Comments

Another KevinSeptember 30, 2008 7:48 AM

I find it interesting that on the first link you posted, the very first commenter called for the advertiser to reimburse the city for the costs incurred (calling out the bomb squad, overtime for the cops, whatever). In effect, he's raising the "false alarm" argument again - saying that anyone who does anything that inspires fear in others deserves to pay the cost of the authorities' investigation, just as someone who turns in a false fire alarm. It's an argument that's hard to refute - but leads to a mandate of absolute conformity. Your "War on the Unexpected" heats up with each passing day.

RSaundersSeptember 30, 2008 7:55 AM

The common idea in both stories is "Terrorism is so prevalent that we need to consign ourselves to the costs", from someone who is not paying the costs. If the city raised the stadium's property taxes to pay for the bomb squad calls and street disruptions "because it's a terrorist magnet", we might see a very different attitude among the ball park managers.

EvanSeptember 30, 2008 7:55 AM

I really want to be able to state some compelling reason that this was ridiculous and they shouldn't have bothered with a bomb squad, but what is it?

Dan PhilpottSeptember 30, 2008 8:02 AM

The reason it's ridiculous and they shouldn't have bothered the bomb squad is because you can tell a foil covered sausage from a bomb by using your head. Specifically the nose on your head.

BillSeptember 30, 2008 8:07 AM

@Evan

"state some compelling reason"

Ok. A compelling reason is - a complete lack of context.

Strategic - Has any authority identified sausage dog launcher training material or manuals?

Tactical - Any general threats made against the stadium?

Operational - Any specific threats made against the stadium?

No. No. No.

If the only context was 9/11 then duh.

On the other hand a few less hotdogs consumed might mean a few less heart attacks.

Heart disease is the No 1 threat in the USA per head of population.

So perhaps it was wiser than we think ;)

EvanSeptember 30, 2008 8:09 AM

@Bill: Ha =) Context was the best thing I could come up with in retrospect, too. Plus, you'd think that a potential bomber would shoot for game day, not commercial filming day.

@Dan: Works for me!

RoxanneSeptember 30, 2008 8:15 AM

They should have called in the K-9 unit, except that they would have eaten the evidence. :-)

RoySeptember 30, 2008 8:31 AM

Let's see, we're in a baseball park, and something smells like hot dogs? What would Homer Simpson think? "Mmmm, hot dogs ...."

A cartoon character could have figured this out.

I'm guessing that they blew up the franks just because they were bored and wanted an excuse to have some fun. Like kids with firecrackers blowing up frogs.

WillSeptember 30, 2008 8:42 AM

@Dan:

"The reason it's ridiculous and they shouldn't have bothered the bomb squad is because you can tell a foil covered sausage from a bomb by using your head. Specifically the nose on your head."

While in theory this is true, it's probably only a valid observation in retrospect. I would imagine that Step 1 in any "Suspicious Material Handling SOP" is *not* "Sniff package heartily to see if it might be a hot dog."

Or at least, maybe it should be "Have the intern/new guy/unnamed crew member in the red shirt sniff the package." :)

If it did end up being a bomb, I sure wouldn't want to be the guy who is sniffing away at it.

mpdSeptember 30, 2008 8:53 AM

@dan
"... you can tell a foil covered sausage from a bomb"

Read the article. "The Phillies said the hot dogs were heavily wrapped in white packaging and duct tape so they could be fired from the Phanatic’s hot dog launcher."

White packaging is not foil.

Interestingly, the article also stated that the Phillies first called the police. The police decided the bomb squad should be called in:

"The police came and they said, ‘Yeah, this merits the bomb squad to take a look and take action.’ They detonated it. It’s important to let people know that although it was suspicious, it did not contain any explosive device and we didn’t get any bomb scare notes or threats.”

It's easy to laugh about the stupidity of blowing up hot dogs, but everything I've read (and I've actually read the articles) says that they probably made the right decision.

