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Is this what was supposed to happen before the Sept. 21st put options ran out?
September 8, 2007 7:20 AM   Subscribe

On Wednesday Sept. 5th, German police stopped a major terrorist attack. The planned bomb consisted of 730 kilogramms of hydrogen peroxide to be mixed with other chemicals. The explosive power would have been equivalent to 550 kilogramms of TNT. The IHT reports the possible targets were the Ramstein US Air Force Air Base and Frankfurt International Airport. The suspects had been under observation for 10 months, the chemicals had been clandestinely rendered harmless by German authorities. What caused the final arrest? Two things: 1) they had just recieved a call from north Pakistan urgently ordering them to follow through within 14 days. 2) a local village policeman blew the surveillance cover by literally telling them at a routine road stop that they were on a watch-list. German intelligence immediately knew the policeman had blown their cover. How? They had bugged the car [Spiegel, rough translation].

Notable:

Making a bomb out of hydrogen peroxide is school chemistry class knowledge. In combination with acetone and acid it becomes explosive and is commonly referred to as TATP or also, due to its instability, as the Mother of Satan. Hydrogen peroxide is the fluid that the airlines are scared of.



The Germans recieved the decisive tips that lead to observation of the suspects from American authorities.
Even during the G-8 June 2007 meetings in Heiligendamm President Bush asked Chancellor Angela Merkel how
"Operation Alberich" was proceeding [Spiegel, rough translation].



The terrorists were fully aware that they were under surveillance. Once one of them stepped out of the car at a red light and calmly walked up to the car following them and slit their tires. [see the previous Spiegel-links]



Oh and concerning the Sept. 21st put options: the answer was posted by patricio here. There is no connection, this practice, referred to as a box trade, is a method of borrowing without a bank as a middleman.
posted by umop-apisdn (45 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ok, so these guys were under surveillance for 10 months. Their chemicals had been rendered harmless. Their freakin' car was bugged for chrissakes. How, exactly, were we in danger?

You know, if we allow the terrorists to scare the crap out of us, even when we totally defuse their plots, they're still succeeding in terrorizing us.
posted by Afroblanco at 7:25 AM on September 8, 2007 [6 favorites]


Again and again, terrorism is prevented by good police work, rather than military action.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 7:26 AM on September 8, 2007 [18 favorites]


Nice post which shows the true potential of Metafilter.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:26 AM on September 8, 2007 [2 favorites]


Note to admin concerning the [more inside] option while posting:
I thought the empty lines would render as <p>'s, that's what the preview showed at least... maybe you could insert some <br>'s to make it more readable...? thanks!

posted by umop-apisdn at 7:27 AM on September 8, 2007


good post.
posted by destro at 7:37 AM on September 8, 2007


Yeah, I agree. Good post. Terrorist plots are stopped by cops, not soldiers.
posted by absalom at 7:40 AM on September 8, 2007 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I'm starting to think that's going to fool a lot of people. Fixed it for you this time, but requiring explicit <br> tags is how the AskMe [mi] field has always worked as well—though I'm not sure that's documented anywhere. Heh.
posted by cortex at 7:41 AM on September 8, 2007


It's about time someone turned this into something I could follow. Thanks. And the link on the put options was gilding the lily. I haven't been able to find anything on that that wasn't a load of conjecture and fantasist nonsense.
posted by docpops at 7:45 AM on September 8, 2007


"And now you know…the rest of the story."

This post is like a Paul Harvey episode, and I mean that in a good way. Nice job, and very interesting back story to all this.
posted by caddis at 7:49 AM on September 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


Sweet, go Germany! See what happens when you let competent people run stuff, instead of Brownies.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:49 AM on September 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


That google translation is pretty hilarious.
posted by DenOfSizer at 7:52 AM on September 8, 2007


This is an aside. That US base has some 35 thousand personnel, and it is a city within a country. Why are American taxpayers shelling out this sort of money to make a city in Germany and what is the purpose of its being there? Who is the enemy we are now defending Germany against? and what then is the point of NATO?
posted by Postroad at 7:54 AM on September 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


The al-Qaida network is thought to have re-established a presence in recent months - including training camps - in northwest Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan.

