A mail bomb. Which bombs can be sent by courier?

It turns out that different types of bombs, such as pipe or glitter bombs and even thermonuclear weapons used to be sent by mail. The most famous explosives sent by mail were packed in wooden boxes with the initials FC (Freedom Club). For nearly 20 years, they were mailed by Ted Kaczynski – the most famous parcel-bomb terrorist in history. However, he was captured 25 five years ago. What is the situation nowadays? Is it possible to send a bomb in a parcel today?

The answer is concise: yes, there is no problem with sending a bomb in a parcel by courier. Especially if the parcel does not cross any border during transport. How can it be possible?

When and where are packages checked and by whom?

It is commonly known that packages and luggage sent by air or by sea are subject to mandatory x-ray examination which is similar to chest or leg x-rays. If any suspicious item is found, a direct search of the contents of a package or suitcase follows. All kinds of baggage go through scanning, both hand and hold baggage. Smuggling a bomb onto an airplane or a ship is therefore quite difficult. At least when it comes to traditional bombs. The explosive and the igniter form a system of elements that is relatively easy to detect. It’s much easier to hide and pass successfully a control post when you have small elements for bomb construction. There have also been rumours about so-called clothing bombs: probably a piece of clothing soaked with some explosive solution becomes ready to detonate with an explosive charge. The trouble is that someone has to wear it …

It is much easier to send a parcel with a bomb via land transport, especially if the shipment does not cross any border with the appropriate scanning devices installed. You can insert anything in the package and be sure that, unless it arouses the suspicion of the courier because of excessive weight, movement of the load inside the package, leakage or an unusual smell, it will be picked up and will hit the road. The bomb could be detected in the sorting plant, but still this is very unlikely. To scan each sortable shipment would be both money and time-consuming. No company would risk delays in deliveries to weaken their competitiveness. Sometimes customs services using portable scanners help couriers, but this applies only to a negligible number of shipments.

A bomb for Obama

How easy it is to deliver a bomb to someone by mail is best demonstrated by a series of accidents that occurred in 2018 in the USA. Packages containing so-called pipe bombs have been sent to Barack Obama as well as Hillary and Bill Clinton without major problems. One envelope with a bomb was intended for the editorial staff of CNN.

The bombs did not eventually explode, and the bomber was caught fairly quickly. Despite the great media outcry, no one has proposed solutions to prevent terrorism using mail bombs in the future.

Target a thief with glitter

YouTuber Mark Rober had a big problem with packages disappearing from by the door (US couriers commonly leave packages at the entrances). He constructed a bomb trap for package thieves that looked exactly like a courier package. When it exploded it threw a large amount of glitter and released a dose of smelly gas. The explosion itself was harmless (it was only a smokescreen), however, there were smartphones installed in the boxes to broadcast live events. Rober tracked the trips of stolen shipments and identified the thieves. Even the YouTuber’s neighbours fell into the trap. The “bomb” prank gave Rober a lot of fun and made him popular on the web.

Don’t count on the police having a sense of humour

The smallest nuclear bomb ever produced was Davy Crokett (W54): this small-size device with a length of 40 cm and a diameter of less than 30 cm weighed about 23 kg. Theoretically, you could fit it in a standard courier package. However, if someone intended to ship such a parcel, they would rather not write on the box “attention – fusion bomb inside”. However, such a warning was put on a parcel by a 24-year-old Polish girl. The courier, having read it, immediately informed the police and firefighters who arrived and started their procedures. After they unpacked the package, it turned out that there were books inside. Finale: the girl who created the pran was threatened with up to 8 years in prison. So better not to count on the police having a sense of humour.

However, is it possible that anybody would pay attention to the same warning about a bomb inside  if it was written in Russian Cyrillic or using Chinese logographic?