Friday, August 11, 2006

Beware the Shampoo of Mass Destruction!

Big in the news cycle lately have been the "Shampoo Bombers" (hat tip to Da Fixer for that name) over in Limey-land. I didn't post anything about it earlier because all I knew was the same hysterical stuff that was on the news. It was clear to me, as someone with some knowledge of homebrew explosives (no, don't ask) that what they were discussing was pretty far-fetched. While it's easy enough to make home-brew thermite, which would certainly be nasty enough, anything more explosive than that is going to be extremely unstable and difficult to mix in an airliner's bathroom. The "bomber" would be more likely to blow himself up while testing his procedure at home, than he would be to blow up the airliner. While binary explosives are widely available, you simply can't brew them up yourself easily.

Indeed, al Qaeda has in the past explored using bipolar explosives. However, their experience with explosives apparently convinced them that binary explosives and jet airliners don't mix. Thus the boxcutters on 9/11. Why bother with all the muss and fuss of explosives if you can just use boxcutters to hijack the plane?

After digging a bit more, I have this to say:

  1. This was not an al Qaeda plot as such. This was a bunch of wanna-be types. al Qaeda has already researched the notion of using a bipolar explosive and dismissed it as too iffy.
  2. Their plan would not have worked. The most likely result would have been that they blew themselves up while testing their explosive
  3. From various details, it appears that the plan was to create an acetone-peroxide explosive. This can be made with hair bleach (peroxide), nail polish cleaner (acetone), and sulfuric acid. Of these, the sulfuric acid is the hardest to get, probably the easiest place to get it is from a lead-acid (car) battery. Note that this is a *very* unstable explosive. It is likely to blow up as they're mixing it in the bathroom.
  4. All of the chemicals I mention above are easily detectable, and do not require the current draconian restrictions on all foodstuffs and cosmetic items. It is sufficient to ban all non-edible liquids, and require the person to take a swig on any suspicious liquid at the security checkpoint. If smoke starts coming out of his mouth, it's probably safe to say he's a terrorist :-).
So why all the propaganda and hype? Well, it's Mencken's Law, of course! Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic see themselves as risking losing power due to the fiascos in Iraq and Afghanistan. By hyping the threat, they can then do something like, say, ban all liquids and toiletries, to prove they're "doing something" for all that money we're paying them other than looting the treasury for their campaign contributors. Will it work? Well, it's worked so far...

-Badtux the Practical Penguin

18 comments:

  1. You can get sulfuric acid as battery electrolyte in various sizes up to 5 gallons in any auto parts store.

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  2. Yes, Gordon, I left out a few steps though regarding how the explosive is made, for reasons self explanatory. Needless to say, if you obtain the ingredients I listed and try to make an explosive out of them directly, nothing will happen. The kids in Britain's "explosive" wouldn't have worked for the same reason. They thought they knew what they were doing, but they were a bunch of stupid kids like we probably were some time ago.

    -BT

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  3. Hum, you know pal, what you need is a good piece of ass to take your mind off of all of this.

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  4. How about that acid they put in swimming pools, can't recall the name of it, but it sure is nasty stuff.

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  5. the whole problem, which tux stated, is even when you obtain the appropriate chemicals to mix, these concoctions are extremely unstable. it takes special equipment, lots of ice, steady hands, stable platforms (none of which are usually found in airplane loos). the IRA lads, the PLO and others have all learned these lessons the hard way. even if you can avoid premature detonation, the idea of these guys being able to then place appropriately (airliners are designed to take massive damage and still fly) shape and coordinate the blasts stretches my credulity.

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  6. by the by bbc, most pool acid is a massive dilution of hydrocholic acid (which is also in household bleach). buying it in dry form would be one way to maybe achieve a decent concentration (but then you have the whole instability problem cropping up again)
    hell, you can make bombs out of froot loops if you have minimum skills. the real work with explosives comes from placement, shape and timing. i can't see that ever coming out of these guys.

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  7. Isn't it odd that a liquid-based explosive device was used aboard a Philippine Airlines flight over ten years ago, and yet, after 9/11 there was no call to ban or otherwise screen for suspicious liquids on commercial airliners? No knives, no boxcutters, no nail clippers, of course.

    And now, a commercial airline pilot friend of mine may carry his pistol aboard but must check his toothpaste at security. Okay.

    What will it be next? Ahhh, I have the answer: No books. You see, a book can be lit aflame with a smuggled match in order to set an airliner ablaze high above the Atlantic.

    Where will the madness end?

