Defense and National Security Nano, Nanomaterials, and Nanotechnologies

Friday, October 06, 2006

Yushchenko Offers Technological Aid to Peres

Here is another take on the level of importance placed by Israel on nanotechnology.  Smart people, indeed!





Yushchenko offers technological aid to Peres

Israeli vice premier, Ukrainian president meet in Berlin, discuss collaboration on nano-technology in fight against terror

Ronny Sofer

Published 10.03.06, 23:05



BERLIN – At a meeting in Berlin Tuesday, Ukrainian president Victor Yushchenko offered Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres his cooperation in the development of missiles and satellites, in the shadow of his country’s past development of missiles for the former Soviet Union.


Peres in turn offered Yushchenko his cooperation in the nano-technology field and in investments in the “Peace Valley”. Yushchenko will head an economic committee that will visit Israel on November 7.


After the collapse of the Soviet Union, about 200 nuclear soviet missiles could be found in the Ukraine. The missiles and nuclear heads were returned to Russia, except for 12-20 missiles which ‘disappeared’ and were apparently transferred secretly to Iran in an illegal deal.


These missiles were thought to have been used by Iran in the development of the country’s “Shihab” missiles.


Peres and Yushchenko met at Peres’ hotel and discussed the development of nano-technology in the struggle against world terror. Yushchenko expressed interest in the idea of a possible collaboration on the subject.


Peres also offered the Ukraine to cooperate in the “Peace Valley,” set to encompass the area between the Red Sea in the south and the
Yarmuch River in the north.


The project is expected to include a channel that will connect the Red Sea and the Dead Sea, advanced industries areas and tourism projects in which three countries – Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians would cooperate. Hundreds of millions of dollars are set to be invested in the huge initiative by international bodies. Former United States President Bill Clinton is currently contemplating the possibility of heading the project.


Peres told Yushchenko that the "Peace Valley" initiative is set to be launched next year, and added: "The development of peace will be carried out by economic means, after the diplomatic means have failed." Yushchenko, on his part, expressed interest in contributing to the subject.

Peres: Nano-technology will Beat Rockets

Even Israel recognizes the importance of nanotechnology. What Mr. Peres does not say is that nanotechnology can certainly be used for offensive capabilities!

We (Americans) all know that the most notorious spies originate not from Russia, or even erstwhile Soviet Union, but from France and Israel.  Now, do we not?






Peres: Nano-technology will beat rockets

Vice premier concludes Germany visit, where he was awarded prestigious peace prize, offers to promote negotiations with Palestinians through financial endeavors

Ronny Sofer

Published 10.05.06, 10:08


GERMANY – Nano-technology is the key to Israel’s defense in future armed conflicts, Vice Premier Shimon Peres told Ynet in an interview Wednesday at the conclusion of his visit in Germany .



“The missiles threatening Israel and the terrorists threatening to hurt the people of Israel should be handled using weapons that will be developed by the technology of the future, nano-technology.  This is my lesson from the war, and I’m operating today, as I always have, with a vision in a bid to change the realities of the Middle East,” Peres said.


Peres was in Germany to receive a prestigious prize, awarded to him for his efforts to promote peace in the region. in the interview, the veteran politician spoke about the conceptual revolution Israel and the Israeli government need to undergo in their relations with the countries of the region.  He claimed that in light of the current reality, the internal strife within the PA and the difficulties in promoting the Road Map plan, peace should be pursued through economic means.



“The peace process should move faster now in the economic route. We have to admit that we failed in finding a resolution through diplomacy or wars,” he stated.



German support 

Peres reported that during his visit he succeeded in enlisting Germany’s support for his Peace Valley enterprise, a project set to be established as a joint initiative of Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.  The Germans also promised to invest in developing an industry area near Jenin, a project that was suspended at the beginning of the intifada.



The vice premier reiterated his belief that economy would lead the way to change in the region.



“Government can’t invest funds, but private investors are looking for international investments, and a Jordanian-Palestinian-Israeli cooperation can certainly be successful, and constitute a mile stone for peace,” he said.



Optimism needed 

 When asked whether the failures of some of his past visions, like the Oslo Accord, did not demoralize him, Peres said: “We ruin the solutions with our own hands. Look at the agreement me and Yasser Arafat reached in London in 1991.  Who destroyed it?  Wasn’t it us, with our own hands?  What do I get out of all the skeptics?  We have to be more optimistic and find solutions like the Peace Valley.”


“This isn’t just another vision,” he continued. “I’m accused of being delusional, but I proved myself… I’m not a dreamer, I’m a man of action. I’ve proven this my entire life. My credit is for actions, what seems imaginary today, will make Israel proud tomorrow…” he concluded.


