Sunday, August 20, 2006

DRANO BOMBS & 'ASK PARNEY': Pranks & duds

It's often disappointing to read the 'work' of America's experts on security and terror. Errors are astounding in nature. What's more surprising is that few seem to care. If you don't know what's going on, just pretend you do! It's even better when you have a title!

For example, a 2005 master's thesis from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA, entitled "Common Chemicals as Precursors of Improvised Explosive Devices: The Challenges of Defeating Domestic Terrorism," contains the following howler, among others.

The author, a director of homeland security at some unfortunate county in Minnesota, contributed the thesis in fulfillment of requirements for a master's degree in "Security Studies (Homeland Security & Defense)." And while the paper is about chemicals, it's not obvious its creator knows any chemistry.

In any case, the quote on the "draino bomb" is one found ad nauseum on the Internet, usually among the collections of hoarders of anarchy files. You know, the ones made by teenagers, now grown men seemingly bereft of any of the benefits of a solid education, but still devoted to the idea that everyone needs access to poorly conceived homemade formulae for incendiaries and bombs.

In any case, the "draino bomb" file is witless, obviously composed by a kid, who at some time in the past, got a kick out of the idea of riling elders by writing some menacing-looking graffiti on the walls of cyberspace.

"Information wants to be free!" used to be their favorite saying.

What the Naval Postgraduate School author of the thesis doesn't get, however, and this is the disappointing part, is that the recipe for the "draino bomb" is trash.

And since it is trash, there should be no interest in controlling it or even wondering what point its "information" serves. The correct answer is: It doesn't matter!

The violent chemical reactions it purports to tell you how to instigate are more well-illustrated on the Internet in legitimate science courses which few would think of censoring.

But if you cast around on Google looking for references to drano bombs (spelled either the S.C. Johnston way, or the dumbass teenage way), YOU WON'T FIND THEM. And because your comprehension of the science is poor, you'll fail in understanding the risk, or lack of it, and appear a ninny!

Drano bomb files address a couple of different chemical reactions, none of which the various authors of the files seem knowledgeable of.

One is the reaction of aluminum with water and sodium hydroxide, a strong base. It's well described here, at a university chemistry department in Germany.

"This reaction is used in drain cleaners," writes a professor genially. "They are mostly made out of strong alkalis, to which [aluminum] or zinc has been added. The alkalis break down organic residues chemically. In addition, the formation of hydrogen leads to a bubbling effect which adds an additional mechanical cleaning mechanism. "

A slightly pooched nerdy white-trash spin on this chemical reaction, or the making of a drano bomb in the basement before a small but annoyingly admiring audience, is illustrated in this brief video.

Watch it or you'll put your eye out, kid!

Other formulations for prankster "bombs" of this variety include the reaction of bleach, or sodium hypochlorite, and hydrogen peroxide. Note that the scientific exercise for students, here is much less exciting than the unsupervised teenage interpretation here, from a New Jersey newspaper:

The two plastic bottles, filled with chlorine, bleach and peroxide exploded about 2 a.m. and 9:15 a.m. Sunday on a Market Street baseball field, bringing a response from the Bergen County Police Department Bomb Squad and the county's hazardous materials team.

Police said they have reason to believe teenagers were responsible for the devices and that they may have gotten the idea after seeing an episode of the Discovery Channel science show "MythBusters," called "Mentos and Soda," which aired Saturday night.

That episode featured the show's hosts mixing Men- tos candy with diet soda to simulate geysers and explosions, but a description of the show on the TV network's Web site did not mention any experiments with [bleach] and peroxide.
Other variations on this riff include "science camp for small children and idiots" stuff like vinegar and baking soda or adding acid to bleach and capping the bottle. The former reaction generates carbon dioxide, the latter -- chlorine, which is more interesting to the teenage anarchy hobbyists.

