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The Science Behind 3-1-1

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Monday, May 19, 2008
liquid

Over the weekend, Fox News published a story about the UK liquids plot. Here’s an excerpt:

“Far-fetched as it sounds, bombs made from hydrogen peroxide and the breakfast powder drink Tang could have taken down seven planes bound for the U.S. and Canada - using flash cameras to trigger the explosions.

…The alleged plot, and the excellent police work that went into busting it, resulted in the tough carry-on restrictions passengers face before boarding an airplane. Knowing the dangers of liquid explosives should make the hassle of tossing your bottles when traveling a lot easier to bear.”

A recent BBC article described the liquid explosive:

“The alleged bombs would involve 500ml plastic bottles of the Oasis and Lucozade soft drinks. A sugary drink powder, Tang, would be mixed with hydrogen peroxide, used as a hair bleach, and other organic materials.

Hydrogen peroxide and the other ingredients can become explosive if mixed to a specific strength. Mr Wright said hydrogen peroxide had been used in "previous terrorist incidents".

The mixture would be injected into a bottle with the help of a syringe. The bottle's cap would not have been removed and the hole would have been resealed, said Mr Wright.

A second substance, a type of high explosive, would be hidden within an AA battery to form the small charge required to detonate the main bomb.

The charge would be detonated, said Mr Wright, by linking the bottle of explosives to a lightbulb and a disposable camera. The charge from the camera's flash unit would be enough to trigger the explosion, he said. The BBC has not comprehensively detailed the alleged bombs' composition.”

Since the 3-1-1 rule is a hot topic on the blog, I met with the head of TSA's Explosives Operations Division, Ed Kittel, to chat with him about the science behind 3-1-1. Before coming to TSA, Ed worked at the FAA Explosives Unit and Navy Explosives Ordnace Division. Ed was part of the team that investigated the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988 and numerous other actual and suspected airplane bombings worldwide. Ed and his staff, in conjunction with other federal and international explosives experts, analyzed the UK explosives mixture, tactics, techniques, and procedures and tested its capabilities.

Lynn:One of the most frequent questions we get is: Is the UK mix a binary explosive?

Ed: While there were two primary ingredients, this composition is not a binary explosive; it is a “solution,” as one ingredient was to be dissolved into the other – making it possible to inject into a container using a syringe. The explosive was going to be pre-mixed, in a predetermined ratio, and carried onto the airplanes with an intact security seal. The remaining components of the bomb would have been separated during screening and hooked together later. All of the pieces were artfully concealed to attempt to “beat the system.” That’s why Transportation Security Officers are trained to detect individual components of improvised explosive devices, not just a fully assembled device.

Lynn:So with this UK liquid explosive, would the men be mixing the components at the airport or on the plane?

Ed: The liquid explosives solution was to be prepared at their safe house and injected into the sports drink bottles prior to coming to the airport. Additionally, we have seen no indication that they intended to combine the contents of multiple smaller bottles after screening.

Lynn:How did explosives testing play a part in creating the 3-1-1 rule?

Ed: As part of our analysis, we looked at some of the more likely liquid explosives recipes and compared them to descriptions contained in the intelligence reporting. Following a series of explosives tests of these materials performed by the federal government, we recommended the 3-1-1 protocol to senior TSA leadership as a viable alternative to the total liquids, gels and aerosols ban. Understandably, I cannot comment on the specifics of intelligence, formulations or the testing, nor would you want me to. By understanding and managing the risks associated with this threat, TSA was able to permit some exceptions for small quantities of liquids, aerosols and gels to be carried by the flying public. We also consulted with a number of our international partners to harmonize 3-1-1 countermeasures across the European Union and North America. TSA didn’t go this alone. In fact, this is the first time that the flying public has had the exact same security measures consistently applied across most of the world’s airports. It’s a model that we want to follow in the future.

TSA also introduced a number of other measures both at and beyond the screening checkpoints to minimize the risk of explosives getting onboard. The 3-1-1 protocol is only one of the multiple layers of security; many of which are invisible to the public. Passengers who need to have some small quantities of liquids, gels and aerosols may now do so, and 3-1-1 accommodates those needs while adding a significant level of security designed to protect the flights. Without 3-1-1, we would have had to maintain the total liquids ban, which was virtually unenforceable in the long-term, as it had a serious impact on checked baggage screening and cargo operations. Remember, the liquids, gels, and aerosols ban is all about the container and its ability to hold an explosive; it’s not about the original contents. Sometimes, people may not understand that and they become frustrated by the protocol as a result. You can be sure that we put our very best people on this, as did our Federal and international partners. 3-1-1 was the result of some excellent research by some of the best people our country has to offer.

Lynn:Is there anything else coming out of the UK trial that you find interesting or important to note?

Ed: The conspirators were very determined to beat airport screening systems by disguising all of their bomb components in common carry-on articles. Their goal was to destroy seven aircraft on the same day in nearly simultaneous attacks. This is very similar to Ramzi Yousef’s “Bojinka Plot” back in January 1995 in Asia. This case shows us that terrorists still consider airplanes to be major targets. As a result, TSA is continually looking at homemade and new explosives as well as artful concealment techniques to train our Transportation Security Officers. Our new Bomb Appraisal Officer (BAO) Program is placing hundreds of seasoned bomb technicians at airports nationwide to coordinate those efforts and improve screening to thwart these kinds of plots.

Lynn:Many say that the liquid threat is not scientifically possible. What do you have to say about that?

