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Bottles of Honey Shut Down Airport 24

Posted by samzenpus
from the killer-bees dept.
The suspicious material found inside luggage that shut down Bakersfield's Meadows Field Airport turned out to be five soft drink bottles filled with honey. A routine swabbing of the luggage tested positive for TNT. When the bag was opened authorities found the bottles filled with an amber liquid. Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said, "Why in this day and age would someone take a chance carrying honey in Gatorade bottles? That itself is an alarm. It's hard to understand."

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Bottles of Honey Shut Down Airport

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  • by Locke2005 (849178) on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @01:40PM (#30672052)
    That's one honey of a problem. You'd bee in real trouble if you tried in. Sweet that they actually caught this before it resulted in a sticky situation. Will Winnie the Pooh now be employed as a luggage screener?
  • Why... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @02:33PM (#30672842)

    "Why in this day and age would someone take a chance carrying honey in Gatorade bottles? That itself is an alarm. It's hard to understand."

    Because honey is neither dangerous nor illegal.

    • by Locke2005 (849178)
      Sugar, on the other hand, can be made into explosives, thus it should be banned from airplanes. Hope you like your coffee/tea unsweetened! Wait... am I giving the TSA ideas?
    • "Because honey is neither dangerous nor illegal."

      Not yet, but be assured that someone will invent a scenario where honey can be used to destroy an airplane and we'll all be forced to endure honey sweeps by the TSA, don't you worry.

    • by tobiah (308208)
      The story states that the suspect was a beekeeper on his way to visit relatives for Christmas. Although it appears to be the case that neither the police nor the reporters bothered to ask, it seems reasonable to assume be that the honey bottles were intended as gifts...
  • The system worked? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by orgelspieler (865795) <w0lfie&mac,com> on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @02:39PM (#30672926) Journal

    Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said, "It's encouraging that the system did work, because something is not right there."

    What?!? First of all, since when is a false positive the same as the system working? Secondly, what's "not right" about wanting to travel with honey? Thirdly, the article says TSA officials got nauseated by the fumes. What fumes? It's honey! These people need to be fired, not treated like heroes.

    Here's what the good sheriff should have said: "Why in this day and age would we have explosives detection equipment that cannot tell honey from TNT? Why in this day and age would a human think that honey is TNT, don't they know what TNT is? Why in this day and age is shutting down an airport for no good reason considered a good thing? Why in this day and age are we still saying 'in this day and age'? It sounds stupid."

    • by natehoy (1608657) on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @04:49PM (#30674676) Journal

      First, I agree that TSA appears to have overreacted, and isn't doing themselves any favors with their ongoing attempt to blame the traveler for doing something that is perfectly legal and probably didn't seem unusual at all to them. Youngblood needs to hold a new press conference and apologize to Ramirez. Not for the initial reaction, but for his "why would anyone take a risk of carrying honey" bullshit as a thinly veiled attempt to blame Ramirez for shutting down the airport.

      However, good quality raw honey has a very strong smell, and given that this guy is a farmer he may have liked some local raw honey he found and decided to take some home. Unfortunately, most people I know would not recognize the aroma of raw honey. It can be rather pungent, and to some people unpleasantly so. Once cooked and processed, as it generally is for American consumption, it's a very different product with comparatively little aroma. Much like milk - the pasteurized homogenized stuff you can buy in most places is not nearly the same as raw milk, and raw milk tastes and smells different - it has an earthy flavor and smell to it that is lost in processing. I love both raw milk and raw honey, but they are very different from their processed counterparts. Hell, most people I know wouldn't recognize the COLOR of raw honey. It can be very dark and cloudy, almost opaquely in some cases.

      In some states, it's also illegal to sell raw milk and/or raw honey, so Ramirez might have been stocking up while he had a supply available.

      Add to that the fact that bees are routinely fogged with smoke during the honey harvesting process. If Ramirez was present for that process and packed those clothes, you can add "smoke" to the strong raw honey smell. That would make a pretty interesting combination of scents even raw honey lovers might not recognize.

      The TNT and acetone peroxide swabs could have easily been the result (as mentioned in the article) of the smoke used to fog the bees during the collection process, or a chemical or chemicals used on the farm. A little Diesel fuel, a little ammonium nitrate, a touch of this, a spot of that, get it on the bottles, handle the bottles while loading them in the suitcase, whammo - false positive.

      So looking at it from the perspective of a TSA agent, using the "walk a mile in their moccasins" rule:

      1. They did a routine swab of luggage, and one bag tested positive for TNT and acetone peroxide. That's enough to certainly merit looking in the suitcase as a next step. They'd be criminally negligent not to look into it further, that's their damned job.

