Friday, August 11, 2006

PEROXIDE BOMBS EXPLODE: Usual memes, easy to make, deadly, etc

Updated -- Zazi case beauty parlor supply store bomb, at foot

The second wave of stories on the airline plot delivered exactly what Dick Destiny blog predicted would be the fallback position of it's-easy terror journalism. Lots and lots of articles on how simple it was to pour acetone and peroxide together on an jet-liner, add a little acid, and pow!

In the absence of real news on what materials and chemicals were found in the possession of the arrested terrorists, the speculators ran wild. And readers of this blog know there is never a shortage of people for the imagining of worst case scenarios linked to the "ease" with which terrorists can make bad things. Plans go forward without hitch -- except this one time, whew (!) -- and no one makes mistakes, buddy boy!

So with GlobalSecurity.Org senior fellow thinking cap on, if the story is not to degenerate into a poorly understood but sensational legend, it is critical to know what compounds, materials and training the terrorists had. And it will not be sufficient to receive this information second and third-hand solely through the prisms of anoymous U.S. government officials or British law enforcement.

The current blizzard of news stories required someone with the common sense to ask, in the face of the mass-feeding, "If it's so easy and the jihadists so clever, why haven't we all been reduced to boarding airplanes in our birthday suits because of the successful employment of peroxide bombs?" They required someone to timorously query, perhaps in a paraphrase from Blazing Saddles: "Are we informing people, Lord, or are we just jerking off?"

But common sense had left the room.

There are answers to these questions. But they're not and won't be short or simple. And they won't lend themselves to stories peppered with one-sentence speculations, delivered by experts.

Now, let's look at today's mess:

" . . . terrorists could simply carry aboard a plane the two chemicals used to make TATP," wrote the Washington Post. "When the chemicals are mixed together, 'chances are it will instantaneously and violently react,' said Neal Langerman, a chemical industry consultant who acts as a spokesman for the American Chemical Society. 'If it didn't, you can stick in a detonator, hook it up to the battery in your iPod, and you're dead.'

Langerman was one of the sources of the day for the newsmedia. His quotes stressed how easy it was to make a peroxide bomb. Perhaps because stressing the ease with which chemicals of all types can become, are, or made into hazards is his business.

"All I have to do is take them in the restroom with a standard water bottle," said Langerman to the Los Angeles Times for its story, "Humble Ingredients for a Deadly Purpose." "I empty the water out, mix them in the bottle, and before I'm done mixing them, the reaction had already occured and the plane is in serious trouble."

The Times qualified Langerman's insta-bomb chatter with the statement "[B]ombmaking is not as simple as some website proclaim . . . " and the differing opinion of another expert on explosives. " . . . [a professor] said she doubted TATP was strong enough to bring down a plane without added strength from a detonator."

A simple search for "Neal Langerman" turned in this top link. More to the point, across the entire breadth of the US, the big newspapers of the country settled on an ambulance chaser from the world of industrial chemistry as their source on terror bomb capabilities.

The New York Times also used Langerman, identifying him only as president of Advanced Chemical Safety. It is not quite as descriptive as this, from the litigation page: "Dr. Neal Langerman provides litigation support and expert testimony for both defendants and plaintiffs in litigation involving a wide variety of chemical-related issues. Dr. Langerman has trial-proven expertise in Failure-to-Warn litigation as well as litigation involving chemical contamination, pollution, explosions, fatalities, chemical misuses, and product liability . . . "

"Experts: Liquid bomb easy to make and hard to find," cried the Chicago Tribune. "Although many would-be terrorists have been killed while trying to make the mixture, its instability might not be a drawback for a suicide bomber intent on destroying an airplane. The easy availability of the ingredients would make it especially attractive to terrorists, experts said."

"'You don't really need to go to a chemical factory to find these things—it's just common household stuff,'" said SonBinh Nguyen, a professor of chemistry at Northwestern University."

So simple! Do you have concentrated hydrogen peroxide in your house, not the stuff from antiseptic shelves at the supermarket?

"The fact is that most common explosives are fairly simple to make," said another chem prof to the Tribune.

Then it qualified the statement: " . . . and many other experts noted that although recipes for making such explosives are widely available through the Internet, they often contain chemical errors or misleading directions—and gravely understate the risks of mixing together volatile compounds."

Like the recipes linked to on Dick Destiny blog, yesterday. We dubbed the authors of one them incompetent in a variety of interesting ways.

"It's still unclear precisely how a bomber or group of bombers would have used a peroxide-based weapon . . . " continued the newspaper.

One expert dared to be a doubting Thomas, indicating that in the case of small amounts of explosives in shoes, the modus of Richard Reid, there was a great deal of uncertainty as to whether he had enough explosive to down an airplane.

"Hellbrew is cheap, simple to make," blared the Toronto Star.

"Anyone with half an hour, a set of instructions found online and about $75 can easily make the stuff," said the newspaper.

Anyone! Half an hour! You can set yourself on fire with a pint of gasoline in two minutes, too! That could be bad on an airplane if you could also get your buddies to do it!

The Globe and Mail, a much respected newspaper, was even worse.

"An experiment to test the capacity of such combinations was carried out combining an easily bought hair cream, with sodium chloride, or bleach . . . They used half a tube of Brylcreem and a cup full of sodium chloride and they put a crater in the ground with it," [a professor] said.

Table salt! Plus Brylcreem!