Thursday, October 05, 2006

China's Nanotechnology Gains Have U.S. Looking Over Its Shoulder

Here is an article that appeared on The Wall Street Journal website on September 27, 2006.
It serves us well, also, to read the Battelle Report entitled “China Gaining Ground in Global Head and Brains Race.”
Here is another piece of news regarding China and the extent the Chinese “businesses” (read: the Chinese government) go to acquire technological know-how and secrets: Stealing a Head Start - Trade Secrets Lost to Students, Businessmen, Researchers.

China’s Nanotechnology Gains Have U.S. Looking Over Its Shoulder

September 27, 2006


BEIJING China is rapidly catching up to the U.S. in nanotechnology, the field of working with extremely small objects, a visiting U.S. official said.  That success could hold lessons for U.S. policy makers seeking to maintain a competitive edge in scientific research.

“China is one of the players that is gaining on us, said Robert Cresanti, undersecretary for technology at the U.S. Department of Commerce, in an interview yesterday.  “We are wise to take a look at what they are doing that’s been successful, and see how it might apply to improve our system.

Mr. Cresanti, who is in Beijing to meet with Chinese policy makers, said China’s progress was apparent during his visit. “We saw labs today full to the rafters with scientists and machinery, he said.  There has also been a dramatic increase in the quality and quantity of papers on nanotechnology published by Chinese scientists, he added.

Nanotechnology gets its name from the nanometer, which is one-billionth of a meter, or about 1/100,000th the width of a human hair.  The term refers to the manipulation of materials at very small scales, where they start to take on unusual physical properties.  Many governments have focused on the technology because it could lead to breakthroughs in areas such as enabling tiny medical devices that could enter human cells and building superstrong materials from novel combinations of molecules.

This year, the Chinese government released a national plan for scientific development that calls for raising spending on research and development to equal 2% of economic output by 2010, from just above 1% in recent years.  The plan names nanotechnology as a major priority, calling it an area where China may be able to “leapfrog wealthier nations.

In a report on nanotechnology released this week, the U.S. National Research Council, a private advisory group, echoed Mr. Cresanti’s worries, writing that “the U.S. lead is facing significant and increasing international competition. The group said Japan and the European Union are each spending in the order of $1 billion annually on nanotechnology research, which is comparable to the outlay in the U.S.

By comparison, Lux Research Inc. has estimated China’s funding for nanotechnology at $250 million in 2005.

Mr. Cresanti characterized Chinese nanotechnology research as shorter-term and more narrowly focused than the foundational research going on in U.S. labs, but said: “We can learn from each other.  He said Chinese researchers work more closely with industry and tend to be more focused on developing technologies to solve specific commercial problems.

While the direction of research in the U.S. is determined largely by private institutions, China’s rapid development in the field has been tightly orchestrated by its government.

Policy makers are trying to shift China’s economy away from its historic reliance on low-cost manufacturing and toward technology and higher-end industries.

Write to Andrew Batson at

Friday, September 22, 2006

Next up: Desktop nanofactories that can pump out cars as well as nano weapons

The following is my post in response to Tim Harper’s blog post: in reference to the entitled article.  (I do not know why Tim calls the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology the Center for “Irresponsible” Nanotechnology.  I feel that he is only doing a disservice to the community by doing so. Sorry, Tim!)

Also, we have not yet caught the perpetrators of the 2001 anthrax attacks, lest we have a memory lapse.  It only reinforces my contention that it is, unfortunately, very easy to manufacture these deadly pathogens and toxins.


I agree with you that Drexelerian “nanobots” are quite some time away from becoming a reality.  However, the fact remains that the amalgamation of nano and bio could be either a boon, or a bane. It could deal a terrible blow to the Humanity from a weapons viewpoint.

We (the U. S.) already have an issue with the detection of biological species coming into the country via the airports.  If you could envision nanobioweapons, then the outlook of detection gets significantly less-than-stellar. In that context, that article to which you referred should ring alarm bells all over the world. I can tell you that I have personally worked on such projects (for detection and neutralization) with absolutely incredible results. However, I am certain that the same technology could be used in the opposite direction.

We are currently worried the most only about the spread of nuclear weapons; but these nanobioweapons surely pose a clear, present, and imminent danger to society.  Look, all it takes are decent biologists and chemists to whip up a concoction of the “gray goo,” which is not only undetectable at the airports, but their results are also insidious and devastating.  Can you envisage all the first-responders and medical professionals, who can become infected with the pathogens (potentially mutable and very communicable) and the diseases’ spreading rapidly by subsequent infection of others?  Almost all the “developing” (and certainly the “developed” countries) have the requisite skills to enable this program.  The apocalyptic picture is certainly not pretty.

