The TSA and the Case of the Strange Battery Charger

A TSA screener doesn't like the look of a homemade battery charger, and refuses to let it on an airplane. Interesting story, both for the escalation procedure the TSA screener followed, and this final observation:

But these are the times we live in. A handful of people with no knowledge of physics, engineering, or pyrotechnics are responsible for determining what is and what is not safe to bring on a plane. They're paid minimum wage and told to panic if they see something they don't recognize. Does this make me feel safer? It doesn't really matter. Implementing real security would bring the cost of flying up, which would likely cause a collapse of the airborne transportation network this country has worked so hard to build up.

The UK banned laptop computers in carry-on luggage for a few days and quickly reversed the idea. The lack of laptops would make the option unattractive to business professionals. Security would cost more than money and many passengers wouldn't have accepted it.

So the TSA finally let me onto my flight with the two devices they told me they weren't going to let me take on my flight. They told me the device looked like an I.E.D., then let me on the plane with it.

Does that mean I can bring them on my flight next week?

And that's the problem: the TSA is both arbitrary and capricious, and it's impossible to follow the rules because no one knows how they will be applied.

Posted on July 19, 2007 at 6:53 AM • 54 Comments

Comments

Matthew SkalaJuly 19, 2007 7:28 AM

If he had gone to the trouble of explaining how a switching regulator worked (as he'd apparently been considering), then he would have proved that he knew enough to be able to build a bomb should he have wanted to, and in that case, he'd obviously have been a terrorist. Brains are the most dangerous weapons of all.

MichaelJuly 19, 2007 7:47 AM

The moral of the story is: Buy a $5 plastic box to put your home-made electronics into.

Does anyone know: Do these ipod chargers just supply 100mA, or do they get the device to draw 500mA, and if so how do they deal with enumeration?

WooJuly 19, 2007 7:59 AM

really.. a plastic case for a few cents would have prevented that issue. Print a color Apple logo and stick it on the case for extra authenticity. If I hadn't the technical knowledge I do have, and was an airport screener, I might have rejected the displayed item too.

WillJuly 19, 2007 8:03 AM

Is no one else impressed at how much crap he could fit in that backpack? 3 pairs of headphones? I suppose you don't want to use the nice Bose pair all the time, and you're better off using iPod headphones as a spare shoelace, but still--3 pairs? Not to mention the 64MB and 1GB USB drives. 1 Gig was not enough, so he had to add that extra 64 Megs?

I'm not digging on the guy, perhaps just a little jealous that my carry-on is usually limited to laptop, iPod and a book.

Ed T.July 19, 2007 8:17 AM

"And that's the problem: the TSA is both arbitrary and capricious, and it's impossible to follow the rules because no one knows how they will be applied."

Even worse, this aspect is built into the system, in the interests of not giving the bad guys a stable set of conditions to exploit (sort of like random drug tests.)

~EdT.

Wyle_EJuly 19, 2007 8:21 AM

I hope that there is a real security organization working invisibly at our airports. The TSA security theater is only marginally about security, and entirely about reminding us that the Republic is dead. The possibility of being told that some posession of mine "looks like an IED", by some doofus who wouldn't recognize an IED if it exploded in his rectum, is a large part of the reason I recently spent a whole day on the road instead of flying and renting a car.

Stuart YoungJuly 19, 2007 8:27 AM

USB simply supplies 5V at up to 500 mA. The devices themselves only draw as much current as they need. If some sort of 5V supply is available, the device will still just draw however much it's supposed to. You could put a 5V/3A supply on the end and it'll still only draw how much it needs.

The enumeration stuff on the USB bus is solely for the computer to do/control power management options, and to figure out if there is too much current trying to be pulled through a port.

Sure, you can do higher level operations to do things like turn parts of the device on/off, and so on, but many devices (particularly phones and media players) simply draw power as soon as they're plugged in. As for the USB flexilight, the data pins usually aren't even connected!

PaeniteoJuly 19, 2007 8:34 AM

"Not to mention the 64MB and 1GB USB drives. 1 Gig was not enough, so he had to add that extra 64 Megs?"

