House of Lords on the Liquid Ban

From the UK:

“We continuously monitor the effectiveness of, in particular, the liquid security measures…”

How, one might ask? But hold on:

“The fact that there has not been a serious incident involving liquid explosives indicates, I would have thought, that the measures that we have put in place so far have been very effective.”

Ah, that’s how. On which basis the measures against asteroid strike, alien invasion and unexplained nationwide floods of deadly boiling custard have also been remarkably effective.

Posted on October 31, 2007 at 2:52 PM35 Comments


monopole October 31, 2007 3:36 PM

… On which basis the measures against asteroid strike, alien invasion and unexplained nationwide floods of deadly boiling custard have also been remarkably effective. …

Shortly afterwards the author was arrested under the state secrets act by the Torchwood Institute.

Fred P October 31, 2007 3:40 PM

Bert: I said you still have that banana in your ear!

Ernie: (loudly) Yeah, I know!

Bert: You know? But why did you put it in your ear?

Ernie: Listen, Bert, (loudly) I use this banana to keep alligators away!

Bert: Alligators??? Ernie, there are no alligators on Sesame Street!

Ernie: Right! Works pretty good, doesn’t it, Bert?

John Moore October 31, 2007 3:44 PM

Genius has its limits, but stupidity is boundless. For a politician though, effecting useless measures looks better than doing nothing at all, even if the latter is the correct course of action.

Reader X October 31, 2007 4:03 PM

I came in here to tell the joke about tiger repellent again, but I see that I am too late.

One would think that there would be more critical reporting of this sort of silliness in the mainstream press.

Frank Ch. Eigler October 31, 2007 4:09 PM

Ah, that’s how. On which basis the measures against asteroid strike, alien invasion and unexplained nationwide floods of deadly boiling custard have also been remarkably effective.

The apparently oversubtle difference amongst these cases and the liquid explosives is that terrorists have actually attempted to use the latter.

ARM October 31, 2007 4:38 PM

@ Frank Ch. Eigler

Don’t be obtuse. The issue here isn’t whether or not liquid explosives are actually a threat – it’s the statement that a lack of an incident -in and of itself- demonstrates the effectiveness of the security measures.

To prevent fires, I leave the kitchen faucet running at a slow drip every time I leave my home. My home has never caught fire. Were I to claim this as conclusive evidence that dripping faucets prevent fires, I’d be laughed out of town.

bzelbob October 31, 2007 4:51 PM

From the article:

“Who remembers the deadly liquid bomb airliner plot? Most of you, we’re guessing, as there are still a lot of fairly mindless restrictions on taking liquids aboard planes – no matter that the plot was actually rather far-fetched.”

In other words, not only do we have the “it hasn’t happened since” problem, but we also appear to have the “it never really happened in the first place” problem.

This actually would be similar to someone selling you tiger repellent at the south pole.
(Where you will never, ever see any tigers.)

I believe 100% that there was never any real genuine threat. I think the whole thing provided a very convenient excuse for governments to introduce extremely IN-convenient security measures that they know the public would NEVER have accepted otherwise.

Another Googlebot October 31, 2007 5:43 PM

Regarding Oplan Bojinka – it should be noted that the nitroglycerin was soaked into cotton balls. Without the cotton balls, the nitro would be too unstable to safely transport without fear of premature explosion.

Thus technically even the Oplan Bojinka case was not one of pure liquid explosives.

Makes me wonder how many TSA people are on the lookout for bags of soggy cotton balls. My cynic nature says none are.

Jeff October 31, 2007 5:45 PM

Um, Filias, I looked over your link. They were using Nitroglycerine in contact lens solution bottles. The Liquid Ban BS doesn’t protect us against this, as contact lens solution bottles can be taken through security in just about any size.

sehlat October 31, 2007 6:08 PM

Elbert Hubbard was right:

Genius may have its limitations, but stupidity is not thus handicapped.

Peter E Retep October 31, 2007 6:36 PM

You miss the danger here:

One jar of Marmite plus
One jar of anti-Marmite
bring them into contact
and who knows where
the nova explosiva will stop?

