Z May 9, 2012 10:46 AM

Bruce, if the position were offered to you, would you ever consider being the Secretary of Homeland Security?

Joshua R. Poulson May 9, 2012 10:46 AM

The fact that the plot was foiled by a double agent meant that publicity of the entire affair was a conscious decision. Imagine how much more useful it would have been to “arrest” and disappear the double agent with absolutely no feedback to the terrorists.

B. D. Johnson May 9, 2012 10:52 AM



found a bomb


that might have been used for


just like

    another attempt that was overhyped.

It’s terror attack scare story Madlibs!

A non-specific “anti-terrorist” group: U.S. and other intelligence agencies
A location people think all terrorists live: Yemen
A believable method of attack: suicide attack on a plane
The last time we played this game: 2009 in Detroit

Dave Walker May 9, 2012 10:55 AM

This reminds me of a story which surfaced post-Stormont, that for a number of years some double-digit percentage (and the first digit wasn’t a 1, either) of the IRA had been working with the British Security Services, “one way or another” (presumably as plants or moles).

However, the story only emerged when it did, and seemingly before RIRA and CIRA started “doing their thing”. I sincerely hope that this story is being broken at a time deemed similarly appropriate…

blaughw May 9, 2012 10:57 AM


“Every time we think we have them, they come up with something new,” said Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Peter King, R-New York.


rob May 9, 2012 10:59 AM

Much like the FBI fabricating plots domestically, the first thing that leapt to mind when I read the “double agent” thing was that this was an international version of the same thing. I bet if one dug deeply enough one would find that this plot didn’t exist or have teeth until the double agent arrived to fire it all up. And then, of course, to make sure there was an arrest and lots of pro-body-scanner publicity.

AlanS May 9, 2012 11:38 AM

@SteveS @Poulson

Yes, obviously drawing the wrong conclusion. Quoting from the CNN story linked to by Steve:

“A foiled plot to sneak a bomb through airport checkpoints and onto a plane bound for the United States calls attention to gaps in screening measures that are supposed to detect threats airport metal detectors miss. Outside the United States, the controversial body-scanning technology is not widely used, security experts say. But they say it is the best way to detect plastic explosives hidden on people boarding airplanes.”

Who are these experts one wonders?

As Bruce has pointed out, the trouble, at least from a political perspective, with effective measures is that they are mostly invisible: “The best defences against terrorism are largely invisible…Our most effective defences are at the beginning and end of that process — intelligence, investigation, and emergency response — and least effective when they require us to guess the plot correctly.” ( And as Poulson suggests above, what this event may show is that there are people who will compromise the invisible methods that work at the beginning for the sake of publicity and to promote more plot-guessing security theater approaches.

The compulsion for security theater doesn’t just result in fake security improvements; it degrades security.

MikeA May 9, 2012 12:14 PM

This morning’s radio news had a teaser (I did not hear the actual story) about how a scanner that would detect the new bombs had not been deployed, but was “sitting in a warehouse in Texas”, so I’m guessing that this report is about a meaningful as a pop-up “virus alert”, except that we don’t have a choice whether to accept the offer or not.

Anon May 9, 2012 12:24 PM

OTOH, operations that [might have] involved intelligence gathering, analysis, and a one-time targeted response are the kind we might reservedly applaud.

kashmarek May 9, 2012 12:34 PM

When I first heard this story, I thought security theater and wouldn’t be surprised if there was an inside agent involved. Yup, sure ’nuff. Much like the FBI scenarios here in the U.S. They seriously need hype to keep the program going to get money from Congress. Why bother with the charade, just lie to Congress like they do anyway and take the money from the suckers.

Count0 May 9, 2012 12:54 PM

Even if you take this story fully at face value (which I don’t), what caught the so called terrorists? It certainly was not the TSA. I think this actually proves the point that the TSA really doesn’t do much at all. Ms. Napolitano can drone on and on about impregnable multilayer security the TSA says they have, be we all know, if this device had made it to an airport, it would have been up for the passengers of the plane to stop it.

Randy May 9, 2012 1:03 PM

Since this story broke there have been two other news reports about TSA related events that don’t normally get reported.

One was a passenger that patted a TSA agent in the same manner that she was being patted down. She was arrested for assault.

The other was a man who had a loaded gun in his carry-on. This isn’t news because it happens about 10 times each week all over the country. The TSA’s blog reports these each week to show how great they are…but you already know this.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this story broke and these incidences are reported in the same week. A budget must be up for a vote.

Move along. Nothing to see here,

No One May 9, 2012 1:30 PM

@Randy: The woman “assaulting” the TSA officer is amazing. Where do I sign up for her newsletter!

HiTechHiTouch May 9, 2012 2:23 PM

From what I’ve read, it looks like the defense will mention “entrapment”.

In other words, what was the real chance that an effective bomb would have been deployed, without the help of the authorities?

“Hey, we’re protecting you! Watch us give someone a bomb and then arrest them! That bomb we gave them is one less bomb for you to fear!”

Scared May 9, 2012 2:40 PM

Note how the bomb is described as “non-metallic”.

It’s now obvious to everybody that simple metal detectors are not enough, contrary to what is claimed by certain security bloggers.

And “Body-scanning technology to detect threats not widely used abroad’, so all you wimpy foreigners, put down your freedom fries and grab your checkbook and place your orders before someone tries to sneak in a nonmetallic sock bomb.

Figureitout May 9, 2012 2:41 PM


Nonetheless, it will be used to justify more invasive airport security.

…Or a full-blown Yemen invasion…So drink up on your “Victory Gin” as we shift gears from fighting Eastasia (Iraq/Afghanistan) to Eurasia (Yemen/Pakistan). Be sure to thank your masters for “Frawress Bictory”.

You hear about a drone strike killing a top AQ leader nearly every month but “they’re metastasizing and morphing, and we can’t let our guard down” from an “enemy” that is so preposterously out-gunned, out-funded, out-manned, and is being infiltrated, tracked, and drone-bombed out the wazoo.

Only losers would be unable to defeat this “enemy” with all the advantages they possess.

In the meantime, I’m going back to do as I am told by my masters and spy on my neighbors for infidels…if I “see something”, I will “say something”.

Mark May 9, 2012 3:13 PM

I’ve worked at Schiphol Airport for a considerable amount of time. All Northwest USA bound flights had (and still do for Delta now) a rigorous pre-boarding inspection, complete with a personal interview prior to entering the gate holding area. The fact that this traveler, without proper papers, was able to board the flight is suspicious enough in itself. Never has this been questioned in the media (not in the Netherlands).

Victor May 9, 2012 5:21 PM

From the FBI press release:

“The device never presented a threat to public safety… ”

Enough said.

Adam May 9, 2012 6:20 PM

The news item I saw about this (from the BBC) indicated that the device “would have been difficult to detect even with careful security checks”. Which is basically equivalent to saying ‘the security screening is useless against terrorists’.

If this is real, and not an entrapment-type thing, as some people are suggesting, then it just vindicates Bruce’s stated view that the best thing to do against terrorism is to invest in the intelligence services, not airport screening.

Dirk Praet May 9, 2012 6:48 PM

@ No One

I can already visualize a Weird Al Yankovic video clip on the TSA, covering The Divinyls’ “When I think about you I pat myself”.

On the story itself: they must be getting pretty desperate for reporting foiled terrorist plots if all they can come up with is one involving a double agent. Since when has it become policy to actually smear out undercover operations like this in the media ? As one commenter correctly hypothesizes: some budget renewal vote is most probably coming up soon.

Clive Robinson May 9, 2012 7:08 PM

@ Scared,

It’s now obvious to everybody that simple meta detectors are not enough, contrary to what is claimed by certain security bloggers

Can you name one incident where an explosive bomb (not seting fire to gas canisters) without metal in it has been successfully exploaded in a AQ or other terrorist plot?

Over on last Fridays squid page I left a posting about the problems with detonators and put down a challenge for people to make a “reliable friction match” from chemicals available to them (not by grinding up existing match heads).

The problem with detonating the main charge of a bomb without using any metal is converting simple low energy mechanical or chemical energy into released energy of the right level and rise time (for instance putting a blow torch on C4 and many other explosives will cause it to burn not explode, and hitting it with a hammer will just flatten it out).

