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Beirut Port Explosion (forensic-architecture.org)
1212 points by AliCollins 9 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 199 comments

In the past this kind of material would be collected and analyzed by state intelligence services.

Combined by allies and used to gain leverage for individual or combined strategic priorities.

Something like, “Here is how negligent you were. Install this person in power or we leak this and your people revolt and you won’t be able to walk away.”

More recently, it seems, some news organizations have begun assembling reports using modeling and expert analysis.

A good example is The NY Times report on Philadelphia Police use of tear gas against a group of trapped protestors. [1]

Having this information about the Beirut warehouse explosion open-sourced so-to-speak, seems to signal a further shift away from reliance on state intelligence and the advertising-funded third state.

This reminds me some of the collected content created and posted to social media by the public in the aftermath of the downing of Ukrainian International Airlines Flight 752. That loose set of content eventually forced the Iranian government to admit responsibility.

I’d presume that the quality and speed of independent research and analysis of public data will increase to where a scene of non-media, ngo research groups grows, beating out the resources of any given media or government.

Sort of like warez, but with information analysis.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/video/us/100000007174941/philadelphi...

OSINT is certainly a thing, but there's a parallel development in shamelessness and polarization so that accurate reporting of the real history of events makes much less difference. Are there that many people whose support of the police will be shaken by the NYT report, or is the support of the police a matter of political affiliation that leads them to dismiss it as "biased"?

You've reduced this to only two possible positions: support the police or don't support them. How polarizing is that?

What about supporting the need for police while also supporting a need for reforming the police? I doubt there are even many cops that would disagree with a need for reform to some degree.

But creating two extreme positions, and then lumping everyone into those positions, is called politics and is considered mostly harmful.

> But creating two extreme positions, and then lumping everyone into those positions, is called politics

American politics. The amount of bipartisan countries in the world can be counted on one hand. But I get what you're saying and I agree completely.

America is certainly not the only country that divides things into "us vs them". I can think of several notable events in the past few years in various European countries that were exactly "us vs them" subjects. Even when there are multiple political parties in European politics the parties still tend to split into one of two major coalitions and those coalitions cause the people who support people in those coalitions to also divide.

Sure, fair enough. But then again those coalitions aren't generally static, but formed around circumstances, and thus don't necessarily create the same kind of blind team mentality that we see in sports for example. And the parties within the coalitions are still aware of their internal differences, they just choose to work together for a common cause, for a period of time.

That’s how it works in the U.S. as well. The political parties are made up of coalitions of voters and over time certain groups shift or change affiliation.

In Europe, you have coalitions of parties. This means voters have many choices along multiple spectra, as opposed to the US where it's one of R or D.

At least where I've voted in the US, there are rarely only two viable choices for a state or national legislature position. Some states resolve this using primaries for D/R candidates, and a few use stricter runoffs where there are frequently several D/R candidates. At least in the towns where I've lived, there were noticeable policy differences between many of these candidates within each party, although I will readily admit that I doubt this holds for most of the US. Also, it's still generally not as widely varying in views as in countries with 3+ parties (if made viable through proportional or similar voting) instead of the multiple rounds system popular in the US.

Going back to the original point someone made in this thread, I think this two-party multiple-views system in the US actually helps a bit to drive polarization. Seemingly disparate views are drawn together under a banner of [party] with an obvious (not actually clear or cohesive) enemy in the [other party].

America is one of maybe half a dozen countries in the world with a two-party system. The others are Malta, Zimbabwe, Jamaica, and a few other Caribbean countries.

What's your source? That seems extremely specious to me, for two reasons.

First, the US does not technically have a two-party system. If your standard is how many parties have seats in the national legislature or parliament, the US has three parties represented since Justin Amash is now affiliated with the Libertarian Party, as well as a few independents.

Secondly, many countries only have two parties that really matter in terms of having a realistic chance of forming a government--the UK and Canada are two examples that spring to mind. The third largest parties in those countries are the SNP and Bloc Quebecois, respectively--parties who want some specific part of the country to have greater autonomy if not independence. If your complaint is that the US doesn't have a Texas Independence Party winning seats in Congress, weird flex but okay.

Virtually every polity that uses a first-past-the-post voting system will end up with a two-party system. That's Duverger's Law. The primary counterexamples only prove the point, because they more or less replace one of the two national parties on a local level. (I used to live in Seattle, and while Seattle politics are officially non-partisan, Seattle has actually developed a de facto two-party system between mainstream Democrats and socialists.)

I personally favor multiparty systems with proportional representation, but that's no guarantee of anything. Israel (which somehow still ends up with a de facto two party system anyway) and Belgium have both notoriously failed to form majority governments for long periods of time.

The typical third party in Canada is NDP, which has had support between 15-25% of the vote within the last decade depending on the election. Which is quite different and quite more than the Libertarian party in the USA which has a very negligible influence. They also have been in power within a few provinces quite frequently. I don't think Canada was your best pick to make your point.

Canada has only ever been ruled by the liberal or conservative parties

NDP won fewer seats than Bloc Québécois in the last election. And it’s worth pointing out, I think, that the most prominent US politician who would be aligned with the NDP ideologically, Bernie Sanders, is actually an independent rather than a Democrat.

