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American Morning

Bombs in a Bottle; Relief Efforts; Air Travel Tips; Making Their Mark

Aired August 11, 2006 - 09:30   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CO-HOST: Welcome back, everybody, it is Friday, August 11. I'm Soledad O'Brien.
TONY HARRIS, CNN CO-HOST: And good morning, everyone. I'm Tony Harris in for Miles O'Brien.

O'BRIEN: The alleged plot to blow up planes over the Atlantic involved liquid explosives. So, how realistic is it that a terrorist could bring on board undetected a liquid explosive and then assemble and detonate it mid flight? This morning we're talking with Michael White. He's an explosives expert. He's also the former commander of the NYPD's bomb squad.

Nice to see you. Thank you for talking with us.

MICHAEL WHITE, FORMER COMMANDER, NYPD BOMB SQUAD: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about some of the details and we'll start the segment by emphasizing that this is not to be in any way, shape or form, a how-to on how you should assemble a bomb.

But there are many questions about how it would be possible to bring about a material on board a plane and detonate it.

First of all, the amounts. When people historically 1994, the last time something like this was tried, they talked about nitroglycerin, very unstable, wasn't it?

WHITE: That's correct. Nitroglycerin is one of the first known liquid explosives. And because of its reactivity and instability, there were a lot of initial accidents in the commercial blasting applications that used nitroglycerin.

O'BRIEN: So if you were a terrorist, nitroglycerin would be something that would be too unstable to realistically bring into and onto an airport and then try to assemble it. It's been tried.

WHITE: Well, the chemistry is not that advanced to make nitroglycerin. In fact, that's exactly what was done in part of the first World Trade Center attack in 1993.

The questions are the willingness to try unsafe chemistry and to get lucky in terms of delivering it to your target.

O'BRIEN: In this particular plot then what was the strategy? I mean, we've heard and they are now collecting, as you well know, hair gel, shampoo, toothpaste, et cetera. They are not suggesting that any of those commonplace items would be used to make the bomb?

WHITE: No, I think realistically, if you look at the items that were in fact placed on the new list of restricted items, it shows a difficulty with the methodology that is used in the explosive detection equipment as it now exists.

O'BRIEN: Which means for a layperson, what?

WHITE: For a layperson, that means that when you go to the airport and they ask you to swipe your bag, they're looking for a particulate matter and vapors. That's what all the explosive detection equipment is set up to process. It's not geared to process liquids or gelatins that are going to clog the machine.

O'BRIEN: So, that's the first reason why a terrorist would go for the liquid or the gel. Now, is this something that you would turn a powder into a liquid -- I mean, is that essentially the plan?

WHITE: Well, the bottom line is if you look at the peroxide- based explosives that have been mentioned in connection with this particular plot, they exist as a crystalline solid substance. But you can of course put them into a solution. You can put them into a gelatin. You can put them into many different physical manifestations.

O'BRIEN: Which brings us back to the cups and the containers, et cetera. So you're talking about a false bottom, essentially?

WHITE: False bottom, false middle, false top. They exist in all three orientations.

O'BRIEN: Is it realistic to think that you would take several things and put them together on board the plane and be able to blow the plane up?

WHITE: Well, that's exactly the style of the plot that was involved in the Bojinka plot in the Philippines. A different ocean, but the same style where they actually -- I think what's unrealistic or my guess is that I don't think they are going to make their explosives in the lavatory on board. I think what they were going to do was just assemble the device in the lavatory on board. So the explosive would have been made already and they just would have been smuggled on board separately from the firing mechanisms and then assembled on the plane.

O'BRIEN: So they'd be basically like inert, four or five different...

WHITE: No. They would be just not fully assembled.

O'BRIEN: OK, so they couldn't explode on their own?

WHITE: Yes. That's the problem with these peroxide explosives. That they have accidents, they are so reactive and they might in fact explode on their own.

O'BRIEN: Oh, I see. So the theory would be you put them all together, they become highly explosive and then you detonate them?

WHITE: Well, yes that's correct. So what you're not doing is you are bringing on the explosives in a separate container. Then you're going to use common other components in normally carried items on a plane like what was mentioned in some of the other reports.