As anyone who has tried to do this for real will tell you it’s actually very difficult. What you need to do is form an explosive/detonation train/chain.

These normaly start with a barely stable explosive such as a fulminate or chlorate on an easily deformable metal plate or electrical heating element (but this needs metal…) which then sets of another small quantity of another not quite as unstable explosive which provides greater energy. This may be in a small preasure vessel designed to burst in a predictable way (to initiate another more stable explosive) or it may use a graded mixture of two explosives. The result is usually sufficient energy with a fast enough rise time to ensure actual detonation of the main charge, if the main charge is a marginaly stable explosive. However if it’s a comercial explosive or military explosive these are usually designed to be very stable and thus another stage may be required. And in normal train/chain designs there is usually an “arming cut out” to prevent accidental initiation of the first and second stages reaching later stages thus hopefully preventing the main charge going of in the middle of a stack of prepared for deployment weapons as they are being loaded onto or into the delivery system.

You could try making a “homemade chain” using say conc sulfuric acid, sugar and a good old fashioned weed killer by carefully grading the suar and weed killer you could hopefully if you can find a sturdy enough non metalic pipe get it to set off one of several unstable but high energy explosives you can “make in the bath”. Alternativly you could use a piece of very strong thread with a few knots on it and embed it a “made in the bath” explosive to rip out like a “party popper”, but it might be easier to modify a part popper…

Dirk Praet May 9, 2012 7:28 PM

@ Scared

It’s now obvious to everybody that simple metal detectors are not enough, contrary to what is claimed by certain security bloggers

It’s probably pointless to reiterate all the arguments on the subject that have passed on this forum over the last couple of years. The real issue here is at which point does the cure become worse than the disease ? From where I’m sitting, there was exactly no reason to make this story public other than renewing the terrorist scare so existing budgets for more security theatre not only can be renewed but even increased.

Clive Robinson May 9, 2012 7:45 PM

It is interesting to note that the early reports on this story indicated that it was not actually a US operation but one carried out by a US allie and the agent was native to the region and drove across the boarder with the device, further that the device was flown to the US so that they could examine it….

Now assuming that is true, it suggests that it might well have been a Saudi who was the agent under the control of the Saudi Intel service. I guess most people remember the “ass bomber” which came very close to “offing” a member of the Saudi rulling elite and head of their intel service, was the brother of the person who supposadly designed this new device.

Now unlike the British Intel services who have had enough of the US blowing under cover operations for purely political reasons the Saudi’s are still quite amenable to this.

Therfore at a guess I would say it is not unlikely that it was a Saudi operation from start to finish aimed specifficaly at getting the bomb designer. However it is has been indicated that he may have gone on to “another place” when a drone got close.

If this is true then a Saudi operation to get him has lost it’s prime objective, so they might well have little reason to keep the operation going anyway.

There’s a few “ifs” there but if the operation was real (as opposed to a fund raiser) it makes more sense of what has been said than the other scenarios suggested.

Another indicator of it not being a US operation is the way the information is comming out in the US and how first the CIA and now the FBI and other agencies appear to be grabing a piece of “Victory pie” whilst there is still a few crumbs left on the plate.

Over all as I said on the Friday Squid page it has a lot of hallmarks of a “fund raiser” operation the question being by who and for whom…

it might just be a few self interested US TLA seniors doing it as a way to ensure the “nearly nude” scanners keep being purchased, or it might as others have suggested been a political campaign booster.

Of one thing I feel reasonably sure is we are not going to find out any time soon if ever…

cox May 9, 2012 7:49 PM

As this story develops it seems to be less impressive. The ‘bomber’ is said to have always been under some countries spy agency control, and not a member of APAQ. This implies that there never was a threat, and perhaps the plan was set up by the spy agency running the operation. It would seem like the purpose of such a plan would be to capture the bomb maker, but all we really have is a bomb. Not sure how useful a bomb is. I can see that capturing the bomb maker would be useful. I wonder if the plan was not a complete success, and what we have is a consolation prize. I suppose time will tell. The spy agency could be playing a long game.

