More Movie Plot Terrorist Threats

The Foreign Policy website has its own list of movie-plot threats: machine-gun wielding terrorists on paragliders, disease-laden insect swarms, a dirty bomb made from smoke detector parts, planning via online games, and botulinum in the food supply. The site fleshes these threats out a bit, but it's nothing regular readers of this blog can't imagine for themselves.

Maybe they should have their own movie-plot threat contest.

Posted on February 2, 2010 at 6:34 AM • 52 Comments

Comments

shadowfirebirdFebruary 1, 2010 7:07 AM

I can personally think of three really unpleasant, workable ways for a terrorist group to cause complete havoc. One of them involves hardly any risk to the terrorists involved. All of them would put the fear of the god-of-your-choice into everyone in the UK.

Now, I can't claim to be especially good at security thinking. Nor do I spend my days thinking about this stuff. So I ask myself:

1) Why aren't the terrorists already doing these things?

2) How safe is it to actually discuss these presumably-non-movie-plot threats?

Of course it may be that 'my' ideas are not workable. But they are non of them complicated or difficult. My working answers to these questions are (1) because I don't understand terrorists' goals and (2) not safe at all, for various reasons.

Anyone else have non-movie-plot-threats that they feel uncomfortable talking about?

BF SkinnerFebruary 2, 2010 6:52 AM

@shadowfirebird "1 and 2"

1 - Because there just aren't that many terrorists, the current wars have disrupted some networks and capabilities and/or these are people killing over local issues in thier current country of choice. For instance Bin Laden is on record saying he's surprised the US believes he wants to kill them all when his demands are pretty consistent...though these days he's an enviornmentalist for some reason.

2 - Pretty safe. If you say anything it's likely not to be a new scenario. A scenario unconsidered by either terrorists or security. Don't advocate for it.

Personally I saw the 3 states region around DC tied up and scared for weeks. One rifle, 2 gunmen, 1 box of bullets, a car. No, really. 70 miles away school children were made to keep their heads down in their school buses going home because theree was "a sniper...somewhere"

ytFebruary 2, 2010 8:17 AM

@shadowfirebird: whenever I discuss hypothetical scenarios, I generally preface my thoughts with "If I were a terrorist-which I am not-" for the benefit of anyone who may be listening. Hardly magic words, and I I know it probably wouldn't stand up in court, but I try to make my intentions clear.

From the article: "Luckily, the likelihood of a successful attack [involving contamination of the food supply] can be heavily mitigated through strong regulations and testing by large-scale food distributors -- something that already happens anyway."

I'm not so sure I trust the regulations and testing that are currently in place. Look at the peanut butter salmonella contamination incident from 2008-2009. Just tracking where the contaminated peanut products ended up was a nightmare. There was a significant period during which nobody was quite sure which products were safe, which could certainly lead to panic. Granted, only 700 infections and 9 deaths were reported, but I'm sure there were some people who were exposed without developing symptoms or who didn't attribute their symptoms to food poisoning. I think there's a reasonable chance of doing some serious damage by contaminating a widely-used product with something more infectious and deadly than salmonella. I would label this one plausible.

NachoFebruary 2, 2010 8:38 AM

I think if I were a terrorist ­­–which I'm not– (thanks yt) I would just bomb the queues at airport security. "Not even our security is secure anymore!"

FPFebruary 2, 2010 8:54 AM

Shooting people from a paraglider is plausible. It would be near impossible within any larger city as you could not descend beneath the rooftops, and highly ineffective since it's easy to run away and hide. But think of the feeding frenzy for the media that would result.

They say that 1g botox could kill hundreds of thousands but don't talk about the impossibility of distribution.

My own movie plot also involves a dirty bomb, not from smoke detectors but from used depleted uranium shells fired in Iraq or the Balkan. Ground into a fine power it wouldn't kill anyone but would have many running scared.