What is your take on it?


Next up: Desktop nanofactories that can pump out cars as well as nano weapons

Melbourne, Sept 22: The potential applications of nanotechnology are limitless, but experts warn that these getting into the wrong hands could be scary.

Mike Treder from the think tank, Centre for Responsible Nanotechnology (CRN) in New York claims that within 15 years, desktop nanofactories could pump out anything ranging from a new car to a sophisticated nanoweapon.

He warns that though the technology could help solve problems like world poverty, it could at the same time wreak economic and social chaos. He says the society needs to start preparing for this brave new world.

It’s the biggest challenge weve ever faced as a species, ABC quoted Treder as telling a gathering of Australian scientists.

CNR is a non-profit organisation which aims to raise awareness about the benefits and dangers of molecular manufacturing, the precise assembly of products atom-by-atom.

Treder says that researchers are currently working on building molecular-scale machines that could eventually move atoms around to make consumer products like cups and chairs to cars and house bricks.

He says that in less than 15 years raw materials like carbon would be used in the nanofactory, where atoms would be rearranged to make products according to programs downloaded from the internet.

He warns that that though such desktop nanofactories could eliminate poverty and starvation in developing nations, and provide tremendous medical benefits, society needs to guard against its potential risks.

Treder says that CRN is concerned that these desktop nanofactories would lead to a nano
arms race in which hard-to-detect nanoweapons could be designed, manufactured and tested much quicker than they are today.

Imagine a suitcase filled with billions of toxin-carrying flying robots that could be released anywhere to target a population. You could make a suitcase full of these things overnight for a few dollars, he said.

The mass production of consumer goods by private desktop factories could also trigger social chaos due to economic disruption, says Treder.

If I can make my own car at home for a couple of hundred dollars with a design downloaded from the internet that means I’m not a customer of the auto dealer down the road.

Waste from such easy manufacturing, or nanolitter, is another issue that needs to be thought about, he says.

If someone could send you a product online that you don’t want but they just make it pump out of your nanofactory, how are we going to prevent that?

All theses argument raises the question of whether nanotechnology will be building a better future or destroying the world.





Saturday, September 09, 2006

Putin Focuses on Nanotechnology in Annual Address

It seems that Vladimir Putin is serious about nanotechnology (perhaps, fashioning himself after Mr. George W. Bush).



WRAP-UP: Putin focuses on demographic, social issues in annual address


May 10, 2006


In his annual state of the nation address to both houses of parliament on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin focused on social and demographic issues.

In particular, Putin commented on the government’s increasing investments in public services.

“Increased economic capabilities have allowed us to allocate additional investments for public services,” he said.

In September 2005 Putin announced the launch of the national projects, which envisage total investments of over 120 billion rubles this year. They include education, agriculture, healthcare and housing projects.

Putin also outlined a set of measures aimed at promoting population growth in the country.

Russia’s population has declined from a historical high of 148.4 million people in 1992 to about 143 million people at the end of 2005, according to Russia’s State Statistics Service.

Putin said that immigration alone would not be able to solve the problem of Russia’s declining population.

Making a bow to growing nationalism in Russia, the president said that immigrants should make efforts to adapt to the Russian culture.

Putin called for adopting a program starting from January 1, 2007 that would encourage couples to have more children. The program should support young families and women making the decision to have a child.

The president proposed increasing subsidies to families, including a larger monthly subsidy to a family for their second child.

Putin went on to comment on his idea of doubling Russia’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 10 years, which he put forward in 2003.

“We seem to be coping with this task and during the past three years the average annual economic growth amounted to 7%. However, I’d like to point out that, unless we get rid of some problems, improve major economic indicators, guarantee a proper level of economic freedom, create equal conditions for competition and strengthen property rights, we are unlikely to achieve these economic goals within these time limits,” Putin said.

For an economy to double within 10 years, it should grow at an average annual rate of over 7.1%. Russia’s GDP rose 7.1% in 2004 and 6.4% on the year in 2005. Russia’s 2006 budget projects the country’s GDP to grow 5.8%.

Putin also called for investing in the energy, communications, space, aircraft, IT and nanotechnology industries to assist in Russia’s economic development.

However, these investments should be carried out without “disturbing financial stability,” Putin said. He did not elaborate.

Meanwhile, obsolete equipment and poor energy efficiency are major challenges for Russia’s economic growth, Putin said.

Commenting on the government’s increasing role in Russia’s economy, Putin said that government investments are necessary but they should not be the only means of economic development.

Putin also said that Russians’ high degree of distrust in the government and big business was a major problem for the country.

Putin said that failed hopes for better living standards during reforms in 1990s were the major reason behind distrust.

