TSA Warns of Undetectable Explosive...Great.
Explosive thermite can easily slip through a TSA security screening. (Photo: AP)
Just when you thought flying was safe, someone goes and makes an undetectable explosive.
For those of you non-scientists, mixing rust and aluminum powder creates a mixture known as thermite. Sounds innocent enough, but according to an FBI report, thermite is “the greatest incendiary threat to aviation.”
The FBI alert was so serious that the TSA issued their own report in Dec. 2014. “When ignited, thermite burns violently and at extremely high temperatures,” said the report. “Ignition of a thermite-based incendiary device on an aircraft at altitude could result in catastrophic damage and the death of every person onboard.” Fantastic.
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Adding to the danger, the report also states that thermite’s ingredients are easily accessible online and over-the-counter. Which means pretty much anyone has the ability to create thermite in his or her own home. The dangerous substance is also easy to transport, with the report stating that it can easily be concealed in “children’s toys and water canteens — items that would not arouse suspension as they pass through TSA security screening.”
Most aircraft contain halon fire extinguishers that will induce a violent reaction when introduced to burning thermite. Not good. (Photo: Thinkstock)
As for extinguishing the thermite, which can burn through steel, things get even more complicated. Because thermite contains its own oxygen supply, “it cannot be extinguished with familiar fire tactics.”
So how dangerous is this threat? According to experts, it’s not supereasy: A terrorist would need a large amount of thermite to do extensive damage. “You’ve got to get a pound of something that is a really thick mass through security without anyone noticing,” Jimmie Oxley, a professor of chemistry at the University of Rhode Island told The Intercept.
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In addition, building the ignition device and setting off the thermite can also be complicated, “Somebody has to give you time to play on the plane,” said Oxley. “Like with the shoe bomber, people do notice if you’re doing something weird in this day and age.”
Currently, neither the FBI or TSA have any indication of extremist interest in using thermite on an aircraft.
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