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Old Methods Used to Detect Liquid Explosives 545

Bain writes "According to Wired News, the UK fear of terrorists using liquid explosives could be dramatically reduced by the use of some very old tech. Recent events have seen passengers forced to pack only the barest of essentials into clear plastic bags and the restriction on all liquids force even mothers with young children to have to test bottled milk to prove that it isn't a dangerous liquid." From the article: "For a machine to detect explosives in liquid or solid form, it bombards an object with energy -- such as radio waves or neutrons -- and in seconds measures the reaction, a response that differs depending on the material's chemical properties. Software in the machine is programmed to alert screeners if it detects chemical signatures known to match those of dangerous materials. A key question, though, is whether this kind of detection system can realistically block terrorists from bringing seemingly innocuous liquids past security and combining them later to deadly effect."
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Old Methods Used to Detect Liquid Explosives

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  • by Rachel Lucid ( 964267 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @02:06PM (#15904294) Homepage Journal
    I thought the chemicals involved in the terror plot (including 'pirahna') were entirely too volatile to be mixed on the plane in the first place, and too stinky to even make it past a sniff test (even in precursor form)? Or at least something inane like you'd blow yourself up before you made enough of it to get anywhere...
    • Even expert bombers need practice.
    • by AJWM ( 19027 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @02:18PM (#15904395) Homepage
      Quite possibly. I haven't seen anything definitive on what they were planning on using, but I've seen suggested that it was acetone peroxide (or rather triacetone triperoxide). Acetone is indeed both volatile and stinky, and you need pretty highly concentrated peroxide (read "unstable") to get a decent reaction rate.

      (As for acetone peroxide itself -- yeah, pretty exciting stuff, and doesn't need anything special in the way of detonators that a lot of the more stable nitrate-based explosives do. And because it isn't nitrate based, isn't detected by the nitrate-sniffers used in a lot of bomb detectors. I had a chance to play with a few grams of the stuff once (in its powder form). It doesn't take much confinement to go from "whoosh" of a fireball to "BANG!" of a detonation.)

      Plenty of other possible liquid explosives too, of course. (Nitroglycerine is a liquid, although not one I'd want to carry around in a Gatorade bottle.)
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Small bottle of bleach, small bottle of ammonia. Won't pass a "sniff" test, but amounts in bottles small enough to pass unnoticed under clothes can still cause extensive problems [bbc.co.uk] especially in a closed, delicate system. Like an airplane in flight. I also doubt that the nitrate sniffers would be set sensitive enough to alert on a closed bottle of ammonia. Any excees outside should evaporate.

        / OMG, teh BBC is terrorist!!!11oneoneeleven
        • especially in a closed, delicate system. Like an airplane in flight.

          The inside of an aircraft isn't a closed system. The engines compress outside air and feed it in at the front of the plane. At the rear of the plane are pressure-valved exhaust vents. It's needlessly expensive to recycle the inside air when the outide air only needs to be compressed to 10psi to make it breatheable. A chlorine bomb would probably injure a few passengers right around it, but that's it. Being that the cockpit is "first in lin

      • Even better, you can make acetone peroxide from fairly household chemicals. And you can pack enough of it into notebook battery. Just imagine, you open notebook and the whole plane explodes.

        I've always wondered why acetone peroxide was not used in airplane bombings. Now my thoughts are answered :)

        Another cool method to explode airplanes may be by using alkali metals to produce hydrogen and make a volume explosion, 100-200 gramms of lithium will be quite enough to blow up an airplane. The best way to produce
        • Actually, the amount of TATP you could put inside a notebook battery wouldn't be enough to blow a modern jet out of the air, (unless you got really lucky). It's a decent explosive, but not that powerful, and not very dense (you couldn't get that much inside a battery). You also need a more-definitive trigger, since they make you open up laptops and boot them at many airports.

          A hydrogen explosion would be hard to manage, since you'd need a whole lot of it, and need to confine it somewhere in just the right
          • Actually, the amount of TATP you could put inside a notebook battery wouldn't be enough to blow a modern jet out of the air, (unless you got really lucky). It's a decent explosive, but not that powerful, and not very dense (you couldn't get that much inside a battery). You also need a more-definitive trigger, since they make you open up laptops and boot them at many airports.

            Wrong. Basic first-year explosives training involves how to use and create a shaped charge, and quite frankly, your tray table convert
    • It is very trivial to get past that. Simply put a small bottle inside of the larger one and have it contain the fake stuff. So imagine a shampoo with a long small container inside that contains shampoo. TSA are not known for being the very brightest.
      • I do this to sneak vodka into festivals. Works with balloons in bottoms and fake bottoms to bottles as well.

