Sunday, July 20, 2008

Semtex for Sale or Rent

The Telegraph reports:

Enough Semtex to make 56 bombs the size of the one used in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing has been stolen from a French castle.

The explosive turned up missing yesterday (July 20th) but no one seems to know how long ago it vanished. The thieves helped themselves to a few detonators while they were shopping.

And it turns out that this “castle” near Lyon is actually the place where old bombs go to die - or at least where the munitions used to get rid of old bombs are stored.

Unfortunately, the security at this place seems rather laissez-faire, given the gap between the theft and its discovery.

Maybe it’s time to get out the guillotines for those purportedly in charge of this pile of bricks. Hey, that’s the least the Chinese would do for such a serious lapse. And let’s say this for China: it decapitates people for more rational reasons than some.
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“A theft of explosives used by bomb-disposal experts to destroy munitions retrieved from former battlefields has taken place,” said a statement from the Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie.

The statement said there had been “security failings” which gave the thieves their chance.

Does this sound as hollow as that hoary old phrase, “mistakes were made”?

The Semtex is now being searched for by French anti-terrorist police who fear it could be used to attack civilian targets.

Now there’s a real ‘duh’ moment for you.

Semtex is favoured by terrorists because it is powerful, has no smell and is almost impossible to detect.

Which leads to the obvious question: why is Semtex odorless? Surely it can be manufactured with some kind of signature smell? Especially if you’re simply going to use it to detonate old munitions to begin with. How odorless does that have to be? And why not some dye in the material and the packaging?

“The investigation has to find out how they could have been stolen,” a police source said, adding that the authorities were taking the theft “very seriously.”

The apparent seriousness with which the authorities take this theft is a real comfort. I wonder if they’ve now tightened their grip on all the other state-controlled Semtex.

We’ll just have to wait to see how seriously they take the resulting explosions.

Living in "interesting times" is so 20th century. We’ve regressed back to life in a volatile epoch. It makes one long for the innocence of the Cold War, where the weapons were big and precisely aimed at one another.

Hat tip: NN


Anonymous said...

My bet is that there wasn't a procedural failing, but rather Muslims in the relevant government agencies, whose position gives them the authority to come in contact with the explosives, have stolen it. In order for this to have remained undiscovered, it would require collusion with the administrative personnel who inventory the explosives. Political correctness will prevent the authorities from reaching this conclusion.

spackle said...

"Which leads to the obvious question: why is Semtex odorless? Surely it can be manufactured with some kind of signature smell? "

Which leads to another "duh" moment. Last year I had a propane leak (which is odorless) and thank God they put something in there so us mere mortals can smell it and get the hell out of dodge. Thankfully it was corrected and I didnt get a free ride to the heavens.

Anonymous said...

Not sure if "laizze faire" is the correct term for the lax security. "Lax" is actually more accurate.

Joanne said...

Don't almost 300 cars burn a night in France, and they have lax security in some castle where old bombs go to die? Good grief! We all know the French would buckle under the threat of dead Frenchmen, and now the crazies have their ammunition.

I wonder how the police are going to track down the Semtex? The authorities are taking the theft very seriously; what, like they take the car burning fiasco seriously? Normally, I'd say call in the British, but what the beans for?

no2liberals said...

I've glanced at this post several times today, and I know it is a serious matter, with the consequences most likely the deaths of innocent French, or other European, citizens.
However, I just could not get the image of Clouseau out of my mind.
It just would not go away!

Anonymous said...

"The explosive turned up missing yesterday"

I've often wondered how something could turn up and still be missing?

Just wondering.

Zenster said...

There is a counter-measure to this issue. It has been around for over a decade. The devices in question are called "tags".

Ferrite particles having a plurality of distinct Curie temperatures are encapsulated within a polymer matrix to provide tagging material especially useful in identifying explosive materials even after detonation. In one embodiment, phosphor is dispersed within the polymer matrix to facilitate collection of tag particles following detonation. The tags are also usable in tagging other articles, especially where harsh environmental conditions are likely to be encountered.

These tags need not be very complex or sophisticated. The basic concept involves not much more than cheap confetti with a high school diploma.

Imagine almost microscopic polymer particles of a specific shape, size, color and chemical composition. For instance, red-colored, tiny star-shapes composed of a dense high melt point plastic doped with zinc. MILLIONS of these tags are commingled into each kilogram of a given batch produced by whichever manufacturer of plastic explosives. Extraction of the tags from a specific lot of explosives is so labor intensive and time consuming as to be impractical.

Anyone detonating plastic explosives from that particular batch will scatter an irretrievable quantity of these easily retrieved minuscule tagging agents that then permit the swift and assured identification of a very limited group of purchasers.

In theory, every single outgoing shipment of plastic explosives could be individually labeled with a unique and easily traced tag configuration that would permit rapid and legally admissible identification of a person or group that supplied the explosives involved in a certain attack.

This measure was suggested in response to the Oklahoma City terrorist attack in America. Producers of ammonium nitrate—the base ingredient of that attack—rightfully argued that tagging their massive output would represent a nearly prohibitive expense. However, NONE of this applies to the production of plastic explosives.

There is no reason why manufacturers should oppose such measures except to protect their market share that derives from terrorism and other similarly illegal activities. The factories of those producers who reject such measures should experience unexpected and catastrophic after-hours “work accidents” that paralyze any further output.

Sadly, Soviet occupied Czechoslovakia alone produced so many TONS of Semtex that terrorists have a few decades of stock to work through. Still, tagging should be instituted right away to prevent all further immunity currently enjoyed by murderous terrorist thugs and their slimeball facilitators.