Regarding the whole "if they had to pay for the bomb squad to come out, they would think twice" argument. I would prefer it if my employer, neighbors, and fellow citizens not first consider the cost when deciding whether to call the cops. I will happily pay my taxes to pay their salaries.

Nomen PublicusSeptember 30, 2008 8:55 AM

The bomb squad justifies its existence by dealing with possible bomb threats. They will never not respond even if they are 100% certain there is no threat.

The problem is, the actual number of real bombs planted each year is so small that it's probably cheaper to buy insurance and compensate the victims than maintain more than a couple of professional bomb squads within the USA.

This may seem to be an extreme view point, but it is the same as the policy used for motorcar deaths. There is no economic way to provide 100% safety so insurance is used to compensate the victims.

AndySeptember 30, 2008 8:55 AM

By the way, they did not "detonate" the package, they blew it up. The only explosives were what they brought with them.

Nick LancasterSeptember 30, 2008 8:59 AM

The article mentions that the items were 'heavily wrapped,' including duct tape.

Who the frack would want to eat a hot dog that had been wrapped in tin foil and duct tape, then shot out of an air cannon?

Beyond that, we continue to hear the 'better safe than sorry' line as a substitute for critical thinking. Is there actually a reason to believe that an oblong object wrapped in foil and duct tape would reasonably be an explosive or otherwise hazardous object?

NatSeptember 30, 2008 9:03 AM

@Roy
"A cartoon character could have figured this out."

They did, even.
"Those aren't bombs. Those are hot dogs. Armour hot dogs."
"What kind of man wears Armour hot dogs?"

bobSeptember 30, 2008 9:03 AM

Actually, with what goes into hot dogs, blowing up three of them probably DID increase the average health of the local people...

Keep it quietSeptember 30, 2008 9:08 AM

Why do they insist on blowing "suspicious" thing to bits? Is it really that hard to run them through an x-ray machine first? After all that's supposedly why we put our shoes through the scanner at the airport.

One would think that doing so would even have forensic value in the event that the suspicious item did turn out to be a bomb.

leeSeptember 30, 2008 9:37 AM

I guesss they plump when you "cook" them. then.......hot dog paste.

Seriously, the security theator is funny and agravating at the same time. I went through airport security last year, with my meds. The screener held up my prescription bottle (a very very large bottle), shook it like a rattle, and said "what's this?". I said my motrin. She then said the bottle was too large.
I told her the bottle had the prescription on it.

I then asked her o.k. what would happen if a middle aged man walks through checkpoint with a ziplock bag with white pills? She shrugged and sent me on my way.

MattSeptember 30, 2008 9:38 AM

How about we add this to the movie threat plots...

Evil-doer decides to get the Bomb Squad to do his dirty work for him. He builds a dirty bomb, wraps it to look like hot-dogs that could be launched from a cannon, and waits for the bomb squad. Bomb squad shows up, says "Yup, that could be a hot dog bomb," blows it up without further investigation, and spreads the dirty-bomb materials throughout the ball park.

Nick LancasterSeptember 30, 2008 9:47 AM

@Matt:

It'd work except for the fact that exploding of suspicious objects is either carried out at a remote location or within an armored container.

It'd be better for the Evil Terrorist to contrive for a sleeper agent to infiltrate the stadium staff and become the hot-dog wrapping guy ... he then substitutes dangerous pacakage for hot dog wrapped in foil & duct tape, which the mascot then launches into the stands.

PochiSeptember 30, 2008 9:54 AM

Is it really a good idea to blow up suspicious packages as a precaution? What if it contains radioactive material, or dangerous chemical agents or germs? Then you're just spreading the misery.
It seems like an extremely ill-adviced procedure to follow in movie-plot land.

Bill (again)September 30, 2008 9:58 AM

How did the stadium security know that it was the *real* bomb squad who turned up?

