Man Arrested At Airport for Unusual Watch

November 17th, 2012
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Every time I start to question whether I should be in politics or not, something like this happens, which is so outrageous that it reaffirms my commitment to change the system…

This is Geoffery McGann…


Mr. McGann is an artist.  Notice that Mr. McGann is wearing an unusual shirt with an Asian-style buttoned collar.   You don’t see much of that in the US, but being an artist, one might well expect Mr. McGann would express himself by choosing non-conventional styles.

Yesterday, Mr McGann went to the airport to get on a plane.   He was wearing a watch, which he had modified for an art project.  Part of the modification included adding wires and switches to the watch.  He didn’t try to hide it.  He was wearing it out in the open.  One could certainly say that may have not been a great idea, given the hypersensitivity to anything unusual in an airport, but certainly nothing criminal about it.

The watch was noticed by the TSA, and who responded with characteristic idiocy.   After being told by the guy that it was just an art project, they could have responded any number of rational ways.   They could have told him that the watch might look unsettling to some passengers and suggest he have it sent back to himself in the mail.  They could have told him that, given the unusual nature of the watch, they would like to subject him to some further scrutiny.

That’s not what happened.

Via ABC 7:

McGann reportedly took off his watch and put it in the bin along with his carry on. Investigators say he covered it with his coat. An alert TSA officer didn’t like what he saw.”The watch had on it a toggle switch, a series of fuses, a series of wires protruding from it, a circuit board,” Alameda County Sheriff’s Sgt. JD Nelson said. Even though the TSA found no explosives, Nelson says the bomb squad determined that McGann had all the ingredients to make a timing device for a bomb.

Additionally, Nelson says there were other strange things about McGann; his boots were two sizes too big and they were stuffed with layers of insoles, something the shoe bomber Richard Reed did, “They also had what appeared to be a homemade cavity in them,” Nelson said.

It’s a place where he could have hidden something. Nelson says his attire was also strange, “He was wearing a military style shirt which has a built-in tourniquet in the sleeves.” Soldiers learn how to tighten the tourniquet to stop bleeding if they receive an arm injury.

Nelson says it was the totality of everything they found that made them suspicious, and that led to his arrest.

Passengers we spoke with on this day, one of the busiest travel times of the year, applauded the TSA, ”

“You never know who’s going to try to pull whatever off and it’s good we have these measures in place if they do catch them,” passenger Debbie Johnson said.

Chicago resident Glaydis Rice added that she’s always vigilant anyway when she travels, “You see something and don’t report it, that makes them just as guilty as the person doing it.”

The burning question — what was McGann up to? Nelson gave one possible answer, “That’s always a concern, is that somebody’s making a dry run, exactly.”

McGann told investigators he is an artist and what he was carrying was artwork. ABC7 News did find a website for a Geoffrey McGann. If it is the same person, he is indeed an artist and a photographer.

He’s being held at Santa Rita Jail, charged with possession of materials to make a destructive device

There is a lot here that really bothers me a lot.   The first thing is the way the TSA is reporting this and the way some media outlets are carrying the story.   Clearly they are trying to scare people as a way of justifying the existence of the agency and its conduct.  Statements like “all the ingredients to make a timing device for a bomb” are just the kind of thing that is intended to make people feel as if the TSA heroically stopped a very dangerous incident.

The statements go further, trying to link sinister intentions to what was almost certainly innocent.  He may have been wearing big shoes with insoles in them, but they did not have explosives in them.  Perhaps he liked the look of big shoes or maybe he had a back problem.  In either case, simply having insoles and big shoes is certainly not a crime.  Although some reports say that there “appeared to be a homemade cavity” in the shoes, they are not clear as to whether there actually was one or if it just “appeared” to exist.

Other reports indicate TSA officials have gone even further in trying to paint a picture of a disaster in the making and the heroics and astute observations of their agents.

From the Daily Mail:

TSA agents said they became suspicious of McGann when he tried to get the object through airport security by putting it in a bin covered by his jacked….

‘He was wearing a military style shirt that has a built-in tourniquet in the sleeves,’ he said.

These two statements represent two observations of things so innocent and common that they make the dishonesty of the TSA and sheriff’s office undeniable.

