By SCOTT MacLEOD
A home handyman is building a missile in his garage with parts bought over the internet and shipped through Customs.
Bruce Simpson has stated on his website that he intends to construct "cruise missiles", which are taking shape in his shed northwest of Auckland.
Security experts say the ease with which Mr Simpson has obtained parts and built a working jet-engine is a warning that such weapons could be built by the wrong people.
They are divided over whether the missile plans he has posted online encourage terrorism or simply raise awareness that the technology is widely available.
Mr Simpson, a 49-year-old internet developer, stated on his "Interesting Projects" website on April 29 that he would build a cruise missile.
He has already test-fired several noisy jet engines, as neighbours up to 1km away have testified.
Mr Simpson told the Herald that the missiles would not be used for terrorism, but to test home-built jet engines.
He said he was fascinated by pulse-jets, which are best known for powering the German V1 flying bomb in World War II. He has dedicated four years to developing an improved version, called the X-Jet, which he hopes to license.
Mr Simpson posted details of the X-Jet online, and has given step-by-step instructions on building a cruise missile.
He was able to buy online the electronic parts needed to guide the missile once fired and import them and was alarmed at the ease with which he was able to pursue his project.
"All this stuff is off the shelf," he said. "It came in under the radar. It rang no alarm bells."
Among the imported items are a radio control transmitter and flight pack, global positioning gear, antennas, software, video camera and a flight control system. He ordered them from overseas websites, they were delivered within two weeks, and passed through customs with ease.
Mr Simpson bought parts for the missile's body and wings - such as stainless steel, polystyrene sheets and fibreglass - locally.
The Customs Service's national manager of investigations, Matt Roseingrave, said he could not comment for privacy reasons on Mr Simpson's imports.
However, he said many items could be imported that were innocuous by themselves but which could be dangerous if altered or used with other items.
Neighbours do not seem to mind the noise when Mr Simpson tests his jets.
"It's real loud," said one. "We think, 'What the hell is that? Just Bruce Simpson with his flamin' motors'."
Another said: "It gets to your eardrums a bit. We joke about ringing noise control."
But the neighbours did not know Mr Simpson had turned his attention to missiles.
Mr Simpson has been heavily involved with the internet since the mid-1990s, running news websites such as aardvark.co.nz and 7am.com.
His missile site is entitled "A DIY Cruise Missile - watch me build one for under $5000". He said the site had received 250,000 hits in two weeks, including many that appeared to be from United States military and security institutions.
Air Force staff said it was possible to build such a weapon at home and pulse-jets had been used to power model aircraft overseas.
Senior defence and police spokesmen would not comment on Mr Simpson's missile. Nor would the CIA and FBI say whether they were monitoring the site.
One official, who would not be named, said there were concerns that Mr Simpson's website could be violating the international Missile Technology Control Regime, under which New Zealand has agreed to restrict the availability of missile technology.
Former US Defence Department analyst and terrorism expert Paul Buchanan said Mr Simpson might not be trying to encourage terrorism, but "might be facilitating it".
If the missiles worked, it would send a powerful message to authorities, he said. "It might alert them as to how darn easy it is to assemble this stuff."
A Massey University anthropologist specialising in terrorism, Jeff Sluka, said big terrorist organisations already knew about the technology that Mr Simpson was posting online.
"The problem is the people who see it who hadn't thought of it - like neo-Nazi punks."
Mr Simpson's missiles are designed to carry a small warhead of just 10kg. However, his website points to a news story that reports 1.3kg of anthrax would kill more than 100,000 people if dropped on New York City. Asked if his website helped terrorists, Mr Simpson said the information was widely available.
"I'm not publicising anything that's not already on the net," he said.
His missiles - if they function properly - could fly 100km to Auckland in less than 15 minutes, and he claimed the Air Force had no way of stopping them.
But he would ask the Air Force to help him test-fire the missiles, and would seek a remote spot - just in case they went awry.
The Air Force's main spokesman, Wing Commander John Seward, would not comment on the military's ability to stop the missiles.
Mr Simpson was awarded a $31,000 grant from Technology New Zealand in February 2001 to develop the X-Jet, but never used the money.
Technology NZ investment manager John Gibson said Mr Simpson had impressed as "a pretty clever guy" and the X-Jet looked like a good project.
Mr Simpson said anyone with half a brain could build a cruise missile. "You don't have to be a rocket scientist."
Do-it-yourself missile specifications:
Powerplant: Pulsejet or X-Jet
Accurate to: 100m
Weight: 60kg (with fuel, not warhead)
Guidance: Global positioning system
Making a cruise missile:
* Radio control transmitter imported from online hobby store. Delivered by international courier in less than a week. Passed through Customs without query. $400.
* GPS receiver, antenna, computer interface and software from United States. Delivered by airmail in less than week, passed through Customs without query. $210.
* Radio control flight pack from United States. Delivered by airmail in two weeks. Passed through Customs without query. $260.
* Video camera and RF downlink, purchased online, imported. $225.
* Flight attitude control system, purchased online, imported. $207.
* Stainless steel for jet engine, bought locally. $175.
* Foam/polystyrene sheets for fuselage/control surfaces, bought locally. $83.
* Fibreglass resin, cloth and mat, bought locally. $260.
Interesting Projects website
By SCOTT MacLEOD