If the USA had stayed in Afghanistan and fought the good war there, we'd have long ago (a) eliminated AQ; (b) eliminated Taliban; (c) established a functioning democracy in a key mid-East country.

Mind, the war profiteers wouldn't have liked any of that. Instability is their bread and butter.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:57 AM on September 8, 2007 [4 favorites]


550 kg is about the size of five fat people. In other words, car bomb sized. Not saying it wouldn't do some damage, just not on the order of a major terror attack. More on the order of what happens ten times a day in Iraq.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 7:58 AM on September 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


The terrorists were fully aware that they were under surveillance.

'So, you the brains of this outift, or is he?'
'Tell ya the truth, I don't think this is a brains kind of operation.' source
posted by slimepuppy at 7:58 AM on September 8, 2007


If the USA had stayed in Afghanistan and fought the good war there, we'd have long ago (a) eliminated AQ; (b) eliminated Taliban; (c) established a functioning democracy in a key mid-East country.


That scenario seems a bit too rosy to me, but perhaps we would have at least eliminated Bin Laden and the rest of al Qaeda's upper echelon.
posted by caddis at 8:02 AM on September 8, 2007


Wait, I don't understand.

How could Germany possibly defeat a terrorist plot, without using warrantless searches and extralegal detention and extraordinary rendition and torture?

I mean, how is it possible to prevent terrorism without giving up those quaint civil liberties?
posted by orthogonality at 8:04 AM on September 8, 2007 [17 favorites]


Again and again, terrorism is prevented by good police work, rather than military action.

...or new legislature.
posted by sidereal at 8:05 AM on September 8, 2007 [2 favorites]


Postroad, our bases in Germany are logistical and support centers that allow us to more easily carry out the Muslim Pacification Campaigns. It also keeps our fingers in the heart of what is currently one of the two entities that are anywhere close to the economic strength of the United States, the EU. Furthermore, the military machine, once it has established a foothold somewhere, is very, very reticent to give it up.

Not saying that this is a good thing, but that's why.
posted by moonbiter at 8:06 AM on September 8, 2007


I wanted to add some more anecdotal cloak-and-dagger points concerning the terrorists fully knowing their were under surveillance, but I couldn't find any online articles to backup what I have read in print sofar...

Others things they had done to identify or shake off surveillance:
• take odd walks around the housing block,
• literally in the last second jump out a train when it was leaving, run across multiple train tracks and jump into another train.

This train jumping behavior fits perfectly to the recent request of Germany's Interior Minister Schäuble requesting that more surveillance cameras be installed at (you guessed it) train stations.

cortex: thanks for the changes
posted by umop-apisdn at 8:10 AM on September 8, 2007


That google translation is pretty hilarious.

"eine Disco mit amerikanischen Schlampen"

means

"a disco with American sluts."

They hate us for our sluts!
posted by moonbiter at 8:16 AM on September 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


Again and again, terrorism is prevented by good police work, rather than military action.

.. or wholesale datamining of the population
posted by DreamerFi at 8:17 AM on September 8, 2007 [2 favorites]


I mean, how is it possible to prevent terrorism without giving up those quaint civil liberties?

Germany doesn't necessarily respect civil liberties as much as you might think. Hopefully someone with more information about this will chime in, but in the 70s they passed a bunch of laws against the Baader-Meinhof terrorists that have never been taken off the books and that give them lots of leeway. There is a whole political office called Verfassungsshutz, "Protection of the Constitution", that infiltrates and spies on right-wing and left-wing groups, including not just Nazis, anarchists and Marxists but, until recently at least, the Green Party. Recently they arrested a German sociologist, Andrej Holm, for about a month, as far as I can tell because he was somewhat left-wing and used the word "gentrification" a lot in his writing, and because there's some terrorist group that also uses the word "genrification". I'm pretty sure they also ransacked his apartment without warrant, and just before the G-8 summit they arrested all kinds of left-wing students and raided apartments with no real justification other than their leftist politican opinions.

