Antiterrorism Expert Claims to Have Smuggled Bomb onto Airplane Twice

I don't know how much of this to believe.

A man wearing a jacket and carrying a bag was able to sneak a bomb onto a flight from Manila to Davao City last month at the height of the nationwide security alert after Britain uncovered a plot to blow up transatlantic planes.

The man pulled off the same stunt on the return flight to Manila.

Had he detonated the bomb, he would have turned the commercial plane into a fireball and killed himself, the crew and hundreds of other passengers.

The man turned out to be a civilian antiterrorism expert tapped by a government official to test security measures at Philippine airports after British police foiled a plan to blow up US-bound planes in midair using liquid explosives.

In particular, if he actually built a working bomb in an airplane lavatory, he's an idiot. Yes, C4 is stable, but playing with live electrical detonators near high-power radios is just stupid. On the other hand, bringing everything through security and onto the plane is perfectly plausible. Security is so focused on catching people with lipstick and shampoo that they're ignoring actual threats.

EDITED TO ADD (9/3): More news.

EDITED TO ADD (9/8): The "expert" is Samson Macariola, and he has recanted.

Posted on September 1, 2006 at 12:41 PM • 34 Comments

Comments

Israel TorresSeptember 1, 2006 1:10 PM

FTA: "The only missing act was the push on the button to blow up the aircraft,��? he said in an interview."

That would have been "the only missing purposeful act". In such tense scenarios there are often unaccounted-for acts that could have taken place that would have given the same result as the "missing act". For example if the aircraft were to lurch forward at the wrong time causing him to try and rebalance his weight causing him to accidentally ignite the fuse... his "whoops" wouldn't be heard in time.

Israel Torres

another_bruceSeptember 1, 2006 1:38 PM

i don't believe a word of it. there's a lot of self-promotion in security, as in life generally.
and if i catch you on my plane with a bomb, it won't matter to me that you're one of the "good guys", i'll still break your fucking neck.

Michael AshSeptember 1, 2006 1:57 PM

Not that I know a great deal about these things, but would that bomb really be enough to destroy the entire airplane? The article says, "he would have turned the commercial plane into a fireball", but from what I understand it would have just made a large hole and ruined everyone's day. Aloha Airlines 243 demonstrated just how survivable a large hole can be, so is this really as dangerous as it's made to sound?

Granted, I don't want anybody setting off explosives in my plane, but the dire predictions seem a little overwrought.

BenSeptember 1, 2006 2:55 PM

The Aloha Airlines flight was a best case scenario. Worst case is Lockerbie Scotland. Depending on terrorists to make their bombs too small and detonate them in not-critical locations is not the ideal course of action.

J.D. AbolinsSeptember 1, 2006 3:16 PM

Among the things in the article that caught my attention was:
"The man turned out to be a civilian antiterrorism expert tapped by a government official to test security measures at Philippine airports after British police foiled a plan to blow up US-bound planes in midair using liquid explosives."

Now, I am skeptical of the story's accuracy and truth, but let's pretend it is true & accurate.

It would appear that one government official could initiate such a test of airline security. Who's the official who initiated such a test and, apparently, would be the "get out of jail card" for the expert? What government? Most important, what checks were in place or were missing to ensure that the test would be a sound one and designed with safeguards to prevent "explosive misadventures". What made the expert an expert for such testing?

Some of the story reminds me of the old "Fire Marshall Bill" sketches Jim Carrey used to do. The fire marshall would seek to demo a safety hazard he spotted, only to set off a disaster.

But it could well be that the news story is wrong.

mpdSeptember 1, 2006 3:26 PM

Assuming the story is true, what was the point of actually going to the lav. and building the bomb? Does it take noticeably longer to build a bomb than it does to do your "business"?

Michael AshSeptember 1, 2006 4:56 PM

@Ben

Agreed about best and worst cases, and not relying on terrorist bombs to be too small. But every news story I see implies or outright states that whatever bomb they're talking about would unquestionably bring down the aircraft if detonated. But most of the time they're about the size of the Pan Am 103 bomb but without that bomb's disastrously unlucky placement. Richard Reid's bomb was presented as an "everybody dies" scenario when in reality it probably would have just resulted in him losing his leg.

My impression is that the news media is encouraging a perception of airliners as being much more fragile than they really are. Whether that's because the media really believes this or because they just wish to encourage the idea is something I don't know, but it annoys me that it's so widespread.