Brian W May 9, 2012 7:51 PM

The key question is what this Saudi double agent proposed. Did he just volunteer to take on the mission that had already been planned using a bomb that had already been created? Or did he play a role in creating the plan and the device?

Figureitout May 9, 2012 8:46 PM


Very nice regarding the “homemade chains” and “party poppers”. Among other hobbies like amateur radio and cryptography, lately though homemade explosives is piquing my interest (out of a purely experimental and possibly self-defensive purposes of course) and I’ve always been fascinated with fireworks and fire.

@Clive, Dirk et al.

Speak of the Devil, here’s an article, even though I don’t really trust what news media says anymore (sadly it’s all we got); but the FBI wants to renew its authority to conduct surveillance on foreign persons (I thought that’s what the CIA was for?). All the TLA’s have had their jobs so mix-matched now it doesn’t even matter much anymore.

Look at Mueller’s face, the timing of this is just unbelievable…The threat was monitored the entire time and does anyone here honestly believe that these people always act squarely within the confines of the law?!

Frances May 9, 2012 9:35 PM

The latest that I have read is that the person was a Saudi, that he was a mole (a better description, I think, than double agent), that he volunteered to be a suicide bomber then absconded with the bomb.

outblaze May 9, 2012 11:03 PM

My predictions are just the opposite:

1) Most likely would not have been caught by pre-9/11 security as it is claimed to be a non-metallic device and the WTMD would not have picked it up

2) Would have been caught by post 9/11 “security theater” due so many of those pesky levels in place

3) more invasive security? Perhaps, and justifiably so

anony May 10, 2012 3:09 AM

@Clive: I sure hope you come here through TOR and several proxies, you are far too informed about chemical and technical attack vectors to be considered “a good citizen unworthy of attention” by the powers that be. Not to mention you frequently read and contribute to a subversive and influential blog (even if in comments)!

cnalks May 10, 2012 4:44 AM

I agree to that, I relish reading Clive’s always interesting posts. Thank you Clive!

RBL May 10, 2012 8:03 AM

Another invented plot with associated PR to justify the perpetual state of emergency that then justifies further erosion of our liberties and civil rights.

noble_serf May 10, 2012 8:52 AM

I think this is good work actually.

This isn’t a dog and pony show like the ones in the States with paid snitches pretty much leading a few marginalized radicals to buy inert devices.

This at least appears to be turning a hardcore networked guy and getting him to bring the goods over.

If so (and we may never know) I think it’s a good win, even though it is a bit theatrical.

Lowell Gilbert May 10, 2012 11:10 AM

Is this the same story as the one that appeared to be improved technology rather than an actual plot?

[“improved underwear-bomb technology”!]

Michael Brady May 10, 2012 11:30 AM

@ rob

“Much like the FBI fabricating plots domestically, the first thing that leapt to mind when I read the “double agent” thing was that this was an international version of the same thing.”

The difference in this case appears to be that there was actually a real bomb provided by genuine conspirators who possessed both the intention and the wherewithall to carry out an attack without being coached for several months by by a CI.

Scared May 10, 2012 11:55 AM

You guys are too serious, so I’ll make sure to switch on the SARCASM neon light next time…

Anyway, my point was: this story is fabricated down to the wording: non-metallic. That word is not just the choice of one reporter.

selF May 10, 2012 5:31 PM

You know, philosophically speaking, those intelligence services can never win in the public eye. If they share success with the public, they risk being lambasted for attention seeking behaviour or seeking justification for their expenses made (need more money?). If they don’t share their success, everyone’s left in the dark and keeps doubting their efficacy.
So whatever you may think, maybe this ought to skim your mind as your own mind weighs in on the as-best-as-we-can-be-informed opinion.
Hats off to those in the service. You put up with crap from all sides 😛 – even your own! (I wonder if employees get discount coupons for massages, plenty stress leave, and team building barbecue afternoons with premium steak/fish fillets (squid?) in beautiful scenic “invite only” locations across the land – if not there’s a few ideas)

Zaphod May 11, 2012 12:07 AM

@all – don’t worry about Clive – I’m sure he’s untraceable (and a bloody good read)!


Clive Robinson May 11, 2012 3:20 AM

@ Scared,

You guys are too serious, so I’ll make sure to switch on the SARCASM neon light next time..

