Terrorists Attacking via Air Conditioners

From the DHS and the FBI, a great movie-plot threat:

It is possible to introduce chemical or biological agents directly into external air-intakes or internal air-circulation systems. Unless the building has carbon filters (or the equivalent), volatile chemical agents would not be stopped and would enter the building untenanted.

[...]

Other scenarios involve the use of helicopters equipped with agricultural spraying equipment to discharge large chemical or biological contaminant clouds near external or roof-mounted air intakes or ventilators.

[...]

Terrorists have considered producing a radiological dispersal device (RDD) by burning or exploding a source or sources containing radioactive material. If large quantities of easily dispersed radioactive material were released or exploded near an HVAC intake or circulation system, it is possible that targeted individuals could suffer some adverse health effects.

I'm sure glad my government is working on this stuff.

Posted on May 16, 2008 at 12:03 PM • 70 Comments

Comments

Brandioch ConnerMay 16, 2008 12:22 PM

Asbestos!

Seriously, why would any terrorist need to get radioactive material to cause health problems?

When you have access to the HVAC, just dump a bunch of asbestos or other carcinogenic material in the vents.

Ah, because asbestos isn't as scary and "biological agents!" or "chemical weapons!" or "radiation!!!".

I think someone has managed to weaponize stupidity.

Alpha PrimeMay 16, 2008 12:33 PM

No need to weaponize stupidity... it's endemic in the population.

And its even contagious in large groups or committees. ;-)

Dan LinderMay 16, 2008 12:34 PM

This was the basis for a plot of "Criminal Minds"within the past 12 months, the title was "Lessons Learned." (FYI, Criminal Minds is a TV show here in the US on CBS: http://www.cbs.com/primetime/criminal_minds/)

Great, I guess this means that the DHS is now into its re-run season too... :-(

Dan

bendotron5000May 16, 2008 12:40 PM

I'm pretty sure that this occurs in at least one movie already. If not, it would make a great scene for a stoner comedy.

"Dude, meet me by the air conditioner intake behind the school, I got some crazy stuff"

Nomen PublicusMay 16, 2008 12:49 PM

Not even original movie plotting.

It is trivially easy to invent a plot that could possibly work at some point, somewhere. For example, how much do you trust the quality of the water in the cooler? Is it ever independently tested before being made available. Would you notice a needle hole in the seal?

Has the FBI etc thought of that one?

BhimaMay 16, 2008 1:20 PM

Man, if some TLA in the US wins the stupid movie-plot threat contest next year, I'm going to be really upset. How one man compete against that power of institutionalized stupidity of this magnitude?

AnonymousMay 16, 2008 1:22 PM

How soon they forget -- anyone remember the original outbreaks of Legionaire's desease??? or a Tom Clancey novel called Executive Orders?

jkMay 16, 2008 1:29 PM

They started on a plan like this for the HBO (or was it Cinemax?) series called "Sleeper Cell".

The leader of the cell used it as a test for his crew, but they stopped and did not go through with it.

JilaraMay 16, 2008 1:29 PM

Hey, even better, we could detonate an *ATOMIC BOMB* inside a hurricane heading for the Gulf Coast or Florida, and have its winds spread radiation all over!

Oh, wait, Edward Teller already proposed that as a means of weather control for hurricanes.

Daniel PawtowskiMay 16, 2008 1:31 PM

Used to have smell issues in high school; the vents for the chemisty lab hoods were right next to the rooftop AC units.

shoobe01May 16, 2008 1:35 PM

Or we could continue to let the smoking lounge be immediately outside the back door, where the air intake vents seem to invariably, inexplicably be located. That works well.

hdhMay 16, 2008 1:41 PM

Another Clancy novel, Rainbow Six, had a virus spread via the cooling system of an Olympic stadium which sprays on the audience during breaks and at entrances.

LindseyMay 16, 2008 1:47 PM

Not related to AC Air-Intakes precisely, but lets not forget taking control of a building's climate control system and adjusting it to one extreme or the other so that everyone evacuates the buidling and further catastrophic mayhem can ensue when they are all gathered outside. It's a two step process.

vwmMay 16, 2008 1:48 PM

add Eric Van Lustbader: "The Bourne Legacy" to the list of books that cover this threat (in a most boring way, don't read it!).

Don't they know the Movie Plot Contest is over? And couldn't they write this carbon filters advertisement in 150 words?