He also said that the unprecedented personal enrichment of few at the expense of people had also fueled the distrust.

To emphasize his efforts in the past few years on the issue, Putin quoted U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his speech.

"In the working out of a great national program which seeks the primary good of the greater number, it is true that the toes of some people are being stepped on and are going to be stepped on," Putin quoted Roosevelt's speech delivered in June 1934.

One part of the historical Russian translation Putin quoted - " are going to be stepped on" - was closer to "we will continue to do so" and could have been interpreted as a reference to the so-called Yukos affair. Oil company Yukos has been burdened with multibillion dollar back tax claims since 2003; its major owners and top managers either went to jail or live in exile while being prosecuted in Russia.

"But these toes belong to the comparative few who seek to retain or to gain position or riches or both by some short cut which is harmful to the greater good," Putin said continuing with Roosevelt's quote.

"Great words," Putin said. "Too bad it is not me who said them."

Putin also called for strengthening Russia’s military, noting that the country’s military budget is 25 times less than that of the U.S.

“Their house is their fortress - good for them,” Putin said. “But that means that we also must make our house strong and reliable.”

However Russia should not increase its military might at the expense of economy and social services, repeating the Soviet Union’s mistakes, Putin said.

Putin also commented on Russia’s possible accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Talks on Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) should not turn into “bargaining” over issues that have nothing to do with the WTO’s objectives, he said.

(27.0802 rubles - U.S. $1)

Russian PM Inks Ruling to Invest 15 Billion Rubles in Government Venture Fund

Lately, there has been a spate of news from Russia (with love, of course!) on nanotechnology.



Russian PM inks ruling to invest 15 bln rbl in govt venture fund


Aug 25, 2006



Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov has signed a ruling to invest 15 billion rubles in the Russian Venture Company, a governmental venture capital fund, in 2006-2007, the government's press office said Friday.

Under the ruling, the government is expected to contribute 5 billion rubles from its Investment Fund to the company's charter capital in 2006 and another 10 billion rubles next year.

The Russian Venture Company will finance projects in information technology, telecommunications, biotechnology, medicine, nanotechnology and power generation.

The government is expected to hold 100% in the Russian Venture Company.

The Russian Venture Company is expected to allocate the government's share of investments into sector-oriented venture funds. The government will be responsible for 49% of the money accumulated in the sector-oriented venture funds, which will represent from 600 million rubles to 1.5 billion rubles depending on the fund.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly called for developing IT and high-tech industries and supported the establishment of the Russian Venture Company.

(26.7863 rubles - U.S. $1)

Russian Government Approves 30 Billion Ruble Program to Finance Nanotechnology

It seems that we have a nanowar on our hands!  Please see my earlier post on the same subject (Russia Opens New Nanotech Center).





Russian govt approves 30 bln ruble program to finance nanotechnology


Sep 07, 2006


The Russian government approved in general Thursday a 30 billion ruble program to finance the nanotechnology industry, Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov and Education and Science Minister Andrei Fursenko said following a regular government meeting.

The funds will be allocated mainly from the federal budget, Fursenko said.

The program has not yet been approved by the Economic Development and Trade Ministry and the Finance Ministry, he said.

Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref has objected to Fursenko's proposal to start the program in 2007 and proposed launching it in 2008 and completing it five years later, Fursenko said.

Meanwhile, the government has already allocated 3.9 billion rubles to finance nanotechnology in the draft federal budget for 2007, Gref has said, as cited by Fursenko.

In May Russian President Vladimir Putin called for investing in the nanotechnology industry in his state of the nation address.

(26.6714 rubles - U.S. $1)

Friday, August 18, 2006

Iranian President Calls for National Nanotechnology Organization

The following is an article that appeared on the English language website of Iran's "Islamic Republic News Agency." It appears that Iran also wants to get involved in the nanotechnology development, quite seriously; however, only time will tell if Iran indeed wants to develop this for constructive, or destructive purposes. The specifics of the Initiative were not disclosed. Would it not be nice to get a copy of the "20-Year Vision Plan"?

President calls for setting up of national nanotechnology organ

Tehran, July 15, IRNA

Iran-President-nanotechnology President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who chairs the High Council for Cultural Revolution on Saturday issued the strategy for development of nanotechnology in the country. He advised First Vice-President Parviz Davoudi to organize national headquarters for development of nanotechnology. "You are expected to adopt necessary strategies to give incentives for experts, scientific, research and industrial centers, and the state and private companies to go ahead with nanotechnology. "Considering the 20-Year Vision Plan for Economic, Social and Cultural Development (2005-2025) which has given preference to nanotechnology and the 10-year program for nanotechnology adopted by High Council for Cultural Revolution, all the government organizations are responsible to spend special amount of money envisaged in their annual budgets for this purpose," said the president. He urged the national headquarters to give report on progress of nano-technology to the High Council for Cultural Revolution every six-month in order to remove any possible obstacle.



