Monday, August 28, 2006


Not TATP peroxide bombs, but HMTD peroxide bombs, claim the usual anonymous sources. This from today's New York Times in: Suspects Not Ready for Immediate Strike.

The newspaper story backed off the stock hype that's been the rule on the plot. It's not easy to tell why.

In any case: "Despite the charges, officials said they were still unsure of a critical question: whether any of the suspects was technically capable of assembling and detonating liquid explosives," wrote the Times. Bravo!

"A chemist involved in that part of the inquiry said HMTD, which can be prepared by combining hydrogen peroxide with other chemicals, 'in theory is dangerous,' but whether the suspects "had the brights to pull it off remains to be seen.'

And that is a quote worth preserving! It sets into play a somewhat different set of technical requirements for the making of a so-called instant bomb. It inspires new questions about the origination of blanket rules for dispensing all types of liquids prior to flight. It also asks why the original feeding frenzy was so joyfully indulged in.

Below, see formulation for HMTD, also derived from the Journal of the American Chemical Society paper, "Decomposition of Triacetone Peroxide is An Entropic Explosion," discussed here.
In essence, this one involves synthesis of a compound similar in nature to TATP, from only slightly different "household" chemicals, again with all the caveats and baggage previously described. In this case, substitute hexamine (or hexamethylenetetramine) for acetone.

Hexamine, in this case, being equivalent to campfire tablets. Numerous pages on the commercial products are littered around the web.

"They say the estimate of 10 planes [to be attacked]' was speculative and exaggerated," wrote the Times. "In his first public statement after the arrests, Peter Clarke, chief of counterterrorism for the Metropolitan Police, acknowledged police were still investigating 'the number, destination and timing of the flights that might be attacked.'"

As has been said, being circumspect with regards to the statements of Peter Clarke is good policy and practice.

"In retrospect . . . there may have been too much hyperventilating going on," said one of NYC's former anti-terror officials, the standard reasonable quote by the chocolate jimmy on top of the cupcake in terror plot reporting.

Below, see diagram of HMTD reaction, excerpted from JACS paper cited upstream. Don't be floored by the formulas. Think of it like, perhaps, an amateur terrorist -- someone with perhaps little or no know-how would, working from some scribble on a piece of paper:

Campfire tablets plus peroxide plus lemon juice ----> Pow!

Late breaking, sort of: The New York Times embargoed its complete story -- In Tapes, Receipts and a Diary, Details of the British Terror Case -- Martyrdom Motive and 'Bomb Factory' Cited -- in deference to British laws which prohibit publishing of materials which might be prejudicial to criminal cases.

Cryptome put it on-line here.

During the case of the alleged London ricin ring, similar although not precisely identical conditions led me to hold back publishing on the case until April 11, two days before the gag order was lifted in Britain.

The Times article mentioned law firms for the defendants in the peroxide bomb case declined to comment. Dick Destiny blog bets one of the firms in question is that of famous Brit human rights lawyer, Gareth Pierce. Her firm was also one tapped during the trial of the London ricin ring.


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