JilaraSeptember 1, 2006 5:09 PM

This story is highly suspect, in that the components of this supposed "bomb" don't match from one paragraph to the next. Okay, we have wires, a cell phone for detonator, C4, and "another piece." The other piece would have to be something like a blasting cap, as you need an explosive detonation device to blow up C4. (And I am extremely skeptical about whether a cell phone has sufficient current for this task, but that's another point.) Okay, fine. No liquids, gels, or sports drinks. He's using what they're not looking for.

But then, it says he MIXED THE MATERIALS TOGETHER. Huh? There's no mixing involved, here. Just assemble the parts. Oh, and "push the button." I'm a little unclear as to how he was wiring the cell phone into this mess. Yeah, he pushed the button to take the picture, but I want to know how he's wiring this whole thing. Gotta take the cell phone apart. But the way it's phrased, he might as well have been stringing together dental floss and hair spray (which I did, once, as a babysitter, to worry the kids who had locked me in the bathroom, threatening to "blast my way out.")

And if he's taking photos, how do we know that was really C4, and not modeling clay? (Wow, they do this in the movies all the time, don't they?)

And he's recommending shoes are x-rayed? Um, we do that now. And how is that supposed to find C4?

In terms of security, however, I have friends who were stationed in the Phillippines, and have commented on the lax attitudes of the Phillippine military in terms of security, so why should airports be different? The list of this "expert's" recommendations tends to reenforce that. Hmm, politicians, police, and military are exempt from screening?

However, this whole story is full of holes. I'd take it with a healthy dose of salt.

AnonymousSeptember 1, 2006 5:40 PM

@another_bruce

> and if i catch you on my plane with a
> bomb

Are you an air marshall?


> it won't matter to me that you're one
> of the "good guys", i'll still break your
> fucking neck.

Uh-huh, sure you would. You would shit yourself just like everyone else.

MordSeptember 1, 2006 5:57 PM

Aside from the bad reporting I vote that this is a hoax. Which is not to say that smuggling these items on an airplane would be difficult.

But what foreign government would send an operative to test another country's security in what would, for all intensive purposes, appear to be an act of war? "No, we didn't mean to smuggle a bomb onto a plane carrying your citizens?" That rings very hollow.

That said, I'm more afraid of ---holes (and government officials) like this who take it upon themselves to test security like some messiah who can singlehandedly make us safer by demonstrating in a risky fashion what the knowledgable already know.

C4 on a plane is not making me safer. Bring playdough next time.

AnonymousSeptember 1, 2006 5:59 PM

I also don't know that he's not a point-man for a terrorist organization doing a dry run. What a great cover! I'm really a security expert. Talk about social engineering.

*sigh*

Clive RobinsonSeptember 1, 2006 6:52 PM

@Anonymous

"Uh-huh, sure you would. You would shit yourself just like everyone else"

Do you personaly know "another_bruce" to make that statment.

In my younger days I picked up several interesting scars by acting and not thinking.

I have a nasty little bald patch in my beard on my neck caused by an Afro Comb when dealing with three muggers. I was told by the doctor who patched it up that I was very lucky it was a little to close to a major blood vessel for comfort.

I also have a bald patch on the side of my head and a scar across the top of my left ear from a sharpened screwdrivwer I got from tackeling a couple of people attempting to break into my house. The medical report indicated that I was lucky as the blow was deflected of my skull otherwise it would have penetrated.

I also have little or no sense of fealing in the front of my mouth due to four operations to repare my lower jaw. I was attacked early one morning on my way to work and I was karate kicked in the back of my head from behind, the front of my jaw made contact with a metal sign post that was about a foot in front of my head (which I had pinned one assailant up against). The result was a full fracture on the point of the lower jaw. I was told by several doctors in the two hospitals I was treated at that this is the hardest point of the skeleton to break. I asked one doctor what would have happened if my head had been tillted down and my forehead had hit the sign post, his response was "we would not be having this conversation"

These days I tend to think befor I act, I am getting to old to heal quickly, and I realy don't think scars in any way improve my very limited looks ;)

All of these events happened within walking distance of my home in London. The odd thing is that in my travels around and about, some of them in the worlds Hot Spots I have been unharmed. A friend puts this down to the fact that I was not expecting trouble on my home turf.

As for being shit scared yup every time.

meSeptember 1, 2006 6:56 PM

Uh, to those of you thinking this was one government sending an operative into another country to test security could you at least please look up where Manila and Davao City are?

I dunno, maybe it's a hoax, maybe not. I can see why one might bring the real supplies onto a plane, it's the only way to be sure. But I'm not sure why you would actually assemble the device other than maybe pictures of individual components may not be convincing enough. I'd think however that just bringing the C4 alone would be enough to make your point.