Friday, August 11, 2006

Message in a Bottle

It seems that we have a Menace in a Bottle (as it is appropriately captioned in the following article that appeared in The Wall Street Journal on August 11, 2006). I would rather like to think of it as a “Message in a Bottle” that has been begging for our attention (to wake up and smell the after-shave lotion, water, shampoo, etc.!) to our defense, national-security, and homeland-security interests.

What bothers me is that many of us are swept up by the hysteria surrounding this terror plot and do not look at such underlying issues as religious divisions and ethnic factions. There have been numerous calls for profiling, relinquishing civil liberties, suspension of the U. S. Constitution (Bill of Rights and its Amendments). Well, let me posit something: we all believe that the would-be terrorists are muslims. To add fuel to the flames, the alleged terrorists in the latest terror plot were all British-born citizens of Pakistani descent. Unfortunately, we cannot profile based on names, etc. (Remember Richard Reid, John Walker Lindh, et al, who did not have an Islamic name! Having said that, I strongly believe that the next generation of Islamic fundamentalists and terrorists will be born, bred, and nurtured in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.) Extremists, fanatics, "fascists," and terrorists come from all walks of life and religions. We just need to invest in and develop both humint (human intelligence) and technologies to obviate such terror plots in the future.

It serves us well to remember the following quote: “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty, nor safety – Ben Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759 – US author, diplomat, inventor, physicist, politician, & printer (1706 - 1790).”

The following is an article that appeared in The Wall Street Journal on August 11, 2006:

Menace in a Bottle

Assembling a Bomb Onboard – Could Be as Simple as Mixing Chemicals and a Blasting Cap


Liquids may be the new box-cutters. Take an explosive chemical like nitroglycerin, hydrogen peroxide or hydrazine, all relatively easy to obtain. Pour it into a travel bottle of mouthwash or shampoo. Bring along a blasting cap like those found on a firecracker, about the size of a short pencil. Jury-rig a travel alarm clock or a cellphone to provide a charge strong enough to set off the blasting cap. Even a small explosion could bring down a jet aircraft. For all the advancements in aviation security since 9/11, the ingredients for deadly explosives could be easily carried through airport checkpoints and onto an airplane – until yesterday, that is. In the wake of the foiled plot to blow up as many as ten airliners, carriers in the U.S. and Europe suddenly banned shampoos, creams, gels, beverages and other liquids from carry-on luggage.

"This is a huge area of vulnerability," says Clark Kent Ervin, former inspector general at the Department of Homeland Security. Terrorists, he says, "are learning, adapting. They develop countermeasures to our countermeasures. We are reactive, and they are proactive."

Aviation officials have been worried about the danger of explosives for years, and the Transportation Security Administration has tried to shift its focus to address the threat. With all the screening for weapons in carry-on luggage, it may now be easier to blow up a plane than to hijack one.

After the 2001 terrorist attacks, security officials banned box-cutters, scissors and sharp objects that terrorists could use to hijack a plane. The TSA allowed small scissors and tools back in passenger cabins in late 2005 because they were spending too much time confiscating these items, and because it allowed airport security screeners to focus on the hunt for bombs. In a similar vein, after Richard Reid unsuccessfully tried to detonate a shoe bomb aboard a plane in late 2001, the U.S. Congress banned cigarette lighters from U.S. flights. Now, TSA officials complain that they are spending too much time confiscating 30,000 lighters a day. Matches are allowed, but lighters are not. Mr. Reid tried to use a match – not a lighter. To focus on explosives, the TSA has installed 93 "puffer" machines that can detect minute amounts of explosive residue on passengers in 36 airports. The machines also have been installed at London's Heathrow airport, and TSA is rolling them out elsewhere. The TSA also upped the number of bomb-sniffing dog teams. It added teams that watch passenger behavior and try to assess those who exhibit unusual behavior and facial movements. And it gave screeners special training on how to identify bomb-making components hidden in carry-on bags. A Transportation Security Administration official at Chicago's O'Hare airport (above) collects liquid and gel products that are now banned from carry-on luggage; a TSA security officer (left) at Dulles airport in Dulles, Va., alerts passengers to the new rules. Yet experts say the system remains highly vulnerable to plots like the one broken up yesterday in England. Most carry-on baggage passes through an X-ray machine that can easily detect a gun or a knife with its recognizable shape but can miss a bomb component disguised to look innocuous or a bottle of explosive liquid. "An ordinary X-ray will not be effective in examining a sealed bottle," says Cathal Flynn, former security chief at the Federal Aviation Administration. Screening mass numbers of bottles that come through checkpoints every day is not possible with equipment now available at the checkpoint, he says. All checked bags are screened for bombs, using CT scans, and those have been considered for carry-on bags, but they are typically very large and would eat up valuable square footage at the checkpoint.

