UK Police Blow Up Bat Detector

Boston-style idiocy from the UK:

Officers were called to Handcross at noon yesterday after a member of the public spotted the box under a bridge over the A23.

Police immediately set-up a no-go zone around the site and offered 20 residents shelter in the parish hall while the bomb disposal unit investigated.

Both lanes of the A23 at Pease Pottage, near the motorway junction, and the A272 at Bolney were closed for several hours.

The Horsham Road at Handcross was also shut and traffic diversions set up.

Drivers were advised to avoid the area because of traffic gridlock.

The £1,000 bat detector, which monitors the nocturnal creature's calls, was put under the bridge as part of a survey of the endangered creatures.

For those who don't know, the A23 is the main road between London and Brighton on the south coast. More info on the incident here and here.

I like this comment:

We are working on ways to improve identification of our property to avoid a repeat of the incident.

Might I suggest a sign: "This is not a bomb."

Refuse to be terrorized, people!

Posted on May 4, 2007 at 1:23 PM • 38 Comments

Comments

bearMay 4, 2007 3:11 PM

yea, but then the terrorists will start marking their stuff the same way :-)

georgeMay 4, 2007 3:16 PM

Now way Bruce, blowing stuff up is way cooler.

Also, I love the official attitude these "security" idiots have. "I'm sorry sir, this is official police business. I'm not allowed to tell you about how we're wasting millions of your tax dollars every year on pointless, fake, security. Please keep your distance and don't mention this to anyone."

We need a new term for the morons who create and support security theater...like security jokers or something...

DavidMay 4, 2007 3:46 PM

Maybe we should cut the UK a little slack here, since they have had serious bomb trouble in recent memory. (The Boston police have no such excuse.)

georgeMay 4, 2007 3:59 PM

Or the rain fades the sign...so it reads: "This is n bomb"

Inspector: "What does that sign say?"

Bobby1: "Sir, I can't read it so well. I can only make out 'this'"

Bobby2: "I'm pretty sure it says: this is a bomb!"

Inspector: "Oh dear, I'll contact the Army bomb squad immediately. You two cordon off the area and close the A23."

Own AdviceMay 4, 2007 4:22 PM

Wouldn't Bruce Schneier usually point out that as soon as non-bombs were marked with a phrase like "This Is Not A Bomb", the terrorists would then begin marking their bombs similarly?

AnonymousMay 4, 2007 4:25 PM

Had the same thing happen here last week. A NOAA weather radio device (sent up twice a day on a balloon all over the world) dropped onto the port facility in Charleston, SC. It was small, made of Styrofoam, had wires hanging out of it (OMG) and landed on top of a shipping container. Call out all the dogs. Stop all local traffic for two hours in and around the port authority.

When will the madness stop.

J.D. AbolinsMay 4, 2007 4:26 PM

Among many other things, a communications failure seems to be involved.

One of the differences between the A23 bat detector bomb scare and the Boston fracas is that the bat detector was authorised by the highway agency to be stationed on under the bridge.

So it appears that the police and bomb response units did not check with the highway agency to see if they knew about the device. Another possibility might have been that the agency was contacted but the contact person had no idea of the environmental impact study being done for the agency.

How long will it be until we hear of the ironic news report of a surveillance device research project's test device is destroyed because another police group didn't know about it and perceives it as a bomb? (half-joking)

ThomasMay 4, 2007 4:49 PM

@Own Advice
"""... as soon as non-bombs were marked with a phrase like "This Is Not A Bomb", the terrorists would then begin marking their bombs similarly?"""

Of course, you'd have to add another line:

"I am not a terrorist, nor am I wearing shoes while writing this"

OK, now it's up to the same impeccable standard that's keeping our skies safe.