I replaced my good old 64MB USB drive with a 1 Gig drive, too.
Now the old one serves as a dedicated Truecrypt volume. As I take it along only when I need it, the risk of loosing it is lower than if I put a 64MB container file on the 1 Gig USB drive.
Maybe it's the same in his case.

Also, there could be some kind of specialized mini Linux on that 64MB stick, who knows.

Also, he could simply like his old drive. Why throw it away? My USB drive from work is rarely occupied with more than 10 MB... 64MB are more than enough to transfer/keep documentation, presentations and the like.

Stuart YoungJuly 19, 2007 8:41 AM

Will: USB keys are almost giveaway items now, particularly at conferences and the like. I saw one a friend got given last week that was 128 Meg, but also had a socket on it for a mobile phone sim card. Anyway, I find that like pens, they accumulate.

FYI: Last time I went interstate (on business no less), apart from my laptops (2 of them, one with special software for diagnosing wireless networks), I took a 2 Gig key, a 1 Gig key, a 512 Meg key, and 6 SD cards (in varying sizes from 512 Meg to 2 Gig), plus a whole heap of other stuff. The SD cards all had exactly the same files on them (firmware images for devices), as I was going to be using the cards to upgrade 26 devices (each one takes 7 minutes to update). Having 6 meant I could do 6 devices at once, rather than waiting about. Of course, I had other files and software on the USB keys (one was a bootable Linux distro, one had files for the customer, and the last one was full of diagnostic programs) as well.

RAKJuly 19, 2007 8:43 AM

"And that's the problem: the TSA is both arbitrary and capricious, and it's impossible to follow the rules because no one knows how they will be applied."

Off technology and onto the liquids ban, but still on arbitrariness, my most recent flight had me waiting a few minutes while my carry-on was searched. I had put my liquids and gels in the clear plastic bag per instructions, but something in my overnighter piqued her interest. I rattled off things I thought might look suspicious: a spindle of CDs, a laptop power adapter, an electric shaver, a glucometer and an inexpensive music box (impromptu gift for my daughter). The culprit: a stick of solid deodorant. The screener was polite enough, pulled out a baggie to put the deodorant in (rather after the fact, I thought) and said, "We like for these to be in baggies."

My reply, "But it's a solid."

"Nevertheless, it should be in a baggie."

Me: "Then you should add solids to the list of things travelers should put in baggies. Or 'all toiletries.'"

Screener: [shrug] "Have a nice flight."

Stuart YoungJuly 19, 2007 8:54 AM

"spec-compliant USB devices"

That's the killer phrase.

1. I've seen so many devices that just don't bother, it's not funny.

2. I've seen the dialog from Windows complaining that a device on the USB port is drawing too much power so many times, it's also not funny.

FWIW though, the MintyBoost! charger doesn't do any enumeration. If you follow the "MintyBoost! charger link from the article Bruce references, you'll see in Step #7 a circuit diagram, and the USB data lines (pins 2 and 3) aren't connected. The circuit is a simple 3V to 5V DC-DC converter.

blaisepascalJuly 19, 2007 9:41 AM

What's the cost to the TSA for a false-positive?

The cost for the passenger for a false-positive is obvious -- hassle of long lines, delays, loss of privacy, etc. But what incentive does the TSA have to reduce false-positives?

The TSA naturally sees the cost of false-negatives (exploded plane, etc) as very high, so they seem willing to accept a high false-positive rate.

Nate TrueJuly 19, 2007 9:56 AM

Regarding USB power, while his MintyBoost! was probably not configured this way, the iPod is designed to sense a certain configuration of data lines (D+ to ground via 10k resistor, D- to V+ via same) as belonging to its 'dumb' charging adapter and will happily draw 500mA without asking for it.

J L BorgheadJuly 19, 2007 10:08 AM

blaisepascal: The trouble with this is, the security measures aren't actually useful for stopping real dangers. Screeners are too busy worrying about liquids being in plastic bags and other silly requirements. It's not surprising when I read about inspectors successfully sneaking mock bombs past airport security (most recently at the Albany airport).

Sammy the SurferJuly 19, 2007 10:18 AM

Right, because the front-line TSA officers really have any idea what an IED looks like. Thank-you CNN for inserting that acronym into our conversational lingo.

