Bomb basics

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					By Henry Morgenstern

Bomb basics
What law enforcement needs to know and why

                                                                                   particularly IEDs (improvised

T          his article begins with a
           clear warning: under no
circumstances should anyone touch
                                               Everything required
                                                 to build a pipe
                                                                                   explosive devices) law enforcement
                                                                                   officers might be in a position to
                                                                                   help prevent a disaster.
or move an object that may be an               bomb is readily and
explosive — no matter how much                                                     What is a bomb?
they think they know about bombs.            commercially available                    To understand what a bomb is,
This should only be undertaken by                                                  it’s helpful to know the definition
bomb squad or other highly quali-
                                               — most of it at the                 of explosion. An explosion is
fied personnel.                               local hardware store.                defined as the sudden and rapid
   So why bother to learn about                                                    release of gases from a confined
bomb basics? In this age of                                                        space. To help understand how
constant terror warnings about                                                     an explosion works think of a
terrorists who use bombs as                                                        fire. To create a fire one needs a
their weapon of choice can law              was strange. Today, that same seller   combustible material, oxygen and
enforcement afford not to know              might call the police who most         a source of ignition. An explosion
something about bombs?                      certainly would take the call very     is the same except that the oxygen
   Hindsight is always 20-20.               seriously.                             and combustible material are
Today if you say the word fertilizer,          If an officer walks into a home     bound together so that everything
people are aware that the bombs             on a routine call and notices that     happens faster — much faster. A
used in the Murrah Federal                  all metal in the house — utensils,     fuel and an oxidizer are combined
Building in Oklahoma City,                  doorknobs and hardware — were          chemically to create a new
Oklahoma, and the first attack              rusty, would he know this is a         compound that when detonated
on the World Trade Center, both             strong indicator of a chemical         will conflagrate at anywhere from
were made from fertilizer. But at           reaction from preparing a bomb?        9,000 to 27,500 feet per second
the time of the bombings, it was               Bombing is a seriously organized    (fps).
not generally known that fertilizer         criminal or terrorist act. Unlike a        Some bombs use high explosives,
could be used in bombs. Timothy             random crime, bombing requires         or those explosives at the top of
McVeigh bought large quantities             a certain level of organization,       the scale in explosion speed. For
of fertilizer from a single source          equipment, materials and a place       example, an RDX explosion takes
to create the devastating car bomb          to create the bomb — all points        place at 27,500 fps; nitrogylcerin
that killed so many in Oklahoma.            where an officer’s know-how can        explodes at 25,000 fpsand TNT at
He paid cash and refused discounts          help him detect this activity and      22,500 fps. That is why they are
that he was entitled to for the             hopefully prevent it. By knowing       known as high explosives.
purchases. The seller thought it            something about explosives and             However, an improvised