O'BRIEN: Flash moves...

WHITE: Disposable camera, absolutely.

O'BRIEN: Key fob was one of the early things...

WHITE: Key fobs. Anything that has a source of power and has a triggering mechanism on it, it just turns it on and turns it off. The problem with the particular materials mentioned, the peroxide-based explosives, are they are considered to be high explosives and they're also in a category of what is known as primary explosives where they don't need a blasting cap to initiate them. They're so sensitive.

O'BRIEN: So when they are looking for things like a blasting cap as they search the people's luggage and search through their carry ons, you would need it?

WHITE: That's correct. And that's exactly why some of these materials have been designed, they've been designed specifically to defeat current aviation screening procedures.

O'BRIEN: Any screening procedures that can even catch these kinds of things now?

WHITE: Yes. There are to the credit of all the federal aviation security agencies that are out there looking to improve explosive detection, there is constant R&D. There is a massive amount of money and effort in scientific research trying to get equipment that will be suitable to process both liquid and paste material. But all of the analyses takes time, costing money. So, it's the question of there's numerous threats that are out there, and you have to pick that section of the threat spectrum that you choose to defend against.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you a quick final question. When we talk about these materials being brought on board a flight, are we talking about gallons? Are we talking about, you know, 16-ounce -- a Coke- size bottle? Are you talking about little teeny amounts that could bring down a plane?

WHITE: Well, the amount that would bring down a plane basically is a classified or at least a restricted information. And the aviation industry geared their threat to what brought down Pan Am Flight 103. Different materials. Different amounts placed on board in a separate fashion. So it's not the same threat. Plastic explosives is what the aviation industry had geared themselves toward detecting. That was the latest threat. But now what they are looking at is these homemade explosives that are not made anywhere commercially, so there's no real industry standards to go compare them against. And as the threat changes, the defensive posture and the screening procedures must change. And that's what we witnessed yesterday.

O'BRIEN: But do you need a gallon of the stuff? I mean, would you have to have a bunch of people bringing in a ton of the stuff or could one or two people carry a tiny amount and do a lot of damage?

WHITE: Well, I think if you look at reasonableness and that's the question that I'm having a problem answering because these materials do not have an industry standard.

O'BRIEN: You can make them at home.

WHITE: So, yes, and the question of how good is your chemistry. So, if you make a bad batch and you bring a gallon of it, you may not make the same explosive effect as somebody who is better at their chemistry and only makes an ounce of it.

O'BRIEN: It's all scary stuff.

WHITE: It is a probable threat at this time.

O'BRIEN: Mike White is a former NYPD bomb squad commander. Thank you for talking with us this morning.

WHITE: You're very welcome. Have a good day.

O'BRIEN: Appreciate having the insight. Appreciate it -- Tony.

HARRIS: Well tomorrow marks one month since the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah began. And a group called the International Solidarity Movement will lead a civilian convoy bringing food and other relief to villages in south Lebanon, despite Israeli warnings to stay off the roads.

Huwaida Arraf, an American citizen is co-founder of the Palestinian-led International Solidarity Movement and she's also a cousin of our former CNN Colleague Jane Arraf. She joins us from Beirut.

Huwaida, Good to see you.


HARRIS: First, I have to ask you, have you been granted any permission by the IDF, the Israeli government, to carry out this convoy, this relief mission tomorrow?

ARRAF: No, we have not. And actually just a correction to one thing. The International Solidarity Movement is joining a Lebanese initiative to go to the south and this is part of a larger campaign of civil resistance led by Lebanese civilians and joined by international civilians all over the world to bring relief to the people of the south who have been cut off, some for days, some for weeks since Israeli aggression began and to express solidarity with them and to work for the immediate return of the hundreds of thousands of displaced Lebanese back to their homes.

HARRIS: Well, you are putting yourself in a war zone. You're putting yourself in harm's way. Are you concerned about that at all?