> NDP won fewer seats than Bloc Québécois

That's mostly because Bloc Québécois is concentrated in a specific province, and often specific parts of that province, while the NDP's support is spread across all the provinces.

It's the same in the UK, where the Lib Dems got triple the vote of the SNP, but less than a quarter of the seats.

Yes, as I pointed out, this is an artifact of how Duverger’s Law guarantees that first-past-the-post voting systems lead to two-party systems. BQ is one of the two parties in Quebec just as SNP is one of the two parties in Scotland.

Independents won almost 20% of the popular vote in the 1992 U.S. general election. Also hold more seats in Congress. That’s a more apt comparison, not the Libertarian Party.

You're only seeing these for specific issues that have become polarized because normal organic growth/reform/development/etc. has been halted. If it were not for the insular and unaccountable behavior of police, we would not be in a position where "abolish them entirely" would have more-than-fringe support.

Ask someone what they think of something as "political" as the H-1B program, let alone, oh, federal cheese labeling standards, and you'll see a lot of people who say "There are good and bad parts, I think we should keep the good parts and reform the bad ones, and my opinion on which specific parts are good or bad can be influenced by quality journalism."

> Ask someone what they think of something as "political" as the H-1B program, let alone, oh, federal cheese labeling standards, and you'll see a lot of people who say "There are good and bad parts, I think we should keep the good parts and reform the bad ones, and my opinion on which specific parts are good or bad can be influenced by quality journalism."

Nah. That's what I would say, but everyone else is a rabid partisan who will slavishly push whichever side their tribe is taking right now on skilled immigration. Or cheese.

Both the positions that police should completely cease to exist and that no reform should ever be carried out are so rare that they represent straw men.

When people talk about "support for the police" they are either referring to the degree to which they are comfortable with reform, or disingenuously trying to portray the situation as more partisan than it is.

"But creating two extreme positions, and then lumping everyone into those positions, is called politics"

Nice definition. Sadly, way too accurate.

Very few people outside the anarchocommunist subreddits think police are unnecessary. Reform vs police-are-untouchable are the two major wings in the US.

It’s not necessarily a binary though, is it? Articles like that enrich the discussion with new information, and may act to shift policy and perspectives over time. Expecting one article to turn someone’s opinions around completely is usually expecting too much. It’s a common expectation that “this story will change everything” but it seems to me that it takes time for things like this to sink in and change the momentum.

While not directly assembled by state intelligence services, some of today's "independent" reports surely are supported or financed by them.

I'm not saying this one is, but verifying the independence and financing of any organisation is quite hard. A lot of work has gone into this fantastic presentation, and somebody had to pay for that. Since I watched it for free, it wasn't me...

The funding link works. I suspect there was just a typo in the other posters link:


Thanks; I followed a broken link on the About page. Just sent them an email about it.

You'd probably be interested in the Bellingcat podcast about their investigation into MH17.


Worth to keep in mind that Bellingcat is believed by many to be closely linked to MI6, so take their publications with a grain of salt.

Is there any evidence of that?

"is believed by many"

He already said no.

No direct evidence as you would expect. We only have circumstantial evidence such as selection of topics to cover and general view regarding covered events, which align quite well with position demonstrated by intelligence services. It also has some questionable funding sources (e.g. National Endowment for Democracy and Integrity Initiative), but I would say it also nothing more than circumstantial.

One recent analysis of Bellingcat behavior (not in general, but using a selected case) can be seen in this video (in Russian, but it has good English subtitles): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDhhCLyYCU4 Author of the video is a Ukrainian opposition leader, who fled the country during Yanukovich rule, got asylum in Europe, and since then lives there.

Haven't watched the video, but is it from Shariy? If yes, then you wildly misrepresented him.

How so? I wrote only factual, easily verifiable information about him.

If someone does not want to judge by the video content alone and wants to learn more about the author, you can read the following wiki links:



Similarly we've gone from the CIA/FBI being "big brother" to social media companies filling the role.

Why the hyperbole? "Big Brother" can disappear you into the night, never to be seen again till someone unearths a mass grave many decades later. Social media has no such power.

stochastic terrorism would enters the chat

Stochastic terrorism still isn't Big Brother.

You think so? Get the right campaign, the right urgency, and you can embolden people to do anything you want because they think it is right.

Not sure if this is mildly better or severely worse

Definitely better. Facebook won't make you disappear.

I mean it will, just socially and financially.

Sorry, as someone who doesn't use Facebook, how does Facebook have the power make me disappear, socially and financially?

Organize and signal-boost the mob that wants to persecute you, ban and deplatform anybody who dares to defend you, promote any material saying bad things about you, suppress any material that says good things about you. You don't live in a vacuum, neither does your employer, neither do your employer's clients, neither does your family, neither does their employer, neither do teachers at the school you kids go to... etc. etc. You get the idea. You don't have to be a member of the platform for it to be used to attack you.

I think the argument is that, should Facebook use become pervasive enough that the bulk of interaction, be it social or financial happens there, you have already disappeared by nature of not using it.

If you ARE using Facebook socially, they can turn down who sees your communications...kinda like shadowbanning.

