Why TSA explosives detection is pointless

If the TSA were to scan for Ammonium Nitrate fertilizer (AN) they would get a very high percentage of travelers testing positive as this guy did:

An 82-year-old farmer from Brush got quite the surprise Thursday when he was briefly detained by Fort Collins-Loveland airport security after his suitcase tested positive for the chemicals used to make bombs.

Large numbers of false positives mean they have to hand examine large numbers of people. This will require far more manpower and increase the frustration with the TSA. If they don’t scan for AN then they leave a huge gaping hole in their security. Yes, AN needs something else with it to detonate. Boomerite, for example, uses Potassium Chlorate (PC) and Ethylene Glycol (EG). Scanning for either of these isn’t going to accomplish anything. PC is one of the main ingredients in matches. EG is the common automobile anti-freeze. False positives are us.

Scanning for all three, AN, PC, and EG would detect Boomerite but there isn’t anything particularly magic about those three. AN with any number of things will explode. Here is just a partial list of things I have used:

  • Aluminum powder
  • Diesel
  • Model racing fuel
  • Powdered milk
  • Powdered sugar
  • Wheat flour
  • Propylene Glycol
  • Nitromethane
  • Acetone (nail polish remover)
  • Methanol (wood alcohol)
  • Naphthalene (moth balls)

Basically anything that will burn will enable detonation of AN. So unless TSA is willing to detain and hand search every passenger that walked through their recently fertilized lawn and then ate a powdered sugar donut on the way to security there is no point in scanning for AN. Plus this assumes that a real threat would not be able to seal and clean up their explosives device and themselves sufficiently that they couldn’t get their chemical profile below the detection threshold.

Since explosives detection is pointless and they do not hand examine every passenger TSA is really nothing but A Security Theater.

5 thoughts on “Why TSA explosives detection is pointless

  1. If they wanted to test every foreigner from a country at war with America, whose citizens have attacked America, or whose citizens have murdered American citizens in the last 20 years, when those travelers test positive for fertilizer and/or doughnuts, I’m fine for that.

  2. My Norelco electric razor in my carry-on bag somehow got jostled going through a security check, making the whole bag vibrate and buzz. Hilarity ensued, as the TSA agent thought it might be a snake in the bag and made me open the bag to check it. Good times, good times.

    An elderly friend of mine routinely takes the steak knives given to passengers in first class off the plane at transfer points, and then tries to reboard with them in his carry on. When caught, he explains exactly what he did, and asks how it can be wrong to take the item given to him by the airline personnel on the plane back where he got it.

  3. No way I’m opening a zipper for a potential rattlesnake! No, sir! They’re the ones putting their lives on the line to keep our country safe from electric razors, make them do it. Much more hilarious that way.

  4. Believing that the bombers cannot clean up and seal against AN also presupposes that they cannot buy AN detectors.
    What we really need are the guys who ran WW2 to be in charge. There wasn’t so much as a dime store shop clerk in WW2 who would have put up with such self-defeating policies as the ones the US is using in this war.

  5. Sure they did, Windy, in WWII the US populace put up with rationing of numerous products that were not in shortage. Much of the rationing in the US was theatre.

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