Liquid Explosives Getting Past Airport Security

By Lisa Vaas  |  Posted 2007-11-16 Print this article Print

Investigators have managed to smuggle liquid explosives past airport security checkpoints.

Regardless of how much bottled water or tubes of lipstick air travelers have had to surrender, airport security is porous enough that government investigators have managed to smuggle liquid explosives and detonators concealed in their carry-on luggage and on their persons past security checkpoints, according to a report released from the Government Accountability Office on Nov. 15. The GAO did not identify exactly what the materials are, given that the information is classified. But the report did say that the investigators figured out how to make the explosives using commonly available information and made the devices using commonly available and quite affordable materials, most of which cost less than $150. One of the devices involved in the testing was an IED (improvised explosive device) made up of a liquid explosive and a low-yield detonator. According to the GAO, the detonator itself could be used as an IED. But tests of the materials at a national laboratory in July showed that when the detonator is used with a liquid explosive, the damage is more extensive.
The investigators also smuggled in a second device, an IID (improvised incendiary device) created by combining commonly available products—one of which is a liquid—that the TSA prohibits in carry-on luggage. Investigators obtained the materials online or at local stores, with out-of-pocket costs less than $150.
To view an eWEEK slideshow about the airport security checkpoint of the future, click here. "Tests … clearly demonstrated that a terrorist using these devices could cause severe damage to an airplane and threaten the safety of passengers," according to the GAO report. The Transportation Security Administration overhauled its passenger-screening policies in August 2006 following an alleged transatlantic bomb plot uncovered by British authorities. Since then, carrying liquids, gels and aerosols through checkpoints has been severely limited. But not limited enough, as the GAOs tests have shown. Click here to read about why state resistance may be prompting the Department of Homeland Security to ease the requirements for national identity cards. The investigators conducted covert testing at 19 unidentified airports across the country. The GAO has already followed up by briefing the TSA on taking corrective action in areas including aspects of human capital, processes, and technology. The GAO said in its report that it is currently performing a more systematic review of the issues and expects to issue a comprehensive public report with recommendations for the TSA in early 2008. Check out eWEEK.coms Security Center for the latest security news, reviews and analysis. And for insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at eWEEKs Security Watch blog.
Lisa Vaas is News Editor/Operations for and also serves as editor of the Database topic center. Since 1995, she has also been a Webcast news show anchorperson and a reporter covering the IT industry. She has focused on customer relationship management technology, IT salaries and careers, effects of the H1-B visa on the technology workforce, wireless technology, security, and, most recently, databases and the technologies that touch upon them. Her articles have appeared in eWEEK's print edition, on, and in the startup IT magazine PC Connection. Prior to becoming a journalist, Vaas experienced an array of eye-opening careers, including driving a cab in Boston, photographing cranky babies in shopping malls, selling cameras, typography and computer training. She stopped a hair short of finishing an M.A. in English at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. She earned a B.S. in Communications from Emerson College. She runs two open-mic reading series in Boston and currently keeps bees in her home in Mashpee, Mass.

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