Artist arrested at Oakland airport for wearing ornate watch

Geoffrey McGann, a southern California artist, was arrested at Oakland airport for wearing an assemblage sculpture/watch he'd made. The TSA were also worried because he had a lot of insoles in his shoes. He was eventually released on $150,000 bail.

OAKLAND, Calif. -- A Southern California man was arrested at Oakland International Airport after security officers found him wearing an unusual watch they said could be used to make a timing device for a bomb, authorities said Friday... McGann told Transportation Security Administration officers that he's an artist and the watch is art, Nelson said.

Geoffrey McGann, Man With Strange Watch, Arrested At Oakland Airport [AP] (Thanks to everyone who suggested this!)



  1. I saw this reported yesterday and i just knew it’d pop up on here eventually. What i’d really like to see is a picture of this evil “timing device”. And honestly one of the reasons i don’t wear my Casio watch when traveling is because the government is convinced that anyone that owns a Casio must be a nefarious terrorist since its listed as a bomb-making material.

    1. I’m just amazed that they can do a whole report talking about the watch without ever bothering to show it. I’m really curious what it looks like!

      1. Same here.  After a few days of reporting on this story now and still neither hide nor hair of the watch, I’m beginning to suspect that the reason the TSA is not releasing a photo of the ‘ornate/unusual watch’, is that they know that we’ll all be laughing at them when we see it.

        /Any bets you can soon buy a copy on thinkgeek?

        1. those evil timing devices! What’s next, showing up at boarding BEFORE it starts?  maybe something like *puts pinkey towards lips* 1 million milliseconds before boarding!? 


      2. It’s either embarrassing for the TSA (normal watch) or for the guy wearing it (clearly provocative).

        My bet is on the former.

        Either way reporting on how something looks without showing you what it looks like it is a pet peeve of mine.

    2. Casios seem to be the most prominent brand, for historical and cost reasons; but once you’ve started down the path of describing anything that keeps time as a ‘bomb-making material’, the category just becomes ludicrous (also, since cell phones are generally designed to run a little vibrator motor directly, unlike the much wimpier output of watch alarms, they would presumably be even easier for electronics n00bs to connect to detonators. And, why would you even need a timer if you are there to detonate ze bomb yourself?)

      1. Ha! Imagine someone sneaking timebomb into a toilet, returning their seat, sit calmly for awhile and then start to slowly realize what’s wrong with his plan. I’d like to see his face at that moment….uh wait, no I wouldn’t

      2. cell phones are generally designed to run a little vibrator motor directly, unlike the much wimpier output of watch alarms, they would presumably be even easier for electronics n00bs to connect to detonators

        Yeah especially since they have that handy earphone socket. Maybe do it with an NE555 (there’s a terrorist tool for you) and a loop of nichrome wire.


        I begin to wonder if someone could work up a script to automatically link to the most relevant XKCD comic.

    3. For those of you who didn’t bother to read the story, it states that his watch had “switches, wires and fuses.”  Granted, that this description comes form the sheriff’s dept. but even with the insanity we have seen in the security drama we now live in, it seems to be likely that this was the case because the bomb squad had to be called.  I am not saying that this fact is determinative –  merely that it lends credence to the description of the watch as containing “switches, wires, and fuses.”

      Now, if someone goes through airport security with anything that contains switches, wires, and fuses, the matter away from TSA being crazy and into the realm of some jackoff being either idiotically forgetful (e.g., people leaving  loaded guns in their carry-ons) or intentionally provocative.  Either way, I am giving this one a “meh” and suggesting we get back to criticizing the TSA for their obvious cock-up, evidence of which abounds.

  2. OMG I read this on some news site (can’t remember which) and it was worded like this guy was some sort of kook doing a terrorist “test run”.

    I should have known way better!! 

    1. The ‘test run’ theory just doesn’t make any sense to me in general, let alone this guy’s case.

      So, if you succeed at doing a ‘test run’, you don’t get to do anything to the plane because this is only a test and you didn’t bring the real payload. If you fail, you run the nontrivial risk of essentially unlimited punishment for having done something terrorism-related.

      If you just make an educated guess and send a device aboard? Pretty much the same, except you actually get to do something if it works. 

