Thursday, August 17, 2006

liquid explosive and airplanes: a brief history

[emphases mine...]


Robert J. McCartney, "Hijacking Suspect Arrested: West Germans Hold Lebanese Sought in 1985 TWA Seizure," Washington Post, January 16, 1987, Page A1
West German police have arrested a Lebanese man suspected of having helped stage the dramatic 17-day hijacking of a TWA jet airliner to Beirut in June 1985 in which a U.S. Navy diver was slain, authorities said today.

Customs agents detained Mohammed Ali Hamadei, 22, on his arrival at Frankfurt airport on Tuesday when they found that he was carrying three bottles containing a powerful liquid explosive, court officials said. Federal investigators later identified him as one of the suspected hijackers from his fingerprints, they said.


Reuter-Special, "South Korean soldiers on alert as North blamed for jet crash," Toronto Star, January 15, 1988, Page A3
"I deserve to die a hundred times over but, before I die, I decided to reveal the whole truth of the incident to help make up for the horrible crime I have committed," the sobbing woman, identified as 26-year-old Kim Hyon-hui, told a televised news conference.

Speaking publicly for the first time after a month-long interrogation, Kim said she wanted "to help appease those who died and their relatives, even if it is very small compensation for their loss."

She told reporters that she and a 70-year-old male accomplice named Kim Sung Il placed a detonator in a radio and liquid explosive concealed in a liquor bottle in an overhead luggage compartment on the doomed jet.

Korean Air Lines Flight 858 disappeared while flying from the Middle East to South Korea Nov. 29. Wreckage found off the coast of Burma indicates the Boeing 707 was blown to pieces.

The two alleged North Korean agents traveled on the first leg of the flight, from Baghdad to Abu Dhabi, and then got off.

When they were questioned by police in Abu Dhabi, the older man swallowed a cyanide capsule and died, while Kim took poison but survived. She was extradited to South Korea Dec. 15.


Benjamin Pimentel, "Threats to Pope Prompt New FAA Security Rules: Flights to Asia are delayed,' San Francisco Chronicle, January 21, 1995, Page A17
Passengers on Asian Pacific flights traveling through San Francisco International Airport will not be allowed to bring more than one ounce of liquid on carry-on baggage because of reported threats against Pope John Paul II.

Airport spokesman Ron Wilson said the Federal Aviation Administration imposed new security measures last Sunday after a man suspected of being part of a plot to assassinate the pope was arrested in the Philippines, where the pope was visiting as part of a tour of Asia and Australia.

The threat to the pope apparently involved liquid explosives.

"The FAA has imposed the restrictions in response to the U.S. government's concerns in the Philippines," Wilson said.

The measures have delayed most of this week's overseas flights by as much as 45 minutes, he said.

Such items as perfume, shaving cream, hair spray and suntan oil should be placed in checked bags, he said.

Passengers who bring liquids in excess of one ounce in their carry-on bags will be asked to surrender the items to airline personnel who will place them in the checked baggage section of the airplane, Wilson said.

The restrictions apply only to U.S.-based carriers, he added, although foreign-based carriers also are encouraged to follow stricter security measures.

The restrictions will continue indefinitely, Wilson said.

The airport has not received any complaints about the added security measures, he said.


Charles Wallace, "Web of terrorism targeted U.S. jets Foiled plan would have blown up 11 planes in one day," Toronto Star, May 28, 1995, Page A4
On Dec. 11, 1994, a bomb exploded aboard Philippine Airlines Flight 434 bound for Tokyo. The bomb killed a Japanese tourist seated near the explosive, which was taped under a seat in the economy section, and wounded 10 others. The plane made an emergency landing in Guam.

Shortly after the incident, authorities say, a man telephoned Associated Press in Manila and claimed the attack was the work of the Abu Sayyaf group, a Muslim extremist organization that has been carrying out terrorist attacks in the southern Philippine province of Mindanao for five years.

Murad told investigators that a jubilant Yousef had made the call himself as part of a long-term co-operation arrangement with Abu Sayyaf.

According to authorities' reconstruction of the bombing, Yousef himself left the bomb under the seat.

An engineering graduate of Britain's Swansea University, Yousef had created a virtually undetectable bomb. From the formula found in the computer and evidence provided by Murad, authorities said Yousef had learned to make a stable, liquid form of nitroglycerine. Yousef, who reportedly wears contact lenses, concealed the nitroglycerine in a bottle normally used to hold saline solution for wetting lenses.