ARRAF: Well, since we've been here, we have definitely confirmed that Israel is targeting civilians and civilian infrastructures. I have been in Badl (ph) for seven days now and every night there are explosions in civilian areas, suburbs of Badl (ph). Just today they brought down at least three apartment buildings in one of those suburbs in the (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and so there's no doubt that civilians and civilian infrastructure is being targeted.

We are trying to make it as clear as possible and hopefully being on your show is another message to the Israeli authorities that this is a civilian convoy. There are civilians in these cars carrying relief to the south. We are not hiding anything. It is the Lebanese civilian's right to travel on their land wherever they are rejecting Israel's dictate, that there are areas that they can't go. They are clearly saying this is our land and this is our resistance and we are not going to be separated from the people of the south. And so it's very clear and the convoys will be flying Lebanese flags and the question is to Israel, what is it going to do? Is it going to directly hit us?

HARRIS: Is that the same question for Hezbollah, as well?

ARRAF: Well, since I have been here I've been hear, I've been hearing -- I've heard two speeches from Nasrallah to his people and they have both said clearly that they will not stand in the way of relief efforts. And so -- and they've also said on top of that, he said that if Israel stops its aggression, it has no problem with stopping the fighting, also. But it has been Israel that has refused to stop its aggression and its bombardment of Lebanon.

And as an American civilian, I am doubly upset because the American government from the beginning has refused to support an initiative to call for an immediate cease-fire in the area. And that has contributed to hundreds of unnecessary civilian deaths. Over a thousand Lebanese civilians have been killed. And what is happening is if this continues, sure it's dangerous for us to go south, but every day innocent civilians are dying. And if the United Nations is going to be paralyzed and not going to do anything, and the United States government is going to continue sending weapons to Israel, then civilians have to stand up. And as an American, and with the other Americans and international civilians that are...

HARRIS: All right.

ARRAF: ...going to be with us, that is our statement. We have to stand up against this aggression.

HARRIS: OK. Huwaida, appreciate the work that you're trying to do in terms of this mission to help the people who are in need. Travel safely this weekend. Huwaida Arraf is co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement. Huwaida, thank you.

And still to come, tips on how to deal with the new airport security rules. We'll tell you what to pack, what to leave behind and how early you should be getting to the airport.

And later, it's been a big week for Oliver Stone. We'll look at how the controversial director made his mark with the new movie and got some of the most surprising reviews of his career. Stay with us.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guess you know U.S. and British authorities foiled a terrorist plot. The plan was to blow up planes in midair. Unbelievable. Frightening at that. That makes flying almost as dangerous as the Amtrak now.

Remember the good old days, the only bomb you had to worry about on the plane was the Rob Schneider movie. Remember?

And now they are not letting anyone on planes anymore with liquids or beverages of any kind. No beverages of any kind. That's why the huge delays. The pilots are hanging around the gate, chugging their beers. Trying to use all the extra time. You can't hide the flask anymore. You can't bring anything on the plane. Nothing.

Did you see people today in line at Heathrow going through security? Look at this. It's unbelievable. Look. Horrible. Can't bring anything.


HARRIS: You know, we're going to talk about that in just a minute, Kevin. But from Heathrow to Hartsfield, passengers are surrendering liquids, lotions, gels before boarding planes.

Kevin Doyle, news editor for "Conde Nast Traveler," joins me now with some advice for travelers.

I'm telling you, it's getting to the point now where you just check everything. Take your clothes off and then maybe you can get through security without a real hassle.

Thanks for being here, Kevin.


HARRIS: Let's go through the list again. We prepared some full screens of what you can and what you can't take on the planes. Let's start with what you can't take on planes now.

DOYLE: Well, pretty much anything that is liquid, cream, gel, anything that could be construed to be liquid, cream or gel. So, pretty much anything other than prescription medications, and baby formula. So we're advising our readers when in doubt, leave it out.

HARRIS: There you go. So, we're talking about beverages, shampoo, suntan lotion, toothpaste...

DOYLE: Everything. Perfumes, you name it.

HARRIS: Now, let's talk about the items that you are still allowed to take on the flight now because I think this is where it can get a little complicated and a little bogged down.