Facebook, willingly or not, is part of the same entities' sourcing and influencing activities. We know this as established fact. Both your side's and various multipolar others.

Snowden. Cambridge Analytica. Cozy Bear. Black Cube.

"How the U.S. Military Buys Location Data from Ordinary Apps" https://www.vice.com/en/article/jgqm5x/us-military-location-... (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=25113117)

I'm curious as to what if any disagreement there is here.

> the advertising-funded third state

Did you mean Third Estate? Or a state-like entity governed by ad revenue?

Yeah, I am a bit lost on that line. Third Estate refers either to commoners (in the Middle Ages) or the judiciary (in modern times).

Third party

I know where you are coming from but you are missing one big thing. Inherently in all observations coming from a newspaper, to a research paper and to an intelligence agency the reporting will be biased. What you have to do instead is to figure out what the bias is from that source of information and then combine the other sources to attempt to understand the outcome. The second thing is to remove your own inherent bias.

Idea: Commission them to investigate themselves and their source of funding so now you are the supporter

NGO research groups are not as innocent as they appear.

> More recently, it seems, some news organizations have begun assembling reports using modeling and expert analysis.

This is hardly new and when it comes to news media it's hardly a good thing. It is incredibly easy to find biased experts and it's even easier to craft a false narrative using "modeling". Moving away from reporting directly observable events and interviewing people who observed them is a sign that modern media is exiting the business they are supposed to be engaged in. They're now (more than ever) firmly in the realm of opinion-shaping.

This is incredible and I can only imagine how much time this took to create. Definitely also worth taking a look at their previous investigations at https://forensic-architecture.org/.

Everything about reporting this way is amazing, it’s an aspiring goal for on watchers of what data can provide. As you watch this you know that grant money is working hard here. Much respect for such a talented team bringing in complex engineering for all to consume.

This raises the bar in so many ways, love it.

> you know that grant money is working hard here

Am I the only one who finds this a little disturbing?

I mean the thing is beautifully produced, no doubt, I don't want to take anything away from the skills of the people who made it.

But the slickness moves it somehow from "scrappy bunch who gathered all the open data & collaboratively figured stuff out" into a different category. More like "someone with very deep pockets wants to tell me a particular story". Like getting the sort of 10-page glossy brochure they use to sell manhattan penthouses, but it's from the local animal shelter... and there's nothing wrong with the kitten pictures, the photography is excellent, but you wonder a bit who paid all those professionals, and why.

If I’m not mistaken Forensic Architecture have a lot of connections to the art world (and architecture of course, it’s in the name of the project). Some of them teach at art schools (Goldsmiths etc.), they were nominated for the Turner Prize. I don’t know if it shows a shifting definition of what art is, but it’s interesting that this is the context that (in part) enables them to do their work. It also helps to explain the attention to visual presentation.

Thanks that's interesting. Although it also seems a slightly odd collision of worlds. I mean art is important, and can show us personal perspectives we might otherwise miss. (And maybe the super-slick presentation is something someone did for their own pleasure, not because some sponsor was willing to pay the day rate.)

But carefully weighing evidence and doubt isn't exactly the core idea of the art world. You will win few prizes by pointing out factual mistakes in others' work. (Not saying I know of any factual inaccuracies here, to be clear.)

Their archive of police brutality during the BLM protests this summer is presented in an interesting fashion:


That has some good videos on it, including one showing evidence of Russian military directly involved in the Ukraine invasion:


This one is particularly relevant to goings on in the US recently:


Agreed - this is great and deeply fascinating to me.

How did I not know about this before! :)

Bye-bye to getting any work done for the rest of the day!

I'm exactly the same, what an incredible organisation. The use of computer vision, VFX, modelling and VR is inspiring.

The models they've created are in Blender (OSS) and Cinema 4D (not OSS) file formats.

Watching some of their video's, they seem to use Blender a lot. :)

There is also https://www.38north.org/ if you are interested in North Korea.

I agree that this is work of very high technical quality. I was slightly disturbed, though, that this didn't include any interview from people working there, though. I realize it's neither trivial nor cheap to organize, bit it did leave me a strange feeling that I have trouble putting into words. Is there an element of arrogance in assuming we can simply "science the shit out of this" (to quote a well-known Martian), comfortably removed from the faraway site of a human tragedy and without involving any of the affected people, and call it a day?

Kind of like marketeers only trusting analytics and never talking to a single customer, but with an element of western arrogance on top of it.

There's a wealth of great investigative work there. Really impressive stuff.

I’m just waiting to see what’s out there in like the NSA, which is able to do this automatically.

Have a drone take Lidar or whatever model of an area, feed the pictures in and some other data and the system produces videos like this.

This video was incredible!

From a laymen's perspective, it's hard to imagine just how negligent the port authorities could have been in managing the warehouse. 2750tons high-explosive Ammonium Nitrate? Check. 50tons Ammonium Phosphate? Check. Stacks of flammable wooden pallets among Ammonium Nitrate? Check. 1000 flammable rubber car tires? Check. 23tons of explosive fireworks? 5 rolls of detonator cord? Check. I mean... how/why?

