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"A silly mistake" with explosives on a plane.
January 7, 2010 10:24 AM   Subscribe

Last weekend, Slovakian border police placed explosive in the bags of a passenger, Stefan Gonda, as he departed for his home in Ireland. The aim was to train dogs to detect explosives but an undetected and unretrieved package of RDX (the base for a number of military explosives) flew with the unaware Mr. Gonda, who was later arrested by police in Dublin under the Offences Against the State Act.

Slovakia has since apologized but holds the position that Irish police overreacted. Not everyone agrees. The police official who oversaw the operation. has resigned. In other news, plastic explosives that slipped past bomb-sniffing dogs in France in 2004 have still not turned up.

The timeline of events.
posted by ricochet biscuit (49 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
I blame the 1993 dissolution.

Clearly, the right Czechs weren't in place to make sure this didn't happen.

I'll get my coat.
posted by MuffinMan at 10:33 AM on January 7, 2010 [46 favorites]


The important question now is who to sue.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:38 AM on January 7, 2010


You probably want to sue Slovenia.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 10:45 AM on January 7, 2010


I thought it was Slovakia?
posted by nooneyouknow at 11:00 AM on January 7, 2010 [2 favorites]



You probably want to sue Slovenia.


Just passing the blame ball around?
posted by Carillon at 11:07 AM on January 7, 2010


One man's Slovenia is another man's Slovakia.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:09 AM on January 7, 2010


we don't need a war on terror as much as we need a war on stupidity
posted by pyramid termite at 11:11 AM on January 7, 2010 [6 favorites]


I'm sure it seemed really clever when they first thought of it.
posted by rusty at 11:15 AM on January 7, 2010


Since when is it illegal to own and carry explosives in the Republic of Ireland? He should have just told the guards he was going on to Derry.
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:18 AM on January 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


''I'm not sure what they were thinking, using an unknowing civilian rather than an undercover security official.''
That's the scariest part of the article for me. How easily could this innocent passenger have been killed while being arrested? From the arresting police's perspective, he's a terrorist with a bomb.
posted by jsonic at 11:27 AM on January 7, 2010 [4 favorites]


Is this where I place my "Czech is in the gaol" joke?
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:27 AM on January 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is this where I place my "Czech is in the gaol" joke?

No. Czech's canceled.
posted by jquinby at 11:29 AM on January 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


I routinely got the 'mechanical nose' treatment at LGA, where security wiped my gear with a rag and submitted the cloth to a machine to check for semtex crumbs and whatnot. I figured my red hair was the reason I got 'random' checks each time I flew to Chicago, but now I understand it was because Chicagoland must have a lot of Slovaks.

I would really be quite shaken if I'd gotten the Gonda treatment along the way. I supposed I'd have also run afoul of blasphemy laws while sorting it all out in my head, sobbing.
posted by drowsy at 11:31 AM on January 7, 2010


He should have just told the guards he was going on to Derry.

"I swear guys, I'm just going to blow up the evil clown running around in the sewers!!"
posted by mannequito at 11:34 AM on January 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Three dogs at PHL just were decertified because they failed their smell re-test. Who knew they got re-tested?

My dog has no nose. How does he smell? Awful. Thanks, I'll be here all week.
posted by fixedgear at 11:34 AM on January 7, 2010


''I'm not sure what they were thinking, using an unknowing civilian rather than an undercover security official.''

That's the scariest part of the article for me. How easily could this innocent passenger have been killed while being arrested? From the arresting police's perspective, he's a terrorist with a bomb.


Indeed, and one can at least be thankful that the Slocak cops ddn't cover it up.

I can envision an alternative scenario where Gonda lands, goes to his house in Dublin, and the police are so embarrassed they kind of push all this under the table. He puts his suitcase in the closet. Gets it out six months later to fly to New York. Of course customs in NY or security at Dublin find the explosives, he is in some seriously deep shit and the cops by then would've forgotten, or decided that since they covered it up, they're already in too deep so they'll keep covering it up, but sorry about that poor guy in Gitmo or worse now.
posted by xetere at 11:37 AM on January 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


um, I meant Slovak cops of course - paragons of integrity above reproach, Slocak cops, alas, have a terrible track record in this sort of stuff.
posted by xetere at 11:39 AM on January 7, 2010


Surprise! Nothing says welcome home from vacation or business quite like a strip search, full body cavity search, and being provided with the opprotuntity to have a realistic panic attack centered on images of gitmo starring you....
posted by Nanukthedog at 11:46 AM on January 7, 2010


The pilot decided the explosives posed no safety risk and he departed for Dublin.

