Monday, September 04, 2006

Liquid Explosives Redux

I'm guilty of having made light of this most recent wrinkle in security measures for flying. Perhaps Snakes on a Plane was having unintended consequences. But this is a serious matter.

This informative post by Mad Canuck is worth reading.

As a trained chemist myself, I am surprised they have ever allowed passengers to bring liquids onto airplanes at all, especially since 9/11.Many of the terrorist threats around airplanes that have come to light prior to this one have involved terrorists bringing premanufactured explosives onto an airplane. However, it is quite feasible for a terrorist to actually make the explosive compound on the plane itself.

He goes on to describe exactly how a plan might be put together. Then this...

This same method could also be used to produce a poison gas that would kill most/all of the passengers on the plane. For example, in gas-chamber executions in the United States, a solid (sodium cyanide) is dropped into a liquid (sulphuric acid) to produce a poison gas (hydrogen cyanide).

There are many chemical combinations that could be used to wreak mayhem onboard an airplane, but most of them involve a bottle of a rather nasty liquid (such as a strong acid) being combined with some other chemical. If the terrorist cannot bring the liquid component on the plane, the rest of the plot will fail.

The major problem with liquids is that many of them look alike. Sulphuric acid and nitric acid look just like water, and if you put some sort of dye in them, they could be made to look like any beverage someone might want to bring on the plane: bottled water, Coca Cola, Gatorade, etc.

Okay, then. I'm a believer.

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