        Although I imagine a trained security guard (with a x-ray machine) will spot that stuff.
        • Re:Trivial solution (Score:3, Interesting)

          by WindBourne ( 631190 )
          There are ways around the x-ray machine.

          The funny thing is, there is no society who is "safe". For example, we are doing many things in the same way as 1940's germany, USSR, and china. Yet, none of them were really that safe. Security for all of them were easily bypassed.

          In fact, we have much less chance of being secured since we are such a mixed society (whereas 99.99% of Chinese are Asian and look it (there are chinese causcasians)) and such things as racial profiling really does not work. Even if we r
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Could it detect that a bottle full of milk doesn't contain a hidden bottle of one's chemical of choice?

    And with that aside, how are we protecting the nation's railways, malls, gas stations, and all other manner of targets?

    • Really, I can't think of very many times I've ever had to carry any liquids on board with me? I pack all toiletries in my checked luggage, can't imagine I'd have use for them in carry on. What do you need really in the cabin that is liquid? I'm good with my computer, books and some dvd's to watch.

      I'm only able to guess this hits chicks more than it does guys, with all the makeup and such they carry in purses on board. And seriously, how often are they gonna have an emergency 'make up situation'....just pac

      • Apparently you've never had them lose your luggage. I have. Keeping your toiletries in your carry-on is a good idea (if they will let you nowadays...)

        Yeah, most places you land will have a store you could get most/all of the stuff in, but usually when I travel for business I'm busy with meetings, and don't have time for shopping. And when I travel for vacation, I'm there for vacation, not shopping. I don't travel hundreds/thousands of miles and burn vacation days, just so I can shop at the local K-Mart
      • Depending on the length of the flight, this might include certain medications, contact lens solution, toothpaste and mouthwash. Having made the trip from JFK to Narita International (13 hours), I can testify that those things are necessary, thank you very much.
        On a related note, some persons have opined that carry-on luggage and personal electronics shuold be eliminated entirely from the cabin. This, I believe, is not a realistic solution, not only due to above-implied personal care issues, but the extre
        • While I do not have on hand statistics for luggage theft for the past several years, I doubt many people would entrust such devices to checked luggage, even before locking said luggage was discouraged - seriously, did the people who tought that up think the thieves and smugglers retired?

          The clueful among us long ago invested in a $10 TSA-approved combination lock. These locks have both a combination and a keyhole; the keys are held by the TSA agents, and anyone who has managed to get a copy of one. However

      • Having been stuck in Denver overnight while my bag was on it's way to Washington, I learned it's always a good idea to keep a change of clothes and anything necessary for looking professional the next day in your carry on. Most of the time I pack very lightly and just take a carry on for a short trip. Before you whine, it always fits under the seat in front of me--I check my roller bag if it goes.
      • Really, I can't think of very many times I've ever had to carry any liquids on board with me? I pack all toiletries in my checked luggage, can't imagine I'd have use for them in carry on. What do you need really in the cabin that is liquid? I'm good with my computer, books and some dvd's to watch.

        I'm only able to guess this hits chicks more than it does guys, with all the makeup and such they carry in purses on board. And seriously, how often are they gonna have an emergency 'make up situation'....just pack

      • by voice_of_all_reason ( 926702 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @02:36PM (#15904589)
        Instead of asking "why don't you just accept this restriction" you should really be asking "why should it exist in the first place"
      • I'm good with my computer, books and some dvd's to watch.

        I know the "liquids" issue got all the press, but didn't they ban electronics too? I mean, you are aware that the lithium battery in your laptop is basically indistinguishable from a bomb, right?

      • Really, I can't think of very many times I've ever had to carry any liquids on board with me? I pack all toiletries in my checked luggage, can't imagine I'd have use for them in carry on. What do you need really in the cabin that is liquid?

        Water, water is nice. Gettings drinks from the stewerdess is a hassle and lately nothing is included in the ticket price. Often they don't "have" water except in the bathroom, it's uncommon to have none but common for it to be gone by the time it gets to you. It's alwa
    • by Riding Spinners ( 994836 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @02:14PM (#15904359)

      Let's review some notably successful attacks and see if we can learn something...

      • In the destruction of the WTC, they used airline tickets and box cutters to commandeer commercial airlines and crash them into buildings having significant economic and human impact.
      • In the London tube bombings they repeated a tactic already proven in Spain, to use relatively small amounts of common explosives to wreck mass transit facilities.
      • In other parts of the world (including a prior attempt on the WTC) they have used car and truck bombs made of kerosene and fertilizer to achieve frighteningly effective results.

      There is an awful lot of effort being expended protecting us from complex high-tech attacks, when the demonstrated pattern has been for Al Qaeda to use relatively low-tech methods and strike at targets that are easy to hit and achieve significant headlines. If we should learn anything from this, it is that Al Qaeda spends its terrorist money well, getting maximum effect for a minimum of resource.