Utterly incompetent, the Canadian newspaper lacked even one courageous editor, faintly remembering his high school chemistry or merely the label on the Morton's canister in the kitchen, to say, "Waitaminnuit, you can make a bomb with salt and hair dressing? We're not printing that! It's a mistake!" (This alert local-to-the-Mail blogger, Bruce Rolston,
also spied the gaffe.)

Whatever was told to the Globe and Mail, whether quoted correctly or not, it was fit only for the trash. F minus!

Maggie Fox of Reuters, whose Thurday article for Reuters on how your medicine chest had the correct ingredients, of a kind that should have been spiked, also tapped Neal Langerman.

But for her, he sang a different tune: "That does not mean they are easy to make into bombs, cautioned Neal Langerman, a San Diego consultant who is former chair of the American Chemical Society's Division of Chemical Health and Safety."

". . . some kind of expertise is usually needed to buy peroxide that is concentrated enough to work in an explosive, he noted."

Surprisingly, the small Contra Costa Times newspaper turned in a very good story, emphasizing the uncertainties and variables of making and smuggling peroxide bombs for such an operation.

It would be difficult to make a bomb on board," said one chemist.

And the newspaper really went against the received wisdom of the day when it found a military explosives expert who said: "I think the risk of this happening is really very small."

As has been noted, the war on terror is not complete without its academies and businesses scrabbling for attention and opportunity.

"Prof. Ehud Keinan of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and the Scripps Research Institute is a renowned expert on peroxide-based explosives," claimed one P.R. piece from a news database. "He can explain these explosives in depth, and discuss how . . . they are easy to make from ingredients available . . . even [in] supermarkets."

So here is the Dick Destiny blog challenge! Using the recipes linked to in yesterday's blog, go to the drug store, or supermarket or your medicine chest, and try to make a peroxide bomb in less than an hour or two. Don't start the clock until you have the materials.

See how easy it is.

If you're working with concentrated reagents, be careful and methodical so not to shower yourself with hot solvent or make a splash and splatter it around the room. Making a mess or hurting yourself doing bucket chemistry will only count as small tactical terror victory. Keep in mind, a teenager blew himself to oblivion in Houston earlier this year doing the same thing.

Dick Destiny blog will point you in the right direction for reagents. You'll need a small amount of an inorganic acid. Go to OSH. They sell hydrochloric acid in their pool supplies department. While there, stop by the paint department. Acetone in gallon cans -- 16 USD.

If you proceed to hydrogen peroxide more concentrated then 3 percent, and you certainly will have to in order to prototype terror plans, you could try here.

But it may not be as advertised. So you'll have to make a purchase and experiment ahead of time, once you have the reagent in hand, to see if it is sufficient for the task.

And this page will tell you some more about grades of hydrogen peroxide. Oh, look! The link on that page to purchase more concentrated stuff isn't working!

Report if you can make something on an airplane in a short period of time. Scale down your quantities appropriately so you don't injure or kill yourself if you make a mistake. Dick Destiny blog will still give you credit for your research.

The Beauty Parlor Supply Store Bomb at GlobalSecurity.Org here. With relevant photos.


Anonymous The Antibomber said...

Hi Dick and Readers, have a recipe to make Tricycloacetone Phospate (the AP in TATP) using drug store 3% Hydrogen Peroxide. They recommend chilling the liquids as they are mixed and adding the acid catalyst a drop at a time and having a thermometer in the mix at all times to avoid the heat of reaction bringing the mixture above 10 degrees Celcius so as to avoid making Dicycloacetone Phosphate and blowing yourself up scooping the stuff out ot the mixing bowl.

They also calculate it takes around 12 hours for the crystals to BEGIN to precipitate out of the mix which then have to be collected in sufficient quantities to blow more than the top off the jar you keep them in and dried to achive a 'usable' crystal explosive powder.

Clearly doing all this on a five hour plane trip is unworkable not to mention likely to be either spotted by passengers and crew from the foul odour the chemicals give off while reacting or is likely to generate a loud bang when the small amount of unstable explosive goes off before enough explosive has precipitated out of the mixture and been dried to make a reasonable sized bomb.

However this line of thinking is missing two very important points.

Firstly all the precautions that SANE people might take to avoid blowing themselves to bits are unlikely to be taken by a terrorist intent on bringing down a plane in mid flight with himself on board!

Second but more importantly - who the hell said these loonies HAVE to mix the stuff on board and in flight???

The ingredients can all be 'safely' mixed in sufficient quantities to make a very powerful bomb in the time before they purchase tickets and can then be easily and relatively safely moulded into toothpaste tubes or into a number of packets of chewing gum and carried on board by five or more individuals so as to combine on board into a sufficient qunatity of powdery paste as to make a deadly 'plastic' high explosive containing maybe half a kilo of AP!

Mixing the stuff on the plane is highly impractical for a number of reasons but by premixing the stuff with the same ingredients a terrorist plot is much more practicable - wouldn't you agree??

2:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd wonder at what concentration the solution becomes so dangerously unstable. If the dry crystal form is too dangerous, then at what ammount of water does it become safe to move? After that, when the idiot is ready to send themselves to paradise, toss some dessicator into the container. Common chemical sulfates, or perhaps combine timer with dessicator (you did say it was temperature sensitive) by mixing in the active ingredient of one of the US military's discontinued hemostat bandages. Discontinued because soldiers treated with it were getting 2nd degree burns (up to 100C).

The only thing that has been keeping us safe in the air ISN'T the police, the government, the media, or the anti-terror procedures at airports, it's the fact that most of these terrorists are so stupid. I just wish that the media and our US governemt wouldn't keep braging that they can be just as dumb . . .

Thanks for the real world info.

3:51 PM  

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