Agh sorry you do a too good an impersonation of a DHS droid 😉 and it overwhelmed the sarcasm…

Clive Robinson May 11, 2012 4:17 AM

This gets more interesting by the day…

A little history prior to 9/11 and from the mid 1970’s London was kind of the crossroads and lodging place for many of those dispossessed we now consider terrorists (and many who have since been “giffted power” by allied military intervention. The advantage for the various intel agencies was they were in a. nice place to keep an eye on.

As I’ve mentioned the UK traditonal intel services (5/6) have historicaly said nothing and been very carefull about “methods and sources” (not so the likes the Police forces who by accident or design have a poor history of keeping shtum).

Well it appears that the agent was probably a UK asset, they certainly carried a British Passport and had lived here for some years.

Having provided information that lead to the demise of the probable bomb designer on Sunday somebody in the US leaked the story and it appears various attempts have been made in the UK to hush it up a bit.

However what is still not clear is who the agents primary handlers on this operation were (Saudi or UK), from what has been said it still appears very unlikely it was the US.

The reason for sending the device to the US appears to be the “Gentalman’s agreement” under the supposed “Special Arrangement”.

And it appears almost certain the releasing of the information is a politicaly inspired stunt by somebody…

However the question that remains is the what and how of the agent being able to get in so close and still have the freedom to report back. This implies that the security arangments of the terrorists are well below par currently…

Thus it appears that the resources on this intel excercise have been fairly well spent compared to the usual TSA et al expenditure.

Bob T May 11, 2012 10:40 AM

I’ll tell you exactly what happened.

Obama went about touting the bin Laden assassination, and was getting backlash for trying to take personal credit and for reusing the event as a reelection campaign theme. So, they said, “Okay, let’s get something that shows the administration as a whole, under the guidance of Obama is still pursuing the safety and security of the United States.” So they dug some thing out for publication that otherwise would never have seen the light of day.

The subjects of the national news are the people who determine what the news will be. The media just goes along for commercial value. It’s cheaper than actually investigating anything.

Clive Robinson May 12, 2012 3:37 AM

@ Zaphod,

Nice catch on the Daily Telegraph article.

I must admit I stopped reading the DT some time back due to a change in editorial style from serious to frivolous via nonstories that you would expect of the Red Tops with accompanying “young lady photos” (mind you they all appear to be going that way online these days).

Clive Robinson May 12, 2012 4:10 AM

@ O W,

It was rumored that sniff dogs can’t detect the stuff which was probable another reason it was used.

I don’t know enough about AP and sniffer dogs to say in the speciffic case. However in the more general case of drug dogs or “chemical agent monitors” (CAM devices) there are four basic reasons that they don’t detect them,

1, The substance is in an appropriate sealed container that has then been washed to remove “key smells”.

2, The background level of “key smells” or “masking smells” is to high for reliable indication. Even humans suffer from this with “orange or mint oils”

3, The dog has not been trained on the “key smell” of the substance.

4, The substance genuinely does not have a distinguishable “key smell”.

It would be interesting to know if AP does lack a key smell I know atleast one of it’s ingredients does not, so I’m guessing a combination of 2&3.

anonymous coward May 12, 2012 10:32 AM

Clive, you’re full of shit. Can’t help it, it needs to be said.

Building a friction igniter is easy (but totally unnecessary). Metal-free detonators … dito. Just leave out the metals! I’ve built both myself in my wild teens, pre-911, without having the knowledge and training I do have now as an adult with a scientific education and military/unconventional experience.

electrical heating element (but this needs metal…)


make a “reliable friction match” from chemicals available to them

I already have in my possession, or can easily source, all the materials needed for several versions using several different materials combinations. So can a terrorist organisation. They even manage to get their hands on military grade explosives! Doh!

The problem with detonating the main charge of a bomb without using any metal is converting simple low energy mechanical or chemical energy into released energy of the right level and rise time

Wrong. You can pretty much put a pound of C4 on the floor, squeeze a hole in it with your left pinky, stuff half a gram of powdered primary explosive of choice inside, add another 500mg of easily ignited pyrotechnic composition on top (optional), light it by whatever means are available and it will go boom in a spectacular way. No metal components needed for an explosive train. Or glass, ceramics, plastics, wood… Just plain regular air as a confinement.