SomeoneFebruary 2, 2010 8:56 AM

A news article recently made the rounds warning of "Surgical Bombs" being implanted and set off my syringes infecting TATP into them. Google news will find it for you. Everyone panic.

spaceman spiffFebruary 2, 2010 9:30 AM

Hey, someone has to come up with ideas for next season's "24", otherwise poor old Jack would just have to torture kittens - "You're going to tell me! Where is the mouse! ... zap! ... Where is the mouse! ... zap! ... What did you do with the mouse!"

jgrecoFebruary 2, 2010 9:39 AM

Someone has suggested it before, I believe here, but if you were to take a pocket full of of change and highly irradiate it, then start putting it back into circulation you could probably cause a fair amount of havoc. The more change you do it with, the better, and if you restrict yourself to only using a certain type of coin you could create a pattern to be discovered. The media would go bananas with a "radioactive nickels" story, but actually using that pattern to solve the problem would be hopeless (you can't really just decirculate all nickels overnight)

This general principle could probably be applied in any number of ways. Make everyday objects dangerous in a very dramatic manner, and create a pattern that can be reported, but not really acted upon. Intentially causing another peanut butter poisoning incident, as mentioned above by yt, would fall into this catagory of plots.

Food and money are both prime canidates since everyone uses both of them, but there are probably other examples as well.

DavidFebruary 2, 2010 9:53 AM

@FP: Not all uranium is radioactive enough to be a problem, and the depleted uranium rounds are specifically intended to not have enough radiation to matter.

The real dangers from that would be (1) heavy metal poisoning (which is a real danger with U-238), and (2) media hype.

Brandioch ConnerFebruary 2, 2010 10:13 AM

@Adam Shostack
Those aren't the same.

In the article you reference, the glider was used to transport the terrorist from point A to point B.

In the other article, the gliders are used as an aerial platform which allows the terrorist to attack targets below him.

That's what makes it a movie plot threat.

WinterFebruary 2, 2010 10:21 AM

Simple response.

All of the easy ways for wrecking havoc have been developed before. Our armies rely on guns and bombs for good reasons.

- Neither biological nor chemical weapons are effective, but they do scare
- For any purpose, an explosive bomb is simply more effective
- For any alternative, more people can be killed by conventional explosives for the same effort
- If commercial explosives are impractical, bullets are the second best option
- Shooting while moving is an exception to the previous point

I would like to point out that producing weapons grade chemical or biological agents is really, really difficult. Aum Shinrikyo and Bruce Edwards Ivins showed it can be done, just barely. These also showed how ineffective these were. A single bomb would have killed many more people in both cases. Even sending letter bombs seem to be more effective.

Winter

AnonymouseFebruary 2, 2010 10:23 AM

If I were a terrorist - which I am not - I wouldn't really attack anyone. With today's terror paranoia, it is more than enough to give out anonymous terror threats for major events (from stolen cell phones that are destroyed after the use, for example). I could then watch from a safe distance how this event is closed down, uncomforting thousands and thousands of victims, maybe eventually causing a mass panic with dozens of dead bodies when the threat call got to the right target.

George HamptonFebruary 2, 2010 10:41 AM

If I were a terrorist - which I am not - I would put together an unauthorized "gorilla" marketing campaign for a cartoon using a panel of LEDs and leave them in public places in major cities. I would then sit back and laugh at the silly infidels.

Professor chaosFebruary 2, 2010 11:04 AM

My plan would be to leak stories of increasingly bizarre plots to the media so that more and more extreme security measures are put in place until the entire country grinds to a halt.
I would then make everyone hate foreigners so that no foreigners want to live, study or work here - might have to accidentally shot a few foreigners on the subway / arrest some students for using Linux - but eventually we should be able to stop all science and technology innovation.

Then I will make sure nobody ever dares leave their SUVs and children are never allowed outside.

Soon the country will be populated by obese, uneducated morons who are barely able to walk.

Then my crack legions of hockey players will swoop down from the north and take over the country.

Only problem is why we would want to?

NobodyFebruary 2, 2010 11:09 AM

@Nacho
That's my only real bomb concern.