Anonymous HotheadJuly 19, 2007 10:34 AM

The amazing thing, to me, is this guy actually contained (or managed to avoid altogether) the indignation I know I would have felt in the same situation. I can see myself now, talking to every other passenger nearby, commenting on how security theater is eroding our civil freedoms.

I am equally certain that many of those fellow passengers actually would feel safer if I were to be prevented taking the MintyBoost onto the airplane, and besides, it's not indignity to them personally - I must have foolishly brought it on myself.

And so, because I would have (rightfully, IMO) expressed my displeasure at the situation, I am equally sure that I would have been detained and prevented from making my flight.

Kudos to the author of TFA. I am reminded of the scripture, "And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain." I obviously have alot of work to do, til my attitude is in harmony with that.

BeauJuly 19, 2007 10:38 AM

I took the same MintyBoost charger through security in Atlanta and at LAX with no issues. They didn't see it or didn't think it was serious because I was never questioned about it. Actually, I spraypainted it with gray metal primer because I was going to paint it but never did. And the tin was all kinds of dented up. It looked pretty suspect, but it was harmless.

ConfusedJuly 19, 2007 10:44 AM

Normally, I agree with you Bruce, but here I think I detect a bit of inconsistency.

We all favor the idea of staffing TSA security with people who use their brains and make real, on-the-fly decisions about risk profiles, etc. We mock the idea that some 80 year old granny from Kansas gets pulled aside for random additional testing because we think the TSA agents should be encouraged to examine people on a case by case basis and make decisions based on their experience and training.

Yet, when the TSA agent sees a homemade device with protruding wires and the like and wants to investigate further, we mock them.

Sure, WE all know that the device is not a bomb, but how was the screener to know this?

Sure, it had no batteries in it, but as the author points out, there is a good chance he could pick some up in the shop after going through screening.

Sure, there were no explosives on it, but for all the TSA agent knows, this was a trigger device for explosives that had already been placed on the plane or were being carried separately.

I personally have no problem with the TSA's actions here, other than the fact that this device was never questioned before (perhaps this is the abitrariness you decry?)

Joel OdomJuly 19, 2007 10:51 AM

It's interesting that the situation returned to sanity when the police were brought in. Police are trained in constitutional rights and critical thinking. The TSA monkeys are trained to chatter whenever they feel uncomfortable about something, regardless of what they know about it.

Joe TeedJuly 19, 2007 11:01 AM

@Confused:

Why would a trigger device need anything more than a watch battery? Why didn't they just ask him to show them the device in action?

That used to be the rule: Turn it on.

averyJuly 19, 2007 11:12 AM

Sure, WE all know that the device is not a bomb, but how was the screener to know this?

Lack of an explosive? Of course the last go-round of terrorists in England didn't seem to understand that an explosive was a key ingredient in a bomb but I'd like to hold the TSA to a marginally higher standard than "completely ineffectual".

If the concern is that you could hollow out a battery and pack it full of Semtex, then we should disallow batteries.

Tom ChivertonJuly 19, 2007 11:42 AM

@avery: Yes, we should, if we really are worried about exploding (by accident and not) batteries on planes.
Neither the US or UK government obviously is - this is why 'security theatre' is such a great phrase.

Brandioch ConnerJuly 19, 2007 11:49 AM

@Confused
"We mock the idea that some 80 year old granny from Kansas gets pulled aside for random additional testing because we think the TSA agents should be encouraged to examine people on a case by case basis and make decisions based on their experience and training."

We do?
I don't. If it is really RANDOM then I'm all for it. The day you stop searching grannies is the day the terrorists start recruiting them.

I want the TSA people to perform ADDITIONAL checks based upon the BEHAVIOUR of passengers. This is NOT happening. Unless you count "not sufficiently subservient" as a behaviour.

"Yet, when the TSA agent sees a homemade device with protruding wires and the like and wants to investigate further, we mock them."

No. We mock them for saying it looked like an "IED". It did not. It looked like a battery holder.

"Sure, WE all know that the device is not a bomb, but how was the screener to know this?"

Simple. They tested for explosives. They found none. If they don't know what a battery looks like then they're idiots and need to be replaced.