Erik NMay 16, 2008 1:59 PM

Sorry, but wasn't this the plot used in Moscow against terrorists a few years ago? Of course, they couldn't wait for the ventilation system to distribute the gas of fear that the terrorists might release their bombs...

TBMay 16, 2008 2:10 PM

"Other scenarios involve the use of helicopters equipped with agricultural spraying ... "

Isn't that what Pussy Galore did for Auric Goldfinger int hat James Bond movie?

L.O.U.C.May 16, 2008 2:40 PM

"I'm sure glad my government is working on this stuff."

Hey, you're the one who wrote "But I want government to do more."

How shocking that once you've clamored for action, action is taken in a way you hadn't intended, as a consequence.

What was that law called again? Hmm.....

AnonymousMay 16, 2008 2:42 PM

Hm, they must not have been paying attention in 1938 when Kimball Kinnison released thionite into the airstream of Helmuth's base, killing all the zwilniks within.

Nothing is new, we just pay government analysts to reinvent past fiction.

AnonymousMay 16, 2008 3:00 PM

The REAL movie plot approach -- and much more effectve in my humble opinion -- is to not actually release anything into a ventilation system (or water source or whatever), but to merely create the illusion or suspicion that something was done or is about to be done. Less effort and just as much panic....

LevMay 16, 2008 3:31 PM

As funny as this plot is, the broader issue (getting stuff into inlet ventilation) is valid. I distinctly remember poorly designed ventilation system in my college in Moscow: the outlets of the chemical exhaust hoods were located on the roof right next to the inlets of the main ventilation air intake. Mind you, this was a chemistry college and it had a lot of hoods. So when someone in the Organic Chemistry lab on the fourth floor spilled a large load of mercaptanes in one of the hoods, the stuff went up the hood and then down the inlet...

For those of you who are not from chemical tribe, mercaptanes (or thiols) are organic compounds similar to alcohols, but with -SH group instead of -OH. They smell like sh*t (literally). To be precize, sh*t smells like mercaptanes, because they really are the primary component of fecal odor. So the stench was so bad that the whole building had to be evacuated for a day. Talk about sh*t hitting the fan ;-).

SkorjMay 16, 2008 3:38 PM

I disagree that this is a bogus threat, depending on who the audience for the warning was. If I'm hardening (literally) a building against threats from armed attackers, the HVAC intakes are a genuine threat surface, and one that's darn hard to do anything about. The seriousness of this threat in armed combat was proven in the island tunnel fighting in the Pacific theater in WWII.

Of course, if I'm concerned with the security of the building I work in, well it has these big glass windows, and an attack on the HVAC intakes would be a remarkably silly way to use an airplane as a weapon.

Although even here, *accidental* introduction of (mildly) toxic chemicals to HVAC intakes happens frequently enough that you want to think about it when building - I've seen large buildings evacuated due to very silly mishaps because the HVAC intakes were at ground level, as the example above illustrates.

bearMay 16, 2008 3:46 PM

Who has been in Vegas and experienced the mist used to cool people down on the sidewalks and patios? Wonder how many people would be affected by an attack there?

Shivering TimbersMay 16, 2008 3:46 PM

You all feel so smug with your sarcasm now, but you're going to look like fools when someone uses a helicopter to dump nerve gas into the HVAC intakes in the Sears Tower!

bearMay 16, 2008 3:49 PM

then again, what about that ant outbreak in Texas? Something about them getting into electronics, airconditioners, etc... making things grind to a halt. One article said the standard pesticides were not strong enough.

Maybe this is another attack! run away, run away!!!

BetaMay 16, 2008 4:00 PM

"The REAL movie plot approach -- and much more effective in my humble opinion -- is to not actually release anything into a ventilation system (or water source or whatever), but to merely create the illusion or suspicion that something was done or is about to be done. Less effort and just as much panic...."

Neuromancer, by William Gibson, 1984. The Panther Moderns convince the occupants of a large office building they've been slipped a truly horrific bioagent, and simultaneously inform the police that they've gassed the building with a narcotic that turns people into murderous maniacs. The crowd rushes the doors in a screaming panic, only to meet the trigger-happy riot squads.

rediguanaMay 16, 2008 4:15 PM

Nothing to see here, we did exercises based on those sort of scenarios in 2002. Definitely not something new, and don't forget to add crop-dusters to the list.

Rick AuricchioMay 16, 2008 4:36 PM

@ bendotron5000

This has already been done with hemp smoke in a recent episode of The Simpsons.