My local airport built a new security area, you queue up with 100s of others in a long concrete underpass to reach the security screening.
One backpack of C4 + nails would kill more people than bringing down a 747 - and this is before any sort of screening.

It's a perfect target, how would you respond? More screening and longer lines = more people in the same area.

a February 2, 2010 11:44 AM

For airport security (theatre), an interesting plot would be having explosive ID cards and/or passports...

JRRFebruary 2, 2010 1:05 PM

@George Hampton:
"guerrilla" - means "Little war" in Spanish.

Gorilla is from a Greek story referring to a specific tribe of hairy women.

Gorillas are animals. Guerrillas are entirely different things.

mooFebruary 2, 2010 1:24 PM

@Nacho, Nobody:
The "blow up the security line" threat is suggested on this blog over and over, at least once a week. I've probably posted it here a few times myself (yay groupthink?). And yet, so far as we know no terrorist has tried to carry out this simple and obvious plot (which presumably would a high chance to succeed, and undoubtedly cause a bunch of mass hysteria in the West *even if the bombing attempt itself failed*).

What conclusions could we draw from this? At least two likely things occur to me: (1) there just aren't very many international terrorists out there who are running around trying to blow things up, and/or (2) any real terrorists that DO exist, probably have very different motivations from the ones that most Westerners assume they have. If their real goals are to demonize the U.S. and use them to recruit more local followers in their home countries, thus building their own power base... then they apparently don't need to stoop to blowing up shopping malls (or security lineups) in Western countries. Maybe grandiose suicide plots--smuggle bomb onto airliner, blow self and airliner up--are somehow easier to recruit for, than mundane plots. Anyway, I assume that the real security/intelligence people (i.e. not the TSA et al.) have some better ideas of what they are truly up against, than the general population of blog commenters. I hope they are focusing their efforts and their resources, on things that will actually make a difference.

Carl "SAI" MitchellFebruary 2, 2010 1:38 PM

If I were a terrorist, - which I am not - I would get elected to a major office and instill fear in the people about the risk of terrorist attacks and child-predators.

Also, bombing security checkpoints is the most obvious "good idea" target out there. I've always been surprised they don't get attacked more, but then I realized that having the checkpoints helps instill fear in the populace, and thus helps the terrorists. Once the terrorizing effect of security is less than the effect of bombing security we will see security bombed.

JimFiveFebruary 2, 2010 2:02 PM

In the end, the reason the terrorists don't attack checkpoints is because (for the most part) arbitrary people ARE NOT the target. On Sept. 11, the target was a building that symbolized the global hegemony of the US. The plane was a tool and the people on the plane a hindrance. Occasionally (Perhaps the Christmas eve plot(was it a plot? that is, was there a conspiracy that plotted it)), the purpose is 'terror' in which case getting the device past security is part of the effect. If you just blew up the line then people would say "security must be working, let's move it back to the entrance doors"
--
JimFive

Clive RobinsonFebruary 2, 2010 2:51 PM

@ BF Skinner,

"One rifle, 2 gunmen, 1 box of bullets, a car. No, really. 70 miles away school children were made to keep their heads down in their school buses going home because theree was "a sniper...somewhere"

A little "story" for you,

Many years ago when wearing the green, I was considered the right sort to be trained up as a sniper/observer.

The first think they taught you was there are three types of shooting,

1, Shoot to scare (covering fire).
2, Shoot to wound (standard grunt "tactical" fire).
3 Shoot to Kill (sniper "stratigic" fire).

It was pointed out that a 5GBP round of 0.5 high load could if put through the right persons head stop an entire advance (and had done with examples given).

It was also pointed out outside of the class room that if you where behind enemy lines and you happened to shoot the cook or pay Sgt's wedding tackle off whilst they where doing their business squatting at the lat trenches you could render all those troops alternatly constipated and 5h1t scared and thus worthless as a fighting force, and incapable of getting the R&R they where pulled out for.