Ed: The U.S., UK, and other European security partners have all tested the liquid explosive that was planned to be used in that plot and we have all found that it is a viable liquid explosive. In fact, we have posted a video clip of one of these tests that was conducted by one of the National Labs out west. Make no mistake about it, this is the “real deal.”

We have also seen liquid explosives attacks before. For example, on November 29, 1987, Korean Airlines Flight 858 exploded over the Andaman Sea killing all 115 on board. North Korean agents conducted that attack using a liquid explosive concealed in a duty free whisky bottle. That attack used a different homemade liquid explosive but there are quite a few of them out there that are very powerful explosives.

Lynn

EoS Blog Team

Comments

Submitted by Winstonsmith on

Well I have to say that I'm pleased to see at least what appears to be an attempt to answer one of the very serious questions that we have been putting to you for quite a while. Thank you Lynn for getting this to us. It's not quite what I've been after, but it's definitely a first step in the right direction.

Of course more specifics are in order here. You include snippets of an interview with Ed Kittel, your Explosives Ops Division Head, who states in talking about the kinds of explosives testing the TSA did, "Understandably, I cannot comment on the specifics of intelligence, formulations or the testing, nor would you want me to." In point of fact, I would like more detail. No, I don't want to know how to make a bomb, but I would at very least like to know which explosives they tested (it's not like it is particularly difficult to learn to make explosives off of the internet -- there is no reason to keep the names secret, even if you don't give us specifics about quantities or concentrations). Did the TSA have to deliver these results to any kind of Congressional oversight committee for action, and if so, which one? Were the hearings public? If the hearings weren't public, who were the members of the committee that we might contact them if we desire to find out at least where they stand on the issue? To make statements such as the one Mr. Kittel made simply reinforces the perception of the TSA saying "Trust us," which, as you well know, so many of us don't.

Ed said a couple of other things though that I thought were were very worth mentioning here and that I'd very much like to see more information on. For example, he said, "We also consulted with a number of our international partners to harmonize 3-1-1 countermeasures across the European Union and North America. TSA didn’t go this alone. In fact, this is the first time that the flying public has had the exact same security measures consistently applied across most of the world’s airports. It’s a model that we want to follow in the future." In what forum did this consultation take place? We know from the Duty Free discussion of a couple of weeks ago that true standardization is a myth and anecdotally we know that enforcement of 3-1-1 or equivalent standards varies from country to country. I personally would support the US participating in an international effort to standardize certain aspects of airport security. We have a lot to learn from how other countries handle their security issues -- even if we don't or can't adopt every good idea here.

Ed piqued my interest with this statement, "Remember, the liquids, gels, and aerosols ban is all about the container and its ability to hold an explosive; it’s not about the original contents. Sometimes, people may not understand that and they become frustrated by the protocol as a result." When I first read the statement I said to myself that the TSA had finally said something that made sense -- and to a point it really does make sense. Just because a bottle says shampoo does not mean that it contains shampoo. However I also remember reading some time back that a TSO very adamantly stated that he could tell the difference on an xray between say shaving cream and plastic explosives packed in a shaving cream can. So if the person behind the X-ray machine is so well-trained as to be able to tell what's in the stuff in my little baggie, what does it really matter what the size of the containers is? And if there is some concern as to what's in the containers you can always ask. And in the case where the TSO misses the stuff in the bag altogether, the point is moot because it would have got through the checkpoint either way.

Submitted by Anonymous on

So, if this story is correct, the liquid explosives were going to be premixed. And these very dangerous materials would be hidden in drink bottles.

And yet you still dispose of these potentially very dangerous items in bins in the checkpoints.

It's either hazardous material or it isn't. Which is it?

Submitted by Anonymous on

I was saddened as I read this entry.

This is a good attempt to address, in more detail, an issue that has constantly been the subject of comments on this blog. But that didn't make me sad.

You actually gave direct quotes from your expert this time and gave us a little of his background, which adds to his credibility. But that didn't make me sad.

There is nothing in this entry that couldn't, and shouldn't, have been posted much earlier. There was legitimate reason to wait for testimony in the London trial before posting this information. But that didn't make me sad.

What saddens me is that I've come to the realization that I don't believe anything you say. TSA's credibility has been so badly tarnished by the actions of its own management and employees that I just trust you. I don't like being distrustful of my own government, but if TSA put out a press release saying the sun would rise in the east tomorrow, I'd want visual proof to believe it. What a sad state of affairs!

Submitted by Anonymous on

Once upon a time there was a King who was afraid someone would attack his castle. He gathered together the best minds in the land--the Transylvanian Society of Academics, or TSA, to help him secure his castle. The TSA had heard about a group of terrifying adversaries who once swam across a moat and attacked a castle. The TSA were horrified that such a thing might happen to the King, so they helped him develop a very expensive plan that widened to moat (to make it harder to swim across), filled it with acid, and just for good measure installed crocodiles in acid-proof wetsuits. The project was very expensive, and entailed a good deal of effort (since the crocodiles needed constant attention), but everyone felt it was worth it to protect the castle against the scourge of swimming invaders.

And all was well, until a little boy with the strange name of Blogger McCritic said, “But the invaders could just throw ropes over and shimmy across, or they waft in on gliders, or use long ladders to breach the moat. And if they want to attack the castle, they could still lob flaming embers in to burn it down, or use gunpowder rockets. All you’ve done is to attempt to prevent one particular attack vector--there’s still lots of ways to bring down the castle! And it wasn’t even a very probable attack, either! The castle is just as insecure as before, because you can’t make anything 100% safe. You’ve wasted resources and effort to prevent one very unlikely type of attack. Even worse, it’s really inconvenient to get to the castle, now! People get sick from the acid fumes as they cross the drawbridge, and there’s really long lines because it’s such a skinny bridge. You’ve made everyone’s lives more miserable at the expense of pretending to protect your castle!”

