I was an avid TV non-watcher for years. Until COVID quarantine. Since March I have viewed more hours of television than in the preceding decade combined. One of the series we whiled our way through was the FX show Justified. It is network TV, to be sure, but it has its charms. One of which was the knavish-yet-sometimes-sympathetic anti-villain of the series, Boyd Crowder.
Boyd knew two things: how to use forty words when just four would do; and how to blow shit up.
I am certain the fictional Boyd Crowder would have something to say about the explosion that rocked Beirut last week. And I am sure that would be to tell us that there is no way that a warehouse of ammonium nitrate alone could have caused that cataclysm.
I am not a demolitions expert. I don’t know much about fertilizer. But I know when I smell bullshit coming from the American media. Funny how they try to sell us the plausibility of an explosion like Beirut’s from just ammonium nitrate.
From the New York Times (emphasis added):
John Ismay was a bomb disposal officer in the U.S. Navy before he became a reporter for The Times Magazine’s At War section. Here is the information he has gathered about the explosion in Beirut.
Lebanese officials say that thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse at the port in Beirut caused the powerful explosion that devastated the city on Tuesday, killing more than 130 people, injuring at least 4,000 and displacing 300,000 from their homes.
Ammonium nitrate is used in fertilizer and in the mining industry as an explosive to blast rock and move mounds of earth. It has some military applications as well.
It has been the cause of previous industrial accidents, and an ingredient in acts of terrorism as well. It was used by white supremacists to blow up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Okla. in 1995. ….
… According to the Lebanese government, about 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer was stored in a warehouse on the Beirut waterfront and caught fire, later exploding. The fertilizer arrived in the city more than six years ago aboard a Russian-owned cargo ship that made an unscheduled stop in the city. Lebanese port officials said they made several requests to the courts to have the stockpile removed, but got no response. …
… Ammonium nitrate, by itself, is relatively harmless. But if added to a fuel source, and subjected to intense stresses like heat and pressure, it can explode. Although we do not know exactly what happened yet in Beirut, the sheer size of the collected ammonium nitrate offers some clues. If subjected to fire in such bulk quantities, and in a semi-contained environment like a warehouse, the potential for detonation is strong.
Here’s where the bullshit detector goes off: Timothy McVeigh’s truckload of fertilizer could not possibly have caused the blast crater of the magnitude it supposedly did. I remember at the time an interview with Retired Air Force Brigadier General Benton K. Partin, former commander of the Air Force Armament Technology Laboratory. He was adamant that a fertilizer bomb by itself would not do such damage: there had to have been demolition charges around the bases of the building.*
So when I hear the Beirut explosion being compared to OKC in ’95, I know already that the media experts are making a false analogy, inflating the potential destruction of an ammonium nitrate explosion by comparing it to a planned act of demolition. The analogy is falsified all the more by the fact that McVeigh’s truckload was (purportedly) concocted precisely to be a bomb—it was NOT just a bunch of bags of fertilizer lying around. Some pretty elaborate chemistry had to have taken place to get any kind of explosion (i.e., more than just an intense fire, but an actual concussive reaction).
Fertilizer is not an explosive. This is a myth perpetrated by the media to keep us scared of homegrown terrorists all around us near and far. Fertilizer can be used to make explosives … just like cold medicine can be used to make crystal meth. But in both cases, you have to really know what you are doing and also have the right equipment.
If you follow the news links above, you will see that they all admit as much, but only in passing: ammonium nitrate by itself does not explode. It needs to be well mixed with a fuel source (like diesel oil) AND have an effective detonation event. Furthermore, a random collocation of these three things together is unlikely to cause the kind of massive explosion that Beirut experienced. It’s not like dropping Mentos in Diet Coke. Only a careful preparation of NH4NO3 plus fuel plus detonator gets the Big Bada Boom of an ANFO bomb. So said Prof. John Goodpaster, a researcher in explosives at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis back in 2010: “The fertilizer and the fuel have to be combined in a just the right proportions, Goodpaster said, or else nothing will happen. ‘If they’re not mixed the right way, the detonator could go off, but there will be no explosion. It would just burn,’ he said.”
This paragraph (from here) spells it out in chemical terms:
ANFO /ammonium nitrate fuel oil/ consists of 94% ammonium nitrate prills coated with an anti-caking agent and 6% absorbed fuel oil.For use in explosives–99% purity, water content of not more than 0.15%, should contain only small amounts of ether-soluble and water insoluble materials, sulfates & chlorides; 99.5% purity for nitrous oxide manufacture, ammonium phosphate is sometimes introduced as a stabilizer in the amount of a fraction of a percent.
