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88-Year-Old Inventor Hassled By the DEA 757

Posted by Soulskill
from the get-off-his-lawn dept.
New submitter Calibax writes "30 years ago, Bob Wallace and his partner came up with a product to help hikers, flood victims and others purify water. Wallace, now 88 years old, packs his product by hand in his garage, stores it in his backyard shed and sells it for $6.50. Recently, the DEA has been hassling him because his product uses crystalline iodine. He has been refused a license to purchase the iodine because it can be used in the production of crystal meth, and as a result he is now out of business. A DEA spokesman describes this as 'collateral damage' not resulting from DEA regulations but from the selfish actions of criminals."
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88-Year-Old Inventor Hassled By the DEA

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  • Not just meth (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @01:28AM (#38145208)

    It can also be used to create an explosive compound that shall remain nameless.

    • Re:Not just meth (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @01:54AM (#38145378)

      As can coal, sulfur, saltpeter. Let's forbid them.

      • Re:Not just meth (Score:5, Informative)

        by MichaelSmith (789609) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @05:48AM (#38146542) Homepage Journal

        Laser printer toner is a great explosive. As is flower.

    • Re:Not just meth (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @02:34AM (#38145668)

      It can also be used to create an explosive compound that shall remain nameless.

      Why should it be nameless?

      Nitrogen Triiodide [wikipedia.org]

      Censorship will never prevent misuse, only perpetuate ignorance. It is better to explain that this compound explodes violently, and at the smallest touch [collegehumor.com] (starts at about 1:00).

    • by JWSmythe (446288) <jwsmythe.jwsmythe@com> on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @03:09AM (#38145842) Homepage Journal

          Because, dear god, no one knows how to use a search engine. If they did, they wouldn't see the abundance of links that reference nitrogen triiodide. And forbid the thought that they could figure out where to source the other ingredient. (hint: anywhere that sells cleaning supplies.)

          If I remember right, it's in the Anarchists Cookbook, when I read it about 20 years ago.

          But, I seriously doubt the guy would be selling it as an explosive. If he made any quantity, he'd most likely blow himself up trying to transport it.

          The war on drugs... The war on kids blowing their fingers off trying to make explosives... I guess the later is a better reason than the former.

          I never made it When I was a kid (like around 12-ish), a friend got a hold of crystalline iodine, and we *were* going to do it. It sat around for a while, while I contemplated the fun of *not* blowing myself up. Then I discovered something. Girls are pretty, and nice to touch.. Yippie! Hormones saved the day!

          Thinking about it, and reflecting on two divorces, maybe I should have stuck with making unstable compounds. It would have probably been safer than unstable women.

    • Re:Not just meth (Score:5, Interesting)

      by logicnazi (169418) <logicnazi@nOspAm.gmail.com> on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @04:35AM (#38146258) Homepage

      Yah but not one of particular use to terrorists as Iodine tri-whatever is too unstable to make a useful explosive. You start making large batches and it will go off randomly while drying or large parts may fail to detonate.

      It's much less of a public safety threat than a gun. The expected harm caused by a man with a pistol far exceeds that of a bomber with this stuff.

  • by ksd1337 (1029386) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @01:29AM (#38145210)
    ...it'd be a shame if anything were to happen to it!
    • by anilg (961244) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @01:39AM (#38145276)

      Also, make sure there's no Los Pollos Hermanos close by.

