Necessity Still Breeds Ingenuity - Archive of SQUALL MAGAZINE 1992-2006

Depleted Uranium Comic Attracts Heat

Campaigners trying to produce a comic book exposing the dangers of Depleted Uranium weapons have had their mail destroyed and their computer hard drive inexplicably scrambled.

1st September 2001

Author Davy Garland, a researcher in depleted uranium at Lancaster University, received a parcel on Tuesday August 15 which had been opened with a knife. The package had been posted to Garland from Weston-Super-Mare by the book's designer Ian Hurst. Inside were 17 finished pages, and a CD-Rom of the project. The package Garland received had all the pages removed apart from a short section that covered the surveillance and murder of an anti DU campaigning journalist. The CD Rom had been sliced in two with a knife.

"I think it is meant to be a warning," said Garland. "They've could've taken it all or copied it without us knowing. I think they don't like the way we're using a medium [comic books] that's so accessible to the general public. It's a technique that pisses them off, because it turns so many people onto the issues."

When contacted by SQUALL about the incident, a spokesperson for the Royal Mail Customer services, Sonya Crawford refuted any possibility of interference: "We do not have authority what so ever to intercept any mail. I've worked for the company for 21 years and I don't know of any incidence where we've interecepted mail."

However, two days later Hurst returned home to discover his computer's hard drive had been disabled. "There were no signs of a break in," said Hurst, "but the engineer I took it to said the machine's basic input/output system had been tampered with and this could only happen by someone going in and altering it." Though the computer's programs were operating normally, all the files that Hurst had created himself were destroyed. Despite being connected to the internet, the modem was switched off when Hurst was out and a firewall system was installed and working normally. "I lost three years work including three quarters of the DU comic project," he said.

Hurst's engineer told him he had never seen anything like this before and could not replicate it. He did not think it could have been caused by a power surge or a virus as the damage was too selective.

Computer technician Bill Hulley, speaking from Bristol's Tech2 conference on communication activism said: "It is possible that someone could have written a trojan virus to breach the firewall when Hurst was online that would destroy specific data later. Though this would have taken considerable work." The missing pages tell the tale of how DU, a radioactive nuclear power by-product, is used to tip armour piercing shells. Allied forces fired over 900,000 DU rounds on Iraq during the Gulf war and extensive studies have catalogued the devastating rise in blood, heart and immune system disorders, cancers and birth defects that resulted. The comic also covers Nato's use of DU in the Balkans - where increased rainfall is dispersing the uranium much faster than in Iraq. The French journalist whose story was depicted in the pages that reached Garland, was researching DU poisoning in Kosovo when he was killed. Garland and Hurst both said this is not the first time they have had their mail interfered with. They are members of Bristol based Direct Action Against DU (DAMDU) a group that networks between the different aspects of the anti DU movement.

"This follows a pattern of harassment of DU activists that escalated in January when the mainstream press finally began to take the dangers of DU munitions seriously," said Garland. During that month; Doug Rokke, a high profile US Gulf war veteran who has been badgering the American government and military about DU poisoning for years was shot at; Ray Bristow, a British Gulf Veteran anti DU campaigner, had his house broken into and his computer files tampered with; and Felicity Arbuthnot, a UK journalist who has reported extensively on the effects of DU was rammed off the road whilst driving home on the A11, by a car with no number plates.

During the 1980s activists trying to stop building of the Plogoff nuclear power plant in Brittany produced an Asterix comic along similar lines. The comic captured the imagination of local people and the French state banned it.