The TSA is planning airport trials with an advanced scanner made by Rapiscan Systems, a unit of OSI Systems Inc., Hawthorne, Calif., which enhances the detection of explosive material. The scanner uses Quadrapole Resonance, a radio-frequency technology that can detect certain explosives in liquids, as well as plastic and sheet explosives, and explosives that might be distributed in packets throughout a piece of luggage and made to resemble innocuous items. The government expects to test the machines at three or four U.S. airports, but they are expensive – $160,000 each vs. about $35,000 for a basic X-ray. Another technology that hasn't been deployed by the government would specifically address the threat of liquid in bottles. In the mid-1990s, a small company called Quantum Magnetics, now owned by General Electric Co., began developing a machine that can detect liquid explosives inside bottles. It got some attention in the wake of a 1995 terrorist plot, but has yet to be rolled out in airports.

Dangerous chemicals are easily available. One chemical that has concerned authorities is triacetone triperoxide, known among them as the "Mother of Satan" of explosives because it is so unstable. It is used commonly among suicide bombers in the Middle East and has shown up in a growing number of domestic plots, including in Phoenix where a drug investigation turned into a terrorism probe when authorities found TATP in an apartment there. Experts say a small amount of explosive material could be devastating. "It may not take a huge blast," says Suraj Lakhani, a researcher on counterterrorism at Royal United Services Institute, a think tank that advises the British government on security issues. "If the person detonating [an explosive] sat near a window or near the fuselage, it could cause a big enough hole to bring the plane down."

Even liquor and matches could be used to start a fire onboard. But aviation and security experts say that as long as airline crews are able to quickly detect and fight a fire in the cabin, it would be difficult for a terrorist to spark a catastrophic blaze. Flight attendants are trained to use portable oxygen and hand-held fire extinguishers at the first sign of a fire, and passenger seats are made of material that only ignites at high temperatures.

Liquid explosives haven't been used much because they are notoriously difficult to transport and can be highly unstable. "The chances of [the explosives] going off while walking around the airport or even when leaving the house is pretty great," says John Chase, a security expert at Kroll Inc., a risk-consulting group and a unit of Marsh & McLennan Companies, Inc.

Yet terrorists have used explosive chemicals on planes before. The latest plot wasn't unimaginable; it reminded several aviation experts of an al Qaeda plot to bomb 11 U.S. passenger jets over the Pacific that was uncovered in the Philippines in 1995. Codenamed "Bojinka," the Serbo-Croatian word for "explosion," the plot also included the assassination of Pope John Paul II during a visit to Manila and crashing a plane into the Central Intelligence Agency's headquarters in Virginia. Police in Manila stumbled across the conspiracy when they responded to a fire at an apartment rented by Abdul Hakim Murad and Ramzi Yousef, who was later caught in Pakistan and convicted for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. They found bomb-making materials in a sink and a laptop computer full of coded information. The mastermind of the Bojinka plot – Khalid Shaikh Mohammed – later went on to orchestrate the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S. He was captured in Pakistan in 2003. In what was believed to be a test run for the Bojinka plot, Mr. Yousef used a liquid bomb on a flight from Manila to Tokyo. He used a stable form of liquid nitroglycerin carried in a bottle labeled as contact lens solution, using cotton as a stabilizer. The device was placed in a life-jacket pouch under a seat before he disembarked during a layover. The bomb exploded on the second leg, killing one passenger but the plane was able to land. At the time, some airports barred passengers from taking liquids onboard planes but relaxed the rules after several months.

Lynn Lunsford, Gary Fields, Jonathan Karp and Kathryn Kranhold contributed to this article.

Write to Laura Meckler at, Deborah Ball at and Cassell Bryan-Low at



Thursday, August 10, 2006

Alleged Terror Plot Involved Liquid Explosives, Official Says

I keep harping on the fact that we, the U. S., are blindly focusing only on nuclear weapons (vide my earlier post: “70-20-10” – U.S. Security Still Needs A Focus on Technology). This is exactly what I meant, when I posted my blog “70-20-10” – U.S. Security Still Needs A Focus on Technology on June 14, 2006.

