August 10, 2006

Liquids and the mubtakkar

Andrew Sullivan's getting the vapours over the reference to "liquids" in this story.

Three obvious points come to mind:

1) The alleged "mubtakkar" hydrogen cyanide device, as constructed by the CIA at least, didn't use liquids, it used crystals. Photo here. So the current British ban on flying with hair gel or baby formula likely has nothing to do with the fear of this particular method of producing cyanide in an enclosed space.

2) Calling something an "iGod" when in reality the mockup was the size of a large paint can is a little misleading, no? This thing isn't fitting in anyone's pocket, or even most people's carry-ons.

3) The fact that the weapon would have to be a bulky carry-on pretty much eliminates its use as a viable terrorist weapon against aircraft. (Subways, maybe.) I mean, first you have to get a paint can sized device full of poisonous crystals (and with air holes to allow the venting of gas) through airport security checks. Not that that's impossible, but you can hardly normally rely on it. Second, if it's your carry on, that means you're sitting near it when it explodes into flame (which this particular pair of chemicals would... this wouldn't be a silent killer). Now, it's true some people are suicidal, but I doubt few would-be terrorists look forward to spending their last seconds on earth covered with a flaming cyanogen. Yes, you have your Richard Reids, but at least his choice of weapon had a higher chance of getting through security, would likely be at least as deadly to other passengers, and would probably have killed him instantly and much less painfully if it had worked.

No, dollars to donuts this threat, assuming it bears out, involved some form of high explosive, not an NBC threat. It's probably worth pointing out, though, that the last couple of times there was this kind of terror sweep in UK, everyone (except the one guy who lost his head and stabbed the officer arresting him)
was acquitted.

Posted by BruceR at 02:37 PM