    • by schnell (163007) <me&schnell,net> on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @01:53AM (#38145370) Homepage

      I hate to read TFA and I hate to defend the DEA (did we learn nothing from Prohibition?) but once again this is a sloppy and wholly misleading article summary (thanks Slashdot!) To wit:

      • The DEA doesn't think he's running a meth lab, they think people who run meth labs are buying his product to use.
      • The DEA has started keeping a much tighter rein on the active ingredient in his product in order to keep it out of the hands of the aforementioned meth labs (just like they did a couple years back with buying decongestants using psuedoephedrine). His response was:
      • He was supposed to pay $1200 for a license to handle this chemical and refused.
      • He was asked to keep tabs on who bought the product to the extent that he would report "suspicious" bulk purchasers. He refused.
      • The DEA asked him for proof that he has security where his product is made to keep people from stealing the active ingredient. He sent them a picture of his dog sitting in front of his garage.
      • He also does not appear to be able to tell the difference between the DEA and the TSA, as the article points out. This does not suggest he is good at dealing with bureaucracy.

      As much as I like this guy and his sense of humor, it seems much less sinister than the Slashdot linkbait summary indicates. It appears to be a pretty simple case of "government restricts chemical that can be used in meth labs, old guy making product in his garage with said product doesn't want to deal with the government bureaucracy and is surprised when the government shuts off his access to that chemical."

      • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @02:09AM (#38145480) Homepage

        Yes, thank you for the better summary. While the DEA has in the past, and likely will in the future done some stupid and mindless things, it doesn't appear that this is the case in this instance. Additionally, it would seem that for a self admitted tinkerer who nets $100,000 per year on his hobby, he could put a little more thought into the product, seal off the iodine in sintered glass or some other method that allowed water to pass over the crystals but did not allow for removal or tampering, continue to sell the products and make the DEA happy.

        But it's more fun to rant and whine.

        • Ranting against the DEA for any reason is well justified considering the damage it does to our country. Glenn Greenwald debated Bush's drug czar recently and really laid open the festering wound that is prohibition. The video is here:

          http://www.salon.com/2011/11/15/debating_bushs_drug_czar_on_legalization/singleton/ [salon.com]

          (Glenn Greenwald should run for president)

          • by delinear (991444) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @08:26AM (#38147136)
            I understand where you're coming from, but it's actually counter productive. If everyone just rants about them on general principle, it's easy for the government to dismiss concerns as general rantings. If they are being criticised for specific behaviours time and again, it's going to be easier to argue that those behaviours need to be remedied.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @02:22AM (#38145578)

          You're operating under the premise that it's reasonable to place all these restrictions on his behavior to prevent meth labs from popping up.

          Another perspective (that I share) is that the government shouldn't be trying to regulate drugs to begin with, and that the government is essentially taxing him to pursue an unachievable objective, eradicating drug use.

          I appreciate the grandparent post providing some context, but to me it's just another example of an outdated prohibitionist mindset getting in the way of people actually producing useful products.

          The period of extended prohibition in the US has tremendous costs that people have sort of become habituated to--not just financial costs, but costs in terms of police militarization, civil rights violations, an implicitly (if not explicitly) racist justice system, etc.

          This sort of government babysitting doesn't seem sustainable in the long-term, especially if the government gets serious about what it actually needs to spend money on and what it doesn't (and if it doesn't happen voluntarily, it will happen as a consequence of market and economic collapse).

        • by galaad2 (847861) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @02:28AM (#38145606) Homepage Journal

          read TFA again pls, that $100,000 number you quoted is not the regular income but it was the MAXIMUM they had ever made in an year, long ago.

          they make much less than that per year these days.

        • by 1u3hr (530656) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @02:32AM (#38145638)

          While the DEA has in the past, and likely will in the future done some stupid and mindless things, it doesn't appear that this is the case in this instance

          It does to me. It won't stop real meth cooks for a minute. It just covers the DEA's asses and fucks up a legitimate businessman selling a potentially life-saving product.

          he could put a little more thought into the product, seal off the iodine in sintered glass or some other method that allowed water to pass over the crystals but did not allow for removal or tampering

          Yeah, because a meth cook could never work out how to break a glass capsule.

          And it would cost a lot more and probably price it out of the market (for those who actually wanted to purify water).He has been filling the iodine bottles by hand in his shed, and doesn't have an R&D facility or make his own glassware.

      • by ganjadude (952775) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @02:20AM (#38145560) Homepage
        so in other words....he was asked to do the polices job for them, with no compensation from the police asking for the information, and in fact are charging him money to do so!

        Im sorry, i dont side with the DEA on anything (not that my name lends any credibility on this one)
      • by Calibax (151875) * on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @02:22AM (#38145576)

        According to TFA, he did apply for a license and was refused by the DOJ. He's appealing that decision.

        The fact remains that a useful product to purify water cheaply is no longer available because the government wants to control the active ingredient, and is willing to make the product unavailable as "collateral damage". I would guess some other collateral damage is the people who may end up with diseases because they drink water that isn't purified, and the percentage that die as a result.

      • Ah, thanks! I guess the governmentrestrictschemicalthatcanbeusedinmethlabs...edwhenthegovernmentshutsoffhisaccesstothatchemical tag should have tipped me off.

      • by 517714 (762276) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @02:52AM (#38145746)

        The DEA has started keeping a much tighter rein on the active ingredient in his product in order to keep it out of the hands of the aforementioned meth labs (just like they did a couple years back with buying decongestants using psuedoephedrine).

        Bullshit. The law enacted in 1983 banned possession of precursors and equipment for methamphetamine production. Iodine is neither. What they did a few years back was to enforce the law as it was written. Today the executive branch of the government, in the form of the DEA, is overstepping the law - that is plenty sinister for me. How does one deal with a bureaucracy that makes up rules rather than following the law?

        • by logicnazi (169418) <logicnazi@nOspAm.gmail.com> on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @04:42AM (#38146296) Homepage

          You sue the agency. This is how the overbroad application of wetlands regulation beyond the 'navigable waters of the USA' was overturned.

          Generally agencies get a great deal of deference in creation and application of their regulation but whether that extends to interpratation of the underlying authorizing act is less clear. In other words you have no chance in court challenging a DEA ruling that crystalized iodine is a meth precursor no matter what the facts provided the law gives them the power to enumerate precursors by regulation. If they are genuinely overstepping the power granted by the law rather than making unwise determinations it's more feasible.

      • by kermidge (2221646) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @03:24AM (#38145924) Journal

        From the summary: "He has been refused a license"
        From the article: "He has been rejected for a state permit"

        "He was supposed to pay $1200 for a license to handle this chemical and refused."

              Strikes me as that's a high price for the privilege of signing a register when you pick the stuff up at a supplier.

        "He was asked to keep tabs on who bought the product to the extent that he would report "suspicious" bulk purchasers. He refused."

              He couldn't give what he didn't have; instead he offered the names of the outfitters he sold to.

        "He also does not appear to be able to tell the difference between the DEA and the TSA, as the article points out. This does not suggest he is good at dealing with bureaucracy."

              He might not be good at 'dealing with bureaucracy' but he seems to know who they are well enough. He called 'em "thickheads" which I think well characterizes the mentality, no matter the alphabet-soup agency. You'd have to ask him, but I suspect he full well knows the difference between the DEA and the TSA.

              The article points out that two noted sales spikes were just before end of 1999 and after post-tsunami Fukushima. Isn't the demand for meth steadier? The comments from DEA seem enough to talk to Wallace so as to verify he's not in the meth business, but nowhere near convincing enough to shut him down. The statement from Barbara Carreno is straight out of the Ministry of Truth handbook.

              I think it's a simple case of over-reaction based on the inability of thickheads to reason. Like you, I admire Wallace and his sense of humor.

              Even if he's allowed to continue making Polar Pure, he won't be able to unless he can find a supplier not intimidated by DEA.

      • Good point but.... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by LostMyBeaver (1226054) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @03:29AM (#38145940)
        - $1200 is a lot to pay for a license and a license generally needs to be renewed once a year.
        - He would need to produce an additional 200-300 units a year to justify the cost of the license and this is a lot of units to produce.
        - He's 88 years old. He most probably produces the product for his love of the technology than for profit by this time.