      What we need is more thought and less hasty action, so that we too, might be capable of effective action in return. Pointless blustering actions like this, intended to reassure the public and sustain existing administrations' terms in office, do more to aide and abet the enemy than to frustrate them. We need reason and logic as our allies, instead of keeping them locked in the basement.

    • And with that aside, how are we protecting the nation's railways, malls, gas stations, and all other manner of targets?

      Exactly. If you were a terrorist, why go to the bother of smuggling stuff past x ray machines, suspicious security guards, fellow passengers etc. Wouldn't be simpler and just as effective to blow up a truck outside a random office block? Or a cineplex? Or (ironically) right beside the huge snaking queue waiting to go through airport security.

    • All you have to do is puke and you've got a dangerous HCl acid that will eat the face of a pilot right off!
    • Good point about the other targets, that's what makes me wonder whether the whole "airport-security-beef-up" is more for show than anything else.
  • by chriss ( 26574 ) * <chriss@memomo.net> on Monday August 14, 2006 @02:08PM (#15904311) Homepage

    Please remember:

    The planes that were crashed into the WTC where hijacked with carpet cutters. The current threat was discovered when "classic police work" lead to an arrest in Pakistan.

    The war against terror is not fought with technology and will never be won by technology. There is no way to guarantee safety from terrorists any more than there is a really secure computer system. The only way to live safely would be in a bunker, and that's no live.

    Terror has to be fought by international politics. Anything else will fail, because there will always be loopholes left.

    • The planes that were crashed into the WTC where hijacked with carpet cutters

      You know that never made sense to me. If someone started threatening me with a box cutter I would break his wrist and then poke his eyes out with a pen. Heck even with a standard pen knife the blade is only barely long enough to hit a vital area in an average sized adult male, let alone in an american overweight male. A box cutter is only effect againist the juglar or femoral artieries, both targets easily defended again
      • People like you (claim to be) are the reason that out of four highjacked planes, only three hit their target. Though it would have been nice if all the people on the fourth plane hadn't died as well.
      • As far as I remember the hijackers killed one stewardess in one of the planes when the pilot refused to open the cockpit. Till 9/11 most hijackings were solved peacefully (i.e. without anyone being killed), so protecting the crews/passengers live from a (minor) deadly threat like a carpet cutter was the "logic choice". Nobody had yet internalized the possibility of turning a whole passenger plane into a suicide bomber.

        Today you couldn't hijack a plane with a knife alone, even if you killed someone with it

      • I assume that they first got to the cockpit and given surprise and numbers I doubt overpowering the pilot + co-pilot was difficult. In addition given prior knowledge, surprise, fear and some talking on their part you'd probably assume they had other weapons and in general be rather scared.

        So now the question on your mind as a passenger when you finally got your wits (and they already got the plane) would be: "can I stop them and regain control of the plane before they crash it into the ground." Keep in mind
      • Which is what the passengers of Flight 93 did when they realized what was going on -- but by that time the hijacker-pilots were already in the cockpit.

        Remember, standard procedure for hijackings until 9/11 was to cooperate, fly the plane to whatever airport the hijacker wanted, and negotiate for safe return of plane, passengers and crew. The possibility that the hijackers might be more interested in doing a kamikaze run wasn't part of the equation.

        And given that, if the hijacker has grabbed a stewardess an
        • And given that, if the hijacker has grabbed a stewardess and is holding the boxcutter against her throat, what are you going to do?


          I really hate to be so calous, but given her or the other almost 100 people on board, she can die. Hell if it were me, let him take me out and then take him out. Better than getting an upfront view of what's about to happen.
      • You know that never made sense to me.

        It would make perfect sense if you knew anything about hijackings pre-9/11.

        Pre-9/11, SOP for hijackings was to cooperate so as not to be hurt until the plane landed, when negotiators would take over. That was the way things worked. On three of the flights, that's what the passengers did, expecting that by cooperating they would escape unharmed. Clearly they were wrong. The fourth flight was behaving similarly, until the passengers discovered what the fate of the prev
      • Don't know much about airline hijacking history eh?

        The vast vast majority of the time when someone would try to take over a plane, they would demand it fly to some other country that the hijackers wanted to go to. Usually it ended up with the airplane going to a very unscheduled destination, and the other passengers had themselves a little adventure. Usually just costing them several hours or an extra day of travel. Not something you want to happen, but hardly worth getting into a knife fight over. So a
      • You know that never made sense to me.