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  8. Drew, you may not have flown immediately after 9/11, but they definitely did screen for suspicious liquids. For example, if you carried bottled water through the checkpoint, you were required to take a couple swigs to show it wasn't something dangerous.

    But toothpaste? Let's get real here.

    _BT

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  9. There's peroxide in some toothpastes, but the concentrations are too low. If you don't have a chemistry lab, getting a high enough concentration almost guarantees your removal from the gene pool.

    A hydrogen peroxide leak in a torpedo is the primary suspect in the sinking of the Kursk.

    If you want to eliminate terrorist cells, encourage them to make this stuff...in trailers...well away from other people.

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  10. I personally think Bushco has a bad case of Cry Wolf Syndrome. Noone's listening anymore.

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  11. Muriatic acid, or hydrocholic acid for swimming pools isn't all that diluted, at least the stuff I have isn't.

    And it really is nasty stuff, I've used it for cleaning out water cooled manifolds on marine engines.

    I don't know about making any kind of a bomb with it though as I'm not interested in making bombs.

    I know this, spray it on everyone and you will then have the place to yourself to do as you wish.

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  12. Muriatic acid eats aluminum. I've used it to clean out oil-carrying motorcycle frames, like Rickman and Cheney (Sorry!), after a 'catastrophic disassembly'. You have to neutralize it afterwards or it'll start in on the steel, but it attacks that much more slowly. Stinks to high heaven and makes your eyes water as well. Nothing to screw around with. I think there's aluminum in airplanes somewhere too.

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  13. I dropped a piece of aluminum in some of mine as a test, and it ate it up very fast (That by the way makes hydrogen), if I was going to clean aluminum with the stuff I have I would dilute it, a lot.

    Then neutralize it with baking soda. But I have other better ways to clean aluminum with grease and oil on it.

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  14. I should have been more specific. I was using the muriatic acid to clean bits of pistons and connecting rods, that might have migrated to places they shouldn't after the rebuild, out of inaccessible places.

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  15. Let's not forget, James Bond had explosives hidden in his toothpaste tube 30 years ago.

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  16. Well, of course the raising of the terror alert level is a crock of shit designed primarily to stoke everyone's paranoia and take the focus away from the continuing clusterfuck in Iraq. If the purpose of a terror alert was actually to keep us on our guard and protect us from terrorist attacks, then why didn't they go to Level Red while the terrorists were still on the loose, while they still posed a danger? Why did they only raise the level after the guys were captured and the plot foiled?

    The only people who still believe that Terror Alerts have anything at all to do with preventing terrorist attacks are the Deadender 30% who still worship ShrubCo, and those with I.Q.'s somewhat lower than room termerature. (Assuming for the sake of argument that those two groups aren't one and the same.)

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  17. Whoops, that should read "room temperature." Damn typos! Really must learn to take the mittens off before I type...

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  18. Okay, a bit more information. Some research uncovered that they were proposing to use a more stable explosive, and *not* a bipolar explosive. Not nitroglycerine, not acetone peroxide (but a close relative), this explosive is a fairly stable oily liquid. It becomes unstable only when you saturate something like, say, tightly-stuffed paper towels (or a paperback book?) with it in a closed container. At that point any spark (such as a model rocket igniter) or heavy shock or even just normal vibrations can set it off. Pretty powerful explosive, a small PVC water pipe with tightly stuffed paper towels blew a 3 meter wide hole in the ground (that's 9 feet wide, for you Americans out there). The paper that you stuffed into the pipe could be, say, pages ripped out of a paperback book, and the pipe itself could be, say, one of those tube-type toothpaste containers (the kind with the pump). The igniter, well, I'm not going to give any secrets away there, for obvious reasons. Of course, the chances that it goes off all by itself in the airline bathroom while you're assembling the thing are still pretty darn good, but it's not as bad as acetone peroxide in that respect.

    It is very unlikely that such an explosion would crash an airplane though. Aluminum is not dirt. Looking at the crater in the dirt, the crater is only a few inches deep, the majority of the blast dissipated above the dirt, just as the force of the blast in an airliner would dissipate into the air above the aluminum. You'd have some dead and injured people, but not a crashed airplane. You'd need some way of shaping the charge (not possible with this simple bomb), and you'd need to place the bomb in some place where it could knock out all critical control systems or puncture a fuel cell. But this does explain why the Brits weren't even allowing paperback books on air liners for a while there... even if you couldn't down an air liner with this stuff, you could still manage to kill a few people and terrorize the rest, which of course is part of the whole point with terrorism, whether done by terrorists or by our government happily coooperating with terrorists.

    - Badtux the Terror Penguin

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