Demonstration of a Liquid Explosive

The BBC has a video demonstration of a 16-ounce bottle of liquid blowing a hole in the side of a plane.

I know no more details other than what's in the video.

Posted on September 9, 2009 at 12:25 PM • 98 Comments

Comments

HJohn September 9, 2009 12:43 PM

This is why I'm a bit more patient with TSA than most. While I think they are wasteful and a lot of it is CYA, they deal with approximately 750 million airline passengers per year. All it takes is once to get through and the damage is hard to calculate in terms of life (passengers, anyone in the wrong place on the ground), money (loss of plane, compensations to families, loss of business do to consumer fear), etc.

Please know I'm not defending TSA's wastefulness or annoying CYA. I'm merely pointing out that, what appears a very small risk to us doesn't seem small to them when they multiply that tiny risk by 750 million per year. To put that in perspective, even even only 1 out of every billion passengers brought some sort of bomb on board and detonated it, that would be two catastrophes every 3 years.

Though the risk, per flight would still be small, how many people would be flying if, in the 8 years since September 11, 2001, there had been 3 planes bombed by 3 passengers (that's 1 out of every billion passengers)? I'm guessing the loss, but money and customers, would by no means be small.

Frank Ch. EiglerSeptember 9, 2009 12:46 PM

After all the dismissive comments made here about the very concept, a video demonstration surely won't stop the "forbid baby bottles? / terrorists have won" choir.

ScottSeptember 9, 2009 12:49 PM

"damage is hard to calculate in terms of life "

The airline insurers can give you a very accurate estimate, actually. It's their line of work.

HJohnSeptember 9, 2009 12:49 PM

Pardon my math error above. I'm low on sleep (I recently became a dad to twins).

1 per billion passengers would be 3 every 4 years. So, in the 8 years since 9/11, one in a billion passengers successfully detonating something on a plane would be 6 incidents.

As said above, I'm not saying TSA is efficient or effective, they are just dealing with a different equation than individual passengers.

HJohnSeptember 9, 2009 12:51 PM

@Scott: "The airline insurers can give you a very accurate estimate, actually. It's their line of work."
__________

That's true. Especially if we know the details of an incident, we'll be able to project total damage when all is said and done. What I mean is, before an incident happens, we dont' know how many passengers, where the debris will land (highly populated or fields), etc.

Usa Brooyan MyranSeptember 9, 2009 12:54 PM

If you're willing to kill yourself there are many more ways to explode a plane. Essentially your entire digestive system is a potential storage device. So should we ban digestive systems as well as baby bottles?

What about a mustard sandwich, what is the right proportion of mustard to bread where that sandwich becomes a threat?

Do we need to go through these absurdities?

HJohnSeptember 9, 2009 1:02 PM

@Usa Brooyan Myran: "If you're willing to kill yourself there are many more ways to explode a plane. Essentially your entire digestive system is a potential storage device. So should we ban digestive systems as well as baby bottles? What about a mustard sandwich, what is the right proportion of mustard to bread where that sandwich becomes a threat? Do we need to go through these absurdities?"
______

So, after watching a video where a 16 ounce bottle of liquid which looks quite convincing like a beverage can do significant damage to a plane, your logic is then that anyone who understands why this is a concern is absurd if they likewise aren't as concerned with stomachs, mustard, bread, etc.? Is that the jist of it?

Somehow, you just don't quite make the case.

RamAMSeptember 9, 2009 1:06 PM

Now that the pilots know not to hand the keys over to bad guys (and have locking doors to help them enforce that policy)... why is blowing up a plane with 250 people on it worse than blowing up a TSA line with 400 people in it? Also while we're at it... why wouldn't a bad guy check-in his explosive liquids with a timer? Wake up folks the security angle is that of discouraging angry folks from doing bad things it is not in anyway meant to affect truly bad guys.

LukeSeptember 9, 2009 1:12 PM

Is it just me, or does it look like his "aeroplane" is made mostly of cardboard and insulating foam? :)

HJohnSeptember 9, 2009 1:13 PM

@RamAM

That's a fair point. But let's also acknowledge that, from a public perspective, the thought of a plane falling into a populated area after it is bombed is more terrifying than a bomb going off in a building.

anonymous canuckSeptember 9, 2009 1:13 PM

I think Brooyan may have been a fan of the Perishers comic in the UK. I recall the Ketchup sandwhiches and a Mayonaise sandwhich. Now mustard that's insidious.

Stephen SmoogenSeptember 9, 2009 1:18 PM

@Luke..

airplanes are made mostly of cardboard and insulating foam.. metal and bits are kept to a minimum because they are heavy.

Michael AshSeptember 9, 2009 1:23 PM

Maybe if planes were bombed more regularly people would get used to it and stop making such a disproportionate fuss over it, the way society has adjusted to the massive rate of highway fatalities.

This may sound extremely harsh, but people don't really care about highway fatalities to any great degree, so I place the blame squarely on them. "You know what I blame this on the breakdown of? Society."

In any case, the "it only takes one" defense still doesn't alter the fact that we have no real idea of how many bombings would have occurred absent TSA's insanity. It could be "many", but it could just as well be "zero". There aren't a lot of terrorists out there, and the ones that are out there are being stopped by agencies other than TSA.

travelgirlSeptember 9, 2009 1:31 PM

Has anyone thought to ask if liquids are watched from bottler to distributor to airport to plane?

A disgruntled employee or deep-cover movie plot could just as easily bring down a plane...

RonKSeptember 9, 2009 1:36 PM

@ RamAM

> why wouldn't a bad guy check-in his
> explosive liquids with a timer?

The kind of timers which most terrorists are capable of building would probably be much more detectable in an X-ray inspection than the liquid explosive itself.

And in addition, it's not clear to me that the effectiveness of a bomb exploding in the center of a baggage compartment filled with other baggage is at all similar to exploding the same amount of explosive next to the plane's skin. Anyone know if airplane baggage compartments are designed so that certain small sections of the compartments' walls give way very quickly in the case of an explosion, in order to vent more of the energy relatively safely out of the compartment and minimize the overall structural damage?

nSeptember 9, 2009 1:49 PM

There's a lot of insulating foam in nearly everything, which expands rapidly outside of its normal enclosure.

There was an actual diagram of the explosive device on a different article at the BBC that I'm not finding now, interestingly enough it was apparently not a binary explosive to be combined on the plane itself as initially reported back when, but a liquid under pressure in a bottle with an external electric detonator.

You could theoretically check that in stowed baggage but they have much better explosive detection equipment on those luggage tracts.

I'm not convinced the threat is worth the theatre, but this is much more solid information than has previously been made available about what the plot involved.

MikeSeptember 9, 2009 1:51 PM

@Frank Ch. Eigler: "After all the dismissive comments made here about the very concept, a video demonstration surely won't stop the "forbid baby bottles? / terrorists have won" choir."

@HJohn: "So, after watching a video where a 16 ounce bottle of liquid which looks quite convincing like a beverage can do significant damage to a plane, your logic is then that anyone who understands why this is a concern is absurd if they likewise aren't as concerned with stomachs, mustard, bread, etc.? Is that the jist of it?"
--------------------

I see no indication that our current security procedures do anything to prevent this attack. You can easily fit 16oz of liquid in several bottles within your 1 quart bag. So no, I don't see how this video in any way justifies the ridiculous security procedures.

