The only thing we have to fear

The only thing we have to fear: The cable news folks are running non-stop stories like this AP article that say “how easy” it is for someone to blow up a plane. Quote: “To puncture an aircraft’s fuselage would require an explosive charge ‘half the size of a cigarette packet,’ he said.” In the few minutes I flipped around the channels, there were “experts” on every channel explaining “how simple” it is to smuggle liquid explosives onto a plane, and once on board, how just a “contact lens cleaner” sized bottle of liquid explosives, detonated with a digital watch, can blow a hole out the side of an airliner and cause it to crash. After a few minutes of these “how-easy-it-is” claims, I half-way expected one of them to claim you can take down a 747 with a litre of Diet Coke and some Mentos.

What is going on here? Are terrorists idiots? If it’s as easy as the experts are implying, why are terrorists just now getting around to figuring that out? Or, as common sense would suggest, perhaps it’s not as easy as the experts are implying to smuggle and handle liquid explosives.

While I have no doubt there is abundant truth to what these experts say and I fully expect there will be some major terrorist action somewhere in the U.S. in the near future, I am having trouble with the level of fear-mongering they are heaping on us today. If it were this easy, wouldn’t there be planes blowing up all the time? I’ve passed through security checks at least a hundred times since 9/11 and I can’t remember not having at least one bottle of water. Add them all up and there have probably been hundreds of millions of gallons of water taken onto planes by passengers in the past five years — not counting the thousands of pounds of tooth paste, lip gloss, skin lotion and shampoo. If a couple of ounces of liquid explosives could take down a plane, why does it take a “plot” like that revealed today for the government to finally get “tough on bottled water”?

Either I have too elevated a perception of how cunning terrorists are, or too cynical a perception of how hyperbolic “experts” can be, but I feel there’s a disconnect between what the experts are saying and how few planes have dropped out of the sky in the past five years.

  • Rob Hyndman

    I think Zefrank has it about right, actually:

    http://www.zefrank.com/theshow/archives/2006/08/081006.html

  • Tim Germer

    Thanks for the head’s up; I’m still at work and haven’t turned on the tv today for fear of what you described watching.

  • bhudgins

    The process was carried out some years ago on a plane over the Pacific, killing a passenger in an airplane, but failing to bring down the aircraft. So one does wonder why it hasn’t been tried repeatedly. Meanwhile, though, security procedures are getting stricter:
    http://www.unconfirmedsources.com/?itemid=1840

  • bhudgins

    Of course, one could be utterly cynical about the timing of all this – Oliver Stone’s film’s opening, Aug. 22 is coming up http://rapidrecon.threatswatch.org/2006/08/iran-and-august-22/, so are the 9/11 anniversary and the Nov. elections. But that would require a lot of cynicism.

  • Cynic

    I’m guessing that there aren’t all that many competent terrorists, or at least that they’re not interested in hitting us all that often. I mean, relatively few planes got blown up in the 90s, back when you didn’t even need to take your shoes off. And bin Laden was definitely in business back then.

    The liquid explosives approach is a new one to me, but I think that around 95% of obvious security holes remain open.

    As far as I can tell, the government only worries about attack strategies that have actually made it into the news.

  • marklatham

    I think that there is a lot of nonsense being propagated.
    I remember a pan am plane that lost it’s cargo door and 12 passengers over the pacific.
    the hole in the side of the plane was the size of a car,yet the aircraft landed safely.

  • bhudgins

    Enough hand-wringing. Whp’s going to make some money out of this turn of events? Starbucks must surely be trying to become the coffee provider of choice for all airlines at this very moment, especially after years of health warnings about contaminated water and coffee aboard airplanes. Starbucks could guarantee fresh, hot, tasty joe made with clean water. Bottled water is already onboard, so that’s covered. Maybe the flight attendants could sell cosmetics, mouthwash, toothpaste, etc., on board, as part of a travelers goody bag. Better yet, the airlines just jack up the price of tickets $25 to cover a travelers pack containing everything but the coffee. Changing planes? Just get yours on the last leg.

  • Shannon

    I actually saw a piece last night on how a bomb on a plane doesn’t guarantee doom. According to this clip, the massive bomb would have to be placed in exactly the right spot to bring down an entire plane. They ticked off a half dozen instances of planes (and passengers) that safely landed after a bomb was exploded in flight. It was one of the only news stories last night that made me feel a little better. And yes, they did have government footage of what would have happened to the commercial jet if shoe bomber Richard Reid had been succcessful. It wasn’t pretty. Not sure why they ended the segment with that footage.

  • bhudgins

    Let’s not lose sight of the fact that having even a relatively small hole blown in the fuselage at high altitude would cause plenty of panic and potential bodily harm, regardless of whether it actually brought the plane down. Since terror is the goal, that would be sufficient to cause a huge decline in commercial flying – at least a TKO for the terrorists.

    See for instance: http://www.slate.com/id/2116630/
    http://www.gadgetopia.com/post/2606 and
    http://www.amsanz.org.nz/avmedia/24/am24_2Decompression.pdf