Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Odd Watch Discovered at Oakland (OAK): Steampunk Art or Potential Threat?



A watch with fuses, wires, and a toggle switch.
























An odd watch that was discovered at Oakland (OAK) a few days ago has been creating quite a bit of chatter on the web. As you can see from the picture, this is not your everyday watch. If I could show you what our employees saw, you would see that it looked even more nefarious to our officers viewing it on the X-ray monitor.

From comments I’ve read on the web, some think we overreacted to a piece of steampunk art, while others understand why we would be concerned.

Is this watch dangerous? Not at all. However, we didn’t know that until the explosive detection team arrived and cleared the item. You see, when something is considered to be a potential deadly threat, it is protocol not to open the bag.

Terrorists take everyday items and attempt to manipulate them to make improvised explosive devices. Our officers are trained to look for anomalies such as this one.

After clearing the watch, law enforcement officers (not TSA) made the decision to arrest the passenger. TSA officers do not have the power of arrest.

Please take a moment to think about what you’re traveling with and how it might appear to TSA. I happen to think this watch is pretty cool, and I’m a fan of all kinds of art and homemade DIY gadgets, however, they’re not always the best things to travel with. Here are a couple of posts talking about this




If you have a travel related issue or question that needs an immediate answer, you can contact us by clicking here.

55 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why was the passenger arrested? Especially if the conclusion was that is just a wired watch?

Anonymous said...

Although no explosives were found, could this have been a test by the "bad guy" to see what components can get by. Now that this has come out in the light, will TSA allow the next "component" to go through. IEDs can be incrementally assembeled. Pieces brought in one at a time and assembeled after getting through. I think the arrest was good and just. A possible component for an IED.
I beleive the rest of my fellow travelers and those nay sayers really need to tune into what the "bad guy" is willing to do and how long they will take to plan and test a theory.

Anonymous said...

So if it was declared not a threat, then why arrest the guy?!

Anonymous said...

Bob,

Stop feeding the anti-TSA sentiment. The only reason this was posted was to satisfy their demands. It is sad that people need to target individual TSA employees when they have a problem with the concept of the TSA as a whole. Those who think the TSA is so bad? Contact your congressman and stop complaining about every single personal experience you have at the checkpoints.

And Bob, it should not be your job to police private blogs on the internet.

Anonymous said...

I'm a big fan of Steampunk everything and this isn't anything like Steampunk. It honestly looks like something that was built to either mess with TSA or can actually function, but Steampunk it is definitely not.

SB said...

http://palosverdes.patch.com/articles/mcgann-tells-his-story-of-unusual-watch-arrest-at-oakland-airport#photo-12269363

«McGann also explained that he had been travelling with his homemade watches for the past six months and even got a go ahead from the TSA in Los Angeles the first time he travelled with them.

"It is not a surprise that I got stopped by TSA...They are precarious looking watches. It's just they said it was alright if I put it in the bin," McGann said. "I knew I might be stopped sometime and that I might have to explain the watch as I did the first time I went to TSA months ago."»

So will the TSOs at every other airport through which McGann traveled be reprimanded for not calling over the cops?

Which one is it, Mr. Burns? Either the Oakland TSOs seriously overreacted, or the Los Angeles TSOs were remiss in their duty.

Oh, I get it: this is just another one of those random and unpredictable approaches the TSA uses to keep the terrorists on their toes.

I feel so much safer.

SokoMan said...

Why was this passenger arrested?
If it was associated to the watch, and not his behavior, then every person with a fake grenade or anything similar must be arrested as well.

Anonymous said...

This watch or anything similar to it, if considered art, belongs in an avant-garde museum, not in the possession of a airport passenger.
It is not cute or funny and I'd be scared if I saw it out in the open.

Anonymous said...

Bob,
Another word for this is Contraption- reminiscent of the Age of Invention. Creativity is an awesome and powerful thing but few inventors will consider how the device appears in an x-ray machine because they have been enamored with the true purpose of the device since it's inception in their mind. All well and good until we get to look at it from our perspective. I actually went weak in the knees one time from looking at an x-ray image of a....mouse trap. A brilliant idea but one that forced the shutdown of our airport for over 3 hours. Thank goodness it was just a mousetrap and not something designed for a more nefarious purpose.