There is no way that ammonium nitrate stored in a coastal warehouse in humid Beirut for six years could be anywhere close to the dryness specified above (less than two-tenths of one percent). Nor was there any way for the entire heap to be consistently suffused with exactly 6% fuel oil. Could it burn if ignited? Yes. Could there be some explosive events around the warehouse? Maybe. But the huge detonation and shock wave that were inflicted on Beirut could not have transpired due to a fireworks accident at a neighboring warehouse. It’s like thinking that jet fuel can burn hot enough to melt structural steel beams.
Zdenek Urbánek’s words ring true more than ever: “In one respect, we [who live behind the Iron Curtain] are more fortunate than you in the west. We believe nothing of what we read in the newspapers and watch on television, nothing of the official truth. Unlike you, we have learned to read between the lines, because real truth is always subversive.” Indeed, there is more to disbelieve now than ever, especially with social media being new venues for propagandists to work. It is curious to watch how “average” people on the Internet have such certain opinions about the Beirut explosion being due to a failure of the government. For example, Reddit threads like this one seem to exist so that know-nothings from across the Atlantic can pile opprobrium on the only-recently formed Lebanese government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab (since January 2020). This photo supposedly speaks for the people of Beirut …
Remarkable work with a spray-paint can, no? In fact, impossible. Every line, straight or curved, is the identical thickness. No hand is so steady that it could hold a spraying can exactly the same distance from a concrete barrier (while also certainly stooping down) for graffiti of this size. This looks to me like a Photoshop job.
The point of the photo is to pin blame on the current administration, because (we are to understand) that’s what the locals are doing. Indeed, many young people are. But the subtext of the photo is to push the idea that no Beiruti is contemplating the possibility that this explosion might not have been accidental. This is most certainly false. It is a red herring. The comments on Reddit condemn the administration for storing the confiscated ammonium nitrate (“that explosive fertilizer”!) in the warehouse for the last six years … although, again, the present government has only been in place since January. Then there are comments like this one from user MessoGesso:
“As horrible as this situation and outcome is, I’m relieved that it wasn’t an attack from another country.”
Isn’t that judgment a wee bit premature? Sort of like that convenient “random” man-on-the-street interview on 9/11 that laid out succinctly the official story of how fires weakened the structures enough to cause the collapses, long before the 9/11 Commission came to the same conclusion.
To be honest, the Reddit comments read like a brilliant piece of Israeli propaganda. Don’t be surprised if Lebanon’s neighbor to the south decides that it needs to invade in order to ensure “stability” for its citizens in Galilee. Perhaps, though, once again, he who offers the solution is also he who caused the original problem and incited the ensuing reaction. This is not to say absolutely that “Israel did it.” It is equally conceivable that the Empire based in Washington, D.C. did it.
Which may explain why we see—like something out of a Neocon wet dream—reports that other warehouses near the ammonium nitrate were holding … Iranian rocket fuel! Self-styled “weapons analyst” Carlos Osweda (aka Thomas Wictor) claims that Iran has taken to storing its weapons of mass destruction in civilian centers (inside of other countries!), thinking that puts them beyond the reach of their enemies. He claims further that the explosion took out the entirety of Iran’s rocket fuel supply. He cites the sound of multiple explosions as proof that “someone” took out an Iranian arms depot. Of course, multiple explosions are equally consistent with an attack by use of explosives as they are with the detonation of stored explosives. And in any case, rocket fuel near ammonium nitrate is not the same as fuel mixed in with ammonium nitrate. They are playing on our ignorance of chemistry.
Fertilizer is not an explosive. Or, at least, not without a whole hell of a lot of sophisticated chemistry under exactly the right conditions. Warehouses of ammonium nitrate do not blow up spontaneously. Do not be afraid of the box of Miracle-Gro in your garage.
One more point can be made about this quite obvious attack on Beirut: people died. There were, without a doubt, deaths and injuries and people who lost their homes and possessions. I know that our friendly professional commenters will step in and assure us that—as on 9/11 and in war after war—no one at all died. These shills are liars, and all the more deceitful for charging money to let you read their lies.
What would Boyd Crowder say?
*Another site says this: “… according to Department of the Army and Air Force Technical Manual No. 9-1910, entitled Military Explosives, ANFO requires a greater than 99% purity of ammonium nitrate, as well as a specific dryness, before it can be mixed with diesel fuel to create an explosive substance. The manual further spells out that even under ideal conditions (not often reached even by experts) 4,800 pounds of ANFO explosive would create a much smaller crater than the one left in front of the Murrah building, and its shock wave could not possibly wield the force necessary to compromise the building’s concrete support structure. The FBI claims that the ANFO charge was made from 50 bags of fertilizer. Ammonium nitrate fertilizers comes in much weaker concentrations than the 99%-plus required for explosives. Creating concentrated amounts of ammonium nitrate is quite complex, and would require many bags of fertilizer.”