Unobscuring Kip Hawley

TSA head Kip Hawley ( attempts to explain the reason for the three ounce limit on liquids and why the rule is reasonable. He is deliberately obscure in places:

“This is something we thought a lot about. There’s a whole classified section to the answer, but in the unclassified part we are limited to discussing, with 3-1-1, the major focus was first, to stop assembled bombs,” he said.

“The nature of liquid explosives is that they are very volatile, unlike military-grade explosives that react predictably. With homemade explosives, while the benefit is that they are made of easy-to-get ingredients, the downside is that you get widely different results for the same quote-unquote recipe.

“If you’re going to use these explosives in the aviation context, you have to be very precise in the mixing because, as we found in the testing, minor variations in formula have a very dramatic effect on whether or not the explosives are successful.

“So 3-1-1- eliminates the ability to assemble the ingredients in a laboratory, using expert people to provide a finished bomb for somebody to use on a suicide mission on an airplane,” he said.

On a plane, mixing up a bomb in a suitable container “isn’t like mixing a beverage,” he said, adding: “This stuff is very volatile; it is very obvious; you can smell it a long way away. It’s very corrosive.”

The volatile stuff he’s talking about would be the acetone used to make acetone peroxide. And yes acetone is very smelly. I have never made acetone peroxide and have no plans to. It’s called “Mother of Satan” for a reason.

The “very corrosive” stuff would be nitric and sulfuric acids used to make nitroglycerin; probably the most well known of all liquid explosives.

Yup. Mixing up either of those explosives without being noticed would be difficult on a plane. The acetone in particular is very noticeable. Finger polish remover is frequently acetone. So if someone starts working on removing their fingernail polish don’t be surprised if you see the flight crew getting a little excited about finding the source of the smell.

The problem with the whole explosives testing thing is that there are lots of things made out of stuff they don’t, and essentially can’t, test for that make the whole exercise just A Security Theater. That money would be far better spent on finding the bad guys before they ever got to the airport. But don’t expect Hawley to tell you that. It’s not his job to tell you his job is a sham. His job is to make you feel safer. Do you feel safe yet?