After No Pipe Bomb Explosions, Experts Say Packages Likely Meant to Scare Not Kill

Zachary Stieber
By Zachary Stieber
October 26, 2018US News

The devices sent to former presidents and other top former and current officials appear designed to scare rather than kill, according to some experts.

The analysis comes after none of the 11 suspicious packages containing what appeared to be pipe bombs exploded and investigators said that at least some could not have exploded due to flaws in the designs.

“What they wanted to do was scare people, cause disruption, but not necessarily hurt anybody, because if they’d wanted to hurt people the bombs would have gone off,” Matthew Bradley, a former CIA agent and current regional security director of International SOS and Control Risks, told Reuters.

Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Ark.), a former explosive ordnance disposal technician with the U.S. Army, told Fox News that he also believes the packages weren’t designed to go off.

“I think it was probably designed to get attention. It was designed to be caught. And while it may be a device that could function I think it was designed more than anything to strike fear in the hearts of those people who they were intended to target, not necessarily to kill them,” he said during an appearance on Laura Ingraham’s show.

Explosive Devices may have been designed not to explode
A package addressed to former CIA head John Brennan and an explosive device that was sent to CNN’s New York office, on Oct. 24, 2018. (ABC News via AP)
suspicious package found in New York City
NYPD’s Total Containment vessel arrives as law enforcement respond to the scene of a suspicious package at a postal facility in New York, on Oct. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Some Devices Couldn’t Explode

All of the devices appear connected, with similar designs, investigators said. But at least some of them could not have exploded because they contained substantial flaws. Others had subtle defects that prevented explosions.

Investigators told NBC that they’re still working to figure out if the flaws were intentional or unintentional.

“Were they ever intended to actually function, and if so, how, in terms of how were they supposed to be detonated?” said NBC analyst Bill Bratton, who formerly led the police departments in New York City and Los Angeles. “If not, well, then, that changes the focus from trying to cause bodily harm to effectively creating fear.”

Ryan Morris, founder of Tripwire Operations Group, a company that provides explosives training to law enforcement and military officials, told CNN after examining images of the packages and pipe bombs: “There are a multitude of more sophisticated methodologies that would have worked if they really wanted this to work.”

The intercepted would-be pipe bombs were sent inside small envelopes, which further confused experts who said they presented a contrast to successful bombers of the past such as the Unabomber.

“The small size restricts what materials might actually function in it,” University of Rhode Island chemistry professor and explosives expert Jimmie Oxley, who has built 130 pipe bombs herself for federal investigators to study. The design, which reportedly includes PVC, led her to believe whoever built the bombs mistakenly thought it wouldn’t be detected by X-rays.

“My personal feeling is that this is some kind of a wacko, rather than an organization trying to accomplish something. Evil, mad, has a grudge. A little mix of all of these,” she said.

FBI asks for help locating people behind suspicious packages
The FBI released this poster on Thursday, Oct. 25, 2018, asking for the public’s assistance in finding the people responsible for sending suspicious packages to multiple locations across the United States. (FBI via AP)

Most Packages Intercepted

Most of the suspicious packages were intercepted in screening facilities, a system set up post-911 to more thoroughly vet mail sent through the U.S. postal system. Several packages were sent by courier directly to places, including the Time Warner Center in New York City, headquarters of CNN; the package found in the mailbox of a home owned by billionaire George Soros was also dropped there directly.

The screening facilities mean that few of the packages arrived at the places they were addressed to.

The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and Anthrax attacks that same year prompted a redesign of the mail screening system. Mail for Congress and the Senate is now processed offsite in two facilities in Maryland, reported Roll Call.

The mail can take anywhere from 10 to 14 days to reach its destination due to the screenings. Couriers can’t make deliveries directly to many of the buildings in Washington and must take the envelopes or packages to a mail screening facility where its x-rayed and screened for hazardous materials and substances. All mail sent to government offices in zip codes 20200 through 20599 is irradiated to prevent biological hazards.

A remote delivery site for mail addressed to the White House was opened in 1996 but security was beefed up after the Anthrax attacks, reported CNBC. The Secret Service began screening all mail items destined for the White House. The exact location of that screening location isn’t known.

After the Secret Service screening, the mail heads to a sorting facility in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to, but separate, from the White House.

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