The following information is provided for educational / self-defense purposes only.
Do NOT Try This at Home!
Although for most folks, the likelihood of encountering a real live booby trap, or improvised explosive device (IED), is about on par with hitting the lottery, someone has to go to make up the statistics, and after seeing in the news lately where a couple of hapless unfortunates had fallen victim to two of the oldest classics in the Anarchist’s Cookbook, I decided to broach the subject here, as forewarned is forearmed…
Booby traps are as old as mankind and more popular today than ever. Just what is a booby trap? This, from Wikipedia :
“A booby trap is a device or setup that is intended to kill, harm or surprise a person, unknowingly triggered by the presence or actions of the victim. As the word trap implies, they often have some form of bait designed to lure the victim towards it. However, in other cases the device is placed on busy roads or is triggered when the victim performs some type of everyday action e.g. opening a door, picking something up, or switching something on.
Booby traps should not be confused with mantraps, which are designed to catch a person. Lethal booby traps are often used in warfare, particularly guerilla warfare, and traps designed to cause injury or pain are also sometimes used by criminals wanting to protect drugs or other illicit property, and by some owners of legal property who wish to protect it from theft. Booby traps which merely cause discomfort or embarrassment are a popular form of practical joke.”
Maybe better yet is this short-but-sweet break down from Merriam-Webster: “a trap for the unwary or unsuspecting…” because it tacitly implies that if we’re only wary and suspecting, we might just manage to avoid such traps entirely — thus the purpose of this article…
Types of Booby Traps
Booby traps are designed to either:
1) Be actuated by persons carrying out their normal activities.
2) Take advantage of human nature.
The first type is extremely difficult to guard against, because there is nothing about them or their situation to cause suspicion. Booby traps of the first type might be actuated while you are opening your mailbox, turning on a lamp, or starting your car.
The second type can usually be more readily detected because they are designed to make the person do something. The following traps fall in the second category:
Bait: Usually consists of objects that arouse someone’s interest, such as attractive or interesting items that have apparently been left behind or discarded during a rapid evacuation.
Decoy: The most common decoy consists of two traps–one designed to be detected, the other designed to actuate when personnel deal with the first one. The first trap can be a dummy. A classic form of a decoy is to place booby traps or nuisance mines in locations from which the decoy mine can be removed.
Bluff: A bluff is a hoax and usually consists of a dummy trap.
Double Bluff: A double bluff only appears to be a bluff. Victim(s) believe the trap is safe or can be disarmed. For example, a number of traps can be set that are disarmed when the detonating cord is removed from the charge. The double bluff is achieved by setting another trap that appears to be the same, but it actually explodes when the detonating cord is removed from the charge. Double bluffs rely on a reduced awareness and alertness caused by repetition.
Booby Trap Components and Principles
For the purposes of this discussion we will be examining the two basic types of explosive booby traps, or IEDs — electric and nonelectric. Both types can be constructed using many different types of firing devices (FDs). FDs can be secured to the charge (direct connection) or located away from it (remote connection). They are actuated by one or more methods. It is impossible to describe every type of trap that may be encountered; however, most are constructed and operated by using components and principles similar to those listed below:
Firing Device (FD).
Power source (battery, for example).
Connection (usually detonating cord or electric wires).
Blasting cap (or detonator).
Main explosive charge.
Methods of Actuation
Push-Pull : This category of booby trap is usually associated with trip wire-type devices, an exploding mailbox booby trap would fall into this category.
Pressure Sensitive : This category of booby trap detonates, ignites, or otherwise goes into lethal effect when pressure is applied to an object or specific location. An anti-personnel mine such as the “bouncing Betty” would fall into this category.
Pressure Release : With this category of booby trap, the pressure is already applied. It is when this pre-applied pressure (or weight) is released by the unwitting victim, that the booby trap explodes, ignites, or just whatever. A “letter bomb” would typically fall into this category.
Switched : With this category of booby trap, the firing circuit is closed (thus initiating or detonating the device) when a mechanical, electrical, or electronic switch or contact is thrown, triggered or tripped. A “car bomb”, “flashlight bomb”, or “exploding light bulb” would fall into this category.
Booby Trap Detection
Successful booby trap detection depends on two things — being aware of what might be trapped and why, and being able to recognize the evidence of setting.
The first requirement demands a well-developed sense of intuition; the second, a keen eye. Intuition is gained through experience and an understanding of booby-trapping principles and techniques. A keen eye is the result of training and practice in the recognition of things that might indicate the presence of a trap. The presence of booby traps is commonly indicated by:
Disturbance of ground surface or scattered, loose soil.
Wrappers, seals, loose shell caps, safety pins, nails, and pieces of wire or cord.
Improvised methods of marking traps, such as piles of stones or marks on walls or trees.
Evidence of camouflage, such as withered vegetation or signs of cutting.
Breaks in the continuity of dust, paint, or vegetation.
Trampled earth or vegetation; foot marks.
Lumps or bulges under carpet or in furniture.
In the end, bear in mind that virtually anything can and probably already has been booby trapped at some point in time by someone somewhere, as the diagram below suggests.
Suspect any object that appears to be out of place or artificial in its surroundings. Remember, what you see may well be what the trap setter wants you to see. A good general procedural rule of thumb is: if you didn’t put it there, don’t pick it up, whatever it is…
The Six Classic Booby Traps You are Most Likely to Encounter
1) The letter bomb: “Letter bomb” is actually a misnomer here, as this booby trap will necessarily come in a package instead. Typically, an improvised pressure-release trap is created utilizing a modified mousetrap, a 9-volt battery, a detonator or ignitor, and either a high or low-velocity explosive charge. Unsealing and opening the package allows the mousetrap inside to slam shut, closing the firing circuit and setting off the explosive charge.
2) The flashlight bomb: In this instance, the batteries are removed from an ordinary flashlight, leaving a hollow tubular shell complete with a built-in simple manually-switched electrical circuit. This circuit is hijacked for use as a primative firing circuit, and the space where the batteries went filled with a pipe bomb or a high-explosive charge, a detonator or ignitor, and a 9-volt transistor radio battery. With the flashlight’s On-Off switch in the “Off” position, the trap’s firing circuit is open, and it can be safely set where the intended victim is sure to find it. When he does, his natural instinct will be to pick it up and switch it on to see if it works. When he does, he closes the firing circuit, actuating the bomb.
3) The mailbox bomb.
4) The car bomb.
5) The basic trip wire.
6) The exploding light bulb.