I know nothing about this particular case here, but while civil liberties are upheld in practice much more than in America, the government does retain the option of doing some pretty questionable shit in the name of protecting the constitution.
posted by creasy boy at 8:28 AM on September 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


creasy boy: this is a point on which I'm very interested also. In America we don't really have a dialogue about which expanded police powers would be helpful, and how they should be overseen to contain abuse. It's Terrist! anything-goes on one side and strict 4th amendment people on the other.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 8:48 AM on September 8, 2007


Hydrogen peroxide is the fluid that the airlines are scared of.

Airlines are stupid.

Low grade Hydrogen Peroxide is harmless. High grade peroxide is impossible to carry in ad-hoc containers. You need very carefully built and passivated containers, or the H2O2 quickly reacts with the container and does bad things to you.

You are *NOT* mixing a peroxide based explosive on an airplane in the lav. At worst, you will coat yourself in peroxide and damage the lav.

Once again: A useful explosive creation reaction is one that runs to completion, then detonates. Ideally, only when triggered, but for a terrorist, if it detonates right after the reaction is finished, that's okay. When the peroxide overheats on reaction with the non-passivated metal of the sink, bad things will happen in the sink -- but they won't blow the plane out of the sky. They probably will kill the idiot trying to do this. Making Nitroglycerin in the lav will result in a very, very, very small amount of nitro detonating, spraying the idiot with hot nitric acid.

In combination with acetone and acid it becomes explosive and is commonly referred to as TATP

I encourage proto-terrorists to mix up as much TATP as possible. Indeed, if I were the police, I'd make sure the ingredients were easily available. The only thing I'd want them trying to make more than TATP is Nitroglycerin.

In either case, finding the proto-terrorists would be easy. Look for the smoking holes with bits of terrorist around them. Admittedly, this can be hard on the neighborhood.

~1300kg of TATP? (750kg H2O2 + acetone, the acid is just a catalyst.) Good luck making that. Good luck loading into a truck. If, somehow, you manage that, good luck with the first pothole.

There are explosives I'm worried about. C-4. RDX. ANFO. Good old TNT. These are all explosives that can easily be transported to a given spot, then reliably detonanted in that same spot.

TATP? TATP isn't so much an explosive as it is an idiot filter. We gave up on Nitro when Dynamite came along, because Nitro killed too many people. TATP was *never* useful. It's either wet, which means it barely reacts, or it's dry, which means it detonates without warning.

Part of me honestly thinks that the reason the police keep calling this stuff TATP is that they want the bad guys trying to make that, and not trying to make explosives that detonate only when told.
posted by eriko at 8:49 AM on September 8, 2007 [37 favorites]


Oh, as to this plot? I wish I could believe that the plot was really happening, but frankly, I don't. The only evidence is what the authorities are saying, and frankly, they have a *very* bad track record of telling me anything near the truth.

I find it *fascinating* that in the first week of September, just before the Petraeus report, in the face of increasing belligerance towards Iran, that just at this time, suddenly, we get a (gasp) BOMB PLOT and a (gasp) OSAMA BIN LADEN VIDEO!!!

The fact that we've seen this card played multiple times leads me to have real problem thinking this was a threat.
posted by eriko at 8:55 AM on September 8, 2007 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: spraying the idiot with hot nitric acid.
posted by mistersquid at 9:49 AM on September 8, 2007 [2 favorites]


requiring explicit <br> tags

...is a bad idea. Nobody's ever going to do it. Fix, plz!

posted by languagehat at 9:56 AM on September 8, 2007


WaPo article July 5th, 2007
"The risky side of TATP is that it is highly unstable. A spark or light friction can detonate the explosive, making it extraordinarily difficult to handle. Experts and police said there have been numerous cases in which suspected terrorists -- as well as foolhardy amateur chemists -- have set off accidental explosions, resulting in death or severe injuries.

