Watches a Security Threat

At Labour's Brighton conference in the UK, security screeners are making people take their watches off and run them through the scanner. Why? No one seems to know.

My guess is that it began as this story about altimeter watches, and then got exaggerated in the retelling.

Posted on September 29, 2005 at 3:34 PM • 33 Comments


DonSeptember 29, 2005 4:16 PM

This kind of thing just warms my little heart. Makes you really confident in the TSA's final statement about prohibited items. "In addition, the screener may also determine that an item on the permitted chart is dangerous and therefore may not be brought through the security checkpoint."

I can't wait for the day some over-zealous inspector with his 8 hours of training decides I look like the kind of person who'd use a garotte and takes away my belt.

Glauber RibeiroSeptember 29, 2005 4:17 PM

Interesting. I've had a watch that had an altimeter in it (it got destroyed last fryday by an inept battery change). The altimeter is useless inside the pressurized cabin. Maybe they're thinking they could be used to trigger a bomb in luggage in a non-pressurized bin? (In this case they wouldn't be on the terrorist's wrist anyway).

Glauber RibeiroSeptember 29, 2005 4:18 PM

Or could they just be asking people to remove their watches so they wouldn't trigger false positives in the metal detectors?

Tethered RoseSeptember 29, 2005 4:52 PM

Nah. But the Altimeter watches (the older ones still with about 72 of them on the market in various stores...) can make a connection that can jump start something _pretty_ darn easily.

I was saving that one for my movie, darn it! :)

Tethered RoseSeptember 29, 2005 4:54 PM

@ Don

"I look like the kind of person who'd use a garotte"

If you take a look at me, you would _never_ think I'd use a garotte, either.

But I sure as hell would if I were being threatened. And yes, oh, yes, do I know what it is and how.

Davi OttenheimerSeptember 29, 2005 5:17 PM

Can we start a rumor about eyeglasses being potential terrorist weapons?

It might pass as a form of crude entertainment to see people wandering around blind and lost when trying to walk through the detector, myself included.

A little while ago I travelled through British airport security (and some other countries) carrying a giant gold cup. The screeners seemed so enamored with it that they passed it around intstead of putting it through the scanners. So while all the usual bits and items were being pulled apart and inspected, a huge shiny metal object seemed to go right around security.

Tethered RoseSeptember 29, 2005 5:34 PM

@ Dave

"Can we start a rumor about eyeglasses being potential terrorist weapons?

It might pass as a form of crude entertainment to see people wandering around blind and lost when trying to walk through the detector, myself included."

Well, they are. Potential terrorist weapons, and potential Government weapons, Movie Industry weapons, hell, anyone who can figure out how to use them in REALLY COOL ways.

There is no reason anyone on this planet should be in such a hurry that they honestly give a crap about being checked out.

Plan ahead. Plan wisely. Alert folks when you need to have something brought along that is definitely dangerous. Disarm your weapons and potential weapons!

My bra wire is a weapon! I can whip it off and go for your juggular SO fast, it would amaze you.

I can take a mixed drink straw, and hold it just right, and go for your juggular SO fast, it would terrify you just before I finished killing you with it.

What's the point?

Stop giving people reasons to want to do bad things!

Give people what they want!

Clear and precise answers and a arena to voice their concerns and solutions.

Protect the masses.

Not just the rich people schmucking about thinking they're better than everyone else because they either facilitated theivery (by working for someone who is a slimy theif) or caused it.

There are a lot of good people out here getting in the middle of the crossfire and it's GOT to end here.

We have all reached our capacity. Our entire planet.

Stop being stupid and help offer solutions. Do something useful. Stop being deceitful.

People know a hell of a lot more and can handle a hell of a lot more than we're given credit for.

I'm tired of the U.S. being and International Embarrassment! I want my Country back.

