What is the big deal with “Red Mercury”?
Sachini D. Perera
For decades, the Western world was keeping an eye on a reddish substance that has no definite explanations neither of its composition nor its presence but is believed as an easy money maker. Since the beginning of 1980s, some cases caught the limelight unveiling its first media reportage from the former Soviet Union and some communist states in Eastern Europe. There are rumours about the substance being available in the international black market which is supposed to have been in the manufacture of nuclear bomb explosives. In the 1990s, the term “Red Mercury” was a common term in society known as a chemical material used in aerospace and nuclear industries. This substance has been widely reported in many trafficking cases as well.
The United States and France are considered to be the supreme consumers of the substance while it is said that the Soviet businessmen have made massive red mercury deals with Europe and the Middle East. If some of the military bombarding incidents in the European continent were connected with red mercury still remains unresolved. Even mummies in ancient Egypt were destroyed and rumours say that the female mummies contain this substance in their throat. People in Egypt believed that any symptom of illness could be healed as long as the substance was held with them. However, this was later considered a myth as the substance could not be found or figured out.
In general terminology, mercury is the only silvery-white heavy metal, the liquid-like chemical element in normal temperature and pressure conditions. Pure mercury has no reddish appearance. Cherry-red hue is rare among natural chemical substances while there’s no definite citation about the term’s ‘red’ in both East and West teachings. However, the Mercury Sulfide (HgS), a non-explosive commonly occurring in Cinnabar is a red pigment called “Vermillion” which is also used in extremely small amounts in Ayurveda medication, as mentioned by Dr M. N. Kaumal, the Senior Lecturer in the Department of Chemistry at University of Colombo. There has also been no ‘explosive’ material called red mercury that is recorded publicly documented or clearly identified as used in nuclear weapon designing.
According to the statement made by Dr Kaumal, mercury is hardly capable of being a chemical ingredient to manufacture explosive bombs and it is useless to add mercury in bombs as the chemical itself gets quickly destroyed due to the instant ignition temperature during an explosion. He further stated that such substances cannot last long inside a passive bomb as many chemicals tend to react after some time.
As this scam material is meant to be produced with secret and unpopular chemical properties, the police in different regions of the world have only detected suspected substances (such as HgS, HgO, HgI2 or mercury mixed red dye) which looked like red mercury. Many relatively suspected cases have involved importing or to export banned chemical elements under the name of red mercury. The substance (Hg2Sb2O7) was believed to be developed in Russia, and also suspected as a Russian code (Li6D). If red mercury is an explosive possibility, there are many high explosive chemical substances that are cheaper than red mercury, stated Dr M. N. Kaumal.
A few attempts to purchase and sell red mercury by secret dealerships to manufacture weapons of mass destruction (WMD) to make easy money has been recorded in Sri Lanka as well during the past decade. The only documented incident regarding red mercury is the nuclear terrorism allegation charged against Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) during the in-country warfare that attempted to procure the scam chemical property in the years of 2006 and 2008 from an unknown mass-scale manufacturing company located in California since 2002. According to WikiLeaks, the Colombo Embassy had officially stated that even the Washington State has not revealed any credible information regarding this illicit trafficking threat by LTTE and the location of the Californian manufacturing company in their territory. The report itself records this incident and this material as a scam made by con-artists to ensnare terrorist organizations and rogue states that have WMD capabilities.
The biggest rumour about red mercury at present is that it is inside old-fashioned wireless radio circuits and ‘Singer’ sewing machines that appear like a fuse containing a red liquid. Social media posts mentioned it as a material worth millions to billions in US Dollars. Some photographs of this substance have also appeared in social media advertising the public of its advantages and selling prices at many rates. These photographs however have been manipulated using photo editing softwares. Furthermore, the mercury substance is not legally allowed to be included in in-built machinery and electrical circuits as it is a poisonous substance to be inhaled by the labourers who are manually manufacturing these circuits for a long time, said Dr M. N. Kaumal.
A news article has been published mentioning that a person called Mohamed Niyaz was arrested in Kandy on 11th January 2019 while in possession with red mercury. Mohamed Niyaz was suspected to be close to the suicide bomber Zaharan Hasheem who attacked the Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo during the series of Easter Sunday bomb attacks in 2019.
When checking into the historical records of this incident, the Officer-in-charge of the Kandy Police Station stated that there was no such incident recorded and that this record was fake. This fake news contained telephone numbers directed to the Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) Defense of Sri Lanka Army and Police Emergency Response Unit to inform people who deal with this red mercury racket. According to the news content, the Police Special Investigation Unit has given legal authority to arrest those people who keep, sell and transport red mercury. In the close investigation of these facts, the Head of CBRN Defense of Sri Lanka Army stated that they have not been informed of such illicit trafficking, while the Police Spokesman Jaliya Senaratne made the same statement.
It is clear that the red mercury substance has no evident information recorded. Certain people are, however, trying to mislead the general public to meet the advantages of selling and purchasing all sorts of scam chemical products to arouse ethical crises targeting different local communities.
It is also obvious that Sri Lanka is not capable of handling such massive trafficking deals even if the chemical substance was real. As some global and regional terrorist groups are alleged of making attempts to reach those deals, they have also been unable to find red mercury. The global biosecurity should meet the global nuclear policy strategies to make this kind of viral information to stop circulating to avoid hate speech and fake news contents. This nuclear technology product is probably a high-profile hoax used as a strategy for a nuclear trafficking scam by the international intelligence agencies such as KGB and GRU to detect black market nuclear weapons, nuclear bomb designers and buyers located in both state and non-states.
Red mercury perhaps might be a military code used in the black market to secretly communicate of a substance that contains no mercury at all. Apparently, alleged cases have reported that red mercury buyers sometimes attempt to spend millions of dollars per kilogram. It seemed to be consumed as a subject for high-level political and military intrigue in different parts of the world.