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August 12, 2006

I got your cold equations right here
Posted by Patrick at 10:07 PM * 181 comments

Scientist and Analog book reviewer Tom Easton, whose blog was just now pointed out to me by Jane Yolen, observes the terrorist potential of catheters and diuretics. “You want to ban containers of liquids? People are containers of liquids.”

Addendum by Teresa: Meanwhile, The Daily Kos is pointing out that the Bush Administration Cut Funding For Explosives Detection.

Comments on I got your cold equations right here:
#1 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2006, 10:31 PM:

Or as I've been putting it: They've banned an entire phase of matter! And one of the big three, too. You'd've expected them to start small, maybe superfluids and Bose-Einstein condensates, maybe work their way up to plasmas, but no, bam! liquids right out of the gate.

#2 ::: Ellen ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2006, 10:46 PM:

Ugly bags of mostly water!

#3 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2006, 10:55 PM:

As I posted in Tom Easton's comment section, if drug couriers can swallow and later retrieve sealed bladders full of heroin, can't terrorists do the same with gel explosives? Granted, if they weren't talented regurgitators, they'd have to swallow detonators along with them; but how could security personnel manning metal-detection stations distinguish between detonators, pacemakers, and steel-pinned bone repairs?

(I am obscurely reminded of the snafu at Heathrow some years ago, where their then-cutting edge scanning device that was supposed to detect plastique turned out to have an uncanny ability to spot Christmas puddings in people's luggage.)

And a further observation: my backpack has a pocket that's designed to take an odd-shaped (squarish, flat) water container for long hot hikes. It distributes the weight of the water more evenly, and there's even a slot for a tube so you can sip as you go. I'm not sure a security guard looking for bottles of toiletries would be able to spot it.

If terrorists wanted to get very awfully clever, a body-hugging flexible plastic undervest full of explosive gel would be indistinguishable from a layer of body fat.

And one more thought: how secure are the catering arrangements for in-flight meals and snacks? Are they tightly controlled at every stage -- cooking, packing, transporting to the airport, loading onto the plane, et cetera? All it would take would be some ringer cans of soda.

#4 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2006, 11:04 PM:

The Next Big Scare:

The Detcord Foley

#5 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2006, 11:37 PM:

Teresa writes:

Granted, if they weren't talented regurgitators, they'd have to swallow detonators along with them;

A flickery black-and-white clip on a PBS documentary about vaudeville taught me that there was once a time when the phrase "talented regurgitators" really meant something.

A performer drinks a whole bunch of water. Then he drinks a whole bunch of gasoline. Then a dollhouse is set on fire. Then he sprays a jet of gasoline from his mouth, and the flames billow. Then he sprays a seemingly endless jet of water, and puts the fire out.

Cut to an elderly agent in the retirement home, recounting the act. I remember the expression on her face and the indignation in her voice as she corrects the inteviewer.

"He's not a geek. He's a regurgitator. There's a difference."

#6 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2006, 11:38 PM:

(I've been waiting years for this to come up in conversation, however obliquely.)

#8 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 12, 2006, 11:55 PM:

How pleased I am to have provided the occasion!

#9 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 12:15 AM:

The bloke who swallowed the water and kerosene* was an Egyptian called Hadji-Ali. The film of him doing the act has shown up various places.

And Ricky Jay's Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women will tell you probably more than you wanted to know about liquid regurgitators (some of whom use conjuring tricks** for at least part of the act). He finds references going back to the 17th Century.

I probably shouldn't mention Ricky Jay, or we won't be able to take playing cards on airplanes.

*I've seen this as both kerosene (paraffin, if you're on the West side of the pond) and gasoline, including both ways in one graf of Jay's book. (Naughty copyeditor.) I'm pretty sure it had to be kerosene, however.
**Fantasy writers have to make distinctions like this.

#10 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 12:25 AM:

BTW: Detcord Foley. Owwwwwwwwwww.

#11 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 12:31 AM:

Teresa wrote:
"how could security personnel manning metal-detection stations distinguish between detonators, pacemakers, and steel-pinned bone repairs?"

Hilde was issued, quite a few years ago, a wallet card to inform security screeners that she will set off their alarms, due to the numerous artificial joints and other hardware in her body.

#12 ::: Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 12:50 AM:

What's a detcord foley? I've clearly led a sheltered life.

#13 ::: Todd Larason ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 01:14 AM:

"detcord" = detonating cord
"foley" = Foley catheter

o need to swallow a detonator...just slide some detonating cord up your urethra. Suicide bombers need to be willing to make sacrifices, after all.

#14 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 03:19 AM:

Teresa: not just Christmas puddings. One of my more entertaining encounters with airport security was the Great Cheddar Hunt...

#15 ::: Ben H ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 06:05 AM:

I'm as sceptical as the next citizen about the tendency to hype security threats.

However, I think you're too keen to jump on the idea that these restrictions are just for show.

The idea that you could fill your bladder with an explosives precursor and still function well enough to get on a plane without arousing suspicion seems a bit unlikely to me. Isn't at least one of the two liquids involved going to be reactive enough to render the process of squirting it into your urethra incredibly painful?

Also, the point about vaudeville regurgitators are all very well, but how many Islamic fundamentalists are there with similar skills? It's a way that you could work around the restrictions, but it's not easily implemented. You're giving these suicide terrorists way too much credit - they're just ordinary people who've been taught a bit of practical chemistry, not a combination of Fu Manchu and Houdini.

It may be reassuring to pretend that there's nothing we can do, but given that this appears to be a real threat, and we don't know if some of them are still at large, restricting carry-ons in the short term is a reasonable response. There were similar restrictions in the aftermath of 9-11. I really doubt that they'll last once the extent of the threat has become apparent and new explosives detection measures are in place.

There's a fine line between scepticism and "moronic cynicism."

What I am sceptical about is whether this plot was truly as advanced as has been claimed. Most of the reports seem to rely heavily on US security sources, who have a record of exaggerating threats.

I've variously seen it reported that "they had tickets to fly next week" and "they had no tickets booked". I've not seen any reports that precursor chemicals were actually seized - although that might be good operational security on their part; if they're common chemicals, you could buy them at the last minute.

The US spin that they made phonecalls to the US and therefore there may be a threat there seems like hype to me - any group of 24 UK citizens is going to have friends or family in the US.

#16 ::: Ben H ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 06:09 AM:

Oh, turns out they may have had samples of the proto-explosives:

http://www.nydailynews.com/front/story/443165p-373185c.html

#17 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 08:50 AM:

Language Barrier Alert — Kerosene/Paraffin: all sorts of mental alarums went off at Mr Ford's equilivation of these two; this sounds a slightly dangerous source of misunderstanding between countries. Here at least, kerosene is a thin, transparent, volatile liquid legally stained with blue dye. I've used it for camp stoves & bush lanterns, but avoided the very dangerous, if popular, old-style kerosene heaters. Mechanics & handypersons still use it for cleaning grease & other useful jobs, but the old skin remedy of a splash in the bath is now contraindicated, and I don't think they recommend the old '1 drop on a sugar cube' for a cough now, either.
Paraffin can be the gooey translucent stuff you mix with a dab of Vegemite or mashed fish on your finger for your cat to lick off so it lubricates their hairballs out, or for constipation. There's a harder wax version people who make jams & preserves use to put on the top of the hot jam so it cools, sets & seals it from moulds & contamination underneath the jar cap. I suspect it's in a lot of lipstick & such too.

Re the possibilities of smuggling explosives (luckily a rare talent): Stevie Starr, The Regurgitator (same video is online several times), is a Glaswegian (OK, Coatbridge. Close.) who swallows and regurgitates living & inanimate objects (solid, liquid & gaseous(ish)) for a living.

Back to the under-growth of illth.

#18 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 09:01 AM:

Where the hell is this idea of mixing the explosives on the 'plane coming from?

It doesn't make sense.

All the chemical reactions I've seen mention of need some care, some way of maintaining a stable temperature. And some of the chemicals are pretty nasty., in awkward ways. Concentrated nitric acid, for instance.

#19 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 09:03 AM:

Dave, you mean it's not just like mixing epoxy?

I keep thinking of that guy who was supposedly going to try to cut through one of the main cables on the Brooklyn Bridge. They nabbed him and announced it as a successful instance of anti-terrorist vigilance. I figured they'd mainly kept him from hurting himself.

#20 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 09:39 AM:

According to the story I heard on NPR, "binary explosives" (two liquids, not terribly unstable individually, that can be mixed to produce an explosive) are customarily used by bomb disposal squads. (More.)

Re security theater: my personal skepticism-meter went off the scale when I saw pictures of airport security making people pour all their liquids into a big barrel.

As for detection, as far as I know the best combination of cheap, fast & good for chemical detection is your basic dog. U.S. airports already deploy the Beagle Brigade to detect contraband produce and smuggled animals. Bomb dogs (a different category) cost about $10K each to train, and you can count on about 4 to 5 years of service from each dog. And compared to many of the technological search methods, they are FAST. Moreover, like seeing-eye and assistance dogs, they have the capacity to respond to situations they haven't been trained for, thus providing the opportunity to intercept a threat not anticipated by the trainers.

#21 ::: Michael ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 09:47 AM:

Ben, if it were any other Administration, I might agree with you....

Incidentally, in Phoenix they are donating the presumed explosives, unopened, to the homeless. In Philadelphia, they're selling them on eBay. They know they're not explosives.

#22 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 09:50 AM:

Dave: I think the source of confusion is that according to at least one article I've seen, the plan was to make the detonators during the flights. Most are reporting that the explosives would have been mixed in advance and carried in a plastic drink bottle with a false bottom.

Wikipedia is currently reporting that the explosives would have been mixed on flight, but in a meticulously sourced article that is one of the few assertions that are not associated with a source.

Binary explosives are a very cool idea, but AFAIK there aren't any that are easily within the reach of the home bombmaker. I could be wrong, though.

#23 ::: jane ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 09:56 AM:

I have a knee replacement--titanium and plastic.I also have a card from the hospital explaining this. No one--and I mean NO ONE--is interested in that card. It could be reproduced by a child with a print kit or a good computer.

However, what continues to amuse me is that all the people pulled out of line for wanding (surely there is a good fantasy story there!) seem to be well over 60, with pacemakers,new knees, or new hips. The profile of a serious terror threat. Sigh.

I fly to Scotland in a few hours. Clutching a small bag with crossword puzzles and (I hope) a book bought once inside the secure area. Will they let me have a pen? I will soon find out.

Jane

#24 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 10:39 AM:

Security: Sir, our plastic explosives detector says you've got a half pound of explosives in your stomach.

Passenger: Hwah? No, wait! We just had a Christmas pudding at my mother's.

S: Well, there's only one way to be certain. Bob will take you back to the stomach pump room and we'll find out for certain.

P: But, its a Christmas pudding! A Christmas pudding! My mother made it from scratch.

S: If that turns out to be the case, Bob can reverse the pump and put it back in for you. Customer service is what we're all about.

Bob: (to himself) Dang, what did he go and say that for. I missed lunch today.

#25 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 10:47 AM:

It appears to me that chemical sniffers (mechanical and/or canine) and traditional police and intelligence work are the general solution to this problem. Explosives technology is just going to get more sophisticated.

Michael, that's a telling detail about the disposal of the confiscated liquids and gels. It gets filed on the same shelf as removing the tiny unsharpened nail-file bits from nail clippers, and Shwarzenegger sending the National Guard to major Californian airports.

Back before 9/11 I saw a less-than-incisive article about the valiant security forces at LAX. It was accompanied by what was supposed to be a scary photo of all the "weapons" they'd confiscated from travelers, most of which were large knives with fixed blades. Looking at that photo, what was obvious to me was that a lot of chefs had lost their personal sets of cooking knives.

I wish we had a government that was serious about security.

#26 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 11:06 AM:

It should be noted that Ramzi Yousef actually did smuggle bomb parts onto a plane in 1994, assemble it, and conceal it under a seat with a timer where it then exploded on the next leg of the flight, killing the passenger sitting there, injuring ten more, and blowing a hole in the bottom of the compartment. He used liquid nitroglycerin, which he had disguised as a bottle of contact lens cleaning solution. So we know this kind of thing can be done. Yet, in 1994 there was no widescale panic, nor were beverages banned from airplanes.

Yousef and his compatriots planned to do the same thing on a larger scale, using more powerful explosives. In 1995, this plot was discovered when one of the terrorists set his Manilla apartment on fire while working with chemicals. Manilla police discovered bombmaking equipment and a personal computer with plot details. Yet, in 1995 there was no widescale panic, nor were beverages banned from airplanes.