These are the items you are allowed now, still allowed to take on. The exception has been made for baby formula, breast milk, juice if the child is traveling -- let's make that a distinction.

DOYLE: If the child is traveling.

HARRIS: Yes, and we're talking about prescription medications.

DOYLE: Prescription medications in your name and you have to have identification and insulin. So these are the only things that we're allowed to take now.

HARRIS: Hey, Kevin, do you see the day coming where all this allowable list, you may need to set up a separate area for security so that folks can go through that area with these allowed items so they can be checked and not hold up everybody else in line?

DOYLE: That's conceivable. I think it's very early to tell right now. What we're telling people the first thing to pack is the patience.

HARRIS: Right.

DOYLE: No one appreciates these new restrictions or the extra wait time. In the context of increasing our personal security, it's a very small price to pay.

HARRIS: Yes. And it makes sense at this point. Folks have had what, 24 hours or so to digest all of this. And when you think about it, the items that you can't take onto the flight, now that shouldn't be too much of an inconvenience, should it?

DOYLE: I don't think now. I mean, you know, it's very clearly stated. You need to pack as little as possible in your carry on. You need to keep clutter to a minimum. And just pack those liquids and gels and perfumes and sprays in your checked luggage or leave it at home.

HARRIS: Any kind of distinction being made, just as another reminder to folks, between traveling domestically and internationally?

DOYLE: No, not at the moment. It's all the same.

HARRIS: And if -- let's get you some of the tips that you have for your readers and for everyone watching this morning. First of all you say.

DOYLE: Pack your patience.

HARRIS: Pack your patience.

DOYLE: When in doubt, leave it out.

HARRIS: Leave it out. Right, right, right.

DOYLE: Also follow the rules. Just because you know that your favorite perfume or face cream poses no danger, doesn't mean that you should try to sneak it on because you're only going to create problems for yourself and for everyone behind you in line.

HARRIS: How much safer do you think we are than in the years post 9/11?

DOYLE: Well, you know, we just did a study that will be in the September issue of "Conde Nast Traveler." We hired an aviation security expert and went to eight airports in the United States to do a full security audit. And what we found is we're much safer than we were before 9/11, but we have a lot of progress to make.

We were able, for instance, to leave a car parked unattended for about 10 minutes in a major airport.

HARRIS: Which you're not supposed to be able to do.

DOYLE: Not at all. We were also able to carry torch lighters, sharp scissors and other banned items through security. So you know, one of the bright spots is for the first time ever the government has begun behavioral profiling on a test basis.

It's the first time we ever started looking at people rather than what they are carrying. And this has nothing to do with ethnic background or race. It's strictly looking at their behavior. And the idea is, if you've got something to hide, your behavior will demonstrate that. So it's in use currently at Logan and they've arrested 50 people traveling on false documents. And they intend to further spread this through airports soon.

HARRIS: So the protocols are changing and there are some steps in the right direction as you see it?

DOYLE: Yes, definitely.

HARRIS: Kevin, thanks. Kevin Doyle, news editor for "Conde Nast Traveler." Thanks for being with us.

DOYLE: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: CNN "LIVE TODAY" is coming up next.

Good morning to you, Daryn.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. "LIVE TODAY" will follow the terror investigation as it unfolds throughout the morning.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Liquids that could easily fit into containers of household items, things people normally take on planes. Then mixed together on board. In this case, something as small as a sports drink and maybe some hair gel.


KAGAN: Correspondent Drew Griffin looks into liquid bomb possibilities, explosives disguised as the favorite drink or shampoo. Now they want you at the airport three hours before your flight. Gerri Willis has last minute advice if you can't make your plane.

And the Mideast crisis, explosive drama from Beirut to the U.N. More bombs and diplomats take another stab at peace on paper at least.

"LIVE TODAY" takes you to the news as it happens. The Friday edition gets started at the top of the hour. For now, back to you.

O'BRIEN: All right, Daryn, thanks. We'll see you then.

We got to take a short break. Top stories. Back in a moment.