First, putting his jacket on top of the items is neither uncommon or sinister.   The x-ray machine is obviously capable of seeing through a jacket.   I personally ALWAYS put my jacket on top of my items when at the airport.   As I go through security, I take off my belt, remove my wallet, cell phone and other devices from my pockets and put them in the trey to go through the x-ray machine.   Then I put my jacket on top of them.    Is it because I’m a terrorist?   No.   I just don’t want my wallet and cell phone being out in the open as they emerge from the x-ray machine.   Like most people, I’m always a little nervous that if I get stuck at the metal detector, someone could grab my wallet and slip away with it.  Hence, I don’t want it to be so plainly obvious.    I know plenty of people who do the same thing!

The shirt is also a red hearing.   It’s well known that military uniforms have an influence on popular fashion.   Camouflage has become a common and cargo pants were first used on battle dress uniforms, as a way of holding extra ammunition, long before they became popular civilian fashion.   If you happen to own a regulation military blouse or a shirt inspired by one, you may notice that there is a small strap on the arm.  This small loop of fabric can be used to hold a tourniquet band, or can be used to properly place the belt of the uniform in case it needs to be used as a tourniquet.    There’s apparently nobody claiming Mr. Mcgann actually had combat tourniquets, only that his shirt had straps for them.

Even if he did have straps on his arm, that is hardly a crime.  Only a TSA agent would immediately presume that it must be evidence that he is planning on committing an act of terror and clearly has tourniquets as a means of keeping himself in the fight if anyone tries to stop him from blowing things up.

But it gets worse…

If the TSA were only guilty of lying to the American public to further its need to feel like it accomplished something, that would be bad enough, but its far worse.  An American citizen, who has done absolutely nothing wrong is currently in jail because he dared to not look like everyone else.

Mr. McGann is currently in jail on $150,000 bail.  That is a very very steep amount of bail, usually reserved for people who are actually a serious threat to society or have committed a very heinous crime.  Mr. McGann is charged with possession of bomb making materials.

I have one word for that…BULLSHIT

Yes, a watch could indeed be used as the timer for a bomb.  Switches and wire are also used in bomb construction.   Of course, those are not the only things used in making a bomb.  Cell phones, kitchen timers, pressure switches and beepers have all been used to trigger bombs.  If you have ever traveled with anything containing a battery, a switch or electronics of any kind, or if you are currently in possession of aluminum foil, timers, batteries, nails, screws, circuit boards, a cardboard box or a pipe, then you have materials that could potentially be used to make a bomb.

Of course, this leaves out the most obvious part: the explosives.   A timer is just a timer without explosives and its the explosives that are the only part of a bomb that does not have a plethora of legitimate uses by any person, requiring no license or documentation to carry.

Any wrist watch can be used to trigger a bomb quite simply.  The way a wrist watch is used to trigger a bomb is simply by setting the alarm for a given time and connecting the wires from the speaker on the watch to the detonation mechanism of the bomb.

How was this watch any more capable of being used as a bomb trigger than any other?   It wasn’t.  It just was funny looking.

Ultimately, I believe Mr. McGann will probably end up having the charges dropped or being otherwise able to escape serious jail time.  That, however, is far from a sure thing, because the government does not generally like to be made the fool of and thus will hang on to even these ridiculous charges.

But he certainly will not get off free

  1. He will undoubtedly have to pay for a lawyer.  Given the seriousness of this charge, it’s highly likely that he will be paying a minimum of $5,000 for representation and likely considerably more.
  2. He is already in jail and may face some time there, in a very unpleasant circumstance, depending on how long it will take him to get a new bail hearing or post bail.
  3. His bail is $150,000.  If he cannot come up with that much money for bail, he will need to pay a bondsman.  The standard fee is 10% which is not refundable.  In other words, if he wishes to not be jailed for a period of weeks or months, he may have to pay $15,000
  4. The possessions he was traveling with will be seized.   Good luck on getting them back, he probably won’t, even if he is exonerated.
  5. There is a good chance that a search warrant has been obtained for his home or business.  Police will go through everything he has and take what they want.  He will have a hard time getting it back.   The police can damage his property as much as they like if they think it is necessary to find evidence.  In other words, expect holes knocked in the walls and cushions sliced open.
  6. One can easily summarize that he is under more than a little stress now.
  7. His name has been dragged through the mud and he will forever be associated with a “terrorist plot.”  When people Google his name, they won’t find his art, but these defamatory accusations.

