Flying Toilet Terror Labs

We've had a rash of inquiries lately in the forum I moderate at flyertalk.com about the veracity of last summer's so-called liquid bomb plot in London.

News wires were ablaze with analysis for weeks following the August 10th arrests of the 24 alleged conspirators. Once the dust settled, certain explications emerged to capture the imagination of commentators and the general public justifying the draconian carry-on rules pertaining to commercial air travel. Regulars of FT's Travel Safety/Security forum, however, generally rush to post this gem, courtesy of The Register (UK), as sufficient refutation to What Might Have Been.

Here's a teaser:
Mass murder in the skies: was the plot feasible?
By Thomas C Greene in Washington
Published Thursday 17th August 2006 09:42 GMT

Analysis The seventh angel poured out his bowl into the air;
And a loud voice came forth out of the temple of Heaven,
From the throne, saying, "It is done!"
--Revelation 16:17

Binary liquid explosives are a sexy staple of Hollywood thrillers. It would be tedious to enumerate the movie terrorists who've employed relatively harmless liquids that, when mixed, immediately rain destruction upon an innocent populace, like the seven angels of God's wrath pouring out their bowls full of pestilence and pain.

The funny thing about these movies is, we never learn just which two chemicals can be handled safely when separate, yet instantly blow us all to kingdom come when combined. Nevertheless, we maintain a great eagerness to believe in these substances, chiefly because action movies wouldn't be as much fun if we didn't.

Now we have news of the recent, supposedly real-world, terrorist plot to destroy commercial airplanes by smuggling onboard the benign precursors to a deadly explosive, and mixing up a batch of liquid death in the lavatories. So, The Register has got to ask, were these guys for real, or have they, and the counterterrorist officials supposedly protecting us, been watching too many action movies?

We're told that the suspects were planning to use TATP, or triacetone triperoxide, a high explosive that supposedly can be made from common household chemicals unlikely to be caught by airport screeners. A little hair dye, drain cleaner, and paint thinner - all easily concealed in drinks bottles - and the forces of evil have effectively smuggled a deadly bomb onboard your plane.

Here's what I'd like to know, especially from any chemist types who'd care to weigh in (that would be you, KZach of PChem):
  • Is The Register's explanation of TATP accurate?
  • *Was* the plot feasible? (And if not, why not?)
  • And, for extra credit, where will the madness end?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Register is spot on.

TATP cannot be made by simply dumping several household chemicals together. What happens when a terrorist or a TSA "chief" tries such an experiment is that the wanna-be bomber is on the receiving end of a very weak blast. Enough to make the terrorist blind or the TSA-hole even uglier, but that's about it. There certainly won't be enough of an explosion to bring down a plane, unless Tommy the Terrorist or Comrade TSA has about a wading pool's worth of liquids.

TATP, like nitroglycerine and all other liquid-based explosives, requires a slow mixing process and a cooled environment to prevent the mixture from suddenly becoming unexpectedly exothermic before the mixture has any real bang to it. It's a lot like a certain TSA jagoff who likes to tell everyone what a great job the TSA is doing when there's really nothing getting done - a puff of smoke, a lot of hot air, a foul stench, and an ugly terrorist. That's about it.

The so-called plot of August 10th might have been a "plot", but it was a plot with no credibility and no possibility of happening. It's akin to plotting to knock over a building with your penis. Plot all you want, but it's not going to happen. However, the TSA chose to use their penises instead of their brains when they came up with their shit-for-brains liquid ban. Reaction to a plot that was impossible. Now, it's been "relaxed" - a quart of harmless liquids instead of no harmless liquids because these assholes are too proud to admit their mistakes.

It was a sad day when the TSA was created. It's even sadder that Congress hasn't yanked the plug on these idiots. Oh well, their Head Idiot now has his name and title on plastic baggies all over the world. The word is getting around.