Clive Robinson May 13, 2012 3:50 AM

@ anonymous coward,

Building a friction igniter is easy (but totally unnecessary)

The point behind making as an experiment a “friction igniter” is quite simple, it is as far as I’m aware not illegal in most places to do so, however making a detonator train of any kind is in many places certainly a recipe for a long custodial sentence. Also those chosing to do the experiments from scratch are less likely to lose parts of their anatomy in the process, and thereby gain knowledge of the difficulties involved with designing just the first part of an explosive chain.

I’m sorry that you did not realise why I picked a simple but real world experiment as an example (even just reading about the history of making matches is a worthwhile excercise).

As for your C4 explanation, what you have described is an explosive train, oh and if you actuall think about, it contrary to what you say,

Just plain regular air as a confinement.

The confinement is not air for anything other than the top surface of your pyrotechnic composition. Also as you described it is orientation dependent which is a bit of a problem for many uses.

However for some reason terrorists choose not to go down your supposadly simple C4 route even though as you say,

They even manage to get their hands on military grade explosives!

Why do you think that would be? why go to all the trouble of making up certain types of explosive and explossive trains without metal?

Sometimes to realise why something is not happening people need to think like those who are failing in achiving it as an objective. To do that they need both the knowledge from books and the ability to relate it to real world problems by carrying out a certain degree of experimentation both safely and legaly.

Andy May 14, 2012 2:08 PM

Could we take off our tinfoil hats for a moment? Haven’t a lot of people been saying for a long time that the answer was to stop doing security theater and doing real security, including good old-fashioned humint? Now that good old-fashioned humint actually did the job, we have to find a reason to find that sinister. Some people just can’t take “yes’ for an answer.

Clive Robinson May 14, 2012 5:38 PM

@ Andy,

Haven’t a lot of people been saying for a long time that the answer was to stop doing security theater and [start] doing real security, including good old fashioned humint

Yes and I’m one of them.

Now that good old-fashioned humint actually did the job, we have to find a reason to find that sinister. Some people just can’ take “yes’ for an answer.

Actually what many of us find sinister is the releasing of the information in such an inept manner. It came across originaly as either a “fund raiser” or “campaign marker” with TLA’s jumping onto the plate to grab their piece of pie.

What is certain is who ever leaked the information “blew the operation out of the water” and put the agent’s life very much at risk and possibly those of his friends and family. It has shades of “Scooter Libby” about it with outing an agent just for political mileage.

What is still not clear is who the agent’s handlers were, it appears to be either or both the Saudies and British, what is clear is the CIA was at best sitting well outside the ball park on this one.

Likewise the focus of the operation was very unlikely to have been getting hold of the latest incarnation of the pants bomb. Most likely it would have been to find and put out of circulation the actuall bomb designer.

It was thought on the preceading Sunday the bomb designer had been killed along with others but it didn’t pan out that way. The leak appears to have originated after the attack but before the actuall death toll was known.

Thus any hope of reaquiring the target was lost with the agent being outed…

Anon May 15, 2012 8:35 PM

You stated: “As anyone who has tried to do this for real will tell you it’s actually very difficult. What you need to do is form an explosive/detonation train/chain.”

Have you ever tried to do that for real? Were you EOD in the military or in SWAT? It’s a federal felony to build, possess, or test a homemade explosive device.

Clive Robinson May 15, 2012 11:49 PM

@ Anon

Have you ever tried to do that for real? Were you EOD in the military or in SWAT? It’s a federal felony to build, possess, or test a homemade explosive device

I can tell from this question you are not a regular reader. If you look back at my previous posts over the years you will find,

I don’t reside in the US nor am I a US citizen, thus US federal law does not (or atleast should not) apply to me (or many other readers of this blog).

Also that I used to not only “wear the green” for a number of years, I also as a civilian worked in the oil, mining and related industries. Where I designed equipment for the industries including intrinsicaly safe equipment as well as equipment for bomb disposal and protection against what are now refered to as IED’s.