The TSA realized that everything the little boy said was true. But the TSA realized that the skills needed to acid-proof crocodiles weren’t of much use elsewhere in the kingdom, and they knew they had a good thing going and didn’t want to ruin it. So the tossed the boy into the deepest dungeon and then redecorated the drawbridge with pretty lights and calming music, and then raised the Kingdom’s Orange Threat Flag above the battlements, and in this way the populace’s attention was diverted and everyone forgot about the little boy. The end.

Submitted by Anonymous on
Anonymous said...
So, if this story is correct, the liquid explosives were going to be premixed. And these very dangerous materials would be hidden in drink bottles.
And yet you still dispose of these potentially very dangerous items in bins in the checkpoints.
It's either hazardous material or it isn't. Which is it?

In the article Ed Kittel said:
"Remember, the liquids, gels, and aerosols ban is all about the container and its ability to hold an explosive; it’s not about the original contents. Sometimes, people may not understand that and they become frustrated by the protocol as a result."

Do you understand now?
Submitted by Anonymous on

First off I would like to say Kudos to the TSA and especially Ed Kittel for his explanations. Now we know some of the reasons behind the 3-1-1 science. I am of the belief that some information still needs to be witheld for security reasons, not just because we really don't need it, and not just because the bad guys (islamofacist terrorist) want to kill us, and not because I'm not naive enough to believe that said bad guys are most likely reading this blog as much as some (winstonsmith, trollkiller, etc.), but I am of the belief that we shouldn't let them know what all of our strategies are in relation to disrupting thier plots.

Trust Us, We're the Government, really doesn't sit well with appeasers, anti-government, libertarian (small l) types but thats okay with me. I believe in the Constitution that gives them that right and I can respectfully disagree with them and still speak with them and have a open and honest dialog.

What saddens me - is people who distrust the government because someone else with similar beliefs send so, group mentallity types who go with the flow instead of opening their hearts and minds and believing in our own goverment that truly does want to protect us from evil. This saddens me.

And to all the naysayers that harp about all of the abandoned liquids that are sitting in unprotected trash bins waiting for the end of the world, NOT, Any person with some brain cells knows what the TSA knows, that they are all just liquids that passengers thought they could beat the system and take their 16 oz. shampoo with them, but even if they were in fact a liquid explosive that was discovered by the TSA, without the rest of the components needed to make them go boom, they are just another liquid that did not make it onto the airplane. Which is what we want isn't it?

Submitted by Dave on

Your organization continues to disappoint and show how very little (if any) credibility you have.

All of this 'data' shows that you need to lift your stupid inane liquid ban. This stuff is so unstable they would be lucky to get it into the airport, let alone a plane. Your ignorant 3-1-1 policy still allows multiple people working together to bypass the limits.

Items sold by airside vendors are also not limited, only x-rayed which would not detect the types of explosive liquids you are looking for. Yet another entry point.

TSA, give it up. Stop the fear mongering. We are really sick and tired of it. Do something - one thing - that proves you are not a bunch of bumbling fools. Show us you aren't. Salvage that one tiny bit of credibility you have left.

Submitted by Anonymous on

A link to a scientific study, even a censored one, would help me to swallow the whole "drink bottles = death in the skies" thing. Please no more videos!

Also, when are you going to answer the repeated questions about these deadly beverages being tossed in containers in public areas? Are these hazmat or aren't they?

Saying "it's about the bottle and not the contents" is an obvious lie. Empty bottles are allowed on board!

Try again, TSA.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Personally TSA has not demonstrated why I should just trust their word on the liquid threat and their response to it.

Until you engage an independent group top test the feasibility of the liquid plot I and others, won't believe you.

Submitted by Eclectic Dilettante on

Nothing is secure until the entire airport is secure.

Submitted by Ken Morris on

Hasn't the liquid bomb threat already been discounted completely by scientists, or am I mistaken in this belief.?

Submitted by Anonymous on

For Winston, they did say what kind of explosives they were. In The Snip of a BBC article.

"Hydrogen peroxide and the other ingredients can become explosive if mixed to a specific strength. Mr Wright said hydrogen peroxide had been used in "previous terrorist incidents".
The mixture would be injected into a bottle with the help of a syringe. The bottle's cap would not have been removed and the hole would have been resealed, said Mr Wright."

And he also said what would detonate them.

"A second substance, a type of high explosive, would be hidden within an AA battery to form the small charge required to detonate the main bomb."

Mr. Kittel also gives an example of liquid attacks.

"We have also seen liquid explosives attacks before. For example, on November 29, 1987, Korean Airlines Flight 858 exploded over the Andaman Sea killing all 115 on board. North Korean agents conducted that attack using a liquid explosive concealed in a duty free whisky bottle. That attack used a different homemade liquid explosive but there are quite a few of them out there that are very powerful explosives."

So there must be a way to make it stable enough to get on an airplane or it wouldn't have made it that far.

Another thing, google Gun Cotton for me and let me know what ya think?

Submitted by NoClu on

...and just for good measure installed crocodiles in acid-proof wetsuits....

The author of this story really shouldn't be anonymous.

GREAT story and best honest laugh I've gotten out of this blog in quite a while. (Funny Ha Ha, Not; Funny, you've got to be kidding me.)

Submitted by Lynn on

In response to:

ken morris said...
Hasn't the liquid bomb threat already been discounted completely by scientists, or am I mistaken in this belief.?

Thanks for your question, Ken.

