Home > Britain, India, India-Pakistan Relations, Indian Economy, Pax Americana, Politics > Where Do Terrorists Get Their Plastic Explosives from?

Where Do Terrorists Get Their Plastic Explosives from?


Tracing back the sources of explosives is muddied by serious and deliberate leakages and clandestine sales.

US, the world's largest arms' exporter, spreads the fertilizer of arms and ammuninution, which creates conflicts - and then US steps in to resolve these conflicts  |  Cartoon by Polyp.

US, the world’s largest arms’ exporter, spreads the fertilizer of arms and ammuninution, which creates conflicts – and then US steps in to resolve these conflicts | Cartoon by Polyp.

Boom & Explosions

Ordinary gunpowder, is no longer a high-tech secret. Mix diesel, common nitrate fertilizer and sulfur, all commonly available items, and you get gunpowder.

Things were different a hundred years ago. India was the largest producer of this high tech product – and the British Empire rested on its ability to exclusively access Indian production of gunpowder elements. Within India, gunpowder was commonly available – and manufactured in the private sector, without State control.

In the last 50 years, we have seen a new explosive. Plastic explosive. Like wet clay or plasticine in texture, and stable, it has much more explosive power compared to ordinary gunpowder. Many terrorist incidents in India reported use of plastic explosives. An item with restricted access and limited manufacture, usage of plastic explosive usually signifies State involvement.

Known by various names like C4, Semtex (a mix of RDX & PETN),  visual identification is easy. C4 leaves off-white traces on the debris and Semtex has a tell-tale brick-red color.

Agents and double agents  |  Cartoon by by Dave Coverly; 31 May, 2012

Agents and double agents | Cartoon by by Dave Coverly; 31 May, 2012

There Goes The Neighborhood

We had David Coleman Headley, a CIA-DEA American agent, who was deeply involved in the Mumbai attacks. US has more troops in Asia than other part of the world – except Europe. While Europe has a 500-year history of wars, to justify this US army role, where is the need in Asia?

Except the imposition of Pax Americana?

US is today at war with Pakistan – next door to India. After deluding Pakistan for 50 years, US the ally has started war with Pakistan. Neither US nor Pakistan has admitted they are at war – yet American drones have been killing Pakistanis for years now.

In Pakistan, this class of explosives are made by Pakistan Ordnance Factories (POF)  and Wah Nobel, a 1962-joint venture between Almisehal (Saudi Arabia), Saab (Sweden) and Pakistan Ordnance Factories.

Making The Wheels Go Round

US is the world’s largest arms producer and exporter. These clandestine sales and furtive supplies have been done by arms agents like Viktor Bout or Wilson.

NOTHING about Edwin P. Wilson was quite as it appeared. If you met him at an airport—en route to Geneva, London, New York, on joking terms with the Concorde stewardesses—he looked like any other globetrotting businessman. In fact, he was a spy.

His chief business in the 1970s was shipping arms to Libya, then under Western sanctions. He didn’t advertise it. But then again, he claimed later, it wasn’t what it seemed. He sold Muammar Qaddafi firearms. But that was done to “buddy up” to him, to try to use him like an asset. He offered him plans for making a nuclear bomb, but only to find out how Libya’s own bomb-making was going. The plans were bogus anyway. He recruited ex-Green Berets to train Qaddafi’s intelligence officers, and to teach them to make bombs disguised as bedside lamps and radios. He earned $1m a year from that, but also learned the officers’ identities. It was all done with CIA backing. These were patriotic acts.

Most spectacularly—and disastrously for his cover—in 1977 he shipped to Libya 20 tons of C4 plastic explosives. This was almost the whole of America’s stockpile, flown out of Houston in a DC-8 charter in barrels marked “oil-drilling mud”. Mr Wilson felt no qualms about it. He didn’t believe it had been used for terrorism. He had sent it to ingratiate himself and to get intelligence. The CIA, he said, knew all about it. But the CIA denied it.

He worked actively for the CIA for 15 years, destabilising European labour unions by using anything—Corsican mobsters, plagues of cockroaches—and setting up his front companies. The work was “a hell of a satisfaction” to him. He left, officially, in 1971, but only for Task Force 157 of the Office of Naval Intelligence, another super-secret outfit.

Then, in 1976, he went “freelance”. The CIA contacts, and all the front companies, continued—sending arms to Angola and boats to the Congo, bringing intelligence back—right up to the moment when he stood in a federal court, in 1983, accused among other things of shipping the explosives and sending the guns to Libya without a licence.

The third-highest CIA officer in the land declared then, in a sworn affidavit, that since 1971 the agency had had nothing to do with him. Not directly; not indirectly. Contacts zero.

The CIA’s story was that he had gone rogue. Deniability was part of the deal, of course. But it was sheer success that made him, in the end, “a little hot”. His front companies were also legitimate businesses, and they made real profits—all the more because his books were hardly audited. Asked once to itemise the cost of a trawler stuffed with surveillance gear, sold to the agency for $500,000, he quoted $250,000 for “product” and $250,000 for “service”. Fine and dandy. Kinglike, and worth $23m, he rollicked over a 2,500-acre estate at Mount Airy in Virginia, lavishing jewels on his girlfriends, entertaining congressmen and generals to picnics and hunting parties.

Not bad for a poor farm boy from Idaho. There were “very, very nice” villas, with Pakistani houseboys, in Malta and in Tripoli,

His revenge for his framing came almost too late. In 2003 his conviction for the explosives-shipping was overturned because, wrote the judge, the government had lied. Far from no contacts with the CIA between 1971 and 1978, there had been at least 80. Several ran intriguingly “parallel” to the illegal acts he had been charged with. The next year he was released, white-haired at 76, fighting fit and pumped up with his own righteousness, to spend the rest of his days trying to clear his name.

He knew that would be a tough sell. For many he would always be a traitor and a terrorist as well as an amoral profiteer.

via Edwin P. Wilson | The Economist.

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