PfootiSeptember 9, 2009 1:51 PM

What I'm really curious about is how they pulled it off - there's a lot of detail missing. But it looks like the guy mixed an orange powder with a clear liquid. There's a bottle marked "water" and a container of powdered Tang (or something like that) both clearly in the shot. What's the composition of the "liquid bomb"? Is it something made by mixing the powder with water (in which case forbidding liquids isn't helpful as you can bring empty bottles on board, which can then be filled in the airplane restroom)? Is it the liquid itself (in which case, one needs two or three collaborators to bring the liquid in 1oz bottles or whatever)?

I must admit surprise - I was working under the impression that in order to make a liquid bomb, the liquids you needed to work with were of the order of organic solvents and acids - hardly easy to disguise as water (smell them) or baby formula or whatever. If it's something that *can* easily pass as a harmless liquid and still provide a powerful charge, I'll have to stop whingeing about the chicken sandwich as liquid or gel.

dixonSeptember 9, 2009 1:53 PM

RonK: Cargo holds on commercial planes are pressurized only to about the equivalent of 8,000ft, i.e., not to the same amount of oxygen. There is also automatic fire suppression in the cargo hold. The Lockerbie incident made it clear that explosions in luggage can take down an airplane, but also thanks to that incident, all our luggage are now x-rayed and inspected (and occasionally looted http://www.nbcmiami.com/news/local-beat/TSAs-Luggage-Looters-Booted-From-MIA.html).

Michael AshSeptember 9, 2009 1:54 PM

Forget about taking this on-board via 16 1oz bottles. Take it on-board via 1 16oz bottle marked "Contact Lens Solution".

Liquid quantity limits have NEVER been enforced for any passenger who knows the system. The only people prevented from taking large containers of liquid through security are the honest ones.

LollardfishSeptember 9, 2009 1:59 PM

The question (vis-a-vis the trial) is not whether it is possible to blow a hole in an airplane with 16 oz. of liquid. It is possible to do many destructive things with many kinds of tools. The question is whether these alleged terrorists had the technical know-how and equipment to do so.

LlywelynSeptember 9, 2009 2:12 PM

Questions I'm curious about:

1) What is he mixing with what to create that explosive? If he's mixing a powder with water then banning liquids is useless.

2) How stable is that substance once mixed? Will it survive takeoff, depressurization, etc without detonating prematurely (and possibly in a less spectacular fashion).

3) Would it be picked up by nitrogen sensors?

4) Would the detonator show up under the scanners as something malicious?

5) Are there solid/powdered explosives at a similar level of complexity and lack of detectability?

Carlo GrazianiSeptember 9, 2009 2:17 PM

@Frank Ch. Eigler:

Please pardon me for continuing with "dismissive comments made here about the very concept", but your standard of evidence must be very low if you think that video demonstrates much about the practicality of this sort of attack.

No information is given about the reagents, their stability, heat/light sensitivity, fume emissions, and other factors considered important in a binary chemical explosive device to be snuck past security and assembled in an airplane lavatory with no temperature or vibration control.

We don't know the conditions under which that "explosives engineer" mixed his brew -- not much to infer from that 2-3 second shot of his hands, except possibly the suggestion (from the surgical gloves that he wears) that the substance may have some corrosive properties.

In fact, it looks like a pretty typical BBC fluff piece, high on breathless, wide-eyed appeals to the gut, but very low on boring technical detail. The obvious point of the piece was to make a kablooie, then talk about what a kablooie it was.

There is plenty of info on the web from actual chemists trying to imagine how they'd try to do this sort of thing. I haven't seen one yet who thought he knew a mixture that would be a sensible binary weapon for carrying aboard a plane. I'd be eager to hear about an actual workable proposal, if it exists and you know about it. What we know from TSA, however, is 99% bullshit.

GuestSeptember 9, 2009 2:35 PM

Wouldn't it be enough to have a single 1 oz bottle exploding to demonstrate the effect? You can than take control of the plane with a 16oz bottle filled up with water from the restroom and colored orange. I think hardly anyone will question the explosiveness of the 16oz bottle. So maybe there should be a ban on bottles...

derfSeptember 9, 2009 2:40 PM

I have additional questions:

How hard is that mixture to duplicate in an airplane bathroom at 30,000 feet?

If the liquid isn't water, what's to stop you from having 15 ounces in appropriately labeled 3 oz containers (mouthwash, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, hair gel) or getting a buddy to bring some?

If the liquid isn't water - how stable is it in 3 oz containers being bounced through the x-ray machine?

Does it need a real detonator or will matches do?

EdT.September 9, 2009 3:02 PM

OK, so from the video I saw:

1) A person place a significant amount of orange powdery substance from a plastic container looking a lot like one holding Gatorade on a paper;

2) Same person poured same orangy powder into a drink bottle;

3) Person places bottle on board mockup of plane;

4) *BOOM* blows hole in side of plane.

Ergo, looks like we need to ban all containers of orangy powder. And maybe all drinks.

~EdT.

DanSeptember 9, 2009 3:22 PM

But the majority of explosives (and certainly the most stable, reliable, and practical explosives) are still in solid rather than liquid form, so the real question is not whether liquids can ever blow a hole in a plane, but whether the ban on liquids distracts the attention of security screeners in proportion (or out of proportion) to the danger they present. In other words, if the ban on liquids has the unintended effect of reducing the likelihood that screeners will detect solid explosives, which are more likely to be used by a terrorist, then it might have a negative net effect on security.

I am not taking a position about whether the ban on liquids does or does not disrupt the focus of screeners in a way that reduces overall security; I am simply saying that everything in security is a balance: It is a matter of balancing competing objectives, and maximizing limited resources (which includes the attention of screeners). Many of our security policies do not seem to embrace this concept of balance; it often seems like we have zero tolerance for specific threats, to an extent that leaves us more vulnerable to other threats. The overall goal should not be protecting the public from specific modalities of harm, but protecting the public (as best we can) from harm in general.

Petréa MitchellSeptember 9, 2009 3:25 PM

Where are the Mythbusters when we need them?

That's not an opinion on the veracity of the video, just that they might do a better job of explaining exactly what they're testing and how.

SamsamSeptember 9, 2009 3:28 PM

The video doesn't actually show anything. Mythbusters would at least have had a camera pointed at the orange bottle. I guess I'm a chronic cynic, but unless they tell us what the substances are (which, of course they won't), I'm just going to conclude the hole was made by ordinary dynamite.

jlawlerSeptember 9, 2009 4:50 PM

@HJohn

> I'm guessing the loss, but money and customers, would by no means be small.

I find the logic extremely disturbing. The idea of assuming the government should actively attempt to preserve your *customer base* terrifies me. I admit, I tend towards the libertarian, and would prefer the government intervened as rarely as possible, but the idea that intervention is necessary for preserving customers is...startling.

What I'd like is the government to allow an airline to opt-out of all the TSA games. This would let people vote (with their dollars) on how much they think it's necessary. If you had the choice tomorrow between Airline A or Airline B, and could ignore the TSA if you flew Airline B, what would you do?