        You know what never made sense to me? The security changes after 9/11. The reason that the planes were hijacked was policy. The policy was to essentially encourage hijackers, do whatever they wanted, then negotiate later. Hijackings would be nearly impossible if the only change was to make the policy "never let anyone hijack a plane, and never do anything they ask if they do manage to hijack the plane." We'd still have pocket knives, scisors, nail clippers and suc
    • The planes that were crashed into the WTC where hijacked with carpet cutters

      Yes, heaven knows what would have happened if they'd smuggled the soft cushions aboard. :-)

      ok, serious point: every time a terrorist plot is foiled with a particular type of weapon, that is blocked so no-one can do it again. Yet they always think up new ways... perhaps we should be looking at ways to detect new weapons and stop the shoe-checking, the milk-checking, etc etc, which only serves to inconvenience the 99.99999% of people
    • by enjo13 ( 444114 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @03:14PM (#15904964) Homepage
      I couldn't disagree more.

      You are absolutely right, there is no way to 'guarantee' safety from terrorists anymore than you can't 'guarantee' I won't die in a car wreck. However, I certainly won't buy a car without seatbelts, crumple zones, and airbags. Each of those technological innovations gives me a much better chance of surviving. In the same way, technology is an absolutely essential part of fighting the war on terror. One important part of fighting terrorists is ratcheting up the costs and the difficulty of being a terrorist. You certainly won't get rid of the terrorists, but you can definitely make them less effective. You do this by going at them on all possible fronts.

      We have to make the costs of terrorism higher. We do that by (i:

      1) Police work: Make it more difficult to succesfully PLOT acts of terrorism. This is what the case in the UK did, terrorists now have to think more carefully about who they surround themselves with. This isolates terror groups, and limits the resources they can leverage to kill people. While this makes it harder to find these groups, it also makes them greatly less effective. It limits how well they can share knowledge and evolve their tactics.

      2) Technology: Make it more difficult to EXECUTE acts of terrorism. Facial recognition, bomb detection, etc... are all important tools in combatting terrorists (disclaimer: It is definitely important to balance privacy and security, that's not what this post is about). By increasing the costs of subverting the technological barriers to terrorism, we can eliminate a HIGH percentage of potential terrorists. Most terrorists lack the money or the smarts needed to subvert technological solutions. Not all, but the goal here isn't total elmination but simply thinning the herd of potential terrorists.

      3) Politics: Make it more difficult to WANT to be a terrorist. Do this by working with other governments to crack down on terrorist cultures within their borders (which the U.S. has done fairly effectively) and create a geo-political climate which removes the incentive to be a terrorist (whith the U.S. has failed miserably at).

      Terrorism has been with us since the dawn of man, and its not going anywhere. There is not solution that guarantees our safety, but a variety of solutions that can help to minimize the danger.
      • by egburr ( 141740 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @04:14PM (#15905451) Homepage
        2) Technology: Make it more difficult to EXECUTE acts of terrorism. Facial recognition, bomb detection, etc... are all important tools in combatting terrorists (disclaimer: It is definitely important to balance privacy and security, that's not what this post is about). By increasing the costs of subverting the technological barriers to terrorism, we can eliminate a HIGH percentage of potential terrorists. Most terrorists lack the money or the smarts needed to subvert technological solutions. Not all, but the goal here isn't total elmination but simply thinning the herd of potential terrorists.

        This is the part that I haven't figured out. Why do they keep attacking planes? Wouldn't it be smarter to attack the technology? Blow up all the security stations; by the time they detect the bomb, that's the same time it blows up. With the crowds waiting to get through the security stations, you'd probably injure quite a few people, too.

        If that happens often enough, it won't be long before you can't find anyone willing to work anywhere near the checkpoint. And it would have the added benefit of completely shutting the airport down for a significant time (how long does it take to cleanup the mess and install a new security station?).

        The technology is only good for preventing passage of material through the checkpoint. It won't do any good if the material is destined to end there.

        I am not advocating doing this! I am just curious why all the focus is on the plane itself. I would be more scared to stand in the line at the security station than I am of getting on a plane.

        I can't think of any solution to that, though. After all, are you going to add a security check to process people so they can go stand in line at the next security check?

        • This is the part that I haven't figured out. Why do they keep attacking planes? Wouldn't it be smarter to attack the technology?

          Either "they" are very stupid or "they" have rather different motives than those being attributed to the Al-Quaeda Global Conspiracy.
          • "They" Don't really exist, not in the numbers we're constantly being warned about by our glorious protectors. It's so obscenely trivial to make a car bomb it's not funny. Even if you only killed 5 people with each one, I assure you 10 of those in a year would have a bigger impact on day-to-day life in New York than the WTC. If there were that many would-be terrorists out there, we'd be attacked all the time.