From what I understand, the warehouse was a collection of confiscated goods by customs at the port. So I can easily see that the managers at the warehouse didn't know and didn't care about proper safety storage procedures for these hazardous goods, since they hadn't been planning to acquire them in the first place. (In US legal terms, this would be recklessness).

However, evidently some people (their affiliation is not clear to me) were aware of the major risks this caused and pleaded with the judiciary to do something about it, to no avail. I'm somewhat mystified as to who exactly it is that recklessly put the ammonium nitrate where it is, and I think that the desire to avoid blame here is strong enough (and the blame itself widespread enough) that a proper investigation will only end in stonewalling or scapegoating.

>I'm somewhat mystified as to who exactly it is that recklessly put the ammonium nitrate where it is

Some underpaid and undereducated laborers. Unfortunately, this society did not have sufficiently developed governance to force the proper storage of ammonium nitrate. There were multiple warnings issued over the years, and multiple mandates by the judicial system, but the political will to spend the money to move it did not exist, so it did not get moved.

How much money would it really have cost? Worse case they conscript a dozen guys with plastic snow shovels to dump it onto the water. That would be very far from ideal, but a hell of a lot better than half the city blowing up.

If they paid a dozen guys double the minimum wage for Lebanon and it took a whole month, that would be about $10,000.

They were probably not deciding between moving the AN or twiddling their thumbs. They were likely faced with a thousand other prospective things to do, many of which seemed more important than the AN.

After all, the AN had been lying there without blowing up for years, so surely someone else is keeping tabs on that too.


What I'm saying is that it's easy in hindsight to see how stupid a decision was, but to the actors at the time they were facing a much more complicated situation with less obvious tradeoffs.

Until we accept this, we will only have finger-pointing blame assigned and accidents will keep happening, because we'll just install new humans in the same flawed system that created the accident.

Were you work has tons of explosives currently on fire and... you call the fire brigade and film? I seriously doubt just how many if anyone actually at the port day to day knew it was there.

Personally I'd rather destroy half the city instead of dumping 3000 tons of nitrates into the waterways. There's proper ways to do things and they don't have to very expensive.

TBH it is a really sucky problem to solve... As I understand the goods got there from some shipping company that in the meantime went bankrupt. The port authorities weren't able to just make 2KT of ammonium nitrate disappear - and probably were legally not allowed to anyway. There really was nobody who was responsible for it and no procedure for getting rid of it - it's not like you can just throw it to the garbage... It's a classic bureaucratic situation where nobody can or is willing to take responsibility, and if it wasn't explosive, these sacks probably could be in there for decades...

Apocryphal, but I read they tried to get the military to transport the stuff away but the explosion came before anyone decided.

It's the usual mix of carelessness, lack of security guidelines, bureaucratic inertia and corruption. How hard would it really have been to rent a warehouse outside the city to store explosive and flammable material at?

My takeaway: some stuff is better not to confiscate / store as evidence. No one would store a jar of milk in a warehouse. No one would store piles of TNT or dynamite in such conditions. But they were storing just "goods". Lacking understanding of what those goods are and how they must be stored.

There were several reports over the years that warned them of how dangerous the AN was it was ignored because it was easier to ignore than to force someone to accept it for disposal.

> it's hard to imagine just how negligent the port authorities could have been in managing the warehouse.

I can totally imagine the same thing happening in an Indian port. Its mostly because of having a "dont worry, nothing will happen" attitude or even if someone from complained about the goods, getting the bureaucracy to do something is fast is almost impossible.

Have you ever thought about your house? The whole damn thing is fuel.

Do you store things in the attic? plastic tubs? How about the basement? cardboard? Do you have wool, paintings, plastic toys, plastic anything, wooden anything? Look around you and the places you keep things. Oh my god curtains they are more or less just flame conduits.

Your couches, your clothes, everything around you is fuel for a massive fire. It can be a bit scary when you really evaluate it. I bet you have never thought seriously about the risk before.

Admittedly at a city level, 3 kilotons of ammonium nitrate in a strategic location should definitely have set off some real thinking but on a personal basis most people are surrounded by fuel and don't think about it at all.

> Have you ever thought about your house? The whole damn thing is fuel.

analogizing a house, the purpose of which is to store and house human occupants, ran by non-professionals, to a dock store-house that houses hazardous compounds and is staffed by employees is pretty useless.

Yes, most everything is fuel.

Storing large amounts of explosive chemicals is beyond the scope of purpose behind a household.

Dock storehouses routinely deal with hazardous/dangerous goods. They are built to do so with the premise that the staff that run them will follow strict (and in most cases clearly written) guidelines.

In other words : I don't need to demonstrate explosion-readiness as a strict rule before home ownership -- but most countries require groups that house and manipulate explosive or combustible goods to demonstrate both their skill in manipulation, and their disaster planning in the worst case.

Yes, you're right. They deeply failed as a port authority and a warehouse.

I was trying to explain why civilian city leadership might not have good intuition for why the storage issue would be a problem for them.

I think they were restricted in what they could do. There were repeated reports of danger, and they even asked the army to store the AN. I think the failure was higher than warehouse and port authority; they correctly assessed and reported the risk, but no action was taken.

on a personal basis most people are surrounded by fuel and don't think about it at all.

