2004 August 09 Monday
Will Vehicle Bombers Come To The USA?

An article in the Washington Post discusses various facets of the car and truck bomb threat and how easy it is to make a very powerful vehicle bomb.

On April 19, 1995, disillusioned Persian Gulf War veteran Timothy J. McVeigh and Army washout Terry L. Nichols blew the face off the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City with a 5,000-pound mixture of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil, killing 168 people.

The bomb was instructive in its power and ease of assembly. Equivalent to 4,100 pounds of dynamite, the blast damaged 312 buildings, cracked glass as far as two miles away and inflicted 80 percent of its injuries on people outside the building, up to a half-mile away. ATF officials had never studied the effects of a vehicle bomb larger than about 1,200 pounds, an ATF explosives expert said.

The components came largely from a Kansas co-op. Nichols bought two tons of fertilizer in 50-pound sacks starting seven months before the attack. McVeigh also was careful to avoid detection, renting a Ryder truck from a Junction City, Kan., body shop one state away from his target.

Today, it remains difficult to detect similar activity. Nearly 5 million tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer are sold each year in the United States. None of it is regulated, although its explosive properties are used in mining and construction and by armies around the world. Government controls are resisted by farm and chemical lobbies, who say they would burden law-abiding citizens and not thwart terrorists. U.S. law permits farmers to mix it with fuel oil for personal demolition uses.

The US government is erecting blast barriers near a fairly small number of government buildings and is going to place larger spaces between streets and newly constructed buildings in the future. But lots of large buildings already exist that are very close to streets. Also, most buildings have roads leading right up to them for underground parking lots and docks for unloading supplies. So barrier defenses against truck bombs are of fairly limited use.

Note hat McVeigh and Nichols didn't have to commit suicide in order to carry out a deadly attack. If Muslim terrorists can make it inside the United States with sufficient money and training to carry out vehicle bomb attacks they would face pretty favorable odds of succeeding in killing a lot of people. The resulting fear and the ways people would respond to that fear would exact large economic costs beyond the economic and human costs of the actual attacks.

What we do not know at this point is just how effective intelligence and law enforcement agencies are being at disrupting Al Qaeda operations. Only time will tell as to whether the tempo o terrorist attacks is headed upward or downward in Western countries. So it is hard to calculate the cost-benefit ratios of various potential defenses against terrorism.

Should a wave of vehicle bomb attacks begin in the United States then one response to consider would be the implemention of a registry for purchasers of ammonium nitrate with required proof of citizenship or legal residence. Every place that sells fertilizer could install a biometric identifier system to scan retinas or other physical features to verify identity. All purchases could be tracked and large purchasers could be required to seek a permit for making a purchase. There would be real economic costs to such a system. Therefore its implementation seems unlikely in advance of domestic bombing attacks.

In my view it makes sense to implement more effective border control, immigration, and visa policies to make it more difficult for terrorists to enter the United States in the first place. However, at this point the elites still oppose more effective control of who gets into the United States and we are probably going to have to wait until more attacks happen in the United States before public anger forces the hands of the politicians.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 August 09 01:51 PM  Terrorists Western Response


Comments
Invisible Scientist said at August 9, 2004 2:12 PM:

But we must emphasize that in addition to the 4,000 lbs.
fertilizer bombs that can fit in a limousine, there will be super-explosives in the future.
If the Al Qaeda guys can infiltrate the US from Mexico, they can certainly ship military plastic
explosives, or even mercury based explosives that are much more powerful than the fertilizer bombs.
Then with a 500 lbs or 1000 lbs of explosives filled in a big car, they can do the
same damage as the truck bomb in Oklahoma.

With the new advances in chemistry, there will certainly be
new incredibly powerful explosives, and I am sure that they can one day start smuggling these,
also. But the point is to figure out WHAT they want. we know that they want the US out of the Gulf, so that
they can take over the oil facilities. But I am not sure if the Al Qaeda thinks it is in their interest
to hit the interior of the US lonce again, since this would galvanize the US again, which may be against their
interests. Maybe Al Qaeda will increase the bombings in the Gulf region, with advanced bombs, to make
the US get tired like in Viet Nam, to force the US to leave due to the attrition process. We shall see.


Brock said at August 10, 2004 6:54 AM:

An idea Invisible Sci suggests but does not state outright is that if we make it hard to get Ammonium Nitrate then the terrorists will just use something else. The demand is there to create new supplies (See also, The Drug War).

I think the only answer is cheap and plentiful sensor networks that can detect dangerous compounds and track their movements. Keeping track of purchasing habits may reveal some clues, but it won't be as sure as a sensor saying "Whoa, 5 tonnes of explosives in that there truck."

Invisible Scientist said:
"But the point is to figure out WHAT they want. we know that they want the US out of the Gulf, so that they can take over the oil facilities."

Pardon me, but this is nonsense. Al Quaeda wants to impose sharia, first within the old borders of the Caliphate, and later to the entire world. Their rule in Afghanistan is what they want for all the world. As long as the United States (and the West generally) exists, this goal is impossible. What they "want", is our destruction. Driving us out of the Arab Penninsula is just the first stage. Long term, they are not interested in pull-back or truce. The planning for the Madrid bombing preceeded the invasion of Iraq and Spain's role in the War on Terror. Spain was a target because 1) it supported Morroco's movement away from Monarchy towards democracy (and hence, away from Sharia), and 2) because Andulusia (i.e., Spain) used to be part of the Caliphate.

Merely in my opinion of course, it's us or them.

Invisible Scientist said at August 10, 2004 9:02 AM:

I agree with Brock that Al Qaeda wants to impose worldwide Sharia, but in order
to successfully impose the Sharia Law, they must obtain the oil fields in order to
finance their endeavors." Napoleon said: 3 things are important to wage war:
1) Money, 2) Money, and 3) Money."
So there is some logic to their madness, and they do have their priorities on their agenda.

Proborders said at August 11, 2004 12:34 AM:

Randall, if there is another major terrorist attack in this country that is carried out by Moslems, the advocates for Mexican immigrants may very well say that "Mexicans aren't terrorists".

About half of immigrants that arrive in the US are from Spanish-speaking countries. To reduce the risk of loosing parts of the US to a new Hispanic nation or to Mexico migration from Spanish-speaking countries should be reduced. There are many sources of potential labor other than Latin America.

Perhaps Europe should take in more Mexicans and fewer Moslems. The US should take in fewer Mexicans and more Europeans.


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