The UK law enforcement authorities kept a tight lid on the details of the liquid explosive, and much of the information on the mixture is only becoming public because of the trial. Back when the plot was first busted, some speculated on what the explosive mixture was and how effective it might have been, but I doubt they had the specifics on the mixture. The U.S. and international labs that did test the UK mixture found it to be a viable explosive that could do significant damage to an airplane.

Lynn, EoS Blog Team

Submitted by Anonymous on

Dave Said
"All of this 'data' shows that you need to lift your stupid inane liquid ban. This stuff is so unstable they would be lucky to get it into the airport, let alone a plane. Your ignorant 3-1-1 policy still allows multiple people working together to bypass the limits."

How do you know if this stuff is unstable are not? I wold like to see links to your credentials, or maybe a scan of your "Certificate to Determine Stable and Unstable Explosives"

I hope by GOV/DHS/TSA finally addressing 2 big concerns, MMW images and the
3-1-1 rule, it shows that all they are slow to give out info they will give it out. Now if the GOV can get my Stimulating Check to me, now thats been slow to get.

Submitted by Winstonsmith on

For Anonymous:

For Winston, they did say what kind of explosives they were. In The Snip of a BBC article.

Actually the TSA's Ed Kittel did not say what explosives that the TSA tested. He suggested that we would not want him to divulge that kind of information. I take issue with that.

I did, however, see the article to which you referred and I did look up the substances to which it made reference. Interesting stuff. Leaves me with a bunch more questions but I'll leave those for another post. Gun cotton is not relevant here as we're talking about liquids, but for curiosity's sake, I'll have a look later when I have a little extra time.

Submitted by Anonymous on

the container does matter -

1. most plastics cannot contain the liquids that are typically used in explosives (which is chemisty lab equipment is glass).

2. the SIZE of the container is extrememly important: kept to the current size limits one person would not be able to bring enough material aboard to cause an catastrophic event. A very unpleasant one to be sure, but unless very very lucky in placement, not a big enough one to bring down a modern airliner.

all you security experts and chemical engineers and otherwise highly experienced EOD people replying must continue to believe the sun revolves around the earth.....

Submitted by Anonymous on

"Remember, the liquids, gels, and aerosols ban is all about the container and its ability to hold an explosive; it’s not about the original contents. Sometimes, people may not understand that and they become frustrated by the protocol as a result."

This makes it all clear: my chunk of squishy brie should fly because it isn't in a container.

Once again, is is 3 ounces or 100ml? And why cant your screeners be consistent about it?

Submitted by Abelard on

I'm curious as to why you - for all intents and purposes - jumped the gun and linked to an article posting the allegations against the London defendants. Why not wait until the case is fully adjudicated?

While you list the allegations, will you be posting the refutation by the defense and posting the words of any expert brought in to dispute that the items in question could be used as a bomb?

Additionally, if the jury finds the defendants not guilty, then what?

Submitted by Anonymous on

For those who think it's fine to throw away components of explosives because simply removing one part of the equation is acceptable, I wish to point out that if this is true, and terrorist plots are regularly foiled by the security-side trash can, there is absolutely no tracking regarding what type of liquids passengers are attempting to carry onto planes. So if 15 terrorists in a row are forced to toss their 16 ounce Aquafina bottles full of explosives, the explosives just go into the trash and no one is the wiser. All those alleged terrorist plots unable to be carried out, and the terrorists are allowed to just toss the bottle and get on the plane, to go back home and discuss how the all-powerful TSA stopped them in their tracks, and how better to do it next time?

So TSA has no clue how many people have tried to carry explosives on, or whether anyone has, or whether such people are just testing the limits of security for future plots, or if they really want to blow up an airplane, or if every single bottle and container that has been tossed over the last three years really was just full of harmless toiletries, or anything, really. So, basically, TSA has no idea what the level of threat is and/or whether the tossing away of liquids does any good at all. The TSA knows nothing and does nothing to make us safer or make traveling anything but an extraordinary inconvenience and a hassle, not to mention an invasion of privacy.

Submitted by Anonymous on

"We have also seen liquid explosives attacks before. For example, on November 29, 1987, Korean Airlines Flight 858 exploded over the Andaman Sea killing all 115 on board. North Korean agents conducted that attack using a liquid explosive concealed in a duty free whisky bottle. That attack used a different homemade liquid explosive but there are quite a few of them out there that are very powerful explosives."

I call total and absolute horse puckey here. An entire plane exploded and agents were able to conclude that a particular whisky bottle was the source of the explosive? Come ON. I don't believe that for a second. Perhaps the agents postulated that a bottle MAY have been used to carry explosive onto a plane, but there is no way they could have conclusively determined such a thing. This type of statement is why airport security has zero credibility.

Submitted by Chris Boyce on

As usual, the TSA, with the help of British prosecutors, are participating in a healthy dose of what we in the cloak & dagger business call "perception management." Well done. You have certainly convinced most of the occasionally or never-flying public on both sides of the Atlantic.

The test was hardly performed under realistic conditions. For starters, how about performing it under actual conditions? No, you don't have to actually fly a plane. Go out to the Boneyard at Davis Monthan AFB and pick out a mothballed aircraft that has an actual airliner lavatory.

Pressurize the cabin to cruising altitude (easily done, by the way) and then send one of your experimenters into the lav and try to mix chemicals in the appropriate mixture and quantity to blow a hole in the side of the mothballed fuselage. Too dangerous, you say? There's a reason: It was too dangerous for the amateur hijackers for Pete's sake!

You can do anything you want under ideal laboratory conditions. Under realistic conditions, this just won't work.

