Monday, February 25, 2008

We blew hole in fuselage with mix of easily disguised liquids

Researchers for Channel 4's Dispatches programme and the Evening Standard blew a 6ft hole in the side of an aircraft fuselage, something that would probably bring down any aircraft in flight.

The test exposes potentially disastrous loopholes in the security regime introduced after the alleged "liquid bomb" plot in August 2006.

The explosive was made by mixing two easily obtainable chemicals that can be carried through security in the permitted 100 millilitre containers.

To a security guard, the chemicals - which the Standard is not identifying and cost only a few pounds - are colourless and odourless and seem like water. They can be easily disguised, if necessary, as toiletries.

Dr Sidney Alford, the leading explosives expert who made the bomb for us, said: "Terrorists could easily make this device. They could obtain access to the chemicals without too much difficulty. They're not particularly tightly-controlled liquids."

Dr Alford's company, Alford Technologies, specialises in manufacturing improvised explosive device countermeasures that have saved many lives in Iraq. The company won the Queen's Award for Enterprise in 2004.

Only about 400ml in total of the liquids would be needed to make the bomb, meaning two or three terrorists could carry it through security in the permitted quantities without raising suspicion.

The liquids were mixed in a 500ml water bottle bought in an airport departure lounge.

Our explosion was initiated with a commercial detonator, but Dr Alford said a home-made one, which could also be carried through security in an electrical item such as a phone or iPod, would produce the same effect.

We tested the bomb at Lasham airfield in Hampshire on a section of fuselage from a decommissioned passenger jet that was still fitted out with seats and other cabin furniture.

The explosion caused a large fireball, a massive hole in the side of the aircraft and blew seats out of the cabin.

The bomb snapped the ribs of the aircraft - the structure holding it together - and in the air would have led to rapid depressurisation and a loss of control.

At altitude, Dr Alford said, the damage would have been even greater.

The test comes as a leading airport security expert Philip Baum tells the Dispatches programme tonight that much airport security is "theatre" that fails to address the real dangers.

Mr Baum, who edits the International Journal Of Aviation Security and has advised the Government, said airport X-rays and metal detectors were ineffective against many threats.

"I cannot cite a single example of a bomb being found using an airport X-ray machine alone," he said. "X-rays were introduced to identify dense metallic items, not bombs. If you've got a well-concealed bomb, it's possible to get that through many an X-ray machine."

Mr Baum described a deeply disturbing trial he had run for a European government. "We took a woman through 24 different airports. On her body were the complete components of an improvised explosive device," he said.

"At each of those airports, she alarmed the metal detector and was subject to a pat-down search on her body. But not a single item was identified in any of the 24 searches."

Further tests leaked to Dispatches show that, even using more easily- spotted, fullyassembled weapons and bombs, British X-ray security operators failed to see them in hand luggage 27 per cent of the time.

Mr Baum said X-rays had identified bombs in conjunction with intelligence or passenger profiling. He called for the emphasis of airport security to change from identifying suspicious objects to identifying suspicious people.

"We are currently guarding against business travellers with penknives, not international terrorists," he said. "We should be looking more for behaviours. The person who has negative intent will show signs of stress and nervousness."

Mr Baum adds that trained spotters should be deployed in terminals to watch for suspicious behaviour, passengers who do not fit the normal traveller profile for a flight should be flagged and software such as voice stress analysis should be used to select certain travellers for more thorough checks that stand a better chance of detecting a weapon.

The technique, called behaviour pattern recognition, is controversial because of fears that it will be used in a racist way.

But its supporters say the idea is to target particular behaviour, not skin colour. To single out, say, all young Asian men would be failing to implement the technique properly.

Norman Shanks, a former head of security for BAA, operators of Britain's largest airports, tells Dispatches that he trialled behaviour pattern recognition at Stansted, but the experiment was ended by the Government.

"We used a process not unlike the one that Customs officers use to spot potential smugglers," said Mr Shanks. "It worked quite successfully. But we hit a brick wall when the worker bees in the Department of Transport responsible for inspecting the security process couldn't find a way of satisfying themselves they could test it correctly.

"The real definition of success is surely something we cannot measure - a lack of attacks. We know from elswhere, for instance in Israel, that this technique prevents attacks."

New hand luggage screening machines recently introduced at British airports have a greater chance of detecting explosives than the previous machines, the Government says

Aviation security minister Jim Fitzpatrick added that the 100ml limit for carrying liquids through security was determined as "appropriate" by safety and risk assessments".

He said: "Nobody is absolutely protected, but we need to put in place staff and equipment to protect people as best we can and ensure the terrorist doesn't get an easy ride."

Oh My God!! You mean that taking off our shoes and making us pour out our water isn't a failsafe way to ensure no more terrorism on planes!!!! What will I DO!

Actually, one good thing 9/11 did was to virtually put an end to hijack attempts. Think about it. Would you sit idly by and let yourself be flown into a skyscraper? Not me. I think a planeload of angry passengers would be a match for two or three terrorists. Might even be fun.


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