This story brings up an interesting point though, how secure can a country be if you allow flights in from other countries that are not as secure? I mean, say a country like Lithuania has much more lax security (pure example I have no idea what airports in Lithuania are like) and you take a flight from Lithuania to New York, wouldn't it be easier to take the flight and hijack it just before you got to new york?

Clive RobinsonSeptember 1, 2006 7:13 PM

@me

"you take a flight from Lithuania to New York, wouldn't it be easier to take the flight and hijack it just before you got to new york?"

If you think back to shortly after Sept 11 the security at a UK airport found five live rounds in the pocket of somebody who had flown from America (I think it was mentioned in this blog at the time).

There is no certain way to stop materials for hijacking or destroying an aircraft being brought onto the aircraft, catching people is a numbers/resources game where the attacker has the advantage, you as the defender can only lose or draw. The only way for a defender to win is to not participate in the game (ie not to have flights in their country).

AndrewSeptember 1, 2006 7:18 PM

>> "Uh-huh, sure you would. You would shit yourself just like everyone else"

> In my younger days I picked up several interesting scars by acting and not thinking.

> I have a nasty little bald patch in my beard on my neck ... very lucky it was a little to close to a major blood vessel for comfort .. bald patch on the side of my head and a scar across the top of my left ear from a sharpened screwdrivwer ... blow was deflected of my skull otherwise it would have penetrated ... four operations to repare my lower jaw ... karate kicked in the back of my head from behind, the front of my jaw made contact with a metal sign post ... full fracture on the point of the lower jaw.

> These days I tend to think befor I act, I am getting to old to heal quickly, and I realy don't think scars in any way improve my very limited looks ;)

Two points worth considering here, a little more related to security issues.

1) Human beings can take an unbelievable amount of pain and damage, if they know how, don't really care, and/or have drugs or alcohol on board. And still kill you.

2) Security managers, and especially law enforcement security managers, seem to have the attitude that everyone else should step out of the way and let the professionals handle it. Then they tell the professionals that they're not good enough -- "Wait for the supervisor. Wait for the police. Wait for the SWAT team. Wait for the negotiator." Ad nauseum.

What the heck happened to convincing the general public and employees in particular to be part of your security effort, instead of getting in the way of it?

Most people are not terrorists (if they were, we'd be hosed.) Only a handful of people are terrorists. So why not set up a system to have passengers check each other's friggin baggage and carry-on items?

Peer to peer security works well for the Internet and for the courts ("jury duty"), why not in real life? Yes, you still need security experts to teach what to look for, and to respond when stuff is found . . . but a lot of the grunt work could be shoved off to passengers. And anyone who objected on privacy grounds could wait in a much longer line and/or pay more for a government screener.

> As for being shit scared yup every time.

It's not being scared. It's what you do despite being scared. And we are so losing the war on terrorism for exactly this reason . . .

Clive RobinsonSeptember 1, 2006 7:26 PM

@Michael Ash

"Whether that's because the media really believes this or because they just wish to encourage the idea is something I don't know, but it annoys me that it's so widespread."

How about it sells their newspapers/radio/tv as bad news sells and good news does not.

Many years ago I was told the following by a journo friend

Mrs Jones wins first prize at the village fete cake contest, is only of intrest to the local rag. Mrs jones poisons judges at village fete, is going to make national TV.

For those not from the UK a rag is a local (usually free) paper that carries local news and social interest stories.

Clive RobinsonSeptember 1, 2006 8:07 PM

@Andrew

As I said I tend to think these days befor I act.

All your points are valid, however your point 2 has a further issue that your post does not address.

In general if a person with ill intent is tackled very quickly the amount of damage they can do is usually limited. However waiting for experts gives them time to dig themselves in and thereby allow them to do quite large amount of damage before they are stopped.

If you think back to the Sept 11 flight where the passangers attacked the terorists in the passenger areas althought they lost their lives, the damage was limited. If however they had tackled the terorists earlier (before they had gained access to the cockpit and killed the pilots) then the loss of inocent life would have been very small (if any).

Likewise if this had happened on all the flights of Sept 11 the death toll of inocents would have been in the tens not the thousands.

Put simply it takes time for people of ill intent to establish their position, in this time they are vulnerable to even quite minor attacks. When established however it might take an army to deal with them.

This is usually true for all situations, if you stop them before they gain momentum / get out of your control then in general the damage is small.

