Would-Be Bomber Caught at Orlando Airport

Oddly enough, I flew into Orlando Airport on Tuesday night, hours after TSA and police caught Kevin Brown -- not the baseball player -- with bomb-making equipment in his checked luggage. (Yes, checked luggage. He was bringing it to Jamaica, not planning on blowing up the plane he was on.) Seems like someone trained in behavioral profiling singled him out, probably for stuff like this:

"He was rocking left to right, bouncing up and down ... he was there acting crazy," passenger Jason Doyle said.

But that was a passenger remembering Brown after the fact, so I wouldn't put too much credence in it.

There are a bunch of articles about Brown and potential motives. Note that he is not an Islamic terrorist; he's a U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq:

"This is not him," she said in a phone interview. "It has to be a mental issue for him. I know if they looked through his medical records...I'm sure they will see..."He's not a terrorist."

Brown married Holt's daughter, Kamishia, 25, about three years ago. They met while serving in the Army and separated a year later. Brown wasn't the same after returning from Iraq, her daughter told her.

"When he doesn't take it [medication], he's off the chain," Holt said. "When you don't take it and drink alcohol, it makes it worse."

Doesn't sound like a terrorist, but this does:

According to the affidavit, Brown admitted he had the items because he wanted to make pipe bombs in Jamaica. It also indicated he wanted to show friends how to make pipe bombs like he made while in Iraq.

Federal agents said federal agents found two vodka bottles filled with nitro-methane, a highly explosive liquid, as well as galvanized pipes, end caps with holes, BBs, a model-rocket igniter, AA batteries, a lighter and lighter fluid, plus other items used to make pipe bombs and detailed instructions and diagrams. He indicated the items were purchased in Gainesville where he lived at one time.

Ignore the hyperbole; nitromethane is a liquid fuel, not a high explosive. Here's the whole affidavit, if you want to read it.

Even with all this news, the truth is that we just don't know what happened. It looks like a great win for behavioral profiling (which, when done well, I think is a good idea) and the TSA. The TSA is certainly pleased. But we've seen apparent TSA wins before that turn out to be bogus when the details finally come out. Right now I'm cautiously pleased with the TSA's performance, and offer them a tentative congratulations, especially for not over-reacting. I read -- but can't find the link now -- that only 11 flights were delayed because of the event. The TSA claims that no flights were delayed, and also says that no security checkpoints were closed. Either way, it's certainly something to congratulate the TSA about.

Posted on April 3, 2008 at 9:02 AM • 38 Comments

Comments

bobApril 3, 2008 9:27 AM

Everytime I hear a news article about what someone was carrying when apprehended at an airport, it puts me in mind of the skit in Monty Python's "Holy Grail" where they are dragging along some poor woman who they want to burn as a witch. It turns out she is only dressed like a witch because the mob dressed her that way. After the fact it usually turns out that the "coil or wires wrapped to look like a detonator" in the initial story was merely the ac adapter for recharging their laptop and the "looks like a detonator" was added by the reporter spontaneously to juice up the story.

Very similar to the trial of Bruno Hauptmann (a non-english speaking immigrant moron executed for kidnapping and murdering the infant child of Charles Lindbergh) where the jurors stated later that they were convinced that he was guilty BECAUSE Lindbergh's phone number (not a lot of people had phones back then) was written on the wall of Hauptmann's closet. After the execution a reporter admitted that HE had written that number on the otherwise blank closet wall in order to make a photograph seem exciting for the newspaper.

For that matter the "science" that Sir Bedevere uses in "Holy Grail" to test if the girl is a witch (witches burn because they are made of wood and everything made of wood floats so she is a witch because she weighs the same as a duck and ducks also float) reminds me a lot of the TSA, too...

paid?April 3, 2008 10:08 AM

How much did Kevin Brown recieve from the TSA to make this up ? The answer may be in his bank accounts.

Daniel HaranApril 3, 2008 10:15 AM

"He's a U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq." Ironic, isn't it, that the war purported to fight terrorism could also be creating them in our own culture?

D0RApril 3, 2008 10:23 AM

I used to keep a short beard. One of the reasons why I cut it is because I realized, amazingly, that I was checked and questioned much more often by police on the street. I had nothing to hide, but after some time this became annoying.
Once I was crossing the Swiss-Italian border by train, and a customs officer talked to me in private a long time to persuade me to surrender the drugs he was sure I was carrying. (I don't even smoke tobacco.)