            But you know, pouring billions of dollars of taxpayer money into local security firms makes everybody feel safe, because politicians can say "$X million is being spent on airport security" and for large enough values of X, TV tells Joe Sixpack to be happy.

            Lousy society, so quick to be scared and browbeaten into acceptance by those in power, we deserve everything we get. When the government can usurp power and money simply by declaring "war" on an concept such as "terror" or "drugs", it's a sure sign we're on our way out unless some serious changes come along.
      • by mpe ( 36238 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @04:58PM (#15905811)
        Technology: Make it more difficult to EXECUTE acts of terrorism. Facial recognition, bomb detection, etc... are all important tools in combatting terrorists (disclaimer: It is definitely important to balance privacy and security, that's not what this post is about). By increasing the costs of subverting the technological barriers to terrorism, we can eliminate a HIGH percentage of potential terrorists. Most terrorists lack the money or the smarts needed to subvert technological solutions.

        Assuming that that it isn't possible for them to trivially choose another target. When employing "technological barriers" it is important to ensure than you don't do the equivalent of putting a bank vault door on a tent. (Or even the lock from a bank vault on a tent...) It is all to easy for designers to technologically sophisticated systems to fail to consider "low tech" counter measures. e.g. it's a good idea to talk to a makeup artist before spending too much time and money of computer based facial recognition. It's also only going to be of any use if you know exactly who you are looking for in the first place.

        Politics: Make it more difficult to WANT to be a terrorist. Do this by working with other governments to crack down on terrorist cultures within their borders (which the U.S. has done fairly effectively) and create a geo-political climate which removes the incentive to be a terrorist (whith the U.S. has failed miserably at).

        This really should be the first item on the list.
        Also when it comes to cracking down on "terrorist cultures" governments tend to be highly selective about exactly which terrorists they go after. In the case of many countries (definitly including all five permenant members of the UNSC) some terrorists are actually supported. This weakens any kind of "crack down". Especially when law enforcement happens to capture the "wrong" type of terrorists.
      • create a geo-political climate which removes the incentive to be a terrorist (whith the U.S. has failed miserably at).

        Worse than 'failed miserably'; they have given huge incentives to terrorists. Probably without meaning to, I'm no conspiracy nut.

        If some anti-social group, such as is commonly referred to as 'terrorists', wanted to cause disruption they don't actually need to create a real threat any more; all they need do is to create the rumor among so-called 'intelligence' communities of some hypothetical
  • by generic-man ( 33649 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @02:09PM (#15904322) Homepage Journal
    From the article:

    "Homeland security analyst Brian Ruttenbur of Morgan Keegan also points out that the technology still produces a relatively high number of false alarms."

    and

    "A key question, though, is whether this kind of detection system can realistically block terrorists from bringing seemingly innocuous liquids past security and combining them later to deadly effect.

    "Certainly, some common ingredients in liquid explosives can be programmed into the detector. But Kant, at Rapiscan, said he would not discuss the vulnerabilities of that approach. 'Whether it detects the components of explosives and which ones, there's no way I'm putting that in print,' he said."

    We still allowed fertilizer to be transported by truck after the Oklahoma City bombing. I really don't know how we can expect people to transport any substance by airplane if there's even a slight chance that it could be used in a clever bomb-making scheme.
  • Entirely new risks (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Riding Spinners ( 994836 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @02:10PM (#15904327)

    The risks still add up, even when you use this machine:

    1. If the rate of false positives is low, a lot of people will get through quickly, but if you are one of the false positives, you may well get a very bad deal at the airport. Having been singled out on one trip to the U.S. for no apparent reason (Probably because I took a "one way" flight so maybe they thought I was not planning to return!) I can assure you its no fun if you end up on the wrong end of a statistical test.
    2. If there are too many false positives, people get angry. After all, how many people in the history of all plane flight have put explosives on a plane? A few dozen maybe, probably less than 100 in all, but any test will likely have many more false positives, and this will mean that these people get ignored.
    3. You may still be using the wrong test, and get falsely reassured. After all, the 9/11 hijackers would have passed a chemical detection test, so they would have been fine to board, no? Again, the real problem here wasn't that the test systems failed, it was the human management of the system - people weren't serious enough about the tests that were already in place.

    So, you end up putting a lot of money into doing something that will help very few flights, incovenience a large total number of innocent people, and possibly not protect the public at all.

  • There's only one thing we need to remove from air travel: terrorists. It's not the gel explosive that blows up the plane, it's the nutcase that hits the detonator. If a person is hell-bent on destroying life, they will find a way, no matter what you ban in terms of physical objects. We just need to ban terrorists from flying on airplanes, and that would have the desired effect. Personally, I think detecting terrorists is a lot cheaper than detecting explosives anyhow.
    1. You stop every person that has access to the plane, every person getting on the plane for any reason, etc. (already almost doing that)
    2. Determine if they're a terrorist somehow. (??? step)
    3. Success! No more plane bombings.
    • 2. Determine if they're a terrorist somehow. (??? step)

      A brain scan - identify which parts of the brain are active - maybe suicidal terrorists
      will have different areas active to ordinary people.
  • by From A Far Away Land ( 930780 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @02:10PM (#15904337) Homepage Journal
    This is all a red herring anyway.

