PET Project


Three days after 9-11, a professor from Israel’s Technion-Israel Institute of Technology walked through security at Baltimore-Washington International Airport carrying two pounds of an extremely powerful explosive in his bag. He went unchallenged. The explosive, the same type used by the so-called “shoe bomber,” Richard Reed, went undetected because it is made with acetone and hydrogen peroxide and not nitrogen, which all conventional airport detectors are designed to spot. The Technion professor, Ehud Keinan of the school’s Institute of Technology, has recently announced that he has devised an instrument — which he calls a peroxide explosive tester, or “PET” — to detect the explosive.

The tester resembles a three-color ballpoint pen. The pen releases a chemical mixture that changes color when it interacts with the explosive, triacetone triperoxide, or TATP. “It’s a white powder that looks like sugar,” he said.

Keinan said TATP has been used in two bus bombings in Haifa, two other bombings in Tel Aviv and at the Dolphinarium nightclub bombing in Tel Aviv.

“It’s popular among many terrorist groups, not just those in Israel,” he told reporters in his office here Monday. Keinan, who is dean of the Technion’s chemistry faculty, said that after the 9-11 attack, he decided to fly to Washington to let American officials see what he had been working on.“It’s very easy to make,” he said. “Terrorists put metal particles into it and the effect [when it explodes] is like shooting 1,000 bullets all around,” he said.

Although made with easily obtainable ingredients, the explosive is also very unstable and will explode from contact with a cigarette or an electrical discharge. Keinan noted that Palestinian terrorists have been known to make the explosive in their own apartment buildings.

Keinan said he is now ready to manufacture the PET and is already in talks with two companies. There is also a great deal of interest by law enforcement authorities, he noted.