That is because we have safety standards that are explicitly designed to address those risks.

and some alleged welding sparks in the same location

totally crazy! there has to be more to the story

There was a broken door. The port authority was worried that people might use it to gain entry to the building and tamper with or steal some of the dangerous stuff they were storing in there. So they asked a crew to fix the door.

What would be the additional details? Welding is a pretty common activity in any sort of industrial area, especially when repairing large constructs made of metal. Sure, I guess there could be some salient detail we're missing, but welding alone is certainly a highly plausible catalyst.

If I remember correctly the negligent ones were judges.

Here is an article about how the ammonium nitrate ended up there in the first place:


Here is an article about the history of ammonium nitrate:


(comment edited)

Nowhere it is said in the article that the Hezbollah is responsible for the presence of the ammonium nitrate. Yes they did use it in the past, like almost all terrorist organization/militia, but there is no evidence that they had anything to do with its storage in the port. The AlJazeera article explain very well how it came here.

Rumours of the responsibility of the Hezbollah, or Israel depending on which side of the fence you are, for the blast has been going on since day one, and there hasn't been any substantial proof.

Don't get me wrong, I have no sympathy for the Hezbollah, but lets be honest, the tragedy can be very well explain by the sheer level of incompetence and corruption of the Lebanese government (in which the Hezbollah also plays a big role).

Yes, their mustache-twirling nefarious plot to have large quantities of a relatively stable substance placed in a warehouse in the incredible hope the warehouse might some day also contain tons of fireworks, 10k tires, and detonation cord to set things off.

That link does nothing to support a claim that the ammonium nitrate in Beirut is linked to Hezbollah.

It seems that article only mentions the Beirut explosion in passing?

I spent many years as a forensic engineer. In my career we worked on several high profile cases but none were ever presented as well as this one. Kudos to this team!

Excellent video. We have the tech and skill to reconstruct reality, at the same time we do not possess the skill to let reason rule critical parts of our (here: Beirut's) infrastructure.

As humankind, we are probably closer than ever to hassle free life and we will nevertheless go down skirmishing and fighting.

As William Gibson puts it, the future is already here, it's just not evenly distributed.

The event itself is rather Gibsonian, isn't it?

Kudos to the team that put together this video, it is extremely well done.

It's hard to lump this kind of excellence into a "we."

"We" Albert Einstein are prodigies. "We" anti-vax are very far from the other end of "we"

If you enjoy this, I'd recommend looking into the organisation Bellingcat.

They do investigative journalism using social media/crowd sourcing/leaked database, and many similar forensic techniques. They've done great analysis on the MH17 missile attack for example, which is documented in their podcast: https://www.bellingcat.com/resources/podcasts/2019/07/17/mh1...

See this branch which discusses Bellingcat: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=25150913 (BTW it's interesting that the same link got mentioned twice here in comments, even though relation to the OP is weak in my opinion)

This was amazing to watch. Highly recommended.

I do start to wonder if any of such materials are stored like this in one of our ports, such as Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

I can't imagine such a mess to exist there.

But The Netherlands remembers the Firework explosion in Enschede, from 2000. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enschede_fireworks_disaster

It's not nearly at the scale of Beirut, but it killed 23 people.

Not exactly ‘stored’ but it’s one hell of a mess - the sunken explosives near London. If those went up the theories on what happens are horrifying.


The BBC asked a similar question after the event: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-53755289.

https://www.ad.nl/buitenland/moeten-wij-ons-in-nederland-zor... (Dutch)

The storage and production is highly regulated. Every suspicious event must be communicated with the "Nationaal Coördinator Terrorismebestrijding" (coordinator counterterrorism).


I would hope that every person in any type of supervisory role over a warehouse took this as an opportunity to say "Oh f*ck I need to make sure my warehouse isn't next"

Well, if you remember the horrible port explosion in Tianjin, it seems not unlikely, China is a major exporter to Europe. The west probably has better site safety rules and hazmat regulations in place, though.

I hadn't seen the leaked footage and photos from inside the warehouse, nor the videos from the firefighters before the explosion. Very interesting.

This website (and organisation) is fascinating. There are other excellent videos on the site, for example:


> nor the videos from the firefighters before the explosion.

There were a few bits of video footage where I watched on horrified thinking "I wonder how they got hold of that memory card, because there's no way whoever filmed that got out alive..."

Money quote:

> Mr Collett contended that from an engineering perspective, the arrangement of goods within the building was the spatial layout of a makeshift bomb on the scale of a warehouse, awaiting detonation.

The part where they overlay Australia's recommendations for safely storing ammonium nitrate over the blast zone analysis was equally impressive to me.

That is some serious level investigation and presentation. The video is insanely visually informative. The 3D rendering matched with the mobile videos of the bags got my jaw dropped.

The 12 minute video is worth watching. I was impressed in the density and clarity in the resulting research. Great job and thanks for open sourcing this

I've been lucky last summer to be able to see one of the exhibition of forensic-architecture in Basel, Switzerland. And today i'm happy to see one of their work on my favorite website HN. This was a very interesting work between art, data, dataviz, video art. I would recommend to everybody to check their exhibition schedule and go out to see if there is one not far from you https://forensic-architecture.org/programme/exhibitions

There is a youtube channel run by the US Chemical Safety Board that provides similar reconstruction videos of chemical safety incidents:


Offtopic, but disable_polymer doesn't do anything anymore.