Pose as a bomb squad, bring in as much explosive as you like, it's all good.

Does anyone here know what bomb squad ID looks like? Watching CSI doesn't count.

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Paranoia is fun! :)

D0RSeptember 30, 2008 10:00 AM

How many terrorist attacks have been carried out in the USA in the last 20 years? So few that almost any bomb alert is going to result in a false positive like this one.

(By the way, speaking of this particular case, why on Earth would a terrorist leave bombs in plain sight?)

SteveSeptember 30, 2008 10:05 AM

If you read the article, the hot dogs were apparently not obviously hot dogs but were packages wrapped in duct tape.

What were the security people supposed to think?

Just sayin'.

HarrkevSeptember 30, 2008 10:26 AM

The police did the right thing. Do you know how much fat and cholesterol are in hot dogs? Not to mention food coloring. They probably delayed at least a dozen deaths by doing this.

Nick LancasterSeptember 30, 2008 10:43 AM

@ Steve:

Yet these objects are commonplace for for regular attendees, unless the hot dog cannon is a new gimmick ... so how is it that no one said, "Oh, wait, those are probably hot dogs from the weiner-gun ..."

We routinely encounter objects that are sealed against inspection, from envelopes to boxes. We ride the bus sitting next to strangers who could have anything in that backpack or shopping bag.

So why did this particular object raise the alarm? What says BOMB about it? What kind of education/procedures do we need to prevent:

"Um, there's a strange parcel over by the gate ..."

"Thanks, Citizen! We'll call the bomb squad!"

*BOOM*

"Yes, it was only a hot dog, but BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY."

netcrusher88September 30, 2008 10:48 AM

At one point I was flying with some landjaeger (a form of sausage that tends to have fuse-looking twists of casing at the ends) to snack on during the flight. Screener noticed it, thought it looked suspicious, and we all got a good laugh out of it.

Steven HooberSeptember 30, 2008 11:20 AM

Someone needs to start a Flickr group where everyone who doesn't say "better safe than sorry" posts photos of the several thousand unattended items we see every day that are not immediately identifiable, and are therefore suspicious.

The world is full of stuff. Unless we have much better litter campaign, get used to 1/4 of the population being on bomb squads to blow everything up.

JudySeptember 30, 2008 11:25 AM

"How odd that these bombs look exactly like those bundled hot dogs that were being launched here just a couple of hours ago."

Nick LancasterSeptember 30, 2008 11:32 AM

I'm surprised that the wrapped hot dogs don't have a Phillies logo on them somewhere, or that the foil wrapper isn't stamped HOT DOG as is common at fast food joints.

Any Phillies fans out there who can provide Bruce with a picture of what one of these mystery packages looks like?

ScottSeptember 30, 2008 11:40 AM

A number of comments mentioned that you should have been able to smell the package. We always complain about a lack of common sense with security officials, and then we post silly comments like that.

There's NO way to wrap a bomb in a package... with a few hot dogs... just to fool the sniffers?


Nick LancasterSeptember 30, 2008 11:49 AM

Scott:

Would a bomb-sniffing dog be thrown off by the presence of a hot dog amid explosives?

How is it that we have fancy detectors that vacuum up air around a passenger to scan for explosive residue, but we have no means of doing the same for a smaller object? (That is, retrieve object by remote drone, place in scanner, conduct scan.)

KellySeptember 30, 2008 12:13 PM

This just says to a potential bomber:

"If you want to detonate a device in a crowded area, disguise it so it looks like it belongs. For example, disguise it to look like a full trashcan."

That's the problem with "suspicious looking" things-- it's trivial for a bomber to spend a little extra effort to make something look trustworthy. What a waste of everybody's time.

GoatRiderSeptember 30, 2008 12:41 PM

Kelly: That's what they did in the movie (and maybe the book, I don't remember) "Sum of all Fears"- they disguised a nuclear bomb as a coke machine, and put it in a stadium.