StokerMay 4, 2007 5:12 PM

"If it moves it's a threat. If it doesn't move it's a potential threat." - video game slogan

Can they be prosecuted for disturbing bats?

pointfreeMay 4, 2007 5:17 PM

They really do have these detectors in the UK, Monty Python related a similar incident
[...]
Praline: The man didn't have the right form.
Man: What man?
Praline: The man from the cat detector van.
Man: The looney detector van, you mean.
Praline: Look, it's people like you what cause unrest.
Man: What cat detector van?
Praline: The cat detector van from the Ministry of Housinge.
Man: Housinge?
Praline: It was spelt like that on the van. I'm very observant. I never seen so many bleeding aerials. The man said that their equipment could pinpoint a purr at four hundred yards. And Eric, being such a happy cat, was a piece of cake.
Man: How much did you pay for this?
Praline: Sixty quid, and eight guineas for the fruit-bat.
Man: What fruit-bat?
Praline: Eric the fruit-bat.
Man: Are all your pets called Eric?

Jamie FlournoyMay 4, 2007 5:59 PM

This is the same sort of government that's supposed to be coordinating its efforts to keep us safe, or according to some to perpetrate mass conspiracies that nobody knows about except a couple of super sleuthy folks with web sites. Refuse to be awed, people!

P.S. love the url of this post: uk_police_blow.html

Bruce SchneierMay 4, 2007 5:59 PM

"Wouldn't Bruce Schneier usually point out that as soon as non-bombs were marked with a phrase like 'This Is Not A Bomb', the terrorists would then begin marking their bombs similarly?"

Of course they would. But -- let's face it -- a real IFF system is simply too cumbersome and costly.

Richard BraakmanMay 4, 2007 6:26 PM

Ha! As if "cumbersome and costly" has ever stopped a government project.

I see an easier bomb-planting approach, though.

1. Steal bat detector
2. Cram bat detector full of explosives
3. Put bat detector back

Since this possibility means that even legitimately placed devices may be dangerous, I say we take no chances.

Matthew SkalaMay 4, 2007 6:38 PM

Once it's widely known that the terrorists mark their bombs "This is not a bomb," then the terrorists don't even need to bother with real bombs - they can just put up empty boxes labelled "This is not a bomb" and cause terror much more cheaply.

MikeAMay 4, 2007 6:44 PM

Re: "this is not a bomb"

IIRC, one of the things the OSS did during WWII was give the Italian partisans these nifty little bombs that could be easily attached to the trucks (bogeys) of a railroad car, and were marked with very official looking placards identifying them as tracking devices (or some such), not to be removed on order of the Third Reich. They had photosensors that would cause them to blow a wheel or two off when they detected entering a tunnel (x seconds of darkness with some sufficiently fast onset).

For extra credit, they were meant to be attached to the repair trains first.

Did I mention lots of tunnels in Northern Italy?

Own AdviceMay 4, 2007 7:48 PM

Oh, so you meant this as a joke:

"Might I suggest a sign: "This is not a bomb." "

I missed your tongue-in-cheek intent. My mistake.

Just MEMay 4, 2007 11:57 PM

How about printing: "For more information about this device, please call Joe at 555-1234 and reference bat detector 121." in large letters on the side of the box for the robotic cameras to see. Of course, then the box will explode when you dial 555-1234...

Chris AllisonMay 5, 2007 4:49 AM

@Richard Braakman:

"1. Steal bat detector
2. Cram bat detector full of explosives
3. Put bat detector back

Since this possibility means that even legitimately placed devices may be dangerous, I say we take no chances."


I don't know. A bat detector is tied to one place, and can't get close to the really sensitive targets. I suggest something presumably more mobile:

1. Steal a "Richard Braakman"
2. Cram "Richard Braakman" full of explosives
3. Put "Richard Braakman" back

Since this possibility means that even legitimately placed "Richard Braakman"(s) may be dangerous, I say we take no chances.