I agree with most of the observations made by Randall Larsen, Jonathan Katz, and Mark Mills. However, some of the salient points must be elucidated. For instance, gamma rays from nuclear armaments could be shielded from detectors by using certain conventional materials that are readily available on the commercial market. (I will not elaborate on those, lest my comments be exploited.) A determined adversary, who has no regard for lives – including his/her own – is very difficult to vanquish easily. There is a dire need for forward-looking, proactive research and development in detection and neutralization of chemical, biological, and nuclear threats. I am afraid that we (the U. S.) are deeply concerned only about nuclear threats. However, there is a more sinister, emerging threat from biological and chemical weapons. To make matters worse, these weapons are unimaginably even more destructive; advances in nanotechnologies could be exploited by nation-states AND individuals without access to high-tech centrifuges, advanced pieces of equipment, etc. Nanomaterials and nanotechnologies are so ubiquitous and all-encompassing that they cover all applications. For instance, anthrax spores could be nanosized to significantly increase their lethality; chemical agents could be nanosized, or adsorbed on the surface of the nanomaterials, to effectuate the same results, if not more lethal. The applications are essentially limitless. I, for one, truly believe that we should spend adequate (certainly more than what is currently being done) resources on conventional processes and technologies and derive substantial detective and protective measures. Furthermore, today’s state-of the-art mass spectrometers deployed at the airports cannot detect most biological species, much less nanosized weapons-grade materials. Even ordinary materials could be turned into conflagrant, pyrophoric explosives. These nanomaterials cannot be detected as threats by current standards. I earnestly hope that the U. S. government would foresee and perceive the need for research into such seemingly mundane and conventional materials.

What is more telling is the fact the airport-based detectors (mass spectrometers – atomic-absorption spectrometers, and inductively-coupled plasma-mass spectrometers, gas chromatographs, and gas chromatograph-mass spectrometers, etc. – and others – radiation and scintillation detectors) cannot detect all the chemical explosives that we are currently dealing with, much less those in well-sealed containers. The crux of the problem is how we are going to prevent the conversion of seemingly ordinary chemicals (read: household cleaners, fertilizers, bleach, and the like) into deadly weapons by terrorists, who are moderately skilled at chemistry. Read the following quote from a “security consultant” based in London, U. K.:

Explosive liquids could get through airport security because security checks don't use sensors that would pick up its vapors. Furthermore, if the liquids were tightly sealed in a container, such a sensor wouldn't detect it. That would require airport security personnel to open each bottle of liquid in order to check for such chemicals. That would mean checking every single bottle of shampoo that anyone has ever taken from a hotel room,” said Bob Ayers, an associate fellow at Chatham House in London and vice president for homeland security for Selex Sensors & Airborne Systems of Italy, an arm of Finmeccanica SpA. “The best and optimal way to make sure no one carries something dangerous onto a plane is to make people fly naked and with no baggage,” he added.

Well, he forgets the power of human ingenuity and that necessity is the mother of all inventions! What about those “mules” in illicit drug trade, who carry a lot of drugs in their body cavities using latex bags (i. e., condoms and gloves)? Remember the old saying – “where there is a will, there is always a way”! It is just a cat-and-mouse game and one-upmanship, in which we are engaged. Nobody will have a clear-cut, perpetual lead at this game. If we think that we can prevent all terrorist activities, then we are only deluding ourselves! The sad truth is that we just cannot! I will be first one to admit that I am no genius; however, I can think of myriad ways to beat the current state-of-the-art detection and neutralization techniques. We must bear in mind that these detection and neutralization techniques are only devised by humans, who are immensely fallible! We must also remember that the results of these detection techniques are only as good as the individuals, who operate them! Well, I am not sure that one could expect a lowly TSA (or a TSA-contractor's) employee to be a proficient analytical chemist. Even trained analytical chemists have significant difficulty differentiating between various species of explosive components. Furthermore, there is a tremendous amount of time pressure on these screeners, and hence, numerous false-positives and negatives result! We must be vigilant and proactive at countermeasures. However, we cannot police the entire world, nor can we afford to trample on civil liberties of innocent public, for it will only antagonize them. I believe that the primary solution to terrorism will have to be political one – politicians and bureaucrats (not just the ones in Washington) must read and understand history and learn from it; that the separation of church and state is a must; that we must not support one faction (or a country, for that matter), or the other; that our policies are even-handed, fair, and just, have a long-term view, and not for the sake of expediency.

I still very strongly advocate the following (these action items are work in progress and may be modified as further refinements are made):

  • Invest in the biological and chemical weapons technology development, detection, and neutralization.

  • Form an International Technology Working Group – ITWG – perhaps, under the U. N. umbrella. (However, I do not have much faith in the U. N's ability to police the spread of anything, much less a technology that is already widespread. This is, perhaps, because of our own doing. Responsibility without authority does not mean anything!)