I know, the TSA doesn't just exist to protect that passengers, but also the people who would be killed when the plane crashed into their homes/work/freeway. I believe it's a reasonable assumption that if I fly on an unscreened-airline, I'm accepting the risk of unscreened planes while I'm not flying.

It's commonly referenced that people suck at estimating risk. Let's allow those adventurous souls who are willing to fly these "unscreened planes" do so. And after 2, 3 or 4 years, when those who were initially too scared to fly have realized it's not that scary, we can all close this pathetic chapter of our history.

anonymous howardSeptember 9, 2009 5:03 PM

It's from the four part series, The Age of Terror, written by Peter Taylor (and comes across as a response to Power of Nightmares, which he refers to indirectly):

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/age_of_terror/default.stm (BBC TV version)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/documentaries/2008/05/080530_age_of_terror_one.shtml (BBC World Service radio version)

It shows you can make liquid explosives and put them in a bottle. It doesn't demonstrate you can detonate them with anything you can get on a plane, that you can transport them easily, or that you can reliably prepare them. I remember when it first came out that it undermined some of the scepticism here, but it doesn't answer all the questions people like Bruce have raised.

It certainly doesn't do anything to undermine the broader point that there are a lot of bad things terrorists might pull off if they are determined and lucky, and that focusing on one threat isn't a good way to beat them.

mcbSeptember 9, 2009 5:11 PM

"There's a bottle marked "water" and a container of powdered Tang (or something like that) both clearly in the shot."

Ayup. Looks like Tang, orange powder, water, and clear liquids will have to be added to the list of prohibited items. Looks like the GWOT is going to become thirstier work...oh, and no more water, blue or otherwise, in the lavatories.

keturnSeptember 9, 2009 5:25 PM

@HJohn: The "one out of every billion passengers" line makes a great soundbyte, because I can easily agree "is one out of a billion people crazy enough to blow themselves up? Yeah, probably."

But given that there are only some 300 million people living in the US, your 750 million passengers/year number clearly doesn't refer to the number of distinct *people* flying every year. It could be just ten really busy sales guys each making 75 million flights a year, and I don't think one out of ten sales guys are crazy enough to blow themselves up, even if they do spend that much time on the road.

AntonSeptember 9, 2009 5:53 PM

I took 1 pound (1/2 kg) of black tea on a flight. I showed security but they waved me through saying they were not concerned about that because it was not a liquid. Until security detaches from rules and reengages common sense, we are not going to be any more secure.

MailmanSeptember 9, 2009 6:55 PM

I don't get the point of this video. So a liquid explosive is powerful enough to make a hole in the side of an airplane... Woop dee doo! The existence of powerful liquid explosives has never been denied by anyone (nytroglycerine, anyone?). What has been criticized is the need to ban all liquids from an aircraft based on the remote possibility that someone smuggled a flask full of explosive orange juice or explosive baby milk into the aircraft.

Russell CokerSeptember 9, 2009 8:26 PM

In regard to Libertarians wanting the option to choose a non-TSA airline. This is a really good idea but it has a couple of pre-conditions.

Firstly the cockpit door would need to be thoroughly secured to prevent the risk of hijack, this would include having a secure cockpit area with a toilet and facilities for preparing meals (the pilots should not enter the insecure part of the plane for the entire journey).

The next condition would be that the plane would depart from a coastal airport and make international travel that didn't involve over-flying US territory. A domestic flight would have the potential to explode in the air and land on some people.

These preconditions could be satisfied and the idea seems viable.

Also while considering such things the TSA operating expenses should be taken from an airline tax on flights which are subject to TSA searches. Let the passengers see the cost of the security in their ticket price!

Finally if you own a personal jet then you get to fly it whenever you want with no TSA checks. Osama bin Laden had a personal fortune estimated at $250,000,000. If he could smuggle the money into the US he could buy some private jets to be used for attacks.

Michael AshSeptember 9, 2009 9:02 PM

Why do you have such strict preconditions for airliner travel? Only flying over water? Give me a break.

People do things more dangerous than flying on unscreened airliners all the time. People subject other people to far greater dangers all the time. Nobody bats an eye at drivers talking on their cell phones or owning vicious dogs or improperly burning leaves. But allow for the slightest possibility of criminal activity on an airliner and it's all armored cockpit doors and flying exclusively over the water.

Why the enormous double standard? Serious question here; I don't understand it and really wish I knew why so many people act in a way which to me is so incomprehensibly stupid.

NeighborcatSeptember 9, 2009 10:01 PM

@ HJohn

"All it takes is once to get through and the damage is hard to calculate in terms of life (passengers, anyone in the wrong place on the ground), money (loss of plane, compensations to families, loss of business do to consumer fear), etc."

You know what else is hard to calculate? The total cost of man (and woman) hours lost to standing in capricious screening lines. I'm not talking aggravation here, I'm talking the simple economic fact that time=money. Please arrive at the airport two hours before your flight!

Two hard-to calculate costs, but that's often the difficult nature of rational risk assessment.

Your statement seems to imply that either the TSA's efforts have no cost beyond salaries and equipment, or that no cost is too high to prevent airline bombings. I suspect that you don't actually believe either.

As for TSA effectiveness and your math, one question: How many planes were brought down by bombs during the 8 years *prior* to September 11th 2001? I can phrase the same concept differently: Where are the 3 bombers the TSA has intercepted in screening in your 8 post 9/11/01 years?

I won't go very far into the TSA's dismal detection rates other than to say 66% accurate detection is generous, and so by your 1-in a billion logic, we should have had at least 1 bombing in the 8 years since 9-11-01. We're taking about the people who lose the fake bombs they use to measure their own screening effectiveness:

http://www.redorbit.com/news/oddities/111558/nj_airport_security_spot_lose_fake_bomb/

Your argument is an appeal to gut reaction, not logic, and is disturbingly similar to "If a measure saves even one life it's worth any cost."

This fallacy is the very crux of so many discussions in this forum: Acting on gut reactions results in wasteful, ineffective security measures, aka "theatre".

I'm not trying to attack you personally, but I can't abide the argument you presented.

jammitSeptember 9, 2009 11:04 PM

The edit is quicker than the eye.
Binary? Try Trinary. Maybe even quaternary. Did anybody notice the plastic bag on the floor where he placed the bottle, or even that some sort of squib was used for ignition? Without full disclosure we can never make an intelligent decision, so an unintelligent decision will be made. I'm not saying a binary liquid explosive can't be made (even if one happens to be a powder), just that I've seen one too many magicians with pretty girls.

MapesSeptember 9, 2009 11:33 PM

1. You could already sneak this on as Contact solutions.

2. That amount of damage does not necessarily dictate catastrophic failure. In fact planes have flown after losing the entire roof of the first class section. (see aloha air(although the one stewardess who died would prolly argue the point with me)

Michael AshSeptember 10, 2009 1:08 AM

@baylink

I forgot nothing, I merely disagree with the common notion that the 9/11 attacks were so far beyond the pale as to be uniquely terrible when discussing risk.

Fact is, the 9/11 attacks were equivalent to about one month of US road fatalities. Literally a hundred times more people have died on the roads in the years since 9/11 as died in those attacks. Both the human and financial cost of highway accidents far outweighs that of terrorist attacks. And yet we treat the terrorist attacks far, far, FAR more seriously.