#27 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 11:07 AM:

I'd been thinking ever since that edict about no fluids came along, what about those people unlucky enough to need colostony bags? Now that's something you really want to explain about in a line at Heathrow to a bored and none too bright security guard...

#28 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 11:21 AM:

Meanwhile, let us contemplate the Mad Dog "Mirage X" knife, which the manufacturer describes as being magnetically inert and galvanically exempt. Here's a pious public statement from its manufacturer.

If you don't want the hassle and expense of a Mirage X, $22.00 will get you a stone knife. More money will get you a nicer one, but the cheap model are still dead sharp.

None of these weapons will get a peep out of an airport metal detector.

#29 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 11:35 AM:

Jules --

Binary explosives are pretty trivial in one sense; you mix an oxidizer and something with carbon in it. This starts at good old fashioned black gunpowder (potassium nitrate and charcoal; the sulfur is there because it has a low enough ignition point to get the rest of the works started), wanders through ANFO (Ammonium Nitrate and Fuel Oil) and winds up at acts of gibbering madness like mixing LOX and liquid propane.

Thing is, none of these are noteably practical for in-flight mixing, and all the precursors are inherently suspicious.

We're being asked to believe in either Airplane Loo Chemistry to make at least a kilo of something highly explosive, which is just silly -- there isn't much room, there isn't any guarantee of being free from sudden shocks, the proposed explosives require things like two liter cans of nitric acid to make (and in what, the open sink?) -- or highly advanced combining colloidal gel explosives being available to a terrorist cell.

Now, it's been awhile since I was much aware of that area, but so far as I'm aware, the only place anyone was doing serious work on that was as part of the -- cancelled -- US liquid propellant artillery projects. All of the results of which, at any level of detail deeper than "the propellant is tough; the valve is the impossible part", are still highly classified.

So I'm faced with a choice between the likelihood of some thoroughly black, small quantities, binary explosive project in some lab somewhere making explosives and making them available to a large London terrorist cell, when the same investment and effort would get them a lot more less complex explosive -- it's not like liquid explosives have to binary; most mining explosives are single-component pumpable gels these days -- or that the US and UK governments and security services are lying their asses off in service of a political end.

That last is very much the least hypothesis.

#30 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 12:15 PM:

Yet, in 1994/1995 there was no widescale panic

Dude, check your script. In 1994/1995 going after arab terrorists, um, freedom fighters, was bad, and criticizing the president was good. 9/11 changed everything.

#31 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 12:46 PM:

Teresa,
Funny you should mention LAX. I became utterly fatalistic about airline security during a trip back from visiting friends in Pasadena. I looked around a figured out SIX ways I could take out half the airport. Me, the complete and utter idiot in all matters of tactics.

Then, there was the baggage check, where they threw away my dull cuticle scissors but left me a five inch steel nail file. These days I just grit my teeth and put up with it. I figure the "security measures" catch the stupidest among the stupid.

#32 ::: Ledasmom ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 12:48 PM:

Couldn't pretty much anyone make a functional glass knife by wrapping a suitable shard with something to keep their fingers from being cut while using the thing?
Does anyone have more detailed information on how the regurgitators did their tricks? I assume the liquids were brought back up out of the stomach, perhaps a stomach that had been dilated somewhat through practice, rather than the intestines (which I gather is possible though unpleasant).

#33 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 12:49 PM:

For whatever it may be worth (probably not much), a couple of weeks ago I got to spend a day at the Van Nuys courthouse. They have two inspection stations (each with x-ray for carry-ins and walk-through metal detector). One of the metal detectors picked up my stainless-steel ID bracelet (and got me wanded), the other didn't. Isn't technology wonderful?

#34 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 12:56 PM:

Or as I've been putting it: They've banned an entire phase of matter!

You're not the only one Saying that.

Not a T-Shirt. Yet.

Hey, who's flying as a couple? You carry hematite or magnetite, your SO carries aluminum....

#35 ::: C.E. Petit ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 12:58 PM:

All I can really say is that it's pretty obvious that nobody at TSA has any understanding of the difference between basic chemistry and chemical engineering. For example, a substantial proportion of the chemicals necessary to make [name of incendiary withheld] can be carried as separate powders and will not set off a current-generation detector, especially if broken down into multiple loads… and can be reconstituted and mixed in water if you're feeling suicidal.

And I'm wondering what a contact-wearer with allergies is going to feel like at the end of a transoceanic flight without his/her eyedrops, especially given the dry, ionized, lower-pressure air found in aircraft cabins. Gee—you think a creative lawyer might find a way to sue the airlines for eye injuries?

#36 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 01:13 PM:

Thing is, none of these are noteably practical for in-flight mixing, and all the precursors are inherently suspicious

Exactly. The difference between suicide and martyrdom is rate of reaction. Making a large amount of nitroglycerine is hard. Makeing a small amount of nitroglycerine, and having it explode, coating you in hot Nitric and Sulfuric Acids (one of which will be the fuming variety) is easy.

The first takes out an airplane. The second damages the lav, kills you (if you are lucky) and gets you made fun of.

And really, if Nitroglycerine or TATP is the explosive, why detonators? If I get 12oz of either onto a plane, I carry it into the lav, lock the door, and beat the container on the wall a couple of times, if it happens to be a rather stable version of such. Otherwise, getting it to the airport is a very hard problem.

(Erik's sign that the 7/7 bombing, as stated by Scotland Yard, is bull. You carried TATP for how long, and had four charges go off when you wanted them to? Yeah, right -- TATP makes nitroglycerine look stable, and makes you start thinking stupid things like "Well, I think picric acid is safer....". Bonus BS sign -- TATP gets even less stable when warm. You carried what for how many minutes in a LONDON TUBE IN JULY? And nobody bumped into you?)

That's the posit here -- some liquid chemicals that can be carried onto a plane with simple, unremarkable containers (they'll notice a dewar, so LOX is right out,) and that mix easily enough into a high-order secondary explosive -- that is, one strong enough to knock a plane out of the sky, but insensitive enough to require a detonator and associate gear to fire it.

That's why my bullshit detector had to be shut off so I could sleep. Remove any one of the above constraints, and I could buy the threat, but with the entire list, I don't see anything, period.

It isn't as if we haven't studied this. The science of Making Stuff That Goes Boom has a very long history, and a great deal of effort, behind it. Lots of people are looking for better explosives, given some contraint. The reason we have lots of different explosives is that there are tradeoffs between them. Joe Special Forces doesn't want to haul 100 pounds of ANFO about, but Jim Miner doesn't want to spend the money on C4, and doesn't like the way C4 shatters the rock, instead of heaving it.

We know lots and lots about lots of explosives. Nobody I've talked to has a clue as to anything that comes close to matching the above contraints. We brought up the nitro seat bomb, it was quickly decided that this isn't the threat -- it doesn't drop airplanes, and there's a world of difference between carrying one ounce of nitroglycering and 20 ounces.

For one thing, good luck making it. For another, good luck moving it. For a third, Nitroglycerine shows up just fine on various explosive sweeps. Fourth, false bottoms in waterbottles can easily be seen on X-ray, and that's one of the things they look for.

We think the threat is clearly a mix of bolonium and male bovine fecal matter.

#37 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 01:19 PM:

Hm. I just read, on another blog, a commenter saying that he heard on NPR -- wait, let me catch my breath again after all that -- OK, I just read that apparently there had been a brief ban on bringing fluids onto airplanes in the mid-'90s. I'm guessing it was after one of the events I described above.

Oh, and Cooking With Anne is a webcomic about cooking after a nuclear apocalypse.

#38 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 02:28 PM:

This time five years ago I was sitting in LAX international terminal, looking at the complete lack of security and thinking "sooner or later someone's going to walk onto one of these planes with a knife and hijacking in mind, and I hope it's not the one I'm on." I didn't actually expect to be proved right before my return flight.

In a couple of days' time, I'm going to be sitting in LAX international terminal, thinking about the many ways in which it is still far less secure than Aldergrove Airport was in the 70s, and sitting as far away from the groundside windows as I can get...

#39 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 02:36 PM:

Bruce Schneier has written an op-ed piece for the Minneapolis paper which he has posted to his blog, Schneier on Security. As usual, he brings sanity to the table. I wish our current government (ack phtui) listened to him more.

#40 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 02:50 PM:

Avram: There was a hijacking back in the "take us to Cuba" days where the guys brought flammable liquid aboard; I was hardly ever on a plane then, so I don't recall if there were any security changes. (Indeed, once the metal detectors went up, the wannabe Cubans got rather ingenious in coming up with alternate strategies. Shows you how much we learn from history.)

Julia: Something like fifteen years back, I was picking up tickets at MSP. After I did, I saw a box in a phone booth -- it was for a slide carousel. It had a name and address, and I started to pick it up for Lost & Found . . . but I was flying to London a lot back then, where they actually had functional security, and it occurred to me that maybe I ought to just tell someone.

The whole story takes a while and needs a beer and gestures, but the short version is that it was nearly impossible to find someone who was interested in this story, nobody had any idea why I wanted someone else to deal with it, there seemed to be no plan for so dealing, and in the end I wound up following the original plan. (It didn't blow up.)

Maybe if it had had lots of curled wires and a large LED display counting down.

#41 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 02:51 PM:

We know that a small nitroglycerin charge was smuggled onto a plane, assembled as a bomb, and detonated according to plan.

According to the entry on that explosive, in a certain online encyclopedia, its stability can be improved by adding acetone. It is also less likely to explode if frozen. The melting point is 13.2 centigrade and it's heavier than water.

Acetone is mentioned in some reports of the Phillipine bomb plot.

So I reckon that liquid explosive, pre-mixed, is possible.

(Looks up TATP)

I see acetone is involved in that too. I wonder just why any bomb makers used acetone?

#42 ::: rhandir ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 03:07 PM:

Note that nail polish is mostly acetone.
-r.

#43 ::: rhandir ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 03:10 PM:

Argh. Wrong stuff. Nail polish remover. And mostly acetone. And they make non-acetone versions.

argh.
-r.

#44 ::: RichM ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 03:13 PM:

Peroxyacetone, made from acetone and reagent-grade hydrogen peroxide.

If terrorists wanted to get very awfully clever, a body-hugging flexible plastic undervest full of explosive gel would be indistinguishable from a layer of body fat.

It seems to me too that sufficiently motivated terrorists might use implants to smuggle explosives and detonators undetected.

#45 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 03:30 PM:

Sufficiently motivated terrorists will grow brains and ignore the passenger and luggage mass flow.

Cleaning crews, food trolleys, consumables -- hydraulic fluid, fuel, de-icing compound, etc. -- offer much simpler patterns of attack. Suborning maintenance allows for all sorts of things, especially when you consider that modern airliners are fly-by-wire and get regular software updates.

Sensible security requires worrying about all of that stuff; until that happens -- which presently doesn't in NorAm -- there's no point at all to the shrink-wrap-naked-passengers-to-pallets approach.

#46 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 03:44 PM:

From aforementioned Schneier on Security:

The goal of a terrorist is to cause terror. Last week's arrests demonstrate how real security doesn't focus on possible terrorist tactics, but on the terrorists themselves. It's a victory for intelligence and investigation, and a dramatic demonstration of how investments in these areas pay off.

And if you want to know what you can do to help? Don't be terrorized. They terrorize more of us if they kill some of us, but the dead are beside the point. If we give in to fear, the terrorists achieve their goal even if they were arrested. If we refuse to be terrorized, then they lose -- even if their attacks succeed.

What he said.

#47 ::: Eleanor ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 04:19 PM:

Hilde was issued, quite a few years ago, a wallet card to inform security screeners that she will set off their alarms, due to the numerous artificial joints and other hardware in her body.

Why don't the Vorkosigan books ever mention this problem?

#48 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 04:27 PM:

Large masses of glass beads also look like plastique to the machines. After that bit of fun at the Mpls airport, I had Sandi start shipping my beads home.

#49 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 04:32 PM:

Why don't the Vorkosigan books ever mention this problem?

Three major possibilities come to mind:

1. Really, really good scanning (think of those magic MetroLight fluoroscopes from Total Recall).

2. The Express Vor Check-in Lane.

3. "Oh, him. Just try not to laugh."

#50 ::: craig ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 05:21 PM:

"Ben H ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 06:05 AM:

I'm as sceptical as the next citizen about the tendency to hype security threats.

However, I think you're too keen to jump on the idea that these restrictions are just for show."

Um, Ben... they don't screen the paid cargo that goes on the planes. Big-ass boxes and crates of stuff go on unscreened. But lip-gloss is a no-no.

