The New York Times has an article about the hoax substance which first surfaced in 1979 and was widely discussed in the media in the 1990s. Apparently an Isis commander had been trying to obtain some. Older people will remember the stories about how it could be used to make terrifyingly powerful miniature nuclear devices, e.g. a neutron bomb "the size of a sandwich bag". The general verdict was that red mercury is a kind of unobtainium, arms traffickers' marvelous elixir, a lure, the central prop of a confidence game designed to fleece ignorant buyers. Possible scam victims in the 1990s are alleged to have included Osama Bin Laden and the Tamil Tigers. The current version of the scam involves a variant called "spiritual mercury" known since Roman times, and obtained from ancient tombs (I kid you not!). I wonder if the scam was operated by greedy con artists posing as arms dealers, or whether state players such as intelligence agencies hoped to glean useful information. Whichever, it is an interesting development. I am reminded of the women in Chechnya who conned Isis out of travel money by pretending to be impoverished jihadi bride wannabees. (As they say, all's fair in love and war).