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Are Liquid Explosives on a Plane Feasible? 875

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the shaken-not-stirred dept.
permaculture writes "The Register describes the difficulty of mixing up a batch of liquid explosives on a plane. Further, it opines that such a plot might work in a Hollywood film, but not in the real world. Liquid explosives were used for the 7/7 London bombings in 2005, according to the official account — or not, as now seems more likely." This story selected and edited by LinuxWorld editor for the day Saied Pinto.
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Are Liquid Explosives on a Plane Feasible?

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  • by zipthink (943185) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @04:08PM (#15929435)
    but what about SNAKES on a plane, ever thought of that?
    • by hamfactorial (857057) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @04:09PM (#15929444)
      It may be feasible.... is snake venom explosive when combined with paranoia and sensationalism? Brilliant!
    • by Tackhead (54550) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @04:09PM (#15929452)
      > but what about SNAKES on a plane, ever thought of that?

      No, you want that other movie. We're talkin' about muthafuckin' liquids [craphound.com] on a muthafuckin' plane, and there ain't a got-damn thing you can do about it!

  • by draggy (30660) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @04:08PM (#15929439) Homepage
    Borat is able to do liquid explosions
  • by noretsa (995866) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @04:13PM (#15929504)
    Does anyone else think that these terrorists' true purpose is not to kill the passengers on a few planes but to inconvenience travellers for years to come? Blowing up a plane is a one-time deal but scaring people into not taking drinks onto planes, making people take off their shoes before boarding, checking their ipods in with their luggage, these annoyances are going to be with us for decades to come! Why terrorize when irritating is so much easier?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by kfg (145172) *
      Blowing up a plane is a one-time deal but scaring people. . .

      . . .is why, I believe, they call it "terrorism."

      KFG
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Flavio (12072)
      Does anyone else think that these terrorists' true purpose is not to kill the passengers on a few planes but to inconvenience travellers for years to come?

      Their immediate goal is to kill as many infidels as possible, with the final objective of wiping out the US and Israel. It's their mission statement, they make no effort to hide it and anyone who thinks otherwise might as well believe in unicorns.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Actually, their goal is world domination under their hardline view of Islam.

        Like many other totalitarians, they think little of inconveniencing or killing human life, as long as their goals are getting met. Terror is a tool. Inconvenience just another tool.

        And destroying the US and Israel is their initial goal, to be followed shortly by world domination. They target the US and Israel because, in theory, we oppose their horrifying goals and have the balls to stop them. Of course, if we give in and put on our
        • by vertinox (846076) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @07:21PM (#15931105)
          Actually, their goal is world domination under their hardline view of Islam.

          Believe it or not Osama's goals were more secular than religeous.

          After he returned from Afghanistan he was sort of a semi-hero in his home country of Saudi Arabia. When Saddam invaded Kutwait in 91, Osama personally offered King Saudi access to Al Queda's 100,000 volunteers and his personal fortune to fight off Saddam from a Saudi invasion.

          But... The King's delegation (Osama wasn't allowed to talk to the royal family himself) laughed at Osama's offer because Saddam had over 1,000,000 troops and they were well armed at that.

          Then King Saudi invited the American to be based in Saudi and attack an attack on Iraq. This infuriated Osama because no only was his offer rebuffed, but infidels were on holy ground. At that moment he swore revenge and packed his bags and moved to Sudan.

          Later... Osama assisted the muslims in Somalia to drive out the Americans. His support was negliable and some say didn't really help as much as he said he did.

          The problem with this was that Osama mistakenly thought that if you killed a few Americans they would run with their tails behind their legs because they had no stomach for fighting.

          So he mistakenly went about and concocted 9/11 thinking if he brought the fight to their home land the Americans would give in and leave Saudi Arabia.

          Of course we know that he was horribly mistaken and would have done better attacking military targets in Saudi Arabia, but that is neither here nor there but there are very secular reasons or at least political reasons that the terrorists do what they are trying to do to us.

          Many of them use the banner of religion to carry out that agenda.
        • Score:4, Insightful? Come on.