Snipers are without a doubt the most feared of foot soldiers and can tie down vast areas of land (16sq miles) as "long gun fever" is debilitating to the point where troops actually start hurting themselves.

It is one of the reasons snipers don't survive interogation...

ElseFebruary 2, 2010 3:04 PM

"Maybe they should have their own movie-plot threat contest."

They already did; we all lost.

Clive RobinsonFebruary 2, 2010 3:16 PM

@ David,

"@FP: Not all uranium is radioactive enough to be a problem, and the depleted uranium rounds are specifically intended to not have enough radiation to matter.

The real dangers from that would be (1) heavy metal poisoning (which is a real danger with U-238), and (2) media hype.

I can think of another use involving two small rounds (0.5 JPMG Rounds) a length of glass tube, three rare earth magnets and a 500W or more 10KV arc and draw down generator.

Oh you will also need a "getter wire" and a good quality vacume pump.

In as inert an atmospher as you can get machine a 45 degree flat on one bullet (anode) and leave the point on the other but machine of the oxide layer (uranium is funny stuff so don't machine it with oxygen present).

Make a good "vacume" seal around the anode bullet and the same with the cathode bullet and getter wire. Draw out as much "air" as possible with the vacume pump and seal off,

Fire the getter wire to remove any other impurities left in the tube (and you should end u with a nice mirror finish on the inside of the tube at the cathode end.

Now place the three rare earth magnets in the right place and fire up the high voltage generator and stand well back (lead underpants are good) adjust magnets and current to give you the best output.

Turn off glue the magnets in place and mount a heat sink on the anode bullet.

Find some public place to mount it around about 4ft 6in of the ground and a reliable power mains supply. Turn on shut the door and walk away...

Peter E RetepFebruary 2, 2010 3:48 PM

@shadowfiredbird

When the US Intel agencies offered to assist private domestic corporate awareness
in how to use intel reports, the following caveat was specifically appended -
(do not have it word for word from memory) - but:

you may on accasion discover a vulnerability or hazard which might spell the end of, or threaten the survival of, the world, the nation, your economic sector, etc.

DO NOT PANIC [-D Addams]

We in the real world of Intel encounter and resolve these almost weekly.

Now there's a comfort for you...

NobdoyFebruary 2, 2010 3:50 PM

@JimFive
>because (for the most part) arbitrary >people ARE NOT the target.
They were for the IRA, ETA and the domestic muslim terrorists in London. The idea is to attack normal people as a way of putting pressure on the politicians.

If you bomb an army base or the pentagon the government has an easy choice to stand up to you.
If you bomb shopping centers and public transport the population gets fed up of not being able to live their normal lives and starts asking the politicians if occupying some foreign country is worth it.

ScaredFebruary 2, 2010 5:03 PM

I like the smoke detector bomb plot.
I can just imagine waiting in line in Costco behind the 100 terrorists with shopping carts filled up with smoke detectors. Wait, there would probably be more casualties just from the riots when the food samples got blocked off.

Clive RobinsonFebruary 2, 2010 5:13 PM

@ moo,

"And yet, so far as we know no terrorist has tried to carry out this simple and obvious plot (which presumably would a high chance to succeed, and undoubtedly cause a bunch of mass hysteria in the West *even if the bombing attempt itself failed*)."

You are forgetting Dr's Barbi and Prawn who tried a little cooking show at Glasgow Airport in Scotland (forgetting barbi's indoors realy are messy and get people hot under the collar).

I think you might have missed a point or two.

First off Capt. Underpants and Cpl Hotfoot, are not exactly what you would describe as "bright lights" in the corridor.

As I've said in the past they are not the sort of people you'd want to go into battle with unless you where immediatly behind them (if you know what I mean).

You just get the feeling that if they put on a turban it would end up wrapped around their ankles within thirty paces.

It is why I say they are patsis who basicaly where destined to fail at whatever they did, and where used as such by people with a lot more common sense.