      Never mind the, um, no-doubt superb Al-Qaeda recruitment rates among “artists from southern California”…

      (edit: it also seems worth mentioning, in the context of the ‘test run’ theory, that the TSA’s performance is known to be lousy, missing test devices and such fairly frequently; but is also known to be pretty variable by location/person/phase-of-moon. This makes it a lot easier to get something through, since your odds of hitting officer hardass on any given run aren’t too high; but it also makes R&D for ‘undetectable’ devices difficult, since all that most runs can tell you is that an oblivious and overworked TSA goon didn’t find anything. It just isn’t a sensible strategy.)

    1. Yeah, really all you need for a really basic setup is some kind of surface-mounted speaker that you can solder some leads to.  Set an alarm (or call the phone, or whatever) and once current goes through those leads do whatever you’re going to do.

    2. My favorite part of this article is TSA agents calling a watch a “timing device”.  Can’t get nuthin past these guys.

  3. The TSA knows that airplanes are just tools that people use to get uppity very quickly. Anybody attempting to board one must be a threat.

    1. Getting “the MacGuyver full-series box set as an early Christmas present” == stole or “confiscated” it from a suspicious piece of luggage that had the DVD set that the TSA officer wanted…

    2. Credit where credit is due, now:  He didn’t “get the MacGuyver full-series box set.”  He made the MacGuyver full-series box set from a pack of bologna, a gem clip, and some toaster scrapings.

  4. Pics or GTFO!

    I make wacky Nixie tube watches, which somehow get past the TSA just fine.

    As far as timing devices go, I think I learned here on BB that some generic Casio alarm watch is what’s actually used to trigger bombs in the Middle East.

      1. I’ve sold over 700 of them in the last 7 years, and no reports yet of trouble with the TSA. The Woz wears one wherever he goes, and he travels a lot.

          1. Yes, all those plans so far have failed.

            The idea of putting more security on airline pilots than those who pay more? Not really a great idea.

    1. Seriously? Protruding wires means that someone has tried to tackle (whatever problem) on his own and you have to trust his judgment and reasons. I’ve noticed that art installations seem somehow much more intriguing (or sinister) if you don’t cover and polish everything, but leave some wires etc exposed.

      1. It’s stupid.  If I wrap my wires nicely, they don’t bother it; if a wrap comes loose, they inspect it.

        Apparently this means all bomb makers need to be OCD.

    2. Another thing… why are wires so scary to both the general public and the TSA?

      It means you’re not just a consumer of corporate product.

  5. If this is the same Geoff McGann, he is the Managing Creative Director at Locomotus, a new marketing school in LA for minorities and women. He also worked at Public Interest, the Gates Foundation funded non-profit ad agency for socially aware initiatives (AIDS-AID, Wounded Warriors), and a number of other projects. Sounds a lot less like a “kooky artist” (as portrayed in some stories) when you look into his background.

    1. You click through unknowingly? How? 

      Nevermind, just visit this website I have set up to help pervert your visits to webpages you don’t like. You just have to confirm your age with your Paypal account name & password once on entering.

  6. “Attention!  You are all our bitches now.  If you have a watch, you will be branded a terrorist.  If you have a cell phone, you will be branded a terrorist. If you have water in your bag you will be, say it with me, branded a terrorist.  Now then, why don’t you just give me all your little iPhones, all your little Droids, all them iPads, ’cause that shit is going nowhere today except to my house.”

  7. Sounds like his fault really, if he didn’t want to be arrested he should have worn a normal watch, like everyone else. Take some personal responsibility!

    1. Sounds like his fault really, if he didn’t want to be arrested he should have worn a normal shirt, like everybody else.

      Sounds like his fault really, if he didn’t want to be arrested he should have had a normal haircut, like everybody else.

      Sounds like his fault really, if he didn’t want to be arrested he should have left his skin untainted by tattoos, like everybody else.

      Sounds like his fault really, if he didn’t want to be arrested he should have had a normal skin color, like everybody else.

      Somewhere, bin Laden is laughing and laughing…

          1. I was able to draw the distinction it just fine.  I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.

            Satire that 100% of the audience understands as satire is generally not very biting satire – it’s better if it’s close enough to the thing it satirizes that a minority of the audience might miss the fact it’s satire.

          2. How sure are you that you weren’t the only one?

            To me it’s not about accidentally offending someone, it’s the minimizing of their opinion thats odious.

            Smell it yet?