Again, I ask: why? If you respond a second time, please skip the whole appeal to emotion bit and "clearly you forgot" nonsense and explain it logically.

Jurjen BosSeptember 10, 2009 1:50 AM

Last month I flew with four times that much liquid with me (medicine).
They didn't even look at the document that I brought to prove its genuinity.
Fortunately, no terrorist will ever think of that trick...

Nomen PublicusSeptember 10, 2009 2:26 AM

The bomb in the demo was not the design that the "terrorists" were going to use for the simple reason they had not yet completed a working device when arrested.

The demo bomb was designed after weeks of experimentation by investigators attempting to show how such a bomb might be constructed.

There is still the question, could the "terrorists" have been able to build a working device?

Some YankSeptember 10, 2009 5:09 AM

Didn't the BBC also once fake an explosion for Cesium or Francium to show what "should've" happened when they were mixed with water?

Or am I thinking of a different British show?

RonKSeptember 10, 2009 6:40 AM

@ toml

> The guy in the video is a well respected explosives
> expert, I doubt he's faking this. .... According to
> wikipedia the mixture is ...

The guy in the video, even if he is a well-respected expert, is *doing what his client asked him to do*, said client being the BBC. We don't know what they asked him to do, although yes, I suppose he didn't agree to *totally* fake it. However, they may have asked him to show that a large enough liquid bomb, not necessarily of the exact kind planned by the criminals, can do significant damage to a plane.

Since peroxide-based explosives are well-known to be extremely dangerous to handle, even by experts, I would be surprised if a real expert would agree to do the demonstration with "pseudo-home-made" HMTD (WP states that pure HMTD can be relatively stable, however). But you never know, maybe he has terminal cancer....

RogerSeptember 10, 2009 7:47 AM

@RonK:
> Since peroxide-based explosives are well-known to be extremely dangerous to handle, even by experts, I would be surprised if a real expert would agree to do the demonstration with "pseudo-home-made" HMTD (WP states that pure HMTD can be relatively stable, however).

The charge was not HMTD. It is a completely different peroxide based material which, while far from completely safe, is very much more stable than HMTD.

Interestingly, one of the ingredients is a common household material that acts quite effectively as a stabiliser without inhibiting explosive performance. Actually, you've got to hand it to whatever chemist in Pakistan designed this thing, it's an elegantly simple, effective and quite clever system.

Clive RobinsonSeptember 10, 2009 8:38 AM

Lets do a little thinking about chemical explosives and how they work,

1, They release large amounts of energy from chemical bonds.

This also true of thermite and some flare materials that are not explosives.

In the case of explosives it is usually by oxidizing a fuel, either as sperate molecules or a molecule that contains a fuel and oxidizer component.

However it is not just the release of energy but how. Therefor,

2, The energy released must be converted to kinetic energy (ie act upon something)

However this is true of most "heat engines" therfore the release of kinetic energy must be rapid.

Also the normal (ie most peoples) definition of an explosion is something that visably expands (ie a fire ball etc)...

Due to the speed of sound a curious effect happens in a gas. If the expansion rate is below the speed of sound the energy gets disapated across a volume (e/d^3), however if it's above the speed of sound the energy gets trapped at the surface (e/d^2) of the expanding volume and becomes a shock wave.

However if the kinetic energy is on an object that does not change it's size (a bullet etc) then the convervation of momentum says the energy does not get dissipated but transported. [In practice an object moving through a gas loses energy via friction that converts the kinetic energy back to heat energy which gets dispated. Also all objects have various properties that can cause the object to change which will also convert the kinetic energy].

So broadly to be effective in use, an explosive which is a fuel and oxidiser must be optimaly mixed and convert/transport it's energy to kinetic energy to overcome the physical properties of an object.

Due to the non linear properties of the object it is desirable to select an appropriate energy release rate to concentrate the energy in a shock wave moving through the object.

Now I suspect the powder was a fuel such as sugar and the water was actually hydrogen peroxide (water+oxidizer) which if mixed in the right quantities would as one component is liquid.

Now you have a problem, how do you stop it exploding as you mix it...

And secondly how do you stop it releasing the chemical bond energy slowly.

The first is conventionaly solved by using a fuel and oxidizer that has an entropy hump sufficient that you do not cross it during the mixing.

The second problem is usually overcome by using an oxidiser that is chemicaly stable at room tempratures and preasures when in contact with the fuel.

Now as most people know hydrogen peroxide is not stable at room temprature (it's a bleach) which means that it will react with the fuel... The two questions arising then are how much energy is released by this reaction and is it enough to get over the entropy hump, If it is the mixture will spontaneosly explode. Secondly how fast does the mixture degrade to the point it is nolonger effective as an explosive.

Also most people also know that sugar breaks down at body temprature otherwise we would not be able to use it as fuel...

The upshot is it's a dangerous explosive to make and importantly will degrade quickly.

I suspect the "explosives expert" knows this and would have taken certain precautions like making sure the bottle, powder and liquid where as cold as possible without ruining the demo, and the explosive was set off as quickly as possible before it degraded significantly.

And importantly for the demo he was able to place the explosive close up against a fragile structure in an optimal place for the demo...

Perhaps the question people should ask is did the demo show skin or structure damage?

And how long would it take to get a large enough mixture of the explosive to do structral damage to the aircraft whilst the explosive was still viable?

demolitionmanSeptember 10, 2009 10:34 AM

If you want to know more about the expert in the clip, Syd Alford PhD, have a look at his company website www.explosives.net.

brain fartSeptember 10, 2009 12:49 PM

> 1) What is he mixing with what to create that explosive? If he's mixing a powder with water then banning liquids is useless.

No, the liquid isn't water. The powder is considered an inert material which is widely available. The liquid is pretty hard to obtain for the general population, but there are sources.

> 2) How stable is that substance once mixed? Will it survive takeoff, depressurization, etc without detonating prematurely (and possibly in a less spectacular fashion).

Yes, this mixture is very stable. The whole point this mixture was invented and is currently marketed is the following. The bomb is only active for a certain time. Once the powder settles in the liquid the bomb becomes non-detonatable. The components of the explosive can even be shipped legally by air, which is one of the main reasons it is used. This explosive is currently used for demining and unexploded munitions operations. It is so far considered somewhat unusable for terrorist use because it cannot be stored for a long time as it becomes inactive.

> 3) Would it be picked up by nitrogen sensors?

Yes.

> 4) Would the detonator show up under the scanners as something malicious?

You need a standard detonating cap to reliably set it off.

> 5) Are there solid/powdered explosives at a similar level of complexity and lack of detectability?

Yes of course. There are even better ones which are stronger and easier to obtain, which are safe to handle and can be stored for long times without losing their ability to detonate.

brain fartSeptember 10, 2009 12:56 PM

This explosive was not invented by some terrorist genius in the mountains of Pakistan or Afghanistan.
The ingredients for such explosives are well known to the experts and people in the know and are nothing out of the ordinary.
Please stop guessing what that stuff is. Yes, usually I am all in favor of full disclosure, but I can assure you MANY harmless people will be quite pissed off if you guys start ranting about the pretty common chemicals being used here, resulting in these chemicals becoming banned items.

brain fartSeptember 10, 2009 1:05 PM

Actually it's quite funny to watch you guys speculate in every thread what liquid explosives could be used for this kind of attack.
Just quit it, ok? These explosives exist, they are cheap, safe to handle and the threat is actually real. Yes, you just need to mix a little liquid or powder with a second liquid to generate a liquid or semiliquid explosive which is just as powerful as TNT and similar explosives. There are even several options, many chemical compounds can be used for such explosives.
And if you can't buy these compounds you can easily prepare them yourself. In your basement, without lots of expensive equipment, some basic glassware will do.