So somebody very sensibly kept them issolated and fed their "walter mitty" tendancies. Before sending them out with devices that realy had little chance of doing any real damage in their hands (or anybody elses for that matter).

Nobody (apart from them) gets hurt, so no adverse publicity back home and the world gets a dramatic story to publish. Various Governments immediatly make idiots of themselves and the real terrorists and their sponsors/controlers have a good old laugh about it.

If you look at all the (reported) aviation attacks after 9/11, the plots have been either "far out" or carried out by people entirely on their own.

In the mean time the worthwhile recruits are busy doing IEDs etc etc and sending body bags back to the US/UK.
/et al.

Osama bin Laden basicaly slaped the US in the face and the politicos at the time walked right into the trap and sent ill prepared troups in to go and fight on his chosen battle field.

Here we are after what 7 years still fighting and still taking casualties, spending tens of billions of tax payers money fighting what? And for what?

As they say "Go figure that one..."

MoeFebruary 2, 2010 6:14 PM

I'm still surprised they haven't noticed how, politically, we have to drop everything for every single threat, no matter what the cost. That has "denial of service" written all over it.

But scared people aren't rational. I think that's the root of our problem.

ytFebruary 3, 2010 2:36 AM

@Scared: "I like the smoke detector bomb plot. I can just imagine waiting in line in Costco behind the 100 terrorists with shopping carts filled up with smoke detectors."

I realize you meant that as humor, but actually there would be much easier ways to get large quantities of smoke detectors, relatively unnoticed. Two that come to mind are:

1. Fire departments in the USA often give away free smoke detectors to anyone who needs them to encourage smoke detector use. I'm sure they buy them/have them donated in bulk. You just need one of your co-conspirators to become a volunteer firefighter.

2. Smoke detector recycling. I don't think this is common in the USA, but in other countries you can't just throw that kind of thing in the trash. You could set up a fake smoke detector recycling drop box.

Of course, as the article points out, the amount of Americium-241 in each smoke detector is so minute that you would have a very difficult time collecting enough to do any serious damage. There are easier ways to cause terror.

PWFebruary 3, 2010 3:20 AM

Surely the easiest way to leverage radioactive materials in a terrorist attack is not to use them, just convince the authorities that you have.

G StradlingFebruary 3, 2010 4:04 AM

Movie Plot Terror?

Step 1) Become Prime Minister,
Step 2) Lie to the parliament about weapons of mass destruction
Step 3).......

BF SkinnerFebruary 3, 2010 6:58 AM

@moo "so far as we know no terrorist has tried to carry out this simple and obvious plot "

Wasn't there a red brigade faction or meir bandhof that rolled grenades into the airport in Italy or Germany? O bless the internet...

1972 Attack on Lod Airport by Japanese Red Army - machine guns and grenade used for suicide
1985 - Rome & Vienna - machine guns and grenades (PLO blamed but claims it's a false flag op)
2002 - Los Angles - weapon not specified and though the FBI calles it Terrorism it sounds like suicide by cop.
2008 Attack on Thai protestors

I'd say this is ... is common too strong a word? Class it as those attacks on people standing around (like the work queues at the police stations in Iraq)

BF SkinnerFebruary 3, 2010 7:07 AM

@g stradling "Step 2) Lie to the parliament about weapons of mass destruction"

And then admit during the inquiry by the next government that if the WMD hadn't been plausable you'd have given them another reason.

DavidFebruary 3, 2010 9:15 AM

@Clive: Your hookup sounds interesting, but I'm not enough of a physicist or electric engineer or whatever to visualize what it actually does (and I don't know what's the right place for the three rare earth magnets). Do I get a hint?

jgrecoFebruary 3, 2010 9:39 AM

@ PW at February 3, 2010 3:20 AM

Buy a piece of uranium ore off the internet, pick up an inert grenade at the local army surplus store, ducttape the grenade and uranium together and place in a public location. Sit back and enjoy*. For added effectiveness, throw an old broken cellphone, a few wires, and a label saying "warning - dirty bomb" into the mix.