The army tends to teach soldiers that all situations have inertia, and that it is most important to act quickly and decicivly. Which is why they train intensivly so that the soldier does the (nominaly) right thing by instinct not thought and the action goes their way not that of their oposition.

As I said I tend to think these days befor I act, it does not mean that I do not act, I'm just a bit more thoughtfull/carefull about how I go about it.

Sammy The SurferSeptember 1, 2006 8:45 PM

I'm curious as to what the security is like for the maintenance guys on the ground. I mean, with all this attention on the passengers, how come there isn't a peep about the people in the background? If I were part of a group that really wanted to destroy an aircraft, and had lots of patience, I'd get a man into the maintenance crew and have him either disable a critical piece of machinery before a flight, or smuggle in some sort of explosive device to destroy said critical machinery. Would it not be far easier to do something like that than smuggle in C-4 in someone's shoe? It would get past all the (in)security checks at the airport, would be more likely to achieve the tactic of destruction, and wouldn't require the deaths of operatives on board.

AnonymousSeptember 1, 2006 11:48 PM

You know, Bruce, I'm not even convinced they're intent on finding the lipstick and shampoo. I made it through security in Bolivia, Miami, and Toronto last week, and only when I got home did I discover I left hand sanitizer and sunscreen in my carry-on. None of the security screeners bothered to open the part of my bag where these were contained. In Miami in particular, the screener barely even glanced in the bag. And frankly, I don't blame them -- there was simply too much crap to sort through. If they had taken the time to thoroughly check everyone's bags we would have been held up for at least an extra half hour. I hope this is a case where they applied some "behavioural profiling" and decided that I wasn't acting too wonky, but I'm more inclined to believe that my blond hair and blue eyes didn't match their internal conception of what a terrorist looks like. So once again... it's all security theatre. You can be sure if they *hadn't* started this extra screening after the plot had been disclosed, worried mothers everywhere would be up in arms... sigh.

JungsonnSeptember 2, 2006 1:23 AM

It was a real live bomb?

in that case he should be brought to justice, it's really sick if you ask me.

Sure it is possible to smuggle a bomb on a plane, it will always be possible, but it does not poses the right to try it out imho.

MordSeptember 2, 2006 1:49 AM

Sorry, distracted by the whole British / Phillipines crossover in the last sentence. So its a purely internal affair.

SteveASeptember 2, 2006 1:38 PM

An old joke but possibly not known to some here ?

"You know, you should always carry a bomb on an airplane. The chance of there being one bomb on the plane is pretty small, but the chance of two bombs is higly improbable."

"Another version (from "maths joke site" http://www.cse.ucsd.edu/~mstepp/math_jokes.html):
"A stats professor plans to travel to a conference by plane. When he passes the security check, they discover a bomb in his carry-on-baggage. Of course, he is hauled off immediately for interrogation. "I don't understand it!" the interrogating officer exclaims. "You're an accomplished professional, a caring family man, a pillar of your parish - and now you want to destroy that all by blowing up an airplane!" "Sorry", the professor interrupts him. "I had never intended to blow up the plane." "So, for what reason else did you try to bring a bomb on board?!" "Let me explain. Statistics shows that the probability of a bomb being on an airplane is 1/1000. That's quite high if you think about it - so high that I wouldn't have any peace of mind on a flight." "And what does this have to do with you bringing a bomb on board of a plane?" "You see, since the probability of one bomb being on my plane is 1/1000, the chance that there are two bombs is 1/1000000. If I already bring one, the chance of another bomb being around is actually 1/1000000, and I am much safer."

JohnCSeptember 2, 2006 6:52 PM

As long as he didn't have a detonator actually placed in or very near to it plastic explosives is extremely safe and is almost impossible to detonate without ether a detonator or another high velocity explosive in contact with it, even single or multiple bullet strikes won't detonate it. I have set it alight to make coffee, similar to using a hexamine block. If he did have a detonator the battery in the average cell phone is more than enough to set off a detonator and a cell phone is one simple method of carrying a battery in plain site. Though generally cell phones are more useful for remote detonation as they are very very easy to modify, i.e. call the cell phone and boom.

SparafucileSeptember 3, 2006 6:57 AM

@SteveA

The version I saw says that ths story was told to an unnamed president of the US, but about guns rather than bombs. As a result, the President orders Air Marshals onto US commercial flights, certain that this act renders tiny the chance of Terrorists smuggling weapons on board.

A stupid joke - it could never happen.