Lori Sharn and David Field, "National attention converges on flight security: Promises of improvements are unfulfilled, critics say," USA Today, July 19, 1996, Page 4A
Fears that a bomb may have destroyed TWA Flight 800 are riveting attention on the vulnerability of air travel and the high price required to make flying totally secure.

Although it's far from certain that terrorism is responsible for bringing down the Boeing 747 Wednesday over the Atlantic Ocean, the tragedy is resurrecting the image of another jumbo jet, Pan Am Flight 103, lying in Scottish fields.

That terrorists could strike so close to home -- perhaps even planting a bomb in a plane at New York's JFK airport -- has politicians, regulators and watchdogs examining the domestic and international security.

"We are going to have to take some steps that may be costly and may involve inconvenience," said Sen. Larry Pressler, R-S.D., chairman of the Commerce Committee. "Right now, there is no way that we can keep a person from smuggling on board any of these new liquid explosives."

Robin Wright and Richard T. Cooper, "U.S. lags in bomb detection," Chicago Sun-Times, July 20, 1996, Page 11
Despite the grim and growing record of anti-American terrorism, placing a bomb on a U.S. airliner is still easier than getting a gun or a knife on board, senior U.S. counterterrorism officials say.

Moreover, while federal officials generally have assumed that the threat to American planes was low, terrorists have a chillingly high batting average against airliners worldwide: Since 1969, one-third of all such bombing attempts have achieved some level of success. Rand Corp. specialist Karen Gardela says at least 22 of 65 bombings have resulted in casualties, ranging from a few deaths to more than 300.

Yet U.S. airports and airlines have not fully implemented the tactics or advanced technologies that government and private experts say would be necessary to improve the odds against attacks.

From bomb-sniffing dogs and new vapor trace particle detectors capable of spotting lightweight, easily hidden plastic or liquid explosives to structural improvements in cargo bins, the government and the airline industry have been slow to impose the cost and inconvenience associated with greater safety.


Gary Stoller, "Terrorists have used liquid explosives," USA Today, January 2, 1998, Page 4B
Liquid explosives and possibly chemical agents have been used in the past by air terrorists to attack aircraft.

-- Nitroglycerin, a highly volatile liquid, was used by convicted World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef to bomb a Philippines Airlines jet in December 1994, federal prosecutors and Philippine officials say. According to officials, Yousef was planning to blow up 12 U.S. jets when he allegedly placed a practice bomb beneath a seat of the aircraft and got off the plane when it landed in Cebu. During the next leg of the flight, the liquid exploded, killing one and injuring 10 others.

-- Ten years earlier, three men with Molotov cocktails and knives commandeered an Air France jet that had taken off from Germany and was landing in Paris. The plane eventually landed in Tehran, Iran, where the terrorists blew up the cockpit but released the hostages unharmed.

-- A few days earlier, two men with gasoline and guns hijacked a Venezuelan Aeropostal plane flying from Caracas to Curacao.


Andrew Garber, "New airport gadgets strip, sniff, scan," Seattle Times, October 23, 2001, Page A1
A new generation of high-tech gizmos are poised to revolutionize airport security after the terrorist attacks.

You can keep your tattoo secret at airport checkpoints, but everything else stands a good chance of being exposed by a new generation of high-tech gadgets that can reveal ceramic knives, plastic guns and other weapons.

Devices exist today that can electronically "strip-search" clothed passengers, sniff people for trace amounts of explosives, analyze the chemical composition of items stashed in luggage, and scan thumbprints and faces to verify a person's identity.

Some are still being tested; others are in use at a few airports and federal complexes. In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Congress is working on legislation that would put new security equipment in 20 airports around the nation within a year. Those pilot projects would test the gear before allowing more-widespread use.


Several new devices that scan people and containers for weapons are being discussed for use in airports and other public buildings. Here are a few:

Neutron scanner: This device shoots neutrons through containers to measure the chemical composition of items. It can scan everything from cargo containers to suitcases.

The technology is so sophisticated, according to Ancore, the manufacturer, it can tell the difference between olive oil and motor oil. Or, more importantly, between a bottle of wine and a bottle of liquid explosives.

However, the scanner is the size of three tractor-trailers and costs $10 million. The California company says it would be good for airports and border crossings.


