Thursday, August 10, 2006

"The Explosive Cocktail"

A CNN article today tried to shed some light on the liquid explosive the London terrorists were trying to use to blow up airplanes:

A senior congressional source said it is believed the plotters planned to mix a British sports drink with a gel-like substance to make a potent explosive that could be ignited with an MP3 player or cell phone.
The sports drink could be combined with a peroxide-based paste to form a potent "explosive cocktail," if properly done, said a U.S. counterterrorism official.
"There are strong reasons to believe the materials in a beverage like that could have been part of the formula," the official said.

Like most news articles, this one contains a few elements of truth, but is likely wrong in other areas. In particular, I cannot think of anything strong enough in a sports drink that could be used to make an explosive that could take down a plane.

More likely, the terrorists were planning to use a different, and more chemically potent liquid (perhaps acetone) in the sports-drink bottle and combine this with the peroxide-based paste on the plane. Acetone looks just like water, and if you dissolve green dye in it, it would look like Gatorade. Acetone peroxides are notoriously explosive, and one (triacetone triperoxide - or TATP for short) is a common explosive used by terrorists. Most recently, TATP was reportedly used in the London subway bombings.

In short, the liquid in the bottle may have been planned to look like a sports drink, but there is no way I can see it could have actually been the sports drink.

In short, making a passenger drink a few gulps of any "beverage" they are bringing on the plane would catch this type of thing. Acetone is quite toxic and so are all the other liquids I know of that are potent enough to make explosives. This is why, for example, they are currently making mothers drink some of any baby formula or breastmilk they are bringing on airplanes.