          I am not a terrorism "expert"; just someone who likes to keep the "story" consistent with the way I've seen the world work. This "horde of Islamic fundamentalists" stuff is just fearmongering. Think about it.

          The goal of Islamic jihadists (at least, the ones we care about-- Al Qaeda, right?) is to remove those people who stand in the way of a Muslim state. The reason why they target not just Westerners (who clearly stand in the way-- we introduct Democracy, corporate in
  • It has been done! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by lunartik (94926) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @04:14PM (#15929510) Homepage Journal
    Christ, this has . [wikipedia.org]

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by lunartik (94926)
      Haha, should have previewed.

      LINK [wikipedia.org]

      The "Mark II" "microbombs" had Casio digital watches as the timers, stabilizers that looked like cotton wool balls, and an undetectable nitroglycerin as the explosive. Other ingredients included glycerin, nitrate, sulfuric acid, and minute concentrations of nitrobenzene, silver azide (silver trinitride), and liquid acetone. Two 9-volt batteries in each bomb were used as a power source. The batteries would be connected to light bulb filaments that would detonate the bomb. Mura
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Rei (128717)
        That reinforces my main take on this: the creator of the article has this silly preconceived notion that "murderous" implies "stupid".

        First, you've got to get adequately concentrated hydrogen peroxide. This is hard to come by, so a large quantity of the three per cent solution sold in pharmacies might have to be concentrated by boiling off the water. Only this is risky, and can lead to mission failure by means of burning down your makeshift lab before a single infidel has been harmed.

        Nope. You can distill
  • by andrewman327 (635952) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @04:16PM (#15929535) Homepage Journal
    Here is [howstuffworks.com] another source on the issue.


    I was shocked to hear the media talking about the possibility of bring nitroglycerin onto an airplane. The entire reason that dynamite was invented is because the liquid is horribly volitile. Some people have speculated that the terrorists were not attempting a large scale explosion as CNN and Fox News would have you believe. Instead they were waiting until the plane was in the middle of the Atlantic and starting a fairly large fire. There are many substances that can create a dangerous fire on an airplane in the middle of the ocean at 30,000 feet. There is no need for a Holywood style explosion at all. I am being intentionally vague in this post, but three men with drink containers full of certain substances starting three fires at three different parts of the plane would be extremely difficult to control, especially considering the lack of fire surpression systems in the passenger cabin. I am not a firefighter (rookie EMT and will be training to be a rescuer) but I cannot imagine trying to put out three fires with the 1-2 fire extingueshers available.


    The first World Trade Center bombing and OK City show that everyday chamicals can be combined with horrific results. In those situations, however, there were truckloads of the two ingredients. I agree in part with TFA that it would be hard to perform an explosion the size of Pan-Am 103's with liquids, but that is not necesary.

    • Nitro on a plane (Score:5, Informative)

      by toupsie (88295) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @04:52PM (#15929916) Homepage
      The "Mark II" "microbombs" had Casio digital watches as the timers, stabilizers that looked like cotton wool balls, and an undetectable nitroglycerin as the explosive. Other ingredients included glycerin, nitrate, sulfuric acid, and minute concentrations of nitrobenzene, silver azide (silver trinitride), and liquid acetone. Two 9-volt batteries in each bomb were used as a power source. The batteries would be connected to light bulb filaments that would detonate the bomb. Murad and Yousef wired an SCR as the switch to trigger the filaments to detonate the bomb. There was an external socket hidden when the wires were pushed under the watch base as the bomber would wear it. The alteration was so small that the watch could still be worn in a normal manner.

      Read up! [wikipedia.org]

  • by quitcherbitchen (587409) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @04:22PM (#15929604)

    Bruce Schneier linked to another post [schneier.com] which had an interesting take by a chemist in a graduate program. He describes details of the chemicals involved and what it would take to detonate them effectively onboard a plane.

    The summary: improvised explosives involve pretty nasty stuff that you'd be hard pressed to mix in an airplane lavatory without killing yourself in the process.