1     Law Enforcement Technology   ■   April 2005   ■
explosive device need not use high       of detonating cord is an almost                 ■ ANAL — mixed with
explosives. Half of all bombings         sure sign of bomb activity.                  aluminum powder
carried out in the United States                                                         ■ ANIC — mixed with icing
are pipe bombings. These simple          Explosives                                   sugar
devices use black powder inside              There are many chemicals that               ■ ANNIE — mixed with
a container. Although the black          can cause explosion. The list on the         nitrobenzine
powder (charcoal and potassium           Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and                  ■ ANS — mixed with sugar
nitrate) is slow, the build up inside    Firearms (ATF) Web site at (www.                The volume in the above
a sealed pipe creates tremendous—explo_pub/            mentioned ammonium nitrate
pressure and then explodes               listofexp.htm) is comprehensive.             and additives makes this mixture
releasing — beside the blast wave        Some of the most common                      particularly suited to car bombs or
— a deadly wave of shrapnel.             explosives used in IEDs include:             VBIEDs (vehicle-borne improvised
These bombs are also a favorite                                                       explosive devices).
of suicide terrorists who may              Officers should never                         Other explosives popular with
strap as many as six pipes to their                                                   different terrorist groups include:
chests and all will be detonated
                                            touch the materials                          ■ C4 — looks like dough and is
together, creating a simple but               they may find.                          composed of RDX and plasticizers
devastating weapon that can claim                                                        ■ PETN — mixed with
many victims. (See “Suicide terror                                                    different materials to create sheet
and explosives” on Page xxx.)                                                         plastics, easily hidden in electrical
Everything required to build a pipe                                                   devices such as laptops and
bomb is readily and commercially            ■ Black powder — fine to                  available in thin sheets
available — most of it at the local      course black powder, black to rusty             ■ Semtex — looks like orange-
hardware store.                          brown in color. Black powder is              colored Play Dough, made in
   Bombs also require a                  used in black powder rifles and is           Czechoslovakia and very common
detonation. The “fire” must be           readily available.                           in terrorist attacks.
started by something. Detonators            ■ Smokeless powder — slate
are commercially available but not       gray to black, available in tiny             Detecting bomb activity
to everyone. Detonators also can         cylinders, rods or wafers                       By having a good idea of
be improvised. The detonator is             ■ Dynamite — used for                     substances used in making bombs
essentially a mini-explosion device      commercial and military purposes             you can detect the preparation
that will set-off the larger explosive   and is available in paper, cardboard         for these attacks. Any sign of
train. Detonators can be electrical      or plastic wrappings                         the following indicators in either
or non-electrical. In an electrical         ■ Ammonium nitrate (high                  a vehicle or a building should
detonator, the electrical charge         content in most fertilizers) —               indicate the need for more
sets off the detonator substance,        available in white or gray pellets           extensive searches.
which could be dynamite, TNT                ■ Nytroglycerin — a heavy,                   Containers, gas balloons,
or RDX. There are also chemical          oily liquid that is clear to amber in        fuse, explosive fillers or shrapnel
detonations and other non-               color. Brown streaks may appear as           and even contaminants such as
electrical detonation. In the first      the liquid turns brown in time.              rat poison (used to make the
World Trade Center bombing,                 Ammonium nitrate can be                   shrapnel more deadly by increasing
nitroglycerin was used as the            mixed with many different                    bleeding) may be present. An
detonator. Detonating cord, which        chemicals to create highly explosive         unusual amount of cellular phones
should not confused with a fuse,         mixtures. Among the most                     may be another indication because
is also used. These cords are filled     common chemicals mixed with                  increasingly cellular phones are
with PETN or RDX and can be              ammonium nitrate are:                        used as remote devices to activate
used as bomb on their own. A run            ■ ANFO — mixed with fuel oil              detonators.