Michael AshSeptember 10, 2009 2:03 PM

@brain fart

So we should all just shut up, blindly trust the experts, and go back to being good little sheep?

Sorry, not going to happen. You want us to accept your information, you'd better be prepared to back it up with real information. "Just quit it" is not going to work; quite the opposite.

ChuvakinSeptember 10, 2009 2:09 PM

I saw this video about a week ago and wasn't very impressed. After all, one second shows the guy mixing some unknown stuff up, then the next second shows him placing some device in the fuselage. He could have put anything in the mix and just as easily have put anything else in the fuselage. The implication of the captions IIRC is it was something like Tang and H2O2 that caused the explosion. I strongly doubt it, even though the previous poster assures us these options most certainly do exist.

brain fartSeptember 10, 2009 2:38 PM

Mike Ash, actually I don't really care. It's just a question of time until someone here comes up with the right idea. As I said before, this stuff is already known for many decades and has been used in the past and is even used presently.

It doesn't take an expert to figure out what these explosives consist of. Most teenaged backyard pyro freaks know.

Chuv, rest assured this stuff works just as advertised. Add A to B, shake, put a standard detonator in it, set it off.

16 ounces, which seems to be around 450-500ml of this stuff is certainly enough to cause considerable damage to an aircraft, especially when the plane is flying high and there is a considerable pressure difference between the inside and outside. Think Lockerby. Think that Mythbusters episode (where they used less explsosive in the form of det. cord and some cardboard to build an improvised shaped charge).

TimWSeptember 10, 2009 3:02 PM

"The implication of the captions IIRC is it was something like Tang and H2O2 that caused the explosion."

According to friends of mine who are in the EOD field (Explosive Ordnance Disposal), that's exactly what it was. In fact, this video (the full one) is being used as a training aid.

Dr. Alford is a VERY highly regarded SME in this area. Any bomb tech can tell you that. But I will assume that, like me, none of you are bomb techs. But unlike me, you probably don't have friends who actually WORK in this field.

If you still disbelieve, you can search for the patent for H2O2 explosives (all the way back to the mid-1940s when it was filed).

While I am not a bomb tech or EOD tech, I know enough of them, and have accompanied them on some of their field exercises, to not doubt for a moment that Dr. Alford's experiment was legit.

edSeptember 10, 2009 3:07 PM

@brain fart

If it's already widely known in the field, what makes you think the bad guys don't already know it? I'm completely serious, not trolling.

TimWSeptember 10, 2009 3:07 PM

The point of my posts is that those of you who are being dismissive of the potential dangers of this type of attack do so at your own risk. While I am not a huge TSA fan, the ease at which these things can happen make some of what they do worthwhile.

brain fartSeptember 10, 2009 4:23 PM

> If it's already widely known in the field, what makes you think the bad guys don't
> already know it? I'm completely serious, not trolling.

The "Bad Guys(TM)" already know. Of course they do. Nearly everyone involved with explosives knows, and so do many people with a basic knowledge of chemistry.
Liquid explosives similar to the one in the video have been used for terrorist and criminal purposes. That's why liquids are currently banned on flights. I disagree with this ban, myself, for a variety of reasons, but the fact remains, this ban indeed makes sense and most likely has avoided attacks on planes.

H2O2... well... not exactly what I call safe handling.

brain fartSeptember 10, 2009 4:25 PM

> While I am not a huge TSA fan, the ease at which these things
> can happen make some of what they do worthwhile.

I totally agree. At least in this case, these dimwits got it right.
(Yes, I don't like them a whole lot).

RogerSeptember 10, 2009 4:39 PM

@Mapes:
> 2. That amount of damage does not necessarily dictate catastrophic failure. In fact planes have flown after losing the entire roof of the first class section. (see aloha air(although the one stewardess who died would prolly argue the point with me)

Strangely, it's always Aloha Flight 243 that gets trotted out when bomber apologists want to claim that a bomb won't down an airliner.

Why always the same flight? Because it's an extraordinary incident, a 1 in a zillion miracle where the failure mode happened by sheer good luck to leave the rest of the aircraft balanced, with balanced aerodynamic forces and no excessive structural loads. It's not quite unique; in the history of thousands and thousands of commercial aviation accidents, there are half a dozen examples of explosive decompression that did not result in total structural failure, but none of the others involved anything like as large a hole.

If you have been led to believe that Aloha Flight 243 was typical, you have been badly misled. In reality, explosion of 1 pound of high explosive in an airliner at cruising altitude will typically cause total, catastrophic break up.

RogerSeptember 10, 2009 4:52 PM

@Clive:
> Now as most people know hydrogen peroxide is not stable at room temprature (it's a bleach) which means that it will react with the fuel...

The material also contains a stabiliser which inhibits this from occurring at room temperature, but itself acts as a fuel during detonation.

> The upshot is it's a dangerous explosive to make and importantly will degrade quickly.

It's certainly unstable and dangerous by the standards of military or commercial explosives, but it's not as unstable as you might think. This material will not degrade appreciably over a period of a few hours. There are several special precautions I would take, but they don't require the material be chilled.

Michael AshSeptember 10, 2009 5:03 PM

@brain fart

If the bad guys already know about the potential liquid explosive mixtures, why is there still, three years after the initial attack attempt, still no concrete information on exactly what the mixture was, or could be, or how feasible the attack would be, or any concrete information at all?

Either the experts are all trying to stay silent for no good reason, or they don't actually know.

You claim to know, and appear to admit that there's no good reason to stay quiet on it, so why not educate us all with concrete facts about the nature and composition of this mixture?

brain fartSeptember 10, 2009 5:14 PM

> If you have been led to believe that Aloha Flight 243 was typical,
> you have been badly misled.

Absolutely.

> In reality, explosion of 1 pound of high explosive in an airliner at cruising
> altitude will typically cause total, catastrophic break up.

Correct. With one pound it doesn't even matter much where exactly the explosive detonates, chances are high the plane will completely disintegrate afterwards. Like Lockerbie.
If there is a human being on board who has knowledge of the weak points and placement of load bearing parts and is able to place the explosive charge in the right locations then quite a bit less than one pound is needed to bring down a big airliner, especially at 35000ft cruising altitude and a cruising speed of 900km/hr.

If the charge is properly made (think shaped charges, cutting charges) and proper tamping is used (like a big trash bag full of of water, oops liquids are outlawed... alternatively a human being would do) the amount of explosive required becomes pretty small.

Mythbusters used an improvised shaped charge built with one hundred grams of high explosive ! And look at what they did to the aircraft!

Have a look at 4:18 of this video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fi1_1l7M8FA

They even show where to put the charge for maximum damage.

brain fartSeptember 10, 2009 5:39 PM

> If the bad guys already know about the potential liquid explosive
> mixtures, why is there still, three years after the initial attack
> attempt, still no concrete information on exactly what the mixture
> was, or could be, or how feasible the attack would be, or any
> concrete information at all?