        Let's be pretty blunt about this... I'd imagine that it all started with the $1200. While the DEA is obviously trying to do their job, their job policing the drug trade in the U.S. should not be impact legitimate uses of these chemicals by stopping the small and up and coming businesses from being able to function. It would be like saying that since a bomb maker would likely need a resistor or relay to make a detonator, then anyone who wishes to build anything with a resistor or relay should have to pay DHS a $1200 fee before they could purchase them. This would eliminate a tremendous number of small businesses from starting up and would seriously hurt America as a result. We as computer geeks often forget that things like crystalline iodine is a component to a guy like this in the same way that a resistor is to a electronics nerd.

        The DEA is a publicly funded entity. They already receive their budgets from the government and we as a people pay their operating expenses as a whole because we recognize that they "fight an evil" which most of us believe needs to be fought. I am disappointed to see that they are penalizing this guy. Yes, you have many great and valid points about how he dealt poorly with this situation...but... he's justifiably pissed off that the DEA is penalizing him for doing absolutely nothing wrong. I makes absolutely no difference which organization it is that is trying to take his money... honest inventors and businessmen shouldn't have to pay stipends such as this because there's a few bad apples screwing it up for him.

        No he obviously is not a diplomat. He almost certainly isn't someone you'd want negotiating contracts for your company. But he is a guy who produces and probably regularly improves upon a technical innovation and provides it to a group of people who wish to buy it and see a utility with it. The DEA is obviously aware of him now. They had the budget to track him down and communicate with him. Asking $1200 for a license to a chemical he obviously knows how to handle was just plain stupid. As to the bulk purchasers thing... this is obviously what was most important or should have been to the DEA. Instead of putting the guy out of business, they instead should have been more diplomatic and asked him "If someone orders more of these things than they could actually use, could you give them a call and say 'Hi... wow you're my best customer this month... it's a big order and I don't want to make you wait unjustifiably long, what are you using all these filters for? Can I send you the first 1/4 of the order today as I have that many on my shelf and I'll send the remaining 3/4 when I finish producing them?' and call us if they sound like they aren't buying them for the filtering itself.". I bet you anything, the old fella would have been much more amenable, and then the DEA would have accomplished something meaningful instead of shutting down a small, legitimate business.
      • by sjames (1099) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @07:08AM (#38146850) Homepage

        The DEA has NO BUSINESS WHATSOEVER regulating a common element with many well known uses simply because a few morons might do something they don't like with it. That includes iodine and decongestant tablets (BTW, the reformulated DEA friendly tablets are not as effective). They shouldn't be charging people a thousand bucks for a license to handle iodine in any event. If THEY are so interested in watching iodine, let THEM foot the bill. They shouldn't be embarking on a STASI campaign to get citizens to keep watch lists for them.

        Given his age, he would have grown up in an era far less tolerant of government interference in an individual's actions than you appear to be. Cooperating with the DEA likely feels a bit too much like being "a good Nazi" to someone who probably fought in WWII.

  • by Sigvatr (1207234) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @01:29AM (#38145212)
    Methamphetamine actually is useful to hikers and flood victims!
  • wow (Score:4, Insightful)

    by poetmatt (793785) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @01:31AM (#38145224) Journal

    so much for blaming people for killing people, this is blaming the gun maker for the people killed by it.

    Notice how this hasn't gone to court? The DEA would be shut down so fast from harassing Mr. Wallace in court that they wouldn't even dare it. Instead, they shut him down by threats alone, aka PIPA/SOPA.

  • by ScooterComputer (10306) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @01:34AM (#38145246)

    I want to say something about this, something clever, something snarky...but I'm at a loss. I mean, this is a facepalm of such epicness it is nearly unfathomable.