All (of my) sarcasm aside, I hope you were kidding. The problem with your argument is: Where does it stop? Not everyone may recognize a bat detector under a bridge, or a lite-brite by a subway stop, but a backpack by a school yard? Is that that suspicious? How mundane must something be before we're willing to trust it, and how must we secure the mundane and the "legitimate" so that we can trust that it hasn't been modified to hurt us? (What's "legitimate"? A government-placed bat detector? How about a piece of garbage or roadside litter? Is it "legitimate" because it's trash and not a bomb, or "illegitimate" because there's no official record of it being placed by the roadside by a government agency? Who decides? Does the road get shut down for each abandoned trash bag or cardboard box? What are the criteria for everything that isn't a highway?)

The answer is that it doesn't stop, and that there is no rational criteria we can use to answer those questions. Many American soldiers returning home from Iraq report being leery of overpasses and wary of roadside litter or debris. That's because they stayed alive in Iraq by training themselves to fear anything that could hide an IED or a sniper, and they need time to unlearn the behavior upon returning to the states, where they aren't likely to face those kinds of threats.

The soldiers' fears of the everyday are perfectly rational and reasonable, given what they're coming from. Similar or tangential fears (ie: of unknown objects) on the part of civilians who have not come from surviving in a war zone are not rational or reasonable. Without a reasonable basis for fear, your argument is specious. Like the analogy of IEDs on American roads vs. IEDs on Iraqi roads, the question is not "Is the threat possible?" The question is "Is the threat plausible? Is the threat probable?" Some defense against unlikely threats may be cheap and easy (cf. Schneier: In Praise of Security Theater), blocking off roads and calling in the bomb squad is not.

If we were having this discussion about police responses to suspicious objects somewhere else in the world, like Israel or Iraq, or about police actions around a high profile target (head of state motorcade route, Olympics, etc.), it would make a lot more sense, but in the context of everyday Boston or Sussex, it just isn't grounded in a demonstrated threat or in a rational argument.

Chris AllisonMay 5, 2007 4:59 AM

@David:

"Maybe we should cut the UK a little slack here, since they have had serious bomb trouble in recent memory. (The Boston police have no such excuse.)"


Fair, but only to a point. IIRC (please correct me if I'm wrong), the model of those threats was native-born extremist muslims planning large-scale suicide attacks against crucial infrastructure in urban settings, not anonymous bombs placed under ex-urban highway overpasses.

The UK police may have more excuse than their counterparts on this side of the pond, but I don't know that it's all that much more.

Besides, with all those CCTV cameras watching people pick their noses and telling park-goers not to litter, you'd think they'd have had half a dozen lenses trained on a bunch of guys in orange vests, hip-waders, and bifocals (or whatever it is that stereotypical ecologists wear) zip-tieing the thing to the overpass in the first place. So much for big brother. (That's what you get when you let nepotism dictate who gets security jobs. :-P)

n4nlnMay 5, 2007 9:14 AM

well then, if you cannot trust official objects, and you certainly cannot trust unofficial objects, then we have no choice but to blow-up everything to protect us from the people who want to blow-up everything!

wait a minute. something's wrong with that sentence.

Bruce SchneierMay 5, 2007 10:01 AM

"The problem with your argument is: Where does it stop? Not everyone may recognize a bat detector under a bridge, or a lite-brite by a subway stop, but a backpack by a school yard? Is that that suspicious? How mundane must something be before we're willing to trust it, and how must we secure the mundane and the 'legitimate' so that we can trust that it hasn't been modified to hurt us?"

This is exactly correct.

JasonMay 5, 2007 5:49 PM

In the history of policing, have they ever blown up a real bomb?

I can't think of a single case where they did.

Gag HalfruntMay 6, 2007 6:23 AM

"IIRC (please correct me if I'm wrong), the model of those threats was native-born extremist muslims planning large-scale suicide attacks against crucial infrastructure in urban settings, not anonymous bombs placed under ex-urban highway overpasses."

The IRA liked to plant bombs somewhat randomly in shops, pubs, streets, office blocks, etc. That's the threat model that the British police are accustomed to.

Richard BraakmanMay 6, 2007 5:25 PM

I am somewhat concerned that my suggestion of blowing up legitimately placed devices was not detected as humorous. It says something about the times. But the response was interesting.