There is plenty of info out there. You just need to find it.
I have seen the ingredients mentioned in mainstrean newspapers over fifteen years ago, long before 9/11. I already knew about these explosives at that time, from personal experience, that's why I remember it. (Not going into any details here).

> Either the experts are all trying to stay silent for no good
> reason, or they don't actually know.

There is a very good reason: they don't want every wannabe terrorist, deranged anti-abortionist and a bunch of other sick people to do stupid things.

> You claim to know, and appear to admit that there's no good
> reason to stay quiet on it, so why not educate us all with concrete
> facts about the nature and composition of this mixture?

Because if this gets widely publicised someone will spoil it for a lot of legitimate users who absolutely need the ingredients for legal, harmless, non-exploding purposes. I don't want the stuff to be heavily watched and regulated as explosives.

I can tell you this much, it has nothing whatsoever to do with H2O2 and similar unstable compositions.

And now I'll shut up, I'm not going to tell you anything else about it. I'm pretty sure other people out there have figured it out by now. I can only hope they will keep their knowledge to themselves. I totally understand the desire to know more about this topic, but those who know what substances could be used for this: think about the consequences if these substances are banned! So please keep quiet. There are surprisingly few instances of abuse so far, let's try to keep it like that.

Ian WoollardSeptember 10, 2009 8:28 PM

Doh!

Let's get this straight, you guys are worried about a 1 in a billion chance about getting blown up?

The chances of the darn plane crashing all by itself must be about a thousand times higher than that!

Please try to get a sense of proportion!!

DaveCSeptember 11, 2009 12:30 AM

@RonK: alas, the venting idea has been researched and isn't viable.

The initial blast waves from modern explosives move too fast to be vented effectively; venting only deals with secondary effects of pressurization from a contained explosion.

Making the passenger compartment floor strong enough to withstand a plausible initial blast would simply add too much weight.

mashiaraSeptember 11, 2009 3:16 AM

I have blasters license so I know a few things, anyone who cares to read up on the chemistry will know too.

The question is not really if it's possible or even hard to do (try enough times and you will certainly succeed) but whether it's worth the cost to try to prevent it.

"If it saves one life" is crap argument as stated, also letting people drive their own cars kills way more people than terrorists ever could so why the hell are people so afraid of terrorists ? (actually I know the psychology, illusion of control etc, I just wonder why the "spot a terrorist" campaign funds are not used to educate people about these facts of life, would save lives and money. Cynic in me thinks that this is on purpose: sheeple are easier to control...)

I ride a motorcycle, it's just about certain that I die if I'm in an accident on highway speeds, I also tend to take unneccessary risks; either for my deranged concept of fun or expedited reaching of my destination.

If my riding habits won't kill me it's probably a cardiovascular disease (I certainly am in a risk group... Working on getting some of the extra fat out but for completely different reasons).

Maybe it's the over 10 years of martial arts training (not of the sport variety) but the "It's a beatiful day" (meaning: "It's a good day to die") -philosophy feels right for me, it's a bit hard to explain what it means to be personally.

Clive Robinson September 11, 2009 7:14 AM

@ Roger,

When I was younger my zest for life sometimes ment I needed to put the fizz back the following morning.

But I'm older these days and that enables me to have my cake and eat it. Especially as my other half does nice icing, but she can be a bit of a Tartar with acid comments when I don't eat it.

Robin ErikssonSeptember 11, 2009 8:29 AM

For all of those wondering about the feasability of mixing this up in the airplane toilet etc the register did a good cover on that 3 years ago. The article can be found at http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/08/17/flying_toilet_terror_labs/

It should be noted that the powder is very sensitive and unstable making it a risky project transporting it to the airport and into the plane. And making it from scratch onboard... forget it!

giaflySeptember 11, 2009 8:37 AM

If accurate knowledge of how to make liquid explosives was really as dangerous as some of you guys say, Al Queda would have posted it all over the Internet, years ago, because it's much easier for them if we infidels help to kill each other.

DavidSeptember 11, 2009 9:28 AM

@brain fart: You know, it's really difficult for me to think about the consequences of unknown substances being banned. Maybe my imagination is a little too concrete.

Moreover, you're posting pseudonymously, even more than I am (I am posting under my legal first name), and making claims from authority. The only person who can get away with claims of authority here is Bruce, and that's because his posts are recognizable. The regulars here have generally developed those odd security-related ways of thinking.

It is entirely possible that you're writing from solid knowledge and the best of intentions. It's also possible you're spreading disinformation for a wide variety of reasons. Given what you've written, it's impossible for those of us who aren't experts in the field to know for sure.

However, the concept of an explosive that has been written up in newspapers for over a decade now, and is known to all experts in the field, and will potentially cause havoc if written up in a security blog, well, that's another thing I find it hard to imagine.

Michael AshSeptember 11, 2009 10:13 AM

@David

As I understand it, the fellow isn't afraid it will cause havoc. He's trying to keep the thing under wraps for entirely selfish purposes: he's afraid that if the secret becomes widely known, the substances involved will be placed under greater government scrutiny and he'll have a harder time obtaining and using them.

At least he admits that he only cares about himself....

Doug CoulterSeptember 11, 2009 1:35 PM

Nice to see the forum come around. I got no end of flames when I mentioned this was entirely possible to do, not that I think it's a serious threat -- the above comments suffice on that. We had self-appointed experts here saying things like there are no good liquid explosives (forgetting the obvious nitroglycerin, for example) or that no one could mix something on a plane without a lot of chemistry equipment, forgetting that the bad guy doesn't plan to live through it.

Me pointing out that I have done all this myself, in a non-evil context didn't convince most of these "experts" who'd never done anything but read a little, never done squat to gain real experience.
This should be a lesson on that.

Yes, HMTD or even acetone peroxide are easy to make in a bathroom, especially if you don't care to live through the process. If you're worried about it going off prematurely, maybe after only 50% has reacted -- so what, bring some extra! (BTW, the tang there was for some citric acid, and any acid will work, and it can be a weak one) And there are others one could make or sneak on that would pass the detectors with ease as well (and my friends at DHS have asked me not to mention non nitrogen explosives that don't have density 1.3 to ragheads, but see Tenney Davis book for info -- I doubt the bad guys read this forum).

The point, finally, I think, is "so what?". As pointed out, car drivers (even if limited to just the drunk ones, leaving out the mere idiots) really do kill more people, and I've personally never understood "grades" of dieing -- if you're dead, the cause isn't going to matter to *you* one bit. I had long discussions with some people in DC during that sniper incident and just never "got it" why they were so afraid about their chances of getting it increasing the tiny fraction that guy caused. These are apparently sane, rational people who nevertheless drive on the DC beltway every day!

In the meantime, I never really enjoyed flying in large planes that barely feel airworthy compared to small ones (and there IS that illusion of control, as I can fly a simple plane in an emergency). But I do think it's sad that security theater has more or less made flying even more objectionable for everyone, and ruined (or helped) the finances of the enterprise.

As pointed out by Bruce and others, it's not like the bad guys can't think of something new -- they have time and motivation, and not all are dumb, and the next big thing will probably be something else Tom Clancy wrote about, unless they've decided to get original.