Obviously, DHS watches TV for ideas...

BramMay 16, 2008 5:15 PM

Invent a plot? Are you kidding me?

This happens every time an EMS crew leaves their ambulance running at the ambulance entrance of my hospital's ER. The air intakes are right above the ambulance parking and ORs get a huge dose of diesel exhaust when a truck is left running.

Doug CoulterMay 16, 2008 6:55 PM

I'd heard from a fellow chemist that what makes feces smell as they do was a compound called scatol, which I once looked up in Merck. Also a sulfur compound. Mecaptans are what is used to make natural gas and other odorless fuels stink, it's bad, true, but a different smell entirely. Here in Blacksburg VA an unnamed individual thought it would be a good idea to pour a whole quart down a toilet in the chem labs, which caused the entire town to be evacuated for a couple of days while everyone looked for the major gas leak which of course was never found...but the whole town stank for weeks. As this was in the '60s, it wasn't the front page world news item it would be today. Just a prank, though hardly a harmless one.

In recent science news, some grad students did a genetic mod to E. Coli to make it make wintergreen instead of scatol. I thought that might be pretty dangerous, actually, as that's an alcohol, and E Coli is easy to transfer among humans where it naturally lives...And it's hard to kill, and doing so has other nasty side effects -- you need this stuff in your gut.
Pretty good movie plot, but one that could actually happen...

Nick LancasterMay 16, 2008 7:48 PM

Carbon filters will work until the terrorists exploit the installation/maintenance of said HVAC and introduce bogus filters.

To demonstrate osmosis, a high school teacher placed several drops of butyric acid on a piece of paper and tossed it in the garbage can by the classroom door. By the end of class, the room was filled with a vomit-like odor ...

asdasdMay 17, 2008 12:45 AM

this which I will say is only a representation of the truth that is within children, and somewhere within us all. and the truth is beyond these words, and the falsified meaning they have in the world
don't take this as being taught, everybody is taught wrong, that's the definition of being taught
I think of children as from conception, the true good, the true humanity. when we are conceived, we have light, that shines so bright, it can only diminish. children hold within all the truth, good, love and beauty in this world, before it is taken away. children need to be their own future
loving the environment more than children is what truly eradicates it, as compared to children, the environment is shit
loving animals more than children is what truly obliterates them, as compared to children, animals are shit
loving possessions more than children is also what's destroying true humanity, as compared to children, possessions are shit
today an adult looks at a baby and is concentrated on how their teeth are growing, yet looks at some animal, or a tree, and is filled with awe. this is wrong priority. the only adoration they have for children is how they're growing into that same thwarted reality, succumbing to evil. I just saw a short documentary where some village was being shown. First was a short frame of three children standing motionless 20 feet away, followed by three in-face close-ups on three adults. yet this thing that adults became because of loss of their true humanity, is falsely being blamed on immaturity, instead of the other way around. children are the only truly human beings. everything negative that adults say or think about children, is the opposite of truth, and the truth about adults. adults will shun and ignore children while admiring this evil which they have become
adults live in this fake, adult world of theirs, blind to the true horror that the human race is in, which they are making worse while glorifying this evil, finding awe solely in nature which they are destroying and shaming, horror that is infinitely more horrible than anything they can imagine, because they no longer know what true beauty is
so children who are "misbehaving", (and the real kind, the kind you see in the real world, not the falsified media), like attacking solely the things which have become our biggest enemies: computers, television sets, speakers, ripping apart paper, wallets, our collections etc. and looking at things like an exercise bike with joy, as exercise is healthy, they know exactly which things are good and bad for us, not the other way around
they will throw things out of the carriage or crib, desperate to be let out and followed; take off clothes showing how we need to get rid of the bonds put on us, climb furniture to show us we are truly human beings above this fake world, which adults value more, they will tell a different age or name than their own, to show us it's not what makes us, and insistently speak of animals and possessions as shit or likewise, which compared to where our real priorities lie, that adults have abandoned, those things are, and thus abandoned everything else making it turn to shit they will desperately try to make adults rid themselves of the guilt, because that evil did not come from being one's true self, but from being made not to be, and believe they wouldn't normally be capable of any of this evil, and instead of tremendous good
so children who are still children, and they are so since conception, are the only ones who care for the human race and thus the planet
children have the healthy, true relationship with one another, and between females, males and two-spirits, they truly love each other, due to inability of a child to love oneself. they have extremely negative reaction to mirrors and pictures of themselves, instantly looking away and pushing it away. they will hail one youngest child by holding them up and spinning them around (or spinning a child in a carriage, for instance) counter-clockwise, which brings the hailed and the hailers great joy, thus showing the true nature of humans, our own conception as this "supreme" and as the only way to retain true humanity. it's the adults' exersion of control, teaching and constant moving them around which leads to disruption of this relationship and ability to create their own, true and good language and culture, later being replaced with fake
they are put in constant bondage, constant cage, being deprived of their touch with nature and other children, they are being held like trophies, beaten, shouted at, taught tricks, humiliated, and generally treated with total lack of respect and sensitivity, and being used as pawns by the media
so look at the smallest of children and see, what true humanity is
lend yourself completely to the smallest of children, they are being the truth that is inherent
predecessory blame is the only kind of blame there can exist, without it there would be no blame, loss of belief in that is loss of belief in inherent true good. lack of predecessory blame leads to wrongfully passing it on to children, the true good, instead of rightfully passing the blame back to adults, thus those which are not truly human. it's this tremendous fear and hate that adults have about themselves that they're putting on children. they no longer believe in humans as inherently capable of endless creativity and will adopt the falsities of talent and experience, as they have lost true creativity themselves
lend yourself completely to them, follow them absolutely, give them freedom to be with nature and other children, freedom belongs to them
don't teach them, don't exert supremacy like tapping them on the head, don't bondage them, don't talk to them, but listen
it's the only way that we all can heal, the environment can heal, and children can create infinitely more beautiful worlds based on true humanity, without shaming the environment and animals, and partake in endless creativity, love and beauty
can you envision a world with millions of different cultures and languages, cultures not based on lies, constantly being created anew, coming from true humanity? and a true, healthy relationship between males, females, and two-spirits? where everyone is extremely healthy, everybody is there's no loss of memory and thus our true humanity, and very little disease?