Sparafucile

NewsGooglerSeptember 3, 2006 1:32 PM

Another article dated tomorrow, Monday (Philippines time), from the Davao Sun Star:

http://www.sunstar.com.ph/static/dav/2006/09/04/...

'Bomber' had dummy explosives: mayor

THE man who boarded a commercial plane from Davao to Manila with the makings of a bomb only had dummy explosives, not real ones, with him.

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte made this claim at the height of the controversy over the test run made by an anti-terrorist expert to see how effective the security measures are in major airports in the country.

Duterte said that while the test was conducted, there was no threat at all to the passengers on the plane.

He said the explosives were not real and did not pose any danger to the people onboard.

"Because if it was real explosives, it would have been sniffed by the canines," Duterte said.

The mayor said he is also willing to face any probe on the said test run as he denied that he was the one who commissioned the said activity but admitted at the same time that he knew the anti-terrorism expert personally.

"I maintain that the news was inaccurate. I'm willing to face the probe if there is. I know the guy, he was doing lectures here several times. I won't name him though, in fairness to him," Duterte said. (BOT)

JungsonnSeptember 4, 2006 6:16 AM

Ehh... so a fake bomb...

then he did not smuggled a bomb on board like they said:

"Antiterrorism Expert Claims to Have Smuggled Bomb onto Airplane Twice"

Yeah allrighty then...

HarroldSeptember 4, 2006 2:45 PM

Driving under the planes landing at Vancouver airport in BC shows that you could take out a plane over highly populated areas as they fly overhead. Same goes for Midway in Chicago and no doubt many other airports. Is it that hard to get an RPG or other capable missile?

Or are there just not that many crazy sons of bitches to attack?

If terror is the goal, why no blow up day care centers, hospitals, packed churches (or synagogues), schools or other extremely "insecure" facilities?

Again, is it because it's too hard or there just are so many crazed folks?

Are there any good stats that show how many flights take place each day without a terrorist attack? How many cars drive over bridges or through tunnels without dying? How many ferries, buses and trains go each day without an attack?

Clearly, crime is more dangerous to our lives than terrorism, and driving our car may increase my risk much greater than terrorists do, yet somehow even computer security geeks can't stop talking about all the ways people can terrorize us, yet most of the killing we see involving "terrorists" is between governments and their militias and armies.

bob dobbsSeptember 5, 2006 6:17 PM

Well, you lot seem to want it both ways. It's "irresponsible" to take a real plastic explosive on board and assemble it, but when it's a fake, it's not a "real test".

I'd happily do this test, with a bit of C4 mixed with some playdough or marizpan. Zero risk, still trips the detectors, and you can even add the detonator with zero risk. But I'm sure some here would say it wasn't real even if he had popped the detonator to prove his point.

Someone else was right, though. The terrorists have already won, by simply making our governments take away all the rights and freedoms that the terrorists never could have by themselves.

cj55September 7, 2006 1:07 AM

I would like to say in behalf of the rest of the filipinos. That story is actually true but inaccurate. According to reports here in the philippines it was just a dummy. And it was like an unannounced drill just to test how tight the airport security was. The airport was disappointed though cause the drill made them look bad.

DoggSeptember 7, 2006 4:41 AM

"Wait for the supervisor. Wait for the police. Wait for the SWAT team. Wait for the negotiator."

What the heck happened to convincing the general public and employees in particular to be part of your security effort, instead of getting in the way of it?

Please NO!!!! Don't get involved unless u r already there as the victim.

As a working security guard I will always try to get the police to do my hard work for me. Apart from venue policy requiring a supervisor to authorise evictions etc, I will always step back in favour of a supervisor, then police in that order. There are a lot of good reasons for that, apart from my desire to keep working in the industry for some time to come (aka survival). Only when those options are not available will I reluctantly act, if the mouth is ineffective. But prevention is better than cure, and there are a lot of strategies designed to avoid incidents.

As for airport testing, it does go on- regularly- by an authorised Govt Dept- at least in Oz- airport security who fail are dismissed instantly.

michSeptember 8, 2006 8:53 AM

Here's an update: http://services.inq7.net/express/06/09/08/...

As for the guy in question, he is quite well known for authoring a book on weapon and other manuals (bombs, bullet ballistics, rifles, guns, etc). He is a freelance security specialist offering consultation services. But, IMO, he went overboard with that "test" he did. Then again, politics here in my country are famous for its duplicity. Nothing is whatever it seems, layers of lies, deceit and misinformation.

But the beaches are great, just ignore the politics if you could.... :))

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