  • In a word? No. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Guysmiley777 (880063) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @04:22PM (#15929607)
    Firstly, the 7/7 bombs were reported to be TATP. This compound is made with acetone, hydrogen peroxide and drain cleaner. The ingredients are liquid, yes, but the end product is a powder. Creating TATP requires access to a cooler or ice water bath, it is not something you can whip up in a bathroom.

    The hysteria this has caused is mind boggling. There are an infinite number of ways terrorists could attack random innocent civilians. It is not, repeat not, possible to protect everyone from everything. Banning iPods and water bottles is not making anyone safer. It is an attempt to appear that something is "being done". It's a pacifier for the masses.
    • Re:In a word? No. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by iphayd (170761) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @05:29PM (#15930301) Homepage Journal
      It is _not_ a pacifier. It _is_ something to cause hysteria. It is _not_ something done by arabs. It _is_ something done by our governments.

      As Jon Steward said the other night, "You are more likely to die in your bathtub than in a terrorist attack."

      You are more likely to die in a car crash than in a terrorist attack.
      You are more likely to die in the bathtub, due to a car crash, than in a terrorist attack.

      Basically, it is time to start contacting the media in droves and tell them that we are sick of their reporting of government misinformation, we are willing to take the chance of another 9/11, and that they should report on the crimes against the nation and humanity being perpetrated by the people in power.

      Now I'm off on an unscheduled vacation to Gitmo. See you again after the trial (never.)
  • by jgs (245596) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @04:24PM (#15929622)
    Perry Metzger wrote an excellent post [interesting-people.org] to the interesting-people mailing list last Friday. He goes into more detail than the Register article does, offers first-hand information, and packs in more irony and sarcasm besides.
  • by Tweekster (949766) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @04:25PM (#15929632)
    What a bunch of idiots, it has already been done on a plane, years ago.

    It isnt a new concept, its an old plan...

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oplan_Bojinka [wikipedia.org]

    To Quote the article on wikipedia:

    The "Mark II" "microbombs" had Casio digital watches as the timers, stabilizers that looked like cotton wool balls, and an undetectable nitroglycerin as the explosive. Other ingredients included glycerin, nitrate, sulfuric acid, and minute concentrations of nitrobenzene, silver azide (silver trinitride), and liquid acetone. Two 9-volt batteries in each bomb were used as a power source. The batteries would be connected to light bulb filaments that would detonate the bomb. Murad and Yousef wired an SCR as the switch to trigger the filaments to detonate the bomb. There was an external socket hidden when the wires were pushed under the watch base as the bomber would wear it. The alteration was so small that the watch could still be worn in a normal manner. [1] [5] [7]

    Yousef got batteries past airport security during his December 11 test bombing of Philippine Airlines Flight 434 by hiding them in hollowed-out heels of his shoes. Yousef smuggled the nitroglycerin on board by putting it inside a contact lens solution bottle.

    The density of the explosive cocktail would be about 1.3.
  • by LS (57954) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @04:26PM (#15929657) Homepage
    There are so many problems with this. Why weren't liquids blocked before? I'm sure in the billions they spent investigating possible methods for bombing a plane that liquid explosives were considered. Authorities aren't gonna make people get on planes naked, so they have to let people take stuff on. They are only blocking liquids now because they have to show the public that they are doing something. There are still dozens of other ways to easily get dangerious stuff onto planes, but they don't block those now, do they? easy examples: Sharp pencils and pens, materials in laptops and other electronics that show up as normal shapes on the xray but could easily be reconfigured into weapons, etc.

    In any event I just took a flight from China to Los Angeles and they claimed you couldn't bring liquids aboard, but no one was checking. It's all just noise to make people feel like they are being protected.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by tinkerton (199273)
      Authorities aren't gonna make people get on planes naked, so they have to let people take stuff on

      Sure they are, and you're all gonna get an enema too.
  • by brobak (683932) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @04:39PM (#15929786)
    You know, I've read several articles now talking about the potential difficulties in mixing a binary explosive on a plane. And you know, I'll buy that. But, for my dollar, and ease of use, why not just carry on some bleach and ammonia? When mixed they do some pretty nasty stuff [bbc.co.uk]. And there's no concern about explosion beforehand, and no strange requirements for mixing them properly. Plus, once you mix them, you can't stop the reaction. The end result is the same. Everyone on the plane dies, and it falls out of the sky. That was the whole point, right?
  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @04:49PM (#15929878) Homepage Journal
    Bruce Schneier, the dean of crypto [schneier.com] and security processes generally, yesterday debunked this plot [schneier.com] as "implausible".