If you took this seriously, you would treat all confiscated liquids (oops -- "surrendered") at checkpoints to be hazmats. But, it plays to the fear of the public to see garbage cans full of "surrendered" liquids.

A lot of us who vote think this is pretty pathetic.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I don't have the technical training or expertise to know if the interview was truthful or not.

What I would like to see TSA do is to do an interview with an industry expert with an opposing view to balance the information.

How about it TSA? Give a platform to a desenting expert.

Submitted by CBGB on

abelard...

bingo. Just like most other things, I find it likely this article has little purpose other than helping convict these guys. This information was extremely secret and totally verboten from discussion...until they went on trial.

And to continue with the easiest (of many) Criticisms, what would stop a terrorist from trying to bring through a bottle big enough to do some serious damage, when it gets thrown out and is detonated. Or we could just bring up the fact that the checkpoints themselves are huge bottlenecks, just the type of place for a suicide bomber.

There are so many holes in your security, and threats that art ACTUALLY CREATED by your security that its not worth picking apart your attempt to convict every single person you ever arrest for the sake of some positive PR

Submitted by Adrian on

I still don't get it. What does 3-1-1 prevent?

Someone can still bring 500 mL of liquid in a freedom baggy (in five 100 mL bottles). They can still get a larger container once they're through the security checkpoint, by buying a beverage in the terminal. They can empty their five containers into one container in the restroom, and then board the plane.

3-1-1 clearly isn't enough. I call Security Theater!

I'm also curious why my last two comments were never published. I believe they have been 100% compliant with the published comment policy.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Funny that you had to goto Fox News, the GOP goto network for Iraq/Iran lying, in order to find someone that would ask the questions that were either pre-scripted or paraphrased to them ahead of time, that doesn't read at all like the questions any slightly intelligent reporter would ask to ferret out the truth.

Submitted by Trollkiller on

Here is something more explosive than Tang and hydrogen peroxide.

TSA to test ID-only check of pilots

The nation's 75,000 airline pilots could avoid being screened for weapons before they board airplanes if a test starting shortly succeeds.

But critics including flight attendants fear that an armed terrorist posing as a pilot could get on an airplane if pilots don't have to walk through metal detectors and have their bags scanned by X-ray machines.

Seriously, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?

I have been sitting here trying to come up with a coherent sentence, but I am so flabbergasted at this asinine move I almost don't know what to say.

The TSA wants to screen passengers with a device that allows them to see through clothing, but won't even do a simple x-ray of a pilot's bag? Won't have them walk through the metal detector? Is going to rely on a single layer of security after blowing their horn about the 20 layers?

This bullsh--- I mean program is in response to the tears of the pilot's union.

"Pilots' unions have been lobbying to skip airport screening, which they call unnecessary and "demoralizing."

The Air Line Pilots Association notes that pilots face extensive background tests, and that pilots wanting to do harm with an airplane would hardly need a weapon because they control airplanes.

Airport screening "has just worn on them," said Pete Janhunen, spokesman for the Air Line Pilots Association, the largest pilots' union.

"You trust them to fly a multimillion dollar airplane, and yet a TSA inspector with little training, little experience has the ability to strip-search them for gels."

Boo F-in Hoo. We trust the pilots to stay calm and logical in an emergency situation but the thought of being screened is demoralizing and upsetting?

"Oh, but Trollkiller we trust them to fly multi-million dollar airplanes"

Why yes, yes we do trust them to fly expensive planes and we expect them to do it sober, but as you know pilots break that trust on a frequent basis.

"Oh, but Trollkiller if they wanted to kill everyone on the plane all they have to do is fly into the ground."

That makes sense on the surface until you recall that commercial passenger jets have 2 or more people in the cockpit capable of piloting the plane.

If you have a rouge pilot bent on destruction the possibility of failure is high if the plane is his only weapon. The rouge pilot would have to disable the other pilot(s) first in order to succeed. Now he can have his choice of weapons to do that.

Flash an ID and breeze right on by with bomb in tow. Let's not even be that dramatic, how about a gun, knife or a little coke for those long hours of hitting on the stewardess. If this doesn’t sound like the makings of Penthouse letter, nothing does.

I think the worse part about this new program is the fact the idea did not spring from a drunken TSA office party but from the willingness to appease unions.

If we are going to have security, let’s have real security. No more steel doors on grass huts. Screen everything and everybody. No Exceptions, No Exemptions.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Regarding the 3.1.1 management process: What happens when the first security 'haz-mat dump' turns into bonfire or worse? Every OSHA course I have been through is rather pendantic about reiterating that anything that possibly could be hazmat must be treated like hazmat.

Regarding Ed Kittel: It takes a brave man to do what he does. It is not easy to explain things most people cannot comprehend to people who don't want to understand. His job must be as entertaining as n-glyc being dripped on hot steel.

Regarding those digital X-ray machines: When was the last time the material signature databases were updated? The TSA did buy the license for the electron-backscatter spectroscopy analysis option, didn't they?