Nick LancasterSeptember 30, 2008 1:08 PM

@Goat Rider:

In the book 'Sum of All Fears,' the terrorists put their device inside a news van.

In the book 'Executive Orders,' the terrorists disguised their delivery systems as shaving cream and other aerosol products.

In the book 'Rainbow Six,' the terrorists disguised their delivery system as a fogging device for outdoor venues.

Clive RobinsonSeptember 30, 2008 1:18 PM

@ Keep it quiet,

"Why do they insist on blowing "suspicious" thing to bits? Is it really that hard to run them through an x-ray machine first?"

They blow it up to stop it blowing up...

Seriously a lump of comercial high explosive is actually quite stable and is difficult to get to actualy detonate. If you put a detonator even a few millimeters outside the explosive block it will probably not go off.

Also bomb triggers are not instant they take a few tens of milliseconds at best to respond.

So blast the block of explosive with a shot gun or small charge of explosive and the block is disrupted into small fragments that are to far appart to actually detonate (they might burn very nicley however).

Try loading the block of explosive into an expensive X-Ray machine and any sensors inside will have more than enough time to detonate the block correctly.

JilaraSeptember 30, 2008 1:37 PM

The cartoons always have a stick of dynamite stuck into a hotdog bun to fool whomever it's being delivered to. That and dynamite cigars. This is a cartoon-plot thread!

On the other hand, how do we know it wasn't Mythbusters testing a hotdog gun? The final step in any of their tests usually involves blowing things up...

SteveSeptember 30, 2008 1:57 PM

I'm amused by the armchair bomb squad members here who *know* what a bomb looks like and exactly how to react when faced with a suspiciously anomalous object.

It strikes me that the security people did more or less the right thing.

Consider their situation.

They encounter a strange object, *wrapped in duct tape*, maybe leaking some greasy substance. It may be a bomb. It may be nothing.

They have two choices: do nothing or call the bomb squad. Make a decsion. Quickly.

If it's a bomb and they make the wrong decision, people may be injured, maybe even killed.

If it's Irv the Footlong Weiner and the bomb squad is called out for a nonexistent threat, well, okay, maybe you look stupid and the bomb squad gets a little practice for next time.

Take your pick.

Nick LancasterSeptember 30, 2008 2:12 PM

@Steve:

Show me a photo of the mystery object. Show me that it was leaking anything, or evinced grease stains (which are tells that the postal service looks for).

The object was found before the game.

The only people evacuated were stadium workers, so we can dispense with the, "OMG! What if *someone were injured or killed*!"

All mysterious objects = potential bomb is a deeply flawed response. Hell, a device could be in a garbage can and unnoticed by anyone - do we call the bomb squad to empty the garbage cans just in case?

And you can stow the 'armchair bomb squad' line, because I specifically asked in an earlier post if there was something to indicate that the object did, in fact, meet the profile of an explosive device.

All you're offering is a flawed 'just in case' scenario that is impractical as a security response.

Nick LancasterSeptember 30, 2008 2:17 PM

Egads, that's a bad sentence above.

It's not that I don't care about stadium workers; it's that there were no crowds or mass gathering of people in immediate danger.

SteveSeptember 30, 2008 6:47 PM

@Nick Lancaster: "Show me a photo of the mystery object."

Precisely.

What's the "profile of an explosive device"? Unfortunately, these days, it can be darned near anything.

This is all just speculation and second guessing. Fits the definition of an "armchair bomb squad" to a tee if you ask me (which, of course, you didn't).

John CampbellSeptember 30, 2008 7:40 PM

Of course Hot Dogs (Frankfurters) are not bombs... but, mix them with a nice bowl of chili and some egg salad...

NeighborcatSeptember 30, 2008 8:29 PM

Forget the wieners! Are you telling be they let some guy in a disguise loose in the stadium with a "hot dog launcher", a.k.a. a hot dog CANNON?