Altrux October 31, 2007 6:44 PM

It’s worse in Singapore – you can’t take any 100ml+ liquids through the gate – including water bottles that you bought inside the airport shops and drink in front of them. How do they justify being even dafter than us? So much for Changi being the world’s best airport – it was deeply unpleasant being stuck in a departure lounge with 430 people, waiting for a delayed flight, and having no water.

Kyle Wilson October 31, 2007 8:37 PM

I think that addressing a nonexistent or very low probability problem is actually better than addressing a likely one. If you put in place measures against a possible problem, then that proves that you were aware of the problem. If the bad guys still get through, you will be attacked for not doing enough. If you don’t even attempt to defend against it and noone else does either then you can claim that noone expected such a problem to ever happen. If you put very visible public measures in place to prevent a non-problem, then as this politico claimed, you can indicate that your measures must have been very effective. The unlikliness of the problem is a bonus…

Scott Carpenter October 31, 2007 9:16 PM

Homer: Well, there’s not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol is sure doing its job.

Lisa: That’s specious reasoning, Dad.

Homer: Thank you, sweetie.

Lisa: Dad, what if I were to tell you that this rock keeps away tigers.

Homer: Uh-huh, and how does it work?

Lisa: It doesn’t work. It’s just a stupid rock.

Homer: I see.

Lisa: But you don’t see any tigers around, do you?

Homer: Lisa, I’d like to buy your rock.

Jon November 1, 2007 1:22 AM


Only if you are going based on the media’s version of Y2k where planes were gonna drop out the sky and nuclear missiles would launch on their own.

The Y2k bug was a real problem, but how it was portrayed was the result of a lot of hype and people seeing $$$ in fixing it.

RC November 1, 2007 7:30 AM

solid explosives are much more common and easier to obtain than liquid explosives, therefore, I propose a ‘solids ban’ … everywhere.

Nick Lancaster November 1, 2007 7:50 AM

TSA Type: “What’s in the spray can?”

Traveler: “It’s my drop bear repellent.”

TSA Type: “Uh-huh. Well, you can’t take it onboard.”

Traveler: “But then I’ll be at risk of drop bear attacks!”

TSA Type: “Look, buddy, I hate to tell you this, but there ain’t no such thing as drop bears. It’s just harum-scarum so someone could sell you this can of spray that doesn’t do anything.”

Traveler: (grins)

Tinky Winky November 1, 2007 9:05 AM

“unexplained nationwide floods of deadly boiling custard”

Don’t laugh: In the U.S., there’s a 9.3 billion dollar a year federal agency with the sole purpose of defending against that very attack!

Nostromo November 1, 2007 12:33 PM

@John Moore
“Genius has its limits, but stupidity is boundless. For a politician though, effecting useless measures looks better than doing nothing at all, even if the latter is the correct course of action.”

To clarify: politicians are smart, and they assume that most voters are stupid. Unfortunately, they are right.

Tynk November 1, 2007 2:10 PM

Oh but one of the best parts was missed. A true telling on how our unprepared politicians stand on logic.

a question many of us have wanted to ask at airports. “What damage can be done by 105 millilitres of liquid that cannot be done by 100 millilitres of liquid?” he snapped, testily.

This completely floored Baron Bassam. “My briefing does not extend to that,” muttered the confused government toff. “I suspect that this is based on science.”

Nick Lancaster November 1, 2007 2:19 PM


And what’s to prevent one or more terrorists from boarding the same flight and combining their respective 100 ml of liquid?

Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey November 1, 2007 2:24 PM

unexplained nationwide floods of deadly boiling custard

From Wikipedia:

“Rescuers found it difficult to make their way through the syrup to help the victims. It took four days before they stopped searching for victims; many dead were so glazed over in molasses, they were hard to recognize.”

No measures we take to prevent a recurrence of the Great Boston Molasses Flood can be too extreme! And that goes double for custard!

abb3w November 1, 2007 2:37 PM

How does an elephant hide? It paints its toenails red and climbs a cherry tree.

How well does it work? Well, have YOU ever seen an elephant in a cherry tree?

Mark November 2, 2007 4:54 AM

@Filias Cupio
Terrorist liquid explosives on an airplane is not a “never happened” threat. As far as I know, there has been exactly one such attack with one fatality.