Rionn Fears MalechemApril 3, 2008 10:25 AM

It's nice that we've been able to separate the identity of 'terrorist' from the practice of terrrorism. This Kevin Brown, DC sniper John Muhammed and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh can perform acts of terrorism while retaining their status as military veterans, while gitmo inmates are terrorists by virtue of being imprisoned as terrorists.

LeeHApril 3, 2008 10:28 AM

The affidavit says Brown 'knowingly and willingly waived his Miranda rights', to discuss the contents of his luggage with fed agents. Isn't this a little odd?

JohnApril 3, 2008 10:34 AM

Muhammed and McVeigh were terrorists because they killed people to produce terror. I missed the part where Brown did the same. Malechem, perhaps you can enlighten us and point out which terrorist acts were committed by Brown.

Bruce SchneierApril 3, 2008 10:35 AM

"The affidavit says Brown 'knowingly and willingly waived his Miranda rights', to discuss the contents of his luggage with fed agents. Isn't this a little odd?"

It happens pretty regularly, actually. Even though it is something you should never do, no matter how innocent you are.

AnonymousApril 3, 2008 10:51 AM

@Daniel Haran

According to one of the sources Bruce cites: "[...] he served in the U.S. Army during the Iraq War more than ten years ago [...]"

FPApril 3, 2008 10:54 AM

"Doesn't sound like a terrorist, but this does:"

No, it doesn't. Building pipe bombs doesn't make you a terrorist. Using pipe bombs to blow up people or infrastructure (or threatening to do so) makes you a terrorist.

By the same logic, owning a weapon would make you a terrorist.

Unfortunately, the same logic *is* being used to discourage the next generation of rocket amateurs and future chemists.

Blowing up things can be fun, if done competently and safely.

AnonymousApril 3, 2008 10:54 AM

@Bruce Schneier

"Even though it is something you should never do, no matter how innocent you are."

To be more clear about this: the more innocent you are, the more you need to STFU.

AnonymousApril 3, 2008 11:08 AM

"Building pipe bombs doesn't make you a terrorist. Using pipe bombs to blow up people or infrastructure (or threatening to do so) makes you a terrorist.

By the same logic, owning a weapon would make you a terrorist.

Unfortunately, the same logic *is* being used to discourage the next generation of rocket amateurs and future chemists.

Blowing up things can be fun, if done competently and safely."

however owning a gun is not illegal, while possession of pipe bombs/materials is.

MikeApril 3, 2008 11:09 AM

Why is this a win for the TSA? Isn't their job to protect the planes and passengers?

I guess he was taking something highly flamable onto a plane. Stopping that from going on the plane is a win. He didn't Darwin and take the rest of the plane with him. But according to the article, he had no intention of damaging the plane on this flight, or reason to believe he was planning to hurt or threaten people or a society after the flight.

At best this sounds like a tangential win. Some crazy guy was found and should, hopefully, be helped. He was stopped from taking some dangerous substances on a plane, which almost certainly would not have a caused a problem with people or the plane.

How much does TSA cost?, How many civil rights get tampled daily by the TSA? What did we as a society win here exactly?

SteveJApril 3, 2008 11:09 AM

@Bruce: "Doesn't sound like a terrorist, but this does:"

Bomb = terrorism? I think there's a gap in your logic.

Obviously I can't know what he was planning, but absent other evidence, making pipe bombs sounds more like a pyromaniac (overgrown kid with military training) than a terrorist to me.

Maybe that's because I live in a country where we've had paramilitary terrorists, and they didn't mess about with bottles of nitro-methane. They used semtex and other "professional" explosives. Of course it doesn't follow that he *wasn't* planning terrorism, maybe he was just at the cheap end of the market. But most people who play with explosives are not terrorists.

MatthewApril 3, 2008 11:19 AM

To be fair, nitromethane is (like nearly every nitrated hydrocarbon) a high explosive. It's just a very insensitive one. There's a reason why it's pretty easy to buy (it's used for racing and model airplanes).

AnonymousApril 3, 2008 11:26 AM

@SteveJ: "Obviously I can't know what he was planning, but absent other evidence, making pipe bombs sounds more like a pyromaniac (overgrown kid with military training) than a terrorist to me."

My understanding is the only reason to put BBs in your bomb is to hurt people. If you just want to make a big boom, you don't need BBs.

Still a weird case and you're right we can't know what he was planning.