Many of us were happy to go home that day with the realization it was just an honest oversight on the part of a well meaning inventor. Hugging your family after a day like that is an extra special moment. Good job Oakland!

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I think People bring these type of things to see what the reaction will be. Think about it, there are so many morons that do the opposite of what normal would be their entire lives. They constantly create controversy, or make things as difficult as they possibly can. I was absolutely delighted to hear that this individual was arrested - now he can get the attention that he desires. The TSA has a hard enough job as it is without making it more difficult, and costly. If something is questionable, (if it looks like an explosive device, or similar) DECLARE it when you check in. Tell them what it is, and let them examine it right then and there. Same thing as a weapon. You can transport a weapon on an aircraft as long as you meet all the criteria for transporting it, and you DECLARE it--(it has to be in a proper container which is locked, and unloaded...etc.) Its easy, and it helps things to go a lot more smoothly. I'm sick and tired of people who keep slamming the TSA. They process millions of people every day, and most people do not have any problems being examined....unless they create them themselves. I, for one, would not want to get on an aircraft and have it explode in the air, nor would I want to have to face any other danger that some extremist, or mentally disturbed idiot has thought up to kill people. Use common sense and realize that these check points are specifically designed to keep us as safe as possible.

RB said...

Just another TSA and Airport LEO screw up. Once the item was determined to not be a threat that should have been the end of this. Since we don't know what was said between TSA and the Airport police we don't know if TSA had any bearing on the person being arrested but I would be willing to bet a six pack that TSA was right in there pushing the issue. Since the DA decided to not press charges it is clear that nothing illegal happened.

Just another knock on the TSA Belt of Failures.

Anonymous said...

Good call on the part of law enforcement in arresting the person who packed this so-called "watch". The perpetrator deserved to be arrested for trying to transport this item; what a fool. The watch is not even close to being considered a "steam punk" artistic item; it is too new to be considered "steampunk". It's more 1950s, mid-century modern than Victorian. With all the gadgets and attachments, it looks very suspicious and nefarious.

N English said...

I think people need to quit trying to get attention and do the right thing. This is a different world and this type of stuff may be cool, but it's thoughtless. The TSA folks work everyday under a pressure that has nothing to do with terrorism, it's the public pressure from people who have nothing better to do than stir things up. All this person had to do was disclose this and make sure the agents knew what it was and where it was. Take a minute and put yourself in others shoes.

Anonymous said...

There's stupid, and then there's REALLY STUPID.

Jganem3 said...

Any owner or artist of this watch should have realize that it would trigger an alert by TSA. If it wasn't, then it should have been declared and cleared prior to the flight to avoid disruption. I am forever amazed at the foolishness of people who recognize that our airline system is constantly under alert, and yet try to bring onboard objects which are highly questionable. I guess you just can't cure stupid.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
There's stupid, and then there's REALLY STUPID...... and finally there is TSA!

Anonymous said...

Hey Bob, why did you fail to publish my comment where I asked whether the TSOs at LAX and every other airport that had no issue with this watch would be reprimanded?

Anonymous said...

It's a watch with common equipment and automobile fuses, a throw switch and couple of wires sticking out. If a TSA specialist can't differentiate between operative and non operative configurations, can't identify common electronic components, and doesn't know minimum quantities of volatile substances necessary to present a credible threat to airline safety, I am very concerned. A watch that resembles a bomb is of less concern to me than a bomb that looks like a watch--or radio, etc.

The fact that local, untrained law enforcement made an arrest doesn't tell me anything except that the officer believed that a minimum standard had been met. It doesn't mean that the officer thought the watch to be a bomb, or even that the passenger had any nefarious intent.

The TSA should focus on passenger protection, not "proving" that they're doing a great job by advertising all the non-lethal items, and mere contraband that they seize.

I traveled through Oakland airport earlier this year and forgot to remove a folding tactical knife from my backpack. The bag went through screening without incident. "Catching" someone with a cool watch that could be taken for an explosive device at first glance in a particular environment (imagine seeing the watch on someone's arm at a party), but is quite obviously not one to trained eye (even in a low-resolution internet picture) doesn't make up for screening failures.