                                                ■   April 2005   ■   Law Enforcement Technology   2
   Blasting caps either electric               ■ Rental of self-storage            wires visible, a gas canister, a
or non-electric as well as fuse             space for the purpose of storing       knapsack or even a shopping bag
and detonating cords will often             chemicals or mixing apparatus          — should require an immediate
be present at the scene of bomb                ■ Delivery of chemicals             evacuation of the area and any
activity.                                   directly from the manufacturer         further intervention should await
   Other accessories to bomb                to a self-storage facility or          the arrival of the bomb experts.
making that may be present                  unusual deliveries of chemicals to         One popular technique in
include:                                    residential or rural addresses         terrorist attacks is the double
   ■ Absorbents (saw dust,                     ■ Theft of explosives, blasting     bomb. The first bomb is designed
shredded paper)                             caps or fuses, or certain chemicals    to attract first responders to the
   ■ Alchohol                               used in the manufacture of             area and the second is set or timed
   ■ Aluminum foil                          explosives                             to cause them maximum damage.
   ■ Heat-resistant containers                 ■ Chemical fires, toxic odors,      At the scene of any bombing it
   ■ Petroleum jelly                        brightly colored stains, or rusted     is imperative that a bomb team
   ■ Protective gloves                      metal fixtures in apartments, hotel/   sweep the area first. This multi-
   ■ Scales                                 motel rooms, or self-storage units     focal attack, which may take many
   ■ Tubing                                 due to chemical activity.              forms, is so common today that it
   ■ Wires                                     ■ Small test explosions in rural    is better to consider it the standard.
   Some sources of chemicals                wooded areas.
used in bomb making may                        ■ Treatment of chemical burns       Upgrading your security plan
include very common household               or treatment for missing hands/           Countermeasures should be
items but in unusual volumes.               fingers.                               constantly probed and tested using
Vinegar is a source of acetic acid.            ■ Untreated chemical burns or       red teams and other methods. In
Acetone and aluminum powder                 missing hands/fingers.                 addition, agencies should review all
are easily available and precursors                                                security arrangements to take into
of explosive materials. Look for                                                   account the more aggressive MO
large quantities of fuel oil, sugar,        Force safety                           of recent attacks.
nitric acid, potassium chlorate                Coming across evidence of any          This means perimeters and
and nitrate. Vehicle batteries are          criminal or bomb making activity       blast distances between security
a good source of sulfuric acid;             should immediately initiate a call     fences and key buildings should be
thermometers are a source of                for specialized aid from bomb          carefully adhered to. One way of
mercury. Hydrogen peroxide is               units or EOD (explosive ordnance       achieving this is through the use
readily available and of course,            disposal) units. Officers should       of a modeling tool such as blast
fertilizer is a source for ammonium         never touch the materials they may     visualization software. During the
nitrate.                                    find.                                  past two years, the U.S. Air Force’s
   The following is a list of                  Bomb safety distances are noted     Force Protection Battle (FPB) lab
potential VBIED and suicide                 in the ATF table (available from its   has managed a project that has
bomber indicators.                          Web site) shown on Page xxx. Note      resulted in a blast visualization
   ■ License plates inconsistent            how much explosive is needed to        tool that is simple to use, produces
with vehicle registration                   increase the kill zone.                results quickly, and displays
   ■ Obviously carrying a heavy                Going from 100 feet to 125          the product in a 3D graphic
load, heavy rear end                        feet requires twice the quantity of    representation. This product is
   ■ Modification of a truck or             explosives. That means that a small    called the Force Protection Planner
van with heavy-duty springs to              distance may mean the difference       (FPP).
handle heavier loads                        between life and death.                   Officers should drill for the
   ■ Rentals of vans with false                Any suspicious object — an          type of attacks now common
papers for dry runs                         abandoned bag with or without          and there should be a method