That's not for show? Where all the general public can see things, they restrict your Aquafina, but where there's nobody to see it, big boxes are being loaded on the same place you're going on, with no screening whatsoever.

Its for show, Ben.

Liquid prescriptions can't go on unless the passenger's name matches the label, because as we all know improvising an explosive with benign household objects is a snap, but faking an adhesive label is impossible.

Its for show, Ben.

#51 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 06:18 PM:

Peroxyacetone, made from acetone and reagent-grade hydrogen peroxide.

I encourage, deeply and wholeheartedly, terrorists to make as much TATP as possible, because it will make finding them much easier.

Just look for the smoking holes.

As to mixing TATP or MEKP on a plane? Good luck. For one thing, good luck hiding Acetone or MEK in a drink bottle. Both eat polystyrenes and acrylics in second, polyethyelenes and polycarbons in minutes, and polypropylene in less than an hour.

FEP and certain PTFE formulations can hold the stuff, but the right answer to carrying Acetone or MEK is stainless steel.

There's that little matter of the sulfuric acid you need as well.

I'm not buying TATP as the explosive here, either as premix or components.


#52 ::: Sue Stine ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 06:42 PM:

the airline security focus diverts our attention from other possible terrorist attacks: municipal water supplies, food supplies, anthrax exposure by crop duster. Who is watching our water supply and our crop duster planes?

#53 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 07:26 PM:

"Who is watching our water supply and our crop duster planes?"

There is such an effort to watch these, but it rarely draws public notice.

There's currently a low-key fracas in the Portland area, over the covering of water reservoirs.

#54 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 07:37 PM:

While Bothari was still around, spaceport security was usually too distracted by him--he seems to have had a rather massive traveling arsenal--to worry about what a Vorkosigan might be carting about. I note that on one occasion, Ivan brought a captured disruptor planetside, although he may have been taking advantage of some form of diplomatic immunity to do so.

#55 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 07:44 PM:

I have the impression they think all potential terrorists are like MacGyver, while the rest of us are too stupid to recognize open containers of acetone and fuming acids.

#56 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 08:10 PM:

"First they take my stakes. Now they take my holy water. If the crosses go, I'm screwed."

-- Leda van Helsing, 7th of the Line

#57 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 08:15 PM:

joann --

It's important to remember just who the pushy little mutant is, in Barrayaran space.

Members of the imperial family don't go through customs.

#58 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 08:29 PM:

There is a story, relevant to Miles at customs, which I heard from the Head of Lakefield College School years ago.

When Prince Andrew came to study at LCS, he was met at the Airport by the Lieutenant Governor and hence his passport was never stamped by immigration. There was a class trip to the States in which he participated; on the way back, as the boys were going through the immigration queue, the immigration officer took noted verbal exception to the fact that this UK passport did not have a visa stamp on it. (He had obviously paid no attention to the actual name on the passport, or maybe it just said "Andrew Windsor".)

As he began to expostulate, one of Andrew's RCMP attendants reached over Andrew's shoulder and turned the passport over without saying anything. The passport did not have a standard UK cover: instead, of course, it had the Royal Coat of Arms and instead of giving the country just said "Royal Family". I'm not sure what hole the immigration officer managed to slink away into.

Miles would always -- except when he himself was officially Imp Sec, or officially a mercenary Admiral -- have had the equivalent of that RCMP minder with him as protection.

#59 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 09:03 PM:

Friendly warning: Erik, your utterances threaten to devolve entirely into acronyms.

#60 ::: Lis Riba ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 09:05 PM:

Hey, maybe they should start banning Mentos, too, just in case...

#61 ::: Lis Riba ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 09:24 PM:

BTW, anyone care to guess what kind of security theater we'll see the first time a US commercial jet is shot down by a shoulder-mounted missle launcher?

#62 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 10:18 PM:

Lis, there are some people who think that's already happened.

#63 ::: Anne Sheller ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 10:38 PM:

As I sit here typing, I'm wearing a cheap pair of over-the-counter reading glasses. Straight earpieces. no hook at the end - the damn things fall off at inopportune times. The earpieces have plastic caps on them, which slide off pretty easily; the metal underneath is kind of pointy. They are in a rimless half-lens styly, with a rather flimsily attached nose bridge holding things together in the center.

What's the point? The points are at the ends of the earpieces. If I sharpened the ends, I'd have a pair of rather flimsy 7 inch stilettos on my person. Not exactly the most formidable weapons in the world, but still potentially lethal if stuck in the right places. And very unlikely to be confiscated by airport security.

There's never going to be absolute security. There are reasonable precautions, and reasonable risks. And there's stirring up fear to make people into sheep. And we all know which the maladministration prefers.

#64 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2006, 12:04 AM:

James: in the part where it normally says "Her Britannic Majesty", did that one say "Me Mum"?

#65 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2006, 12:44 AM:

Anne, have you seen Godfather Part III?

Talk about Movie Plot Threats . . .

#66 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2006, 01:47 AM:

I'll go with the "it's all for show" crew. Admittedly, this is because the tighter security is being adopted here in .au. Yeah, you heard right. Australia. The country which got caught in the Bali bombings because most of the tourists in Bali on a given weekend speak with a strong Strine accent. The yapping terrier that follows G W Bush around with delusions of being an Alsatian. The country which has *no* intra-continental border crossings at all, and nowhere near enough navy to keep track of the near neighbours who want to move in.

It's all for show. I'm willing to believe that the idiots who got caught by the rozzers in the UK thought they were going to be ever so dangerous. Heck, I'm willing to believe that they thought they might spark more panic than 9/11. In which case, they will probably be laughing all the way to the Central Criminal Courts, because by all the gods that are and aren't, they've succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

It's theatre. It's to make us all scared. It's succeeding. Meanwhile, I shall continue looking into ocean-going transport between Australia and anywhere else, and just do my level best to be friendly to the crew. I figure that the less depersonalised I am, the better my chances of survival if there *is* a mad bomber on board.

#67 ::: Ben H ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2006, 03:12 AM:

craig ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2006, 05:21 PM:
Um, Ben... they don't screen the paid cargo that goes on the planes. Big-ass boxes and crates of stuff go on unscreened. But lip-gloss is a no-no.

Uh, Craig... does the paid cargo go in the cabin or the hold?

Liquid prescriptions can't go on unless the passenger's name matches the label, because as we all know improvising an explosive with benign household objects is a snap, but faking an adhesive label is impossible.

That's a good point, Craig. I guess the extra restrictions are aimed at catching someone about to execute an existing plan, Craig, who doesn't have the time or means to start printing convincing fake prescription labels, Craig.

Now it looks like all the plotters were caught, they will soon drop the restrictions, Craig.

#68 ::: Ben H ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2006, 03:15 AM:

Is it possible that Al Quaida has figured out some sort of stabiliser for TATP? Maybe that's how the 7/7 bombers managed not to go off early.

Don't forget, the bus bomber apparently had trouble detonating his explosives, because he went and bought batteries.

#69 ::: vian ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2006, 03:58 AM:

I'll go with the "it's all for show" crew. Admittedly, this is because the tighter security is being adopted here in .au. Yeah, you heard right. Australia. The country which got caught in the Bali bombings because most of the tourists in Bali on a given weekend speak with a strong Strine accent. The yapping terrier that follows G W Bush around with delusions of being an Alsatian. The country which has *no* intra-continental border crossings at all, and nowhere near enough navy to keep track of the near neighbours who want to move in.

I suspect the naval patrols are actually another facet of the "it's all for show" phenom, given that most of the illegal immigrants in Australia are actually Caucasian - Brits, Americans and New Zealanders who fly over and then don't leave after their visas run out. But oh, thank heavens those Papuan refugees (who all ended up getting Protection Visas) are denied refuge while their calims are assessed. Gosh, we're ever so careful with our borders Dow Nunder.

Still, it's been a bad day for Dubya's deputy - little Johnny had to pull a piece of legislation so that members of his own party didn't scupper it.

#70 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2006, 04:49 AM:

The UK government has reduced the threat and eased the security restrictions, a change which will take effect in the early hours of Tuesday morning at Heathrow.

Details here, at the official Department of Transport site.

Still a ban on liquids and gels, but one piece of cabin luggage is allowed, which may contain electronic items.

Details so far suggest there may be implementation awkwardnesses over having to remove a laptop (or similar), and possible bulges from re-packing a soft-sided case, since there are strict limits on case dimensions. But I've no practical experience.

#71 ::: OG ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2006, 08:21 AM:

does the paid cargo go in the cabin or the hold?

And the difference is? Either one has a chance of causing enough structural damage to bring down the plane. Most of the explosion demonstration film I've seen over the past week appears to have the origin of the explosion in the hold, not the passenger compartment.

Now it looks like all the plotters were caught, they will soon drop the restrictions

I really expect the airlines to lobby against dropping them. Think of the potential for selling bottled water and eyedrops and books of crosswords on the plane.

#72 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2006, 09:35 AM:

Erik V. Olsen wrote: For one thing, good luck hiding Acetone or MEK in a drink bottle. Both eat polystyrenes and acrylics in second, polyethyelenes and polycarbons in minutes, and polypropylene in less than an hour.

Umm, I have a perfectly stable bottle of acetone in my bathroom at home. I'd have to turn over my bottle of Sally Hansen nail polish remover and look at the recycling mark to be sure, but I imagine it's polypropylene. I can guarantee it's not Teflon or stainless steel.

MEK (or methyl ethyl ketone, for the uninitiated) is indeed nastier and needs to be in poly(ethyl ether ketone), Teflon, or stainless steel.

Cole-Parmer has a terrific site to assess chemical and container compatibilities here.

Incidentally, outside of William Gibson novels, there is no polymer known as 'polycarbon' - I suspect you mean 'polycarbonate' (what they make 'unbreakable' Nalgene water bottles out of).

#73 ::: theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2006, 09:40 AM:

Stone knife, hell. My kitchen knives are Kyocera ceramic knives. The blades are made from zirconium oxide. They're sharp as hell, and never need to be sharpened. They're nonmagnetic, lightweight, and actually translucent. The ones with plastic handles (mine have wooden ones) have no metal parts at all. The only problem with them is that they're somewhat brittle, so you can't (say) use them to pry the lid off a jar.

#74 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2006, 10:41 AM:

It's all a plot to make us surrender our precious bodily fluids.

#75 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2006, 11:38 AM:

In the part where it normally says "Her Britannic Majesty", did that one say "Me Mum"?

My impression was -- and this was in dinner conversation, a few years after the incident -- that the passport wasn't personalized to that degree; they probably have a template used for everyone in the Royal Family out to a certain degree.

#76 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2006, 11:54 AM:

I imagine it's polypropylene.

Either FEP or PTFE lined polypropylene, possibly pure PTFE. All the above will be marked with a resin code (recycling code) of 7. It may just say "OTHER" underneath, or it may actually tell you what it is.

Trust me on polyproplyene's inability to contain acetone for long periods of time -- I wrecked the carpet in the trunk of a car making that bet.

I quickly learned that while reading the MSDS is always a good idea, there's often more information out there, esp. about storage and transport. Sections marked 'incompatability' are very important to read.

Friendly warning: Erik, your utterances threaten to devolve entirely into acronyms.

OMG LOL!

Seriously -- about half of all explosives and ninety percent of all plastics are boiled down to acronyms. While typing trinitrotoluene isn't bad, TNT is much easier, and triacetone triperoixide really is better known as TATP.

In plastics, it gets worse. You can ask for high density polyetheylene, but the box will be labled HDPE. If you ask if someone can mold Tetrafluroethyene-Perfluoroproplyne, they're going to look at you funny. Asking for FEP is not only quicker, it's the correct name to the plastics industry. Ditto PTFE for Teflon and Polycarbonate for Lexan, since the latter of the pair are trademarks, and polytetrafluroethylene is a bit of a pain.

I've never seen polycarbonate shortend, though I've heard "polycarb" on occasion. You can ask, if you must, for acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, but everyone calls it ABS.

Yes, I looked a couple of these up -- I've never encounted the need to expand ABS or PTFE on a regular basis, so I don't bother storing the expansion. Besides, ABS and PTFE are the correct trade terms if I need to spec those plastics.

#77 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2006, 01:05 PM:

Premixed plastic explosives are hand-malleable, and reasonably inert until you set off the detonator. Does airport security intend to check any and all void spaces in luggage -- for instance, the insides of the steel tubes used in folding luggage carts and baby carriages?

Do any of you happy home chemists feel like responding to Ben H's theory that al-Q. might have come up with a hitherto unknown stabilizer for TATP?

Craig: Cargo. Damnably good point.