TSORon said...

Interesting that RB was the only person to have a negative comment. Par for the course.

Why was the passenger arrested? Sorry, you would have to ask either the passenger or the law enforcement officer who made the decision. As Bob said, TSA does not have the authority to arrest people and therefore did not make the decision.

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth: I saw "The Man With the Golden Gun" too. Thinking that TSA would not be able to thwart a well-planned operation for reasons I'm not going to identify. Needless to say, hypothesizing that the watch in this case is part of such a plot is ridiculous. Making a big show might deter some clown-terrorist wannabe, but at what cost to liberty.

The best argument for this behavior is: don't bring anything to an airport that will attract the attention of TSA. While logical as a request (TSA attention not taken by non-threats), harassing and arresting people for items that do not comprise a threat to airline safety goes against the idea of American liberty.

Wintermute said...

Bob, even though it was a LEO (quit calling TSAgents "officers" and you might cut some of the confusion) who arrested the artist, the fact remains that it was a TSAgent who mis-identified the watch as dangerous and got the local LEO involved in the first place. It's another TSA mistake that the can push off on a scapegoat (the LEO).

FWIW, you'd have to be on crack to think the watch i question was dangerous. Isn't being on crack against TSA policy? Why was this TSAgent not reprimanded for being on crack? ;)

Anonymous said...

SokoMan: if you carry a fake grenade into an airport, consider yourself lucky not to get shot. There's a big difference between facsimiles of lethal objects and items that can be mistaken for a lethal object. Where similarity is inherently obvious, you get what you get--probably arrested & charged with a crime. A bunch of headphones, an alarm clock, and some D-cell batteries in a backpack may look like an explosive device on x-ray of the bag, (and may be intentional) but you shouldn't get arrested--unless it's your 4th time and you've been warned 2 times. In-between can be hard to call, but TSA shouldn't be persecuting/prosecuting passengers without a strong showing that the passenger has done something illegal.

Anonymous said...

"Is this watch dangerous? Not at all. However, we didn’t know that"

You said it. TSOs are not qualified to identify whether or not something is dangerous. So, why do they exist?

Susan Richart said...

Once again, Bob successfully moves a controversial thread down the page.

screen shot

Anonymous said...

Can you please tell me when you will be posting about the 17 year old girl who had her breasts exposed at a checkpoint by one of your employees? I've read that TSA is blaming the girl for wearing a sundress, is this true? I have also read the officer received no punishment whatsoever, surely that cannot also be true?

Anonymous said...

After clearing the watch, law enforcement officers (not TSA) made the decision to arrest the passenger.

With or without TSA pushing??

TSA officers do not have the power of arrest.

They are not "officers", either.

Matt Bille said...

I've never found a reason to make a pro-TSA post (while I've personally had few problems with TSA, the agency's "he was just following orders" attitude toward misconduct by their personnel is sickening.) But if I'd been the screener i nthis case, there's no way I would have let this watch through. Even if it's proven no-threat, I would have insisted the guy put it in his bag to keep from freaking out other passengers. The arrest is a whole different thing: TSA doesn't arrest, but they certainly know more about the reason than thy are telling.

daveca said...

Sad TSA is so uneducated or dishonest to claim this is a threat.

ITs just another round of "attack the victim"

These are electrical fuses and a toggle switch.

Whats basically wrong here on TSAs side, is the irrationality displayed.

What is the limit for liquid volume for carry-on items, is it 2-4 oz?

What is the internal volume of the items in the photo?

I know, I bet no one at TSA has the education to even figure it out.

Hollowed out, those items MIGHT be able to hold 1/2 - 1 oz liquid.

So then if the rationale for limiting liquid volumes is to limit the volume a container could hold of explosive substances, then items with less volume than that are not a hazard.

Education instead of hysteria.

Signed, Engineer who knows all about those pictured items...

Anonymous said...

Blogger Bob said, "Please take a moment to think about what you’re traveling with and how it might appear to TSA."

