For most of the last 30 years, I have been an avid consumer of press reports of terrorist incidents. Such reports are just part of the “open source” intelligence landscape and yesterday’s bomb explosion in Bangkok, is just another set of news stories in this long sad line. Today those news stories are added to by social media reporting. As Open Source intelligence professionals, with particular technical expertise in C-IED, IMSL is often asked for a rapid assessment of the news emanating from such incidents. It is our policy to be cautious and yesterday’s reporting is a classic example of the need for caution. If I can comment without appearing too boastful, that 30 years of experience has given me some insight on what to believe and what not to believe.
The issue is that the press, and to a similar degree social media reporting, demands “content”. Invariably the confusion surrounding a major terrorist incident precludes confident or useful content, so the news, and social media to a degree, therefore report anything at all. Rumour, hearsay, second or third or fourth hand reporting and bullsh1t are the order of the day, anything to fill in a column or 147 characters. No expertise is required. Stock phrases are used.
– 5,150 press reports on yesterday’s incident used the phrase “ripped through” when describing the bomb explosion. Journalists are usually unable to come up with any other description. It’s the instinctive phrase journalists always use. It’s meaningless really.
– Initial reports described the IED as being mounted on a bicycle, then a motorbike. This was later changed to being a pipe bomb wrapped in a white cloth, and later still, 24 hours later, as being in a rucksack.
– Within an hour there were reports of one or two other IEDs being defused. 24 hours later this turned out not to be the case. What the reporters were assuming was that normal post scene security operations were real actual secondary devices.
– Within an hour the device was being described as containing TNT. It’s highly unlikely that a chemical analysis of the scene would have taken place within the hour. There are distinctive aspects of a TNT explosion, but I could see no evidence of these distinctive characteristics at the scene of the explosion observing media reports. The primary source identifying the explosive as TNT was never given.
– While it is possible that the TNT could have been contained in a pipe, it’s surprisingly rare that high explosive is so packaged. Quite often pipe bombs contain low explosive that need the containment to make them more effective.
So, 24 hours after the explosion, it’s fair to say that there was an explosion in Bangkok, of maybe something less than 5-10kg of explosive…. everything else, for now, is simply idle, worthless speculation or reporting of poor sources. Of course that doesn’t fill a column in a newspaper of a 5 minute TV report. That’s all there is to say for now. Give it a couple more days and then things will be clearer.