3     Law Enforcement Technology   ■   April 2005   ■
                                       SIDEBAR: Suicide terror and explosives
in place to notify all involved
                                          Terrorists have found the bomb especially useful as a weapon system.
of elevated threat levels in the       One advantage is that unlike a Cruise or Tomahawk, the suicide driver can
area. All personnel should know        divert, call-off or simply postpone his mission. Terrorists have also learned
how to recognize the signs of an       they can achieve their goals using this indiscriminate but very powerful
impending attack and the profile       weapon. Combined with the ethos of suicide for the sake of their cause it
of potential attack vehicles or        has been especially devastating.
                                          A lone suicide bomber carries an explosive charge that ranges from 11
                                       to 29 pounds for a vest or a bag, commonly packed with nails, ball bear-
   Encourage officers to avoid         ings and other metal fragments around the explosives in order to maximize
routine; vary times and routes,        casualties. A VBIED (vehicle-borne improvised explosive device), typically
pre-plan, and keep a low profile,      carries from 110 pounds up 1,100 pounds but is not limited and can go to
especially during periods of high      12,000 pounds or much more.
threat. Make sure they notice             Since the first use of suicide bombs in Lebanon in the early ’80s, against
                                       the U.S. Embassy and then the U.S. Marine barracks, there have been many
and report suspicious packages,
                                       incidents, especially in Iraq recently, where occurrences have become
vehicles, unattended briefcases        such a threat that all personnel have had to adapt their tactics to take this
or other unusual materials             weapon into account.
immediately; and instruct them not        The suicide bomber vest is constructed by making a wooden mold onto
to handle or attempt to move any       which is placed the shrapnel content. The (usually) plastic explosive is then
such object.                           rolled over the shrapnel like a layer of dough. This content is placed into
                                       a vest and is detonated electrically, usually with an arming mechanism,
   Examining every vehicle
                                       thought sometimes the detonation is direct.
coming into a parking lot,
especially underground, should
be standard practice in certain
facilities. Increase the number of
overt security personnel wherever      regularly                                    to be more creative and think like
possible.                                 ■ Provide specialist vehicle              a terrorist or a criminal in order to
   Rearrange exterior vehicle          inspection training and access               catch them. Armed with at least a
barriers and roadblocks to change      control specifically for security            basic knowledge of bombs, they
traffic patterns near facilities and   personnel                                    will be successful in this endeavor.
cover by vigilant security staff.         ■ Deploy explosive detection              ■
Arrange for security vehicles to be    devices; consider using both
parked randomly near entrances         electronic and canine explosive              Henry Morgenstern is president of
and exits.                             detection                                    Security Solutions International
   Most importantly, make sure            ■ Conduct vulnerability studies           (SSI) of Miami, Florida. Security
you are coordinating with and          focusing on physical security,               Solutions International, found on
establishing partnerships with         structural engineering (blast                the Web at www.securitysolu-
appropriate local authorities          mitigation) and infrastructure (i.e., is a national training
and organizations to develop           power, water and air filtration) if          company for homeland security. The
intelligence and information           feasible.                                    company’s training offerings help
sharing relationships.                    ■ Initiate a system to enhance            public safety officials prepare their
   Finally, take the following         delivery, mail and package                   response to acts of terror.
measures if they have not been         screening procedures (both
done already:                          announced and unannounced).
   ■ Increase perimeter lighting          Remember those individuals
   ■ Deploy visible security           using bombs have gone to great
cameras and/or motion sensors          lengths to prepare their attack. In
   ■ Remove vegetation in and          some cases even death may not be
around perimeters, maintain            a deterrent to them. Officers need

                                              ■   April 2005   ■   Law Enforcement Technology   4
re please yada

5     Law Enforcement Technology   ■   April 2005   ■
 (Courtesy of ATF)

 ATF          Vehicle         Maximum        Lethal           Minimum                  Falling
              Description     Explosives     Air Blast        Evacuation               Glass
                              Capacity       Range            Distance                 Hazard

              Compact         500 Pounds     100 Feet         1,500 Feet               1,250 Feet
              Sedan           227 Kilos      30 Meters        457 Meters               381 Meters
                              (in trunk)

              Full-size       1,000 Pounds   125 Feet         1,750 Feet               1,750 Feet
              Sedan           455 Kilos      38 Meters        534 Meters               534 Meters

              Passenger       4,000 Pounds   200 Feet         2,750 Feet               2,750 Feet
              Van or          1,818 Kilos    61 Meters        838 Meters               838 Meters
              Cargo Van

              Small Box       10,000 Pounds 300 Feet          3,750 Feet               3,750 Feet
              Van             4,545 Kilos   91 Meters         1,143 Meters             1,143 Meters
              (14-foot box)

              Box Van or      30,000 Pounds 450 Feet          6,500 Feet               6,500 Feet
              Water/Fuel      13,636 Kilos  137 Meters        1,982 Meters             1,982 Meters

              Semi-           60,000 Pounds 600 Feet          7,000 Feet               7,000 Feet
              Trailer         27,273 Kilos  183 Meters        2,134 Meters             2,134 Meters

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7   Law Enforcement Technology   ■   April 2005   ■   ■   April 2005   ■   Law Enforcement Technology   8

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