Body Cavity Bombs: fantasy or reality?

by Robert Bunker

The threat of body cavity bombs has been increasingly mentioned in the news over the last few years as well as having been the subject of numerous humorous cartoons in various print and web media. Questions concerning whether such bombs are pure fantasy or if they could actually work have been raised, along with the further question of whether terrorists would even consider using them if they did indeed work. Robert J. Bunker provides us with a general introduction to the subject of body cavity bombs, contraband smuggling techniques, detonation scenarios that could be utilised against airliners, and related themes of interest. He also evaluates the validity of those predictions which indicate the use of such devices might form part of future al Qaeda tactics, techniques, and procedures.

For a number of decades now, a cat and mouse – offensive and defensive – dynamic has been playing out globally between terrorists, specifically those groups utilising suicide bombers, and security professionals. This dynamic has been focused on suicide bombers attempting to attack high value targets. Each time these targets, e.g. VIPs, facilities, or airliners, become further hardened by the defending authorities, some sort of terrorist innovation (counter-counter-measure) has taken place in order to get around the new counter-measures put into place.

This action-reaction dynamic can initially be seen with the shift in terrorist tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) from standard suicide bombs utilising military explosives and fragmentation to non-fragmentation/non-standard explosives (such as TATP – hydrogen peroxide derived). Further iterations included bombs disguised as benign objects, bombs sealed so as not to give off explosive vapours, and bombs migrating closer and closer to the human body – away from satchels and external vests to bra, underwear, and ankle bombs that are more covert in nature. Further evolution includes shoe and drink-based (utilising liquid explosives) devices.

At some point in this evolutionary process, terrorist groups only had a limited number of options available to them to overcome the layers of new countermeasures security professionals had devised (e.g. metal detectors, X-raying of carry-on items, shoe scans, explosive residue detection, and limits on liquids). These options were explosive clothing, medical cast concealments, the wearing of an external (cast or mould) belly, prosthetics, or the use of under-fat roll, colostomy bags, or body cavities.

After analysing these various options, it was concluded that only the body cavity option really made proper tactical sense, especially since the precedent already existed for the smuggling of contraband into high security environments (into prisons and onto airliners) within the body.

Contraband Smuggling Techniques
The three primary means to internally smuggle contraband in the human body – typically high value illicit narcotics such as cocaine and heroin – are either by ingesting packets which are then carried in the stomach and intestines, by inserting a packet into the rectum, or by inserting a packet into the vagina. In all cases, the packet(s) must have a fluid barrier of some sort and, in the case of ingestion, be robust enough not to be broken down by digestive acids.
A second tier of internal human body smuggling is derived from surgical procedures to place packets of contraband (solids or liquids) in the thighs, around the belly, or within female breasts.

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