You da bomb! (surgically-implanted explosives)

According to Newsweek, US intelligence officials report that al Qaeda's explosives expert Ibrahim al-Asiri and medical doctors have been designing bombs to be surgically implanted into the bodies of suicide bombers. The idea is that the technique would somehow foil airport scanners. Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, "You da bomb!" From Newsweek:

An American government source familiar with the report described it as 15 to 20 pages, single spaced, and replete with schematics and pictures. “It was almost like something you’d see in Scientific American,” the source said. (In military parlance, the bomb is called a “surgically implanted improvised explosive device,” or SIIED.) A diagram with arrows and blocks of text explained the surgical process. “The idea was to insert the device in the terrorist’s love handle,” says the U.S. government source, who declined to be named discussing sensitive intelligence. While it was not clear whether the terror doctors had ever succeeded in implanting explosives in a human being, they had experimented with dogs and other animals.

Fortunately these devices are easier to describe than to detonate. “You would have to have a very unique firing system,” says Borelli. “If it’s a ‘body bomb’ you are going to have to have a way to initiate it from the outside—almost a stent, or something like a pacemaker.”

"Ibrahim al-Asiri: The Body Bomb Menace" (via Dave Pell's NextDraft)

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  1. I would think the fleshy casing would provide a good deal of protection from the explosion, and leave grossed-out but still alive victims. 

    1. Well, nothing sounds worse than bleeding out after being impaled by a piece of bone from a guy that just blew himself up.  But yes, you would think this delivery method would eliminate any chance of blowing a hole in the plane and bringing down the flight.

    2.  It might be easier to recruit suicide bombers with fatal, highly contagious diseases…  Oh, God, I’m passing these idiots ammunition now.

      The best defense against robbery is the availability of jobs in your neighborhood.  The best defense against suicide bombers is the availability of a life worth living.  The best defense against terrorism is the availability of  justice.

      1.  Local employment is also a good defense against terrorism, without a job people are much more vulnerable to being co-opted by extremists, for one thing a person with a job has less spare time.

    3. Going to play the expert card here, as my MS research is blast-wave mitigation using water gels, and say while this potentially represents a larger threat than the rectal-smuggling that made news a couple years ago, too much is unknown about the amount and configuration to really assess risk.  It would certainly ruin everyone’s day, but even relatively small amounts of water-solids like flesh are very good energy-dumps.  A quick surgery in the lavatory might eliminate the mitigation, but evidence from past failed terrorist explosives-usage on planes shows that getting the raw material there is neither the most difficult nor the most important part in perpetrating their plot.

  2. Why couldn’t you trigger it with a plastic-wrapped cell phone?  Seems like an old noika should give a few days of runtime after implantation.

      1. Not entirely, as the explosion it caused was implausible. The charge seemed to be small enough to escape notice until the carrier was in the holding cell, and the blast would have splattered his meat or ejected shrapnel, but I cannot envision it actually blowing apart the cell.

        But that sort of realism would have bumped the film into R-rated territory, so Mr. Nolan went for Hollywood Physics instead.

    1. Because a reed switch and a magnet would be so much cheaper and more reliable.  Cellphone is only needed when you don’t have a willing bomber to trigger it themselves.

      Honestly, any security expert who says “you would have to have a very unique firing system” (as implying that is actually an obstacle) just because the proposed bomb is under 1/2″ of co-operative human flesh… is providing neither security, nor expertise.

      1.  A reed switch and magnet would be a bad idea. If the bomber got close to a magnetic source he could experience pre-mature detonation.

        You also have the problem of having to make the reed out of ferrous material. That would set off a metal detector and lead to the discovery of a new scar and an odd shaped lump under the skin.

  3. “Somehow foil airport (or, ahem, airpot) scanners”? Why the skeptical note? Unless we go from porno-scanners to full-on CTs, something embedded in the body surely wouldn’t be detected. The “somehow” is “by hiding it inside a bag of meat”.

  4. “While it was not clear whether the terror doctors had ever succeeded in implanting explosives in a human being, they had experimented with dogs”

    Chris Morris called, he wants his joke back.

