Monday, February 19, 2007

Scared Stupid


The AP offers for your consideration a daft article on peroxide-based bombs, which it claims are "easy-to-make yet deadly." As evidence, author Laura Jakes Jordan trots out Matthew Rugo, who accidentally blew himself up with TATP in explosion-plagued Texas City, and Joel Henry Hinrichs III, who intentionally blew himself up outside an Oklahoma football stadium.

The claim that TATP is "easy to make" is not quite accurate, to put it politely. As Rugo's case shows, it's very dangerous and unstable. At least 40 Palestinian bomb-makers are believed to have been killed by it, and many others are undoubtedly hoping to be reunited with their missing limbs in Paradise.

Regardless, it's become an article of faith in American journalism that by mixing a few household chemicals together in a water bottle - or, in Jordan's article, a kitchen sink - you can instantly produce a bomb that'll take down a commercial jet. (As Dick Destiny said a while back, "You can set yourself on fire with a pint of gasoline in two minutes, too!")

Jordan also claims that "ecoterrorists and animal rights extremist groups such as Animal Liberation Front and Earth Liberation Front are believed by authorities to use peroxide-based explosives."

Ideally, this belief would be based on some instance of the ALF or the ELF actually having used peroxide-based explosives. But as far as I know, neither group has ever done so, and I see no obvious reason to assume that they ever will.

Not long after claiming that TATP and its ilk are easy to make, Jordan blithely remarks that "peroxide-based bombs...are too volatile to handle casually." Presumably, then, terrorists who are laden with them won't behave casually. Which means that this clever terrorist-detection scheme stands a good chance of working perfectly (if you don't mind several hundred false positives per year, along with the occasional false negative):

Cameras fitted to seat-backs will record every twitch, blink, facial expression or suspicious movement before sending the data to onboard software which will check it against individual passenger profiles....

They say that rapid eye movements, blinking excessively, licking lips or ways of stroking hair or ears are classic symptoms of somebody trying to conceal something. A separate microphone will hear and record even whispered remarks. Islamic suicide bombers are known to whisper texts from the Koran in the moments before they explode bombs.
I don't think I need to comment on this article, which came from the bowels of the Daily Mail, except to say that the last sentence is perhaps the most entertaining use of the passive voice I've ever seen.

3 comments:

dan mcenroe said...

They say that rapid eye movements, blinking excessively, licking lips or ways of stroking hair or ears are classic symptoms of somebody trying to conceal something.

Shit. No more Red Bull before I get on the plane.

Tomble said...

Hey Phila, I've occasionally read your blog over the past couple of years (friend of Interrobang's), but generally don't get around to commenting.

This post, being about that TATP stuff, reminded me of the panic last year about people taking liquids onto planes, and the chaos that ensued. I wasn't quite following it at the time, but all the fuss put me off flying- not because of the threat of terrorism, but because of the general paranoia it was indicative of.

Recently I read more about it on these pages at The Register, and a mailing list archive of some sort, where it turned out that the reason liquids were being screened/banned at airports was because some people had contemplated the idea of making this very same "TATP" stuff on board the plane, from a few "readily available" liquid ingredients. Except those pages point out quite well how enormously impractical and unfeasible it would be for terrorists to try- they'd be better off either bringing the TATP ready made (as this blog entry seems to be more about), or even trying to scratch the windows out with their fingernails, frankly.

Anyway, probably something you and your regular readers already know about, but I thought I'd mention it anyway as I found the discussion rather fascinating :)

As for the worry about people "making bombs in their kitchen sinks" which is more the subject here, well the IRA et al notoriously used to make their homemade explosives out of fertiliser and sugar (when they weren't using Semtex of course; funny thing, I think "Semtex" must be a household name for Brits over a certain age, I wonder if Americans can claim the same? Not a dig at you, but at the more paranoid of your compatriots). So I think the whole TATP idea sounds pretty nuts in comparison, really.

Phila said...

Recently I read more about it on these pages at The Register, and a mailing list archive of some sort, where it turned out that the reason liquids were being screened/banned at airports was because some people had contemplated the idea of making this very same "TATP" stuff on board the plane, from a few "readily available" liquid ingredients.

Yeah, I discussed that nonsense a bit, though not nearly as effectively as CKR at WhirledView did.

My view is that after a certain point, it's counterproductive to focus on tactics. As Bruce Schneier says, we can't even keep weapons out of jail...how are we going to keep them off airplanes?