Friday, August 11, 2006

Bomb Bust

Colby Cosh performs a much-needed reality check about the dangers of acetone peroxide, the highly unstable liquid explosive which has led to the banning of highly stable liquid non-explosives:

This morning's press is abuzz with talk of TATP (acetone peroxide), a liquid explosive favoured by Middle Eastern bombers that is "easy to make and hard to detect." With advantages like that, surely there's some catch? Just so--TATP is easy to make, but far, far easier to blow one's limbs off with in the making. In its high-explosive form it's even less stable than nitroglycerin. And after five years' experience with the New Transport Security, it should not come as a surprise to anyone that the scenes of security officials pouring hand lotion, hair gel, and bottled water into giant waste bins apparently represent a spectacle every bit as irrational as a witch-dunking. It didn't blow up, therefore it was safe all along! Have a nice day!


So you tell me: we're talking about maybe 200 or 300 mL of an explosive that's not under serious compression, and that isn't quite TNT-equivalent even when it's not in liquid suspension? I realize airframes are fragile because of the annoying necessity to leave the ground, and that's certainly enough TATP to cause some death and carnage in the cabin. I'm not sure it would reliably breach the skin of the aircraft, let alone guarantee that it crashed. Even assuming you didn't bump into anything on the way through the security inspection. Or attract a whole bunch of attention by carrying a bottle of Gatorade like it was a carton of sparrow's eggs. Or get the dye job not quite right.

Cosh may be right in suggesting that the British bomb plot suspects weren't the savviest of plotters, given their choice of explosive.

But these people don't have to be brilliant, or even of normal intelligence, to execute such a plot; they just have to follow instructions and have luck break their way.

Evil geniuses don't need geniuses to carry out their evil.

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