Benny Evangelista, "New line of airport scanners perks interest," San Francisco Chronicle, February 18, 2002, Page E1
Ancore Corp. executive Patrick Shea placed a bottle of wine in the thermal neutron scanner. About 30 seconds later, the scanner's computer screen flickered with the results: normal white Zinfandel, vintage 1995.

Then Shea had the machine, called SPEDS, examine another nearly identical bottle. This time, the system detected ingredients that would make a wine connoisseur gag -- traces of nitrogen in amounts that would normally be found in a liquid explosive.

The small Santa Clara company is hoping to convince the government that the technology behind SPEDS can help deter terrorists at the nation's airports, seaports and border crossings.

"This system uses a very simple technology, called thermal neutron analysis," said Shea, the chief operating officer. "It looks at an object and asks: Is there enough nitrogen to be an explosive? Shoes are not supposed to contain nitrogen. This will tell the difference between a bomb and a non-bomb in shoes."

Before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, Ancore developed its explosives detection machines in relative obscurity. Now, however, Ancore and companies with similar cutting-edge technology are getting a second look, as the government scrambles to find new ways to ward off future attacks.

Moreover, there are not enough airport bomb-detection machines installed or on order to meet the government's end-of-year deadline to have all checked airline baggage screened for explosives. Security experts say this urgent need could create a demand for companies like Ancore, although it's difficult to tell which way the FAA or the new Transportation Security Agency will go.

Abigail Wild And Ian Bruce, "Six arrested on suspicion of helping to pay for terrorism," The Herald (Glasgow), September 20, 2002, Page 15
Six men suspected of funding terrorism were being questioned yesterday after being arrested in raids on several houses in London, while media reports in the US claimed al Qaeda was planning aircraft hijacks using untraceable liquid explosives.

Police and security agents made the arrests in connection with alleged fundraising for Islamic militant groups and international terrorism.

The men, in their 20s and 30s, were arrested under the terrorism act 2000. Five other men were arrested in connection with alleged criminal and immigration offences. One was later released on bail.

A police spokesman said their homes and two storage units in London were being searched.

In Washington, the FBI warned that al Qaeda may be planning more plane hijacks using untraceable liquid explosives. The terrorist group may have been planning the hijacks for more than a year, plotting to use Chechens to smuggle the explosives because "they don't look like Arabs", according to an FBI source.


Thomas Frank, "Airports roll out high-tech security," USA Today, May 16, 2005, Page 3A
In Boston, clam diggers who work in the waters around Logan International Airport are getting cellphones with global-positioning systems so they can call authorities if they spot anything suspicious.

At Denver International Airport, the federal government is setting up a fingerprint scanner next to a warehouse so that it can check the identity of anyone trying to enter.

And starting this morning, 500 workers at Orlando International Airport will be getting iris scans before they drive through a gate leading to the terminal's service entrance.

"We're just looking at how we can use emerging technology to enhance our security," says Bill Jennings, the Orlando Airport's executive director.

A "futureworld" of biometrics, photo-quality X-rays and machines that "sniff" passengers for explosives is being tested and deployed at airports around the USA.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is banking on a new wave of electronics to close security holes that could allow terrorists to get into restricted airport sites or carry bombs through passenger screening. Metal detectors at security checkpoints don't detect plastic or liquid explosives.

But security experts and privacy advocates warn that the new technology is not fail-safe and that deploying it at airports could lead to more widespread use of surveillance.

Thomas Frank, "Devices scan luggage, shoes for bombs," USA Today, November 8, 2005, Page 3A
Richard Reid tried to blow up a plane with a shoe bomb. The London train bombers used liquid explosives to kill 52 others. Now the federal government is hoping to thwart both types of bombs with technology being tested for the nation's airports.

New devices that scan bottles and shoes for bombs could have far-reaching implications on airport security -- and traveler convenience. Machines that read the molecular structure of shoes could someday halt the practice of making people take off their shoes for security checkpoints.

Bottle and shoe technologies are in the early stages of development and could take years to be used in airports. But "we're taking a very proactive approach toward evaluating new, emerging technologies to keep America's traveling public safe," Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman Yolanda Clark says.

For instance, a machine that checks 100 suitcases for explosives at once -- instead of one at a time -- could speed up laborious luggage screening that delays some flights. That machine and others are being funded by recent TSA grants that have given new life to small companies with inventions that could change airport security.

The research comes as pressure mounts on the TSA to improve technology. Lawmakers such as Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., have criticized the agency for screening passengers with "1970s technology" that can't detect plastic bombs or liquid explosives.

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