August 14th, 2006

Voted for Dean

Purely Hypothetical

OK, whether or not they'd taken any actual steps towards implementing their attack plan, we now know pretty much all of what the London terrorist cell were at least trying to psych themselves up towards. 9 teams of 2 were going to board 9 separate planes, all of which would be out over the Atlantic at the same time. On each team, one member would be carrying a toxic but inert liquid, probably toluene. The other would be carrying an even more mildly hazardous liquid, probably hydrogen peroxide, and some kind of electronic device as an excuse to carrying something containing wires and a battery. Each team would meet on their assigned plane, mix the two chemicals in private (probably in one of the lavatories) to form a fairly powerful explosive, probably one that's been used in terror attacks before, TATP. And if the explosive didn't detonate on its own, they'd improvise a detonator out of the battery and wires from the electronic device.

This turns out to not be a new idea, any more than 9/11 was. Here in the US, the expensive and mostly useless Transportation Security Agency had already thought of this themselves, and tried smuggling the necessary chemicals and detonator through their own screeners. They succeeded all 21 out of 21 tries. So they sent out bulletins warning screeners (again) that this was possible and telling their people that if you see someone carrying liquid onto a plane and you suspect them, make them take a sip of it in front of you. Toluene and peroxide won't exactly kill them, but hardly anybody will be able to keep the nasty look of of their faces because the stuff tastes awful. And even going up against glorified rent-a-cops, the London terror cell was worried enough about getting caught this way that they came up with a counter-measure. It's one that ought to give you pause, because the current (laughably named) "air safety" rules wouldn't catch it. They were going to modify the containers to have a "false bottom" with just enough room on top for a sip of whatever it was the container was supposed to contain, freeing up the rest of it for the ingredient for the explosive mix.

But it occurred to me that even this was an unnecessarily high-tech solution. Truthfully, back before they stopped letting people carry almost any liquids onto planes, they could have brought their ingredients in in almost any water-tight container. Then all they would have had to do was buy some kind of a beverage from an airport snack bar or restaurant: anything that was sufficiently opaque and thick that you could push the container down into it and it would be invisible. And if they had, then when their plot sprung, Samuel L. Jackson would have yelled, "Who let all these motherf--king shakes onto a motherf--king plane?"