  • The ITWG must comprise personnel from industry, academia, intelligence community, and armed services from across the globe.

  • Invest in nanotechnology and nanomaterials, for these would be the deadliest future weapons platform.

  • Screen and limit publicly available information. (This may be very difficult, if not impossible, because the proverbial cat is already out of the bag and playing gleefully.) It is instructive to remember that Ramzi Yousef (mastermind of 1993 WTC bombing) was allegedly employed at Allied-Signal – now Honeywell – in Morristown, NJ, learning all the tricks of the trade!

  • Invest in the education of our children. (See What innovation advantage? Chinese and Indian companies aren't leaving design to the North Americans, Russia opens new nanotech center, Virus Fuels a Battery Breakthrough, and Business Round Table Discussion and Recommendations.)

  • Bottom line is that we must very quickly reprioritize our goals (and act on, of course) to include education of our citizens; investment in technology (regardless of religious convictions; read: President Bush's veto of the Stem Cell Bill); invest in a strong defense (read: do not fight other people's wars); learn from other countries and adapt to the challenge; and above all acquire, invest in, and nurture talent from anywhere in the world (read: legal immigration).

The following article appeared in August 10, 2006 edition of the Wall Street Journal:

Alleged Terror Plot Involved Liquid Explosives, Official Says


August 10, 2006 12:07 p.m.

LONDON – The alleged plot to bring down several trans-Atlantic flights involving liquid explosives highlights a vulnerable area in airline travel, despite efforts since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to strengthen security. Security experts say there are a number of chemicals that could potentially be used in such a bomb, including nitroglycerin, hydrogen peroxide or hydrazine.

The attraction for terrorists is that liquid explosives can be hard to detect, says Peter Hurry, an explosion specialist at risk consultant Kroll Inc. and a former British army bomb-disposal expert. Explosive liquids could get through airport security because security checks don’t use sensors that would pick up its vapors. Furthermore, if the liquids were tightly sealed in a container, such a sensor wouldn’t detect it. That would require airport security personnel to open each bottle of liquid in order to check for such chemicals.

“That would mean checking every single bottle of shampoo that anyone has ever taken from a hotel room,” said Bob Ayers, an associate fellow at Chatham House in London and vice president for homeland security for Selex Sensors & Airborne Systems of Italy, an arm of Finmeccanica SpA. “The best and optimal way to make sure no one carries something dangerous onto a plane is to make people fly naked and with no baggage,” he added.  Authorities in Britain responded yesterday by moving closer to those draconian measures, banning almost all hand-carried items on planes departing from British airports. Elsewhere, airline passengers were required to give up any liquids – such as beverages, hair gels and lotions – before boarding.

A terrorist could carry a container of liquid explosive onto a plane and then detonate it using the electric current from a simple device, such as a travel alarm clock or a cellphone, to detonate the container. However, the reason that liquid explosives haven’t been used more often is because they are tricky to store, difficult to transport and can be highly unstable.

“The people who are going to carry it onto a plane aren’t too concerned with blowing themselves up, but it might before they even get it to the plane,” Mr. Ayers said.

This latest plot appears to bear some similarities to an al Qaeda plot to bomb 11 U.S. passenger jets over the Pacific that was uncovered in the Philippines in 1995. Code-named “Bojinka” – the Serbo-Croatian word for “explosion” – the plot also included the assassination of Pope John Paul II during a visit to Manila and crashing a plane into the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s headquarters in Virginia.

Police in Manila stumbled across the conspiracy when they responded to a fire at an apartment rented by Abdul Hakim Murad and Ramzi Yousef, who was later caught in Pakistan and convicted for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. They found bomb-making materials in a sink and a laptop computer full of coded information. The mastermind of the Bojinka plot – Khalid Shaikh Mohammed – later went on to orchestrate the Sept. 11 attacks in the U.S. He was captured in Pakistan in 2003.

“The parallels are quite striking between what [Mr. Yousef] did then and what is happening now,” said Peter Neumann, director for the center for defense studies at King’s College in London. The masterminds of the Bojinka plot had planned to hide the batteries needed to detonate the liquid bombs in the heels of their shoes, Mr. Neumann said. It is likely for that reason that passengers in Britain yesterday were advised that no electrical or battery-powered items including laptops and mobile phones could be carried into the aircraft cabin.

“It may not take a huge blast,” said Suraj Lakhani, a researcher on counterterrorism at Royal United Services Institute, a think tank that advises the British government on security issues. “If the person detonating it sat near a window or near the fuselage, it could cause a big enough hole to bring the plane down.”

–James Hookway contributed to this article Write to Deborah Ball at and Cassell Bryan-Low at