  5. This is all just a ploy on the part of the airlines. They want to ban fat people from flying so that they can shrink the seats in economy even more.

    1. This is all just a ploy on the part of the airlines. They want to install CT scanners in every airport = more money.

  6. According to Foreign Affairs, the animal with the highest percent of detonation-testing efficacy was a donkey named Charles who was photographed, issued a passport and died of heat exhaustion in El Rahaba Airport. 

  7. The idea seems totally plausible, but I don’t see why surgery is even necessary. Think about it: we’ve seen thousands of drug smugglers with their stomachs full of dope, sometimes as much as a kilo. A kilo of plastic explosive is an enormous amount, more than capable of overcoming the containment factor of a human belly.

  8. Why the hell to they put ” improvised” in the name of everything?  If explosive experts and Surgeons design something, it isn’t bloody improvised, is it?

    I just find it curious that they seem to want to make these guys out to be McGuiver or a bad joke from Whose line is it anyways.

    Yet we complain at the same time that Iran was manufacturing IED’s.  maybe we need to start calling them  “bespoke explosive devices”.

    1. lol.  I logged in to comment the same thing. my original comment, from before I saw yours. . . .

      At what point does an explosive device stop being “improvised”? Like, TNT in a pressure cooker seems improvised.  This seems a little bit less like it’s something you’re going to cobble together out of chewing gum and baling wire.is it improvised until it rolls off a factory production line?

      1. Yes,  it will no longer be improvised when we sell it by the ton. The tanks and helicopters that roll off our lines are high precision munitions. The shaped charges and RPGs that reduce them to million dollar scrap are improvised explosives and illicit weapons. The words are designed to make you think it’s just plain no fair for David to ever kill Goliath especially when David can do it on the cheap.

        It’s like how diamonds are “conflict diamonds” when they fund guys we don’t like but are “conflict free” when our buddies dig them up and sell them. Either side can have slave like conditions in their mines and all the guns they want but the label was designed to distract you from that problem.

        1. Sorry Dv Rev, but coalition forces (as I’m sure you mean) don’t designate RPG’s and shaped mass manufactored explosive charges as ‘improvised’. When insurgents fire an 88mm recoiless rifle round at a MRAP, it is reported as such. When explosives are set off under a HMMV using a plastic bottle, polystyrene and copper wire as a pressure detonator that is designated ‘improvised explosive device’ in an after action SITREP. 

      2. Yes,  it will no longer be improvised when we sell it by the ton. The tanks and helicopters that roll off our lines are high precision munitions. The shaped charges and RPGs that reduce them to million dollar scrap are improvised explosives and illicit weapons. The words are designed to make you think it’s just plain no fair for David to ever kill Goliath especially when David can do it on the cheap.

        It’s like how diamonds are “conflict diamonds” when they fund guys we don’t like but are “conflict free” when our buddies dig them up and sell them. Either side can have slave like conditions in their mines and all the guns they want but the label was designed to distract you from that problem.

      3.  Great minds…  My question is more the motivation of the people doing the writing for the pentagon/homeland security.  Why the need to talk like these guys are not organized or thinking ahead?  This is verbiage that goes back to the bush administration when they were interested in the public being concerned, but seems to keep on past it making sense.

    2. The devices in question weren’t mass-produced, and calling them hand-made or home-built cuts too close to acknowledging that some skill was involved.

      Actually, it’s just laziness. Anything that isn’t off the shelf must be improvised in their writing guides.

  9.  Being as I’ve worked on several surgically implanted devices, I think I can say their line “Fortunately these devices are easier to describe than to detonate…. ” is BS. If they can get the bomb in you their are innumerable trivial ways to trigger detonation.
    For example, given a surgical ‘implant’ method of swallowing a detonation payload the trigger could be a gel-coated connection which is made after stomach acids eat through the coating. The exact timing would be hard to do but you could get it within +/- 30 minutes. Certainly within the timeframe of a standard flight.

