"The Molotov cocktail, also known as
the petrol bomb, gasoline bomb, or
Molotov bomb, is a generic name used
for a variety of improvised incendiary
weapons. Simple to make, they are
frequently used by rioters.  The bombs
were derisively named after Soviet Union
Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov by
the Finns during the Winter War."
Times Square Bomb
Was It A Dirty Bomb?
Have you ever stopped to think how
difficult it is for terrorists to make real,
and more importantly lasting, impacts on
the United States?  Here in Baltimore
over the 2010 Memorial Day weekend,
twelve people were shot in eleven
separate incidents; eight fatally.  While
that’s a bad weekend even for Baltimore,
it’s not unusual.

It’s pretty amazing how much tolerance
people can develop for violence.  
But…keep in mind that there are two
types of tolerance.  If you’re a person
who lives or works almost continuously in
an environment where violence is
you’ll develop personal strategies and
tactics to avoid becoming a victim.  This
type of tolerance is born out of a simple
realization of reality and your inability to
change that reality.  The second type of
tolerance is easy to develop if you’re a
person whose only contact with violence
comes in the form of network or cable
television reports of violence and the
injuries and deaths associated with the
violence.  You can shake your head and
comment on how terrible it is and then
go back to your day to day activities.  As
problematic as violence is in the United
States, most Americans fall into the
second type of tolerance paradigm.

Herein lay the problem for all the Osama
bin Laden disciples or any other
pathological killers intent on effecting
their warped concepts of change through
acts of terror.  The terrorist attacks on
9/11 certainly got everyone’s attention…
at least for a while.  But, people are
people, and Americans are no different
from any other people when it comes to
short spans of attention.  As bad as
9/11 was, most Americans will never be
able to fully conceptualize that event
except for those who actually were there
to experience and survive the carnage.

Then comes May 1, 2010 when a Nissan
Pathfinder is parked in New York City’s
Times Square containing fireworks;
propane; gasoline; fertilizer and some
other items:

One CBS News story described the cost
of the items found in the Nissan:

“The M88 fireworks were purchased for
$95 in Pennsylvania. A gun safe similar to
the one found in the Nissan can be
purchased for about $290.00.

Then we estimated the cost of the other
bomb components: eight bags of
fertilizer $160.00, 3 Propane Gas
Canisters, $149.00, two alarm clocks,
$15.00, two five-gallon gas canisters,
$26.00, and gasoline for the canisters,

Grand Total - about $2,100.00”

When I heard the news reports
describing the bomb which failed to
detonate, my interest was immediately
drawn to what was generally described as
a 70 pound gun safe.  Evidently, CBS
found the same type of gun safe – more
accurately a gun fire safe – as I found on
the Internet at 69 pounds and retailing
for $289.00.  News reports would
subsequently reveal, according to
government sources, that the gun safe
contained fertilizer.  Here’s the
interesting thing about the gun fire safe
that I found… the interior dimensions of
the safe – 7.09”H x 11.81”W x 8.86”D –
is not a lot of room.  Even if you believe
New York Mayor Bloomberg’s description
of the bomb as “amateurish,” it strains
logic to believe that the safe contained
fertilizer.  What I found “amateurish” was
the media’s lack of curiosity for an item
which seemed so out of place in the
construction of a car bomb… or was it
out of place?

Remember, 9/11 placed the bar really
high for terrorists.  New York City
remains a prime target for terrorists.  If
terrorists can make successful strikes
against New York, they can exhibit their
ability to strike anywhere.  While the
detonation of a car bomb in New York
City’s Time Square resulting in any
significant loss of life would be viewed as
a success by terrorists, it would still fall
far short of a 9/11; unless, something
contained in that car bomb could leave
behind a long lasting negative effect on
lives and the city’s economy.

Every item described was, in and of itself,
an item which was designed for anything
other than a bomb.  News reporters and
pundits talked about the common nature
of the bomb components, but little time
was devoted to that out of place “gun
safe.”  Where was the discussion of the
possibility of the gun safe containing
radiological, chemical, or biological
material?  If indeed the safe contained
material to facilitate a “dirty bomb,” my
money would be on chemical or
biological.  That gun fire safe could
protect the material from being
destroyed by the initial fire ball created by
the propane and gasoline.

Okay, my speculation that the Times
Square bomb could have been a dirty
bomb is just that… pure speculation.  
After all, the only information
forthcoming is from government sources
filtered through the media; neither of
which can be viewed as possessing a high
level of credibility.

The truth of the matter is this.  Anytime
you, as a police officer, encounter a crime
scene, the information coming out of that
scene will depend upon the amount of
interest from other police officers,
investigators, politicians and media.  Let’s
say you respond to a location in a seedy
part of town to investigate a possible
overdose.  You find a body, and you
observe evidence – suspected controlled
dangerous substance(s); paraphernalia,
etc. – to indicate that the person may
have died from an overdose.  The victim
appears to be a regular drug user
evidenced by the track marks on his
arms.  The victim also sadly appears to
be of no obvious importance in the
societal scheme of things. You go about
following procedures and documenting
your actions and collection of evidence.  
The body goes to the medical examiner
who will eventually confirm the cause of
death from the results of the autopsy,
and the information provided from your

Now, let’s change this drug overdose
scenario just a bit.  The possible
overdose you’re investigating is now
located in the room of a downtown four
star hotel.  The victim is a person of
national celebrity.  Aside from the
location and the victim’s social status,
this scenario is exactly the same as the
first.  While the first scenario didn’t even
draw the interest of another police
officer, the second one is going to draw
plenty of attention from all quarters.  
Unless the investigation is snatched away
from you, you’re going to go about
things exactly as you did in the first
scenario.  However, when you begin
hearing media reports regarding the
incident, you may not recognize much of
what you hear.

The scenarios I just described have one
very important thing in common with the
attempt to bomb Times Square; that one
important thing is… how important an
event is perceived to be.  If the media
were really interested in the first
scenario, they might be allowed to get
information directly from you.  Even if
there’d be a filter in the form of a public
information officer, that would still be
only one layer of bureaucracy, and while
they’d still probably get something
wrong, most of the information would be
disseminated and reported accurately.  
The second scenario would be a whole
different story.  You can only imagine
how many layers of bureaucracy would be
involved, and how many sources of
information would be developed among
people who may, or may not, have any
accurate information to share.

There’s no question that the Times
Square bomb was one very important
event, and that gun safe – if indeed it
was a gun safe – will always be a source
of curiosity for me.  However, I’m just
glad that the bomb failed, and I’ll just
have to live with my curiosity.  If the
alleged bomber, Faisal Shahzad, was not,
in fact, the bumbling fool the government
would like us to believe, and he
succeeded in constructing a dirty bomb,
the fact that the information would not
be shared with the public is not a bad
While the Molotov cocktail is not a
sophisticated bomb, it can be highly
destructive and deadly.  The destructive
potential of a Molotov can be enhanced
by any individual who does just a small
amount of research, and it has long been
the bomb of choice for street level
thugs.  Fortunately, some thugs are
morons as well.  I once responded for a
bombing where the suspect threw a
Molotov through the front window of a
residence.  No explosion ensued, because
the suspect constructed the Molotov
using a plastic bottle.  In another
incident, the suspect(s) used a soft drink
can.  While the ignorance of a criminal is
a good thing, you cannot count on a
criminal's poor bomb making skills.

