Schneier on Security
A blog covering security and security technology.
« Land Title Fraud |
| Digital Snooping for the Masses »
September 8, 2006
Police Lose Semtex
It's only eight ounces of the stuff, but still....
Posted on September 8, 2006 at 10:07 AM
• 18 Comments
To receive these entries once a month by e-mail, sign up for the Crypto-Gram Newsletter.
This must be the nth time this has happened in recent memory, for some value of n far larger than it should be. It's not really as terrible as it sounds---it's not like people who want to do something destructive wait for the police to leave their explosives lying on the road---but it sure doesn't reflect well.
Couldn't they wrap a brick with a thin layer of explosives for this sort of test? It'd look (and smell) enough like the real thing, but it'd be no more powerful than a fire cracker.
Yeah, but just wait until the guy drives back into the airport with semtex stuck to his truck. "honest, officer, I didn't know I was driving explosives into an airport!" That'll go over really well.
Does anyone else find the irony in that the group doing the bomb-sniffing test and losing the explosive is the F Troop (known as Troop F in the article)?
I caught that, too. I'm sure they dispatched Car 54 immediately, so no worries!
@Evan Murphy:"Couldn't they wrap a brick with a thin layer of explosives for this sort of test? It'd look (and smell) enough like the real thing, but it'd be no more powerful than a fire cracker."
I know what you're suggesting here, but it's somewhat impractical. A fire-cracker sized lump of Semtex is far more powerful than the fire-cracker itself, and a fire-cracker powered lump of Semtex would be about the size of a small coin.
An IRA device assembled from a couple of ounces of Semtex inside a cigarette packet and dropped into a trash can was enough to kill a bystander outright, a few years ago in London.
Between 12 and 16 oz downed Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie.
It seems to me that some basic safety training is in order. Simply handing the only set of keys to the person responsible for the explosive would have been standard "lockout" protocol. Many industries have a long history of establishing usable and effective safety / security procedures. Perhaps these police could benefit from knowing the techniques that electricians and pipefitters have been using for decades to keep themselves alive.
Why did they put the explosive on a vehicle that was not under their control?
Why do they think it is OK to put explosives in someone elses vehicle?
I remember reading here some time ago about police putting explosives into a random bag at an airport for an explosives detection test. The owner of the bag collected it and left, with the explosives still in it.
I'm not sure I see this issue:
If the issue is the incompetence of police departments (as a general fact), we already knew this.
If the issue is the fact that there are 2 more ounces of (bright red) semtex floating around in the world, well, thats a drop in the ocean. Nobody's going to wait for a police department to lose some so that they can commit their explosive crime.
If the issue is the safety of semtex, well, its only dangerous if you have a primer charge. I'd be more concerned about other unexploded ordinance thats been lost and is likely to explode when disturbed.
sorry, eight ounces. Same difference.
I see three questions that should be answered, but probably won't be.
1. Will this police department continue to be certified to purchase/possess high explosives? This is an incident that would have a commercial or private license yanked in a second.
2. Who thought it would be a good idea to use real Semtex? Synthetic odors are available for exactly this purpose: http://www.pseudoscents.com/index.asp?...
Even if the synthetic was not deemed authentic enough for training purposes, it is a simple matter to cut real Semtex, (or any high explosive) with a damping agent to drop it's propagation speed below the threshold that makes it a high explosive instead of a very expensive fuel.
3. How much more Semtex do these idiots have?
The local media is describing this as the disappearance of "material that could be used in a bomb". Seriously. One report said that it "could not be exploded without a detonator". I'm so relieved...
"only eight ounces" ??
sounds like enough to upset a commercial flight to me, if used wisely - at the very least it would probably open the cockpit door ...
Semtex must be initiated by a detonator, this much is true, but the police and media seem to think that making a detonator is nearly impossible, which it is not.
If I was, in GW Bush's parlance, an evil person, I wouldn't make a detonator for 8 ounces of Semtex, I would make several detonators WITH the Semtex, using it as a booster for ANFO. Thank goodness I'm not.
I agree it is unlikely that any harm will ever come from losing this particular lump of high explosives, so perhaps a better lesson to take from the incident is that authority does not automatically confer competence on the holder.
@ bru, great find, and exactly what came to mind reading "its only 8 ounces, but.."
200 grams = 7.05479239 ounces
@ rob mayfield, see bru's movie link above
But there is plenty of semtex and equivalent explosives out there. Wasn't a shed at one of the national laboratories broken into a while back and tens of kilograms gone missing? This little bit doesn't raise the danger level out of the noise background. Not to mention that in some countries you can buy it, and its trivially easy to smuggle into the country.
Schneier.com is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Co3 Systems, Inc.