so the problem is maturism, false belief that we are becoming human by maturing, or being taught so by adults, due to loss of belief in inherent true humanity, and inherent good, thus it's a belief in false humanity as a humanity. thus any pretense can be created by anyone on what that maturity is, but it always means the opposite of being truly human, and the definition getting further and further away. they are completely taking away children's rightful freedom to take control of our culture, which is the only way to rid it of true evil. the effect of maturism is creation of a false goal for one great unity with everyone the same, which not only depraves us of our true humanity, but only leads to destruction as new ideas are being created on what that is. which is exactly what is happening with the world. from villages to towns, from towns to cities, from countries to unions, exerting control, constant policing. everything which is in disruption of creating this "one great unity" is seen as wrong, even though it's only our reaction to this evil. it also creates false belief that everything that happened in the past which was in the goal of this "great unity" can't be wrong. we are further becoming less and less truly human with things like loss of belief in abortion as murder and showing more and more extreme negativism against children, they are becoming a worse and worse stereotype stereotype, it is more and more in every film, documentary, newspaper and news broadcast, and outside. but only a child is the true individual, capable of creating new language, culture, and with complete understanding and love for other humans. today all the things are blamed on children, instead of this adult thing which isn't human, further exerting control of adults over children and strengthening the grip of this evil against true humanity, because they are no longer themselves being led by true humanity
a person once came to me, he seemed desperate to affirm the superiority of the adult and was insisting I call him sir, after I adamantly refused, defeated, he went and committed suicide. so in reality, these people are very fragile. their constant exertion of control and superiority is their only way that keeps them from seeing themselves as this great failure and maybe ending it all
adults have this extremely negative view on children, that they have been taught, which is in fact, the truth about themselves, and will constantly try to brainwash their child into believing they're the ones who are evil
everything today seen as conservatism is what kept us from coming into greater and greater evil. instead of trying to understand this affect of the adult which caused all the shit and rectifying it, it went the other way, creating a falser and falser humanity
that's the reason behind all "mental illness", fight to retain true humanity, and the only real mental illness is the adult
long, long ago, when my old grandfather, before he died, no longer having any memory at all, looked at me and he truly smiled, for the first time since I first met him. nobody saw him do this before. it's because he rerecognized true humanity


here is an example of the evils of maturism, as is our world, maturist propaganda is all around us:

"what we must fight for is to safeguard the existence and the reproduction of our race ... so that our people may mature for the fulfillment of the mission allotted it by the creator of the universe. ... peoples that bastardize themselves, or let themselves be bastardized, sin against the will of eternal providence."
-adolf hitler


maturism is the true evil behind all evil, this evil that is today's world and evil of the past. only our own true voice, one we were conceived with, the one with truth, is true humanity, that is in connection with our conception, and is capable of true, endless, creativity. immaturity is the only true humanity

so put this everywhere you can, translate it, write it on walls, shout it, vandalize. we need to break down the walls of this false reality which isn't ourselves, spit on this world, it's all shit everything around us is shit compared to our number one priority, children, the true humanity, otherwise everything turns to shit
stop this wrong of the adult, wrong of believing in thoughts and theories instead of the inherent truth which is in children
every child is conceived with complete love and understanding for other human beings, and ability to create new language and culture
more than that, a child is conceived with love of true humanity itself, with no love of false humanity which leads to this love of "great self", mostly due to unnaturality of humans being so connected together, instead of truly or at least partly flourishing apart

Fake51May 17, 2008 3:39 AM

I like how some people argue that this is actually a real threat. True, it is. In the same way that terrorists stealing a nuclear warhead in one of the former soviet states, then ships it to the states, then turns it into a dirty-bomb and blasts Manhattan is a real threat. The major point is: if you're a terrorist and want to create some terror, choosing to go for the airvents of any given building is stupid - there are much easier and much more effective ways to get what you want.

MarkMay 17, 2008 5:02 AM

@Brandioch Conner
Seriously, why would any terrorist need to get radioactive material to cause health problems?

When you have access to the HVAC, just dump a bunch of asbestos or other carcinogenic material in the vents.

Cigarette smoke is probably the easiest carcinogenic substance for anyone to get hold of.

The exhaust of a badly tuned vehicle is also likely to be effective at making people ill.

As with plenty of other terrorist possibilities the issue is not that things are technically difficult so much as there don't appear to be that many people prepared to do them.


Carbon14May 17, 2008 9:40 AM

The Exxon Valdez has already dirty bombed the alaskan coast. it happens all the time. when its a chemical company, its not terrorism, its OK I guess. Bophal,
the various pemex (petroleos Mexicanos)
Etc. but if there is a corporate objective like making money without spending it on safty or modern equipment, Its only when a repressed population does it that its terrorism
Now if this coffee barista dosen't change her attitude, theres gonna be machine screws in the coffee grinder

en4rabMay 17, 2008 12:24 PM

Ok I cant resist drumming up some fear with an imaginary terrorist attack, and mine is way better than the rubbish the DHS have managed fretting about airconditioners.

What about evil terrorists attacking the us with biological agent Ug99?
What manner of evil bioweapon could this new agent be? Well its a rather unimpressive sounding wheat stem rust that was first found in Uganda in 1999 but what makes it special is it is capable of infecting modern strains of wheat that have been bred to resist such fungi.
In my terror scenario-of-doom spores from this mould would be smuggled from Uganda into the US grain belt and released, using any method from crop sprayers to something as simple as dumping a jam jar full of mould on the floor when a storm is approaching.
Whilst the initial attack would probably go unnoticed if the fungus had a good enough toe hold in the US it would spread across the grain belt in subsequent seasons killing off the wheat and driving grain prices, and consequently food prices in general to record highs.
Whilst this scenario doesnt provide for exciting news coverage of dead bodies and destruction it could be rather bad for the American economy.
So there you have it, a nation destroyed by mould, who would have thought it.

AnonymousMay 17, 2008 2:46 PM

@Doug Coulter

So if I understand correctly, poop and sewage would smell minty fresh?

That is too freakin' weird.

FNORDMay 17, 2008 4:01 PM

As other have noted, this sort of thing can be an important concern, if not because of terrorism.

I got safety training for working at an office building near a chemical plant. One of the things to do, in the event of a toxic release, was shut off the climate control system.

Tangerine BlueMay 18, 2008 9:06 AM

Folks, the problem with "movie plots" is not that they are infeasible or unlikely. The problem is anybody can imagine a thousand ways to attack us, and it's not feasible to post a DHS agent at the A/C intakes of every large building, or an Air Marshal on every cropduster.

The better use of our resources is to devote resources to traditional police and intelligence work, and to be prepared for the occasional disaster, whether natural or man-made.