Marilee, thanks for the warning about the glass bead problem. Problem is, I stopped putting my jewelry into my checked luggage some while back, when I realized that bits of it kept turning up missing.

Erik, Dave: Why bother with nitroglycerine? Glycerine or acetone are all the liquid you need. The accompanying solids are potassium permanganate, powdered iron oxide, and powdered aluminum. Alternately, you could go with powdered iron oxide, powdered aluminum, a sparkler, and a match. Mix the powders with a minimal amount of inert binder, mold it into a decorative and plausible form (say, a gift-wrapped souvenir statuette), and light it off in mid-flight.

I was impressed by a comment posted by Crosius in a similar discussion over on Pharyngula. He pointed out some of the things airport security hadn't bothered to do before making people empty carry-on fluids into a single large container, like sniffing or otherwise inspecting the bottles, or having a hazmat team in place in case things started reacting, or locating the receptacle somewhere other than in the middle of a crowd. Then he said:

When Terrorists realise that their target should be the security line, not the airplane, you'll see binary poisons going in those bins, like say, a bunch of "mints" made of potassium cyanide and a glass bottle of strong acid "dropped" a little too hard.

As a disturbing, added bonus, dead bodies in plane crashes mid-ocean are essentially invisible. Dead bodies in an airplane terminal are hard to keep off the evening news. Also, you get to not only wipe out a business traveller, you might get their spouse and children, too.

Fortunately for the terrorists, the airlines are doing their part to make sure those terminals are as crowded as possible ...

#78 ::: Chris Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2006, 01:12 PM:
That's a good point, Craig. I guess the extra restrictions are aimed at catching someone about to execute an existing plan, Craig, who doesn't have the time or means to start printing convincing fake prescription labels, Craig.

Help me out here, folks. I'm trying to remember the formal term for an argument intended as a devastating rebuttal but which only embarrasses its deliverer.

#79 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2006, 01:17 PM:

Meanwhile in Salon.com (yes, I still subscribe)...

The Wall Street Journal reports that Transportation Security Administration teams have begun watching for "vocal timbre, gestures and tiny facial movements" that may suggest that someone waiting at a security checkpoint is "trying to disguise an emotion."

Great. Now only Vulcans will be allowed thru airport security.

#80 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2006, 01:22 PM:

Sorry, Chris. All that's coming to mind is the related fannish term "Gerberize," meaning "to mount such an excessively spirited defense that you do your cause more harm than good."

#81 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2006, 02:41 PM:

Teresa, Craig: One of the newsmagazines did a story on the containerized cargo that travels on commercial flights.

The containers are NEVER scanned or searched, and they sit outside their pick-up and delivery points where anyone could get to them to put something lethal inside, nor is there ANY security watching them!

And after the last few comments I know I'm not going to be comfortable standing in a security line any more. My worst-scenario imaginings centered around a nut with a automatic, I hadn't considered the possibility of bombs or poisons...

Very stupid of me -- perhaps it's due to the number of bomb-scares that weren't in my past. The best one was during high-school -- a bomb threat was called into the school, and all the students were sent to the gym, which the police had neglected to search before we entered...

#82 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2006, 03:01 PM:

Great. Now only Vulcans will be allowed thru airport security

Yes, I remember them well, white painted, with pale-blue and pink markings, out at the dispersals at Scampton, in the Sixties.

I once saw four of them scramble, simultaneous engine-starts and the last one struggling in the hot exhaust gases to enough speed to take off, staying law and scattering in all directions.

And the last time I saw one flying was at an airshow, an ancient plane doing a touch-and-go in that incredibly nose-high delta-wing style, while the USAF F-15 slunk back along a taxiway with a dodgy engine.

I even saw a Thor IRBM on the launch pad, a couple of miles from home. They stored them, unfuelled, in a bunker, and had to taw it out, stand it on its tail, and fill it with non-storable propellants. Why would they do that? Cuban Missile Crisis.

We faced nuclear war. And now we let a few ounces of explosive terrorise us.

#83 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2006, 03:03 PM:

Erik V. Olsen wrote: Trust me on polyproplyene's inability to contain acetone for long periods of time -- I wrecked the carpet in the trunk of a car making that bet.

I took a look at the Official Acetone Squirt Bottles in my lab and they are clearly marked 'LDPE,' so I was wrong, they aren't polypropylene. However, given that Cole-Parmer describes PP as having 'excellent' chemical resistance and LDPE (low-density polyethylene) as merely 'good', and that I don't have a puddle of molten plastic in my fumehood after some months of the bottle sitting there, I think we can safely say that you don't need to transport acetone, at least, in Teflon or stainless steel. (Having said that, the carpet in the trunk of my car is saturated with ethylene glycol, which certainly didn't eat through its storage container and presumably leaked out from the cap that I thought was tightly closed; trunks of cars are pretty rough environments.)

And speaking of Teflon - I know that it's a trade name (hence the initial capitalization) for PTFE and I do know most of the full names for polymers off the top of my head (although apparently not PEEK, which is polyether ether ketone, not what I wrote above). However, given that the chemical name and the acronym are likely to be equally opaque to the layperson, using 'Teflon' instead seemed like a good choice for this comment thread.

#84 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2006, 03:09 PM:

Dave Bell... Groan. Have you no shame?

#85 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2006, 03:44 PM:

I learned as an electronic assembler toat TCE is not something you want in a polystyrene Petri dish; it needs to be in glass. The industrial-size (gallon) acetone bottles were some kind of plastic, though. (Cleaning parts: soap and water, boiling isopropanol, boiling acetone, blow-dry with nitrogen.)

#86 ::: Crosius ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2006, 04:10 PM:

People keep obsessing about ways to get bombs on planes. The target of opportunity isn't even on that side of the metal detectors any more.

Now that all the travellers and their families are standing in big queues outside the security barrier, you can commit terrorist attrocities by shooting into the terminal from a moving car, or bombing the terminal itself.


#87 ::: C Allan ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2006, 04:12 PM:

This seems to fit into the conversation, nicely (NOTE: NSFW, most likely, and contains an image that [while censored] might still be disturbing, to some).

All of this is pretty much moot, though, considering that for $5,000USD one could make a missile with a 20lb carrying capacity and, if I remember correctly, a 2 mile range. I'd say you could get a nice sized explosize on that, easy. And the cost is easy to transfer with no oversight to anyone in the US. Foreign bank accounts and a Panamanian debit card and you're good to go. Hell, even if you used normal accounts no reporting is mandatory under $10,000.

I'd say a few missiles screaming over DC scaring the hell out of everyone before blowing a few monuments or shopping centers to hell would terrorize the citizens, nicely.

#88 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2006, 06:04 PM:

Yep, it's the fact that there is intent to kill that has people freaked out of their "Hello Kitty" panties. When you think of all the random, out of your control ways that you can get killed on a day to day basis, not the least of which is simply getting into an automobile, nobody's freaked about any of that.

But when you give the source of the danger some consciousness, all you can read is "Hel...ty"

When you get to the poitn that you're talking about guys setting off bombs in the airport lines, before going through security, you've basically widened the threat to be everywhere, and basically, at that point, you have to face the fact that there is some small percentage chance that you're going to die today, and it'll be out of your control. People who cannot handle that thought are the ones freaking the most about knuckleheads with a chemical set.

#89 ::: Ben H ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2006, 06:22 PM:

Help me out here, folks. I'm trying to remember the formal term for an argument intended as a devastating rebuttal but which only embarrasses its deliverer.

Well, you realise I'm making fun of craig's debating technique of repeating "Its for show, Ben" [sic] as if it is a clinching point? Right?

You haven't addressed my point though - what we're seeing now are short term measures (which are now in the process of being dropped, as I said they would be) aimed at stopping the loose ends of the specific plot that's just been foiled.

The threat is a loose suicide bomber, part of a network that's been rolled up, who's already been told how to attack.

Such a person is not going to be an improvisational genius. They're not going to be able to redesign their attack to work in the cargo in the short term. This supposed "mixing explosives on the plane" attack (or what seems more likely, bringing in premixed explosives that look like Lucozade) couldn't be easily adapted to work in the cargo hold.

If they did try to improvise something they could easily make a mistake and get caught or blow themselves up. They can wait until the restrictions are lifted, of course, but the point is the police have more time to check that they have caught all the people poised to attack.

Yeah, we can all come up with clever attacks of various degrees of plausibility (and can we agree that the bladder full of reagents one is on the sillier end of the spectrum?). But to develop and debug these takes time, equipment and the risk of exposure.

Now this specific cell has been busted, we should go back to implementing the measures that work for the threat in general: police work, public vigilance, and improved non-invasive screening techniques. Because of course the next attack will be different.

If there are flaws in the cargo screening process (as craig reckons), then obviously they should be addressed too.

Also, as a side point, I didn't theorise that Al Quaida might have a "hitherto unknown stabiliser" for TATP. I suggested they might have a stabiliser for it.

I seem to remember that it's only unstable when dry (of solvent), for example. So maybe it's transported damp, then heated?

If TATP is as unstable as Erik reckons and I was told in chemistry class, it's clear that either it's not the explosive used, or there's some other trick at play which the authorities are not going into detail over. I suppose that's a sensible strategy - why save copycats the R&D time?

#90 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2006, 07:01 PM:

Teresa, I had 15 pounds (about $300-worth) of little beads in bottles. I doubt jewelry has the same problem. I usually fly with mine in my carry-on and don't have problems.

#91 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2006, 08:35 PM:

My husband is coming back from GenCon today. Last year, he discovered that all the plastic dice he'd brought to game with were also false positives for plastiques. Apparently the Indianapolis aiport was fairly reasonable with him today, though.

#92 ::: Anne Sheller ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2006, 11:43 PM:

John M. Ford - nope, never saw Godfather III. I'm fairly sure I saw part of Godfather I sometime it was on TV, but none of the sequels.

#93 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: August 14, 2006, 11:48 PM:

About the ease with which banning small amounts of liquid scares the hicks:

In general, people have a very bad grasp on the size limits of physics. The idea of, say, the amount of explosive that could be mixed from two Herb Pharm dropper bottles blowing a plane out of the sky sounds perfectly feasible, and so sacrificing their Super Echinacea and Pao d'Arco makes them feel safer.

I once tried to talk my mad inventor boss out of selling shares in a biomass converter before he had a working prototype. I'd gone over his figures and, even with my less than sterling math skills, could see that he was using each carbon atom twice. He didn't see why that was a problem. The people calling into the radio shows and talking about how very much safer they feel now that all the naughty liquids are in the trash can are showing the same sterling lack of proportional reasoning.

#94 ::: Chris Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2006, 01:45 AM:
The threat is a loose suicide bomber, part of a network that's been rolled up, who's already been told how to attack.

Such a person is not going to be an improvisational genius

1) That's an unwarranted assumption.
2) It's not "improvisational genius" to fake a prescription label. All you need is a freaking digital camera, for crying out loud. Ten minutes worth of work if you stop to Photoshop.

#95 ::: Ben H ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2006, 03:20 AM:

1) That's an unwarranted assumption.

Well, that's what I think they're guarding against. Notice how they dropped the threat level after it became clear that they'd caught everyone.


2) It's not "improvisational genius" to fake a prescription label. All you need is a freaking digital camera, for crying out loud. Ten minutes worth of work if you stop to Photoshop.

Can the average person use Photoshop well? And you also have to find a suitable medical container, find out what appropriate liquid medicine you're supposed to be using, repackage the explosives...

#96 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2006, 03:53 AM:

Teresa writes:

you could go with powdered iron oxide, powdered aluminum, a sparkler, and a match. Mix the powders with a minimal amount of inert binder, mold it into a decorative and plausible form (say, a gift-wrapped souvenir statuette), and light it off in mid-flight.

I don't know. Back when I was taking AP Chemistry in high school, some of my classmates made thermite for their class project. It was hard to get going -- they couldn't do it with matches, they had to put a big chunk of magnesium in the middle and light that. I'm not sure a sparkler would do it; and our hypothetical suicide bomber would only get one chance to try.

#97 ::: Chris Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2006, 11:37 AM:
Can the average person use Photoshop well? And you also have to find a suitable medical container, find out what appropriate liquid medicine you're supposed to be using, repackage the explosives...

Minimum Wage TSA Agent #1: Hey, congrats on collaring that would-be suicide bomber! How'd you spot the guy in the lineup?

Minimum Wage TSA Agent #2: Oh, it was easy! First off, I noticed some smudges on his prescription labels that looked like compression artifacts. At first I thought "wow, this guy should have sprung for a better camera," but then after I looked more closely, I saw that the smudges were aligned in a coherent pattern...