Roy OwensSeptember 29, 2005 7:07 PM

Maybe they're grasping at straws for a reason. If they aren't seen as doing something new, then they'll look like they've run out of ideas. So a long series of really stupid ideas advances their agenda and has the benefit of requiring no real thinking. Maybe they do their brainstorming on weekends while drinking heavily, having a good laugh.

Imagine the power thrill when the first Heimatsicherheit tool got to order somebody in public to drop his pants and take off his shoes. You can't get that working at Mickey D's.

ÉibhearSeptember 30, 2005 3:55 AM


This is the same conference that threw out (almost literally) an 80-year-old man for shouting "nonsense!" during a minister's speech. The footage is quite distressing, to see him being dragged over two rows of cinema-like seats.

Worse: after his pass was confiscated, he still attempted to return to the conference and anti-terrorism legislation was used to prevent him from doing so.


His treatment was undignified (for him particularly, but just as much for the ruling party of a democratic country, a party that once fostered debate and dissent as a means of advancing causes), but the anti-terrorism twist adds a new aspect to the on-going discussion on profiling.


Sabre150September 30, 2005 4:53 AM

I missed the earlier article about altimeter watches. It makes me a little concerned though.

I used to travel 2-3 times a year to the states, but haven’t been since last Christmas. When I do travel, my hand luggage usually contains 3 altimeters, 2 mechanical and 1 electronic. I’ve never had a problem with them.

I also usually carry a lead weight-belt as hand luggage, mainly so I can explain what it is and what I'm doing with it there and then, rather than be delayed by hours if it gets flagged as a problem in hold luggage, which has happened. It *always* gets my bag searched and swabbed for explosives, but only once did security have a problem with it once they had a good look at it. The time they did have a problem, the security bloke examining my bag thought it could be used to bludgeon somebody. I didn't really know how to answer that and he went and got his supervisor. Luckily the supervisor had a look and simply asked how heavy it was. Since the combined weight of my hand luggage was within the limits set by the airline, he waved it through. The first security bloke did not look pleased so probably took it out on the next poor sap to cross his path.

I also wear eye glasses. Last nights episode of the BBC series Spooks featured an assassin killing his target with the targets own eye glasses. So, "If it saves just one life..." etc.

Not looking forward to my next trip :(

PeteMSeptember 30, 2005 6:02 AM

Personally what I find worrying is that having ejected an 82 year old man by force from the conference he was detained under the Terrorism Act when he tried to re-enter the conference. So you have an act of parliment designed to prevent Terrorism being used to prevent free speech.

Even more worrying is that the media seems to have completely missed this abuse of power.

BirfieldSeptember 30, 2005 7:57 AM

"Even more worrying is that the media seems to have completely missed this abuse of power." The overhwelming majority of our media is NOT on the side of freedom.

"They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security" --Widely attributed to Ben Franklin

John BrownSeptember 30, 2005 7:57 AM

They do make and sell a watch that is also a lighter for about $7. (maybe they were looking for "Our Man Flints" watch that had a mass spectrometer)

For glasses, maybe you can have a window seat and use them as a magnifying glass to start a fire by burning up a sky mall mag.

Maybe I could just use matches which are permitted.

Heck with a cocktail straw, a Bic Pen pushed into someones ear is very effective.

Next time I see a terriost on my plane trying to hold the passengers in line, they can eat my laptop battery as I hurl it at them.

Clint LaskowskiSeptember 30, 2005 9:09 AM

And of course, a watch minute hand could be connected to a bomb and be used as a detonation device ... just like in the old movies. God save anyone who tries to walk in with an alarm clock!

-- Clint

Mike SherwoodSeptember 30, 2005 9:11 AM

I'm surprised by some of the weapons they have failed to recognize in their overzealous efforts. For example, the human brain is used in 100% of all terrorism cases. They allow such dangerous weapons on the plane, even though the TSA does not permit their employees or management to possess one.