    "A key question, though, is whether this kind of detection system can realistically block terrorists from bringing seemingly innocuous liquids past security and combining them later to deadly effect."

    The answer to that is of course, no. You can't design an idiot proof system because they keep coming up with better idiots. No only that, I believe some hacker guy called Kevin hypothesized that you can't firewall a system to be 100% secure, because social engineering is the exploit to overcome any hole in a system.

    I know this isn't a political discussion about the matter of liquid bomb sniffers for airports, but we should be crying bloody murder [abandonedstuff.com] that the government is letting the terrorists win this time without them firing a shot. Mothers tasting their baby formula again? I recall an airport employee doing that years ago to a mother with breatmilk in a bottle, and she sued didn't she?
    • Mothers tasting their baby formula again? I recall an airport employee doing that years ago to a mother with breatmilk in a bottle, and she sued didn't she?

      I don't recall that particular incident, but this is utterly and completely absurd.

      If a terrorist is so intent on killing people that they would lace breast milk/formula with the requisite chemicals then it's fairly clear that their family's immediate welfare is not of particular concern. Do you honestly think they would blanche at sipping a little bit o

  • by gr8whitesavage ( 942151 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @02:12PM (#15904346) Journal
    Why can't man's best friend, the K-9, sniff out these liquid explosives instead of buying a $250,000 "puffer"?
    • ...do you have any idea how much it costs to train a sniffer dog capable of doing this? Hint, it's pretty big, plus dogs tend to die quicker than such a machine (should).
  • What's sad... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by truthsearch ( 249536 )
    What's sad is that governments have known about plans to destroy aircraft with carry-on liquids since at least 1995. With a small fraction of the Iraq war budget (I've heard 1%) the US could have those air blowing detectors at every airport to at least catch many solid explosives. If enough of the government actually cared we could have had this liquid detector problem solved a long time ago. This should have been a /. story back in 1995.
    • Re:What's sad... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by badfish99 ( 826052 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @02:26PM (#15904495)

      You're assuming that the purpose of the airport security checks is to prevent terrorists from taking bombs onto planes.

      If that were the case, why were the current restrictions only put in place last week, when the existence of liquid-based bombs has been known for years, and the police claim to have been following the people they have now arrested for some weeks? Any why are the restrictions now being relaxed, if there is a danger from other unknown groups of people using the same methods?

      I'm sure airport security deters a certain number of unintelligent crackpots, and it certainly shows the travelling public that "something is being done". But the ultimate answer to the problem is a political one, not technological.

    • Well, yes and no. Reveal imaging and Analogic are under contract to develop small fast explosives detection systems that will replace our nations xray machines. Those will work to detect solid explosives and weapons. Although we technically already have such machines, we don't really have anything suited for the checkpoint environment.

      As for puffers. Puffers are really intended to scan a person, not a bag. For bags there are trace machines with swabs... which take a considerable amount of time. For many of
  • by andrewman327 ( 635952 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @02:13PM (#15904356) Homepage Journal
    There is a reason that this technology has not been adapted years ago for airport use. It is not practical to deploy at every checkpoint in the world. TFA isn't nearly as bullish on the potential of the technology:
    "One big reason is that it is not easy to integrate the explosive-detecting machines, some of which can cost $250,000, into existing security checkpoints. Because each briefcase, purse or other carry-on bag has to be put in a special drawer for analysis, using the detectors could significantly bog down passenger screening. [...] the technology still produces a relatively high number of false alarms."


    Chemistry is capeable of some fascinating things. Two extremely dangerous and deadly chemicals combine to make a tasty food additive (salt). Still, I am not aware of any liquid explosives that are completely invisible to explosive detection in component form.

  • by eclectro ( 227083 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @02:13PM (#15904357)
    FTA A major problem is that the view is so powerful that an individual's private parts can be seen

    So the x-ray glasses advertised in comic magazines really do work. I was always wondering about that. How is this a problem?
  • by creimer ( 824291 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @02:14PM (#15904361) Homepage
    A key question, though, is whether this kind of detection system can realistically block terrorists from bringing seemingly innocuous liquids past security and combining them later to deadly effect.

    It's simple. Have them mixed all the stuff together. If it goes BOOM, that's bad. If it doesn't, no problem.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 14, 2006 @02:16PM (#15904379)
    Aren't dogs already trained to sniff out innocuous chemicals during their drug sniffing training?