Minimum Wage TSA Agent #1: You mean...

Minimum Wage TSA Agent #2: That's right! Windex streaks on a color photocopier platen, just like they covered in week five of Minimum Wage TSA Agent School. Kinko's, from the look of it. The green balance was a little off on the "take with food" labels.

Minimum Wage TSA Agent #1: That's great work.

Minimum Wage TSA Agent #2: Oh, but the clincher? His so-called scrips? One bottle was an oral solution of risperidone, and the other was Tegretol.

Minimum Wage TSA Agent #1: You're kidding. That's hilarious!

Minimum Wage TSA Agent #2: Quite honestly, I didn't twig at first. I'm thinking, OK, the guy's clearly showing signs of akathisia, so maybe. But then the light dawns. Both scrips are from the same pharmacy, the same doctor, and what doctor would prescribe carbamazepine and risperidone to the same patient? The Tegretol would totally undercut the effectiveness of the risperidone: classic negative synergistic effect. So I pulled him out of the line. No biggie.

Minimum Wage TSA Agent #1: Another day, another forty dollars, eh?

#98 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2006, 01:01 PM:

Chris Clarke,

I have nothing insightful to contribute, but wanted to note that the dialogue you wrote has had me snickering for several minutes now. Thanks.

#99 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2006, 01:12 PM:

Last Friday, while preparing for a model rocket launch, I

i) handled a minute amount of black powder, and

ii) shaved the ends of a swollen ammonium perchlorate based fuel grain so it would fit in a motor casing.

Now I'm wondering how careful I should have been with regards to containment. How much of a fraction of a speck of the fuel or BP would it take, sticking to a pants cuff or luggage, to set off a detector?

#100 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2006, 01:40 PM:

Meanwhile, I just went to LAcon's site and noticed the following programming item to be run by John G. Hemry on Wednesday at 5:30pm:

"EVERYTHING I NEEDED TO KNOW ABOUT QUANTUM PHYSICS I LEARNED FROM THE THREE STOOGES"

#101 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2006, 03:12 PM:

Lori, Craig: None of the intended scare stories I'd heard had genuinely scared me. What I'm hearing about containerized cargo makes me instantly want to check rail costs and times for my trip out to the worldcon. I know it's not an option -- I'm too close to the date, and rail costs more -- but I suddenly find I don't want to fly.

Crosius, that's such a good point that I don't expect I'll ever hear it addressed in debates over national security policy.

Ben H, you can make your argument without getting testy. Taking potshots at your fellows will eventually get you into the moderator's bad graces; but long before that, it'll get you marked as fair game.

David Goldfarb, I'd respond, but I've already gotten email from a fellow explosives enthusiast saying SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP. I took it as a compliment.

Chris, that was wicked.

Stefan, if I were a terrorist or just an irresponsible prankster, I'd take small, finely powdered quantities of the chemicals they're looking for, and sprinkle them here and there at airports.

No, even better -- I could sprinkle them on the carpeting and upholstery of NYC taxicabs. I'd never have to go near the airport security cams; and trace amounts of the chemicals would be bound to wind up on the clothing of travelers going through airport security.

#102 ::: Ben H ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2006, 03:36 PM:

Chris, nice vignette, but:
"Prescribed medicines in liquid form, for example diabetic medicines, over 50ml, must be verified by a pharmacist at any of the airport pharmacies."

http://travel.guardian.co.uk/news/story/0,,1845086,00.html

That's here in the UK. What the TSA is doing I don't know.

#103 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2006, 03:43 PM:

And just exactly how do you verify a liquid medicine without a full lab on hand (I Am Not A Chemist, but I had a year of general chemistry)? I'm assuming they mean 'making sure it's what the label says it is'.

#104 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2006, 04:05 PM:

Re containerized cargo: What I wonder is -- If it's so easy and so vulnerable, why hasn't there been a rash of attacks via this route in the past forty years?

Re attacks on passengers in the terminal buildings: This has, of course, happened in the past, but I think the last major incident was back in the 1980s. The most bizarre of these was the 1972 attack at Tel Aviv's airport by three Japanese passengers who had just arrived from Paris: they carried their automatic weapons and grenades on board the Air France flight from Paris, deplaned in Tel Aviv, and then launched their attack.

#105 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2006, 04:07 PM:

Ben H: Your airports have pharmacies??!!!

The largest airports that I am familiar with do not have a pharmacy on site (ORD, DCA, and IAD), and even if they did, what would TSA do, call the pharmacist to come to the inspection area?

Although considering how ubiquitous Walgreens is becoming, it wouldn't surprise me to find one of their stores in an airport...

#106 ::: Kathryn from sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2006, 04:27 PM:

As the child of a forensics engineer, I take great comfort in the lack of competence of bad guys. Spend a weekend at an American Association of Forensic Engineers meeting and you know how a Moriarty would go at this. But the bad guys have no Moriarties.

btw, spend a weekend at either the general forensics or specialty forensics meetings- especially the international ones- and you'll have materials to last your writing for years.

At least the bad guys have no civil engineering and thermodynamics Moriarties. They might, however, have a grasp of econ and finance. In fact, I remember a sadly ignored quote by Obladin bragging how they "can put two ?pieces of paper? in far-apart places and the Americans will rush giant armies back and forth in fear." I can only conclude that he is a Moriarty of psychology: he tells people exactly how he'll make them jump, and then they jump exactly as predicted, and yet they believe they chose themselves to jump.

Michael Parekh envelocalculates that Richard Reid cost 33 Billion in lost (dead-weight loss) time.

If their goal is economic damage- they're good. The damage they do is in pure loss- time thrown away. I'm sure that plenty of business travelers and vacation travelers might be willing to pay for real security, but there's no way of donating lost time to a security research charity of choice.

If everyone who lost an hour to security this past week could donate $5 to the research Bush tried to cut earlier, we'd significantly expand their R&D funding. (I wonder if their philosophical dislike of government programs ruins their ability to be competent in the programs they do like. They're trying to hate the sin but love the sinner- a neocon doublethink.)

But instead the effects of bad security are externalities. It is as if security measures caused air pollution, and the pollution caused the usual health effects (more asthma, worse COPD). The people negatively affected can't talk with the polluters: here, the pollution - polluted time- is patriotic.

How many articles have I seen this week saying anyone complaining about lost polluted time is just being whiny. Never mind that the value of the lost time could pay to not have the time lost in the first place. There's a missing market as wide as a jumbo jet, but they don't see it.

#107 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2006, 04:33 PM:

"Prescribed medicines in liquid form, for example diabetic medicines, over 50ml, must be verified by a pharmacist at any of the airport pharmacies."

This is interesting. One of the more common ways for diabetics to carry insulin is in a pre-packaged dosage dispenser. You snap in a tiny needle, turn a dial to set the appropriate dosage, jab, and depress a plunger. It takes the place of syringes and vials. Very cool. A full dispenser holds, I believe, 100 units of insulin. (For those who don't know, insulin has its own specific measure; one doesn't use ml or cc.)

That what one is carrying is insulin can be easily verified, but like Lori, I am curious -- are pharmacists on staff at Heathrow and the other UK airports?

#108 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2006, 04:59 PM:

Peter Erwin: Re attacks on passengers in the terminal buildings: This has, of course, happened in the past...

This got me thinking about the various FALN bombings in NYC, which brought me to a page on the NYPD website listing lots of bombings of public places, some of which I remember and many of which I don't.

What I do remember was the constant reassuring tones of various government officials. Nobody was encouraging people to be terrorized by the terrorists.

#109 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2006, 05:01 PM:

Further to attacks on passengers in terminals: It was my impression that "the target[s] of opportunity" being aimed for in the plan wasn't so much the passengers on the planes, as the cities or suburbs over which they were meant to explode.

Again, as on September 11, it's using the planes themselves as weapons, with the smaller explosives as detonators. I still have memories of TV shots of the damage caused in places like - was it Amsterdam? - by a widespread hail of large flaming pieces of aeroplane over a city.

Much of Sydney sees planes passing nearby or overhead many times on most days to Kingsford Smith Airport. It's quite close to the CBD (and next to the main port and the oil refinery on Botany Bay). An incident like that could max the jitter level here right out for quite a while. Certain politicians and commentators would revel in the waves of fear & anger like dolpins frolicking in surf.

#110 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2006, 05:04 PM:

Lori Coulson: The largest airports that I am familiar with do not have a pharmacy on site (ORD, DCA, and IAD)

Yet ORD has a U of I health center. I know this because I was once stuck in O'Hare when my connecting flight was cancelled and saw a sign that read "Free Flu Shots". I went in, discovered it was available to anyone, not just airport employees or even IL residents, and got vaccinated.

Not exactly a pharmacy...

#111 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2006, 05:57 PM:

That what one is carrying is insulin can be easily verified

Lizzy, that really isn't true. It's a clear or cloudy (depending on the formulation) in a glass container, either a 10cc bottle or a 3cc (300-unit) pen injector cartridge. You can't touch or smell it. (It has a somewhat distinctive taste -- don't ask -- but most qualitative analysis courses frown on this technique.) But there isn't, say, a dipstick test that says, "yeah, this is insulin," as there is one that says, "bleep, you're spilling a ton of sugar."

I have been avoiding saying this (and someone well may say SHUT UP three times real fast to me for doing it now) but you get the stuff out of a bottle with a syringe. Syringes can also put fluids into bottles. Mr. Syringe is a pointy bastard whose purpose is to stick people, he don't care.

Now, on the side of righteousness, the rubber stopper on the bottle/plunger on the pen cart would probably be reactive with a lot of Boom Juices. And one could draw out a drop -- say, a tenth of a cc -- to see if it were strongly reactive with, well, something. Now that I think about it, while I don't know the pH of insulin, I'm sure somebody at Lilly or Novo does, and litmus paper would be good enough for a spot check. If the paper catches fire, we have a winner.

The other thing about insulin is that the bottle or cartridges come in a box, and that's where pharmacies (at least in the US) put the label; to do otherwise would require unsealing the packaging. The patient's name is rarely on the container itself, except in a hospital, where different people's meds are more likely to need distinguishing. Whoever wrote that rule presumably didn't know this, or just didn't give a crap. I have one other injectable, which comes in 1cc vials, and I get those in a large standard pill vial with a label, but the label is not, technically, on the medication.

If I have to fly before Estragon and Vladimir meet up with bin Laden, the intent is to carry a fresh vial of insulin on the plane. Not sure yet about the other -- it's a weekly, so I could check it, unless the bag is eaten by the one-eyed, one-horned, flying check-in baggage eater.

I used to carry a 2 1/2 liter plastic sack o' glucose solution on board planes, not for inflight use but against being stuck at a connection. I carried another load of the same size in my peritoneal cavity. Fortunately I got to quit before 9/11. I would feel vaguely sorry for any Bad Guy who tried to get Boom Juice aboard like this, for reasons that I trust are obvious to all by now.

I know you're all sick (so to speak) of hearing about my medical situation, but I'm a long way from the only shlemazl who falls through the cracks of "normal person who should be able to grin at any insult we throw at him." And when it is inconvenient for us to exist in public policy, we cease magically to exist.

#112 ::: Ben H ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2006, 06:21 PM:

They're going to be "verifying" that labels and prescriptions (and maybe the colour and consistency of the liquid) look plausible, rather than determining the actual compound involved.

Say you'd printed up your own prescription label, put it on an empty meds bottle and filled it with explosives - wouldn't you be at least slightly worried to have a professional pharmacist look over it? It's not a foolproof countermeasure, but it's not a bad one.

And even the "minimum wage screeners" might notice if a bottle of "insulin" looked a bit "off" compared to the other real bottles of insulin they've looked at.

Obviously this depends on the variety of meds they are seeing. How many medications are given in liquid form that a healthy young jihadist might plausibly be taking?

I don't know what these airport pharmacies are, by the way. Maybe there are no pharmacists and it's all a bluff.

Don't get me wrong, I'm under no illusions about the value of most airport screening, but in this case I think the measures do make some sense. Now, keeping them up indefinitely once all the suspects are rounded up - that is a silly idea.

#113 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2006, 06:24 PM:

Then there's the nice people who insist that canes of the walking persuasion be checked. This happened to my father on one occasion, forcing him to lurch along the jetway. He got halfway there before they let the thundering herd of college athletes on (yeah, there was a team of something travelling), which forced him to the side to wait. (The moving objects in his peripheral vision upset his balance.) Nice going, airline: the preboarding may need more than one minute to get to the plane. (And thanks, American Airlines, for not telling people than adjoining gate numbers at DFW may not even be in the same terminal; the gocarts can't get to the tram level from the gate level.)