Submitted by Anonymous on

From FlyerTalk:

"Kips Khemistry lesson of the day: I say whoosh, not boom. Boom is a high explosive detonation initiated by a detonator. A real high velocity explosion. Concentrated peroxide solutions are unstable. Mixing these things must be done in an ice bath, as they self heat up, which is why the idea of a Jr. Jihadist taking ten pounds of ice into air airplane lav to cool his TATP reaction without being noticed is highly unlikely. If a solution is touched by a catalyst, it instantly can start decomposing and heating up internally. This is a chemical reaction, not a detonation. In a couple of seconds the entire bottle contents heat up to beyond boiling and the bottle ruptures from the pressure. Think of opening the lid of a pressure cooker under pressure. (do not try at home) A layman calls it an "explosion", as it makes a big ball of expanding gas and liquid that sprays all over. (My opinion: The English "explosion" video looks like this. If you want to make a similar looking "explosion", take a gallon milk jug full of water and shoot it with a rifle.) This WHOOSH will probably knock the lav door open, and the Jihad chemist and anyone within ten feet will be soaked with boiling peroxide. Nasty. Think about pouring boiling clorox over yourself. But this is NOT a detonation explosion and is not going to blow a hole in the side of the plane. It is called a BLEVE, a boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion, which can be quite powerful but no where near the power of the same liquid set off by a blasting cap for a true detonation.

However, this is not what the public has been told since the War on Water was declared. The original PR was that the Evil Ones were going to sneak two or more components through security and then mix them.

Quote: "A question raised many times on this blog is how can TSA justify throwing all of these liquids away in a trash can near the checkpoint if they are such a danger. While a fair question, the answer has been available in many different threads though not directly answered, so here it goes.

We have said since the institution of the liquid ban that the fear or threat is the combination of items, including liquid explosives while in flight to create an improvised explosive device. That combination means explosives, detonator and other components to have a fully assembled bomb. Take one component away and you have a collection of harmless items. Of course we don't want liquid explosives anywhere near us but without the other components, they're not causing catastrophic damage.

That’s why it is safe for us to store the items together in a trash can near the checkpoint and that's what we do with prohibited items."

Who said that? Nico Blogger of the TSA .


Bee Ess. I would not want to work a shift standing next to a trash can holding a liter bottle of 80% hydrogen peroxide. With or without Tang, concentrated peroxide is not a harmless item. Shock can cause it to BLEVE. Like the shock of dropping a bottle of water on it while it "harmlessly" rests in the trash can. Mixing with alcohol can cause it to go off. Hope that confiscated booze and perfume and the peroxide bottle don't leak while in the trash can as they get pounded by confiscated toothpaste. And EPA for sure calls it HAZMAT and it is a federal crime to throw it in the nearest dumpster.

And while on the Kips Khemistry debunking, the TSA blog talks about the “Bojinka Plot”. This was using premade nitroglycerine, which the ETD should detect.

He talks about Korean Air Flight 858 and claims it was causd by "a liquid explosive concealed in a duty free whisky bottle." Another misleading partial truth. Wiki says it was "a liquor bottle containing approximately 700 ml of PLX explosive in an overhead rack in the passenger cabin of the aircraft." PLX is 95% nitromethane, which the ETD will detect. TSA Ed Kittle left off one LITTLE fact: What set off the PLX? A timer and detonator in a radio next to the whisky bottle. Minor little detail: the radio just happened to contain "350 grams of C-4." Kips Khemist Kittle tells the Kettles Korean 858 was kroaked by a "liquid explosive" and does not understand why some of us do not believe any of the other lies that come out of his mouth."

Submitted by Dunstan on

"So, basically, TSA has no idea what the level of threat is and/or whether the tossing away of liquids does any good at all. The TSA knows nothing and does nothing to make us safer or make traveling anything but an extraordinary inconvenience and a hassle, not to mention an invasion of privacy."

For some reason 210,000 private planes and 550,000 pilots are not a threat. 90,000 miles of border, mostly unprotected. Can't tell the difference between water and high explosive, so lets throw them both into the same trash bin. Should I feel safe?

Submitted by Chris on

The liquids ban is ridiculous. Does anyone really think they're safer because of it? In reality, everyone is just more inconvenienced.

Submitted by Jim Huggins on

Off-topic (sorry ...) I can't read Page 2 of Gripes-And-Grins ... clicking on the "newer" link at the bottom of the page just sends me back to the original page. Blog team ... help?

Submitted by Anonymous on

OK,

I am a Chemistry professor, and see a lot of stuff written here that is very simply wrong. I can tell you that any explosion produced from peroxides would have to start with a very concentrated peroxide solution. Very concentrated peroxide solutions can be stored in plastics (not only in glass). In fact, certain caustic chemicals such as strong bases eat through glass but not plastic. Very concentrated peroxides are explosive in any quantity, and even 100 mLs can do quite a bit of damage. On the other hand, very concentrated peroxides can be easily detected by "puffers" and surface contaminant detection techniques, because they will leave substantial amounts of peroxide in the materials around the flasks that contain them.

So the solution is simple: use trace chemical technology, and end the mad bag inspection.

Submitted by Anonymous on

How about just forbidding hydrogen peroxide on a plane? That idea doesn't take a genius to discern. "Hey, if hydrogen peroxide and Tang can cause the problem, let's just not let people bring those things on a plane?" I'm pretty sure a test could be developed for such simple substances. One of TSA's super cute puppies could be trained to sniff Tang and peroxide. That takes care of the whole problem and people won't have to throw out water and shampoo anymore. Come on, TSA, stop feeding us these stupid "see how credible we are with our 'scientific' explanations" and use some common sense.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Trollkiller said...

Here is something more explosive than Tang and hydrogen peroxide.


Come on now trollkiller, stay on topic this post is about the fact that the liquid explosives were indeed real.

That's right when proven wrong, quick when no one is looking change the subject.....

Typical, where is winstonsmith to right on your coat tails.

Submitted by CBGB on

Oh but Trollkiller, EgyptAir flight 990 crashed because of...

