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Comment Dated Oct 16, 2006


"Psy-ops" is a term that has come into use generally to describe government mind games inflicted on the populace for propaganda, intimidation, or other inglorious purposes. The invention of "terrorist" threats around every corner, and the incessant media hysteria to keep the subject vividly alive in the public mind, is a prime example. The restrictions on daily life, incursions into what used to be one's own business, and antics at airports have little if any relevance to anyone's safety; but they are effective ways of keeping tabs on opposition and critics, and play their part in conditioning a society to subservience and obedience.

Recently, we had the sensational claim of a plot uncovered in the UK to commit "mass murder on an unimaginable scale," as one official put it, by blowing up commercial airplanes with mixtures of innocuous liquids that could be brought on board separately, and the measures that were rushed through in response took the whole saga of idiocies to new heights. Binary liquid explosives are a staple of Hollywood thrillers, to be sure, but we never learn from them exactly which chemicals are capable of everything the plotline calls for. So a good question to ask might be if the kind of threat that lurid newspaper accounts described was even possible from the standpoint of basic chemistry. The UK science and politics news outlet The Register delved into just this. To quote from their article:

"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.

Or at least that's what we're hearing, and loudly, through the mainstream media and its legions of so-called "terrorism experts." But what do these experts know about chemistry? Less than they know about lobbying for Homeland Security pork, which is what most of them do for a living. But they've seen the same movies that you and I have seen, and so the myth of binary liquid explosives dies hard. . . .

Making a quantity of TATP sufficient to bring down an airplane is not quite as simple as ducking into the toilet and mixing two harmless liquids together."

So let's take a look at what would be involved. First, you need adequately concentrated hydrogen peroxide. Since this is hard to come by, a large quantity of the regular three per cent solution would probably have to be distilled, which is risky and carries a distinct risk of burning down the premises before even getting anywhere near an airport. But assuming this requirement is met, the remaining ingredients, acetone and sulfuric acid can be more easily obtained. Now comes the fun part. Take your hydrogen peroxide, acetone, and sulfuric acid, measure them very carefully, and put them into drinks bottles for convenient smuggling onto a plane. You can mix the peroxide and acetone in one container, provided you keep it cool, so include several frozen gel-packs--possibly in a carry-on cooler to pass as food. Flying first class might be a way of avoiding this if the bucket of ice water that comes with the Champagne would be adequate, but the cold gel-packs should still be considered as a supplement to have available if the cookery in the aircraft's lavatory gets out of hand by bursting into flames. You will also need a thermometer, a large beaker, a stirring rod, and a medicine dropper.

Once all is safely aboard and the plane over the ocean, proceed as follows. Very discreetly, bring all of your gear into the toilet. This might require several trips to avoid drawing attention. Once everything is in place, put a beaker containing the peroxide/acetone mixture into the ice bucket and start adding the acid, drop by drop, stirring constantly and watching the reaction temperature. The mixture will heat, and if it gets too hot, you'll get a fire or a weak premature explosion, possibly sufficient to kill you but probably no one else. After a few hours--assuming that the fumes haven't overcome you and your activities haven't aroused suspicion--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. Fortunately, TATP then is relatively easy to detonate. But remember, quality is all-important and demands care if true success "on an unimaginable scale" is to be achieved.

See the Original article. For search results of other mythical terror plots listed in The Register's archives, click here.