its effects. HCN has never really been used as a weapon because of this; its only documented use was by the Nazis during WWII in their genocide chambers.There is the possibility that a couple people may have an especially bad reaction and succumb to the effects of the chemical (as happened in Japan's subway system a couple years ago). Overall, the fear and lack of security it instills into the public's minds will be the greatest lasting effect.