#114 ::: Ben H ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2006, 06:29 PM:

Ah, I was writing that last message while John M. Ford posted - I see that you can't assume labels would be on all medication.

#115 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2006, 06:54 PM:

It occurs to me that most nasal sprays have the Rx label applied to the box, not the actual sprayer. I wonder if they'd make me pitch $60 worth of Flonase? Guess I'll have to check bags anyway.

#116 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2006, 06:56 PM:

Say you'd printed up your own prescription label, put it on an empty meds bottle and filled it with explosives - wouldn't you be at least slightly worried to have a professional pharmacist look over it?

It depends on how closely the Boom Juice matched the visual qualities of the actual drug. All insulins are colorless; most are clear, though a few common types, such as NPH, are suspensions -- white crystals in clear fluid when stagnant, cloudly when shaken.

Most injectables are clear, or cloudy suspensions. Oral prescriptions come in an assortment of colors, almost all of them cosmetic. The oral meds at least have openable caps, though that creates its own problems.

But what is your pharmacist going to do? Say, "Yes, this is a clear liquid?" It's not that there might not be qualitative clues, but you're not, for instance, going to taste the stuff, and shaking it wouldn't be a good idea either. This is a fallacy of the "experts can answer any question" variety.

And say you didn't "print your own prescription label." It would actually be much more likely, and not all that difficult, for the bad guys to obtain a real prescription.

Uh, one other point -- in the US, many insulin preparations are non-prescription. I bought mine over the counter (though I had a written prescription as backup) for decades. I suppose the person who does that can just hope his flight isn't delayed and his bags don't get lost.

And I grew up in the back of a pharmacy; both of my parents were "professional pharmacists." (There aren't any "amateur pharmacists," except in basements.)

#117 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2006, 07:26 PM:

PJ Evans, I have that happen every time I fly. I don't use a cane, but I don't walk well and I fall over easily. I've started going in when they call for first-class and *still* regular folks pass me on the way down the jetway. I always wait to be last off because I don't stand a chance going up with people pushing past.

#118 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2006, 07:34 PM:

Mr. Ford, there is at least one other system for dispensing insulin that I know of: it's made by the Novolin folks, but it is not a pen injector catridge. It's called an InnoLet; it has a dial, as I said -- for folks like my mother, who can't see well enough and whose hands are not agile enough to use the pen device. (Actually, she can't see well enough to use the dial, now. But I can.) The cartridge for the dial unit carries 50 (not 100) units of insulin. But I appreciate knowing that there is no simple way to tell if the clear liquid in the device is actually insulin. I was assuming there, w/o facts. Mea culpa.

Ben, no TSA screener could look at a vial of insulin and know what it was. But I'm not worried about dangerous liquids being substituted for insulin by some terrorist, because that seems too unlikely to me to happen. I'm concerned because it's a total hassle to travel with medical supplies under normal circumstances, and now it is going to get even worse.

#119 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2006, 07:48 PM:

Teresa:
Sorry, Chris. All that's coming to mind is the related fannish term "Gerberize," meaning "to mount such an excessively spirited defense that you do your cause more harm than good."

My uncle has a story about the first case he argued as a lawyer: he had all these shiny arguments, and the judge finally interrupted him with: "Mr. Kemnitzer, you're winning your case: are you sure you want to go on?"

#120 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2006, 08:25 PM:

Now I'm wondering how careful I should have been with regards to containment. How much of a fraction of a speck of the fuel or BP would it take, sticking to a pants cuff or luggage, to set off a detector?

That's more than enough for a wipe test, and I'd assume the same of the new puffer machines.

However, wash your clothes, take a shower, and you'll be fine.

Note, golfers -- don't wear your golf shoes to the airport. (Fertilizers. They look just like explosives. With the right adjuncts, they are. See "ANFO".) Note, riflemen. Do *not* use your range bag as your carryon.

For lots of reasons, it's good to have lab gear and travel gear, and not mix them. I've got a pair of shorts stained with ferric chloride, but I wear them as sort of a geek pride thing.

#121 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2006, 08:34 PM:

Lizzy, you are of course right; I forgot that one because I've never used one. (And there are pumps, which is what I've got now. I really, really want these rules lifted before I fly next.)

And I just looked it up -- it's an interesting gadget -- and it does come filled with 3cc (300u), same as a pen cartridge. The dose dial is calibrated up to 50. That's not surprising, as a lot of Type 1s use in the neighborhood of 50u a day (this is not medical advice), and too small a reservoir, especially in a fully disposable unit, would be kinda wasteful.

And there's no reason at all to apologize for not knowing there as no easy qual test -- I suppose you could shoot up one of the sniffer dogs, but that would only work with short-acting, and the dog might take exception. (I've injected a cat, who took it with a grace close to indifference. But then, he was a cat.)

And I already apologized for blithering on about medical hardware, so I'll quit.

#122 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2006, 08:43 PM:

And Erik: I am suddenly imagining Fly Like a Mad Fiend* Day, in which teams of Dada dramaturges distribute hundreds of Tyvek lab coats at airports, encouraging everyone to wear one through security. (Fright wigs and odd eyeglasses optional.)

If nothing else, it would provide an interesting index of how scared the ordinary citizenry actually is.

*I thought about "Fly Like an Egon," after Harold Ramis's character from Ghostbusters, but jokes that require explanation, while quite Dada, don't make good mass street theater.

#123 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2006, 09:31 PM:

I like the idea of Tyvek lab coats at airports. (I have a standard cotton model, with embroidery - poiuyts on back and pocket - will that do?) The wig I may have also, if rainbow stripes count. Or I could put on the reindeer headband, the one with the fake holly and ribbon trim....

#124 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2006, 09:31 PM:

he had all these shiny arguments

oohhh, shiny.

#125 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2006, 11:42 PM:

Ben H: And even the "minimum wage screeners" might notice if a bottle of "insulin" looked a bit "off" compared to the other real bottles of insulin they've looked at.

Have you looked at how screeners work? They don't have the time to remember what the last \anything/ looked like. (IMO, remembering would interfere with the small amount of inspection they can do on the object in front of them.) It's not as if they're riverboat pilots....

#126 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 15, 2006, 11:59 PM:

John -- I've injected a cat, too. And discovered that diabetic cats, unlike diabetic humans, sometimes convert to non-diabetic cats. And they can re-convert. Sometimes they go back and forth. No one knows why, or by what mechanism. Amazing. I don't think dogs do it. The cat I was injecting did just that, and is no longer diabetic, thank God. I gave him too much insulin once, and had the unforgettable experience of driving very very fast at 11 pm to the emergency vet 10 miles away, chanting Hail Marys, watching frantically behind me for the CHP. I didn't get a ticket, and the cat lived. Managing cat diabetes can be just as nerve-racking as managing human diabetes: complicated, of course by the fact that the cat can't tell you when something feels wrong.

And now I'll drop the subject, also...

#127 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2006, 12:35 AM:

1995 the Schmuck hadn't been inserted into office by Star Chamber strategists. Apocalyptic loonies hadn't gotten to the policy-determination level of US Government (that slimeball rightwing extremist bigot religiosity figure from Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs has a permanent invitation to come bring his intolerancemongering into the White House with the Schmuck in the White House, and determine the course of Executive Fiats...).

As for port security, there was a relatively recent incident where someone had had himself shipped in a cargo container to the US, he;d built in essence a habitation module inside a cargo container and equipped to survive a sea voyage... The manifest of course for the container didn;t mention the contents of inhabited habitation module.

#128 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2006, 01:45 AM:

"What in the name of Robert Moses's patoot is a 'Habitation Module (1) [occ]'?"

"Beats me. Want I should point the Phased Neutrino Movie-Plot-Device Detectotronic Ray at it?"

"That's a day's paperwork if we don't find anything and a week's if we do. It sounds like it goes on the Space Shuttle. Let's put a seal on it and transship down to Florida."

"It'll sit here for two weeks."

"What's it gonna do, die of boredom?"

#129 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2006, 06:03 AM:

Apropos Crosius' comment ...

Every British airport I've flown through uses more or less the same procedure for security screening. You go past a brief Immigration checkpoint where they look at your boarding card, and into a big sports-hall-sized room. At the far end of the room, the usual row of metal detector arches and X-ray machines. Between the entrance and the detectors, an intestinally-snaking queue of people shuffling through the guide ropes.

I figure between 8am and 9am on any weekday, Turnhouse (Edinburgh airport -- regional city hub with some intercontinental traffic) has maybe 500 people in that room, and the queue takes about ten minutes to process (five gates operating at peak time).

To wreak 9/11 scale havoc:

Take a bunch of suicide bombers and divide into teams of two. Procure suicide vests as per usual plan. Procure budget airline tickets, buying return tickets so as not to trigger any additional suspicion. Despatch each team to a different airport.

At zero hour minus 10 minutes, the first member of each team enters the queue. At zero hour minus 30 seconds, as the first members are nearing the security checkpoint, the second member enters the back of the queue, near the doorway.

At zero hour, the first bomber in each team sets their explosives off, killing everyone around them and causing a stampede for the exit. For most people, the nearest clear exit is the way they came in.

At zero plus thirty seconds, the second bomber in each team (who is standing in the entrance) sets their bomb off, killing the passengers fleeing the terminal.

At no point have any of these suicide bombers gone through a security checkpoint, and each of them gets their microsecond of glory in the middle of a target-rich environment (with travellers packed cheek-by-jowl).

I figure that ten suicide bombers could kill somewhere in the range 500-2000 people this way, and shut down the civilian aviation sector for weeks.

There is no way to defend against this using the current security measures in effect in the UK and the USA, because it relies on a security chokepoint creating a target-rich environment.

You can probably minimize the scale of havoc by adopting the security checkpoint mechanism used at Schiphol and some other EU hubs (separate metal detector/X-ray set up at each departure lounge and a separate walled-in lounge for each jetway -- this means there's never a huge concentration of targets queuing up at any one security checkpoint), but to implement that you'd have to rebuild three quarters of the airline terminals in the UK and heavily modify the rest.

(This is before I get into the other sources of field-expedient explosives available to anyone stuck in an airline cabin with time on their hands. Hint: where do you think that flow of oxygen through the drop-down mask comes from, in event of an emergency?)

#130 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2006, 06:13 AM:

Ultimately, security has to be a process, not some kind of mythical promised land (which we'll get to if only we perform the right rituals). And it has to rely on human judgement -- psychological profiling of passengers ("does that guy look tense and nervous? If so, engage him in conversation and find out if there's a perfectly normal reason for it" -- not ethnic profiling, as in: "that guy LOOKS LIKE A TERRST! YEAH! BROWN SKIN! TURBAN! GET 'IM!"), relying on travellers to actively participate in security (because they want to get where they're going alive), and so on.

And in the long term, it relies on not getting into the kind of geopolitical situation where a whole bunch of people hate us because they think we've invaded and conquered their lands.

#131 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2006, 07:19 AM:

Ultimately, security has to be a process, not some kind of mythical promised land (which we'll get to if only we perform the right rituals). And it has to rely on human judgement -- psychological profiling of passengers ("does that guy look tense and nervous? If so, engage him in conversation and find out if there's a perfectly normal reason for it" -- not ethnic profiling, as in: "that guy LOOKS LIKE A TERRST! YEAH! BROWN SKIN! TURBAN! GET 'IM!"), relying on travellers to actively participate in security (because they want to get where they're going alive), and so on.

(And there's a scene in the recent Spike Lee move Inside Man where a policeman panics because the hostage released by the bank robbers is brown-skinned and wears a turban.)

Bruce Schneier has been arguing this point for several years, pointing out, for example, that the plot to bomb the LA airport in late 1999 was uncovered because a US border/customs agent got suspicious about the behavior and responses of someone trying to cross the Canadian border into the US.

And in the long term, it relies on not getting into the kind of geopolitical situation where a whole bunch of people hate us because they think we've invaded and conquered their lands.

Well, yes. (Though there will probably be a residual population of terrorists with domestic or purely religious motivations -- see Unabomber, Aum Shin Rikyo, etc.)

#132 ::: flaring ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2006, 11:42 AM:

I travel with a number of meds. I would have a couple of objections about packing them in checked luggage.

For one thing, baggage compartments are not environmentally controlled. All my meds have inserts that say very clearly at what temperatures the stuff needs to be kept. How cold or hot does it have to get before my medicine looses efficacy?

Another thing is that two of my meds are controlled substances. One costs US$4.80 a pill. How do I know that someone isn't going to steal this stuff? Fortunately, that's pills, so if I understand the regs today, I can take all of it on the plane with me (until they start realizing how easy it is to make powdered substances into pill-shaped objects).