You would also know that as a young adolescent I used to make my own explosives and pyrotechnics (but not fireworks) and as such that was not illegal back then. I also for a short while was involved with what you might call “demolition” as it used explosives to destroy things although more correctly it was decommissioning or “puting beyond use” certain nolonger required hardware that had military uses. Oh and I also have tinitus from being underly cautious with the ear defenders whilst doing many of these activities.

[A word to the wise to anyone under twenty reading this look after your hearing there is absolutly nothing macho/manly about tinitus. It is realy without a doubt quite unpleasently annoying in oh so many ways, including keeping you awake at night, stopping you concentrating and spoiling your ability to talk to people or enjoy music, films etc and at times causing you real physical pain. Oh and learning to read peoples lips is not a skill that has many other practical uses…]

I’m curious as to why you asked about SWAT as it may well be things have changed a lot in more recent times. In the general case such personnel didn’t make or deal with improvised explosives they’d call on other specialists for that sort of work. Even a lot of military Special Forces personnel don’t deal with improvised explosives other than recognising them for what they are and how to avoid becoming a casualty of them. Not having been to the US for a while (nore intending to do so whilst the TSA and their ilk exist) things may well have changed for SWAT personnel especialy as it is becoming evident that more and more US police forces are becoming more weaponised as are the likes of coast guards and harbour masters.

I don’t know when it became Federal law in the US but in most parts of the world in the last century making or using explosive devices was not illegal, unless the purpose for which they were made or used was illegal. Also if you think about it “homemade” is an awkward word as many of the things demolition and mining engineers do is most definatly ad hoc or bespoke, including making certain explosives used in quarrying in a cement mixer.

However as you will see from my comments further up this post I’m aware that in a limited number of parts of the world it is illegal to make explosives and fireworks, but it is still not illegal to experiment in making similar things such as friction matches etc.

I’m also part of an older generation taught in many things whilst young by those who went through WWII many of whom considered the best way to deal with “curiosity in the young” was to show the curious how to do the things that interested them in a safe way, and thus either get it out of their system or potentialy give them a start in a trade. It is a view point I hold myself, because back in the mists of time you “came of age” when you could safely do work on a farm and that was usually before you were seven. When I was going through my early education you were expected to leave sometime between eleven and fourteen to start in on a trade unless you were lucky enough to have passed your “eleven pluss” and be off to “grammar school” and become some kind of “professional”. Now you are expected to stay in fulltime education untill your mid twenties or later, as you need a degree these days to even “do a trade” let alone any kind of profession…

[ The problem with this is that for somewhere between a quater and a third of you natuaral life span you get no “real world work experiance” or “real world knowledge” and the “self reliance” that comes of it. Worse due to H&S and other considerations you don’t even get “hands on” experiance these days so caution taught does not become caution learned and understood. Further in our current times of low interest rates you also lose the first ten years of “earning your pension” which will have a very serious effect on the age you can retire (if at all) in anything remotely aproaching comfort. ]

Also those that taught me so much in my early life did not panic needlessly or at all. When small boys found ammunition and such like that had been hidden away by the likes of the “home guard” and forgoton about. There was no shutting down of huge areas whilst UXB and other people arived to do their “dog and pony show”. By and large it was just carried down to the local police station for later pick up by army personnel. And the “lucky finder” who handed it in would get a pat on the head and a cup of tea and a biscuit or two whilst waiting for his parents to pick him up and hear him being praised for “being a responsible lad” before they took him home (or atleast that was my experiance of the process on a couple of occasions).

From my viewpoint much in life has changed most of it very much for the worse and society these days appears to have sold it’s soul for illusions and falsehoods. People are taught falsely to fear something that in reality will not effect them except through the evening news and the economy destroying tax extorted from them to waste on illusions of protection. Thus they don’t address the things that realy will hurt them and put them in an early grave, such as an unhealthy and by and large ignorant of real life and it’s dangers population.

The solution is “Teach’m young and teach’m well” to encorage them to be inquisitive about the world and most importantly develope the confidence, skills and knowledge to be self reliant in most things.

Anon May 18, 2012 2:23 PM


Even a friction match as you described it is probably a felony. At the least, no sane person would build one in the US without either consulting a lawyer, the ATF, or both.

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.