Nomen PublicusApril 3, 2008 11:51 AM

I don't think he is a terrorist (except under the current distorted legal definitions.) He is however extremely stupid or mentally ill. All the items in his case are available in Jamaica so why on earth would he risk almost certain discovery.

There is more, or less, to this story than appears at first.

PseudonymousApril 3, 2008 11:52 AM

@Anonymous: "we can't know what he was planning."

Of course we can; that's what waterboarding is for.

monopoleApril 3, 2008 11:57 AM

Sounds like some variation of "suicide by cop" or a similar matter. Including lighters and a butane can would almost certainly ensure a search (particularly given the '3D' scanners at MCO). Even a cursory wipedown w/ the chemical detectors would also detect this. Second, just about everything in the list could be readily obtained at the other end of the flight with the possible exception of nitromethane (although that's probably readily available as well) .

Real terrorists (at least the successful ones) are pretty meticulous about being squeaky clean on observance of the law until the actual attack.

We either have a disturbed individual who wanted to get caught or was "helped" by a undercover agent.

SparohokApril 3, 2008 12:30 PM

Nitromethane is not only an explosive in its own right, it can be mixed with other commonly available materials to make cap-sensitive high explosives. In fact it's one of very few ways to make a sensitive high explosive without chemistry and without controlled materials. "Highly explosive" may be an exaggeration but it doesn't exaggerate the seriousness of the situation.

PseudonymousApril 3, 2008 12:39 PM

I'm not knowledgeable about military matters. Can someone explain if it makes sense that "he wanted to show friends how to make pipe bombs like he made while in Iraq"? Does the army routinely make pipe bombs? Or is this guy some kind of explosives nut?

samsamApril 3, 2008 1:32 PM

Nitromethane is what my 12yr-old son puts in his RC race car. I believe it is actually about 25% nitromethane and mostly alcohol.

So it's a high explosive, hmmm? Somebody better tell the manager at the local mall where we buy the stuff.

JeffApril 3, 2008 2:51 PM

Ok my question is, this guy had all this stuff in his luggage and they caught him by profiling him? What about all those monitors and Xray equipment and stuff?

josephdietrichApril 3, 2008 3:02 PM

To be cynical about it, it seems to me that the reason TSA didn't over-react is because Brown isn't a scary Muslim.

Kyle HuffApril 3, 2008 4:22 PM

Nitromethane, as a previous poster noted, can easily be sensitized to form a true high-explosive. This is typically done by adding trace chemicals and a foaming agent. It is the active ingredient in recent de-mining explosives.

LeoApril 3, 2008 4:37 PM

@ Anonymous re: @Daniel Haran
@Pseudonymous

He may have served in the Gulf War but he also worked in the (current) Iraq War as a contractor. Who know what contractors do.

From the Orlando Sentinel (the first of Bruce's links):

"A Jamaican man accused of carrying pipe-bomb parts in checked luggage at Orlando International Airport is a U.S. Army veteran who recently served as a contractor in Iraq, the Orlando Sentinel has learned.

Suspect Kevin Christopher Brown, who FBI agents quoted as saying he wanted to show friends in Jamaica "how to build explosive devices like he saw in Iraq," worked as a contractor there through late 2007."

Swami NonaApril 3, 2008 4:44 PM

Wish they'd mention what medication he was supposedly taking but in the meantime this is just funny:

"Brown's sister-in-law told a Jamaican newspaper she didn't believe it really was a pipe bomb investigators found. Instead, she claimed, it was probably a pipe for smoking marijuana, which she said Brown liked to do."

Swami NonaApril 3, 2008 5:06 PM

"Either way, it's certainly something to congratulate the TSA about."

Is it? If the descriptions, including the one you quote about him "acting crazy", are accurate this "behavioral profiling" simply caught someone who was mentally ill. That's not necessarily a sound basis for assuming someone is dangerous. Worse than that, terrorists don't generally behave like they're mentally ill, so they won't get caught. And even worse, someone who is severely ill and behaving like they're ill stands out to pretty much everybody. You don't need to know anything about "behavioral profiling" to notice that. I'm not sure this should be counted as anything more that a happy coincidence, as simple dumb luck for the TSA. They caught the one mentally ill person who actually knows how to make bombs.

Now we can all start being scared of people acting mentally ill as well as men wearing beards or turbans or just looking vaguely Middle Eastern. I'll believe in this "behavioral profiling" when it stops catching people who are members of minority groups and starts catching people who look like healthy, white, middle class males.