            You’re no andy kauffman,

  8. McGann: “But officer, wires are perfectly normal and non-threatening”
    Tessa McTSA: “Not on my watch!”
    McGann: “Do I look like a terrorist?”
    Tessa: “If the shoe fits…”
    McGann: “But that’s just it officer, they don’t!”

    etc etc

  9. I once took art through the Atlanta airport.  The TSA morons had probably never even heard of art.  It was a stained wooden dowel with a couple other pieces of wood on it.  “I wonder what happens if I try to bend it.”  Yeah, it breaks motherbleeper.  Bleep the TSA.

  10. There’s a big chunk to the story we’re not hearing, I suspect. His watch may have looked like TNT, for all we know, but you don’t get arrested and thrown in jail for just having an oddball watch and thick-soled shoes. Questioned, frisked, groped, yes; asked to remove said bomb-looking watch and possibly FedEx it home, yes.

    1. More detailed version of the story:

      “In addition to the strange watch, Nelson said there were other suspicious things about McGann: his boots were two sizes too big and they were stuffed with layers of homemade insoles, which allowed for large cavities where someone would be able to hide items.

      Nelson also said McGann was wearing a military-style shirt with a built-in tourniquet in the sleeves, often used by soldiers to stop bleeding if they receive an arm injury.”

      1. his boots were two sizes too big

        Was he perchance also carrying seven crowns, five rods and a set of unusually large keys?

      2. his boots were two sizes too big and they were stuffed with layers of homemade insoles

        Short people got no reason to live.

        Nelson also said McGann was wearing a military-style shirt with a built-in tourniquet in the sleeves,

        You know that these can be bought at any military surplus store right?
        Oshit! The military is helping terrists!

        1. No shit,  What with those little hands and little eyes I bet they walk around tellin’ great big lies.

    2. “but you don’t get arrested and thrown in jail for just having an oddball watch and thick-soled shoes”
      That statement might make more sense if this was the first time something like this has happened, but it isn’t.  (Previous examples include people carrying nothing more suspicious than unmodified consumer electronics and had a laptop power cable freak someone out.)  At a certain point in the process, it seems the police have to justify an initial over-reaction, at which point they often double-down and arrest the person.

    3. Do you have any reason beyond reflexive (and in my opinion, foolish) trust in authority to believe that there is some “secret” information that will somehow change the TSA’s actions from being both idiotic and oppressive? Given the risible information the media is cheerfully regurgitating, such as: “covered his watch with his coat before it was x-rayed” and “wearing a military-style shirt with a built-in tourniquet”, isn’t it far more likely that this is a case of  (at best) over-reaction? Or is it the TSA’s long history of successful interceptions of terrorists (zero) along with the number of times their knee-jerk fear of anything strange has prevented attacks (also zero) that convinces you of their rectitude in this case?

  11. OAKLAND, Calif. — A Southern California man was arrested at Oakland International Airport after security officers found he had a hand at the end of each of his arms they said could be used together as a choking device, authorities said Friday…McGann told Transportation Administration officers that he is human and was born with the hands, Nelson said.

    1. That’s astounding. That’s a perfectly ordinary, cheap, extremely common watch. If you go into the nearest drug store, there’s probably a couple of those on a rack.

        1. No, the astounding part is that owning such a common watch is grounds to arrest someone and imprison them at Guantanomo.

  12. can there be an rss feed for unreasonable arrests that i can unsubscribe from?  shit like this makes me want to run in front of a train. 

  13. Cory, please note that he was not simply “eventually released” as if the misunderstanding was cleared up and the only harm done is some red faces. His bail of $150,000 was posted and that is why he is temporarily free. Contrast that with Star Simpson’s case, where her bail was set at $750 cash. This is not over and hasn’t turned out OK yet. He could still be incarcerated.

    1. Well, he could still be incarcerated IF he is found guilty of an actual crime. That has to get past a judge (who is educated and experienced in the law) and a jury (who know bullshit when they smell it).

      No explosives = no “materials for making an explosive device”. Otherwise basically any container or any electronic components whatsoever would have to be illegal as such. That’s absurd and a judge won’t buy it. I don’t even think a prosecutor (or DA or whatever you call them) will.
      Sucks to be him though. I don’t think I could rustle up £100,000 for bail if it happened to me.

  14. This man made one mistake: trying to fly in the “land of the free, and the home of the brave.”

    Equating Technomancy with terrorism is not in anyone’s best interests.  If this shit had been going on 30 years ago, Wozniak and Jobs might’ve never gone anywhere.  Let that sink in.  This country wishes to hobble itself, completely.  Worried about other countries taking over industries and jobs?  You ain’t seen shit, if this is how our country treats innovators now.

