Binary Explosives

BINARY EXPLOSIVES….Here’s what Time had to say last week about the mechanics of the airline bombing plot:

Their plan was to smuggle the peroxide-based liquid explosive TATP and detonators onto nine different planes from four carriers….

[According to the FBI,] “TATP was popularized as a main charge explosive in suicide bombs used by Palestinian terrorist groups.” Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted in 1996 for plotting to simultaneously bomb up to a dozen U.S. commercial airliners flying in the Far East, had manufactured TATP detonators….More recently, British shoe bomber Richard Reid tried to detonate his device with TATP as the initiator.

In other words, TATP is dangerous stuff. But the airline bombers weren’t planning to take TATP aboard their flights. They were planning to take its liquid precursors on board and then mix them together while the plane was in the air. That’s why we’re not allowed to pack gels or liquids in our carry-on bags anymore.

So: just how easy is it to mix up those precursors and blow up a plane? The Register’s Thomas Greene provides would-be terrorists with their marching orders:

Don’t forget to bring several frozen gel-packs (preferably in a Styrofoam chiller deceptively marked “perishable foods”), a thermometer, a large beaker, a stirring rod, and a medicine dropper. You’re going to need them.

It’s best to fly first class and order Champagne. The bucket full of ice water, which the airline ought to supply, might possibly be adequate ? especially if you have those cold gel-packs handy to supplement the ice, and the Styrofoam chiller handy for insulation ? to get you through the cookery without starting a fire in the lavvie.

Once the plane is over the ocean, very discreetly bring all of your gear into the toilet. You might need to make several trips to avoid drawing attention. Once your kit is in place, put a beaker containing the peroxide / acetone mixture into the ice water bath (Champagne bucket), and start adding the acid, drop by drop, while stirring constantly. Watch the reaction temperature carefully. The mixture will heat, and if it gets too hot, you’ll end up with a weak explosive. In fact, if it gets really hot, you’ll get a premature explosion possibly sufficient to kill you, but probably no one else.

After a few hours ? assuming, by some miracle, that the fumes haven’t overcome you or alerted passengers or the flight crew to your activities ? you’ll have a quantity of TATP with which to carry out your mission. Now all you need to do is dry it for an hour or two.

The genius of this scheme is that TATP is relatively easy to detonate. But you must make enough of it to crash the plane, and you must make it with care to assure potency. One needs quality stuff to commit “mass murder on an unimaginable scale,” as Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson put it. While it’s true that a slapdash concoction will explode, it’s unlikely to do more than blow out a few windows. At best, an infidel or two might be killed by the blast, and one or two others by flying debris as the cabin suddenly depressurizes, but that’s about all you’re likely to manage under the most favorable conditions possible.

There’s more at the link. The good news is that it will make you feel a little more confident about the safety of flying overseas. The bad news is that it will make you feel a little less confident about the terror announcements of our national governments. Caveat emptor.