Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Gas Bombs

It appears that the folks at are back functioning again and have recently published another interesting intelligence document, this one from the Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center. The Maryland Fusion Center produced this ‘Officer Awareness Bulletin’ on Trash Bag (Balloon) Bombs last May; the document is marked ‘Unclassified/For Official Use Only’.

Security Warning: Government employees and contractors; under the Obama Administration’s WIKI Leaks doctrine, you may be subject to disciplinary action up to and including dismissal if you are caught reading the FOUO document without specific authorization.

The Bulletin describes the use of trash bags filled with a lighter-than-air flammable gas as an improvised explosive device. They note that acetylene is a commonly used gas for these IEDs. Its wide flammability range and ease of ignition make it more effective than the other commonly available flammable gas, propane. Acetylene gas bag bombs can self-ignite due to static electric accumulation and discharge while propane bombs would typically require some sort of flame producing detonator. Note: self-igniting bombs are very difficult to control.

They report two specific instances where these devices have detonated, producing personal injuries and relatively minor property damage. It notes that these were described on-line as early as 1985 (okay, ‘on-line’ is a stretch, my term not the Fusion Center’s) in the hacker e-zine Phrack. I actually played with a couple of these ‘devices’ in the early 70’s so this is not something really new.

Because of the small amount of explosives that can be ‘packed’ into these ‘devices’ (trash bags are not really pressure vessels), these are not very effective IED’s except in confined spaces where the overpressure effects can be maximized. It is difficult to attach anti-personnel projectiles to these balloons; it doesn’t take much to weigh them down and trash bags are very easy to tear. In short, these IED’s are not very effective weapons. I will give the Maryland Fusion Center credit; the Bulletin does not overhype the potential dangers of these devices.

Because there are a number of YouTube® videos showing these things making impressive looking explosions; lots of noise and flash; law enforcement types certainly need to know about the potential dangers associated with these devices. From a security perspective I suppose that these things could be used as distractive devices or even as initiators of secondary fires and explosions in flammable environments, but the difficulty in timing the detonation greatly reduces their potential effectiveness in these applications. If someone has access to appropriate detonators there are much more effective IED explosives readily available.

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