By on April 2, 2016

school bus

Had they known, students in the Loudoun Country, Virginia school system would have hated the sight of a school bus trundling down their road even more.

According to the Washington Post, a package containing plastic explosives was accidentally left under the hood of one of the district’s school buses following a CIA training exercise at Briar Woods High School.

Sniffer dogs had been sent in to detect explosives placed inside and outside the school, but the package hidden in one bus slipped further into the engine compartment, hiding among the hoses.

The bus then shuttled students and the high-powered package around for two days, covering 145 miles in the process. The bomb material was discovered during routine maintenance on March 30.

Whoops, said the CIA, adding that the explosives “did not pose a danger to passengers on the bus.”

The material was removed by the CIA and members of the local fire marshal’s office.

Putty-type explosives like the ones used in the operation are pretty stable and require a specific detonator in order to go kablooey, so there was no chance of engine heat or potholes setting off the clandestine cargo.

Still, if you stretch your imagination, it’s possible to imagine why parents might be miffed after little Johnny rode around with a pile of C4.

“We’re all very upset by what happened, but we’re going to review everything that did happen,” Loudoun schools spokesman Wayde Byard told the Washington Post. “Obviously we’re concerned. The CIA really expressed its deep concern and regret today, and it was sincere.”

In a statement, the CIA said it plans to keep better tabs on its explosive hardware in future training exercises.

[Image: Johannes Thiel/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)]

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68 Comments on “Kaboom Bus: CIA Mix-up Left Students Sharing Their Ride With Plastic Explosives...”


  • avatar
    JimZ

    yeah, the stuff wasn’t going to go off or anything. the worrying part is that material like that was so carelessly mis-handled at all.

  • avatar
    qfrog

    How upset can anybody really be over this? That bus probably doesn’t even have seatbelts for the passengers, in rollover (much more probable than accidental detonation) the occupants are probably going for one hell of a wild ride.

    Plastic explosives don’t accidentally the whole detonation without a detonator, they were engineered to offer a combination of chemical stability and a high rate of detonation. I haven’t researched them in nearly twenty years but I would be more worried about the bus driver man/woman and the bus itself that what may as well be a wad of silly putty unless given to just the right person with just the right knowledge and access to the means of detonation. This isn’t TNT (touch me the wrong way and I’ll show you who is boss) which is particularly volatile.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      Steph already covered the fact that it wouldn’t go off by itself. the issue here is that this three letter agency were so careless in handling and accounting for that kind of material.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      Speaking as a parent, I’d be pretty upset at the sloppy work by people who aren’t even supposed to be f*cking around with the school busses at all.

      I’d be upset the same way I’d he upset if there were an unloaded gun stuffed in the engine compartment of a school bus: “WTF, you people are supposed to know better.”

      One of the most useful models I’ve found for risk assessment is to ask how many mistakes we are from a disaster. When you put an unloaded gun or plastic explosives without a detonator on a school bus, the answer is “1-2”.

      Additional questions:
      1) Is this necessary? No.
      2) How bad would it be if those 1-2 mistakes were made? Very very bad.

      There is definitely something to be very upset about here. C’mon, the spooks and the bus garage are both supposed to know better than to f*ck up this sort of thing — especially when children are involved.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        The kids weren’t in actual danger, and what should really make you upset is the old hen, church grandmas handed a “Class A” to drive your kids up and down. A no seat belts??

  • avatar
    NoGoYo

    Dennis Hopper’s plan B certainly is far less impressive and effective.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    The real story here is the Armorer who’s so careless with explosives .

    I wonder how they didn’t even _MISS_ it ?! .

    -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      multicam

      Exactly, this is the kind of accountability error that gets people fired in the military and I’m sure, the CIA. These agencies take accountability of their AA+E (arms, ammunition and explosives) very seriously. I would imagine that the actual response within the agency was much more severe than the quote above suggests and heads rolled, especially since this is a PR embarrassment involving children.

      • 0 avatar

        They obviously didn’t inventory the number of explosive packages before the training. It goes without saying that they didn’t inventory afterwards. Which makes them the worst kind of friggin’ idiots.

        Hell, I knew they were idiots when they used a real school and real school busses. Stupid as hell.

        Just add the CIA to the constantly growing list of people who just don’t give a shiit.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        @multicam -Sure, right. What makes you think this isn’t business as usual? The way the CIA/FBI/NSA/etc are portrayed in movies and TV dramas?