The astute reader may have noticed that none of these reactions fit the bill of making a "car explode like in the movies." Indeed, the "draino bomb" file cited by the Naval Postgraduate School student, is idioticcounterintuitive in a number of interesting ways.

Formulations of scouring powder, or Comet, for instance, contains only minor amounts of bleaching powder, or sodium hypochlorite.

Now while all this is very entertaining, it's not so entertaining when one reads it as part of something that's supposed to be part of a serious postgraduate schooling in national security matters.

"Approved by Dr. Douglas Porch, Chairman, Department of National Security Affairs," reads the thesis ominously.

Next up, we return to another Dick Destiny favored terror expert, Civitas Group director and ex-Department of Homeland Security bigwig, Penrose Parney Albright.

Parney Albright, while assistant secretary for Homeland Security, was involved in allegedly improving the nation's defenses against bioterror, among other things.

If you pump his name into Google, like this, your first choice is Parney Albright hosts Ask the Whitehouse at


"Hi, I'm Parney Albright, and I'm the Assistant Secretary for Science and Technology at the Department of Homeland Security. It is a real pleasure to be here and I'm looking forward to answering your questions," he writes to attendees at an interactive question-and-answer session on terrorism, one that focused on the biological side of the threat.

Some of the questions were posed by imbeciles, like this one:

"Should we develop the ability to quarantine sections of the country with an electromagnetic wall, to prevent bio spread in case of attack?"

One doesn't really know how to respond when confronted by such a ninny except, maybe, "Silencio!" or "Next!" or the Willy Wonka-inspired fallback, "I don't know what you're saying because you're mumbling."

"I’m unaware of any technology though that would cause an electromagnetic wall to prevent the escape of biological pathogens," answered Albright.

"As much as we’d all like to have these types of things, we are a long, long way from having the shields that Captain Kirk, for example, can call upon to protect his people."

That's game.

But better stuff was on display in another session of "Ask Parney," archived here.

Question -- I keep wondering why, if no biological weapons or chemical weapons have ever been used against us with the exception of anthrax, do we spend so much money on this? Or was the money for this type of funding nonexistant before the previous terrorist attacks? thanks you.

Parney Albright -- That's a very good question . . . Let me try and answer it in a couple of ways.

The first is that the anthrax attacks were not the first time we had had an incident of bioterrorism in this country. You might remember many years ago a cult in Oregon tried to poison a whole bunch of local salad bars with botulism in order to disrupt a local election. So these sorts of things--bioterrorism--has a very long history to it, going back to millennia, when people used to catapult diseased animals over city walls to infect the population of the city under siege.
Parney, arghhh! The Rajneesh cult used Salmonella typhimurium to cause salmonellosis. Botulism is caused by toxins produced by the microbe, Clostridium botulinum.

So, readers, do you think it's (or was) important for someone who was in charge of allocating dollars in the Department of Homeland Security's science and research operations on bioterrorism to know the details?

Further down:

Question -- What type of bio-drugs are the most needed and why?

Parney Albright -- . . . Let me make an important point here—this BioShield legislation not only deals with bio threat, it also deals with developing medical countermeasures for all of the threats. It includes medical countermeasures for chemical attacks. It includes medial countermeasures for radiological attacks as well. The kinds of drugs we are interested are of course vaccines. Ideally you would like to develop a vaccine that would in effect take a particular pathogen off the table entirely. But we also understand that is hard to do and that in many cases what makes more sense to do is to develop a therapeutic to help people who have been exposed. You might recall when we had the anthrax attacks over here on the East Coast, the treatment of choice was something called Cipro. We need to develop more block spectrum anti-virals such as Cipro so that we can deal with a wide variety of threats and we can also deal with threats after the attack has occurred.
Agghhh, Parney! Such clowning! BioShields are failing, Captain!

Cipro is not an anti-viral drug, it is an antibiotic. And anthrax is a bacterial disease, not a viral one.


Post a Comment

<< Home