"You need to concentrate the chemicals," said Hans J. Michels, a professor of chemical engineering at Imperial College in London. "It's a filthy job and it's dangerous, but it can be done."

Despite the dangers, al-Qaeda cells have used peroxide-based explosives in more than a dozen plots in the past decade, including the July 7 and 21, 2005, London incidents, as well as attacks in Casablanca, Istanbul and the Indonesian island of Bali, according to counterterrorism officials. Danish police also discovered TATP in September during the arrest of seven terrorism suspects in Odense."


It may be an idiot filter, but once someone decides they want to be a terrorist, I think the filter's results are pretty much guaranteed.
posted by superchris at 10:30 AM on September 8, 2007


TATP isn't so much an explosive as it is an idiot filter.

You have no idea how much that made me smile. It's a perfect description.

caddis : That scenario seems a bit too rosy to me,

I don't know, I think I agree with fff. We had damn near world-wide approval with regard to our going into Afghanistan. We could have leveraged that and done a lot of good; after we removed the Taliban, and rolled back thirty years of oppression, we could have taken all the money we've spent in Iraq, and used it to improve their infrastructure. Built schools, roads, and anything else that would make the Afghani people's lives better.

With the universal support we had, we could have turned Afghanistan into a jewel in the middle east. That whole 'greeted as liberators' thing, but for real.

That would have been nice.
posted by quin at 10:46 AM on September 8, 2007 [6 favorites]


You have no idea how much that made me smile.

The fundamental difference between smart people and stupid people is smart people get to do stupid things more than once.
posted by eriko at 11:24 AM on September 8, 2007 [11 favorites]


Eriko is my favorite mefite of the week. I'm not annoyed because confiscating grandma's water bottle slows down the security checks at the airport, I'm annoyed because the entire liquid bomb threat is fucking retarded.
posted by slimepuppy at 12:02 PM on September 8, 2007


I'm annoyed because the entire liquid bomb threat is fucking retarded.

Exactly.

Goal: Your goal is to sow terror, and cause at least $1 billion USD in economic loss.

Constraint: You have $1000 USD to spend. You have no assistants. You don't want to get caught.

Show how you accomplish this.

Hint: ATL or DEN.
posted by eriko at 12:40 PM on September 8, 2007


(err, you don't want to get caught *before* the act. You probably won't care afterwards.)
posted by eriko at 12:41 PM on September 8, 2007


Metafilter: Idiotfilter.

Someone had to say it, right?

I'm with eriko. This is bullshit. The Osama tape is bullshit. The whole thing is a George Bush Production to sell Petraeus' bullshit.
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:11 PM on September 8, 2007


caddis, go do a quick bit of reading about what was accomplished in Afghanistan. A whole helluva lot of good was done and there was light at the end of the tunnel.

Then compare to what's going on today. It's enough to make you cry.

The Taliban was essentially gone: they had no power and were very much on the run. Now they're controlling the country again. People were participating in elections; now there's doubt about their having another opportunity. Opium production was almost eliminated, and more useful crops were being planted; now they're breaking records for drug production. Women and girls were starting to get education and health care; now the Taliban is back and has eliminated such things.

Afghanistan was this close to being a full-out success that would have united the world in bringing change to these corrupt, murdering regimes. Charged up with success, we'd have had international agreements to deal with places like Darfut next. Nothing breeds success like success: it would have snowballed.

Mark my words: history is going to look back at the first decade of this century and see that we had an opportunity to kick-start a new, peaceful, prosperous world... and that it was thrown away, because obscenely wealthy shitheads were greedy for money, power, and family legacy.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:17 PM on September 8, 2007 [3 favorites]


Afghanistan was this close to being a full-out success

pure fantasy

Afghanistan is a backwards tribal area. There really has never been a strong central government, other than the Taliban. The Taliban just faded into the shadows and retreated into Pakistan. We empowered a bunch of local tribal leaders etc. but they were not interested in a national government, just their own thing. Bringing national stability to a country like this is probably beyond the powers of any first world country. I would like to think that you are right that if we dumped the multiple billions into their economy that we spent on the Iraq war that it might have actually happened, and that might be true, but politically you could never make that happen. War costs are seen as a necessity, and thus get easy funding despite the many critics. Social programs are the same way. The diehard conservatives would love to pull that money, but it would be political suicide, so they vote them in. Gifts of aid to allies are never "necessary" and so always have lots of resistance.