*if you were a terrorist, which I am not.

mcbFebruary 3, 2010 10:23 AM

This idea of notifying everyone that you've dusted the neighbourhood with a crude "dirty bomb" lacks elegance. I half recall a radiological contamination scheme discussed in McPhee's The Curve of Binding Energy which involved a lump of something radioactive in a beaker of nitric acid on a hot plate next to an open window in a highrise building in major city (or sumsuch). If a fella were an extremist utilizing terror tactics to get his point across ("which I'm not") it seems to me his organisation would get more media mileage out of having radiation alarms going off around town without any obvious precipitating event and requiring a clean-up that involves looking for molecules.

Clive RobinsonFebruary 3, 2010 1:01 PM

@ Dave,

"Your hookup sounds interesting, but I'm not enough of a physicist or electric engineer or whatever to visualize what it actually does"

It is a low energy linear partical accelerator and works the same way an X-Ray tube.

The difference being instead of a water cooled tungstan target electrode you use a passivly cooled uranium target, and if you get the rest of it right you get neutrons not X-Rays.

The magnets (depending on which type) are used to focus the beam (look up "beam optics" on Wikipedia etc).

Unlike a CRT tube that uses a "thermionic emitter" which gives you a very high beam current, you are going for high acceleration (very high voltage) and you need a lower beam current to keep the power down.

If however you have a three phase 50KV 5KVA+ PSU (from an old RF plastic welding machine) then by all means go for a high beam current as well as high voltage to give you a high density high energy beam (in which case crack open a microwave oven magnatron and liberate it's thermionic electron source and use that as the cathode).

Which reminds me if you know what you are doing you can canablise a couple of microwave ovens to also add resonant beam acceleration cavities along the length of the tube (look up a klystron for more details). This will up the electron beam speed more effectivly that trying to raise the HV supply (basically the standing wave across the cavity has a very very high voltage and you need an idler cavity to get electron bunching going). But this is not something the average physics grad can do so you might want to give it a miss.

As for a power supply well this is a bit dodgy but works. If you rip out three microwave oven transformers, you can wire the primaries (110 or 240 V~) in parallel and the HV outputs in series. You then use the rectifiers and caps in the right way to make a voltage multiplier. You will however need to have a hunt around for the final HV cap. If you do it right you can quite easily get very high voltages to drive your tube.

Alternativly look on EBay or whatever for an old dentists or vets X-Ray machine.

If you run the device long enough the target head does indead become radioactive (as do X-Ray tube targets).

However the output of the device is enough to cause most detectors to do their nut if left in a public place...

@ Greg,

I think you've had a bit of experiance with such "toys" ever build your own?

MarkFebruary 3, 2010 1:01 PM

Riding the DC Metro (subway) to work, I get to hear a PSA over the loudspeaker every single day reminding me to look out for abandoned bags. "Excuse me, is that your bag? Such small words can mean so much."

Meanwhile, people are struck and killed by Metro trains on an alarmingly regular basis. Maybe they are too busy looking out for abandoned luggage. Since the hapless Metro rider is many many times more likely to be hit by a train than to ever come within 1000 yards of a terrorist, they ought to change the PSA to "Look out! A train is coming!"

DCFebruary 3, 2010 1:15 PM

As a nuclear physicist, nope, nothing you're going to make that easily will give neutrons enough to be actually scary (but media can distort anything). The photo-fission of uranium (any isotope) is very low cross section and inefficient, and takes megavolts.

On the other hand, a dental X ray unit the size of a lunch box would make enough X rays to be truly dangerous and would live awhile if pulsed on and off so it could cool some -- you'd have to limit duty cycle. They are often available surplus and run off 220v, no problems.

