A report from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) admitted that its agents are not prepared to detect or to respond to the threat posed by a bomb made of the substance thermite, which could have a catastrophic effect if ignited on an airplane.
The classified document, first released by The Intercept, revealed that if igniting on an aircraft, thermite, which is a “mixture of rust and aluminum powder,” could result in “catastrophic damage and the death of every person onboard.”
Written in Dec. 2014, by the TSA’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, the report stated that not only are thermite-based devices “easily assembled and concealable,” they are also likely to go undetected under current TSA screening procedures.
The report claimed that both a thermite-based substance and an ignition source can be placed in items that would “not arouse suspicion as they pass through TSA security screening,” such as children’s toys and water canteens.
Several anonymous TSA officials told The Intercept that while they had been briefed on the threat, they were given “no information or training on identifying thermite ignition.”
One federal air marshal described the situation by saying, “They say to identify something we don’t know how to identify and say there is nothing we can do. So basically, we hope it’s placed somewhere it does minimal damage, but basically we’re screwed.”
“When ignited, thermite burns violently and at extremely high temperatures, and may spray molten metal in all directions,” the report stated. “Thermite has the ability to burn through steel, and every other material of which an aircraft is comprised, it will continue to burn to completion.”
The report went on to state that not only would a thermite-based incendiary device burn through all of the parts of an aircraft, it would also produce toxic gasses, “which can act as nerve poison,” along with a thick black smoke, which would “significantly inhibit any potential for in-flight safety officers to address the burn.”
The anonymous officials told The Intercept that while TSA “floods its employees with intelligence products from other agencies on various types of threats,” it has not told them how to respond to this threat.
The FBI released a statement saying that the “coordination between public safety, aviation, and national security focused agencies occurs on a continuous and collaborative basis to identify and neutralize threats to aviation safety.”