The same argument can be made for Iraq. One of my good friends really thinks we should just pull out now, not gradually, but now. On the way out we wish them luck and promise that when they stabilize we will give them financial aid equivalent to our current war effort for several years. A very logical plan doomed to political death. (He went to Harvard, poor bastard.)
posted by caddis at 4:31 PM on September 8, 2007


I'm annoyed because the entire liquid bomb threat is fucking retarded.

That is something that truly annoys me as well. I mean, banning certain substances, that I can understand, but banning a state of matter?! Every time I have to take a flight I toy with the idea of putting a bottle of water into the freezer the day before and then trying to board the plane with a bottle full of ice.

And never mind that any terrorist with one or two working braincells wouldn't bother with airplanes anyway, and do a Madrid instead.
posted by Skeptic at 4:59 PM on September 8, 2007


Well, I disagree, caddis.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:53 PM on September 8, 2007


People seem to be talking almost like we're not still in Afghanistan. The work there continues, and is still widely approved of.

(I say 'we' because even my little corner of the world has sent personnel there - and we won't touch Iraq with a barge pole.)
posted by The Monkey at 10:47 PM on September 8, 2007


730 kilograms of hydrogen peroxide

I'm sad they didn't find an army of bleached blonds, their roots darkening, awaiting their next shipment.
posted by pracowity at 6:18 AM on September 9, 2007


The USA is barely in Afghanistan. All the progress that was made has been lost. Our [Canadian] troops are now battling to take over the exact same territory all over again. We are suffering casualties a full order of magnitude worse these past couple years. And this is almost solely due to the US troops being pulled out of a good fight, and put into a bogus occupation of Iraq.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:14 AM on September 9, 2007


Yeah, I agree. Good post. Terrorist plots are stopped by cops, not soldiers.

There's a whole lot of Catholics in Northern Ireland who'd disagree with you there.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:29 PM on September 9, 2007


Challenges mount in Afghanistan, September 4, 2007:
Insurgent violence in Afghanistan is at its highest level since U.S. forces invaded the country in 2001...The number of NATO troops has doubled over the past year, but that was largely because several thousand U.S. forces already in Afghanistan were transferred to NATO command.
Afghan forces suffer setbacks as Taliban adapt, September 1, 2007:
Over the past six weeks, the Taliban have driven government forces out of roughly half of a strategic area in southern Afghanistan that U.S. and NATO officials declared a success story last fall in their campaign to clear out insurgents and make way for development programs...NATO and Afghan army soldiers can push the Taliban out of rural areas, but the Afghan police are too weak to hold the territory after they withdraw. At the same time, the Taliban are unable to take large towns and have generally mounted fewer suicide bomb attacks in southern cities than last summer... NATO and U.S. casualty rates are up by about 20 percent this year, to 161.
Taliban Raise Poppy Production to a Record Again [TimesSelect link], September 4, 2007:
Afghanistan produced record levels of opium in 2007 for the second straight year, led by a staggering 45 percent increase in the Taliban stronghold of Helmand Province...While the report found that opium production dropped in northern Afghanistan, Western officials familiar with the assessment said, cultivation rose in the south, where Taliban insurgents urge farmers to grow poppies.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:34 PM on September 9, 2007


Metafilter: isn't so much an explosive as it is an idiot filter.

I tried out the long version for size. Not sure what I think about it. Even stared at it a while.

Either way, the "TATP isn't so much an explosive as it is an idiot filter." is one of nature's perfect sentences. Thank you for typing it. Favorited!
posted by Cathedral at 6:23 PM on September 9, 2007


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