Glad to hear that they've added explosives training to flight school curricula.

So I assume the announcement went like this?

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Captain. I've been informed that plastic explosives were loaded onto the aircraft. But since they pose no safety risk, we'll be proceeding on schedule. So sit back, relax, and enjoy your flight.

No? You mean the passengers weren't informed that their plane was loaded with plastic fucking explosives?

Honest, I'm not litigious by nature, but this makes me want to sue every single organization involved in this clusterfuck into bankruptcy.
posted by Joe Beese at 11:52 AM on January 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Since when is it illegal to own and carry explosives in the Republic of Ireland?

He wasn't in the proper line.
posted by yerfatma at 11:58 AM on January 7, 2010


we don't need a war on terror as much as we need a war on stupidity
posted by pyramid termite at 12:11 PM on January 7


Amen.
posted by TooFewShoes at 12:00 PM on January 7, 2010


Before reading the "overreacted" link, I'd assumed he was caught entering Ireland, in which case arresting him would have made perfect sense. All they would have known was, here's a guy entering the country with explosives.

But that's not what happened. Not only were they not detected leaving Slovakia, they weren't detected entering Ireland either. The guy took his bag home, unpacked, and still didn't find the explosives. Four whole days go by before the Slovak authorities call up the Irish and tell them what they did. Then the Gardai go and arrest the guy.

So I'd say the Gardai were indeed overreacting rather badly. They didn't come across a surprised guy apparently smuggling explosives into the country. They were told of the whole thing by the one party that actually understood what was going on, and presumably would have mentioned that the passenger had no idea these explosives even existed. They have every right to be pissed at the Slovaks - it's astonishingly stupid that these various authorities keep using the actual luggage of innocent passengers for these tests - but they did indeed overreact rather pointlessly in arresting the guy when they should have already known he was in no way involved.
posted by Naberius at 12:03 PM on January 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


how much damage would 96 grams of rdx do?
posted by empath at 12:08 PM on January 7, 2010


If your training dogs, why would you use a signifigant ammount of explosive? If I was doing something like this I'd make a bunch of little plastic tubes, about the size of a pen cap containing a miniscule amount of explosive (just enough for the dog to get a whiff), a RFID tag (so when one gets as far as the metal detector you know that the dog missed one) and clearly labeled "Property of Slovakian Ministry of Looking Vaguely Secure".

Actually, A hundered or so clearly labeled dummy containers moving around the air transport grid, each containing about a fire crackers worth of one of the more stable explosives would probably be better training that what anyone is doing right now.

(Of course no one is going to go for that because on the on hand there will be failures and that will make them look bad and on the other, "OMG - you want to put explosives on the plane!")
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:12 PM on January 7, 2010


It is believed that Lockerbie involved 132 oz of Semtex, so that's 360g.

It's not super easy to set off (which is desireable for everyone who isn't a suicide bomber) but if you were standing next to it when it went off, I suspect it would suck to be you.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:15 PM on January 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


So I'd say the Gardai were indeed overreacting rather badly. They didn't come across a surprised guy apparently smuggling explosives into the country. They were told of the whole thing by the one party that actually understood what was going on, and presumably would have mentioned that the passenger had no idea these explosives even existed. They have every right to be pissed at the Slovaks - it's astonishingly stupid that these various authorities keep using the actual luggage of innocent passengers for these tests - but they did indeed overreact rather pointlessly in arresting the guy when they should have already known he was in no way involved.

Standard operating procedure for people in possession of explosives in Ireland is to be arrested and questioned. It's not the end of the world to be questioned by the Gardaí you know. It's not the LAPD we're talking about here.

The Slovak testing procedure was idiotic, and the normal procedure for intra-Europe flights is for the vast majority of security checks to be conducted at the departure airport. Most bags don't get checked on arrival.

The amusing/worrying thing was that the Slovaks claim that they knew it had been found out and sent a telex message to the baggage handlers at Dublin airport rather than calling up the Gardaí or Dublin Aviation Authority.

He's also really lucky that he wasn't a muslim flying into the UK or US.
posted by knapah at 12:23 PM on January 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


The amount of breathless scaredycat-ism in the NY Times article (and this thread) is suffocating me.

Without a detonator, that RDX isn't going to explode, and without explosives in his bag, a spurious ETD detection wouldn't have landed the poor fellow on a watch list. There are several common substances that will cause an ETD machine to alarm, you know, like fertilizer. Which a lot of us use in our gardens.

My point being that it would be at worst inconvenient for the passenger should his bag retain traces of RDX. Since the machines aren't that specific as to tell you exactly what they've detected, a thorough search of the person and their belongings should be conducted if the machine alarms, but that should be the end of it.