This is a very repressive statement when viewed as the latest entry to the Things NORMAL Healthy Young Middle-Class White American Males Wouldn't Wear List the TSA uses as their "The Only People Acceptable to Fly" policy.

Add "Modern art" to the growing list:

Underwire bras
Sequin tops
Jewelry
Large watches
Skirts
Shoes with lifts
Shirts with political statements
Body jewelry (piercings)
Head covers
Long hair
Afros
Dark skin
Ponytails
Hair buns
Hair extensions
Crutches
Canes
Braces
Artificial bones or joints
Wheelchairs
Medical devices of all kinds

Your bosses need to open their eyes and see the world the rest of us live in.

Anonymous said...

ROTF at all of the TSAnonymous employees posting here. I hope you aren't doing it on work time!

Anonymous said...

The passenger was probably arrested for disturbing the peace. Like shouting "fire" in a crowded movie theater, you can't bring a fake grenade to a high security checkpoint. It creates panic, and if there were no consequences, everyone would be screwing with the TSA. Who knows, maybe the person was stupid enough to declare it his "time-travelometer."

Anonymous said...

Why would anyone be arrested for having something that isn't dangerous?

Anonymous said...

So Bob, if the bomb detection team confirmed that there were no bomb making materials involved why was the man arrested?!?!

Anonymous said...

How was this item deemed a threat at Oakland but not at LAX or any other airport where the passenger might have passed through a checkpoint?

Tony said...

Enough with terrorists .... We don't want TSA security nor should the US taxpayers have to pay them. Airports should have their own security .

And FYI --- if someone wants to do something badly enough - they will do it, regardless of your petty patdowns and scanners

Anonymous said...

I hope this passenger sues the pants off of you and the LEO. It's a watch. He made it and wanted to wear it, and knew it wasn't a threat to anyone. Yet you guys had him arrested (I can imagine, even if you can't do it personally, you're very persuasive with the actual cops) and now try to post this as a good find.

If I may quote Joseph Welch, "At long last, have you no sense of decency?"

Mike Toreno said...

" I guess you just can't cure stupid."

Yes you can. You start firing people who don't pay attention during the training. Unfortunately, the TSA doesn't do that.

Mike Toreno said...

"There's stupid, and then there's REALLY STUPID."

And then there's TSA clerks.

What would stop things like this from happening is if the TSA would quit telling the clerks they are on the "front lines" of anything. Telling this to the clerks inflates their sense of self-importance and causes them to look for danger that isn't really there.

If you would tell the clerks that their job is to study the list of IDs and recognize the IDs when they see them, and to look at the X-ray and pay attention, you wouldn't have problems like this.

The main thing you need to emphasize is that an explosive device requires explosive. Nothing that doesn't have any explosive is an explosive device.

The Wildcard said...

By the information presented here, the arrest appears to be completely uncalled for.

Having served in the US military for over 11 years now, I little bit about security and potentials threats. I have no problem with the TSA questioning anything they come across. I do have a huge problem with the training and technology that is employed. Few TSA agents I've encountered have impressed upon me they have any greater skills or talent that most that work at McDonalds (generic choice for example). One generally doesn't need any greater abilities to join the military, BUT the key different is the amount of training and technology employed.

Logically, if the TSA is to function effectively, and not just exist as a feel-good entity for the general public and poor use of federal funds, it must step up and become more relevant. Extensive training, at least one explosives and firearms expert at every airport, and the analytical technology on-site to makes these calls fast and effectively.

That said, passenger must know before they leave their last place of preparation for travel, what could raise concern and cause delays. Passengers are ultimately responsable for complying with federal air travel safety regulations, but those that don't travel this way often can legitimately be unaware of what will cause problems and have a lot to think about already surrounding their travel. ALL airline should be alerting passagers of current TSA (and their own) restrictions and guidelines for a hassle-free experience. This should occur at the time of ticket purchase and within 12 hours of the flight. With most people handling travel arrangements online and with smartphone applications, this is an easy and little to no-cost solution to implement. I almost suggested creating your an app to aid with this, but then I realized I've never checked and you very well may have one. I just checked, and indeed the TSA has -- what appears to be -- a fairly extensive app (I could be wrong since it's downloading as I type this). This brings up a good point that the airlines should also recommend and provide links to the TSA's website and app for ADDITIONAL information.

