Some mailed pipe bombs could have been duds, investigators say

At least some of the devices found in the wave of suspected pipe bombs mailed to prominent political and media figures had no possibility of exploding — because they contained flaws in the way they were made, several investigators told NBC News on Thursday, based on early analysis.

In a few cases, the flaws were substantial, the investigators said. In others, the defects were more subtle. But there's still no way to know at this point whether the deficiencies were intentional — to make convincing hoaxes — or simply the result of bad design or construction, the sources said.

The investigation's analysis is far from complete, as some devices have yet to be analyzed in any kind of detail.

And officials continued to caution that anyone who gets one of the packages should treat it as dangerous.

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Explosive packages, items sent to politicians, news outlets
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Explosive packages, items sent to politicians, news outlets
A member of the FBI Weapons of Mass Destruction team works outside the Time Warner Center, in New York, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018. A police bomb squad was sent to CNN's offices in New York City and the newsroom was evacuated because of a suspicious package. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
People gather outside the Time Warner Center, in New York, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018. A police bomb squad was sent to CNN's offices in New York City and the newsroom was evacuated because of a suspicious package. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
New York City Police Dept. officers arrive outside the Time Warner Center, in New York, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018. A police bomb squad was sent to CNN's offices in New York City and the newsroom was evacuated because of a suspicious package. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Officers with the Uniform Division of the United States Secret Service talk at a checkpoint near the home of President Barack Obama, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018, in Washington. The U.S. Secret Service says agents have intercepted packages containing "possible explosive devices" addressed to former President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Broward County Sheriffs Office bomb device works outside the office of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018 in Sunrise, Fla. The FBI confirms a 'suspicious package' went to Schultz's office in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Joshua Replogle)
An officer with the Uniform Division of the United States Secret Service uses his dog to search a checkpoint near the home of President Barack Obama, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018, in Washington. The U.S. Secret Service says agents have intercepted packages containing "possible explosive devices" addressed to former President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence & Counterterrorism John Miller, center, arrives outside Time Warner Center on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018, in New York. Law enforcement officials say a suspicious package that prompted an evacuation of CNN's offices is believed to contain a pipe bomb. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen)
An officer with the Uniform Division of the United States Secret Service sits in his car as news media work at a checkpoint near the home of President Barack Obama, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018, in Washington. The U.S. Secret Service says agents have intercepted packages containing "possible explosive devices" addressed to former President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Police officers stand in front of property owned by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton in Chappaqua, N.Y., Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018. A U.S. official says a "functional explosive device" was found at the Clinton's suburban New York home. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Police officers stand in front of property owned by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton in Chappaqua, N.Y., Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018. A U.S. official says a "functional explosive device" was found at the Clinton's suburban New York home. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
An officer with the Uniform Division of the United States Secret Service uses his dog to search a checkpoint near the home of President Barack Obama, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018, in Washington. The U.S. Secret Service says agents have intercepted packages containing "possible explosive devices" addressed to former President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
A police car is parked in front of property owned by Hillary and Bill Clinton in Chappaqua, N.Y., Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018. A U.S. official says a "functional explosive device" was found at the Clinton's suburban New York home. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
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Pressed at a news conference on Thursday afternoon as to whether the devices were supposed to go off or not, New York Police Commissioner James P. O'Neill would say only: "We are treating them as suspected explosive devices."

Law enforcement officials close to the investigation told NBC News on Wednesday that the bombs were made from PVC pipe with a digital timer attached to set off the detonator. Each bomb also contained powder from a low explosive or a pyrotechnic, as in fireworks, they said.

X-rays showed that pieces of shrapnel were likely to be inside the PVC pipes, the officials said.

The list of mail bombing targets grew on Thursday to include the outspoken anti-Trump actor Robert De Niro and former Vice President Joe Biden, as well as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former President Barack Obama, former CIA Director John Brennan, the billionaire George Soros, former Attorney General Eric Holder and Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.

The device sent to Brennan was addressed to the CNN offices in New York — even though he is a national security analyst for NBC News —prompting an hourslong evacuation of the building.

A similar device was found in Soros' mailbox on Monday. All of the packages were intercepted before reaching their targets.

The FBI has sent the devices to its laboratory in Quantico, Virginia, for analysis.

Two senior law enforcement officials, along with another official briefed on the investigation, said they were looking into whether some of the packages were mailed from Florida. A senior official said investigators were specifically looking at a mail facility north of Miami, in Opa-Locka.

IMAGE: X-ray image of pipe bomb
(NBC News)

MSNBC senior law enforcement analyst Bill Bratton, who led the police departments in Boston, New York and Los Angeles, told MSNBC on Thursday that the FBI had a number of devices that it would be "in a position to disassemble to determine their functionality."

"Were they ever intended to actually function, and if so, how, in terms of how were they supposed to be detonated?" he asked.

"If not, well, then, that changes the focus from trying to cause bodily harm to effectively creating fear," he said.

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Bratton said there had been some discussion about a "timing device" on the explosives, which raised further questions.

"These things are being found over the space of several days, so what was the timer set for, with no guarantee when it would, in fact, be opened or where it would be at any given time?" he said.

Bratton added that the sheer number of devices would help investigators.

"The building back of the investigation is going to be assisted tremendously by the fact that there are so many of these things, 10 of them," he added. "And there's the potential for a slip-up."

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