Americans Shrug at Phony Binary Explosives Threat
By Ted Rall
Clearing House" -- -- LOS ANGELES--Attention, citizens of the
national community: stay tuned for a HomeSec alert! A fiendish plot
has been uncovered! Terrorists loyal to the sinister forces of
Eastasia have been apprehended! It is another glorious victory for
the homeland! All hail Oceania!
It was hard not to suffer a 1984 flashback on August 10th, when UK
authorities and their rhetorical American partners claimed to have
rounded up more than two dozen British Muslims accused of--or so
they claimed--participation in an elaborate plot to commit "mass
murder on an unimaginable scale." According to Britain's national
Crown Prosecution Service the suspects planned "to smuggle the
component parts of improvised explosive devices onto aircraft and
assemble and detonate them on board" as many as ten passenger jets
bound for the United States from England.
The airline industry, long teetering on the edge of financial
catastrophe, could easily be shoved headlong into oblivion as the
result of harsh new security restrictions. Travelers are being asked
to arrive at the airport three hours before their scheduled
departure times because of longer lines at shortstaffed security
checkpoints. All liquids and gels--staple components of cosmetics,
toothpaste, medicine and other toiletries--have been banned from
carry-on baggage, adding at least another hour to the trips of
carry-on-only passengers who previously never had to wait for their
belongings to disgorge upon the baggage carousel.
Industry analysts say travelers aren't afraid of being blown up by
terrorists. They're right. Hundreds of millions of people fly each
year; very few end up shredded among the wreckage of an office
tower. But passengers are afraid. They fear that the government's
draconian security measures will make them miss their flights. That
real and wholly justifiable fear has already cut ticket sales by as
much as 20 percent.
A mere two days after British officials announced that they had
foiled the dastardly Islamofascists terror plot, and the Bush
Administration crowed that this news somehow proved that they had
once again kept us safe, Americans weren't fazed in the least.
People polled by Newsweek said, 54 to 26 percent, they still didn't
want to give up their carry-on bags. As the Republican Party
continued its suicidal stay-the-course mantra into the November
midterm elections, the sound of a Great National Shrug greeted the
latest triumphalist shrieks from America's telescreens.
Could it be, despite our leaders' long-established record of always
telling us the truth no matter what, that we can't be sure there was
a plot at all? Or that, if there was a plot, it wasn't
viable--certainly not nearly enough to justify the risk to the
airline industry or hassling hundreds of millions of travelers?
According to the respected and irreverent British technology
publication The Register, the plot--if it existed--was a joke.
Smuggling the component parts of triacetone triperoxide (TATP)--the
liquid explosive we've been told was the object of the wannabe
jihadis' vengeance fantasies--and successfully mixing them into a
brew powerful enough to bring down a plane would require skills far
beyond the capabilities of, well, anyone.
"First," wrote The Register, "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...Take your
hydrogen peroxide, acetone, and sulfuric acid, measure them very
carefully, and put them into drink bottles for convenient smuggling
onto a plane. It's all right to mix the peroxide and acetone in one
container, so long as it remains cool. 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...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
"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
The conclusion is clear: "Certainly, if we can imagine a group of
jihadists smuggling the necessary chemicals and equipment on board,
and cooking up TATP in the lavatory, then we've passed from the
realm of action blockbusters to that of situation comedy."
The "plot," or at least the prosecution thereof, is already
unraveling. Two "terrorists" have been released. Of the remaining
23, only 11 have been charged. Of those charged, only eight face
charges related to the "plot."
Ted Rall is the author of the new book "Silk Road to Ruin: Is
Central Asia the New Middle East?," an in-depth prose and graphic
novel analysis of America's next big foreign policy challenge. Visit
his website www.tedrall.com