Not directly related, but the TSA should be apart of the Dept. of Homeland Security (as I'm aware--didn't see otherwise on the TSA website). I'm sure there is some significant funds that could be saved there from redundant expenses, and maintain better operational support and communication.

Bankimkumar Jani said...

Although no explosives were found or wired with watch, one can see that the watch was wired and can easily be connected with the remote bomb that can explode at any time within a minute, TSA did right in arresting the person who was carrying the same with him.
By interrogating him TSA can find out probable link / probable threat of terror and can save an american life

Anonymous said...

"Terrorists take everyday items and attempt to manipulate them to make improvised explosive devices."

What terrorists? Certainly no 'terrorist' that has attempted an attack on commercial aviation in my lifetime has used everyday items to make an IED, so I have no idea what you are talking about. This is like saying, "Unicorns eat watercress sandwiches."

TSORon said...

Mike Toreno said...
[[The main thing you need to emphasize is that an explosive device requires explosive. Nothing that doesn't have any explosive is an explosive device.]]

Mike, every improvised explosive device on the planet must have as an absolute minimum 3 components. Explosive, an “Initiator”, and a means of causing the Initiator to set off the explosives. The watch in question had 2 components of a 4 component device, and it was obvious that the watch had been tampered with, possibly toward that goal. The other 2 needed components for a 4 part IED could have been anywhere, literally. Denying the terrorist any one of the 4 components means that they will not achieve their goal, a goal we all know far too much about already.

Once again it seems that the knowledge of the average poster to this blog, on this particular subject, has been overestimated. I hope I have been able to provide some light on the issue for you, and from it you have gained a greater understand of the complexity of our task.

Anonymous said...

For all you TSA agents out there, keep doing what you do best and don't take any of these poeple serious in this blog. Because most likely, everyone who complains about you doing your job, are the same people who complain about the Police until their lives are threatened.

Anonymous said...

@Mike Toreno and all you other complainers.

Why don't you do some real research instead of listening to your friends about what TSA is doing. If you actually took the time to read real news about the potential threat towards the United States transportation systems, you would see why TSA does what they do. Did you ever think for a minute why America has not had a successful threat toward their transportation systems in 10 years? Did you ever research how many threats have been stopped in that time? It is obvious you haven't.

Anonymous said...

I believe passengers could have more effectively dealt with an unruly passenger than TSA.

Anonymous said...

Under normal circumstances nearly everything that the TSA does in the name of security pisses me off. However, it's STUPIDITY to wear a piece of jewelry such as it was to a place with tight, over-zealous security and expect to have no problems. I dress myself to go through airport security in order to avoid foreseeable issues (such as being stopped because my watch looks like a bomb). It may have been apparent to some that the watch was harmless, but I don't think that I'd take the time to carefully inspect something that even marginally resembled a bomb. And I don't expect the TSA to be explosive experts, that's why they have a bomb squad.

Rich Smith said...

I suspect that TSA may advertise detaining passengers for carrying items that trigger additional screening, causing them to divert resources away from other passengers. Harassing passengers is not a good answer--it pisses people off.

A better solution is to provide specific guidelines for how to pack luggage and carry-on items so as to make TSA screening quick & easy. For passengers who routinely carry items that require additional screening, provide a designated queue for advanced screening. Providing notice to passengers well before their flight that they will need to go through advance screening, and allowing those passengers to make an appointment in advance, would keep them from shutting down routine screening lines while allowing TSA to conduct a thorough screening with personnel having advance training. Passengers going through routine screening could be diverted when a concern arises. The advance screening queue could screen regular passengers when not performing advance screenings.

Having a process to divert problematic items away from routine screening lanes would reduce TSA and passenger stress while providing for more secure travel. Only passengers requiring advance screening who don't have appointments would experience delays caused by unexpected events.

As long as TSA doesn't make advance screening punitive or unduly time consuming, passengers are less likely to complain, there would be fewer delays, and deter clowniness by not allowing clowns to put on a show in front of passengers waiting to be screened. TSA should offer transparency for this process and videorecord screening and offer a copy to passengers that request a copy within a reasonable period after screening. With videorecording, when someone claims rape or abuse, the recording can be reviewed and appropriate action taken.

