Olympic Fears: Liquid Explosive Threat to Airlines

Between Feb 4-7, 2014, AlertsUSA issued the following
Flash messages to subscriber mobile devices:

2/7
Pegasus Airline flight from Ukraine forced to land in Istanbul, Turkey after hijack attempt. Reports indicate hijacker demanded divert to Sochi. Monitoring…

2/6
TSA bans carry-on of all liquids, gels, aerosols & powders of any size on flights between US and Russian Fed due to credible terrorism threat. Monitoring…

2/5
TSA increasing scrutiny of airline passengers & carry on items, and in particular those bound for Sochi Winter Olympics, due to terrorism threat. Developing…

2/4
Overnight: Updated travel warning issued for Israel, Gaza and W. Bank. Warns of threats and risks assoc with travel to these areas. http://1.usa.gov/1gJcrLG

 

What You Need to Know

On multiple occasions this week, AlertsUSA subscribers were notified via text messages to their mobile devices regarding the heightened threat environment surrounding the Sochi Winter Olympics and the resulting impact on airline travel here in the U.S..

Earlier this week the Dept. of Homeland Security began by warning U.S. and foreign airlines traveling to Russia during the Olympics of the need to be on the lookout for toothpaste and other small toiletry containers which some intelligence indicates may be used to hold ingredients that could be used to construct a bomb aboard an aircraft. Not only were the airlines warned, but security screenings at U.S. and foreign airports was ramped up significantly.

So serious was the threat intelligence that late this week the Transportation Security Administration completely banned all liquids, gels, aerosols & powders of any size or type within carry-on baggage on flights between the U.S. and Russia, as well as other major gateway cities, until at least the end of the Olympics.

Media outlets are reporting that the threat intelligence is, in part, linked to the arrest of two Chechen women in France who may have revealed elements of an ongoing plot.

Readers are cautioned that while it may seem foolish, or even humorous, for authorities to be targeting such innocuous items as tubes of toothpaste or shampoo, this is serious business given the field craft and methods actively employed by terrorists worldwide. While a vast majority of the public’s understanding of explosives is limited to what is portrayed in movies and on television, liquid and gel types of explosives are very real and in wide use in mining and demolition applications. Perhaps most troubling is some are relatively simple to make.

As an example, triacetone triperoxide (TATP) can be made from readily available substances like hydrogen peroxide, acetone and acid. In fact, one can easily find the ingredients necessary to produce a number of blasting agents at your local grocery and hardware stores. All it takes is motivation and a little knowledge. And as liquid explosives are very volatile, elaborate or powerful detonators are not necessary, making detection by airport security that much more difficult.

Readers may recall al-Qaeda’s foiled 2006 transatlantic aircraft plot targeting at least 10 airliners traveling from the United Kingdom to the United States and Canada. The plan was to bring down the aircraft using liquid explosives carried on board in toiletry containers and drink bottles. It was this particular plot which led to the initial ban on carry on liquids and gels throughout the commercial aviation sector.

There have also been several other similar plots revealed over the years, including the infamous 1995 Bojinka plot within which 11 airliners flying from Asia to the United States were to have been brought down using liquid explosives set off using Casio digital watches as the timers, 9-volt batteries a power source and light bulb filaments as a detonator. This overall plot was disrupted after an accidental chemical fire drew the attention of the Philippine National Police. Before the plot was disrupted, test bombs were detonated in a mall and theater, as well as Philippine Airlines Flight 434, killing one person and nearly causing enough damage to lose the entire aircraft.

Liquid explosives are one of the Achilles Heels of our current, politically correct airline security system. The simple reality is that it would be impossible to deploy enough technology to scan, sniff out or otherwise detect every type of threatening material or object. Nor would it be possible to train the ranks of TSA security screeners to carry out the task.

Until fundamental changes are made to the current security methodology, airline travelers can make it easiest on themselves by packing these items in checked baggage or leaving them at home and acquiring them once you have arrived at your destination.

AlertsUSA continues to monitor the broad security situation surrounding the Winter Olympics and will immediately notify service subscribers of changes to the threat environment as events warrant.