My SWAG would be "Teeth of the Tiger", but that's just a guess -- so easy compared to planes, and just as scary. More so in real life, as Clancy's heros can't be depended to be there at the time.

Defend yourself -=- when seconds count, the police are only minutes away -- if you have a phone and can use it.

spSeptember 11, 2009 2:17 PM

One point I don't see anywhere in the comment thread: this bit of theater does not show that the airplane would be destroyed. Punching a hole in the skin of an airplane is not hard. Bringing one down is. Lockerbie used a large charge of high explosives, probably Semtex, a commercial and military plastic explosive.

Both this breathless bit of nonsense and the only recorded incident of using liquid explosives on an airplane (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramzi_Yousef#Philippine_Airlines_Flight_434)
led to the same result: Killing the poor sob in the seat with the bomb underneath, and depressurising the airplane, which requires an emergency descent, but does NOT lead to a crash.

Philippine Airlines Flight 434 made a safe landing after the explosion of a liquid explosive bomb in flight.

The leap from punctured skin to crashed airplane is a big one, but everyone here seems to have jumped over that chasm without a second thought.

RogerSeptember 11, 2009 5:17 PM

@Robin Eriksson:

[mentioning the Thomas C. Greene article again]

It has already been mentioned previously on this thread. And I have already on this thread pointed out that the article is both based on early press speculation since found to be wrong, and in any case is so wrong that even if the press speculation was correct, most of Greene's conclusions are wrong.

The first time Greene's article was mentioned on this blog, I provided a detailed list of its errors; you can probably Google for them if you are interested.

RogerSeptember 11, 2009 5:44 PM

@sp:
> Punching a hole in the skin of an airplane is not hard. Bringing one down is.

This is not true. There are only a handful of examples of airliners surviving a bombing in flight, and many more of them being destroyed by them.

> Lockerbie used a large charge of high explosives, probably Semtex, a commercial and military plastic explosive.

Incorrect. The destruction of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie used a bomb no larger than -- in fact, slghtly lighter than -- the ones proposed for the "Transatlantic plot". Although that bombing used Semtex rather than an improvised material, the bulk yield is similar (because Semtex contains a significant proportion of non-explosive ingredients added to improve handling or storage, but in the proposed liquid explosive every ingredient contributes energy.)

> ... the only recorded incident of using liquid explosives on an airplane (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramzi_Yousef#Philippine_Airlines_Flight_434)
led to the same result: Killing the poor sob in the seat with the bomb underneath, and depressurising the airplane, which requires an emergency descent, but does NOT lead to a crash.

Also, completely wrong. Ramzi Yusef's bomb on Philippine Airlines Flight 434 indeed killed only one person (and injured 10 others) but it did not puncture the fuselage, it did not cause decompression, and there was no emergency descent. The reasons for this had nothing to do with it being a liquid bomb. (And as a trivial aside, this is also not the first known attack on an aircraft with a liquid explosive: that occurred in 1933.) The main reason was that Yusef was testing his concept of a "microbomb", trying to see how small a bomb could be and still down an airliner. The exact mass of this particular microbomb does not seem to have been recorded by Yusuf but it seems to have been about one ounce, an order of magnitude less than the proposed "Transatlantic plot" bombs. Even so, it might well have destroyed the aircraft except for an error that Yusef made. He had positioned the bomb to breach the main fuel tank, but he based the location on a different model of 747 to the one he attacked. As a result he missed the fuel tank and only destroyed non-critical internal components.

In any case, this line of argument is utterly fatuous. No humanely minded person could possibly argue that an airliner bombing is nothing to worry about because an airliner *might* survive a bombing.

Looking at the whole gamut of "don't worry about airliner bombing" arguments, which range from the half-baked, through the ill-informed to the downright absurd, it seems to me that a clear pattern is apparent. It seems as if people have decided for their own political reasons to minimise the impact of an airliner bombing, and then seek out every graspable straw to claim that it is practically impossible. No doubt this is an effect of the blogosphere, which if nothing else allows like-minded people to reinforce each other's biases and ignore every dissenting voice.

We see the same pattern over and over again: they claim airliners are practically immune to bombing (always based solely on the miracle of Aloha Flight 243), they have rarely read of more than one or two airliner bombings (there have been dozens), they falsely claim liquid explosives are nearly impossible to make, and poor in performance (based largely on an essay by an IT columnist.) The same package of memes, circulated over and over by the blogosphere to all the believers who crave it. Of course this is by no means unique to bombing denialists; this is the brave new world of the 21st century, an era of new tribalism and superstitions.

Clive RobinsonSeptember 12, 2009 5:15 AM

@ Doug Coulter,

"I got no end of flames when I mentioned this was entirely possible to do"

The problem I think was assumptions.

A, Bring down an aircraft.
B, With a liquid explosive.
C, Made on board.

And I still think it is not practical for many reasons.

However if you remove any one of those assumptions then yes the plan was viable.

If you remove A then you get a Richard Reid result, or (as somebody so nicly put it) "crispy fried terorist on the toilet wall".

As regards B technicaly the likley peroxides of organic substances are not liquids at room temprature or without other substances involved, and the few genuine liquid explosives at room temprature I'm aware of need very carefull manufacture in very small quantities due to the reaction producing an undesired side effect (crispy fried terrorist).

With regards C this is the one that realy needs to be removed for A to have a reasonable chance of happening.

And it appears from what has recently been said (about hypos) that either this was what they where going to do or what the prosecution said they where going to do.

If the latter is true the chemical Roger indirectly refers to above is not citric acid but another constuant of Tang...

And I have my own ideas as to what that might be and when I get the chance I will look it up and check.

Clive RobinsonSeptember 12, 2009 5:55 AM

Whilst I remember security by obscurity does not work especially when it comes to "home made explosives"

There are just to many chemicals in use that are available to buy over the counter for instance if you remove citric acid from sale or put it under control the economic consiquences on the food and drink industries would be immense. And as Doug pointed out there are plenty of other weak (organic) acids that would do the job that are just as easily available.

Then there are "over the counter" drugs that contain other usefull chemicals in sufficiently pure forms.

It has been posted to Bruce's blog before that permanganates can be used to make primary explosives (explosive chain initiator or detanator). And there are many many others such as fulminates.

Even organic acid's and bases when mixed can be used to liberate significant quantities of energy. Certainly enough to launch model rockets.

Most of these potential "home made" explosives have significant side effects.

For instance the process of making certain recreational drugs also produces some quite nasty unstable chemicals with burn rates in excess of 5000M/Sec. Which makes me think that some "home explosions" are not due to experiments to make explosives but to make drugs or the chemicals needed to do so.

There is a history of those in power seaking to restric chemicals to stop the manufacture of "illicit" substances however in nearly all cases it has failed, and the economic side effects to society are compleatly disproportionate to the (supposed) benifits.

Especially as such restrictions often encorage an "illicit economy" (black market / drug dealers etc).

Even trying to control information does not work. For instance think about various church's that tried to protect doctrin (Earth being the center of the Universe) by hiding information (astronomy) it failed and will continue to fail.

However Politicos will almost always follow this path as it "moves the problem" to "somebody elses watch".