Charlie: I always thought that strategy would work well in your standard exploitive big box store at Chistmas time, especially if scheduled for several places around the country (or world?) at once.

#133 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2006, 12:17 PM:

D'ya think the PTB (Powers That Be) are just f*cking with our heads -- "I know. Let's ban water!" -- because they're bored?

"More things that go Bang! More. More!"

#134 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2006, 03:47 PM:

John Ford,
You should keep talking about your illness.

The Powers don't want to think about overall impacts- additive impacts- of their regulations. They don't want us pointing out how hasty regulations can hurt health (and livelihood, and Rights...).

They want to simply bring forth their new commandments and have us be thankful, grateful. They'd like to dismiss naysayers as merely worshipping the golden calf of convenience.

They hope that we, individually, remain concerned only about our single issues. They rely on us remembering only our single issues. We remain outliers, individually, and outliers can be ignored.

You have a cane? Well, you're just 1/2 of 1% of the population, so a small and regrettable sacrifice. You have type 1 diabetes? Well, you're under 1% of the population. You're breastfeeding and need extra liquids? You have a custom wheelchair? You take 30 pills a day? You've had a colostomy? Sleep Apnea? You have Psoriasis?

1% here, 1% there, soon you're talking about real people. I'm not going to get far if I only point out the impact on me of a regulation. If I can bring in a wide variety of negative impacts, it helps. If I talk about how they've forgotten about or ignored everyone outside some imagined boundaries of normal, it helps.

Similar to Cylert- if not for TNH's essay on it, I might not have known to talk about it when talking about other drugs badly regulated. One example is an outlier, multiple examples describe a trend.

#135 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2006, 04:34 PM:

Not even a golden calf, I think, but a gilded one. This age needs a Mark Twain.

#136 ::: Chris Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2006, 05:53 PM:

It does seem that TSA guidelines are not without their poetic aspects.

#137 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2006, 05:54 PM:

More from the age of official panic:

Two fighter jets were scrambled Wednesday to escort a London-to-Washington flight to an emergency landing in Boston after a passenger became so agitated she needed to be restrained, authorities said.

An airport spokesman, Phil Orlandella, previously confirmed broadcast reports that the woman was carrying Vaseline, a screw driver, matches and a note referring to al-Qaida, but later backed off the statement. Naccara said it was not true.

"I don't know what she had on board with her, but we have been told she did not have a screw driver, she did not have any liquids such as Vaseline, and any notebook she may have had, it did not contain an al-Qaida reference," Naccara said. He said he had no information about matches.

a screwdriver, vaseline, an al qaida notebook, and matches, all of which teleported into her possession while in flight, and then was teleported back out.

Either that, or the Three Stooges are running the place.

#138 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2006, 06:08 PM:

Either that, Greg, or John Varley's Millenium isn't fiction.

#139 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2006, 06:09 PM:

An airport spokesman, Phil Orlandella, previously confirmed broadcast reports that the woman was carrying Vaseline, a screw driver, matches and a note referring to al-Qaida, but later backed off the statement. Naccara said it was not true.

One wonders what the "spokesman" could have had as a basis for that, aside from a bad dream or a slight case of disassociative disorder?

#140 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2006, 06:19 PM:

or John Varley's Millenium isn't fiction.

I'll keep an eye out for smokers who toss their cigaratte butts in restaurants while eating.

#141 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2006, 06:32 PM:

What scares me about the Millenium explanation, Greg, is that Reality, like the Varley book, might get turned into a movie directed by Michael Anderson.

#142 ::: Agent 86 ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2006, 06:45 PM:

Vaseline, a screw driver, matches and a note referring to al-Qaida

Would you believe lipstick, a toothpick, a Towering Inferno DVD, and an autographed photo of Al Lewis?

#143 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2006, 07:01 PM:

For one thing, baggage compartments are not environmentally controlled.

Actually on the big jets they are - but of course not to the same standards as the cabin. I haven't seen much discussion of such standards under the current and proposed rules but there may be some out there.

There's a market perhaps for a traveler's guide to safe routing - Chicago's O'Hare (ORD) is reported to be a sinkhole for controlled substances and firearms in checked luggage.

#144 ::: flaring ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2006, 07:09 PM:

Clark: Thanks. That's good to know.

I forsee a business opportunity for FedEx offices established in the non-secured areas of airports.

#145 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2006, 10:14 PM:

For one thing, baggage compartments are not environmentally controlled.

Don't people sometimes transport crated dogs (kenneled) and have them travel in the baggage compartment? Long ago, we transported a cat as carry on luggage, but only because the airline allowed us to keep him under the seat in a soft kennel.

It's an experience I would not recommend then. And I can't even imagine the security crap they'd have for animals now.

#146 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2006, 10:27 PM:

Oh, and it used to be that there was a certain list of animals you could transport on a plane. Hamsters, rabbits, and gerbils. Or something like that.

degus, apparently, are right out.

This wasn't conveyed when the airline's 800 number for customer service was called ahead of time. No. They said degu's were fine when we called on the phone. It was communicated by the ticket agent behind the counter when we tried to check in. And luckily, we were gawdawful early so that I could call a friend who was an hour's drive away to come in and pick them up so we wouldn't have to abandon them, and still make our flight.

I don't know if you can even fly with animals now, but I'd say traveling with an animal will approximately double your flying frustration level.

I'm still having a bake sale for my Glasair, by the way...

#147 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2006, 10:38 PM:

The LACon II rats did air travel: to Chicago and to Baltimore. As one astronaut said (in 1983, when it was National Rat Travel Week), "The first day, they all want their money back on their tickets." They don't enjoy travelling, but once they arrive, they're happy.

#148 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2006, 11:30 PM:

flaring, I get most of my meds by mail (not the controlled substance, of course) and one of them is a burn cream. It says on it that the top temp it's effective at is 88F. Last summer it arrived during a week of 100+ weather, so I contacted the Kaiser pharmacists online and all they would tell me is that the manufacturer says they don't know if it still works at 100+ because they never tried it at that temp. Which makes me think they never tried it at 89F, which makes me a little cynical about those temp ranges. I decided to take the one that arrived in the mail to the physical pharmacy and swap it for one of theirs, not that there's any guarantee it didn't arrive in 100+ weather.

#149 ::: Juli Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: August 16, 2006, 11:31 PM:

I've travelled, relatively recently, with a Dachshund under the seat in front of me. It wasn't too bad. I insisted on a hand check, which confused the security people, but then he poked his head out and looked at them.

The hand check people had me take him out and walk him around a little. They wanted him to poop, but I hadn't fed him in case he got air sick, so no luck there.

They scrutinized his vet records. I had him do tricks: sit up and beg, retrieve a pencil, roll over, balance a cookie on his nose, find the treat under the styrofoam coffee cups. This went over well. They let me through with the comment that drug couriers didn't waste time teaching tricks to dogs they planned to kill. (!)

We were early at the gate, and he stuck his head out to look at the flight crew. He managed to convey his state of near starvation, and the first officer fed him his sandwich. They then let us board early with them, so that I could get him securely under the seat before other passengers boarded. The captain sent one of the flight attendents back with a set of wings for him, as well.

At the end of the flight, I told my seat mate I was staying on to the end of the line and she should go past me. It wasn't until then that she discovered I had a dog with me. She wasn't too pleased, because she didn't like dogs, but she was leaving anyway.

All told, it wasn't that unpleasant. Ask me sometime about my disabled friend who flies with her service dog, a Belgian Terv. (I can't spell it, sorry.) That's always an adventure, even though he can make himself fit under the seat in front of her. For some reason, people feel obligated to comment, pet, stop in the aisles, or complain to the crew that the vicious attack dog is going to kill them (right after he wakes up from his nap, I'm sure).

#150 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2006, 01:17 AM:

Lizzy:

"Ban dihydrogen monoxide!"

#151 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2006, 09:11 AM:

For one thing, baggage compartments are not environmentally controlled.

They are, somewhat. They're not sealed from the passenger area above -- it would cost too much, weigh too much, and be too hard to keep sealed -- plus, holding pressure back with a flat plate is hard. Holding pressure back with a tube shape is much easier than a D shape. So, the cargo area is pressurized, simply because it's cheaper and easier to do it that way.

Plane are also not sealed that well -- they leak air constantly, which is replaced by pressurized air, generated by the engines. This isn't a massive leak, but there is a slow turnover of the air inside the plane.

On descent, they need to open a large valve to make sure that the plane's cabin matches the ambient pressure. In one noted incidient, a flight attendant was killed when he opened a door. They found that they valve didn't work, and the plane was at a lower pressure that ambient. The FA flipped the lever, and the door was shoved into the plane hard and fast enough to kill him.

This is why you can't open a door at altitude -- they're plug doors, they move inwards first, then rotate. So, at 31,000, there's several tons holding that door in place. This guy bought the farm because the pressure gradient was working to open the door, not keep it closed.

That valve is also your best defense against a gas attack. Somebody cranks off HCN or Sarin in the cabin? Flight crew pops the valve open, plane quickly depressurizes, and the masks drop. Breath from the masks, and you've pretty much eliminated a breathing gas threat. Contact agents would still work, but they won't stay airborne for long.

If there was a nerve gas threat, maybe a stock of Atropine autoinjectors would be a rational thing to carry. Maybe -- they'd need to be distributed fast, and you'd have to deal with the needle-shy.

#152 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2006, 10:23 AM:

A belgian tervuren can fit under an airline seat? I'm impressed.

For some reason, people feel obligated to comment, pet, stop in the aisles,

Dogs are sort of like goodwill ambassadors between humans. Complete strangers walking in opposite directions on a sidewalk won't so much as nod hello. But give one of them a dog, and the odds that the other will actually stop and have a conversation spikes.

or complain to the crew

Ah, well, I do feel sorry for the folks with dog allergies, but for everyone else, I view it as more likely a behavioural problem with the human than the dog.

#153 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2006, 01:34 PM:

I can see a Belgian Tervuren fitting under the seat in a plane that has at least 3 seats on either side of the aisle.

Of course, it would take the underseat space away from the other two seats in that aisle...

#154 ::: Clark E Myers ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2006, 02:04 PM:

Sometimes for dogs the airplane in flight is better than the airplane parked in the sun - I suppose the principal can be generalized to anything else in the cargo.

In recent years I've seen more temperature sensative meds
(I'd guess all active ingredients are temperature sensitive to one degree or another but I don't have a problem leaving flashlight batteries in a car parked in the sun)
shipped only in heavy foam, sometimes with blue ice - it wasn't mine but the last time I checked for a particular med exposure to temperatures above the mid 70's F. more or less triggered a use first but within reason did not require the med be discarded. I've seen shipping critical goods in what we called igloos with a recording thermometer - be trivial to include a max/min indicator.

#155 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2006, 02:39 PM:

OT but important: a District Judge in Detroit has just ruled the NSA warrantless spying unconstitutional. Glenn Greenwald has more, check it out.

#156 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2006, 03:11 PM:

Lizzy, once again we appear to be quantumly entangled.

#157 ::: hamadryad ::: (view all by) ::: August 17, 2006, 11:15 PM:

Lizzy, once again we appear to be quantumly entangled.

So are we! I got interrupted partway through posting, and didn't see that you already posted the story in the open thread.

#158 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2006, 02:38 AM:

A lovely "exorcism" of one of the typical media articles on The Terrorizing Terror Threat, from one of my favorite music and musing blogs Mudd Up!

Don't miss the "iPod" link slid in there; I'd link to it directly, but it's on *ngelf*re and the comment filter is kicking the post back for "questionable content"

#159 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2006, 05:03 AM:

Depressingly stupid news story on SKY this morning showing a reporter checking gel, shampoo, water and so on in his luggage, flying to Brussels, packing them in his carry-on and flying back to London. Nobody is enforcing the new panic measures except the US and UK.

Conclusion? Everyone is out of step but us! Even more mortal danger! Be afraid!

Coincidentally, I just watched V for Vendetta last night, and was immediately reminded of the TV viewers in the movie saying to one another "Does anyone believe this bollocks?"

#160 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2006, 05:42 AM:

"This is London calling on 2LO. This is the BBC Home Service. Here is the news at six o'clock.

"The Home Secretary, Mr Winston Churchill, today announced new security measures for long-distance travel. Following the discovery of the 'Orient Express' murder conspiracy, railway passengers will not be allowed to carry sharp objects such as nail scissors, letter openers or daggers of strange Oriental design in their Gladstone bags or portmanteaux. All such items must be handed to the guard and locked in the luggage van until disembarkation. Mr Churchill told the House that exceptions would be made for knitting needles carried by unexpectedly perceptive spinsters and swordsticks carried by bibliophile younger sons of the nobility.