  • by mykos (1627575) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @01:39AM (#38145278)
    Can we just end prohibition already? Drug enforcement is ruining more lives than drugs.
  • He should just (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dyinobal (1427207) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @01:40AM (#38145288)
    He should just contact the criminals who cook meth, I mean they get their supply of it from some where. In a land where crystalline iodine is illegal only criminals will have crystalline iodine. Or something like that.
  • by Nyder (754090) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @01:42AM (#38145298) Journal

    ... then nothing gets done.

    The DEA could easily tell whomever gives the licenses to approve this guy, but they choose not to. Instead, they want to blame it on criminals, instead of where the blame really lies, which is the bullshit anti-drug laws that we have too many of.

    We could legalize meth, have the government or some pharmacy make it safely, and then every loser that wants to do it won't be supporting the people who make it.

    The problem here is not meth addicts, it's the bullshit they go thru to make the meth, which hurts consumers more. You won't have druggies stealing the crap the makes meth, you won't have places become toxic because people are making meth in their bathtub/kitchen.

    America, the land of the hypocrites and home of the illusion of freedom.

    • by RobinEggs (1453925) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @03:29AM (#38145938)

      We could legalize meth, have the government or some pharmacy make it safely, and then every loser that wants to do it won't be supporting the people who make it.

      Just because the DEA overreaches and just because there are solid libertarian arguments for legalizing some drugs doesn't mean there are no substances for which prohibition makes good social, economic, and ethical sense....

      Your idea sounds nice, but unless your plan includes banning the users of your legal dispensary from medical and dental care the fiscal costs alone are way too high. Amphetamine abuse causes serious neurological problems, well in excess of those potentially caused by alcohol, cocaine, or heroin; the burden of caring for addicts could be staggering. Severe depression, anxiety, concentration problems, motor impairment, etc. Not to mention the social and moral costs of, you know, just watching people cook themselves into death or permanent oblivion with product that you asked your government to manufacture and give to them.

      If you firmly believe that people should have a right to get high, fine. But don't go spouting off about which particular substances should be available - without the pharmacology, economics, and ethics to back it up - simply to satisfy your libertarian impulse. That's not advocacy, it's sociopathy.

      • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @03:55AM (#38146056)

        It is just too addictive. It has more or less a 100% addiction rate. So you can't do "just a little" meth or be an occasional user. You get hooked, hardcore. Combine that with the massive amount of damage it does and it is just not safe for use at all really.

        I think people forget that there are different levels of dangers in terms of drugs. Some, like marajuna, are pretty harmless. It doesn't have any physical addiction symptoms, is effectively impossible to OD on, and doesn't cause much long term damage (there are studies to indicate it causes some damage to higher reasoning skills, and of course when smoked it causes damage that any smoke inhalation does). It is quite safe over all.

        Others though, like meth, are exceedingly dangerous. They have strong physical addictions (some like heroin can have fatal withdrawal symptoms), and do extreme amounts of damage to the body. You want to see real nasty, look up Krokodil but don't look at photos unless you have a strong stomach: People literally rot away alive. Life expectancy for addicts is a couple years at best.

        While I sure as hell don't support the current "All drugs are evil and should be illegal," mentality, you have to learn about them and appreciate that some are just too addictive and destructive to be things that are sold over the counter. We need to legalize the reasonably safe drugs, not just everything and say "Fuck it, this can kill you quick but who cares?"

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by dcollins (135727)

          "Combine that with the massive amount of damage it does and it is just not safe for use at all really."

          A new study out this week from Columbia University reports that the "massive amount of damage" caused by meth is actually totally overblown, basically a "myth", and in fact counter-productive for the purpose of treating meth addicts. Very much in the same scare-mongering tradition of claims that (a) marijuana causes instant insanity, (b) crack babies are crippled for life, etc.

          http://healthland.time.com/20 [time.com]

  • by Okian Warrior (537106) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @01:58AM (#38145398) Homepage Journal

    Iodine isn't available [ebay.com] without a license from the DEA.

    Not here [ebay.com], or here [ebay.com], or even here [unitednuclear.com].

    In fact, I can only find 32 results in the first web site I thought to look in.

    Looks like the system works!

    • by Lando (9348)

      Why the drug dealers don't actually give a damn about the people that use their product, this guy is trying to save lives not destroy them. The picture on the first link at ebay didn't look like it was "pure". So what happens if there are contaminates in the iodine? For a drug dealer, they don't care, for this guy though, it probably matters and thus not having access to a clean product means that he can't sell it.

  • by exomondo (1725132) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @01:59AM (#38145404)
    Sorry hikers and flood victims, we know you'd like clean water but while you're drinking that tepid water and consequently when you're lying ill you can reflect on the fact that your sacrifice means that drug dealers have had to find another source for iodine to create methamphetamine. We know it's a large sacrifice for an almost immeasurably small payoff, but this was low-hanging fruit and we're pretty lazy. DEA.
  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @02:21AM (#38145572) Homepage

    Here's the DEA's list. [usdoj.gov] Those marked as "List 1" are the most restricted. It's not that long a list. Iodine is the only chemical on List 1 that isn't particularly hazardous.

  • by Qubit (100461) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @02:40AM (#38145694) Homepage Journal

    I apologize in advance for actually reading TFA, but I don't see anywhere in the article any claims from the DEA that the chemical has ever been used to actually make meth.

    Choice quotes:

    about four years ago, the DEA began to look closely at the product, even citing it in a position paper, and suggested that it was being used by cranksters as well as campers.

    Suggestions do not equal proof.

    Special Agent Richard Camps, a San Jose-based state narcotics task force commander, said he received reports of suspicious buyers. "Weird-looking people, 'Beavis and Butt-Head'-types, were coming into camping stores and buying everything they had on the shelves," Camps said.

    Really? A "state narcotics commander" (which I assume is someone important, probably in charge of other officers) just called a class of people "beavis and butt-head types," and he gets to keep his job? Whoever is doing PR for the state is probably cringing right now.

    "Then they would take off into the mountains and try to cook meth with it." The DEA reported agents found Polar Pure at a meth lab they dismantled in Tennessee two years ago.

    Okay, so they tried to do it, but then what happened? Did they succeed?

    If it's just as hard to cookup meth with this stuff as it is to cook up meth with other stuff that's legal, or if you just can't figure out how to cook up meth with this stuff at all, then let this old guy have his iodine.

  • by jonwil (467024) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @04:00AM (#38146090)

    Iodine has all kinds of legitimate uses in all kinds of non-drug fields. Why not focus on stopping the drug labs getting hold of those things that are specific to the production of drugs. If the drug labs cant get the Pseudoephadrine or other drug ingredients, it wont matter how much iodine they can get.

  • by flimflammer (956759) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @04:05AM (#38146104)

    This guy makes $100,000 a year on this stuff. They told him he needed to pay a $1100 regulatory fee and needed to secure his stash. He completely ignores the fee and sends the DEA a picture of his old dog claiming it's his security. I'm really at a loss. Did he secretly not actually want to keep his business?

    I do not think the over regulation of these kinds of materials is necessary in society, but it is what it is right now. If he wanted to keep his business, he should have at least tried to look like he wanted to comply instead of brushing everything off and hoping for the best.

    • by serviscope_minor (664417) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @06:23AM (#38146654) Journal

      No, the guy doesn't make $100,000 per year, he brings in 100,000 per year gross. Unless his margins are absoloutely huge then he will be making a lot less.

      You also ignored the part of the article where he did apply for the license but was then refused.

      And how much is he supposed to spend on security? Enough to wipe out a year's net income?

      I do not think the over regulation of these kinds of materials is necessary in society, but it is what it is right now.

      He is in a position to do the best thing possible: treat the regulations with the utter contempt they deserve and bring in some much needed publicity.

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