August 10 2021 — FBI forensic scientists have estimated that around 552 tonnes of ammonium nitrate exploded on August 4 2020 in the Port of Beirut, much less than the 2,754 tonnes that arrived on a Russian-leased cargo ship in 2013. Reuters, The Guardian, and other MSM are reporting this nonsensical junk-science report without even consulting scientific experts. Let me be very clear. This is total nonsense. Follow us on Twitter: @Intel_Today
RELATED POST: FBI Experts : Monkey Science in Monkey Courts?
Of course the FBI report does not give any explanation as to how the discrepancy arose, or where the rest of the shipment may have gone…
When asked, the Bureau simply referred Reuters and others to the Lebanese authorities.
And as you may already have guessed, many officials in Lebanon believe a lot of the shipment was stolen.
Let me first tell you what the implied conspiracy theory is. Then, I will explain why it is simply not true.
An odious conspiracy theory
In all likelihood, sparks from welding works that day caused a fire in hangar 12, the warehouse where the chemical was being stored, and ignited the the ammonium nitrate.
There is of course no lack of idiotic conspiracy theories suggesting that the explosion was intentional. Like a virus, these theories come with variants and sub-variants.
Those interested will check this report: Beirut Explosion One Year On: Are Israel and Hezbollah Responsible? [Fair Observer]
As an aside, the reader familiar with this blog will notice at once the analogy with the Lockerbie Case. Was it Libya, or was it Iran?
Here is an account of the story being implicitly pushed by the FBI and some Lebanese officials.
The ammonium nitrate was left at the port, where it could be siphoned off by factions in Lebanon.
Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab found out about the existence of the ammonium nitrate in early June 2020, and immediately requested further information.
He received a file on the situation at the port on July 22 which he forwarded to the Ministry of Public Works, under whose purview the port falls, and the Ministry of Justice, and asked them to investigate the chemicals at the port.
The Ministry of Public Works stamped the front of the file on August 4, 2020.The blast happened at 6.08 p.m. the same day.
Hezbollah decided to destroy the ammonium nitrate at the port to hide that some of the ammonium nitrate in the stockpile had been used by Hezbollah’s ally Bashar al-Assad in Syria to produce barrel bombs.
And of course, the FBI has already made a connection between the cargo owners and individuals sanctioned by the US for alleged links to Assad.
All this sounds very convincing? Let me be clear. There is no doubt that Tom Clancy would turn this script into a wonderful thriller, and no doubt, Hollywood would make it a blockbuster.
But the story is simply not true as there is actually no discrepancy between the magnitude of the explosion and the known amount of ammonium nitrate stored in hangar 12.
European investigators have conducted an extensive investigation of the port and its activities.
They concluded that large-scale smuggling of nitrate from the site in question – hangar 12 – was unlikely.
Dockworkers ridicule the idea that nitrate was smuggled out of the port either at the time it was delivered or subsequently.
Most importantly, science indicates that the FBI is dead wrong. Again…
Forensic explosion sciences
OSINT allows us to assess the magnitude of the explosion by several independent methods. Let us review a few results already available.
- Method I — A group of top scientists has performed a global analysis of the explosion and presented their results at the CTBT [Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty] Science and Technology Conference 2021.
Data from regional seismometers and Global International Monitoring System (IMS) infrasound arrays were analyzed by the Bundesanstalt für Geowissenschaften und Rohstoffe (BGR) to derive origin time and seismic magnitude and allow source localization as well as yield estimation.
“Our combined analysis of seismological, hydroacoustic, infrasonic and radar remote sensing data allows us to characterize the source as well as to estimate the explosive yield.
The latter ranges between 0.8 and 1.1 kt TNT (kilotons of trinitrotoluene) equivalent and is plausible given the reported 2.75 kt of ammonium nitrate as explosive source.”
This is indeed in good agreement with the announced amount of 2.75 kT ammonium nitrate being the source of the explosion and having an explosive efficiency of about 30-50% of TNT.
Using an Ammonium nitrate – TNT RE (relative effectiveness) factor of 40 percent, 0.8 and 1.1 kt TNT equate to 2.0 and 2.75 kt of ammonium nitrate.
- Method II — Analysis of the aerial photographs of the pier shows a crater in the range of 120 to 140 meters in diameter.
Peter Goldstein [Lawrence Livermore National Lab.] used the crater dimensions to estimate the yield of the explosion to be equivalent to approximately 1.4 kilotons of TNT, with a lower bound of about 0.7 kilotons. Again, these yields equate to about 1.7 and 3.5 kt of ammonium nitrate.
In 1921, a fertilizer explosion in Oppau, Germany, carved a similar crater — 120 meters in diameter — following the explosion of 4.1 kt of ammonium nitrate.
- Method III — Finally, using videos of the explosion, experts from the Blast and Impact Research Group at the University of Sheffield found that a best estimate and upper bound prediction of the yield of the explosion are 0.5 and 1.1 kt of TNT, respectively. (1.25 to 2.75 kt of ammonium nitrate.)
- Method IV — What do we learn form history? On August 12 2015, a series of explosions killed 173 people, according to official reports, and injured hundreds of others at a container storage station at the Port of Tianjin.
The main explosion involved the detonation of about 800 tons of ammonium nitrate which is about 256 tons TNT equivalent.
The explosion registered as a magnitude 2.9 earthquake and generated seismic shock-waves with energy equivalent to 21.9 tonnes of TNT.
The United States Geological Survey reported a 3.3 magnitude for the Beirut explosion. Others have reported higher values. The UC Berkeley Seismology Laboratory measured mb=3.4 and the German Research Centre for Geosciences, GFZ obtained mb=3.5.
Obviously, the Beirut explosion was a much bigger bang! (Keep in mind that the seismic scale is logarithmic.)
- Conclusion — There is no doubt that the FBI scientists made a mistake in their estimate (0.5 kt of ammonium nitrate) of the yield of the explosion.
I hope that the FBI report will be available soon. Don’t bet on it… As Albert Einstein famously said:
“Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity, but don’t rule out malice.”
PS — Photos shared on social media showed bags marked Nitroprill HD. Does anyone know the exact explosive efficiency of Nitroprill HD?
The promise of open-source intelligence
In a recent piece, The Economist argue that we should all welcome the emerging era of open-source intelligence.
“Such an emancipation of information promises to have profound effects. The decentralised and egalitarian nature of osint erodes the power of traditional arbiters of truth and falsehood, in particular governments and their spies and soldiers.
For those like this newspaper who believe that secrecy can too easily be abused by people in power, osint is welcome.
Liberal democracies will also be kept more honest. Citizens will no longer have to take their governments on trust. News outlets will have new ways of holding them to account.
Today’s open sources and methods would have shone a brighter light on the Bush administration’s accusation in 2003 that Iraq was developing chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. That would have subjected America’s invasion of the country to greater scrutiny. It might even have prevented it.”
The Beirut explosion pseudo-science FBI report and its reporting from Reuters, The Guardian and others demonstrate that the need to accept and promote OSINT is very real.
But, as this story demonstrates, there is clear evidence that, two decades after the Iraqi WMDs fiasco, nothing has changed.
What we still don’t know about Beirut’s port explosion — By Tamara Qiblawi, CNN
The promise of open-source intelligence— The Economist
The Tragic Physics of the Deadly Explosion in Beirut — Wired
The August 4 2020 Beirut Explosion — Debunking the FBI Conspiracy Theory