    A British diplomat (to Uzbekistan, an actual center of the Qaeda War) warns us to be skeptical of the plot [dailykos.com]. Especially its timing, which was premature for destroying a possible network, but right on time to steal headlines from a primary defeat from a leading neocon [google.com] that drew defensive scare propaganda from Bush and Cheney even though it's a Democratic primary.

    As we see more and more [msn.com] of our Republican government terrorizing us on their campaign schedule [usatoday.com], we have more chances to turn against them, and fight our own war against terror ourselves, in our own minds and at the polls. We can replace anyone in the House of Representatives [wikipedia.org] and 1/3 of the Senate [wikipedia.org].
  • Redox rules (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Java Ape (528857) <mike...briggs@@@360...net> on Thursday August 17, 2006 @05:11PM (#15930116) Homepage
    First, although I work as a geek (and have for years) I have an M.S. in chemistry, and a long-standing facination with explosives. I'm not an expert on the topic, but I've got more background than the average Joge. I'd like to underscore the text of the article, in that binary explosives are not as simple and elegant as Hollywood makes them out to be. Most of the ones that might be interesting are (like many explosives) extremely nitrogen rich. Good for storing energy, but most sniffers are looking for Nitrogen-rich compounds. You may as well try to get a block of Permatex aboard.

    Another reader pointed out that, while the explosive scenario is problematic, incindiary devices are easy. A soup-can full of Potassium Permanganate and a rougly equal volume of Glycerine will make a heck of a blaze -- or a really nice igniter for a thermite bomb. I suspect all of these materials could be smuggled aboard (though I'm not about to try).

    Another potential venue is nerve agents. Without going into any real detail, hydrofluoric acid is the foundation for several nasty nerve agents, some of which COULD be whipped up in the lav in just a few minutes. Probably not enough to kill the whole plane, and I'm assuming the pilots have a seperate air supply, but killing half the passengers on a loaded airliner might be good enough to interest a terrorist.

    Then there's biological agents. Some years ago I worked with cyanotoxins, primarily anatoxin. Nasty stuff, and available at any nice warm, eutrophic lake in the U.S. I was playing around with extracting the toxin, and ended up with a protocol that used DMSO as a solvent to help seperate the toxin from cellular membranes. This stuff used to scare me to death -- a nice liquid that, if splashed on your skin (or clothing) would cause death in a matter of minutes. Imagine a squirt-gun or a water-balloon filled with this on a plane.

    For the record, I'm far more frightened of the current Government that I am of terrorists, and I'd rather just take my chances that submit to the "protections" that are being provided. However, it doesn't take a lot of effort to come up with some plausible scenarious where a lunch-box might conceal some fairly deadly things.

  • by HangingChad (677530) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @05:53PM (#15930485) Homepage

    I rest easier on an airplane knowing that we're soundly protected from the most bizarre Hollywood movie plot type attacks, desperately trying not think about all the simple, easy practical things the idiots running things have overlooked.

    The real terrorists have got to be laughing their asses off at the way we snarl air traffic, tie up millions of dollars in police resources, botch up air travel and twist ourselves in nervous knots over nothing. I'll bet they're more than a little amused at the video of people throwing toothpaste and hair gel into dumpsters.

    If the terrorist plan is to make us live in fear, scared of our shadow and squander our national treasure on security that doesn't work while we go into staggering national debt spending 5 billion a month in a no-win war half-way around the world, then I'd ask which political party is really helping the terrorists?

    A small group of people could cause mass panic and a surprising amount of damage armed with nothing more dangerous than a little training and a cigarette lighter or box of kitchen matches. We are so easily spooked, then our over-reaction and fear takes the little bit of damage the terrorists actually do and magnifies it to absurd proportions. Remember the panic and fear on the east coast when the sniper and his kid were on the loose? There were road blocks, random searches, helicopters, overtime for police...one guy with a rifle. Un-fucking-real.

  • by WombatControl (74685) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @06:06PM (#15930596)

    Not only is this plan feasible, but a terrorist had already detonated such a device on board an aircraft. In 1995 Philippines Airlines Flight 434 [wikipedia.org] was the target of a bomb left by al-Qaeda terrorist Ramzi Youssef on an earlier leg of the flight. The bomb cut Japanese businessman Haruki Ikegami in half, and ripped through the passenger compartment into the cargo hold. The aircraft lost primary and backup hydraulic controls and had to be flown in via throttles -- a difficult and dangerous maneuver.

    Not only that, but the bomb that Youssef left on board that flight was one tenth the power of the bombs he intended to detonate as part of Operation Bojinka. The argument that such a weapon is not feasible is itself more FUD. It is quite possible, and it has been done before. Al-Qaeda operatives are trained in explosives, and they knew exactly what was doing.

    Yes, there's a good chance of killing yourself while mixing such a bomb, but I rather doubt that any of the plotters of this attack had any qualms about killing themselves in the process.

    • by LanceUppercut (766964) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @08:01PM (#15931333)
      How is that relevant? The Wikipedia article clearly states that he used liquid nitroglycerin. Nitroglycerin will be easily detected by regular modern airport explosives-detection means, which puts nitroglycerin out of consideration. The whole point of The Register article, if you read it carefully, is to research the possibilty to create explosives from apparently _innocent_ liquids.
    • I'm not saying you're wrong. But "liquid" was perhaps the wrong term.

      The question is whether undetectable, binary liquid bombs are feasible. To be undetectable, they couldn't be nitrogen-based explosives, as that is what all the detectors sniff for.

      So the question is, could a two-part, non-Nitrogen-based liquid explosive (so called peroxide bombs) be smuggled onto a plane and then make a large enough explosion to bring it down?

      It seems rather unlikely to me, with only a light skimming of the info. But I cou
  • by tweek (18111) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @06:07PM (#15930604) Homepage Journal
    but why even bother blowing up the plane? The security lines at airports are going to be incredibly dense and an airport has plane-loads of people in it. A coordinated simultaneous detenation of something inside the airport would work just as well.

    When was the last time you went through a security checkpoint to get IN the airport?
  • Just not plausible. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AWeishaupt (917501) on Thursday August 17, 2006 @10:28PM (#15931990)
    I've been trying to explain along the lines of TFA ever since this supposed terror plot came to light.

    Yes, if they were using sensitised nitromethane, or pre-prepared gelled Acetone Peroxide, then it is very much plasuible.

    But everything i've read claims that they were supposedly planning to synthesise AP on the plane.

    Now, you start off with your Hydrogen Peroxide, say 35%, and you could have this pre-mixed with your acid catalyst - say conc. Hydrochloric or Sulfuric Acid. You only need a small amount of acid - and HCl doesn't react anywhere near as exothermically as conc. H2SO4. So this pre-prepared mixture could conceivably be handled quite safely - it's certainly nothing like 'Pirhana Fluid', which IIRC, is equal volumes of conc. H2SO4 and H2O2.

    So this mixture can be mixed, on the plane, with acetone. Now, it needs to be done in an ice bath, - sure, maybe you can MacGyver this up on board somehow - and after waiting hours for the reaction to complete, the product needs to be filtered out and dried. In my opinion, this would be the hardest part to complete on the plane, and the hardest to conceal. It would be easier trying to get snakes on the plane.

    TFA does mention something particularly scary in the context of aircraft terror - Dimethylmercury.

    In a couple of bottles of eye drops or something, you would probably have enough to give everybody on the plane a lethal dose. No fancy delivery system needed, just drop it on the floor and let the volatility, vapour pressure and air circulation system do the rest.

    And you wouldn't know a damn thing for months.

IF I HAD A MINE SHAFT, I don't think I would just abandon it. There's got to be a better way. -- Jack Handley, The New Mexican, 1988.

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