    Now, imagine when they do that to someone who is trying to make art or product, and that person takes it badly?  Decides he or she has had enough, and has nothing but complete despair for his or her own future and the future of this country?  I really don’t like that scenario.  Can we *please* get some people who aren’t chicken-shit cowards to run our country, some day soon?  Before they get us all killed, preferably?

    1. My family and I got the supreme pat-down treatment when I wore my wire-laden video coat into the Detroit airport last year. I remarked to my son, as he was getting extra-friendly-inspected, that this is the land of the free. The nice TSA lady said, “Not any more.”

  15. I noticed in one report it stated that among the things that “didn’t add up” about Geoffrey McGann was that “[h]e was on a trip for work and he didn’t have to check any bags.” The technical term is that it didn’t pass the “smoke test”. 

    For the last ten years I’ve flown at least twice a week for work, and never checked in a bag. Ever. In fact, I often fly with just a briefcase (and would only take something larger – though still not as large as a bag – if I am away for more than 4-5 days). I have never been seriously questioned on this, although customs officials have sometimes asked if I’ve forgotten to pick up my bag from the belt when flying into the US. 

    In fact, I will get on a plane this afternoon with only my briefcase. Admittedly, I travel light, but many frequent business travellers don’t check in bags.

    1. I thought it was common sense to try to avoid carrying luggage you can’t carry-on, since it’s such a nuisance to retrieve your luggage, and there’s a significant risk of losing it.

  16. I have a homemade “artsy” watch on right now and it stated life as a $10 Casio. No wires sticking out though just a cool iris from a broken camera lens. Made it through screening several times but that’s probably because of the fit and finish.

  17. McGann… McVeigh… yeah tell me this “Mc” thing ain’t some kind of terrorist coded language. McHammer… it’s all suspicious!!

      1. You know what Mc & Mac are in Arabic?  Bin & Ibn!

        Zsa in Arabic? Sirhan!  Giddyup.
        Obama…O’bama? Yeeeeaaah!

  18. “I shall stand upon my watch,” announced the prophet Habbakuk, not realising that the TSA would promptly arrest him and hold him on suspicion of possessing a pressure-activated explosive device.

  19. The watch had switches, wires, and fuses, and he was charged with possession of materials to make an explosive device.

    Well damn!  Just about everything at the TSA checkpoint is material to make an explosive device, then.  I knew those bastards were up to something.

    This country is being run by and for insane sheep.

    (I’m assuming those were electrical fuses, and not cannon fuses.)

  20. Bad summary. It wasn’t just an ornate watch, it was an “ornate watch that had switches, wires and fuses”….i.e. looking rather suspect. Combined with all the in-soles, it looks like he was out to make a statement.

    1. Until they show us a picture of the watch, there’s no telling what’s going on.     

      Ill-fitting shoes are common.  I’ve known people with shoe fitting issues to customize insoles & shoe padding to deal with conditions like bunions and bone spurs.

      The shirt is not that unusual either, I can imagine someone wearing something like that just because they like the way it looks and the price was right at the Army-Navy store.

      Suspicious?  Maybe.  But remember, the charge was having bomb-making materials.  That’s not the shirt, that’s not his shoes. 

  21. It’s the artist’s fault. An artist should be aware of his/her surroundings and thus this one should have known he would be travelling through the manhandling paws of these illiterate oafs with too much authority. The artist should have disguised himself as the perennial toolbag: Dockers, button down, nondescript shoes, and a complete lack of soul as far as you can look into those dead eyes.

  22. Updates: All the charges have been dropped.

    The Mercury News has published a photo of the watch in question.

    McGann’s attorney says his client has traveled with the watch before and has never previously been arrested. In fact, Horngrad said the first time McGann traveled with the watch, he showed it to a TSA supervisor at Los Angeles International Airport and the supervisor told him it was OK to wear it on the plane.

    Sgt. J.D. Nelson, an overwrought and overpaid sheriff’s department lackey, said McGann had no explosive material, but Nelson said the items had to be taken seriously, asking in a shaky voice and trembling with terrornoia, “What reasonable person would take those items into an airport in this day and age?”

  23. This whole anti-terrorism business seems to create quite a pressure for conformity in behavior and appearance, if not expression. Duh!

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