In cases like Mr. McGann, it may well be necessary to exercise some caution.  Certainly examining his watch and questioning him was justified.  Perhaps even asking him not to take it on the plane was.   Calling in the bomb squad, though a bit extreme, may even be a valid precaution.  But sending him to jail on serious charges is not.

Worst of all, there’s no recourse.   He can sue, but he will have a very hard time making a case.

Sgt. Nelson, the Alameda County Sherif’s office and the TSA agents involved severely violated the basic civil rights and dignity of a US citizen and created a ruse to try to promote their own image.   That’s not the kind of thing that should be acceptable in any civil country.   There should be a criminal probe here, but it should be for false arrest and dereliction of duty.  People need to go to jail, but not Mr. McGann.

But that won’t happen.

Most terrifying is how easily I could see this happening to m!

For those who don’t know, I am a bit of a geek and I tend to have some geek accessories with me.  When most people travel, they take a laptop bag containing a laptop and a power cord.  Well, I have a laptop and a power cord, and also an external USB wifi adapter with external antenna, because it helps me get a better signal and get online where others can’t.  I also bring a length of Cat-5 cable, in case my hotel room has a network jack but poor wifi reception or if I am somewhere that only wired network access is available.   I bring an inverter, to power my laptop in the car and I bring a couple extra batteries for my cell phone, so I can play games on the plane without running down.

Once or twice, I have had the TSA ask me to take my bag out for a physical inspection.  They cited the mess of wires and electronic devices, saying it was hard to identify what was what on the x-ray image.   I’m fine with that, and I always cooperate, but knowing that the fact that I have unusual wires could be used as grounds for arrest sends chills up my spine.

I’ve taken some other unusual items with me before.  Once I went to visit a friend who had been having trouble with the charger for her laptop.   I offered to take a look at it and brought some supplies, such as a multimeter (to test whether it was delivering voltage) and a soldering iron (in case I had to put a new tip on it.)   These were in checked baggage, but still.  One can easily see how this could have resulted in a TSA thug suggesting the soldering iron was for soldering bomb components.

In the past I often took a Geiger counter with me when traveling.   Anyone who knows me knows I’m a total nuclear radiation geek and I like to do things like demonstrate that the background is different in various locations, find interesting minerals or demonstrate the increase in radiation in an aircraft at altitude.   I don’t take the Geiger counter with me anymore, however, for exactly this reason.   It has occurred to me that the idiots at the TSA might make the connection between radiation detector and radiation and not realize that it does not actually produce radiation and that I am not a dirty bomber.

Sadly, that seems to be the society we live in these days.  People travel with all kinds of unusual things, such as nightvision scopes when looking to observe wildlife, photographers take special camera equipment, hams take radio transmitters and so on.   The fact that you might have some things that most people do not is certainly no grounds to have idiots from the TSA throw you in jail and force you to spend thousands to defend your freedom.   Sadly that’s how it is.

Lets not forget, this is not the first time something like this has happened in recent years.  Many lives have been destroyed because some idiot overreacted over something they found scary and cried terrorism:

Student Faces Disciplain Over Uranium

Terrorist Chemicals” seized in Staten Island – Only not

How not to “respond” to depleted uranium incidents…

Police Evacuate neighborhood over kids’ pretend nuclear reactor

We’ve also seen authorities panic over led-illuminated movie promotion items and a retired chemist having his home ransacked and his neighborhood evacuated over some relatively innocuous household chemicals that police later admitted were not illegal.

This entry was posted on Saturday, November 17th, 2012 at 5:14 pm and is filed under Bad Science, Culture, Just LAME, Misc, Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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One Response to “Man Arrested At Airport for Unusual Watch”

  1. 1
    Vince Says:

    While I agree the TSA should have examined the watch and questioned the passenger, calling the bomb squad when they supposedly have detectors that would have sensed the explosives was over the top want to be hero mall cop mentality.

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