Dan @ airships.netSeptember 12, 2009 11:22 AM

I am sorry to be somewhat repetitive of my earlier comment, but I still think this discussion is missing the point: Even if liquid explosives are, in fact, a practical means of destroying an aircraft, the airport security process should not be overly focused on one particular type of explosive IF such intense focus decreases the overall effectiveness of the search for explosives in general.

The proper goal of security is not to eliminate specific individual risks, but to reduce risk in general (to the greatest extent possible). If the focus on one particular risk decreases the overall ability to reduce risk in general, it is a bad idea.

AlexSeptember 13, 2009 6:00 PM

****crispy fried terrorist on the toilet wall****

A cabin fire is a critical event for a commercial aircraft, and is one of the worst case scenarios in ETOPS flight planning. Look at SR111.

Russell CokerSeptember 13, 2009 8:11 PM

As long as the TSA success rates of detecting bombs or ingredients for making them are below 95% the TSA is not doing any good at all. It seems quite viable for al Quaeda to send in 20 bombers to get one result.

An aircraft exploding over sea is much less of a problem than one that lands on people. 300 deaths is bad, but the death of everyone in a large building is a lot worse. Therefore if it was impossible to cause a plane to crash over land then the problem would be dramatically reduced. Also the risk would only apply to people who chose it (by getting on the plane). As has been noted people seem more afraid of risks where they have no control (such as having an aircraft fall from the sky on top of them).

I don't think that adding more things to the terrorist watch list is a bad idea. Maybe if they made a comprehensive list of everything that could be part of a bomb then they would realise the futility of it all.

Finally as long as they don't do crotch searches anyone can bring moderate quantities of any material on a plane. Why would a terrorist want a bottle of a liquid explosive that isn't THAT effective when they could have a good quantity of high explosive and a detonator hidden in their underpants?

It would be interesting if al Quaeda started using other attack methods. If al Quaeda started driving 4WD vehicles at high speeds on footpaths and in shopping malls (which could easily kill as many people as the London bombings) would the government try to band 4WDs?

Clive RobinsonSeptember 14, 2009 1:43 AM

@ Alex,

"A cabin fire is a critical event for a commercial aircraft"

And thankfully most explosions from explosives don't cause fires, and in some cases actually put them out

It is to do in part with the thermodynamics of the materials involved and the "thermal inertia" effects v the propergation speed of the shock wave front.

Or to put it more simply the blast wave moves the oxygen away faster than the heat of the explosion can cause any additional incidental fuel to ignite.

The "crispy fried terrorist" is essentially raw meat mechanicaly disrupted across the toilet wall with the crispy bits being surface surface melting and charing from flash burns.

Clive RobinsonSeptember 14, 2009 2:13 AM

@ Russell Coker,

"As long as the TSA success rates of detecting bombs or ingredients for making them are below 95% the TSA is not doing any good at all."

Actually the TSA has already been soundly defeted by the terrorists and there was absolutly nothing they could have done, and we are paying the price.

It is to do with "assumptions" and the terrorists have out evolved the beurocracy.

Ask yourself a simple question,

Did the liquid bomers even get near an airport let alone an aircraft?

The answer to this as we know is no. So ask a second question,

Would the current results we see from their (alleged) actions actually have been any different if an aircrat had been brought down?

And I suspect the answer again would be no.

So without even going near an airport let alone a flying aircraft we have an (alleged) terrorist action that has had the same effect as though it had succeded...

There are two points that arise from this,

1, The threat of an attack has the same longterm effect as an actual attack (but without people being killed etc).

2, The threat does not even have to be credable or even real, the authorities only have to act as though it was.

And on a historical note remember that Stalin had "show trials", as did good old "reds under the bed" Senetor Mcathy.

So a final question arises,

Does there actually have to be any real terrorists, for the funds to flow to the DHS and thereby cripple the US economy to the detriment of all?

I guess you could say,

"Will the last member of the TSA turn the lights out in the USA before they leave"...

MarkSeptember 14, 2009 1:29 PM

@thickone77
As for TSA effectiveness and your math, one question: How many planes were brought down by bombs during the 8 years *prior* to September 11th 2001? I can phrase the same concept differently: Where are the 3 bombers the TSA has intercepted in screening in your 8 post 9/11/01 years?

Presumably you are only considering aviation in the US.
Since two airliners were brought down by suicide bombers on the 24th of August 2004.

MarkSeptember 14, 2009 1:35 PM

@Mapes
That amount of damage does not necessarily dictate catastrophic failure. In fact planes have flown after losing the entire roof of the first class section.

However AFAIK no aircraft has survived with similar damage to the bottom of the fuselage. Because the way most aircraft are constructed this is part of the primary structure of the aircraft. (With the exception of turboprops and the 146.) On the typical jet the worst place for a bomb to be is in the cargo hold.

MarkSeptember 14, 2009 1:43 PM

@Some Yank

Didn't the BBC also once fake an explosion for Cesium or Francium to show what "should've" happened when they were mixed with water?

IIRC that was "Brainiac" on Sky One.
Presumably you mean Rubidium and Cesium, since getting enough Francium to do any chemistry would be a major task :)

mickjoebillSeptember 16, 2009 11:43 PM

I was involved in filming this test and it was not faked.
ABC USA was part of the test and they have their own report on it.
Also ITN filmed their own test a week later which I was also involved in, we used the other half of the BA146 airframe!
Google will find the abc and itn tests.


The same explosives expert had done a similar test years ago for a BBC documentary with similar result.
His reputation puts him beyond reproach. So all in all 5 senior journalists from three networks would have to have the wool pulled over their eyes, not to mention contractual arrangements for the expert to make a device with XY and Z ingredients...

It is not a surprise that it worked, (the mixture was used commercially at the turn of the century), but it nontheless shocking that it worked with such effect.
He mixed it in about 10 minutes put a detonator on it and it went bang.
It smelt like a hairdressers salon after the event.
The water bottle was there to wash down any spills.

Passengers should be well informed and know what to look for, which is why I am replying to this forum given the questions raised about the tests.
So if you are on a flight and see someone fiddling with a liquid bottle some wires, tape and a battery don't think twice about acting.
Such vigilance may deter the use of such devices!


mickjoebill

PaulSeptember 17, 2009 10:22 AM

"So if you are on a flight and see someone fiddling with a liquid bottle some wires, tape and a battery don't think twice about acting."

Hopefully the poor soul you lynch isn't just changing the batteries in an mp3 player while taking a sip from their water bottle.

Wait, that means taking context into account...that would be silly! CONSTANT VIGILANCE! BE AFRAID, TERRORISTS ARE EVERYWHERE!

mickjoebillSeptember 17, 2009 9:10 PM

Paul, a bottle with wires and something to power the detonator (like a flash camera) taped to the bottle is what you need to be concerned about. This ensemble probably wouldn't make it through a xray screening so needs to be assembled on board.

I agree that there are not terrorists everywhere, however the level of vigilance need be no more than what is in our subconscious to trigger an alert for criminal or other suspicious behavior.

Before the shoe bomber was caught who would have taken just a curious interest of a passenger fiddling with a piece of string (fuse) and holding a lighter?
or before the 7/7 bombings who would be suspicious of a guy with a backpack smelling of peroxide?

Forewarned is forearmed.


mickjoebill

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