What if this "filming" was a ruse to stash the cannon somewhere until game day? How was this possibility missed? Is there a limit on the muzzle energy of weapons allowed in the stadium or something? Maybe it was under the maximum caliber allowed? I don't think so. Has this device since been accounted for?

I cannot believe that there is no ban on cannons in stadiums. Even if they are allegedly intended to fire food or food-like items (to remove any loopholes for hot dogs), it's better to be safe than sorry, you know.

I know if I was planning to pack explosives in to a crowded stadium, I would definitely plan a false alarm involving a common-yet-plausibly-explosive-shaped item in advance to make the authorities fearful of looking like idiots a second time. There is only one clear action that must be taken. A ban. A ban on hot dogs in stadiums. Better safe than sorry.

Clive RobinsonSeptember 30, 2008 9:22 PM

@ Steve, Nick Lancaster,

One thought occurs to me and that's "resource scarcity".

Bomb squad officers are not exactly "thick on the ground". And unfortunatly probably do have a lot of calls on their time.

If you bring a "time window" into the equation then as a practical response why bother investigating the device?

It would be more sensible to make an assessment based on physical size and package placment and act according to "the book".

This does tend to gives rise to a process of "if you only have a hammer then everything gets treated as a nail" but it importantly it's consistant.

Further If you think about the types of "real" devicess they occasionaly come across investigation is not something you want to be making. Because time is never going to be on your side.

A sensible stratagy is "break it then investigate". That is disruptive deactivation works almost every time, and importantly it effectivly "stops the clock". This gives the investigators plenty of time to safely check the bits whilst the bomb squad move on to the next incident.

I would say it was a sensible response to a time critical situation based on current evidence.

After all it's very much what all emergancy responders actually do be it a fire, a serious accident or crime in progress, "assess, respond and then investigate".

We are only talking about this because the first two steps for a bomb threat appear so dramatic and due to the scarcity of real devices it appears to be overkill.

But is it overkill?

It depends first on your time and distance equation for safety, and what your safety criteria are.

Then on the available resources you have available at the time.

And that's the crunch due to "resource scarcity" you will have to optomise a process. Which is why you have first / second / third "responders", "technical support", etc.

Then there is the question of "drill" in an emergancy you do not know at what point people will become "overwhelmed" and cease to act rationaly. Their threshold goes up considerably with training and removale of decision making.

A practical example is learning to drive a car your driving instructor tells you simple "mantras" over and over again untill they become subconciously automatic, when they do they take you to the next stage and so on. We even joke about it with "you know the drill" or "by the book".

It quite effectivly takes the unknown human out of the equation and replaces them with a known quantity, which people further up the chain of command can usually count on (which is very important).

Finally there is the question of cost, of which manpower and training are generally the ones accountants worry about.

Therefor it is probably less costly to actualy do a quick assesment, send in a robot with a shotgun or small explosive package to disruptivly deactivate the device, packup and move onto the next one.

The ultimate question is at what point do you reassess the the "book" and the attendant "drill". The first is when it is seen not to be effective, the second is when the cost is disproportianate. They are both based on assumptions and risk, change either and the rest follows. The problem with low probability events is that usually our assumptions are wrong and there is insufficient data to calculate risk.

RogerSeptember 30, 2008 11:39 PM

One of the things which colours analysis of this sort of thing is the idea that real bomb incidents are incredibly rare. To put i bluntly, this is ill-informed. They are not an everyday occurrence, but they are far more common than people seem to think.

I receive a periodic report compiling all such incidents that have been publicly reported. In the USA, there are several per week. Not all of these are malicious, deliberate attacks; most are caused by experimentation by youths, mishandling of dangerous goods or war trophies, or UXOs discovered on long disused military training areas. Even without malicious intent, all of these can be life threatening if not dealt with cautiously. However, even in the USA quite a few *are* deliberate attacks -- usually for personal grudges or criminal gain rather than political or religious reasons.