  • avatar
    Joss

    What’s the CIA doing with a domestic school bus? They’re external security. This would be more an FBI thing.

    Some training exercise school bus doesn’t exist too much else outside of NA. Shoulda rented a regular coach. Guess they got cheap.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      The top priority of the CIA in 2013 was counter terrorism as the agency’s reach has been expanded since 2001.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_Intelligence_Agency

      I see at least two scenarios.

      1. Conducting actual training op which probably involved detection of a bomb made of plastic explosives and somehow loses track of said plastic explosives. If this was true, then members of law enforcement such as municipal police bomb squads and possibly the FBI should have also been present, as no one is calling the CIA to defuse a bomb made of conventional explosives (CIA has no law enforcement function within the US).

      2. Using cover of training op, intentionally plants bomb on school bus but bomb-maker either forgets to add detonator or media story is lie and bomb malfunctioned somehow. If the bomb-maker(s) were newly trained or foreign, I could see this being a possibility.

      In the first scenario, I’d like to know why an agency with a fifteen billion dollar official budget doesn’t already have a used school bus in it’s possession for conventional explosives and N.B.C. weapon training (or FBI have one to lend, or military have one to lend etc).

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      “What’s the CIA doing with a domestic school bus?”

      How are they supposed to train for this overseas? It’s not as if they can borrow the buses from Putin.

  • avatar
    zipper69

    Most buses I pass seem to be full of sleeping students at both ends of the day.
    Could this be a plot by the Principal to keep them alert?

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    Perpetrated by the same government that thinks stuff like driving automobiles, handling explosives and carrying firearms should be left to specially trained government agents because ordinary people are too careless and incompetent to handle them properly.

  • avatar
    RHD

    The school bus in the picture isn’t the one from Virginia, since it has New York license plates.
    If it were, there would be a snarky quip in there somewhere about Bus #69, an explosion and schoolkids gracefully flying head over heels.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      Looks like it’s actually bus 269. But I can one-up you: My son actually *does* ride bus 69. That made for some odd moments; he really enjoys school so he gets excited about the bus, and when he was in kindergarten I never knew when he’d bust out with some mention of 69 being his favorite number.

      “It’s his bus number!”
      “Suuure it is…”

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    So the sequel to “Dude, Where’s my Gun?” is “Dude, Where’s my Bomb?”

    Hm, perhaps more of a trilogy: “DWmG?”; “F&F:DWmG?2” and “DWmB?”

  • avatar
    runs_on_h8raide

    What if the explosives were meant to be there but the CIA forgot to place the trigger? What if the bus full of kids was supposed to explode so that it can get reported that them “evil mooooooslems” did it as a pretext to go all-in on another ‘misadventure’ into the middle east, this time Syria? What if the CIA is not really run by true patriot Americans, but by foreign corporate interests with supranational connections and really don’t give a damn about America at all?

    • 0 avatar
      mason

      A quote from the Washington post article:

      “the county’s buses are regularly taken off-line to check their spark plugs, hoses and to rotate tires.”

      Interesting. I’ve never seen a bus with spark plugs in it.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        :)

        WaPo, like NyTi, and honestly the rest of print media, stopped even pretending to bother with accuracy decades ago.

      • 0 avatar
        PeriSoft

        “Interesting. I’ve never seen a bus with spark plugs in it.”

        There are some school buses around here that run LPG rather than diesel. Just because you haven’t seen something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

        • 0 avatar
          mason

          While possible it’s not very likely. Out of approximately 480,000 school buses nationwide there are 7000 LPG powered buses, and nearly 40% of those are located in Texas alone. The East coast has been slower to adopt LPG/CNG anything, let alone school buses. The infrastructure just isnt there like it is out west (more so for CNG).

          Being involved in industrial construction I’ve been around CNG/LPG since the 90’s. It is by no means a new technology. While it has improved over the last 20 years there are still zero performance advantages over diesel, only cost. Tax incentives don’t last forever and once fuel prices align with demand the advantages will be gone.

          • 0 avatar
            stuki

            CNG/LPG has fewer emissions than even the cleanest diesel. And schoolbuses, like most things progressives have been told are PC, don’t have nearly the incentive to run anything resembling the “cleanest diesel.”