      1.  LOL, no. But ‘activation’ is the more general idea. Transforming a stimulus into a response.
        Typical RFID circuits are the perfect latent virii. They are dormant non-functional circuits until the right signal comes along, then they power up and perform their task. One such task could be detonating a bomb.
        Not saying I’ve worked on any bombs or anything remotely similar, just that getting an activation/detonation to occur isn’t a problem once the device is in place.

        1.  Yes but aren’t most of the RFID readers strong enough to penetrate a person rather large and suspicious looking?

          Or in your case one that would have to function in a person’s stomach for 5-10 hours until the gel coating wears out, that would lead to one upset tummy and a lot of vomiting.

          1. A new phone with NFC (i.e. RFID ++) will communicate ~18cm through air. Human bodies don’t absorb too much at the low frequencies used so attenuation is small, you probably will still get at least 10cm range. Enough to power the circuit and trigger an activation signal. The phone is completely inconspicuous. The implant parts are off the shelf NFC chips. The only thing the terrorists seem to be lacking are good electrical and software engineers, otherwise they would already be doing this.

        2. Sorry, but that’s not quite true, the last few foiled airborne-explosives plots had potent explosives in place, but were foiled by their inability to detonate them.  Terrorists’ inability thus far to understand that is the reason we laugh at the shoe and underwear bombers today instead of mourning the results of their actions.  Though the increase in personal electronics with compact power sources has created more potential threats, just about all the necessary commercial or military detonators can and should be detected with traditional screening measures already in place.

        3. Sorry, but that’s not quite true, the last few foiled airborne-explosives plots had potent explosives in place, but were foiled by their inability to detonate them.  Terrorists’ inability thus far to understand that is the reason we laugh at the shoe and underwear bombers today instead of mourning the results of their actions.  Though the increase in personal electronics with compact power sources has created more potential threats, just about all the necessary commercial or military detonators can and should be detected with traditional screening measures already in place.

    1. “Flight 228 to Houston has been delayed for 45 minutes, we appreciate your business and hope you fly again with us.”

  10. Implanting one or more subcutaneous switches would be fairly trivial. The trick would be to make it so that the area looks/feels normal.

    Also, everyone with body mods? Prepare to experience new levels of TSA-hell.

  11. Seems like setting up a button subdermally wouldn’t be too hard to do.  Your terrorist just walks on a plane, jabs himself in the side a few times, and boom.  The harder thing would be getting your doped up and in pain terrorist past security without tipping them off.  Recent back alley surgery is going to stand out if they opt for the strip search, and the chance of infection is too high to let the guy heal up fully before sending him out I’d wager. 

    The swallowed bomb idea might work a little better, except that you generally want to keep the bomb mass together and that will be difficult if you have to fit it down the esophagus.  Detonation will be more difficult too, although a radio controlled detonator disguised as a cellphone or something would probably work. 

    You could also shove a decent amount of explosives up someone’s ass as long as they fasted for a couple of days beforehand. 

    In practical terms though, none of these attacks seem particularly likely to me.  Possible yes, but there are a ton of things that can go wrong with any of them, and they’ll all be detected by bomb sniffers if you get too close.  It just doesn’t seem practical to me.   

    1. Seems like setting up a button subdermally wouldn’t be too hard to do.

      A soft/hard penile prosthesis has a little button downstairs that you press a few times to inflate the device.

      1. That would make for an especially awkward hostage situation. “Get back! I’m not afraid to use this thing!”

      2. That would make for an especially awkward hostage situation. “Get back! I’m not afraid to use this thing!”

        1. A friend of mine worked for a while as the Penis Lady International, jetting around the globe giving her famous lecture on The Four Phases of Erection and going into the OR to talk surgeons through their first procedure. Apparently the erection talk was a big hit in Istanbul.

  12. A diagram with arrows and blocks of text explained the surgical process. “The idea was to insert the device in the terrorist’s love handle,” says the U.S. government source …

    The diagram in question:

  13. Why would you not just use an existing orifice?  I’m betting you could fill the space pretty thoroughly, and triggering would be trivial.  I doubt the suicide bomber would mind a little discomfort (or a lot, even), considering what happens next.  Hell, it also eliminates the “fleshiness” issue if s/he detonates in the bathroom (pun intended).