HoleMay 18, 2008 10:03 AM

I have an idea. Some terorist babe hooker can stick some deadly powder in her holes. Every guy that she bangs would get some on his wang. Every girl these guys hump would get some in they holes. Sort of like a pass it on thing.

Youve no doubt herd about that theery that you slept with every ho that the person you hump has banged. Expponential growth dude.

This powder should take long time to work so first hooker babe can last long time (you now what i meen).

carbon14May 18, 2008 10:07 AM

Tangerine Blue is right, there will be attacks and disasters, many like the 911 and hurricane Katrina, will be forseen,
911 type plot was first discovered in the phillipines, called the 'bojinka' plot.
Our governmentagencies did follow the terrorists, and tried to warn the boypresident, but he was interested in other things, Cheney secret plan to make oil worth more to the companies that sell it, (it dosent cost more to extract the oil just because the price rises, thats, just bush cronies in the oil business charging more for it.) Mr B did not see any reason to care about terrorism until they got his attention on 911, but the information was already available to those who may have wished that something would be done to stop it, Just as we knew very well that a hurricane could flood New Orleans, but as you saw, Katrina was first a disaster, the a photo op for the bushboy then it was and still is forgotten by a president and his party that don't care about anyone except thier cronies, Notice that trent lott got his home rebuilt, no problems getting that check cut, but everyone else is on thier own.

TarkeelMay 19, 2008 2:06 AM

@carbon14: "it dosent cost more to extract the oil just because the price rises, thats, just bush cronies in the oil business charging more for it."

That's called supply and demand, and is a central part of this thing called Capitalism.

Jeremy DuffyMay 19, 2008 8:14 AM

So... we're mocking them from taking this so seriously? Because it seems to me that this is a real threat. I mean, if you were to ask me if putting carbon filters in the ventilation system would increase the security of a building, wouldn't the answer be yes?

Anonymous_007May 19, 2008 8:28 AM

See
http://books.google.com/books?id=ubXnZ56eVQwC&pg=PA506&lpg=PA506&dq=burning+refrigerant&source=web&ots=tj72ARYtVd&sig=AA0a1TecrdJ0y7H6wehZWMeJKMY&hl=en

"Besides the projectile danger, the burning refrigerant could turn into phosgene gas, or another of several types of deadly gases that could cause harm to ..."

AKA WW1's mustard gas ... a small hole in the refrigerant's piping next to a burning torch = big problems.

Much easier attack, 'silent but deadly'.

Just my .02

dot tilde dotMay 19, 2008 9:10 AM

@tb:

i'm not sure if the usual suspects of international terrorism have, uhm, pussy galore... at least not in this world.

scnr.

.~.

paulMay 19, 2008 11:01 AM

If you're going to fill a space with toxins, it should be the emergency stairs, which typically aren't connected to building ventilation and often aren't vented at all.

I wonder what it would cost to HEPA-filter a large building's intakes. You'd have to replace the filters what, once a day?

And what about the water...

ChaimMay 19, 2008 1:43 PM

I think we need to destroy all Chuck Norris movies and tv episodes as they could obviously be used at terrorist training camps. Chuck is *our* weapon and we need to keep it that way.

SkorjMay 19, 2008 4:41 PM

Actually, your typical office building manager should certainly have a defense plan against this sort of attack, for the simple reaosn that it happens accidentally often enough.

The defense plan would be "I'll turn off the HVAC and sound the fire alarm to evacuate the building, or at night Joe will do it, as he works nights". *Not* having such a plan would be irresponsible indeed, but that's about the extent of it, unless your talking about a military base or similar target.

GremlinMay 19, 2008 7:50 PM

So, I do Industrial HVAC for a living. You wouldn't believe what we have to do to protect buildings from the chemical processes in a big plant. Millions of dollars. And that whole turn stuff off when something bad happens? It's harder than you think. Turn your home furnace off at the thermostat sometime and see how long it takes to stop. Now do the same test by running to the breaker box and stopping it that way. Now, with H2S (a common industrial chemical), you get five seconds at 100ppm. Think you'll make it? Now do the same thing with a 1000lb fan wheel and all it's inertia. Real security is hard.