In the UK, it's more like a couple of incidents per month, and the number one cause is the Luftwaffe (although many of the other causes found in the USA also occur in the UK.)

These listings frequently include listings of fatalities, too. Usually they start along the lines of "X did not recognise the object and assumed it was scrap metal, and bent to pick it up..."

Of course, we can't call the bomb squad every time we see an item we don't recognise. But frankly we do seem to have some sort of happy medium already. The cost of running bomb squads is a negligible fraction of the overall cost of policing, while the fraction of real incidents that results in fatalities is so low (at least in western countries) that in certain blogs, the risk itself is held in contempt.

RogerSeptember 30, 2008 11:49 PM

@keep it quiet:
> "Why do they insist on blowing "suspicious" thing to bits? Is it really that hard to run them through an x-ray machine first? After all that's supposedly why we put our shoes through the scanner at the airport.

Because blowing them up is cheaper, quicker and safer. Yes, safer! The sort of x-ray machines used to examine bombs are quite powerful, so as to be able to penetrate heavy layers of metal, whereas for an article like these hot dogs, the sort of charge used to "disrupt" it is very small, low powered and low risk. Just the right choice for a suspicious item that might be a bomb, but is probably just unusual litter.

Jon SowdenSeptember 30, 2008 11:54 PM

@ Roger:
"In the UK, it's more like a couple of incidents per month, and the number one cause is the Luftwaffe"

In 2007, the UK EOD guys had over 3,000 operational callouts (does not include false alarms), of which 2352 were for conventional munitions (which would include the luftwaffe leftovers) and 666 for IEDs.

D0ROctober 1, 2008 3:54 AM

> Apparently, there were 1124 between 1970 and 2004.

Thanks, I was looking for more detailed data. The link you gave is very interesting.

Still, it's 1124 terroristic events in a lapse of time of 34 years *for the whole USA territory*. Let's assume that half of the attacks are bombings, and that a terrorist would choose as target any of the 262 US cities that have at least 100,000 residents.

This gives us a terrorist bombing every 16 years for a particular city.

Now just think about how many objects are lost or abandoned as litter in that city *each day*.

Clive RobinsonOctober 1, 2008 4:27 AM

@ Jon Sowden,

"... and 666 for IEDs."

Ah the mark of the Devil.

On a more serious note. Most IEDs employed in civilian areas in the WASP Nations are thankfully not designed by people who know what they are doing.

If you remove the experiments of children and adolescents (including thermite mountins for science projects that go wrong). And other oddities like home beer making that has gone badly wrong. You are left with the devices that are deliberatly designed to cause harm.

In the U.S. from what little published information exists IEDs predominantly have specific targets and are often put in the targets car. The bomb of choice appears to be a steel pipe with a low explosive (ie that bought for refilling amunition). Effectivly a bigger and much nastier version of a home made firework.

The pipe acts as the tamper casing to improve yeild and provide shrapnell. It would appear that the usuall mistake made is to overfill the pipe which tends to cause it to burst not fragment and as a conciquence gives a much lower yield than would otherwise result from a more knowledgable designer.

This over fill issue has been known for several hundred years. Guido Fawks of the gunpowder plot knew that the barrels the gunpowder was put in should only be about 1/3 filled with gun powder to get the best yield.

It was anomalies seen in explosives testing and knowledge of the yield issues that led to research in the mid 1900's which gave rise to shaped charges which are used both militarily and comercialy.

It would appear that in quite a few conflict zones this knowledge is known by the builders of IEDs with the result they are considerably more effective.

This has a conciquence in that when constrained by a substantial tamper casing disruptive deactivation of an IED becomes less of an option unless the trigger mechanisum is external to the tamper casing, in which case the trigger mechanisum gets the shotgun treatment.