          • 0 avatar
            Drzhivago138

            Also consider the equally likely scenario that the author didn’t know the difference (or even that there was a difference) between glow plugs and spark plugs.

      • 0 avatar
        WildcatMatt

        There are, of course, many ways that could have played out, particularly since this isn’t a direct quote from spokesperson Wayde Byard.

        Byard may have just said “plugs” as opposed to “spark plugs” or “glow plugs” and this was a mental version of autocomplete.

        Byard may have said that all school vehicles go through this kind of maintenance routine, which would certainly include other vehicles which do, in fact, use spark plugs.

        Byard may have been reading from a prepared statement which was written by someone who hasn’t been near a school bus in 20 years and doesn’t know any better.

        Or, given that the coauthor is likely the one who talked to Byard (the education beat writer and therefore most likely the one to talk with the school) happens to be female, it’s possible that he was simply mansplaining to her.

        In any event, yes, strictly speaking this may not be accurate but this may have been what the reporters were told and the type of engine isn’t really material to the actual story, this is all picking gnat sh!t out of pepper.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      Nothing is ran by “true patriot Americans.” “true patriot Americans” don’t spend their time trying to run other people’s lives.

    • 0 avatar

      runs_on_h8raide:

      “What if the bus full of kids was supposed to explode so that it can get reported that them “evil mooooooslems” did it as a pretext to go all-in on another ‘misadventure’ into the middle east, this time Syria?”

      This is just about the worst post I have ever seen here.

      In just the last week there have been 263 people killed and 469 people injured during 30 different attacks in 8 different countries. Only 6 of those were suicide attacks – a slow week.

      If the CIA wants to start a war, blowing up a school bus full of American kids isn’t necessary. All they have to do is read the news to justify that.

  • avatar
    John

    C.I.A. to school board “Details, details – always so fussy about little details!”

  • avatar
    ex007

    This story made me laugh. Help remind me that my time with the Agency was more like Get Smart than James Bond.

  • avatar
    VW16v

    Wow, this site is getting farther and farther away from actually discussing cars. Maybe the name should change to “PTTAC – Pseudo The Truth About Cars” Or just
    “Sometimes Cars, and Political discourse”.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    VW16v ~

    Maybe you should go sit quietly with the other Children if you’re unable to talk like/with the Adults .

    -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      VW16v

      Nate, no need to get dramatic or personal. Some of these post’s are already made up by children. Not saying the site is not entertaining. It should just not be called The Truth about Cars. Yes, clicks pay the rent.

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    I think the government should have a greater role in our daily lives.

  • avatar
    PentastarPride

    The CIA employees participating in or involved in authorizing this should be sent to prison. The school administrators should be sent to prison as well for agreeing to this. All of those involved ought to be ashamed of themselves. It doesn’t matter if it’s “difficult” to detonate, anything is possible.

    As for civil repercussions, let the lawyers be unleashed.

    Aren’t there at least 1 or 2 old school buses in every junk yard to do these “trainings” with? I mean, it’s the Federal government. Surely they can spare Bubba the junkman a measly $1000 for an old bus–its scrap price–when they have rampant waste like $80 million dollar planes sitting around, which have never been flown. This way, lives would not have been risked buy doing this on some old clunker bus destined for the crusher anyways.

    Alas, no one will lose their jobs or go to jail because of rampant incompetency. Such is life.

    • 0 avatar
      05lgt

      Oh lighten up Francis, it’s not like they lost some MANPADS, a few TOWs, a palet load of $100 bills, or loaded 6 nuclear armed cruise missles on a B-52 to fly across the US “without aproval”. Oh wait… That last one wasn’t the CIA, just the good ol’ USAF. Guess it’s all under control.

      • 0 avatar
        PentastarPride

        I admit, I don’t know anything about explosives or military ammunition. However, it’s still worrisome that something potentially serious was forgotten in the same manner of how relatively minor things like keys and wallets are. What happens the next time around when the explosive isn’t as “immune” to being set off? This is a perfect opportunity to terminate the employees involved and file criminal negligence charges so it really sinks in.

        However, as the old saying goes, if you’re in government, it is *really* hard to get fired. You can even lie or steal and manage to keep a government job. As a systems engineer in the private sector, if I “forget” to lock a server room or “forget” to properly set access and permissions according to policy and so on, I’d be fired in an instant. Unlike the incompetent CIA employees, my actions wouldn’t harm or kill anyone. However, there are standards that need to be met to keep my job.

