....as Star Trek's Scotty used to insist. Funnily enough, though, the "terrorism experts" who advise the Home Office seem to imagine that those laws, when applied to chemical reactions, take on a much more malleable and provisional form. The news
is full right now of the trial of the men who plotted to cause "mass murder on an unimaginable scale" by using liquid explosives to destroy transatlantic aircraft.What a pity it wouldn't work.
At worst the bombers might have managed to set the aeroplane toilet on fire. If they actually made something big enough and strong enough to destroy an airliner (and the link to the article about Aloha Airlines Flight 243
shows that it ain't that easy) they'd undoubtedly have attracted suspicion when carrying their ice-packed payload aboard. Either that or they'd have made a series of neat holes in the ground when their taxis went over speed bumps.
But wait! What's this? Now we hear rather than TATP
the dastardly brown chappies were planning to use HMTD
. (Or maybe that was only the detonator: though why would they need one, since apparently hydrogen peroxide itself is capable of being "detonated to deadly effect".)
Let's ignore for now the game of if-we-change-the-accusations-often-enough-and-use-enough-confusing-abbreviations-people-will-stop-trying-to-follow-the-arguments-and-assume-the-experts-know-best that's going on here. Let's ignore even the fact, readily verifiable via the links above, tha HMTD and TATP share similar drawbacks for the job under consideration. Maybe slightly less fumes from HTMD synthesis, but that's all. Let's just return to our prosecutor, briefed by our government's experts in explosives and terrorism, telling us that hydrogen peroxide can be detonated. Well, here
's some information on hydrogen peroxide.Spilling high concentration peroxide on a flammable substance can cause an immediate fire fueled by the oxygen released by the decomposing hydrogen peroxide. High strength peroxide (also called high-test peroxide, or HTP) must be stored in a vented container to prevent the buildup of oxygen gas which would otherwise lead to the eventual rupture of the container. Any container must be made of a compatible material such as PTFE, polyethylene or aluminium (not stainless steel) and undergo a cleaning process (passivation) to remove all contamination prior to the introduction of peroxide. (Note that whilst compatible at room temperature, polyethylene can explode with peroxide in a fire.)I've seen the spilling-HTP-onto-a-piece-of-clothing trick demonstrated (when I attended my first RAF camp as an Air Training Corps cadet at school - it was part of the fuel for the air-launched nuclear missiles deployed on 617 Squadron's Vulcans.) Combustion, certainly, but no detonation. Difficult to make the stuff at home, and any attempt to smuggle that sort of hydrogen peroxide concentration in Gatorade bottles would pretty much guarantee a steep rise in London's reported cases of spontaneous human combustion. No, I think I'm more worried about policy being dictated by self-styled "explosives experts" who don't know the difference between detonation and deflagration than I am by supposed "Islamic fanatics" arrested for having flight timetables on a memory stick.
It's easy to see where this is going, though. Play on the public's ignoraance of chemistry, persuade the ignorant that this was a real plot with real explosives, then when the jury throws the whole thing out after someone explains the science to them the government can "prove" that jury trials allow "terrorists" to walk free, maybe with a side order of clever defence lawyers "confusing" the jury.
The author of the piece in The Register
worried that real terrorists who do understand chemistry would be operating unhindered while the credulous oafs charged with our protection worrried about all the wrong things. Undoubtedly true, but in my opinion it' s less about catching terrorists than about discrediting due legal process.
Update: more interesting discussion here
and especially here
And in case the somewhat flaky nature of the last link worries you, the British Army
think it's bollocks as well.
Yes, I think Britain and the USA are finally beginning to "get it" about the "war on terror".