Don't get me wrong, this is a bunch of stupidity on the part of the Slovaks, but there's no need for "OMFG, the PLANE could have FALLEN out of the SKY!!!#@$@#$!!!!1!!" and all that.

It's sad that the Irish fellow who took the call from the Slovaks to ask them to please collect and return these explosives didn't listen to the entire conversation and only heard the "man with explosives" part.
posted by wierdo at 12:36 PM on January 7, 2010


You mean the passengers weren't informed that their plane was loaded with plastic fucking explosives?

Just for grins, I'd like to see how people would react if he announced that the plane was carrying several hundred pounds of liquid explosive! (Because I suspect that most of the passengers would freak out first and realized that's what made the engines go later.)
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 12:43 PM on January 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


From the "not everyone agrees" link:

A smaller amount – 80 grammes – of PETN transported into US airspace, on Christmas Day caused President Barack Obama to break his Christmas holidays in Hawaii to address the US public on the matter.

Yes, Gonda inadvertently transporting explosives without a detonator is exactly like Abdul Mutallab attempting to bring down an airliner by detonating his crotch bomb.
posted by katemonster at 12:49 PM on January 7, 2010


If this had been used as the premise for a Hollywood thriller (authorities slip explosives into random innocent passenger's bags), Roger Ebert would have pronounced it completely implausible.
posted by Clay201 at 12:50 PM on January 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


''I'm not sure what they were thinking, using an unknowing civilian rather than an undercover security official.''

I would hope for the sake of irony that at some point, someone thought "There is no way that turning a random unaware stranger into a potential criminal/ terrorist suspect could possibly go wrong."

This is one of those situations which is so stupid, if it was used as a plot in a story, I would scoff and dismiss it as being "fucking ridiculous".

Real life, why do you constantly force me to reevaluate my threshold for what is and isn't too-dumb-to-actually-occur?
posted by quin at 12:56 PM on January 7, 2010 [5 favorites]


it's astonishingly stupid that these various authorities keep using the actual luggage of innocent passengers for these tests

''I'm not sure what they were thinking, using an unknowing civilian rather than an undercover security official.''


Well, no, the best test is as close as possible to the real thing. You quickly exhaust the population of undercover cops willing to fly halfway across the globe in order to test security.

Whereas it costs you nothing to test passenger luggage, and if you can't find the explosive, that's a false negative that means your detection process is broken.

You save the population of undercover cops and rig them with panty bombs to test pat-down and body searches, not luggage searches.

----

The fact that they let the aircraft leave the airport; that's idiotic.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:12 PM on January 7, 2010


From the Associated Press story:
The experts also noted that Slovakia was ignoring past mistakes in using civilians' luggage for bomb-sniffing tests without their knowledge. In 2004, France stopped such tests after losing track of nearly 100 ounces (5 grams) of explosives surreptitiously planted in an unwitting passenger's suitcase. It was never recovered.
That metric conversion is not even remotely right. It must have been 100 grams, which is more like 3.5 ounces. I hate it when people screw up simple metric conversions. Just do it on google, people!
posted by A-Train at 2:46 PM on January 7, 2010


Why are they tampering with random people's bags to begin with?

And lucky that they didn't choose someone with a Bangladesh passport. If that was my bag they'd messed with, I'd never be able to fly again anywhere.
posted by divabat at 2:55 PM on January 7, 2010


In a given year, there are one billion passengers in plane seats.

In the last ten years, there's been about 30 people who have been a problem.

That's 30/10,000,000,000.

This is a problem on two fronts. First, you have to build a detector that can discriminate, even remotely accurately, the one terrorist per entire population of the United States. Second, even if you can, you have to train that detector, with something akin to actual samples.

So you end up with this awful idea, of which this is well known to not be the first time, to use unwitting passengers as test subjects without consent or knowledge. It's the only way to do end-to-end testing. Everything else, including using the same undercovers over and over, is a drill.

There aren't enough actual terrorists to train against.
posted by effugas at 3:36 PM on January 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is why I always carry a bomb when I fly because what are the odds that there are two bombs on a plane???
posted by GuyZero at 4:15 PM on January 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


how much damage would 96 grams of rdx do?

*consults reference guide*

About 4d6.
posted by schwa at 4:43 PM on January 7, 2010 [3 favorites]


From the department of Oooops - that should be 13 oz. of Semtex - a conclusion some debate.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 8:17 PM on January 7, 2010


If this were a Shakespeare play, this guy would actually have been a terrorist. A cross-dressing terrorist. Also, the Gardaí would have spent most of the interrogation making dirty jokes.
posted by No-sword at 8:36 PM on January 7, 2010 [1 favorite]


There aren't enough actual terrorists to train against.

