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Man suspected of wearing 'bomb' watch at airport released, no charges filed (mercurynews.com)
46 points by ck2 on Nov 20, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 37 comments

was later released after he posted $150,000 bail.

So for being completely innocent, he is likely out $15,000 plus attorney's fees and lost work time.

I did database programming back in the early 1990's for a California bail bonding company. As I recall the standard cost for a bail bond was 10% which does not get refunded. This is in addition to someone fronting $150,000 of collateral to secure the bond.

You can post the $150,000 directly with the court and avoid the bond costs. Even if you are rich and have the cash sitting in an account it can take many days to co-ordinate the transfer of cash. (Plus you will have to prove to the court that it is not funds obtained from a criminal enterprise.)

I recall several cases where it appeared that the arresting cops knew there was no case, but figured that they could punish someone due to the cost of the bail fees before the District Attorney, Judges and Juries even got involved.

Basically, the TSA can in effectively fine someone $15,000 at anytime through the extrajudicial punishment.

This is exactly why bail bonds should be prohibited, or at least why bail schedules should be set on a sliding scale based on the accused's income. I can't fathom how it benefits society to have $150,000 loaned out at effectively 3000% interest. We punish payday lenders for this behavior.

McGann "is not an activist or a terrorist," Horngrad said.

This sentence is utterly terrifying. Or at least it would be were I american.

It's not as though they are being treated as equivalent, they are just potential explanations for this kind of behavior (carrying an improvised electrical device, which would make a viable timer for an explosive device, through airport security)

First they establish if he has any malicious intent (i.e. is he a terrorist?), then they establish if he has a legitimate non-malicious reason for such odd behavior (i.e. is he an activist?)

Turns out this guy is just a little unhinged.

Language defines thought, and thought informs behaviour. To use the two words in the same sentence like that is to treat the two concepts as equivalent, and to promote their equivalence in future.

There are, actually, many similarities. Both groups of people defy social norms and seek publicity in the course of acting out grievances with the establishment.

Activism and terrorism are often one and the same. I don't think it's unfair to describe 9/11 and similar terrorist attacks as forms of activism — not that this in any way justifies the attacks — nor to apply the 'terrorism' label to many self-described activists (e.g. Anonymous with their computer hacking)

Terrorism and activism are both political, but I wouldn't call terror attacks activism. They have different means and execution, even if they both strive for political change. Not that this distinction is helped by how politicians love to paint activists as terrorists for political purposes.

OED defines activism as: "The policy of active participation or engagement in a particular sphere of activity; spec. the use of vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change."

Most contemporary terrorists (Islamic extremism being the most salient example) are not terrorizing people for the fun of it. They want to bring about political or social change. The 9/11 terrorists objected to U.S. foreign policy, specifically its support for Israel and continued presence in Saudi Arabia. Terror is just a campaigning tool.

I don't think politicians are too far off the mark when they describe certain contemporary activists as terrorists. As I say, it's a very thin line, and plenty of contemporary activists resort to terror tactics.

You are clearly a philosopher of language and thought and so I am reluctant to contradict you, but it has been my experience that the construction "A or B" is more commonly used when A and B are non-equivalent. Perhaps you're thinking of the situation where B is an acronym inside parentheses, as in: random access memory (or RAM).

Applying that experience to the sentence in question (and probably because I am not as vigilant as you in detecting attacks against freedom), I read it to distinguish activists who would perhaps be wearing a faux-bomb as protest against security measures from terrorists who would be wearing a real bomb watch.

I look forward to your well reasoned response.

I'll take a stab at this. Many times "A or B" are used when they are different in some way, but both have something in common. For example, an alternative to driving to work is to bike or walk. It's cold out side, so I need a jacket or sweater. Can you call or email me when you get the results. In all these cases, the A or B construct is used to tie together items that share something (alternatives to driving, cold-weather add on clothing, and methods of communication, in these three cases).

I'm confused, why would a political activist in particular be more likely to carry an improvised electronic device?

It happens all the time. There are plenty of people who just want to create a scene, cause a fuss, make life difficult for security staff, etc.

Journalists have also been known to test the limits of airport security, taking suspicious items on board planes or gaining access to restricted areas, then reporting on the associated security lapses.

To cause a fuss and make a point about the TSA.

isn't the implication "he's not a bad guy" rather than "he's not either of these two groups, one of which would reasonably explain his behaviour anyway"?

i think that's what worries people (and me). that his own lawyer, apparently defending him (not just explaining, but holding him up in positive contrast), seems to be saying, "look, he's not one of these problem groups". and in that sense, as a "problem group", activist and terrorist are presented as similar.

I was going to say basically the same thing. Whether or not the attorney meant to do so, he was equating activism with terrorism, something that various parts of the government (local and federal) have been doing for many years now.

This doesn't mean that activists can't be terrorists, but to equate the two so generally is quite irresponsible.

That watch is ridiculous--I certainly hope the TSA would stop someone wearing that, and I doubt a regular agent is educated enough to decide whether or not a homebrew contraption like that is dangerous. So to a degree, TSA did the smart thing.

The question becomes, was arresting him the right thing to do? Maybe it was--if nobody in the airport had the expertise to decide that this thing that looks like a Die-Hard-style bomb was not dangerous, maybe they had to hold him until an expert could be located.

The other question is, were the charges dropped because he was innocent, or were they dropped because he got media attention? That's probably the more important question. Not everyone can get the news to write about them, and no doubt many injustices in America and in the world get ignored precisely because they're ignored.

Wait, so bulky old electric devices (toggle switch and old school big fuses) are scary things eh?

How about the fact practically everyone is carrying a smartphone that can be far more easily used as a wireless trigger? You can do a frequency scan/pulse with a phone with an app!