"the airplane's departure from normal cruise flight and subsequent impact with the Atlantic Ocean as a result of the relief first officer's flight control inputs. The reason for the relief first officer's actions was not determined."

so much for background screening :)

Submitted by Anonymous on

Hello, I would like to post a comment about my wife's experience today with the TSA in the San Jose, CA airport (SJC). While she was going through the security checkpoint, all of a sudden everyone in the area including my wife couldn't breath and their eyes started watering, and their noses and throats started burning. People were covering their noses and mouths with their hands and looking around wildy trying to figure out what was going on.

My wife said it was a very frightening experience. Unfortunately, TSA agents did not react appropriately to the situation and were completely discombobulated by what was going on. TSA agents provided absolutely zero guidance as to what people were supposed to be doing. Finally, after about 4 minutes of people standing around in a daze wondering what the heck was going on, a TSA agent instructed passengers to evacuate the area. He did not tell people where to go or what to do, or offer any sort of explanation as to what just happened. My wife happened to hear one female TSA agent scolding another male TSA, asking him "What made you think pushing the button would be a good idea?" while she holding a cannister of some sort. I am almost positive the TSA agent accidentally set off a canister of pepper spray or mace. Its understandable that people make mistakes and I hope that the individual TSA agent who screwed up does not get fired, because that is not what upste my wife.

However, I would hope that the rest of the TSA agents would be better able to deal with a semi-emergency situation like the one my wife experienced today.

The lack of guidance is the most troubling aspect of what happened today. Hopefully the TSA agents had some sort of meeting afterwards to go over what could have been done differently next time this happens.

Anyways, I think its nice that you guys have this blog set up for feedback. Hopefully word of this incident gets back to someone in the TSA and they do more training to deal with situations like this.

Submitted by Dan S on

Of course, the TSA EOD chief conveniently omits the inconvenient fact that KAL 858 was brought down by a combination of nearly a half-kilo of C4, in addition to the 700ml of PLX in a whiskey bottle, a liquid explosive which is liable to go off if you so much as blink rapidly.

(The composition of the explosive device is, of couse, dependent upon the veracity of the North Korean agent's claims, after her cyanide pill failed to kill her.)

Essentially, with proper investment in technology and a modicum of training, the 'threat' posed by liquid explosives and 'shoe bombs' would be easily and much more effectively stopped, with the added benefit of preventing firearms from passing through security. If the security staff at the Tower of London can swab every bag that enters the grounds, why can't similar trace detection gear be employed to end this ridiculous song and dance?

Submitted by Winstonsmith on

To the Anonymous individual who asks of Trollkiller:

Typical, where is winstonsmith to right on your coat tails.

What in the world are you talking about (how exactly does one "right" on coat tails anyway)?

I saw TK's post and read it with great interest (BTW TK, the link you posted does not work, but I would like to check out the article).

If what he says is true then there is the potential for a real problem to be brewing, one that poses a far more serious risk to the flying public than liquid bombs that may or may not work (contrary to your assertion, nothing has really been proven here; we have been shown a demonstration that under the proper conditions these explosives could have worked from a source that is not entirely unassailable).

Submitted by Trollkiller on
Anonymous said...
Trollkiller said...

Here is something more explosive than Tang and hydrogen peroxide.


Come on now trollkiller, stay on topic this post is about the fact that the liquid explosives were indeed real.

That's right when proven wrong, quick when no one is looking change the subject.....

Typical, where is winstonsmith to right on your coat tails.


Typical? You may want to go back and read all my posts. I brought up the nitroglycerin attack. I know liquid explosives are dangerous, that is why you won't be able to find a post with me arguing against liquid explosives.

I think the closest I got to a post that might suggest I did not believe that liquids were dangerous is one that I challenged the TSA to release some info on the BINARY explosives. As we found out this was NOT a binary liquid explosive.

Feel free to hunt my posts down that show I don't feel liquid explosives are real, Oh, and put the link here. I am betting you won't and you will give the lame excuse that you don't have the time or no excuse at all and continue to hide behind an anonymous handle.

If you are going to call me out at least know what you are talking about.

How about this for being on topic. A pilot decides to end his life in a manner that will guarantee his family gets the life insurance policy. He knows that he won't be screened so he goes on the internet and finds out how to make a bomb. He assembles the bomb at home and carries it past the no screen ID check, climbs gets on the plane, takes off and when he reaches altitude blows the front end off the plane.

On topic enough for you? Do you know it does not take a lot of skills or smarts to make an explosive device? I had friends growing up that would blow stuff up for fun. Trust me these guys were NOT rocket scientists, hell they were not even capable of passing chemistry. To build a bomb all you have to do is follow the instructions, if you can make a cake you can make an explosive.

Now the argument against the 3-1-1 rule by most people on this blog has been this; if the liquids are SO dangerous, why are they being treated as trash instead of hazardous material?

They answer is simple and one that Kip himself said, "if it goes in the trash the TSO did not deem you a threat"
My question is this, if I am not deemed a threat, why take the liquid? If the liquid is a threat why does it go in the trash instead of a bomb proof container?

The answer is simple, the TSA does not see liquids as a threat anymore. They figure if they limit the size to what the "experts" say would not be enough to down a plane then the terrorists won't try the liquid plot because they may be caught when their bomb is confiscated for being over three ounces.

Of course it would only take a few people working together to combine the contents of their bags to bring the volume to a workable amount, but the TSA is hoping that BDO will spot the terrorist group before they board.

You know you really did tweak my nerve with that comment. Nothing I hate worse than someone taking a potshot at me by changing what I have said or tries to portray me as taking a side of an issue I am not on.