"Sure, there were no explosives on it, but for all the TSA agent knows, this was a trigger device for explosives that had already been placed on the plane or were being carried separately."

Which is why this is "Security Theatre". If it was possible to get the EXPLOSIVES on board ... THERE ARE EXPLOSIVES ON BOARD THE PLANE!

I'm going to bet that you don't see the problem with your line of "logic".

"I personally have no problem with the TSA's actions here, other than the fact that this device was never questioned before (perhaps this is the abitrariness you decry?)"

I'm sure you don't. Despite the fact that your "logic" depends upon someone already managing to get explosives onto the plane to justify these actions.

If there are explosives on the plane, the entire system has already FAILED.

And failure is failure. No matter how you dress it up.

LouJuly 19, 2007 11:53 AM

I agree 100% with Confused. I think we are asking too much for a screener to have ignored something that looked like the MintyBoost. It's only a comment on previous screeners' ineptitude that it wasn't questioned. Perhaps people carrying such items should bring the paperwork from the kit, or a printout of the Net page they ordered it from that has an explanation of what it is.

nzrussJuly 19, 2007 11:56 AM

Things have already gone too far when people here are questioning & justifying why someone would carry two USB sticks.


Eric NormanJuly 19, 2007 12:02 PM

A few years ago, I wanted to take my Curta Calculator (see http://www.curta.org) to a conference in Gaithersburg. I was afraid that there would be no way they would let such a strange looking device on the plane. And I'm not willing to risk it so I still don't know.

There was no problem taking in on the train, though. So my friends at the conference got to oooh and aaah about such a marvelous device.

AnonymousJuly 19, 2007 12:07 PM

"Yet, when the TSA agent sees a homemade device with protruding wires and the like and wants to investigate further, we mock them."

The "protruding wires" conventional wisdom strikes again. Seems wires can make an explosive out of anything.

MikeMikeJuly 19, 2007 12:21 PM

If you want to stop terrorists, set up a system so obnoxious that no self respecting terrorist would put up with it. Oh, wait...

Too Many GadgetsJuly 19, 2007 12:36 PM

I think most of this person;s problems are self-inflicted...

First off, who the hell needs all that gadgetry on board an aircraft??? Or even needs all those gadgets to begin with -- he should start paring things down, or dombining functionalities.

Secondly, if he could cobble together the MintyBoost, he could have spend a few more cents and encased it in a professional looking case that would not draw all the undue attention.


PavelJuly 19, 2007 12:45 PM

Re: "What does an IED looks like" type of discussion - the IEDs are limited only by the imagination of their creators. Hell, in the 1980's, when USSR was in Afganistan, toys and even pens were rigged to explode. A couple of ordinary-looking pens, combined on a plane and you have enough to do some damage.

More recently, aside from the usual roadside stuff in Iraq, the most common objects have been turned into things that go Boom.

An exerpt from a Force Protection IED brief (circa 2004):

* The problem with IEDs is they can look like any common object. EOD has found:
* Black plastic garbage bags (with 130mm artillery rounds wired in series)
* A Bus (with a grenade attached to the fuel tank; failed)
* Milk cartons, pepsi cans, cigarette cartons (with plastique or C4)
* Burlap bags ( again using artillery rounds)
* A pothole in the road filled in with dirt and an explosive charge
* Refrigerator compressor (filled with high explosives and re-welded)
* MRE bag (bomb platform; common item; easily disguised)
* Cars, trucks, vans (older models, worn so as not to draw attention)
* Beware of a beater with worn shocks and springs; overloaded, trash on seats; good tires on a junk car. This is a one-way trip, driver wants no flats.
* Pipe bombs (Some of the most renowned IED Specialists in EOD have fallen victim to low yield pipe bombs). "

Some of those items are certainly not applicable. But the point I am trying to make is that almost anything can be an Improvised. Explosive. Device.

Going back to the particular case - yeah, after a chemical detector run with no explosive traces found, all you have is an odd-looking device. Judgement call here, and no one in the position of the screener wants to be wrong - certainly understandable.

It must be said that, given the number of people traveling, the number of stories are in line with expected.

