Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, was reportedly assassinated with a chemical known as VX, the deadliest nerve agent ever created. NBC News reported today that the tasteless, colorless, odorless liquid, which is so potent that it has been classified as a weapon of mass destruction by the United Nations, was found by Malaysian police in trace amounts in Kim Jong-nam’s body. Even microscopic amounts of the toxic chemical are deadly.
According to Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a top chemical weapons expert and former NATO commanding officer, interaction with the dangerous substance is almost always lethal.
“VX is the most toxic chemical weapon ever produced. VX acts so quickly that victims would have to be injected with the antidote almost immediately to have a chance at survival.”
South Korean intelligence officials suspect that Kim Jong-nam’s death resulted from an orchestrated assassination plot by the North Korean government. It is believed that the assassins are two women who managed to touch Kim Jong-nam’s face with the deadly nerve agent as he prepared to board a flight from Kuala Lumpur airport on February 13. The liquid substance, which has a texture similar to honey or molasses, is highly toxic through mere skin contact. Coming into contact with even the smallest amount usually proves fatal.
“You need a microscopic amount to kill one person, which is what happened to Kim Jong-Nam,” explained Bretton-Gordon.
VX was developed in the early 1950s by Ranajit Ghosh, a British scientist who was researching pesticides, as part of the “V” (which stands for “venom”) series of nerve agents. Despite the deadly nature of the substance, the United Kingdom allowed the U.S. to have access to the formula, and production of VX in the States began in 1961.
However, in 1991, the U.N. passed a resolution that classified the chemical as a weapon of mass destruction and banned it from use.
According to NBC News, chemical weapons, including VX, were mass produced and hoarded during the Cold War by both the United States and Russia, some of which still exist today.
“During the Cold War, both Washington and Moscow built up large quantities of chemical weapons, including VX. But after signing the Chemical Weapons Convention, which banned the production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons, the U.S. says it has destroyed all of its arsenal and Russia has pledged to do the same by 2020.”
Fortunately, because producing VX is a particularly complicated process, it is generally believed that the compound is rare and hard to find. However, Nuclear Threat Initiative, a D.C.-based non-profit organization, has claimed that North Korea may be stockpiling massive quantities of chemical weapons like VX.
“Nerve agents such as Sarin and VX are thought be to be the focus of North Korean production, although Kim’s death would be the first known occasion where the country has actually deployed it.”
North Korea is one of only three countries in the world that have abstained from signing the Chemical Weapons Convention, along with South Sudan and Egypt.
Symptoms of VX poisoning begin with nausea, dilated pupils, sinus issues, a racing heart, and problems breathing. As the poison takes hold, convulsions, seizures, and loss of bowel and bladder control are swiftly followed by death if no antidote is available. Because the nerve agent acts so fast, the antidote needs to be administered right away for the victim to have a fighting chance, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
“VX acts so quickly that victims would have to be injected with the antidote almost immediately to have a chance at survival.”
In Bretton-Gordon’s opinion, “Kim Jong-Nam had absolutely no chance at all.”
[Featured Image by Shizuo Kambayashi, Wong Maye-E/AP Images]