SHORT TAKE #1: FBI Search Reveals Explosives in S.F.
My squads (domestic and international terrorism) worked a LOT of bomb scenes and potential bomb scenes. When we found or suspected explosives at a location, the protocol required us to FIRST assess the potential danger with FBI Bomb Technicians (Bomb Techs) and determine from them--overgeneralizing here-- "How big an explosion could this amount of explosives potentially make?" We would get an estimated radius of blast damage, then add 10-50% for extra safety, and evacuate that big an area. In an apartment building, you would have to assess whether the potential explosion might bring down the structure. If unsure, you assumed it could. Needless to say, even small bombs or explosives caches resulted in large evacuations.
The FBI Evidence Response and Bomb teams in SF evacuated nobody. Not even the people in apartments next to Chamberlain’s. And it's not because they weren't following protocol. From what I saw on news footage, this warrant search was so "by the book" it could be used as a training video. If anything, they were erring on the side of caution. As somebody trained in the discipline, I can tell you that their execution was impressive. If I was their boss, I would be beaming with pride.
So I'd have to ask what type of explosives they found there. I lean toward the conclusion that they found components which are harmless unless combined. For instance, empty foot-long lengths of threaded galvanized pipe, end caps and cans of smokeless powder—the makings of a pipe bomb. If the three aren't combined there's no danger. Maybe blasting caps? Fuses? Uncombined explosive precursors? Ammonium Nitrate fertilizer not yet mixed with diesel fuel, the Oklahoma City bomb components? The list of possibilities is almost endless.
What would really be illuminating would be to get a copy of the search warrant and find out what their probable cause was to search the apartment, and what they expected to find there--and why.
As we go farther down the road of dealing with the violent mentally ill in our society, I can’t help but recognize that when and if guns are banned (or even made incredibly difficult to obtain and keep—like in SF) people will turn to other, unregulated means to cause death and destruction. And they will find that they can cause even larger casualty counts with commonly available items such as the aforementioned fertilizer and diesel fuel, threaded galvanized pipe and smokeless powder, even fireworks and pressure cookers like those used in Boston.
We can play Whack-A-Mole by banning one weapon system at a time as each pops up and causes mass casualties (the TSA model), but American can never be made a sterile concourse. As George S. Patton famously said, “Fixed fortifications are a monument to man’s stupidity.” It’s time to concentrate on the killer, and realize that the means can never be eliminated as long as a man has a car, gasoline, a hammer or a steak knife.