RoxanneApril 3, 2008 5:36 PM

This is why folks drive instead of fly. They don't like fireworks on planes. Admittedly, it would be hard to drive to Jamaica. I'll bet they sell all of that in Jamaican hardware stores, though.

paulApril 4, 2008 1:07 PM

This sounds pretty much like the guys who get caught with loaded pistols in their hand luggage -- his explanation sounds perfectly plausible to me, but what he was doing just happened to be unlawful.

ScottApril 8, 2008 11:53 AM

Good thing he was in Orlando and not Boston. They would have shut the whole city down.

PeterApril 15, 2008 8:23 AM

"Brown's sister-in-law told a Jamaican newspaper she didn't believe it really was a pipe bomb investigators found. Instead, she claimed, it was probably a pipe for smoking marijuana, which she said Brown liked to do."

So, the most likely explanation is that the TSA misheard Brown, when he explained that the pieces of pipe were the components of a "pipe bong"

I'll get my coat...and my rasta hat :-)

Evan DanielApril 15, 2008 12:41 PM

Nitromethane is, indeed, a high explosive, though as others have noted a particularly insensitive one. The 10-40% solutions in methanol sold as racing fuels, however, are not explosive. The two can be separated, though it's not trivial. Mixing the nitromethane with any number of other things would sensitize it and increase the power -- the most obvious being ammonium nitrate.

Anonomous CowardApril 20, 2008 12:40 PM

#1: Any good pipe-bomb builder knows that you don't use galvanized pipe, but rather "black iron" pipe instead. Galvanized pipe has a seam that will rupture under pressure, while black-iron pipe is extruded and can handle much higher pressures before failing. This idiot was no "military expert from Iraq".

#2: The US military does not need to make improvised explosive devices (unless they want to pose as an "insurgent"), because they have professionally made devices that work much better and are far safer to set up.

#3: Nitromethane can be made into a sensitive secondary explosive by mixing it with 20% (by weight) ammoniumnitrate. There was no AN in his baggage. This would still require the use of a blasting cap to set off the NM-AN. There were no blasting caps found either. This guy simply did not have all of the ingredients needed to make anything dangerous.

I have to conclude that this guy not only did NOT know what he was doing, but he acted in a manner that is consistent with a mentally ill person making a desperate cry for help. Of course, to keep the TSA pseudo-security machinery going, they always have to claim some kind of "victory" whenever these kinds of things happen, and so he was branded as a terrorist when he really should have been checked into the nearest mental health facility.

Watching the TSA "in action", is a bit like watching a three-stooges episode, but with the real danger that these idiots have the power and authority to get you into a great deal of trouble. What is REALLY scary, is that the vast herds of sheep (disguised as people) go along with all of this "security theater" without any complaints. It's already over. We have lost our free nation. The only way to get it back will be through an armed revolution. That's really too bad, because even if the revolutionaries win, you never know what kind of a government will result.

RobertApril 29, 2008 5:25 AM

Kids who devise whopper crackers or kiddie pipe bombs are not terrorists - just boys being boys. Ok this is a bigger kid, who planned to chuck some bungers about in Jamacia - big deal. Intention is missing - although the stupidity factor is high.

It raises the question are our troops/boys doing this in Iraq? The answer is probably yes, and the commanders response will be - boys need to let off some steam sometimes. It is a continuation of an existing behavioural pattern.

Compare the risk of being injured by street racing, or a drunken ex-vet behing the wheel.

Relative to many things, it proved the x-ray attendant was not wholy asleep. The solution may be to re-legalise big bungers.

Kevin DoughertyFebruary 26, 2010 3:46 PM

Bomb suspect gets probation
The Weekly Gleaner: N. American Edition
Thu Oct 15 2009
Section: News
Byline: Anonymous
KEVIN BROWN, the Jamaican greencard holder who was held at the Orlando International Airport on Tuesday, April 1, 2008, with bomb-making materials, was given three years probation.
Brown who pleaded guilty to a misdeamour charge in July for entering an airport with explosive materials was sentenced on Wednesday, October 7, in a federal courthouse in Orlando, Florida. At his sentencing he apologised to the city of Orlando and said he regretted his actions. Brown will also undergo drug and mental programmes as part of his sentence.
The Jamaican, who served in the Iraqi war was on his way to Montego Bay, Jamaica to visit friends and relatives when he was caught

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