HARRIS: There's some reporting that we're following we want to bring you at this time. The "Associated Press" is reporting and Hezbollah TV is reporting this, as well. That Hezbollah guerrillas have destroyed an Israeli gunboat off the coast of Tyre, killing or wounding the crew of 12. A lot of action in and around Tyre today.

The Israeli army is saying it is not aware of any strike on any of its vessels at this time. Al-Jazeera television reporting and has identified the vessel as an Israeli patrol and interdiction craft.

Once again, the reporting attributed to Hezbollah TV and also the Associated Press" reporting that Hezbollah guerrillas have destroyed an Israeli gunship off the coast of Tyre. We can tell you that there have been claims like this in the past before. CNN will work to independently confirm this information. And we will continue to follow it and bring you the very latest.

O'BRIEN: Moving on now, every Friday, as you know, we take a look at somebody who's had a major impact on the news throughout the week. AMERICAN MORNING's Alina Cho joins us to show us just who has been picked, making their mark this week.

Good morning, again.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Soledad. Good morning. We're talking about a famous and controversial director. Oliver Stone has a reputation for being a left-leaning Hollywood maverick, never afraid to mix film and politics. So when Stone decided to make a movie about 9/11, some were skeptical. But World Trade Center and the people behind it, this week they are making their mark.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... prepared for everything, car bombs, chemical, biological, an attack from the top, but not this. Not for something of this size.

CHO (voice-over): But is America prepared for something like this? That's the question many have asked this week as Oliver Stone's epic 9/11 drama, "World Trade Center," opens in theaters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's 9/11 film that is detailed, accurate, based on true events and real participants who survived. It's an amazing story. Never been told. I have never seen a story like it. The rescue itself is so improbable.

CHO: That rescue is the heart and soul of the film.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gentleman, evacuate the tower. Who's coming. Step forward.


CHO: Port Authority Officers John McGocklin (ph) and Will Jimeno were the last two survivors pulled from the rubble of the towers. To tell their story, they teamed up with an unlikely partner. Stone has been accused of inflicting blunt stone trauma on audiences in films like "JFK" and "Natural Born Killers." Not this time, he says.

OLIVER STONE, DIRECTOR, "WORLD TRADE CENTER": It's real subjective. You don't see the planes hit the towers. You see the buildings fall from the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and Will experienced it. Which is terrifying. But they make it and you live through them.

CHO: The real men behind the characters agree that the message of the movie doesn't get lost.

WILL JIMENO, WORLD TRADE CENTER SURVIVOR: It's about this, it's about the shield, it's about the team. That's what this is about. It's not about me. If in some way, shape or form, if this film was boasting about myself or John, he would have a problem. But everyone that has seen this film has saw who the real heroes are. And when we're telling the truth and honoring those that gave all and those that came in to rescue us, there's really no controversy.

CHO: Stone is fully aware of the concerns some have about him, but says he shouldn't be pigeon holed.

STONE: I like to surprise you.

CHO: What may surprise him are the reviews his work is getting from conservative publications. "World Trade Center" is being roundly praised.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you still see the light?

CHO: It's a surprising turn of events for a liberal leaning director. One who believes this story should be judged on its merits.

STONE: I don't think the director is the issue. If you like him, great. If you don't the film is better than the director.


CHO (on camera): "World Trade Center" is showing in theaters nationwide. Reviews overall have been mixed. Perhaps the greater debate will be over whether you are ready to see the movie.

Soledad, some say they want to see it, we shouldn't forget about this tragedy. Others say five years out, it's still a little bit too soon.

You know, one critic I saw said he thought it was one of the greatest movies of the year. But then he added, but I'm not going to tell you to see it. Only you can decide if you want to see it.

O'BRIEN: I buy that. I tell you, I don't...

CHO: Yes, individual.

O'BRIEN: I couldn't see it. I couldn't see it. I could not see it.

Alina, thanks.

We got to take a short break. We're back in just a moment. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: We're out of time. A big thank you to Tony for helping us out this week. I love working with you.

HARRIS: Thank you. Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Come back anytime. We love to have you.

HARRIS: Absolutely. Leave the light on for me.

O'BRIEN: You got it.