        The forgetfulness of these incompetent employees leave potentially dire consequences yet the reprimand will likely end with a write-up. No termination, no jail time.

        I don’t even know why the Feds are using our school buses to do these tests to begin with. What’s next, hotels? Hospitals? I’m not saying that they should go out and buy brand new buses ($150,000+) just to perform these drills on–there’s enough waste as it is. What does an old, tattered junker bus hurt? Why didn’t the school district just say no to the whole thing? The school administrators should be on the hook for this too.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    What you playing with Billy?

    I found this Silly Putty on the bus today mommy. It’s neat!

  • avatar
    Corollaman

    Did not realize inspector Clouseau was now working for the CIA.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    When I went to school, we kids would have regarded this as being rather cool.

    Not so much for our parents, but nothing would have come of it because back then the majority tended to either march in lockstep with whatever the authorities said, or just be silent and the problem would have been quickly forgotten.

    The late 60’s and the Vietnam war fixed that!

    Please be mindful of my lawn…

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Good enough for government work. Overkill, more likely, but what was anyone expecting? Cataloging and taking an inventory of the sh!t??

  • avatar
    redapple

    This is about as big as a mistake can get in training.
    The one responsible should be FIRED!
    I would be if I had done something as serious in a private sector job.
    But, this is government.
    No one ever gets fired.
    Jobs for life.
    Great benefits.
    Unbeatable pensions (not crap 401k)
    And not exactly busting ass for 40 hr / week. (overall in govt jobs (i know that in specific jobs they bust it))

    • 0 avatar
      PentastarPride

      Powerful unions and the holier-than-thou mindset from the top down (“‘cuz we’re the government”) are to blame.

      Then its the pitiful layers of bureaucracy that results in HR (if it can even be called that) not functioning as intended.

      Incidents are swept under the rug so those watchdog, evil right-wingers/conservatives don’t catch on and tattle the public and say “I told ‘ya so”.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      I used to work for a state university (we were all state employees), and I saw people fired.

      It took a lot of work on both sides, but it happened.

      I don’t know how it works in the three letter agencies, though.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    I know next to nothing about high explosives, but sometime before 2001 I heard that the stuff can become less stable and easier to set off if it’s excessively heated. Something like being in a fire or … on an exhaust manifold of a running engine. The assurances of safety seem greatly exagerated.

    • 0 avatar
      aircooledTOM

      Heat + pressure = ka-blooey. Although to be fair there’s nothing in here saying how much demo was involved. 40 lb shaped charge? 1.25 lb block of C4? 2 linear feet of det cord? It makes a difference.

  • avatar
    aircooledTOM

    I’m a combat engineer. I know how to work with demo like what’s described. If it’s C4 or something similar (PETN, etc), it’s likely very stable– requiring both heat and pressure to go kaboom. C4 will burn like sterno, but won’t explode without significant pressure, that said, an engine compartment of any motor vehicle is not a safe place for this stuff to be.

    I can imagine any number of scenarios where this demo could have come into contact with enough heat and pressure to cause detonation– unsecured in an engine compartment…… This is gross incompetence and anyone riding that bus was at significantly elevated risk of severe injury.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Note to CIA,

    At the end of the activity, count your number of C4 blocks and make sure it’s the same as when you started.

    Regards,

    Dr. O

  • avatar
    05lgt

    Here an ugly theory: Someone missed their pickup from a dead drop. Who in country is the CIA trying to unaccountably deliver C4 to?

  • avatar
    TMA1

    When I was in the military, someone once lost a single 5.56 round. We were woken up by the captain at 3 a.m. to scour the entire firing range to look for it (we did find it). Another time, a mortar round bounced out of a humvee. It was quickly recovered, but that captain lost his job.

    My point being, these things were taken much more seriously in the Marine Corps than they are in the CIA. That’s not reassuring, given the reach of that agency.

  • avatar
    Lynn E.

    Be thankful the explosives were next to an ICE. If the bus was an electric powered vehicle that requires far less maintenance the explosives might not have been found for years.

  • avatar
    Chan

    “Hmm, so it turns out that this training exercise didn’t have a cleanup procedure……”

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