Too many people believe that box cutters made 9/11 possible. The problem was never knives, it was an explicit and well known policy to cooperate with hijackers. There was a gaping security hole in the system that was exploited. That particular attack should never be possible again. I would expect all hijackers to be met with strong resistance from the crew and passengers from now on.

As others have mentioned, there are countless weapons available to anyone with some creativity. Inanimate objects aren't the problem and never were. The bad people are the problem. We can't identify all of them, so the only rational thing we can do is try to ensure that the good guys outnumber the bad guys.

Average Joe #1September 30, 2005 9:54 AM


"I can't wait for the day some over-zealous inspector with his 8 hours of training decides I look like the kind of person who'd use a garotte and takes away my belt."

Wait until they begin confiscating all your fellow passengers' belts because they think *you* look like the kind of kind who'd use a garotte.

I Think I'm FunnySeptember 30, 2005 2:05 PM

What we need is a rumor that bras are potentially dangerous weapons for terrorists.

Davi OttenheimerOctober 1, 2005 1:29 AM

Ah, it seems the screening was just part of the program to help protect the ruling party from dissent:

"The party's homeland security forces -- called 'stewards' -- were everywhere ready to stifle dissent at the drop of a discouraging word. Among other things, the stewards were confiscating hard candy and mints because they might be used as 'missiles' to pelt ministers and other notables by anti-war members, otherwise known here as the majority."

Not really an explanation of why watches would need to be x-rayed, but another good reason why everyone attending should have had their eyeglasses confiscated -- "Nothing to see here. Please remove your glasses to protect yourself and move along."

I hate to admit I've been spending time researching 007 films, but Armin and Ari were probably on the right track -- Q gave Bond a Seiko M354 Memory Bank Calendar Watch in "Moonraker" that was a bomb. The wind button concealed a long fuse wire and the time set button was the detonator. "Tomorrow Never Dies" had an Omega Seamaster Professional watch with a removable charge that was detonated by turning the dial. And "Die Another Day" had the same watch...

jayhOctober 3, 2005 9:29 AM

the altimeter idea was incredibly stooopid.

Altimeter watches are extremely tightly packed and any alteration would destroy their operation

More critically, for a terrorist triggering an explosive, the altimeter is irrelevant. Simply wire one of a conventional watch's pushbuttons and do the job more reliably.

SavikOctober 5, 2005 3:15 PM

@Tethered Rose

"Give people what they want!"

Perhaps you have not been paying attention. Some people want you dead.

So are you going to give them that?

When will people like you realize that there are bad people on earth and you are not going to be able to do anything to make them not bad?

Tethered RoseOctober 8, 2005 6:47 PM

@ Savik

"Perhaps you have not been paying attention. Some people want you dead.

So are you going to give them that?

When will people like you realize that there are bad people on earth and you are not going to be able to do anything to make them not bad?"

I think I left myself wide open for that one. Fair enough.

However, people don't want ME dead. They want our International Embarrassment of a Country deceased.

People "like me", or, since I can only type for myself.. I, already recognize the widely known fact that there are "bad people" on earth. Included among these "bad people" are our very own citizens, company executives, politicians, media zealots, etc., all the way to abusive priests, coaches, teachers, and parental figures.

I am more than willing to do everything it takes to kill them all if we can't "stop them from being bad" and to continue to keep killing them all as they reincarnate and rename themselves.

The only problem is that my definition of BAD and your definition of BAD seem to be too entirely different things.

SolinymOctober 12, 2005 3:05 AM

Don't let TSA know, but there's a web site with purported CIA paraphenalia, and one of the items is a set of eyeglasses with detachable straight razors as part of the metal frame (the straight part that goes from eye to ear).

They also show a fake eye used to conceal microfilm, a folding knife disguised as a large coin, and a small caliber single-shot pistol disguised as a cigarette.

Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to locate this site.

M.I.P.February 27, 2007 12:43 PM

Why do you think that people would want you dead? Wouldn't you wonder what you did that would make them want to kill you? I'm not going to give you an answer and I most definately will not answer my own question.

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