REUTERS, London -- British police foiled yet another terrorist plot today, announcing the arrest of a 340-pound Egyptian man planning to blow up an airliner over the Atlantic using homemade explosives derived from his own body.
British authorities say the unidentified man planned to use the on-board lavatory as a mobile chemical lab, where he would render his own fat and refine it into bio-diesel while extracting urea nitrate from his own urine. According to an NSA terrorism expert who spoke on condition of anonymity, a typical "fat arab" could easily extract sufficient material from his own fluids to mix enough ANFO explosive to bring down a Boeing 747. "This is the nightmare scenario we've all been predicting," the NSA official told Reuters.
In response, the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) immediately instructed airport screeners to prevent fat people from boarding planes, and ordered all bathrooms to be locked and sealed on flights of six hours or more. A spokesman for the International Airline Passengers Association called the TSA's new regulations a "mixed blessing" in terms of its total impact on passenger comfort.
A fat man mixing ANFO from his own bodily fluids? Sound preposterous? Well as it turns out, it's not that much more ridiculous than the scenario we were treated to last week with tales of terrorist plans to mix triacetone triperoxide (TATP) on board jetliners using common household chemicals. According to The Register, it's just not that easy.
Assuming you can get your hands on adequately concentrated hydrogen peroxide...
Making a quantity of TATP sufficient to bring down an airplane is not quite as simple as ducking into the toilet and mixing two harmless liquids together. [...] Take your hydrogen peroxide, acetone, and sulfuric acid, measure them very carefully, and put them into drinks bottles for convenient smuggling onto a plane. It's all right to mix the peroxide and acetone in one container, so long as it remains cool. Don't forget to bring several frozen gel-packs (preferably in a Styrofoam chiller deceptively marked "perishable foods"), a thermometer, a large beaker, a stirring rod, and a medicine dropper. You're going to need them.
It's best to fly first class and order Champagne. The bucket full of ice water, which the airline ought to supply, might possibly be adequate - especially if you have those cold gel-packs handy to supplement the ice, and the Styrofoam chiller handy for insulation - to get you through the cookery without starting a fire in the lavvie.
Once the plane is over the ocean, very discreetly bring all of your gear into the toilet. You might need to make several trips to avoid drawing attention. Once your kit is in place, put a beaker containing the peroxide / acetone mixture into the ice water bath (Champagne bucket), and start adding the acid, drop by drop, while stirring constantly. Watch the reaction temperature carefully. The mixture will heat, and if it gets too hot, you'll end up with a weak explosive. In fact, if it gets really hot, you'll get a premature explosion possibly sufficient to kill you, but probably no one else.
After a few hours - assuming, by some miracle, that the fumes haven't overcome you or alerted passengers or the flight crew to your activities - you'll have a quantity of TATP with which to carry out your mission. Now all you need to do is dry it for an hour or two.
The genius of this scheme is that TATP is relatively easy to detonate. But you must make enough of it to crash the plane, and you must make it with care to assure potency. One needs quality stuff to commit "mass murder on an unimaginable scale," as Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson put it. While it's true that a slapdash concoction will explode, it's unlikely to do more than blow out a few windows. At best, an infidel or two might be killed by the blast, and one or two others by flying debris as the cabin suddenly depressurizes, but that's about all you're likely to manage under the most favorable conditions possible.
To release the energy needed to bring down a plane (far more difficult to do than many imagine, as Aloha Airlines Flight 243 neatly illustrates), it's necessary to synthesize a good amount of TATP with care.
But surely, the threat was imminent--the terrorists were only days away from carrying out their dastardly plan. At least, that's what US and British officials told us, and that's what the media dutifully reported.
Craig Murray, Britain's outspoken former Amabassador to Uzbekistan is skeptical:
None of the alleged terrorists had made a bomb. None had bought a plane ticket. Many did not even have passports, which given the efficiency of the UK Passport Agency would mean they couldn't be a plane bomber for quite some time.
In the absence of bombs and airline tickets, and in many cases passports, it could be pretty difficult to convince a jury beyond reasonable doubt that individuals intended to go through with suicide bombings, whatever rash stuff they may have bragged in internet chat rooms.
As Larry Johnson points out, British authorities are scrambling to find enough evidence to keep these guys in jail.
Which raises the question... was the danger really so imminent to warrant disrupting travel for millions of passengers while making flying even more uncomfortable than it naturally is by banning beverages and other carry-on items? Or was this just another cynical Bush administration effort to ramp up the fear at a time when his party's approval is at a record low... and with a crucial midterm election just around the corner?
Forgive me for being suspicious, but it seems like every few weeks we hear of another dire terrorist threat that turns out to be a load of crap. You know, like that supposed plot to flood lower Manhattan by blowing up the Holland Tunnel, ignoring the fact that the so-called terrorists had neither the means, the training, or the know-how... let alone the brains to realize that, um, water doesn't flow uphill.
And then there are all those recent reports of suspected "terrorists" arrested for buying large quantities of prepaid cellphones for use as detonators or to assist them in evading surveillance. Again, a load of crap.
Of course there are real terrorists out there who pose a real threat. But if their goal is to strike fear in the hearts of the American public, they face some awfully stiff competition from our own President.
Follow David Goldstein on Twitter: www.twitter.com/GoldyHA