Peter A.February 3, 2010 1:52 PM

@DC:

Thanks for clarifying. Clive's neutron revelations have made me miss my bus (or two) home :-) Now I can stop googling frantically for this :-)

@Clive:

I have recognized your improvised device as a crude X-ray machine with a funny use of fired anti-tank ammo, but your second post really put me off track... I managed to google up some abstracts of articles about bremsstrahlung-induced fission but all were behind paywalls, so I could not see the numbers. Anyway, you owe my wife an apologize for me coming home late :-P

Thanks, guys. The Bruce's blog is always a good read, but sometimes it's too distracting ;-)

Clive RobinsonFebruary 4, 2010 1:46 AM

@ Doug C,

"nothing you're going to make that easily will give neutrons enough to be actually scary"

Just enough to trigger a few detectors though, this is a movie plot ;)

And as you say in reality the press would have a field day, they would drum up the "scary uranium" and how our troops just left it lying in the desert for easy "terorist access". They'ld then get some talking head in on one of the news channels to say the neutron radiation is "way way more scary" etc etc.

As for "make that easily" the hardest part is getting hold of a good vacum pump. You need a diffuser pump and the best source I've seen if you can afford them is for electron microscopes. The technique I used to use was to first flush the tube with an appropriate dry "inert atmosphere".

With regards the X-Rays yup that is the problem a dentist / vet X-Ray machine normaly is around ~50KV at 10-20mA which is around 1KW top side in to the bottle (tube ;) which does just require the old fashioned water cooling.

Mind you out of curiosity I'd be interested to see what heat pipes and passive cooling would do these days (works wonders on the 2U 1.5KW broadband FM amp test rig but there you are only looking at 250W of heat tops out of the pallets before other measures come into play).

Not sure what the NRPB tables show these days for X-Rays but yes a 5-15% duty cycle is not going to be good.

As the old Radar techs used to say "apple green can be seen" (soft X-Rays). It was also the old HF TX bottle / tube mantra to say you can stand a short distance from them reasonably safely. Mind you I'm old enough to have seen some of the early Colour TV LOPT bottles, that did indeed glow over and above the cathode, and they were used to be in peoples homes...

But having made a few bottles as working exhibit copies of pre WWII valves. (I was left an original via an old Ham relative and like an Xtal from a WWII spy set and post WWII spy set is a treasured possession). I was pleasently surprised at how "relativly" easy it was (klystrons where for obvious reasons pushing the envolope) but I managed to get a "John Randall & Harry Boot" style magnetron to work likewise a TWT style helix.

All of which was started off by building a helium neon laser (but that was cheating as I was assisting a friend who did the job and I was learning).

Mind you I'm a bit puzzled from what I remember of an earlier comment of yours (about a run in with a Three Letter Agency) I kind of assumed you dabled a bit in chemical research, (so I assume glass work is not unknown to you) but your comment above says "As a nuclear physicist"?

hwKeitelFebruary 4, 2010 3:16 AM

The paragliders threat reminds me of a story about three brothers, all three fled from the GDR (one after another). As far as I remember escaped the last one with a microlight.
His brothers, living in West Berlin, bought two gliders and educated themselves the flying. They painted red (soviet) stars on the wings, contacted the brother about time and place and the rest is history...

..Okay, they flew to a park (or a big lawn) in East Berlin, one alit while the other stayed in the air to overlook the situation (I think they had walkie-talkies). As soon as the first one touched down the third brother jumped out of a coppice and got in the microlight. On their way back to West Berlin they decidet to make a little sight-seeing tour and flew along the border before landing in West Berlin.

As long as noone proves the opposite, paragliders and microlights are a symbol of freedom to me.

There are other great storys about escaping from East Germany. One with a homemade balloon. The first attempt failed, but they tried a second time a had been successful.

JacobFebruary 4, 2010 9:15 AM

@Bruce
I just read where alqaeda has surgeons implanting explosive in breast implants.

I have no idea how this is going to be detected. The scanners would be hard pressed to figure this out. Maybe have the women immerse the bolt ons to check weight density?