The main (non-whimsical) point of my comment was that even a fully implemented IFF system would not help, since the devices themselves can be subverted.

All in all, I think a "this is not a bomb" sign is worth an experiment. If police and/or concerned citizens see a device marked this way, are they more or less likely to be alarmed? If less, then it'll be a useful measure. Anti-security theater, if you will.

RalphMay 6, 2007 6:12 PM

Re: "Not a bomb"

I'm going to get a tee shirt made with it on the front.

You can never be too careful (LOL).

RustyMay 6, 2007 8:38 PM

I wonder if registering placement of such devices (accompanied by proper authorization letters, and photo of the device) with the police help reduce such cases?

In the scenario where the police do get a call, the bomb squad arrives, check with their list of registered devices and gives it an all clear.

The downside is, there is no way to be absolutely sure if the devices has not been tampered with after placement, not to mention that there is going to be a potentially a huge database of devices go through and maintain.

csrsterMay 7, 2007 4:24 AM

While we're talking Monty Python, perhaps the time has come for a Royal Society for Putting Things On Top of Other Things and then Blowing Them Up ?

gregMay 7, 2007 7:03 AM

@Rusty

You can register a real bomb too.

And yet there are not all that many bombs going off are there.....

That box under merry go round... Lunchbox.
The parked car....the trash can....The [fill in any item bigger than a hand greanade] ...

We need to stop thinking everything is a bomb. Its not.

However the Brits do have a bit more history for these kind of bombs than the yanks...

Notab OmbMay 7, 2007 10:48 AM

The bomb squads in the USA chalk these up as drills and appreciate the experience.

I suspect that most real devices used by pros are inconspicuous and barely detectable, so detonation is the first sign that they exist.

Ian MasonMay 8, 2007 3:45 PM

@Richard Braakman, n4nln

The whole UK is littered with automatic speed enforcement cameras, hated by motorists and intelligent road safety advocates alike.

I propose randomly picking six of these and installing in them bombs that are real, but will not actually detonate. It is important that the bomb once 'disrupted' or subject to a 'controlled explosion' is indistinguishable from a device that would have detonated.

Then over a period of time calling in random bomb threats for speed cameras, starting with one containing a bomb, then a few normal, then a bomb and so on.

Within a short period the nation's police forces will have explosively demolished every single speed camera that they own.

Then we move on to the CCTV cameras fitted with the nanny speakers...

Richard BraakmanMay 10, 2007 6:14 PM

That's brilliant!

The only tricky part is that first step, installing the bombs. Without getting caught. Especially if you're installing them in devices with cameras :)

markmNovember 1, 2007 11:43 AM

You just approach the camera from behind or the side, out of it's field of view. Many of the British cameras have been destroyed - usually by a gasoline fire - without them catching a glimpse of the culprits, but it would be much neater to just get the police to do it...

There is a solution to this - mount two or more cameras, positioned so they watch each other as well as whatever the first one was supposed to watch. So maybe someone ought to move fast and get the cops to smashing cameras before too many are "protected" in this way.

OTOH, just off the bat, I can think of three ways to defeat those multi-camera setups. (1) Rifle, destroy them from outside the area the cameras are focused upon. (2) Cut the lines connecting the camera to the police station and do your worst. If the camera has internal memory, just make sure you destroy it thoroughly enough to get that. (3) Splice high-voltage into the lines for camera data or power. You not only knock out the camera from a distance, but with luck you might blow out the recorders in the police station.

MysticKnightoftheSeaJanuary 27, 2009 4:43 PM

One time they (the bomb-squad) actually did detonate something explosive was when we had had some old bottles of ether that had started oxidizing, potentially forming peroxides. Without getting into chemistry of it, peroxides are not stable, and organic peroxides have the same qualities as exposives: oxidizer and fuel in the same molecule.

But this was not a bomb, per se, just stuff that should have been cycled out of the stock room a long time ago.

MKotS

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