This page considers bombmaking and other terrorist information
on the net.
introduction – are
online bomb recipes a contemporary myth
– what is available in print
statistics – how much
information, who is looking at it?
perspective is provided in a complementary note regarding
online and offline 'murder manuals'.
In discussing censorship, free speech and information
flows we have noted that three preoccupations of regulators,
the media and the community are the availability of online
primers on suicide
information about DIY bomb construction or poison manufacture
and primers for 'hit men' or disgruntled neighbours,
partners and employees
As with cybersuicide,
the prevalence and significance of online 'bomb kits'
or poison guides is unclear.
Much discussion of internet primers has an anecdotal basis,
with few hard figures about the number of sites or their
use and little effort to relate online information to
what is available offline (whether in print, in classrooms,
in military units or through word of mouth among the wider
Uncertainty about a substantive basis for special regulation
has not, however, inhibited some national and state efforts
to restrict or even eliminate 'bomb sites', with for example
prohibitions on publishing DIY explosives instructions
or calls for criminal sanctions against publishers.
The US federal Violent & Repeat Juvenile Offender
Accountability Act of 1999, for example, criminalises
the teaching or distribution of information on "how
to make a bomb or other weapon of mass destruction"
if the distributor intends use of the information
to commit a federal violent crime or knows that
the recipient intends to use it to commit such a crime.
The penalty is a fine of US$250,000 and/or a maximum of
20 years imprisonment.
Critics have responded that use of the law to expunge
pyrotechnics information from the web is inconsistent
with the US Federal Government's print publication (in
for example the Forestry Service's Blaster's Handbook)
of details about explosive manufacture and deployment
and the 1997 report
on The Availability of Bombmaking Information by
the Department of Justice's cybercrime unit.
Others, somewhat harshly, have labelled it as gesture
politics, arguing that few publishers will admit to knowing
what is in a reader's mind.
US anarchist Sherman Austin,
who pleaded guilty in 2003 to distributing information
related to explosives, thus perhaps unsurprisingly told
the court that he "wasn't really thinking" when
he hosted a primer (with a link from raisethefist.com)
and that "I'd be devastated if someone used this
information to harm others".
Arguably the internet's greatest significance in the dissemination
of bombmaking information has been as a tool for marketing
print publications and allowing people to order texts
from other jurisdictions.
Much of the information that is (or has been) online derives
from commercial and government publications, many of which
are still available in libraries or available from mainstream
retailers (eg the 1971 Anarchist Cookbook, Improvised
Munitions Black Book or Big Book of Mischief
from Amazon.com or primers direct from 'survivalist' publishers
such as Loompanics).
by US academic Frank Tuerkheimer noted that the 1986 Encyclopedia
reveals great detail on explosive manufacture, similar
in many respects to the information disseminated electronically
of concern to the [Senate Judiciary] Committee and others,
including, on page 279, a description of the Ammonium
Nitrate/Fuel Oil mixture used in the Oklahoma City bombing.
Much information is presumably available by word of mouth
- enthusiasts who are intelligent or merely persistent
can for example devise basic explosives on the basis of
classroom science experiments - or in academic and industry
In 1962 the US Patent Office for example granted patent
3,060,165 regarding use of ricin as a biological weapon.
That patent was publicly available for several decades
and was online until after the culling of US federal government
sites following September 11 that is discussed elsewhere
in this site. The patent is, however, still available
in non-US databases and can for example be accessed
via the European Patent Office.
Basic information is also available in the mass media.
In 2003 for example the 7.30 Report current affairs
program on Australia's national ABC television network
featured four Tasmanian documentary makers building and
detonating a fertiliser bomb, similar to devices used
in terrorist attacks overseas. US newspapers have offered
information on peroxide-based 'kitchen sink' or 'mother
of satan' explosives (including triacetone triperoxide
[TAP] and , or hexamethylene triperoxide diamine [HMTD]),
made by mixing chemicals in common household items, including
hydrogen peroxide and paint thinner.
It is important to note that the federal censorship regime
in Australia requires
the Office of Film & Literature Classification (OFLC)
to refuse classification of any materials that "promote,
incite or instruct in matters of crime or violence".
Prior to 1996 that ban more specifically referred to
instruction or encouragement in: (i) the use of terrorist-type
weapons and terrorist acts, (ii) the abuse of prescribed
is, of course, unnecessary to make explosives from scratch
through trial and error. The 1998 US National Research
Council Black and Smokeless Powders: Technologies
for Finding Bombs and the Bomb Maker report
and smokeless powders are widely used for sport and
recreational purposes throughout the United States.
In the retail market, the powders are sold primarily
for reloading of ammunition and for use in muzzle-loading
firearms. Large quantities are also used for military
purposes, and smaller amounts for blasting during mining.
In addition to these legitimate pursuits, black and
smokeless powders can also be used to manufacture improvised
explosive devices. These devices, often referred to
as pipe bombs, are the type most commonly used in criminal
bombings in the United States. Such devices were used
in some of the Unabomber's mail bombs, at the Olympics
in Atlanta, and in attacks against federal judges.
Detailed statistics about the incidence of DIY weapons
information on the net and - more importantly - about
its use are unavailable.
Inferences based on the reported sales of texts such as
the Anarchist Cookbook or the mirroring of sites
should be treated with caution, as the extent to which
purchasing/copying reflects adolescent naughtiness is
Few nations have reported successful prosecutions of people
for online publication of DIY weapons information or use
of that information.
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