The fake bomb squad

The evolution of IEDs has far outpaced that of fakes—and that’s a problem for law enforcement


The fake bomb squadAirports have spent millions installing the latest security gadgets, from industrial X-ray machines that peek inside checked luggage to full-body scanners that leave nothing to the imagination. But as the technology becomes more sophisticated, one crucial thing remains in short supply: fake bombs.

In order to test every advancement—and properly teach airport personnel how to use it—researchers need to replicate the chemical concoctions that terrorists may be hiding in their suitcases (or underwear). “The simulants must have the same combination of materials without being explosive: same atomic number, same density, same colour, sometimes even the same smell,” says Bruce Koffler, director of Securesearch Inc., a Canadian company that supplies replicas. “You can’t use live explosives in a classroom, especially the homemade types, because they can detonate without warning.”

The problem, though, is that the popularity of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) has far outpaced the market on fakes. There are so many recipes—and new ones being devloped all the time—that it’s hard to know whether the latest X-ray will spot each variation. In response, the military’s research arm has launched an “X-Ray Simulant Project” and is looking for a contractor to deliver “rapid design and prototyping” of IED replicas. “The availability of suitable, non-hazardous, non-toxic, explosive simulants is of concern when assessing the potential utility of [explosive] detection systems,” the tender reads. “Lack of simulants limits the training opportunities, and ultimately the detection probability, of security personnel using systems in the field.”

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The fake bomb squad

  1. Bruce is absolutely correct.

    I just returned from a winter vacation, and having passed thru airport security screening in a number of foreign locations, and having served in the bomb disposal field for almost 30 years, I firmly believe that airport security [and security in general] needs to take a step back and start with a clean sheet of paper for new screening procedures.

    They are simply reacting to whatever IED was last used, 'underwear bomb', 'shoe bomb' etc. In one airport I removed my belt buckle, that sufficed, but at the next location I had to remove the belt itself. Carrying of gels, liquids, aerosols in carryon bags is a whole problem in itself.

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