I've recently had to travel by air with firearms, leaving BUR and arriving at JFK. The experience of dealing with TSA was as painless as it could have been. No one freaked out, went through the firearms check-in procedures, all was well. About the only thing that was confusing is the explosive-swipe tests on the hardshell cases. (Confusing because higher-grade powders use HE-type explosives for higher burn speeds). Not a big deal - I do not expect the TSA agent to know this.

It is curious to see that we hold TSA's agents who are, after all, human to standards which are, at best, difficult to achieve on the sufficiently mass scale. Behavior-based screening is a lot more complex that one would imagine because it assumes that one's behavior is a universal tell. Given how multi-cultural the flying public is, this is simply not reasonable.

As an organization, TSA is an infant, still learning how to do things. While we should not stop criticizing the truly silly things they do, nor cut them too much slack, some slack seems appropos. Israel's vaunted security model (issues of scalability notwithstanding) wasn't implemented overnight. It is fairly certain there were instances similar to what we are seeing with TSA's setup.

@ Joel Odom: of course "sanity" was restored when PD showed up - they take the responsibility for the decision.

LouJuly 19, 2007 12:47 PM

I think there is a certain arrogance in comments such as "protruding wires" conventional wisdom. Surely, *Anonymous*, there are areas of life where you do not have expertise and where you might be lead astray by your assumptions in the identical way those who find any homemade device with protruding wires cause for alarm at TSA screening.

Plus, the consequences of their making a mistake are much greater as has been pointed out. Unless you are a master/mistress of ALL things and their identification on this planet, *Anonymous*, isn't a tiny bit of humility about protruding wires conventional wisdom in order for someone whose job and ability to sleep at night might be riding on her decision?

ConfusedJuly 19, 2007 12:48 PM

@Brandioch Conner

I think you misunderstood my point here.

I think it entirely reasonable for the TSA to be looking for bomb components as well as fully assembled bombs. Yes, there may be a security breakdown that allows explosives on board, but if they manage to stop the triggering device from being brought on (and assuming the explosives can't readily be detonated some other way), I view that as an overall success (defining success as "prevent a bomb from being detonated on the aircraft").

By your logic, the only thing they should be looking for is explosives. Let me ask you this: if they find someone with bomb components but no explosive, should they let him/her on board with the gear? Should they be able to board while carrying an unloaded gun and no bullets?

I'm not an electrical engineer, and I doubt the TSA screeners are either, so I have no problem with the screeners taking a long look at something that, frankly, looks suspicious.

Brandioch ConnerJuly 19, 2007 1:08 PM

@Confused
"I think you misunderstood my point here."

No. I don't think you understand MY point yet.

"I think it entirely reasonable for the TSA to be looking for bomb components as well as fully assembled bombs."

And what, precisely, is a "bomb component"?

A wire? Such as would be found in an iPod headset?

A switch? Such as would be found on a penlight?

Once you say "bomb components" you've removed EVERYTHING from being carried on.

I don't think you understand that.

"Yes, there may be a security breakdown that allows explosives on board, but if they manage to stop the triggering device from being brought on (and assuming the explosives can't readily be detonated some other way), I view that as an overall success (defining success as "prevent a bomb from being detonated on the aircraft")."

Again, you completely miss the point.

If there is an avenue that allows the EXPLOSIVES to get on board, why not take that same avenue to get the detonator on board?

You're advocating a sign in sheet on your front door WHEN THERE'S A 20 FOOT HOLE IN THE WALL.

"By your logic, the only thing they should be looking for is explosives."

Nope. They should also be watching for behaviour.

"Let me ask you this: if they find someone with bomb components but no explosive, should they let him/her on board with the gear? Should they be able to board while carrying an unloaded gun and no bullets?"

I've already demonstrated how your "bomb components" claim is sophomoric. Cell phones are used as detonators in Iraq. Your "logic" would ban all cell phones from planes.

As to whether someone should be allowed to bring an unloaded gun on board .....

No. They should not. A gun has a single purpose. And people are allowed to ship guns as checked luggage. Even with bullets.

Are you allowed to ship a bomb as checked luggage? No. You are not.

confused and now a little annoyedJuly 19, 2007 1:53 PM

@Brandioch

Oh for goodness sake, are you being deliberately obtuse?

