Earlier this week, a man in Florida made headlines after it was reported authorities believed he was responsible for downloading bomb-making instructions from a local library.
The man, 45-year-old British citizen Nigel Berkeley Gates, was actually being held on immigration violations. But whatever his fate, the stories about him didn't report this simple fact: Getting step-by-step instructions on making your own bomb via the Internet is as easy as ordering a pair of pants.
In fact, there are a number of Web sites that offer anyone interested a wealth of practical information about creating explosives to damage property, or explosives to kill and maim people.
Just an hour spent on a popular Internet search engine turned up more than half a dozen sites that offered complete manuals on manufacturing mayhem, from a simple, relatively harmless paint bomb to shaped plastic explosives and primitive rocket launchers.
The granddaddy of bomb-making manuals is the "Anarchists' Cookbook," first published in 1971 and spread throughout the world in various incarnations via mail-order catalogs, in passed-along Xeroxes and now the Internet. As the most well-known of the bomb handbooks, it’s perhaps the hardest to find on the Web, with links quickly severed by server hosts.
But, like a toxic mushroom, it pops up again and again -- in one case on a French-Swiss-related site and on an anarchy site.
A virtual how-to encyclopedia of anti-social behavior, the latest version of the Cookbook explains, among other things, how to counterfeit money, make yourself a new identity, get cash from ATMs, manufacture LSD, and make silencers, letter bombs, thermite bombs and other deadly weapons.
The "Terrorist Handbook," on the other hand, focuses almost entirely on explosives. Written in strangely hypothetical language, the handbook’s author, who describes himself as an engineering student at an East Coast university, gives detailed instructions on how to procure the ingredients for explosives (including a list of suppliers), how to shape explosives and make pipe cannons, crude firearms, TNT and the powerful explosive RDX.
He also explains the best way to make lightbulb bombs, book bombs and phone bombs -- noting dispassionately the last bomb will likely detonate next to the target’s ear.
A third bomb-making guide, the "Big Book of Mischief," discusses the merits of using model-rocket powder versus flash powder and describes, along with the usual instructions for high-order explosives, crude firearms and pipebombs.
And that’s not it. There are instructions on the Web for making everything from low-power battery bombs to nuclear explosives, offering various levels of bang for your buck.
The Internet, it seems, is a virtual minefield.