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Federal Cyanide Bombing

Taking an ‘objective’ point of view, it is not clear why the use of high explosive for tearing men apart should be regarded as more humane that burning or asphyxiating them to death.”

- Martin van Creveld


This is astonishing. Keep in mind that if you as a private citizen got caught setting a lethal  booby trap on your property intended to take out burglars, trespassers and/or livestock killing animal predators, you would be sent to prison. You would also be open to all sorts of personal injury lawsuits. The courts some 40 years ago established that since there is no death penalty for crimes like theft and trespassing, property owners should not be allowed to kill criminal suspects just to protect property. The courts especially showed an antipathy to lethal booby traps, like spring guns and such, as they considered that such “dumb” devices exercised no discretion and could all too easily harm someone undeserving of such severe punishment, like a curious child.

The federal government gets to do pretty much what it wants to of course, but this begs the question of why did the USDA think these cyanide booby traps were a good idea? Given our current risk adverse and litigious social climate it should have been easy is foresee the public furor that would ensue if a human being or a pet came to be accidently harmed by these lethal coyote traps. No doubt the people in Idaho will decide they don’t want to get rid of coyotes that bad that they would be willing to accept the sort of risk implicit in having such traps emplaced about the country side. Even at the land owner’s request. It will be interesting to see how this plays out and what the USDA decides to do.


Hydrogen Cyanide, the gaseous form of the poison, is what they call in the chemical warfare business a “blood agent”. It kills by interfering with the ability of the hemoglobin in the blood to carry oxygen molecules throughout out the body. Similar to carbon monoxide and rattlesnake venom. Hydrogen Cyanide is highly toxic and kills quickly. Cyanide is mostly used in gold and silver mining to separate the metal from the ore. Cyanide gas is also used around the world for pest control, natch. During WWII hydrogen cyanide pellets for pest control were marketed in Germany under the brand name “Zyklon-B” (Cyclone -B). Zyklon-B was initially used in the Nazi concentration camps to rid barracks buildings of rats. You placed the pellets in a dish of sulfuric acid and they dissolved and released the gas inside the building you wanted to fumigate (be sure to follow the safety instructions). An enterprising concentration camp guard came up with the idea that the product could do a bang-up job in the mass execution of prisoners.

The rest is history. Hydrogen Cyanide was also used for executions on a less industrial scale in those U.S. states that employed the gas chamber for capital punishment. Most notably California and Nevada (at least those were the states that were most often portrayed doing so in the movies). Finally hydrogen cyanide was a frequent tool of assassination used by the Soviet NKVD and its successor organization the KGB. Particularly “Smersh” (a Russian acronym meaning “death to spies”) the "wet-works” department of the KGB. The KGB used a tube-like projector the size of a flashlight for spraying the cyanide gas in the victim’s face. It worked quickly and quietly; the victim usually died on the spot.  Years ago before chemical agent detection capabilities were widespread the victim’s death was often attributed to heart attack.


The old cyanide antidote consisted of  three substances: amyl nitrite inhalers (AKA poppers), sodium nitrite, and sodium thiosulfate. Naturally these had to be administered quickly. Now there is a new more convenient and even more effective kit that is marketed under the brand name of “Cyanokit”. It was approved by the FDA in 2006.


Idaho boy injured, family dog killed by government 'cyanide bomb' |

By Laura Zuckerman

Add Comment
IshmaelMarch 18, 2017 5:52 PM UTC

Jeremy, have seen this device used, most of the time on sheep grazing plots, insidious tool! They are clearly marked, skillful trappers hate using such method!