    I've seen dogs in O'Hare for sniffing out imported fruit/veg pick up people who've eaten a bananna.
    Surely these are better than any mechanical screening device.
  • "Old tech" (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sammydee ( 930754 )
    From TFA: "Rapiscan is developing four kinds of devices -- some based on technologies more than 10 years old". My car is based on technology more than 10 years old. In fact, the tech is more than 10,000 years old. They're called wheels. How does this make it newsworthy?
  • by WormholeFiend ( 674934 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @02:17PM (#15904386)
    without any carry-on luggage, as long as they increase the security checks on the luggage handlers and improve the luggage sorting technology to prevent my stuff from being "lost".
  • Even? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Distinguished Hero ( 618385 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @02:17PM (#15904392) Homepage
    the restriction on all liquids force even mothers with young children to have to test bottled milk to prove that it isn't a dangerous liquid.
    This isn't a matter of "even;" it's a matter of "especially." See this story [news.com.au]; quote: "A HUSBAND and wife arrested in the British terror raids allegedly planned to take their six-month-old baby on a mid-air suicide mission. Scotland Yard police are quizzing Abdula Ahmed Ali, 25, and his 23-year-old wife Cossor over suspicions they were to use their baby's bottle to hide a liquid bomb."
  • If I'm a terrorist I'm not bringing any liquid on board. Just a carryon full of Mentos(you know the fresh maker). Then I'm ordering diet coke after diet coke. There is going to be lots of sticky passengers. FEAR ME!
    • Actually, they wouldn't be that sticky. The reason Diet Coke is the one used in all those videos instead of Coke isn't because it makes more fizz (some site did a test, Pepsi/Coke, both Diets, rootbeer), it's because the sweetener in the Diet isn't as sticky as the sugars in Coke. It makes it a lot easier to clean up.
    • I'm really sorry to be pendantic and burst your wanna-be-prank-terrorist bubble, but Diet Coke isn't sticky. The airline cups are also far too wide, you wouldn't get much pressure since the force would be spread over too wide of an area. You'll probably just end up with a wet tray table and maybe get yourself a little soaked; if you're lucky, the guy next to you might get a little on him.
  • Technological Solution to a Sociological Problem.

    Yeah, as history shown us that works.
  • by rchatterjee ( 211000 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @02:20PM (#15904423) Homepage
    Here are the web sites of the two companies mentioned in the article.

    Rapiscan Systems [rapiscansystems.com]

    and

    HiEnergy Technologies, Inc. [hienergyinc.com]

    They both have interesting product portfolios.
  • by DrXym ( 126579 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @02:21PM (#15904427)
    What's to stop a terrorist walking straight through the X-Ray screener with the liquid swallowed in a condom? Or just a conventional sold explosive shoved up his backside?

    Perhaps random rectal and mouth exams are in order. Also passengers should sedated and cuffed nude with their arms outstretched for the duration of the journey.

    • What's to stop a terrorist walking straight through the X-Ray screener with the liquid swallowed in a condom? Or just a conventional sold explosive shoved up his backside?

      What's to stop someone breaking into a house through a window? Yet most people lock doors to homes.

      Just because there is always a more exteme way to do something does not mean that no precautions should be put in place - especially when precautions are tailored to actual plans found laid out.

      You can't get rid of all risk but you can reduc
  • by tyler.willard ( 944724 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @02:23PM (#15904450)
    "...with enough soap you can blow up just about anything."
  • Hmm... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by NerveGas ( 168686 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @02:24PM (#15904462)

        Bombard it with energy, and measure the reaction seconds later? For some reason, an image keeps popping into my head of putting the substance in a 1.5-kilowatt microwave, zapping it for five seconds, and seeing if it explodes or not.

        I guess there would have to be some blast deflectors around the microwave.

    steve
  • Breaking news: After the decided inability of current detection technology to differ between amonium and water, and any other substance, it has been decided that you are no longer allowed to wear any clothing or take any luggage on board. You will also be required to be freeze fried for the duration of the journey.

    When asked, airlines felt this was a little incovenient, but helped save on staffing and reduce the need to provide food to the passengers and also would save on providing other expensive forms of
  • Quite a few gotchas: (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Ancient_Hacker ( 751168 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @02:24PM (#15904468)
    There's quite a few gotchas in this sniffing idea:
    • One common ingredient in many liquid explosives is acetone. It's also an ingredient in nail-polish and nail-polish remover. So you can't sniff for acetone without getting waay too many false positives.
    • Another common ingredient in explosives is nitrogen compounds. Unfortunately, so do fertilizers, sausages, and beef jerky. So there will be too many positives on tennis shews, golf shoes, and snacks.
  • by RyoShin ( 610051 ) <tukaro@gmaiDEBIANl.com minus distro> on Monday August 14, 2006 @02:25PM (#15904476) Homepage Journal
    For a machine to detect explosives in liquid or solid form, it bombards an object with energy -- such as radio waves or neutrons
    What are the chances that, if the machine malfunctions and throws out too much energy, it causes an actual liquid explosive to, you know, explode?

