Friday, August 18, 2006

Better air travel through chemistry

The Mandarin was in Mexico on holiday when the latest gang of crackpot British al Qaeda wannabees were rounded up for talking about thinking about plotting to blow up airliners with binary explosives made in the air by combining carried-on liquids disguised as a Starbucks Venti Latte and a bottle of lip gloss.

Beginning the return trip with more than the usual trepidation, the Mandarin found the luggage searching process at the Guadalajara airport to be quite manageable, as it turned out. So, happily, the Mandarin managed to return to the land of the Red Threat Level in one large piece. Thank you, Mexico's Michael Chertoff, whoever you are -- you're doing a heckuva job.

Anyway, now the Mandarin reads an article that explains just how binary explosives, in this case the versatile TATP (triacetone triperoxide), would be assembled in, say, an aircraft lavatory.

It makes fascinating reading, and the Mandarin for one, will be ever vigilant from now on in case he sees someone sneaking an ice bucket, a thermometer, a large beaker, a glass stirring rod, a medicine dropper and bottles of acetone, hydrogen peroxide and (you guessed it) sulfuric acid into the first class lav and then staying in there for several hours with nasty-smelling toxic fumes coming out from under the door now and then.

Money quote:

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.

Boys and girls, it's just that easy.... Don't you feel safer now?

No comments: