August 27, 2005

Handsets' Deadly Use: Detonators

marineinirak.gif More and more terrorists are using cell phones to remotely detonate bombs and there's not much authorities can do about it. At least, not that they can say, reports Investor's Business Daily, in a very interesting and thorough article on this issue.

"Cell phones have been connected to terrorist bombings in Madrid, Bali and Israel. Many roadside bombs in Iraq are believed to be triggered by cell phones. (more examples in Cell Phones used by terrorists)

... The very factors that make cell phones so easy and affordable to use also make them easy to use as detonation devices. Radio jamming gear can prevent cell phone detonations, but cops don't have easy access to such gear or the ready authority to use it. Carriers, too, are limited in what they can do to stop cell phones from being used to detonate bombs.

It's a complex, delicate situation. Few in government or industry care to talk about it publicly.

Unfortunately, it's easy to use cell phones as detonators. Handsets are so similar, terrorists encounter the same circuitry in most any phone. Phones can easily be disassembled.

"It takes about a minute and a half using a screwdriver" to connect a cell phone to a bomb, said Howard Melamed, president of Coral Springs, Fla.-based CellAntenna. It sells gear to jam cell phone signals.

Melamed says there are two main ways to use a cell phone as a detonator. One method is to connect a bomb to the wires of the phone's ringer. The bomb can be exploded with a call to the phone.

The other way is to connect a bomb to the phone's internal alarm clock, to detonate at a preset time.

Walls concedes that design makes it easy to convert cell phones into detonators. But cell phones can't shoulder all the blame, he says. Many other electronic devices use radio airwaves and also can be made into detonators. Authorities believe garage door openers, cordless phones and toy remote controls have been used as detonators of roadside bombs in Iraq.

Electronic jammers could prevent detonations. If a bomb is known to be in an area, the jammer interferes with signals reaching the phone, hence preventing ignition.

In July, the Pentagon began issuing the third generation of its Warlock electronic jammers to soldiers in Iraq. The latest version is handheld. Other versions are vehicle-mounted or require manpower.

Israeli security's had ready access to cell phone jamming gear because of that nation's long history of terrorist attacks, but not so elsewhere.

... jammers are fine in places like Iraq where the U.S. military has full authority to stop all cell phone communications in a battle zone. But in the U.S., jamming signals knock out all communications, even those of civilians. Oelrich says few government agencies want to risk the wrath of angry consumers who can't make a cell phone call.

More than that, the fact is that jamming devices work only when a bomb is detonated through calling a cell phone. A preset explosion using the cell phone's clock can't be prevented through jamming, since no signal goes over the airwaves.

... cellular networks also can be designed to allow only outgoing calls in certain locations, such as subway tunnels. That way, terrorists couldn't call a cell phone to set off a bomb."

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