This bomb fatally injured one passenger and caused some damage to the plane. Which in terms of bomb attacks against commercial aviation probably qualifies as “minor to moderate”.

Frank Ch. Eigler November 2, 2007 5:58 AM


Don’t be obtuse. The issue here isn’t whether or not liquid explosives are actually a threat – it’s the statement that a lack of an incident -in and of itself- demonstrates the effectiveness of the security measures.

The “in and of itself” part is your invention. An expanded form of the argument would go something like this:

  • this attack has been attempted (widely known)
  • a partial defense focused on this attack has been in place (widely known)
  • this defense has reasonably small “collateral damage” (widely known despite moaning in these circles)
  • no attack has succeeded (widely known)
    = ergo, the defense has been reasonably effective

Is this really an unreasonable sort of argument? Are you expecting everyone to spell out every little antecedent when they talk?

The fact that you and Bruce are not willing to grant certain well-known and relevant facts says more about your mental blinders than about this politician’s logic.

CGomez November 2, 2007 8:53 AM

Just like how no “attacks” since 9/11 shows the U.S. government has been effective fighting terrorism?

No, it just shows there have been no new attacks since 9/11. It’s entirely possible that important leaders of whatever terrorist networks supposedly exist have been captured or killed. Or it could just be that they are stupid idiots, turning inward to kill Americans in the Middle East rather than terrorizing. Or it could just be that they do not understand terror, and think attacking once every ten years means something. Or they could just not exist.



While I do not dismiss the possibility that military campaigns have had an effect, our government has not been effective in demonstrating how so. What attacks have been foiled? What evidence was used to foil them? What kind of techniques are working?

Publishing this information, despite popular belief, does not compromise a damn thing. It provides openness that is needed to debate new techniques and new methods to defeat terrorism (if it exists).

Unfortunately, many people (not just bureaucrats and politicians… just average ordinary people) think that the discussion of crime or security “gives ideas” to bad guys. How many times have you heard the news report on a unique crime idea and some idiot in the room will say “Well don’t TELL everybody, now you’ll give them IDEAS.”

That’s the mistake the average American (maybe the average person in the Western world) makes about real security. And we elect people who are a reflection of ourselves, so we get politicians who believe the same ideas about security through obscurity and complexity.

John Hedtke November 7, 2007 9:47 AM

The post hoc ergo propter hoc mentality of most of the people implementing truly stupid measures is dazzling; unfortunately, a significant number of Amurr’kans seem to think along those lines.

The entire justification argument for the TSA’s existence these days seems to be that there hasn’t been a repeat of the hijacking. We can safely say that’s a completely specious argument because you can bet that were the TSA actually to >catch< a terrorist bent on mayhem, you’d be hearing about it constantly as a true justification of their worth. (They ~are~ short on successes and long on public scorn for a lot of good reasons; a success to point to amidst their unblemished string of failures and foul-ups would be good for them.)

There hasn’t been another action because nobody’s tried. Not because the TSA is necessarily any good at what they do. Would terrorists do something if the TSA weren’t there? Yeah, probably, if there were so inclined; it’s not like the TSA provides any measurable security ‘r nuthin’. I’m very VERY pleased that we haven’t seen more terrorist acts, but the prison lockdown mentality that’s come about is more damaging than anything the terrorists ever did to us.

John Gilmore August 14, 2009 9:54 PM

TSA never had authority to ban water from airplanes. They only have authority from the courts to search for weapons and explosives. But the courts all went and hid under the bed after 9/11.

Major Variola (ret) May 4, 2010 4:18 PM

Just some tech reminders

  1. 100 gm is sufficient to rupture at
    plane at altitude
  2. nitromethane, nitroglycerin are
    liquids. With small critical diameters
    (like petn; means even a small amount
    can detonate, which is not the general
    case for bristant explosives)
  3. 90% peroxide and sawdust is a
    (patented) explosive
  4. TATP in solvent may still detonate
  5. PS: not all high explosive is tagged or volatile. Woof.

Yes you can combine your stash with
your colleages, but you’ve upped
your detection (by the birthday
rule, ie chance of not being detected squared.)

Glass empires shouldn’t fly drones.

Leave a comment


Allowed HTML <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre> Markdown Extra syntax via

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.