What's the opposite of Augmented Reality? This does such a great job to overlay real-world video and photography onto a 3D simulation.

I would call most of what was done in this presentation Photogrammetry


Yeah. But the most interesting visuals to me were the placement of 'leaked images' in the virtual warehouse. It had the effect of contextualizing those photos and, for lack of a better term, exploding them. The value to me is what it did to the photos rather than what the photos did to the creation of the space.

I'm not sure these instances fall under the photogrammetry umbrella.

The point the video makes towards the end is a good one: just basic storage standards were not followed.

Forget for one moment that this makeshift bomb laid dormant for years and nothing was done despite constant warnings from officials.

Had port officials followed basic storage etiquette, like placing the AN in manageable clusters, separating those clusters from each other by a moderate distance, and not storing other combustible material like fireworks and tyres, the Beirut explosion could at least have been mitigated.

The video makes a point that probably 50% of the AN exploded -> 200 people died. I shudder to think what double that would have done.

If it wasn't hot days maybe, and no welding work close to combustible materials, then what you notice (but not 'just' only), then not 'confined and contaminated' (9:45) in the chain of failures..

That's why my question (†) - if it could be really avoidable at the last moment, as the video suggest.

(†) https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=25154599

I missed the part where it mentioned 50%. From the "single point of explosion" part I just assumed that only 1 or a small bundle exploded.

I wish they provided references to all media they used:

  - YouTube links
  - links to twitter media
  - timestamps for all the screenshots
  - (best) zip of all media files on archive.org

RTFA. There's a direct link to the media, and also a link to their github where there's an xlsx with links the original sources.

I RTFA. The direct link to media only contains snapshots of the video sources, not the videos themselves. The xlsx was added 1 hour after my comment was written, so I guess thanks are in order!

I see, sorry for the assumption!

This investigation ignores a key question: How many kg of ammonium nitrate was actually in the warehouse. Surely that's extremely important to the models. They only mention an mtv news report mentioning the stated figure of 2750t.

That figure comes from the ship's documents. Yet there are estimates that suggest the actual explosion is only equivalent to 1000-1500t[0], or 700-1000t[1].

If the actual amount of nitrate was lower that the stated figure this strongly suggests some form of smuggling was involved, and someone was siphoning off the material. This would immediately explain the enormous 'negligence' that let this incident happen in the first place.

[0] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-53668493

[1] https://www.occrp.org/en/investigations/a-hidden-tycoon-afri...

The first link suggests the blast was equivalent to 1000-1500 tonnes of TNT. Ammonium nitrate is not as powerful as TNT (Trinitrotoluene); therefore you require more of it for the same effect.

Edit: The second link is probably misquoted and is also an estimation in terms of TNT. This is common; nuclear weapon yields are also stated in terms of TNT for example, despite not containing any.

Good point. Any idea what would be typical TNT value of 2750kg of Ammonium Nitrate?

According to [1]; 880kg (Edit: Though you meant to ask for 2750t, in which case, 880t). Not far off the estimated yield of the blast. Note that the effectiveness would be affected by contaminants and storage conditions.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TNT_equivalent#Relative_effect...

Getting all of an explosive charge to detonate (rather than simply oxidize or be distributed by an existing blast) is already a challenge in designed explosives. This was a bomb, yes, but a happenstance one spread nonuniformly over a large region of warehouse. It's not unlikely that a considerable portion of the ammonium nitrate was blown away by the first-to-detonate material.

Speculation, very much not my area. Informed by earlier reading however.

Important source material to consider this question is [0] "Lebanon blast: Ammonium nitrate behind many industrial accidents"

Basically the AN is an oxidizer and as such a chemical that "intensifies combustion" and so must not be combined with fuel or oil.

Since it was contaminated, the contaminants are potentially combustable themselves. The warehouse was also likely filled with partially combusted gases from the tyres, fireworks or other burning material.

So the explosion that did occur was not just the Ammonium Nitrate, but a mixture.

As other writers have discussed, the blast would not have fully involved all the material either - some would be lost and some would remain unburnt.

[0] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/8/5/lebanon-blast-ammoni...

Nah, you can detonate AN by itself, the oxygen from the nitrate part happily oxidizes the ammonium which will cause the nitrogen to depart the compound and release a lot of energy and gas. The contaminants just enable the reaction to switch from burning through deflagration to detonation.

In an unconfined fire when it's not intentionally detonated it's not surprising that not all of it would have detonated because the entire mass would not be under the right conditions to detonate at once even during the detonation of the rest of the pile.

Or it degraded in the humidity? Not sure how that would play out.

I (not an expert) don't think trace materials or humidity can explain the size of the explosion being 1/2 to 1/4 of stated storage. That must require significant chemical changes.

I suspect these changes would appear in the plume or type of explosion; Yet no investigation finds any evidence of any type of material not in the original documents.

So we have 'raw' ammonium nitrate possibly contaminated with trace materials - which brings us back to the explosion weight being inconsistent with the documented weight.

Tonnes of TNT. In this case, a kiloton, or one and a half. That's the standard for measuring explosions.