What if someone tried to get onto a plane with a smartphone without a cover and all the electronics exposed, or a clear case?

Those xmas toys people carry on planes, even unwrapped, they contain far more electronics and hiding places than that fake watch with electric fuses.

To you and me who understand how they work, no they are not scary.

To a TSA agent who probably has only a high-school education, a power trip, and was raised in a culture where movie supervillains use bombs that look just like that, yes, it's scary.

The right thing to do would have been to stop him in the line, bring in some kind of expert to look it over, then let him get on to the plane. It looks like they started on that path, but then went too far. That's where my questions come in.

>To a TSA agent who probably has only a high-school education, a power trip, and was raised in a culture where movie supervillains use bombs that look just like that

Well there's your problem right there. I'm not sure how any argument based on that premise can be a justification for how the TSA agents did anything approaching the right thing in this situation.

Or one could choose not to employ such incompetent people to do such a supposedly important job. Unfortunately that would threaten the margins, which is what this is really about.

(These people are employed by private contractors, yes? If they're employed by the state, then why are they hiring such morans?)

Nope, in all but a few airports (SFO being one), they are directly employed by the TSA, a Federal agency. This was an upshot of 9-11, when private contractors were criticized for hiring inappropriate employees.

Improvised explosive devices can be designed cleverly to resemble common items such as smart phones or wrist watches, or even the sole of a shoe. The triggers for these devices can sometimes be very elaborate. I believe that the TSA has every right to investigate suspicious devices, and a watch with fuses and wires protruding from it warrants further inspection.

A true explosive device trigger is likely to have wires on it . Explosive devices will also have resistors and perhaps a fuse (can't see why exactly) but to an average TSA employee any device which looks out of the norm with wires is immediately suspicious.

And honestly, if you're going to go to the airport, don't be an idiot. Everyone knows the TSA is hypersensitive and quite ignorant of engineering concepts or art in this case, don't push the limits when you know that this is likely to happen.

If TSA workers can't distinguish between things that are bombs and things that aren't bombs, then why do we have them and why are they arresting people? It's not like any of the bombs that people have smuggled on board planes in the last decade have matched the Hollywood stereotype, I'm not sure that screening for things that look like Hollywood bombs tends to make people safer.

Also, if they had simply gotten an expert or not let him board that would be understandable. But instead they arrested him.

The qualifications you're making to the TSA's actions are a little bit generous aren't they? Given that a regular agent can't tell the difference between that cartoon contraption and an actual dangerous device, what's the point of having them in the first place? If all they can do is flag up anything that looks vaguely electronic and unusual, then they are completely useless.

Besides which, in this case they managed to determine that the watch didn't have any explosives attached, but they still arrested the guy anyway.

The problem is that you presume that anything the TSA did (or is doing) is making people safer.

Anyone who wears such a watch and does not expect to get stopped by Airport Security (TSA or anyone else) is simply retarded.

This guy is clearly not retarded, so he is obviously a publicity whore.

End of story.

Compare this to how the TSA was swearing up and down this guy was no good the other day.

And they let him rot in jail while the charges were already dismissed.

Talk about a complete power-trip.

The TSA seem to do a pretty large amount of stupid things, but this watch is basically a nice way to poke a bear with a stick, and then appear surprised when it attempts to eat your face. The TSA ate his face, the guy was surprised.

I think I saw Boing Boing championing his cause, which isn't too unexpected, but the guy must have known he was running the gauntlet and it detracts from the actual batshit stuff the TSA do.

Stopping and questioning him about his watch was not batshit. Having him arrested was the actual batshit.

What's also batshit is the idea that people need to curtail their free speech in order not to piss off some ill-trained goons managing a contrived state of fear.

I hate misleading headlines like that. To me that headline says "there was a bomb watch and this man was suspected for wearing it". But what really happened was "the man did in fact wear a watch, which had been suspected of being a bomb." In today's world, being labeled a "suspect" in some crime is pretty much all it takes to ruin your life. While it may not have been smart to wear that ugly watch in the airport, I'm not aware of any law he broke by doing it. He did shine some light on how stupid the TSA actually is though.

The guy obviously made a watch designed to give the TSA conniptions (maybe it's some kind of publicity stunt). Do large paramilitary organizations staffed by idiots have a sense of humor? No. Surprise!

"Nelson said even if McGann truly is innocent and didn't intend to harm anyone, he still thinks that McGann showed "a lack of good judgment" and "was not being very smart" in traveling with the watch."

This. To me this was a raising brow thing when I read the article. Either is this ingnorance of the current rules, or was a publicity stunt.

I know the rules, I follow them, thus never had any issues in airports. But there is a golden rule: if you feel like you are probably going to break a rule ( by carring somethin g strange, for example), do the first step. Always. And it works. Heck, I moved a a few bottles of finest lager from Munich to NY, I went to AA representative and after explained she agreed with me taking them.

seeing the watch for the first time, i'm quite surprised that he's been able to travel with it before. in a curious way that actually impressed me - i would have expected something like (my understanding of) the tsa to stop anyone wearing that every time.

Whatever happened to Scott McGann, who was arrested at LaGuardia in 2009 for having a power strip?

Somewhat off topic, but I can wear my solid steel watch through the metal detectors at airports, and it won't set off the alarm (SF, Seattle, Toronto, Halifax, Chicago, etc). Yet, a coin or a belt buckle will.

Anyone have an idea as to why?

Based on my rudimentary knowledge of metal detectors, I'd guess that the individual pieces are too small. I presume that you don't have a watch resembling a shackle, and there is some non-metal/non-conducting linkage between individual sections of the band that prevents it from having a large inductive cross section. Either that, or the guy is too distracted by your spiffy watch and forgets to press the button that makes it go beep beep beep.

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