SparkyOctober 1, 2008 4:59 AM

While just blowing things up seems stupid, and it's easy to make fun of them for blowing up hotdogs, economically it makes perfect sense.

Blowing something up with a small charge, or shooting it with a shotgun or something on a tripod costs next to nothing. Investigating with X-rays or other method takes more time and requires more expensive equipment.

There is no interest in saving the object in question, so why no just shoot it?

Of course, the question is whether or not the police and bomb disposal unit should have been called in the first place. This is basically a CYA decision; calling the cops in the safe choice.

Of course, we should consider that nobody can say for sure whether or not some object of considerable size is a bomb or not, without special equipment or taking the object apart. An innocent looking object could simply be a clever disguise.

You can't just state that 1) real bomb don't have visible, different colored wires and blinking lights, and 2) a terrorist would try to hide the device. If those were the "rules", a terrorist could simply build a real, hollywood-style bomb, and nobody would care if it showed up somewhere. If you have rules for the assessment based on visible features, those rules will be known to the adversary, and he will attempt to stay within these rules. The only solution is to have no rules for assessment by lay people.

MarkOctober 1, 2008 5:36 AM

@Clive Robinson

So blast the block of explosive with a shot gun or small charge of explosive and the block is disrupted into small fragments that are to far appart to actually detonate (they might burn very nicley however).

An alternative approach is a gun which fires water at high speed. This with destroy a bomb, whilst causing less problems with forensic investigation should the object turn out to be an actual bomb.

@Clive Robinson

Try loading the block of explosive into an expensive X-Ray machine and any sensors inside will have more than enough time to detonate the block correctly.

It isn't exactly hard for a bomb to have sensors which detect when it is moved. If someone wanted to cause grief for a bomb squad using X ray machines they could build a bomb triggered by EM radiation.

MarkOctober 1, 2008 5:42 AM

@Steve

I'm amused by the armchair bomb squad members here who *know* what a bomb looks like and exactly how to react when faced with a suspiciously anomalous object.

A bomb need not be in any way suspicious.
A car/truck bomb is just another vehicle until it goes bang. The other advantage, to a terrorist, is that you can transport a much bigger bomb.

SparkyOctober 1, 2008 6:52 AM

Exactly. There are no rules for what a bomb should look like outside of hollywood. You can't even say that anything with blinking lights isn't a bomb.

Most bombs have some common features; there needs to be a mass of a chemical explosive, and some means to start the reaction (detonation or deflagation). It may or may not have wires, batteries and such. The only things one can disqualify as being a bomb is a device with insufficient space or mass to house a sufficient amount of explosive to do real damage, or no means of starting the reaction.

Until you can exclude a device on those grounds, considering an unknown device to be a bomb would be a sane thing to do, within reason. And there lies the real problem: "within reason" means that one could determine that the unknown device is either not a bomb, or a cleverly disguised one.

SteveOctober 1, 2008 8:20 AM

@Mark : "I'm amused by the armchair bomb squad members here who *know* what a bomb looks like and exactly how to react when faced with a suspiciously anomalous object."

Again, precisely. I don't know what a bomb looks like but if I'm a security guard or a cop, I probably know if I encounter something suspicious that doesn't belong where it's found.

The point of all of this is that you'd rather have the system fail safely -- that is, the bomb squad blowing up someone's leftover lunch than having a package blow up in your face.

I'm curious what those who seem to think otherwise would suggest that the default behavior be. Pick up a duct tape package and sniff it? Shake it? Stomp on it? Just consider it someone else's problem?

JasonOctober 1, 2008 11:20 AM

"Better safe than sorry" is a lousy excuse.

I wonder why it was that no one on the scene knew about the commercial filmed earlier that day.

Also, would a bomb sniffing dog have been able to confirm that there was no bomb?

And, yeah, I know that the bomb squad has to take every call with the same level of seriousness and precaution.

I don't fault the bomb squad for doing exactly what they are trained to do.