Bombs are simply insidiously deadly and
destructive devices used by terrorists
and other criminals to kill and maim.  
Your best defense against bombs and
bombers will always be your vigilance and
developing your sense of never taking
anything for granted.
Bombs and
Bomb Threats
"A lot of new police officers are
surprised by their lack of authority
when it comes to most bomb threat
incidents." ~ Barry M. Baker
American police officers have been pretty
lucky in respect to bombs and bombers
in comparison to a country like Israel
where every generation of its citizens and
police officers have dealt with bombings
on massive levels since the country's
inception.  Sure, America has had, and
continues to have, its own home grown
terrorists with the bombers among them,
but Americans don't board a bus
everyday and scan the passengers,
profile if you will, for bomb carrying

During the many years I spent on the
street, I never encountered a bomb more
sophisticated than a Molotov cocktail, but
I sure handled a lot of bomb threats.  
When you begin your police career, you
can be certain that you'll eventually be
assigned to handle a bomb threat
incident.  You may also be surprised how
simple your responsibilities will be.  Aside
from making proper notifications within
your chain of command, your biggest
responsibility may be establishing a
perimeter a safe distance away from the
alleged location of a bomb.  Or... you
might respond to a public school for a
bomb threat, and the Principal informs
you that no evacuation will be conducted.

A lot of new police officers are surprised
by their lack of authority when it comes
to most bomb threat incidents.  
Obviously, as a police officer, you have a
great deal of authority in any situation
where you have probable cause to act.  
In most bomb threat incidents, however,
the initial information will be vague and
usually delivered by telephone.  Let's look
at the public school incident where the
principal tells you he'll have a cursory
search conducted, but he won't evacuate
the school.  It turns out that this is the
third threat received over a period of two
weeks, and the Principal has determined
that the motive of the caller is to simply
disrupt classes.  Since there is no exigent
circumstance existing for you to overrule
the Principal, you wait for the results of
the search.
During the search, one of the teachers
finds a package beneath her desk.  The
package is the shape and size of a shoe
box wrapped in brown paper with no
markings.  Here's where you exercise
your authority.  You now have a
suspicious package along with the
threat.  You ensure that nobody touches
the package, and you order an immediate
evacuation of the school.  Once you've
cleared the school, the package is now
the responsibility of those trained in
bomb disposal.

In this scenario, the package turns out to
be a hoax.  The package, which is a shoe
box, contains a brick with a note
attached saying, "BOOM."  While there
was never any danger to anyone, you
acted properly, and you now have some
physical evidence to aid in the
investigation of the threats.  Or... the
package was inadvertently left beneath
the desk the day before by a substitute
teacher.  The teacher had wrapped the
package for mailing, but she'd not yet
affixed a mailing label.  In any case,
during your investigation, the package
was suspicious dictating the actions you
took.  Or – the third possibility – the
package contained a real bomb.     

You may be surprised to learn that, in
locations which are not under your direct
responsibility,  you will not be able to
force searches or evacuations based on
mere threats.  Let's say you receive a
bomb threat call for a "car bomb."  The
caller gives the location and a complete
description of the car, and you find the
car parked on a residential street.  You
immediately arrange for roadblocks to
prevent any vehicular or pedestrian traffic
from entering the area.  Officers are
knocking on doors directing residents to
evacuate the area.  You knock on the
door of the residence directly in front of
the parked car.  A woman answers the
door, and she listens to you briefly,
before she tells you to take a hike and
slams the door in your face.  Okay, I
made her reaction a little extreme to
make this point; she doesn't have to
evacuate her home if she doesn't want to
leave.  You can't always make a person
act in his or her best interest; unless,
that person is in your custody.  Let's say
this woman is sitting in her parked car on
the street a short distance from the
alleged "car bomb."  This time you order
the woman to evacuate the area by either
walking or driving beyond the nearest
roadblock.  If she refuses this time, she's
subject to arrest for failing to obey your
lawful order.  What's the difference?  
While you couldn't order her out of her
home, you can certainly order her
movement on the street under the
prevailing circumstance.

You often see the problems with
evacuations associated with natural
disasters like hurricanes and wild fires.  A
mayor or governor will issue a
"mandatory evacuation" order which is
not really mandatory; it's simply a really
strong appeal to people to evacuate.  
However, once the people are away from
their homes or businesses, police will
have total control over when and how
those people may return.

If you're lucky, you'll never encounter a
sophisticated bomb during your career.  
However, if  you're on the street for any
length of time, you'll likely have some
experience with the Molotov cocktail.

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