2750 tonnes, not kg.

Ouch. I wrote kg instinctively. Corrected.

I've watched an exhibition by Forensic Architecture a few months ago in Gothenburg and was blown away by it.

Incredible and inspiring work.

I see what you did there.

I thought it was bad enough to store that much potential explosive, but to put it with fireworks and detonation cord as well...

Yeah, this is 6 years of negligence and incompetence.

Here is an account on the fireworks present in the warehouse:


And yet it looks like things are still bad around Beirut port:



At 2:54, the commentator says "[...] as little as half of the 2750 sacks of ammonium nitrate".

At 6:06, the commentator says "The 2750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate [...]".

There is a possibility that they're describing 1 tonne sacks, but I'm left wondering whether they meant to say something else. An image search for ammonium nitrate packaging shows many 25-50 kg range sacks, and a 500kg industrial sack, leaving me a) wondering whether the report has sacks/tonnes confused and b) on many watchlists.

edit: A bit further on they show leaked in-warehouse pictures of sacks of ammonium nitrate that must weigh a tonne (with the number 1000 printed on them). Likely no mistake then.

If you enjoyed this, you might also enjoy this video by the same team about the murder of a Bedouin by police forces: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yQnQ-DJOa_g

I'm not sure I buy the argument that smoke plumes 1 and 2 have different fuels. The color change is fairly continuous, and smoke color changes continuously with the availability of oxygen.

As one material runs out, another material starts burning; You wouldn't necessarily get a jump in color just because 1% of the smoke is suddenly coming from another material. I wouldn't exclude the 2-fuel hypothesis.

I'm not excluding it, I just don't buy the argument.

The video was absolutely amazing. I’ve watched it at 1x speed and don’t feel like I wasted a single second of my life. This used to happen approximately never with videos.

Looks like really excellent work. Anyone know how the 3D models were built? What SW, how many person-hours, that sort of thing?

My first thought reading the headline was, “Shit, not another one?!”

Could we add a word like “Analysis” to the headline please?

This is among the best video I watched recently. Very well done. Congrats to everyone involved in this project.

They have identified four types of smoke plume. But they only reconstruct three types of material in the warehouse: fireworks, tires and ammonium nitrate. Aren't they missing something?

It goes initial small fire caused by the welders -> tires -> fireworks -> ammonium nitrate. The exact cause probably won't be known because there's been no video discovered that shows that portion of the warehouse and anyone close enough to have known were likely killed in the explosion. It's not particularly important though for the purpose of the investigation because the goal was to show establish clearly that the storage was negligent so victims can seek legal redress.

It goes initial small fire caused by the welders -> tires -> fireworks -> ammonium nitrate.

Yeah, I'm not sure the "swiss cheese" model of disasters applies here. I'm not aware of any form of metaphorical cheese that could maintain it's structural integrity under the conditions present at this warehouse.

From the video:

  5:38 [5:54pm] as reported by media outlets, the fire brigade arrived approximately 4 minutes after initial call was made to the station, at 5:54pm
  4:48 [5:56pm] ..from this point at about 5:56pm the temperature inside the warehouse start to rising rapidly..
  5:15 [5:59pm] the sound o fireworks start being heard, approximately 5:59pm, [titles over the gates: 'Closed Closed Closed'] it shows that many windows and doors are shut, according to the experts, confinement creates hotspots, areas of high temperature in which ammonium nitrate can get close to its combustion point 
  2:31 [6:07:44pm] .. small explosive charges as fireworks.. 
  2:50 [6:08:18pm] single point explosion
Does it mean that the fire brigade could have chances to survive ?

- if they open all the big gates soon after they come, making an airflow and avoiding confinement:

  would 'the temperature inside the warehouse start to rising rapidly' as well and
  would it make the situation [in this case/in theory] better  ('confinement creates hotspots') or worse (more oxygen) ?
- if it could help (in this specific situation?), what was needed to make such decision ?

What was the best they could do, and what when having full situation awareness (run away ??) ?

Standard fire protocol would advise against opening the doors, to limit the oxygen. I think by the time the fire-fighters arrived there really was no hope of containing this fire.

Tyre fires [0] are famously hard to extinguish, even on their own. Generally the best a fire department can do here is to prevent the building full of dangerous chemicals from causing nearby fires.

It looks like it was too late for that due to the dangerous storage.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tire_fire

Just like the movies!

Like Deja Vu ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_NPG1RNhrsM ), The Dark Knight's sonar ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRELLH86Edo ) or the series Devs.

I've always thought it'd be amazing to be able to view an event from different angles via crowd-sourced videos, and that it was very doable. From an information scientist point of view, I'm glad to see it's been done.

That's what came to mind too. This is movie-level "Enhance" material, minus the scrolling-text monitors in the background and overzealous UIs.

I have the stupidest nitpick but the report's author (and everyone tbh) should use ISO 8601 formatted dates:


my argument is summed up by the famous and relevant xkcd #1179


That is some impressive work

this is awesome

Very well-done.

very well done

amazing video!


or whether there was a possibility of a weapons cache being hidden there

I disagree, they show that the colour of the smoke and the different burn zones/phases is consistent with the declared contents of the warehouse. Anything further than that would be idle speculation.