I just wonder if it was something that could have been avoided with a few more questions asked beforehand.

Jon SowdenOctober 1, 2008 1:46 PM

@D0R,
you're welcome. I agree with you that the info tends to reinforce your point about terrorism being a _very_ rare event in most (all?) western countries, rather than that there is a rampant wave of terrorism that needs to be dealt with by exploding every random bit of litter.

Also, I think your estimate of half being bombs is probably overly generous. I haven't gone through the US data even a little bit, but looking at the data for my own country (NZ) it includes such 'terrorist' events as the murder of a tourist, and a protest at a sports event .. although granted the protest did include a molotov cocktail. AFAIK, there've only been 3 terrorist events here in the last 30 years, but the START database lists 9. That said, I don't doubt that all 9 fulfil the criteria for terrorism used by the database, and also think the value of the database far outweighs my quibbles with their definition.

Jon

reflexOctober 1, 2008 4:27 PM

It occurs to me that anyone who wanted revenge, a good laugh, etc... could call the bomb squad on someone else's unattended property. Merely calling an everyday item suspicious - such as a trash can, or someone's stereo, someone's luggage at the airport - seems all that is needed to get the bomb squad called.

DavidHeathOctober 1, 2008 8:19 PM

Just curious - what if your explosive device was packed into a carry-on bag with a trigger-mechanism based on high levels of X-rays!

Clive RobinsonOctober 2, 2008 1:44 AM

@ DavidHeath,

"... carry-on bag with a trigger-mechanism based on high levels of X-rays!"

The scanners are supposadly "film safe" these days which sugests the level of X-rays is a lot lower than it once was so your triger could go off if for instance it got to close to an older terminal with a CRT in checkin...

EricKOctober 2, 2008 9:18 AM

You know, if I were a terrorist, I could simply go around pointing at things I wanted to blow up and saying 'That looks like a suspicious package and it scares me!' and let the police blow it up for me.

I'm pretty sure that's a bad thing.

AAH! It's a lite-brite! Blow it up! Hot dogs! Blow them up! Traffic counter! Blow it up! My neighbor's yappy mutt! blow it up!

richOctober 2, 2008 12:59 PM

Why do we assume it's a bomb and not a cleverly disguised ninja??? Think of the dangers a motivated and properly trained ninja could cause!!!

rcoxOctober 2, 2008 2:55 PM

Exploding sausages. Did anyone else think of 'Allo 'Allo. In forty years someone will be create an intenet comedy about occupied Iraq, and the interactions of the Americans stationed there with a hapless cafe owner and his waitresses.

D0ROctober 7, 2008 9:17 AM

I'll post here some useful info for recognize a bomb (list courtesy of Movie Clichés, http://www.moviecliches.com/cliche1.html#bombs):

# Evil geniuses who devise bombs to destroy things/people always have them detonate after at least an hour, giving the hero ample time to defuse it.
# Bombs always have big, blinking, beeping timer displays. Evil geniuses who devise bombs to destroy things/people are always thoughtful enough to include a visible display (usually LED) of how much time remains before the bomb detonates, giving the hero accurate feedback on exactly how much time remains.
# When you cut the wire to the detonator, the timer will stop. You will not be able to do this, however, until only one second remains.
# All wires have different colors, so the hero can easily differentiate them when he has to cut the right one.

Caleb DOctober 12, 2008 11:35 AM

@everyone who thought blowing up the hot dogs was unreasonable response.

I lived in Israel, a country where the threat of terrorism is very real, for a number of years. I can recall many occasions when I saw the bomb squad detonate what were undoubtedly benign packages, but if 1 out of 100 or even 1000 packages were bombs then it was definitely better that they had blown up the non bombs.

Here in the US the chance of a terrorist attack is almost 0, but if we are going to have a bomb squads it is better that we use them than not.

Leave a comment

Allowed HTML: <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre>

Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.

Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Resilient Systems, Inc.