Obviously I am not saying the TSA should ban everything that has the potential to be used as part of a bomb.

What I am saying is that when confronted with homemade electronic gadgets, it is entirely reasonable for them to take a closer look.

I agree with most here that the TSA procedures aren't perfect and that they are mostly theater (because there are so many things other ways to get materials on aircraft and plenty of things that can be used as weapons that are allowed on flights), but if the theater actually finds something that looks suspicious (and even the original author acknowledges that the thing looked strange) it makes no sense to simply waive it on through because there are other ways to get things on board.

Taking another approach: what is it you think they should do in that situation?

AnonymousJuly 19, 2007 2:06 PM

"Taking another approach: what is it you think they should do in that situation?"

Once the exposives swab came up negative, move on to the next item of interest.

Capt. Jean-Luc PikachuJuly 19, 2007 2:21 PM

Seems to me the most important part of this story is that no one bothered looking through his suitcase. In fact, it was left unattended during the nonsense. Misdirection, I think it's called?

KevinJuly 19, 2007 2:54 PM

@Too Many Gadgets : ...who the hell needs all that gadgetry on board an aircraft???

Nobody needs that "all that" on an aircraft, but many people need a lot of gear at their destination, and people who started their road warrior career well before 9/11 are justifiably wary of checking luggage.

Brandioch ConnerJuly 19, 2007 2:56 PM

@confused
"Obviously I am not saying the TSA should ban everything that has the potential to be used as part of a bomb."

Then you are saying that the TSA should let some bomb components through the security screening?

I can see why you chose "confused" for your name.

"What I am saying is that when confronted with homemade electronic gadgets, it is entirely reasonable for them to take a closer look."

It sounds like you've changed your story. I'm glad that I've managed to get some of the facts through to you.

They had a closer look.

Then one of them started spouting about "IED". That is why they are being mocked and derided.

"I agree with most here that the TSA procedures aren't perfect and that they are mostly theater (because there are so many things other ways to get materials on aircraft and plenty of things that can be used as weapons that are allowed on flights), but if the theater actually finds something that looks suspicious (and even the original author acknowledges that the thing looked strange) it makes no sense to simply waive it on through because there are other ways to get things on board."

Yes, that is a single sentence.

No. Your original position was that the TSA people were correct because it could have been used as a trigger for explosives that were already on board.

If there is a hole big enough to plant explosives, then there is NOTHING secure about annoying some guy over some home-made battery charger.

"Taking another approach: what is it you think they should do in that situation?"

Shunt him to the side where someone with a bigger brain could assess the situation.

If this guy WAS a threat then the PROPER response would be to ISOLATE him and have TRAINED personnel PROCESS him IMMEDIATELY.

I want to make that perfectly clear.

a. This guy is NOT perceived to be a threat. He should be filed through with the other passengers.

b. This guy IS perceived to be a threat. He should be processed the same way a real terrorist would be processed. BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT YOU BELIEVE HIM TO BE.

Anything else is just ego gratification for morons.

Otherwise known as "Security Theatre".

ChrisJuly 19, 2007 3:04 PM

@Too Many Gadgets
You seem to fail at understanding that we supposedly live in a FREE country. If I WANT to have any type of device that's of no harm to anyone else I should be allowed to take it on a plane or anywhere else I damn well please.

AnonymousJuly 19, 2007 3:12 PM

never mind. I see that you are a frequent poster here who seems to just like to argue with people. Enjoy that.

AlanJuly 19, 2007 4:44 PM

If there are any real terrorist cells in the US (and I am not so sure if there are), you would expect different tactics.

They would be better off taking bombs into airports that they knew would have to be surrendered at the checkpoints. (Since they just dump them in a big bucket next to a long line of people.)

Either the terrorists are not very bright or there are few to none of them in the US.

Most of the things that the TSA seems to be looking for are based on witchcraft instead of real-world objects. Maybe they are about the same level of threat as witches as well.

Petréa MitchellJuly 19, 2007 5:02 PM

Kudos to the PAPD officer for demonstrating that real police with real training can still calm down and think straight.

