Sunday, September 25, 2005
Whisky of Mass Destruction - how the US spied on a tiny island distillery
A whisky barrel from the small Bruichladdich distillery in Port Charlotte on Islay, whose output is carefully monitored by the US Defence Threat Reduction Agency
IN THE wavering image of a webcam, the figures moved with the sinister intent of those whose mission is mayhem. Thank heavens "Ursula" was watching ...
If the slightest possibility exists that Bruichladdich distillery on Islay is a threat to world peace, we need to know. For it has been revealed that Ursula, a spy with the US Defence Threat Reduction Agency - "Our mission to safeguard the US and its allies from weapons of mass destruction" - has been monitoring the island distillery.
Apparently, it takes just a "tweak" - her words - in the process of making whisky and Bruichladdich could be churning out chemical weapons.
And, naturally, Mark Reynier, the managing director of the Port Charlotte distillery, found out that he was being spied on only when the Americans admitted it.
"Consider the most surreal scenario imaginable," he said.
"We install webcams to show the world our whisky is distilled traditionally. The US government apparently lock on to the web images, which they think look dodgy, but we, in Islay, don’t know that yet.
"We get an e-mail from ‘Ursula’ informing us one of our webcams is faulty.
"We reply, thanking her and inquire who she is.
"She admits she’s a spy, monitoring sites that potentially produce WMD. What’s the expression? Only in America!
"It’s hilarious," he admitted. "Mind you, we’re a sinister- looking bunch, so I can see how we might be mistaken for al-Qaeda."
The US admitted watching the distilling process because it is similar to the manufacture of chemical weapons.
Mr Reynier said: "The original e-mail didn’t say who it was from, but my reply elicited another reply and it had the name of the Defence Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) on it.
"I thought, ‘What the hell?’ I wrote back and all was revealed. We were on a ‘hot list’." Then with the astonishing innocence of the American, Ursula revealed that she worked for the department dealing with the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Her e-mail read: "I work at the Defence Threat Reduction Agency. Our mission is to safeguard the US and its allies from weapons of mass destruction (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high explosives).
"Our area deals with the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, so we go to sites to verify treaty compliance.
"I still find it very funny that their chemical processes look very similar to your distilling process.
"It just goes to show how ‘tweaks’ to the process can create something very pleasant (whisky) or deadly (chemical weapons)."
Once "outed", Ursula’s bosses at the DTRA were quick to point out that they do not consider Bruichladdich to be a threat to world peace.
A spokesman said: "I am fairly certain that monitoring Scottish distilleries and checking webcams from time to time is not high on our list of missions.
"We all know about this day and age, when you can go to chemical-processing plants and somebody with another intent can take that equipment and create something that is not intended to be there.
"The United States is part of the Chemical Weapons Convention. That includes monitoring and visiting commercial facilities where they would be able to make chemical weapons."
Mr Reynier added: "We produce 16,000 cases a year, a weapon of mass drunkenness."