This was the same backpack in which Atwater was carrying a military smoke grenade when he was stopped by TSA security in Fayetteville, North Carolina’s airport a week earlier, December 24. Atwater was scolded and his smoke grenade taken away but was still allowed to travel to Texas presumably with a bag full of enough C-4 to blow the jet he got on out of the sky.
It’s clear the C-4 was in Atwater’s backpack after the smoke grenade incident because when he was busted for the plastic explosive on New Year’s Eve, his excuse was that he forgot about it since coming back from Afghanistan the previous April. The Green Beret didn’t say why he had the C-4 or why he would have had to illegally smuggle it out of a war zone to possess it. Atwater was mum on why he had a military smoke grenade his backpack or why he had brought this small arsenal on a public aircraft and forgot about the C-4 even after getting caught with the smoke grenade. In the end, though, he didn’t have to explain anything: all charges were dropped in February 2012.
Another Army Special Forces soldier was arrested at home in Clarksville, Tennessee on November 2, 2009 for having 100 pounds of C-4. The soldier’s house was near Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where he was stationed. Two hunters had found the hefty C-4 stash in a bag in a field linked to the Special Forces sergeant.
In another incident, a ten pound cache of C-4 was found by a caretaker at the New York City Marble Cemetery in spring 2009. The eight M112 demolition charges in a crumbling black garbage bag were good to go even though lack of taggants – identifying markers – dated the production of the C-4 to before 1997.
Exactly how much C-4 has been stolen from the military or civilian businesses in the United States is a mystery. Anecdotal information serves as a key indicator barring such estimates.
One of the biggest heists of explosives in New Mexico history went down sometime in December 2005 when 400 pounds of plastic explosives, including 150 lbs. of C-4, were ripped off. The thieves used a blowtorch to cut into several storage trailers of Cherry Engineering outside of Albuquerque.
The company’s owner, Chris Cherry, was a scientist at the time of the theft with Sandia National Laboratories. This was the second theft in two years at the unguarded site with no surveillance cameras. Officials said that there was enough explosive to equal the 1995 Oklahoma City federal building bombing and that they had no leads.
“There is no specific threat,” then Governor Bill Richardson said in a written statement, adding that “it is my understanding that the explosives were stolen from a private magazine.”
Somehow Richardson seemed to imply that things were okay. One Rand Corp. terrorism expert told CNN that these thefts were common with around 100 per year in the 1990s with most having to do with organized crime, insurance fraud, extortion, personal vendettas, vandalism, revenge and protest. It is not reassuring that terrorism wasn’t the motive for stealing from unsecure sites.
Law enforcement has repeatedly taken down people trying to sell or buy C-4. It is illegal for most civilians to own C-4 in the U.S. That didn’t stop two men and a woman in Bradford Pennsylvania from trying to sell a M112 brick to a confidential police informant in early November 2012. One of the men had absconded with the 1.25 pound C-4 from his employer two months earlier at his well blasting business. For their troubles the trio was jailed on $250,000 bail.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cleveland announced May 1, 2012 that they had busted five men conspiring to use C-4 to blow up a bridge outside of the city. The self-proclaimed anarchists wanted to place two improvised explosive devices under the Route 82 Brecksville-Northfield High Level Bridge which crosses over the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, according to the complaint. The pair didn’t realize that the “C-4” they were being sold was inert putty placed in their hands by undercover agents.
Throwing themselves at the mercy of the court ended up being a successful move but came at the cost of some grandiose public groveling. One of the would be terrorists, Brandon Baxter, 20, got 117 months instead of the prosecutor-recommended 300 months after his defense attorney John Pyle laid it on thick.
“The government has every right, every duty to trap terrorists,” Pyle proclaimed. “I don’t dispute that for one second. I grew up in a country where farmers trap destructive rodents; they sometimes trap curious cats. Brandon Baxter is more a curious stray cat than a destructive rodent.”
SONGS is not vulnerable to stoner stray cats. It is vulnerable to all manner of foreign and domestic criminal and terrorist conspirators simply because the targets are not heavily protected and are of high value. This series has established that the threat is abundantly real with the weapons, explosives and personnel available for such a black swan attack. Killers from around the world are available for the right ideology or the right price or both.
A chilling example of this was the September 27 bust of three ex-soldiers accused of plotting to kill a Drug Enforcement Agency agent for $800,000. Alleged ringleader Joseph “Rambo” Hunter, 48, bragged to undercover DEA agents that he could handle protecting drug shipments and assassinations with his team of snipers. Hunter supposedly told the agents that he became a contract killer after serving in the U.S. Army from 1983 to 2004.
“The bone-chilling allegations in today’s indictment read like they were ripped from the pages of a Tom Clancy novel,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said at a press conference. “The charges tell a tale of an international band of mercenary marksmen who enlisted their elite military training to serve as hired guns for evil ends.”