    Because each briefcase, purse or other carry-on bag has to be put in a special drawer for analysis, using the detectors could significantly bog down passenger screening.
    You could always have two lines- one for those who want to bring in beverages, one for those who don't.

    A major problem is that the view is so powerful that an individual's private parts can be seen, which forced the TSA to delay tests while vendors tweaked the machines' programming to distort or mask bodily images. And backscatter systems still leave it up to a human screener to recognize a suspicious item.
    But how exact would the masking be? Would a man be able to strap a small vial to the underside of his genitals, or a woman hide something in her cleavage (and, uh, other places)?

    Something I've been wondering as we ramp up security to make flying a nightmare for everyone- aren't many of these processes making investigation work harder? We keep instituting new restrictions, and the terrorists would just find a way around them. We're playing a reactionary game, putting systems in place only after something happens (no more small knives after 9/11, check all shoes for bombs after that one guy, no more liquids after this foiled attempt), and all it's doing is slowing down everyone.

    Not that we should remove all security checks- heaven forbid someone is able to walk onto the airplane with a kilo of C4. But if we keep making our security tighter, then so will the terrorists, and that means less of a chance messing up, which is usually how detectives/investigators find out about stuff and catch them. If the terrorists have a lax atmosphere, then they will be more lax, and more prone to mistakes.

    How does the saying go? "The tighter you squeeze the more they will slip through your fingers"?
  • Of all the things you can bring onto a plane, one of it's own waste products must be the worst. [johncglass.com] It's commonly availabe but people often pay a premium for the a version that's been reverse osmosis purified. I hope the FBI starts tracking those people! If they don't the terrorists will win.

  • What, exactly, is the "old tech" referred to in the summary? The word "old" doesn't even occur in the article! All the techniques mentioned in the article require very modern and sophisticated technology for implementation.

    Fact is, there will probably never be a foolproof "bad material" detector, since there are simply too many substances that can be combined to form something dangerous. A better approach would probably be to have a "whitelist" of permissible substances whose identity could be verified. Eve
    • What, exactly, is the "old tech" referred to in the summary?


      The article talks about devices that are being developed now, based on ideas someone had 10 years ago. Apparently, Slashdot land "very old tech" means anything older than 1997.
  • I would really love to see some survey results on this (not from the slashdot crowd who obviously all see through this sort of inane security theater)

    Does anyone have links to polls of the general community that ask questions like:
    "do you feel that the security measures being taken in airports are appropriate?"

    and

    "does the ban on liquids on a plane make you feel safer?"

    Maybe I just live in and with abnormal people, but NO ONE I know seems to feel that this is a reasonable course of action for our country to
  • Just be thankful that this plot didn't involve explosive buttplugs...
  • Could Americans have LOST the Bravery needed to actually BE free, because it seems that we're at a point where you're not even allowed to own and use PROPERTY without approval.

    I wonder when exactly the Airlines forgot they needed to obey the Constitution. A State cannot give an artificial legal entity priviledges it doesn't have, such violating the security of our persons, papers and effects.

  • Making an educated guess, it shouldn't be that hard to build a sensor to distinguish between "WATER (99%+ pure)" and "NOT WATER". With that in place, the most immediate problem (people needing to hydrate in the dessicated onboard air) could be solved by allowing water (after pouring a few drops into the sensor) on board.

    (Yes, a terrorist could hide something else in a false bottom. However, a terrorist could hide a similar quantity of whatever substance anyway unless he's strip-searched and anal-probed).
  • by Builder ( 103701 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @04:33PM (#15905588)
    Maybe someone with more of a background in explosives than me can answer this... How real was this threat? How many explosive compounds are there that meet the terrorist's requirements:

    1. Look sufficiently like a regular liquid (the police don't seem to know if we were talking water or gel / paste here)

    2. Be easily and quickly detonated with a primitive home-made detonator (camera flash was bandied about?)

    3. Be able to carry enough onto a plane to cause significant structural damage without causing concern about the amount of this particular liquid that they are carrying.

    Most of the explosives / high heat exchange chemicals that I am familiar with don't fit many of these criteria, let alone all, but I freely admit to being ignorant in this field.

How many hardware guys does it take to change a light bulb? "Well the diagnostics say it's fine buddy, so it's a software problem."

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