Oh and one more thing before I go, THIS is what happens when the TSA does not take the disposal of potentially hazardous material, seriously.
Submitted by Bob Eucher on

Maybe OSHA would be interested in how all the collected contraband is stored in collection bins. Are MSDS required? How can you be 100% positive what the contents of each disposed item is? You really don't know. Just maybe you are putting the public at more risk than protecting us. The whole security theater is just that, smoke and mirrors.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Maybe we can avoid 3-1-1, MMW and the new badges by just driving in the back door. ...or as another poster put it; its all secutiry theater until the whole airport is secure.
Big van drives right into airport.

,>)

T. Saint

Submitted by Anonymous on

responding to - Anonymous said...
OK,

I am a Chemistry professor, and see a lot of stuff written here that is very simply wrong. I can tell you that any explosion produced from peroxides would have to start with a very concentrated peroxide solution. Very concentrated peroxide solutions can be stored in plastics (not only in glass). In fact, certain caustic chemicals such as strong bases eat through glass but not plastic. Very concentrated peroxides are explosive in any quantity, and even 100 mLs can do quite a bit of damage. On the other hand, very concentrated peroxides can be easily detected by "puffers" and surface contaminant detection techniques, because they will leave substantial amounts of peroxide in the materials around the flasks that contain them.

So the solution is simple: use trace chemical technology, and end the mad bag inspection.

_________________________________

Well professor I believe you are correct. I think the peroxide is + 70% and that TSA has added test strips for high concentrate peroxide as well as their FIDO unit to "sniff". However, it takes a hell of a lot of time to sample every liquid and I don't think the traveling world will stand for that kind of line waits. As for the sampling using surface contamination - the current explosive trace detectors used by TSA and most others do not detect peroxide based explosives.

Submitted by Eric on

Liquid explosives are indeed an all too real threat, but maybe it takes a plane bombing to show some sceptics that giving up your water bottle before boarding as plane is a small price for saving human lives.

Submitted by Dunstan on

Hi, Trollkiller,

"Oh and one more thing before I go, THIS is what happens when the TSA does not take the disposal of potentially hazardous material, seriously."

Nice point, I wonder how much time was spent training for this moment.

Submitted by Anonymous on

trollkiller........

I tweaked you, good.

All I was saying is that you try to change the subject. The subject at hand was liquid explosives and you tried to change it to the pilot ID. Suggest a new thred to the bloggers is all I was saying.

And now you want to switch topics again with the pepper spray incident. Shame shame shame.

I suppose that you have never had an accident of any kind in your life, as I'm sure that the pepper spray incident was indeed an accident. Are you perfect? Tweak!!!!!

And yes, I will hide behind the anonymous moniker because it is my right, guarantee by the constitution. Tweak!!!!!

Submitted by Anonymous on

"I will hide behind the anonymous moniker because it is my right, guarantee by the constitution."

Which article or amendment covers that?

Submitted by Dunstan on

"Anonymous said...

trollkiller........

I tweaked you, good. "

Huh? Perhaps you should find a new hobby...

Submitted by Anonymous on

"Well professor I believe you are correct. I think the peroxide is + 70% and that TSA has added test strips for high concentrate peroxide as well as their FIDO unit to "sniff". However, it takes a hell of a lot of time to sample every liquid and I don't think the traveling world will stand for that kind of line waits. As for the sampling using surface contamination - the current explosive trace detectors used by TSA and most others do not detect peroxide based explosives."

Sniffers take just about as much time as X-rays, and much less than having all passengers remove liquids and shoes. But that is not even the point. The point is why limit liquids if even very small, allowed, quantities can do damage? A major inconvenience to all, with no effective result!

Submitted by Trollkiller on
Anonymous said...

trollkiller........

I tweaked you, good.

All I was saying is that you try to change the subject. The subject at hand was liquid explosives and you tried to change it to the pilot ID. Suggest a new thred to the bloggers is all I was saying.


All you were saying, and I quote "That's right when proven wrong, quick when no one is looking change the subject.....". In other words what you were saying was a lie. I was not proven wrong because I did not disagree with liquid explosive viability.

And now you want to switch topics again with the pepper spray incident. Shame shame shame.

Yes, shame on me for not waiting until the TSA has its talking points up to speed. Shame on me for not waiting until the TSA decided to bring it up.

I suppose that you have never had an accident of any kind in your life, as I'm sure that the pepper spray incident was indeed an accident. Are you perfect? Tweak!!!!!

Not perfect, but damn close. I have never had an accident when dealing with dangerous chemicals because I am CAREFUL. I know better than to toss an aerosol type device with a push button trigger into a bin where the button can be engaged. You trust someone that can't handle a simple spray can to dispose of potentially explosive articles?

And yes, I will hide behind the anonymous moniker because it is my right, guarantee by the constitution. Tweak!!!!!

Yes you can hide behind an anonymous moniker, that is your right. In fact a court in California confirmed it. Of course in that case they held up the use of a pseudonym as a means of insuring anonymity. I guess they figured intelligent people could make up a name, so that others can identify them among the sea of posters, without revealing their real name. I suppose they were a bit off in your case.

Now, I am going to back up a bit to what you wrote a little higher up. You said I should suggest a new thread to the blog team instead of changing the subject. As I don't see a mechanism for suggesting a new thread, and the fact that the history of this blog shows if you want something answered you need to make post pertaining to the question, I asked the question.

From the Delete-o-meter page on what will get your post deleted. (in other words, the rules)

"Off-topic comments (and since we can't tell which topic a comment goes under when we moderate, we mean REALLY off topic, think plagues of locust off topic…)"

My post dealt with security and hazardous materials, clearly it was on topic by the stated rules.

kthxbye

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