  14. Why would you not just use an existing orifice?  I’m betting you could fill the space pretty thoroughly, and triggering would be trivial.  I doubt the suicide bomber would mind a little discomfort (or a lot, even), considering what happens next.  Hell, it also eliminates the “fleshiness” issue if s/he detonates in the bathroom (pun intended).

  15. Why would you not just use an existing orifice?  I’m betting you could fill the space pretty thoroughly, and triggering would be trivial.  I doubt the suicide bomber would mind a little discomfort (or a lot, even), considering what happens next.  Hell, it also eliminates the “fleshiness” issue if s/he detonates in the bathroom (pun intended).

  16. I´m somehow puzzled.

    I´m the first one to point that the TSA will stop gutting little girls´ teddy bears and star gutting those same little girls*?

    *Also brown people, people with surgical scars, elderly people, fatty people, pets, etc. 

    1. You’ve been randomly selected for an exploratory laparotomy. Please step to the left.

    2. You’ve been randomly selected for an exploratory laparotomy. Please step to the left.

  17. I have a thought – if I were a terrorist, I might actually put a fair amount of effort into thinking up the craziest shit I could, with extra points if it would be extremely expensive to defend against or would scare or really inconvenience a huge number of people to try.

    Then make sure those plans leaked.

    Just a thought.

  18. This reminds me of the latter days of the Cold War when the US developed land mines to be triggered by low flying Soviet gunships. Then the US started developing countermeasures against future Soviet anti-helicopter land mines that did not exist. We’re chasing our own tails folks. ….. BOOO!

  19. Running out of things to ban. Next up, clothes. Within 20 miles of any airport. That’ll stop them!

  20. Running out of things to ban. Next up, clothes. Within 20 miles of any airport. That’ll stop them!

  21. This doesn’t even take into account the amount of extra explosives you could fit after removing organs not needed in the short term…..spleen, small bowel,  omentum and most of the colon look convenient.

    1. plus one lung, stomach, most of liver. A kidney – though hardly worth it for the volume. One eye, replace it with the receiver for the detonate signal. Half the brain.

      Lots of spare space in a short-term victim.

  22. Obviously, the TSA now needs to start conducting random dissections and surgical invasions to look for implanted explosive devices. 

  23. So, we subdermally implant the explosives via reverse liposuction (leaves very small marks) giving a bit of a beer-belly look, and add a pacemaker style  internal detonator that trips the detonation when the carrier’s heart stops.  Seal him up, give him a few weeks of fun in the sun to relax and get in the right frame of mind, and send him off with a wee vial of cyanide.

  24. I’ve been searching for this film for a while. In it, some kinda terrorist organization is surgically implanting bombs into people. Key scene in this film is someone running and jumping off a car, and detonating the bomb. I seem to recall seeing this in the ’80s, but can’t find it, can’t find any references to it.

    Also, how soon will it be before cancer patients suicide-bomb insurance companies? Breaking bad aside, I can imagine folks with nothing to lose (except their egregious debt) will do just that. Or should I be writing bad novels?

  25. Also see various Larry Niven stories referring to organ-leggers and their activities

  26. You know, this would be an interesting episode for Mythbusters, to blow up some ballistics gel torsos to test the myth of how much the human body can absorb an explosion.

    1. I think they already did the “guy hurling himself on a grenade to save his fellow soldiers” one.

  27. I think this is a personnel issue much more than a technological issue. I can’t see how this will not be exceedingly painful over the course of several days with a high probability of failure (if you think breast implants leaking silicone is bad, how about a little explosive in your bloodstream.)

    With all due respect to Neil Stephenson, I don’t think suicidal terrorists are that common. And those that exist, probably want to go out in a more glorious (and quicker) way. Perhaps there is a reason way al Qaeda could only find a CIA spy to wear the underwear bomb.

  28. Here’s a sequence for you to think:

    Shoe bomb = take your shoes at the check point
    Underwear bomb = pat downs and pornoscanners

    I was expecting the prankster terrorists to come up with an exploding suppository and just watch in amusement. You really don’t need to explode anything, the humiliation is enough.

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