Anonymous said...

You are what is wrong with the world

Wintermute said...

TSORon mispoke...

"Mike, every improvised explosive device on the planet must have as an absolute minimum 3 components. Explosive, an “Initiator”, and a means of causing the Initiator to set off the explosives. The watch in question had 2 components of a 4 component device, and it was obvious that the watch had been tampered with, possibly toward that goal. The other 2 needed components for a 4 part IED could have been anywhere, literally. Denying the terrorist any one of the 4 components means that they will not achieve their goal, a goal we all know far too much about already. "

Ummm... So, is it 3 required components, or 4? Also, ANY watch fits your definition. FWIW, a single cigarette makes a great fuse, so anyone carrying cigarettes must be a terrorist. After all, the lighting mechanism could be literally anywhere.

"Once again it seems that the knowledge of the average poster to this blog, on this particular subject, has been overestimated. I hope I have been able to provide some light on the issue for you, and from it you have gained a greater understand of the complexity of our task."

And once again, TSORon stoops to insults. Someone within the TSA must have the authority to tell him he's better off not saying anything at all if all he's going to do is make matters worse. Or, if he's posting on his own time and not in an official capacity, to remove TSO from his handle.



Anonymous said...

Definitely! The bad guys are trained to not show any suspicious behavior, and the US cannot take any chances. Nowdays, we are not going to profile, the US haters can be anyone. Also if you don't want to raise any suspicious, don't travel with this type of gadgets. TSA has done a good job!

Anonymous said...

TSORon said...

every improvised explosive device on the planet must have as an absolute minimum 3 components. Explosive, an “Initiator”, and a means of causing the Initiator to set off the explosives. The watch in question had 2 components of a 4 component device

So, the watch had 2 of the 4 components of a 3 component device?

No wonder the TSA is having trouble- it's employees can't even handle numbers up to 4.

Denying the terrorist any one of the 4 components means that they will not achieve their goal

Unfortunately for your point, ANY watch with an alarm function can be used in an IED. Even a watch that looks (and indeed IS) perfectly normal. To 'deny terrorists' that part of an IED, ALL people wearing watches must be stopped at the checkpoint. Do you do that? of course not.

Anonymous said...

"...Did you ever think for a minute why America has not had a successful threat toward their transportation systems in 10 years? Did you ever research how many threats have been stopped in that time? It is obvious you haven't."

Why, yes. Yes I have thought about those very two questions.

Funny thing is, TSA isn't usually the answer I come up with.

And in researching the threats that have been stopped by the TSA, I can't find any. To date TSA has not caught a single terrorist. TSA has not prevented anything or anyone from taking down a plane because no one has tried to take down a plane since the TSA took over security.

Well, a couple of attempts have been made on aircraft, but TSA had nothing to do with the failure of those attempts. In fact, it was the passengers and crew that prevented anything serious from happening to the flights in question.

Anonymous said...

Funny thing is, in the late 1990's, I used to deliver baked goods to the PHL airport, and also some bad parts of philly. One day, I forgot my knife was still in my boot when I went into the airport. I got past security with a 12" double blade knife stuffed in my boot going through airport security. ( keep in mind, it was an accident). TSA would have found it had it happened today. There is a fine line between privacy and true safety, you can't have both.

Wintermute said...

Anonymous said...
Funny thing is, in the late 1990's, I used to deliver baked goods to the PHL airport, and also some bad parts of philly. One day, I forgot my knife was still in my boot when I went into the airport. I got past security with a 12" double blade knife stuffed in my boot going through airport security. ( keep in mind, it was an accident). TSA would have found it had it happened today. There is a fine line between privacy and true safety, you can't have both.


With a failure rate of ~70%, there's a good chance it could have still slipped through somehow... Especially if you noticed it while removing your boots and actually attempted to conceal it to get it through.

punk jewelry for men said...

This watch or anything similar to it, if considered art, belongs in an avant-garde museum, not in the possession of a airport passenger.
It is not cute or funny and I'd be scared if I saw it out in the open.