March 8, 2013

It Was TNT After All


The first samples from the wreck of the Tu-154 in Smolensk from which Polish experts uncovered traces of TNT have been examined in the laboratory. The analyses indicated the presence of TNT – as Gazeta Polska found out. “This is another confirmation that there were explosive materials on the wreck of the Tupolev,” our contacts emphasize.

It Was TNT After AllThe samples from the wreck were taken between September and October 2012 in Smolensk by Polish experts. They went to Smolensk to investigate whether the remnants of the Tupolev have traces indicating the workings of explosive materials. In case the presence of these types of traces is indicated, the investigations are supposed to find the type of explosive material, its place of action, and describe the force of the explosion as well as the extent of damages. The legal motion regarding this case was directed to Russia after the investigations into the exhumed bodies of the victims of the Smolensk catastrophe.

Devices, including specialist detectors which were used to study the fragments of the Tupolev last year, indicated the presence of TNT. After this information was revealed by Cezary Gmyz in Rzeczpospolita, a storm began to brew. The military prosecution carrying out the Smolensk investigation, in a press conference, denied the presence of TNT on, among other things, the fragments of the wreck that were studied. The journalist lost his job, as did his superiors.

Later, though, it turned out that the devices really did indicate the presence of TNT. The prosecution explained that the detectors reacted in the same way to…shoe polish. Now it turns out that the laboratory investigations confirmed the TNT on the samples that were studied.

The presence of TNT was also shown by investigations in the U.S. commissioned by Stanislaw Zagrodzki, the cousin of Ewa Bakowska – a victim of the Smolensk catastrophe. He privately commissioned American experts to carry out investigations into, among other things, an airplane seat belt from the site of the tragedy. The investigations uncovered the presence of TNT.

Results in a Few Weeks

We will still have to wait for the official confirmation of the results – the specialists have to study the entirety of the material collected for the laboratory investigations. They are carried out in the Central Forensic Laboratory (CLK) of the Police in Warsaw, where the samples collected in Smolensk arrived at the beginning of December last year – 250 in total, including soil from the site of the catastrophe and fragments of the Tu-154M. Earlier, as stated above, still in Smolensk, portable detectors indicated that there were traces of TNT on many elements of the wreck. We still, however, do not know if the traces of TNT come from the material that exploded or from material that was not reacted, that is, material that did not detonate. The specialists emphasize that to get an answer of that scope, we have to wait until all of the samples that were collected are examined.

Let’s remember that two samples were taken in Smolensk – for Russia and Poland. They were put into special jars, and these were put into envelopes which could not (at least theoretically) be opened without leaving any traces. The envelopes are of the type that is used to, among other things, keep the topics of baccalaureate exams secret. Afterwards, these envelopes were additionally sealed. Samples protected to such an extent should be opened in Poland by a commission.

“The laboratory investigations last altogether 4 to 5 months, counting 2 to 3 months of preparation of the investigation room, the so-called clean-room, and in this case, about 3 months of analysis of the actual samples,” said our informer.

At this point, only part of the samples was examined. According to our information, the examination will be completed in April.
Why do the preparations for the investigations last 2 -3 whole months? The apparatus had to be replaced. A new device had to be bought. Even if the auction process is bypassed and there is a so-called freehand purchase, which hastens the acquisition of the necessary apparatus, these devices have to be ordered anyway because they are not easily accessible. Next, it is necessary to calibrate them, that is, to check whether they work properly – this also takes time.

“Everything in the clean-room (the separate room for the investigation) must be sterile. The walls in the measuring chamber of the clean-room must be painted with a special paint so that it does not emit any components which would impact the results of the investigations. There are vents installed above the tables for the investigations that suck out the air from above and filter it appropriately (the so-called hepo filter), after which it is forced in through the bottom. This cannot be a regular vent, which would suck out parts of the compounds in the samples from the measuring table,” our expert explains.

Before the scientists start the investigations, they must first put on new sterile slippers, aprons, hats, and gloves in the change room of the clean-room. Next, they come into the entry tunnel, that is, the antechamber of the clean-room, where the air gets sucked out together with impurities. Only after these preparations can they enter the measuring chamber.

The Experts Will Check whether the TNT Exploded

Jan Bokszczanin, an expert in explosive materials and the head of the East Corporation Sp. z.o.o., said in a conversation withGazeta Polska that during the explosion, not all of the TNT used decomposes. When the explosion occurs, three types of compounds are created – the remnants of unreacted explosive material, the products of complete combustion, as well as the products of incomplete combustion. These compounds – their make-up and proportions – are particular to each explosive material. The products of complete combustion such as water and carbon dioxide are airborne, now they cannot be studied anymore; but the products of incomplete combustion on the most part may be studied, even after an extended period, because they do not always occur in gas form. It is possible also – as an expert said – to analyze the remnants of the unreacted explosive material. To uncover all of these compounds, it is not enough to do tests with a detector which is only used for quantitative analysis – it confirms or rules out the presence of explosive material. That is why the samples from Smolensk should have been subjected to a qualitative analysis. It is the laboratory tests that make it possible to describe whether the TNT that was uncovered exploded or not.

The Duds Explain Nothing

If it turns out that there was TNT not only in the first samples examined in the laboratory, but also in the remaining ones – as the detectors indicated in Smolensk – it will be necessary to investigate where it came from. After the famous edition ofRzeczpospolita, there was talk about, among other things, the duds that were supposed to be found at the site of the catastrophe. “At the site of the catastrophe, during the first days of the investigations, I found, among other things, fuses from old explosives, as well as several pieces of large explosives, I assume, from World War II times,” said Marek Poznanski, an archeologist (currently an MP from Palikot’s Movement) who was with the archeological team in Smolensk in October 2010, to Onet.

The archeologists to whom we spoke, though, do not believe these explanations make sense. “Since there were so many of these duds that could explain the traces of the explosive material on the remains of the airplane, why is there not a word about them present in the reports about the catastrophe?” one of them asks. “A more probable cause of the contamination of the wreckage with explosive materials would be Russian military cars transporting its elements, but this can be easily verified by examining the fragments which were not transported and which were collected directly from the site of the catastrophe. The alleged duds are therefore a much better scapegoat, especially since it is impossible to assess their so-called stratigraphical context, that is, conduct an evaluation whether they were left in the ground 60 years ago or the day before yesterday. And let’s remember that all of the earth at the site of the catastrophe was already dug up a few times before Polish archeologists were allowed to examine the land,” explained an archeologist to us.
The TNT could have also been found in the airplane before it took off. Officials from BOR (Government Protection Bureau) who checked the government Tupolev before the flight to Smolensk on April 10, 2010 did not use detectors and limited themselves to easily accessible places only.

We asked the military prosecution when the results of the laboratory investigations into the samples collected by Polish experts in Smolensk between September and October 2012 (including samples of the soil and fragments of the Tu-154M plane) will be known and what the investigations are showing at this point.

“The Military District Prosecutor’s Office in Warsaw does not yet know the dates when the investigations and the reports of the final physical-chemical opinions prepared by experts from the CLK of the Police in Warsaw will be ready. Let’s remember that the experts themselves, before they began the investigations, described the timeline for issuing an opinion as about 6 months,” Col. Zbigniew Rzepa, press spokesman of the Chief Military Prosecutor’s Office, replied.

Grzegorz Wierzcholowski
Leszek Misiak

Gazeta Polska 6 March 2013