      2. They opened the suitcase and were presented with bottles of thick (probably dark) cloudy amber fluid in unmarked Gatorade bottles. From the point of view of a TSA agent who has just gotten a positive test for explosives, this would be reasonably considered "suspicious". I know I'd be concerned enough not to just pack the suitcase back up and send it on its merry way. So they reasonably investigated further.

      3. They opened a bottle and were presented with an unfamiliar, strong smell. I know people who do find the smell of raw honey unpleasant, so the strong unknown smell combined with the tension of having a positive explosives test and the odd packaging, I could easily see someone being nauseated by the smell. Next "reasonable person" reaction is certainly not to taste it and discover it's honey!

      Their initial reaction sounds very much like the system worked as it should, given the (probably understandable) misinterpretation of the evidence. Youngblood and TSA management seem to be the only ones truly mishandling this situation, by trying to blame Ramirez for what looks like an honest mistake on the TSA's part. It's time to give Ramirez back his honey, apologize, have Obama invite everyone over for a beer, and move on.

      The real shame is that it's likely the root cause of this is the simple fact that many people don't know a REAL food when they see and smell it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by MartinSchou (1360093)

        3. They opened a bottle [...]

        Well, that part was just incredibly stupid.

        If you are suspecting something bad, why would you want to open the container? If it's an liquid explosive of some sort, how do you know that it won't react badly to the air? It could be sealed in a nitrogen environment. How do you know it's not a biological weapon? Chemical weapon?

        Since the sensors say 'TNT' and your eyes tell you it's not TNT, my gut reaction is to call in a crew that knows what to do with ptentially dangerous substan

      • You're saying the same thing as Youngblood, that the system worked. It didn't. This is a false positive and it is indicative of a broken system. In fact, you have listed the precise failures. First, the luggage swab failed with a false positive. Second, the visual inspection of the luggage failed with a false positive. Third, the olfactory test failed with a false positive. Not only did the system fail, it failed THREE times! Is that supposed to make me feel better? The other option is that this is the syst
        • by natehoy (1608657)

          It is possible for a system to work as designed and still fail under certain extreme conditions. To design a system that is completely immune from failure would be hideously expensive. The current system is designed to eliminate false negatives to enough extent that false positives can and will happen.

          I had a bag test positive once during a routine 100% inspection (Back when they used to do it with you present). I was asked to open the bag, I complied, and the TSA agent put on gloves and (with me present

          • One of my problems with the "There's no way to catch everybody unless we put up with some false positives" argument is that it's a half-truth. The other half of that statement is that statement is of course the fact that they don't catch everybody. The knicker-bomber proved that.

            Until they publish some data on true positives (where they actually caught a bomber in the airport using these methods), there's no way to do a proper economic analysis of hits and misses. For all we know, there could be no true po

            • by natehoy (1608657)

              Good point.

              I'm not a big fan of "Security Theater", personally. It has a deterrent factor, possibly, but it also has a huge deterrent factor to actually flying.

              We solved the major problem of anyone actually being able to direct an airplane into a strategic landmark when we put armored doors in the cockpit. That was a logical, sensible move - if someone means harm, deny them access to the controls.

              About the only thing left that a terrorist can do is kill some passengers on board or, absolute worst case, br

  • No reliable reports of Al Queda links yet.
    • by v1 (525388)

      But the bees stored the honey in terrorist cells

      • by tacarat (696339)
        The bees have also been known to search out flowering plants utilized to make various illicit drugs and poisons.
  • by CyberBill (526285) on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @07:36PM (#30676772)
    "When Transportation Security Administration agents opened one of the bottles and tested the contents, the resulting fumes nauseated them, Youngblood said. Both were treated and released at a local hospital." Does anyone know, off the top of their head, the proper treatment for SMELLING HONEY? What 'fumes' exactly come from honey?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by v1 (525388)

      What 'fumes' exactly come from honey?

      100% psychological of course. They expected to smell something evil, and thus they got sick. Makes no difference what they smelled. No surprise.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by LarryWest42 (220323)

        So... if you believe you have an explosive or chemical weapon or other noxious item ... why would you open up the containers and smell them?

        • by v1 (525388)

          That's also a good point. Like they were trained to know what C4 smells like? lol

          fwiw, touching C4 with your bare hands gets some of the chemical immediately taken in by the skin and gives an almost instant intense migraine.

  • What are they using for a "TNT detector"?

    Actually, that's a serious question. When I've heard these things being described, they're described as a "wipe down", implying at most, one air-stable wipe-on reagent and one on the "wipe cloth".

    An antibody-based specific detector for TNT itself is (reasonably) credible. But of course, it wouldn't detect PETN, or black powder. Or (if I remember my chemistry) the RDX component of C5 "plastique".

    My suspicion, based on records of people doing decades in jail for playin

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