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Chilling pen explosive video real or fake?

A chilling video demonstrates the purported power of a pen-based explosive. Is the video a fake? Regardless, airport security personnel have to such seemingly unfindable devices seriously. Lasers might be able to help.
Written by John Dodge, Contributor on

Could the new crop of revealing body scanners detect an explosive discretely tucked into a ball point pen? Are randomly-used explosive scanners capable of sniffing out such a device?

A friend sent me the chilling video below which shows the power of explosives put inside an everyday pen - you know, a Bic or freebie hotel pen. Maybe, we should take comfort in the fact the two Youtube instances of the video has only garnered 11,000 views, but it's a vivid depiction of the seemingly impossible challenge airport security people face in batting 1.000. Finding a needle in a haystack every time was never easy.

MIT researchers are experimenting with lasers that determine chemical compositions. credit: MIT

The pen explosive in the first video below purportedly vaporizes a watermelon with a blast powerful enough, I suspect, to bring down a jetliner. The second video here presents some pretty compelling evidence to show the pen did not vaporize the watermelon by itself.

In other words, the pen explosive is a fake. The credit on the video is Abum.com which describes itself as "...rising quickly to one of the more well known video sites."  It was posted on Youtube by "hoonsup" and described as a "New threat in the world of terror."

Fake or not, the pen explosive serves as a reminder that the TSA, airport security personnel worldwide and police can never take cleverly hidden explosive devices seriously enough. Even if the video is a fake, determined terrorists will try to find cracks in the system.

The video doesn't mention the chemicals used in the explosive except to call one of them a "binary." A droplet of the explosive on a black powder fuse takes the place of the ink cartridge. That's all it takes. Only the most vigilant and highly-trained TSA employee could tell the difference between a refill and the explosive.

I debated whether embedding the video only encourages bad actors, but overrode my objection because flyers should know what the other side is up to. I fly at least a dozen times a year, sometimes more. In fact, I went through Amsterdam last May on a Northwest Airbus A330 in Delta paint just like the one that dodged a horrific end in Detroit on Christmas. I also flew back from London to Boston on a PanAm 747 less than a week before PanAm 103 exploded and crashed in 1988. Flying may be safer than driving, but has more of a Russian Roulette flavor.

The good news is that work is being done to stay a step ahead of the terrorists. In early December, MIT researchers described a new laser operating in the terahertz spectrum that identifies chemical compositions.

"The result is an important step toward airport scanners that could tell whether a vial in a closed suitcase contains aspirin, methamphetamines or an explosive," an MIT press release said about the laser.

Such a device can't be put into practical use soon enough.

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This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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