Scriven KingMay 19, 2008 8:41 PM

Guys,

I hate to burst any bubbles, but here's a question. Wasn't crashing an airplane into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center a bit like a movie plot? Mr. Schneier, while I agree with a few of your articles, I do believe you sometimes forget government has a responsibility to provide security for its citizenry against all plausible threats. Plausible being those attacks which could happen regardless of their likelihood of success.

sameoldMay 20, 2008 1:15 AM

Erik, I believe you are referring to the Moscow theater hostage crisis:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moscow_theater_hostage_crisis#Chemical_attack

"It is thought that the security services pumped an aerosol anaesthetic—later conjectured to be weaponized Fentanyl—into the theatre through the air conditioning system. After thirty minutes, when the gas had taken effect, a physical assault on the building commenced. The combined forces entered through numerous building openings, including the roof and through the sewers."

SkorjMay 20, 2008 2:55 PM

@Scriven King "Wasn't crashing an airplane into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center a bit like a movie plot?"

No, no, that was a *book* plot. Do try to keep up. :)

MarkMay 20, 2008 5:52 PM

Not related to AC Air-Intakes precisely, but lets not forget taking control of a building's climate control system and adjusting it to one extreme or the other so that everyone evacuates the buidling and further catastrophic mayhem can ensue when they are all gathered outside.

If you just want to get the building evacuated then introducing ethanethiol into the air is likely to work a lot quicker.

PeteMay 22, 2008 7:09 AM

"Other scenarios involve the use of helicopters equipped with agricultural spraying equipment"

Or just a bloke with a ladder? The helicopter seems a bit unnecessary.

bobMay 22, 2008 7:23 AM

@Skorj, @Scriven King: Either way - it is not repeatable so its not worth spending much money to prevent. The next time, they will probably buy an old airliner from Mojave for peanuts and crash that into a building without having to hijack anything (which makes me wonder if any laws would even be broken in the process? FAA regs against flying to close to habitation sure, probably noise abatement too; but is there an actual law against intentionally flying an airliner that you own into a building?)

They can probably even sell cheap tickets to pay for the gas, amortize the bird and enrich the body count (and therefore the news impact - the primary mission of a terrorist. Its the news media that terrorists are actually trying to reach, so their "message" can be leveraged. After all they are going to have to be very terror-inducing to get the attention of Americans jaded by 9/11)

freakwentJune 15, 2008 5:36 PM

@Tarkeel:
"it dosent cost more to extract the oil just because the price rises, thats, just bush cronies in the oil business charging more for it."

That's called supply and demand, and is a central part of this thing called Capitalism.
---------------
Tarkeel, can you think of an event in 2003 that might have significantly disrupted supply, which Bush and Cheney may have been able to control?

T.RobJune 16, 2008 10:14 AM

I lived this one. They opened up a restaurant in the office building I worked in and vented the range hood out to the street - just below the air intake for the building. The restaurant was a noodle place with a large griddle-fry station for the veggies and meat. The resulting smoke was dark yellow with an acrid burnt soy sauce smell and it clung to your clothes when you left the building. There were days when you came back from lunch and the floor (4 floors above the restaurant) was visibly hazy like a bar or lounge. One day I was on a conference call and it got really bad inside. I remember thinking that I'd leave as soon as the call was over and then I remember the paramedic standing over me.

Several lessons can be learned from this:
1) We now know who the terrorists are - the Vietnamese couple who opened up the restaurant.
2) Anything is a biological agent if you fry it long enough.
3) You can get your terror to go, be panicked at one of our lovely street-side dining tables, or have it delivered directly to the upper 12 floors of your office.
4) About an hour after your terror...you mysteriously want more.

This particular movie-plot threat makes good leverage for a work-at-home program. If you don't have any qualms about leveraging sanctioned stupidity for personal gain, anyway.

The down side is that my trip to the ER was probably cited by security folks in my town or company as credible evidence for this movie-plot threat.

Mike RJune 16, 2008 6:29 PM

@en4rab, about the mold attack:

Here's another way to do it. Sell the gummint on the idea of making gasoline out of corn. It's a damned inefficient way to make fuel so it won't make a dent in the gas supply, but it will wreak havoc on the food supply and hence the economy.

Oh wait, it's been done already?

DonhoJune 17, 2008 12:25 PM

A company I worked for got a contract from the feds to find the cheapest, easiest way to destroy a large building. Result? 100lbs of flour in the HVAC and an M80 (firecracker) in the front door.

DerickAugust 13, 2008 2:31 PM

Really, the government should just invest this money in Jedi training. These guys (or gals) wouldn't bat an eye at some of these threats and the taxpayers would certainly get a lot more bang for their buck!

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