The terror arrests in Great Britain illustrated fundamental weakness in aviation security around the globe: the inability to spot explosives made from seemingly harmless ingredients, says USA Today. Still, former FBI explosives expert J. Christopher Ronay says that bringing down an airliner with a bomb is not guaranteed. A terrorist’s success would depend on where the bomb was planted. A bomb near a wing or a fuel line would be devastating; a bomb elsewhere might do less damage. Rep. John Mica (R-Fl.), chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee, says the type of bombs that an alleged London terror group intended to use to crash planes into the Atlantic probably would have slipped through airport detection devices armed even with the latest technology.
U.S. and British authorities have not identified the specific components that the suspects arrested yesterday planned to carry aboard planes. A senior U.S. intelligence official said the explosive they had chosen is called hexamethylene triperoxide diamine (HMDT) and is based on hydrogen peroxide. Common liquids found in the home, including hair bleach and food preservatives, could be processed, then combined on board a plane after takeoff, to make HMDT. The typical methods used to detect explosives at airports – swabs that test the exterior of luggage and explosive detection machines – would largely be useless against such ingredients. “An almost limitless list” of compounds can be used to create explosives, says Ronay, now at the Institute of Makers of Explosives, a Washington, D.C.-based safety group. “Terrorists know this stuff – it’s in their training.”