"Meanwhile, police at Croydon Aerodrome will be increasing their scrutiny of passengers' passports and visiting cards, after a spate of murders conducted by long-lost husbands, daughters and great-nephews travelling under false names.

"Mr Churchill added that the Cabinet was considering Mr Lloyd George's proposal to put an undercover fastidious Belgian marrow-fancier on each international flight in order to investigate further attacks, but that there were certain practical objections - notably those of expense and a shortage of available Belgians. Mr Maxton suggested that the Government should instead supply unemployed Scottish coal miners as Air Wardens, as their experience in confined spaces would be valuable in this regard."

#161 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2006, 06:23 AM:

Drat. "Mr Winston Churchill" s/b "Sir William Joynson-Hicks", of course. Churchill was Home Secretary before the war, not after it.

#162 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2006, 09:27 AM:

Jicks would certainly have been more pompous than Winnie.

#163 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2006, 09:29 AM:

And Sir John Reith would have insisted that Mr Churchill be referred to always as 'Mr Winston Spencer Churchill'in order to avoid confusion with the American novelist.

#164 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2006, 03:00 PM:

Here we are looking at the Walthamstow plot: no charges filed. The plotters hadn't bought airline tickets, didn't have passports, had never made a bomb, had no bomb-making training, had bought no supplies or equipment ....

This looks like a bunch of guys who were BSing in a chat room about Ways To Blow Up an Airplane, where they were promptly joined by one or more undercover cops/agents provocateurs.

Which means we've already uncovered the next al Qaeda Terrorist Plot. The one that will be revealed a few days before the Novemeber elections. The one that will lead to body-cavity searches in airline terminals over Thanksgiving weekend.

It's us. Right here. We're it.

How much trouble will it be for Homeland Security to arrest everyone who posted in this thread, render a couple to Egypt for active questioning, then find some Afghani dirt-farmer who will confirm that bin Laden was behind the conspiracy? How long would any of us last with a civilian contractor beating us over the kidneys with a sand-filled hose before we started naming our accomplices and giving the dates and times of the planned attack?

Dudes, Bush is going to get another Republican House and Senate.

#165 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2006, 04:33 PM:

James, all we need to do to make them really paranoid is discuss how we sold the simple, easy, cheap Hafnium isomer generator -- the one that runs off a car battery and a thimblefull of red mercury and produces the stuff in ten gram batches -- to Abdul's kid brother down at the corner shop.

And I have three kilos of weapons grade unobtanium chilling in the bottom compartment of my freezer. (Looks just like frozen cabbage ...)

#166 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2006, 06:04 PM:

And I know where over four picograms of weapons-grade antiprotons are buried, just a few hundred yards from here.

#167 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2006, 06:10 PM:

And I swear I'm not an FBI agent under deep cover. (And I'm not a dog, either.)

#168 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2006, 06:38 PM:

Only a deep-cover FBI agent would say that, Larry.

I'm tellin' ya, I have never mixed 15 liters of ammonia (disguised as maple syrup) with 3 kilograms of solid iodine (disguised as toothpaste) allowing the mixture to stand for no less than five but no more than ten minutes, before decanting the liquid and dividing the solid residue into piles and allowing it to dry, in an aircraft lavatory during an international flight! I haven't even thought about doing it. Honest!

#169 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2006, 09:20 PM:

This nonsense came down while we were in Montana; my wife had a handful of medications for some sort of eye issue picked up out there. but by that time they had figured out that 1 CC of prescription eye drops was not a big risk. They did twig to my CPAP machine, and decided to look it over.

#170 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2006, 09:53 PM:

I flew out of DFW the very day the nonsense began, with a friend, her toddler, and her 3 cats. The TSA idiots required her to take her (utterly terrified) cats out of the carriers, one at a time, and walk them through the metal detectors, despite our request to be taken to one of the strip-search rooms. They made us throw away the child's juice, despite their own website's specific exception, and despite the many signs in various parts of the airport saying that juice for babies was OK. They also made us take off our shoes; when I asked to have mine back because my feet were cold, they made me send them back through the metal detector. I'm not quite sure how I could have done something dastardly in full view of an entire line's worth of screeners. (At least they shut down our line entirely while all this bullshit was going on. Nothing bad happened to the baby or the cats, but it wasn't for lack of trying.)

On my way back yesterday, the only person required to go through the air-puff machine was a 40ish white woman in a skirt.

I wonder how many babies and old people are going to die of kidney failure before this idiocy stops.

#171 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2006, 10:51 AM:

Catching up on all of this thread (I'd been sniping off the last ten or so, swamped with other things.)

However, given that Cole-Parmer describes PP as having 'excellent' chemical resistance and LDPE (low-density polyethylene) as merely 'good'

Given your work, I'd have to tell the general audience to go with your experience. In my trunk, I was sure that the container failed, it was quite obviously softened, and had several pinholes. The first thing I did was check the resin code -- I was sure it was polypropylene, hell, it *felt* like polypropylene, and sure enough, it was.

Now, I will admit that maybe it was a bad polymer, but bad polymers don't often make it through shipping. Heck, when you're blow molding, a bad polymer doesn't often make it through molding.

It conviced me, though -- Polypro and Acetone aren't a good combination.

As to LDPE, my reference doesn't mention it, but it states that polyethlyene as a whole isn't the best idea. Given that your link clearly shows that they're selling bottles for Acetone made of LDPE. Since you've bought more than one, I'll reject the "they're fools" argument, and assume they hold just fine.

I can't reject the idea that they have a lining of some sort -- the blow molding industry has gotten quite good at lining things with PTFE or PEEK, but they're not saying so, and a labware company that doesn't mention things like that either doesn't understand the problem, or hates the customers and wants them to die from inadvertant reactions. (However, I can't think of, and *do not want to meet*, the substance that you mix with teflon to make a bomb.)

So:

1) My experience with Acetone and PP was bad, and what I read about Acetone and PE wasn't promising. I note that Home Depot sells the stuff in steel cans.

2) Your experience with Acetone is it does just fine in Polyethylene (presumably LDPE, given the squezebottle look.)

3) So, I'm wrong, a bike bottle can carry acetone just fine, which was the real point -- certainly for the hours to single digit days needed.

4) Mixing the H2O2 and H2SO4 in an airplane sink is still a real problem.

5) I'm sticking with those steel cans, my current car only has 20K on it, and the trunk is still clean -- and there's that battery pack right in front of the trunk. I'm don't know what happens when you mix acetone with NiMH batteries, and I'm not finding out in my car. ;)

Matter of fact, maybe I'll borrow Somebody Else's Car next time....

Other error -- "Polycarbon" was dead wrong. Mental lock, between the shorthand in the plastics trade "Polycarb" and the full name. I think I wavered between the two, and died between the bones.

My only correction for you? The only E in my name is capitalized.

And for the audience: My work in chemistry is amateur, a hobby, and mostly revolves around "ooh, pretty" sorts of things. When someone who works daily with various solvents contradicts me, *at worst*, you should go look up the references yourself. Otherwise, go with what they say until otherwise proven.

However -- there are lots of chemists who "know" how to make explosives, but have never done so. Listening to them can be problematic as well -- knowing the reaction doesn't mean you know how to create the reaction safely.

People who work with explosive precursors daily are much more likely to be able to tell you about what isn't safe and what is really safe than chemists working with other substances. Every know the problems with Sulfuric Acid and Water, but you don't really understand it until you've actually mixed the stuff. [1]

Finally : never, ever listen to anyone who mixes TATP about safety.

[1] Come to think of it, the large majority of my work with H2SO4 is boring -- Lead/Acid cells, using mostly premixed 33.5% H2SO4/H2O. The first time I had to rip out the carpets in the trunk was when I failed to tie down a battery properly, and dumped sulfuric acid all about. Turn out that Gray GM car pain was remarkably resistant to sulfuric acid, but the paint on the spare tire wasn't at all -- and of course, the carpet didn't like it.

Hmm. Thinking about it, now I'm glad I ripped out the trunk and recarpeted, given the later Acetone leak -- and there's been some H2O2 in that truck as well. I was a bit hard on that trunk, and went through a lot of carpet.

#172 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2006, 11:16 AM:

there's that battery pack right in front of the trunk

Fifty kilos of cell-phone batteries? I have one of those myself. (They need labels saying 'No User-serviceable Parts Inside'.)

#173 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2006, 01:18 PM:

Re the Orient Express riff:

The classic overstatement of scaling explosive quantity to destructive capacity I've been most reminded of in this whole TSA vaudeville show is Marjorie Allingham's Traitor's Purse, where an explosive object the size of an egg destroys a cavern full of trucks, their drivers, and cases of illegal currency and has sufficient shock effect at a distance of a hundred yards to destroy the headland where the cave lies.

Yeah, right.

#174 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 19, 2006, 06:49 PM:

Erik, I was in the drugstore this morning and made a pass through the cosmetics section to look at the nail-polish remover bottles. They were marked HDPE, and looked to be fairly thick at that (not very flexible). (The non-acetone one had methyl acetate as the first ingredient.)

JESR, I think the explosive device in _Traitor's Purse_ was some kind of Secret Super Duper Explosive. But it's been a long time since I read that one.

#175 ::: J Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2006, 02:35 AM:

As often happens, I'm way late getting here.

Ben H, I sympathise with your desire to give the Bush administration the benefit of the doubt. But you're doing it all wrong. You're still assuming they're real stupid.

Here's how you give them the benefit of the doubt.

First off, they realise that the threat isn't primarily al qaeda or arabs, it's everybody with a grudge against the USA who's willing to die making attacks. (Though it might work almost as well to make the attack and get caught and get even more publicity later.) If people get the idea that terrorist attacks *work*, then pretty soon we'll be getting terrorist attacks from cuban nationalists, and venezuelan nationalists, and quebec separatists who feel the USA has given too much recognition to antiseparatist canadian forces, and you name it. So they're secretly working hard to prevent terrorist attacks from any source including sources they've never heard of -- yet.

To stop terrorist attacks by sources they don't know about and so can't infiltrate, they need to keep the defenses *secret*. So for each discovered attack they reveal, they make it look like the attackers were following a very stupid plan, and they had an even stupider defense, but by sheer luck they infiltrated the group early and stopped the attackers cold. And then they appear to do stupid things in reaction, afterward. Like, they knew about this last group pretty early. You suggested that they ban liquids on airflights until they make sure they got all the group. But there could be a hundred other groups planning similar attacks, why would it matter for that if they catch the last dregs of this one group? And if they were going to ban all liquids from planes because of this one group, when should they do it? After the group is mostly caught but a few members might have escaped, or back when the whole group was running free? That argument doesn't make sense. Here's an argument that works better -- they did it so they'd look stupid. They want all the undiscovered terrorist groups to underestimate them.

Every terrorist group will try to follow reasonable security etc. But it's so hard to do it all right, easier to do just enough to get by. And from what they hear about the failures of the groups thast got caught, it looks like they can be pretty sloppy and still get by. So if they make their attack while solidly underestimating us, there's a strong chance that the routine secret defenses will catch them. The world might never hear about the attack, or if it does they'll be portrayed as more bunglers who got caught through eheer luck -- so that the *next* group will make the same mistake.

See, when I give them the benefit of the doubt, I suppose that maybe they're giving up political capital to protect the nation. They let a lot of voters see them falsely look stupid, because it's more important to fool the enemy than to look good to the public.

They're intentionally looking like idiots because that's what their duty demands of them.

See, you can't argue that the published reports of their activities reflect competence, without falling into stupid claims yourself. It just doesn't work, their published actions are too obviously idiotic. But my way, it does work. No matter how stupid they look, it's part of the plan. And my version is not falsifiable. Even if we get another attack on a much larger scale than 9/11, or if we get a lot of small attacks that add up, still it was the right thing to do to use their control of the media to make us look like much easier targets than we really are. Even if some attacks do get through, more would have gotten through if the real defenses hadn't been so well hidden.

They aren't really incompetent stumblebums. They're tryinog to look like that on purpose. It's part of the plan.

HTH.

#176 ::: Spam deleted ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2009, 09:18 PM:

Spam from 80.122.229.70

#177 ::: P J Evans sees similar spam ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2009, 09:30 PM:

Also creative, but still a canned meat product.

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Spam from 67.240.230.5

#180 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: March 04, 2009, 07:48 AM:

Serge@179

Or someone just doing some woolgathering...

#181 ::: Jon Meltzer sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2010, 03:59 PM:

[ plonk ]

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