I thought the cause of the fire was found? Wasn’t it sparks from workers welding on a security door to prevent someone from sneaking into the warehouse and setting off the giant bomb they had built?

From what I remember, the welders did their job and left, then the fire started later.

Also, they never question why 2 tons of unclaimed ammonium nitrate was just sitting in the warehouse for 5-6 years. This stuff is expensive yet no one was trying to get it back.

They never touched those controversial parts of the explosion: -jets -was the fire intentional? -what was it doing there to begin with

Just because you finish a job doesn't mean there isn't hot items still around. Many companies and OSHA specifically, in the states require several hours of observation after doing things that create sparks in high combustible areas. Sparks from metal can also migrate quite far or catch easier to burn metals too.

The unclaimed ammonium nitrate was simply government negligence, it wasn't unclaimed it was confiscated and never moved or properly secured.

They also didn't investigate reports of John McClane (of the Die Hard movie fame) tossing a cigarette into the warehouse, backwards while walking away, a few minutes before the explosion... I'm unsatisfied that they didn't entertain my conspiracy theory! /s

If you actually informed yourself properly about this explosion (instead of reading -- I'm going to assume -- conspiracy websites), why the whole thing was sitting there for so long is pretty clear, and is actually briefly covered in the video (6:05): no one in the government nor military felt responsible nor did they want to take responsibility, having a fight using letters instead of recognizing the danger and acting to fix it. As to the source/why no one wanted it back, that's also been covered in the media.

I'm Lebanese myself and I did inform myself don't worry about me. I also talked to real people affected by the blast and claim they saw Jets as well. I would have loved it if the vid had tackled this and debunked it completely. I'm not claiming otherwise.

There was definitely military/gov negligence and I even call kit suicidal levels of incompetence.

However, they never talk about the original owners of the ammonium nitrate to begin with. I remember it being said that it was a ship that was sinking so it had to be emptied at the port for temporary storage. I'm asking why did the original owner of 2 TONS of it never came to get it back?

I don't think what I'm asking merits these kinds of answers.

Why does one video have to answer every question and entertain every theory? (Should it also answer my question if John McClane was seen at the scene?).

It's a video showing a 3D model/timeline from publicly released videos. If I claim "my friends saw Aladdin flying on his magic carpet before the explosion" but there's no video/photo of this claim, they can't use that claim for their reconstruction. And they're not going to talk about Aladdin because that's not the point of the video.


You have mentioned videos of flying jets like 8 times but have failed to link to then even once.

> There are several videos showing flying objects and several people reporting that jets were flying. [...] I will say it again, there exists SEVERAL different videos that show this.

Where are these videos?


Here's one article that talks about it. Again, there are plenty of doctored videos that are obviously fake but this article does not use them.

And people here seem to assume that me asking about it means that I believe that that it was an air strike. All I am saying is that I wished Forensic Architecture had tackled these subjects as well and debunked them since these are the actual controversial subjects regarding the blast.

So this one right [0] which is from right before the fireworks went off. What you're hearing is a lot of small explosions from fireworks going off around the edges before the main mass goes off, there's similar sounds in a lot of other videos of burning fireworks it's just a bunch of very small fireworks going off.

There's no other actual evidence of strikes none of the cameras seems to have caught the missile or bomb which with so many cameras watching the same thing you would have had one catch a frame at least of it and no one's found it.

[0] https://youtu.be/tFR1PJnLwg0?t=60

You are not going to convince a bunch of people that generally require evidence for their beliefs to side with you on another possibility if it doesn't rise above speculation. You cannot even find a video to link to, admitting many are doctored, you simply keep saying there are lots of videos. You are in the wrong community if that's the conversation you want to have.

> claim they saw Jets as well

over central Beirut and not a single clear video of your phantom jet? come on.

Confiscated means the original owners have no ownership of it anymore.

the welders did their job and left, then the fire started later.

Are you familiar with tire fires? That's what the welders set off. These are not rapid combustive fires, they are slow burners that take some time to really get going. The fully expected result of welding setting off a tire fire is that it would smolder and get worse over a prolonged period of time (compared to an explosion)

* they never question why 2 tons of unclaimed ammonium nitrate was just sitting in the warehouse for 5-6 years*

It's been fairly well reported in other outlets that concerns were raised about the conditions in the warehouse, and then ignored.


Jets fly, literally, everywhere.


No analysis has suggested this except conspiracy theory speculation

According to the analysis of the color of the smoke, the tire fires came later, after the explosion.

> Also, they never question why 2 tons of unclaimed ammonium nitrate was just sitting in the warehouse for 5-6 years. This stuff is expensive yet no one was trying to get it back.

It was seized, it belongs to the government at that point there was no one to come claim it. It was their job to safely store and dispose of in some manner.

> They also never touched on what might have triggered the fire to begin with

I do wish they had touched on this. I'm not sure if the ignition source is known

Its forensic not speculative.

Chilling stuff

Very well presented.

Based on the title i thought of another explosion ...

Thank you for this -- fascinating.

Here is a mirror to access the article that doesn't require executing javascript code. It is just a document. https://archive.is/BBe1X

Your document doesn't play the video. You're missing out.

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