I'm waiting for someone at the scanner to mistake a tampon for a fuse. :)

This horse has been beat into pate. But we cannot defend against what someone "could" come up with. The comments here illustrate how many different ways/place an attack could take shape. The real questions are:
1. What is reasonable precautions?
2. Is an expectation of no risk being sold by authorities to the public?
3. Is the public or politicians really prepared to grow up and say there is a risk. We will limit it as much as we can.

Unless you are willing to be probed like an alien abduction, go buck naked, drugged and loaded like cordwood onto the plane. Of course then you would have to worry about groppers, photographers, people remotely exploding, the pilot drinking, the airplane maintenance not being kept up, the plane going down due to a chinese EMP, or being hit by a meteorite.

Human being are not logical about risk, period. Although this group probably is more informed. (On good days) :)

DainelFebruary 4, 2010 1:01 PM

Why terrorists are not blowing up security queues?

T1: We should blow up those security queues those silly westerners have at their airports. It's been mentioned many times on blogs like schneier.com

T2: You stupid dolt. If we blow those up, then they will get rid of the queues. We want to make their lives harder, not easier.

BlueCollarCriticFebruary 4, 2010 1:42 PM

Why would a TRUE terrorist (not some idiot conned or bribed into something he is actually being setup to take the fall for like the under waer bomber whcih the FBI has admitted they were the ones who made sure he got onto the plane) do something with so much risk of failure for little pay off like getting a device surgically implanted when there are so many soft targets with little to no security that if hit would easily put more fear into us then anything that happens on an airplane? A real terrorist would certainly need to be mentally off to be willing to take the lives of otehrs for no more reaosn then to strike terror but that alone does not mean that they are stupid. The terrorist acts goin on in Israel and similiar Middle East areas are not on international air flights or at airpost but at malls and public streets, places traditionally reffered to as soft targets because of their low security and high impact (on lives).

Our country as got the 'Terror Fever' and the governement and politicians are more then hapy to feed that fever and use the resulting effect to drive forward their own personal agendas and goals of more government control and less individual libertys and freedom of the populous. The more control they [government] have the more guarantees they posses of job security and personal monetary gain.

The modern day pop culture experience from TV to movies has conditioned us to buy into nonsense ideas that are grand parents would have laughed at and labeled horse sh..

jacobFebruary 4, 2010 1:55 PM

@bluecollorcritic
I would respectfully disagree. A "true" terriorist will make mistakes in judgement precisely because they are unbalanced. I think you are giving the terrorists more credit than they deserve.

I was joking a little about the futility of searching for any possibility. Our grandparents would have shaken their head over the shoe bomber, underwear bomber. Why send a valuable resourse like Osama when you can send a flunkie that couldn't operate a rifle with instructions. They pick teams in Afghanistan after all. One for the low chance of success and the other for planning and actually doing something big, like dirty bombs. Basically, I would call recent events just AlQaeda tossing bodies over the wall at us. Maybe it works, maybe not. They still keep attention steady.

I would actually hope that pop culture would teach us to be disrespectful of authority, and distrustful of all of them.
The older generation may have thought that the authorities must know something we don't.

We should know by now that they are ****ed.

StuFebruary 5, 2010 8:17 AM

I really believe that the people who wish to do us harm far prefer the methods which create the biggest scene, which is typically explosion/deaths. Bioterrorism, dirty bomb, etc. -- all "have their place", but they're not (for lack of a better term) sexy.
Scenes on the television of bodies/smoke/fire do it for the baddies. The others? Not much excitement, even if the casualty numbers are high. Many or most people from radiological/bio attacks will die in a hospital, or at home. Makes for lousy television, and is viscerally much less agitating, in many ways.

nic0macFebruary 5, 2010 10:10 AM

How would I try and cause mass panic? How about if I cracked one of the chips in the drive by wire accelerators in a common popular car and caused it to accelerate wildly at a random time, produce several hundred of these chips then install them during test drives at the dealer or during attempted thefts of the car. results would simply be lots of people scared to drive their car.

Leave a comment

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

Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.

Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Co3 Systems, Inc..