This is the only rational explanation for the last administration's Middle East policy, isn't it? We NEED more terrorists to test our systems! Finally, everything makes sense!
posted by me & my monkey at 9:18 PM on January 7, 2010 [2 favorites]


Doesn't matter if the guy didn't know the bomb was in his drawers. He must be made an example of. Zero tolerance for terrorists.

But the police officer in charge got distracted and failed to remove the cache containing the real thing,

A completely honest mistake. The police are never to blamed in cases like this, or for that matter, any case at all. The police should be commended and given raises for their zealousness against terrorists, inadvertent or not.
posted by telstar at 11:03 PM on January 7, 2010


Having read only the timeline...

i think the gardaí were the first in the whole incident to actually act ina professional manner. There are standard procedures for a reason: it there are explosives involved, people get questioned.

In respect to placing test explosives on random bags, i think that's pretty standard too. The dogs need to play the game frequently to remain alert, and it's not that usual to find actual explosives in the bags, so they need to seed them. So for the dog to do its job properly they need to work in a real environment with real bags and real explosives. The point of failure here was that the trainer forgot to remove all of the explosive from the bag. It's not like they put it in the plane deliberately.

I think the biggest WTF goes to the pilot. The slovaks made a mistake and didn't try to hide it, instead they took the necessary steps to solve it, like informing the pilot, both airports, and the irish police. But the pilot... If you have the power to say go in case of danger, you also have the responsibility to make sure the whole thing isn't forgotten. You land, inform the airport police, make sure the plane is searched. right?
posted by valdesm at 1:39 AM on January 8, 2010


Three dogs at PHL just were decertified because they failed their smell re-test. Who knew they got re-tested?

I was in an airport in Germany, Frankfurt I think, when they were either training or testing the dogs in the passenger lounge. One set of uniformed cops would wander around and plant a little plastic ball amongst passenger possessions. Another cop with a dog would then come along and the dog would sniff around the lounge to try to find it. This went on for half an hour or more, with the dog typically finding the ball pretty quickly. It was fun to see the enthusiasm of the dog whenever it found the ball - it was practically doing somersaults. It was also fun to see the reaction of the dog-o-phobes when a big german shepherd came along and snuffled around them. It certainly broke up the monotony of a long airport wait.
posted by Jakey at 2:41 AM on January 8, 2010


I remember flying home from Korea last year.

I'm a servicemember, and I had just been out to a range 3 days prior where I was both firing weapons and handling large amounts of ammunition and explosives. I was also carrying a backpack that I had used to transport ammunition.

Korean airport security used the magic bomb machine on my luggage. It detected something, and the guard asked 'you Army?'. I showed him my military I.D. and went on my merry way.

Next stop was Japan. Narita airport did the same thing- detected something, this time they swabbed my hands, as well, and said 'Sir, have you been handling....' I showed him my military I.D., and they said 'oh oh ok, have a good day.'

I was MORTIFIED something would happen when I got stateside, so I flew into Detroit, they checked me after customs, and nothing. Their special machine didn't detect anything.

And that's the moment that cemented the idea that travel security in the states is simply theatre in the round to satisfy scared people.
posted by SeanMac at 5:27 AM on January 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


Naberius

The article I read in my local paper indicated that either the Slovaks had misinformed the Irish police or the Irish police had misunderstood, but that in any case they were under the impression that the man in question was a terrorist who had smuggled in explosives.
posted by Target Practice at 6:39 AM on January 8, 2010


This is one of those situations which is so stupid, if it was used as a plot in a story, I would scoff and dismiss it as being "fucking ridiculous".

Maddow's leadup to the story the other night was "No, we swear this is not a story from The Onion."
posted by Evilspork at 2:03 PM on January 8, 2010


"I'd like to see how people would react if he announced that the plane was carrying several hundred pounds of liquid explosive! (Because I suspect that most of the passengers would freak out first and realized that's what made the engines go later.)"

Jet fuel is not explosive.
posted by Mitheral at 6:10 PM on January 8, 2010


I realize that, in a puddle on the ground it's hard to set on fire, but make a big aerosol cloud out of it and I hear it's pretty impressive. (Similarly, a wad of semtex without a detonator tucked down your shorts doesn't make you so much a suicide bomber as it makes you a Fox News talking point.)
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:35 PM on January 8, 2010


True. A lot of stuff can be made explosive if you make an aerosol cloud out of it, even something as mundane as flour.
posted by Mitheral at 1:39 PM on January 9, 2010


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