Tamzen CannoyJuly 19, 2007 5:10 PM

Geeze. I don't think the list of stuff he had was at all out of line. I carry in my backpack:

Mac Book Pro, power cord, airplane power cord, various UK and EU adaptors, Bose headphones, iPod, cables for iPod, B&O headphones, headphone splitters so 2 people can watch a movie on the plane on one laptop, 4 or 5 USB drives 64M to 4G, phone, phone charger, firewire cables, camera, camera cables, book, pashima, game DVDs, medicines, notebooks, emergency foods, altiods in the tin, etc.

And yeah. It fits under the seat in front of me too.

Snotnose BratJuly 19, 2007 7:19 PM

I'm sorry. That doesn't looks suspicious at all. In fact, it looks like something you'd get at a 99 cent store.

I think "Anonymous" needs to get out a little more. See the real world. Take the screeners with you. How can someone freak out over something so innocuous?

Stefan WagnerJuly 19, 2007 7:29 PM

@Michael, woo, et.al. The moral of the story is: Buy a $5 plastic box to put your home-made electronics into.

- because terrorist coulnd't spend $5 on a plastic box?

@Too many gadgets: "Secondly, if he could cobble together the MintyBoost, he could have spend a few more cents and encased it in a professional looking case that would not draw all the undue attention."

- because terrorists couldn't spend a few more cents and encase their device in a professional lookin case?

Obfuscating a home-made device as a Think-Geek-Device might help in some cases, diving under the radar of poorly trained people, but will make you super-suspect in others: What did you try to hide?

Case of the sick main-thread.

Do you really need electricity to start a bomb in a suicide attack?

For a technically untrained person, every electronic device looks suspicious, when opened.
Open a radio: Ahhh - suspicious.
Open a laptop: Super suspicious.
Open a mobile phone, an mp3-player, an usb-stick - suspicious, suspicious, suspicious.

I'm not an technical trained person at all, but I guess for firing a bomb, you need two wires, a battery, and a capacity.
Depending on the explosive: a cigarette lighter or a hammer might be sufficient.

If you don't have personal, able to detect a bomb, you shoulnd't filter for bombs.

Well - in this case, the suspect could prove a working device (of course it is impossible, to build a dual-use-device ;) ), and perhaps his behaviour in this case was of more interest, than the device itself.

Searching for wires and batteries is an error though, if 99% of the passengers carry some electronic devices with them.

The actions taken are less security theater than the modern way of prehistoric cults, because:
- we are not audience, but participants
- it's not meant for entertainment or moral edification, but
- it is told that it will avoid the unforeseen stroke
- we have to believe, and arguments don't count
- there is a cast of priests, dressed in special robes
- we have to make sacrifices (liquids, gel, time, convenience)
- airports beeing the temples
- where the iniciation procedure takes place (put your liquids in transparent bags - amen)

I have to stop here - it's already too much.

WooJuly 20, 2007 2:15 AM

@Stefan Wagner: You don't seem to get the point of Michaels and my post... Of course, real terrorists could also buy a 5$ case for their bombs. The point is not doing something with self-built equipment that terrorists can't do, the point is making the equipment look as harmless as possible to not arouse the screener's attention. Be frank.. a battery holder with a circuit and open wires etc on it DOES look suspicious, a smooth plastic case, best in the same color as the iPod and with a well-faked Apple sticker on it does NOT look suspicious to the non-technical observer.
We don't have to please the terrorist trainers, we have to fool the screeners.

thingmakerJuly 21, 2007 2:32 PM

Important point...

Improvised...? YES
Device...? YES
Explosive...?

You see the basic problem with mistaking the Device in question for an IED.

Stefan WagnerJuly 22, 2007 12:28 AM

@Woo: I saw your point, but did you see mine?

minor argument: A fake-sticker will be ultra-suspicious if detected.

major argument: The problem isn't solved, when people who have no idea about technic decide about it.
Searching for obviously self-made devices does not protect anyone from anything.

If everybody would carry self-made batterychargers and the like, that could solve the problem.

Are we the monkeys of airport-security?

David ConradJuly 24, 2007 6:38 PM

@Pavel (examples of actual IEDs):

"A pothole in the road filled in with dirt and an explosive charge"

If somebody tries taking a pothole in the road on an airplane, I say stop 'im! :-)

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