An Innocent Pressure Cooker Pays The Price In The War On Terror

from the so-dangerous-it-needed-to-be-blown-up-only-yards-away-from-its-original-location dept

We talk a lot about “disruption” here at Techdirt, although generally not in this context.

Police Lt. Kimberly A. Schneider told The Associated Press that Capitol Police officers on routine patrol spotted the parked, unoccupied vehicle on a street on the mall west of the Capitol around 5 p.m. Sunday.

“Further investigation revealed a pressure cooker, and an odor of gasoline was detected,” Schneider said, adding a Capitol Police bomb squad was called in because the vehicle was deemed “suspicious in nature.”

She said the squad known as the Hazardous Devices Section destroyed “items of concern in the vehicle including the pressure cooker” at about 7:45 p.m. after temporarily closing off the area on the long Memorial Day holiday weekend. She did not immediately identify the other items but said only that “this safe disruption produced a loud ‘bang.’

That’s how the “boots on the ground” War on Terror ends continues: not with the whimpering of surveillance state enthusiasts in legislators’ clothing, but with the “bang” of a “safe disruption.” It also continues with the delivery of witless soundbites from Officer Obvious.

“Odor of gasoline” emanating from a vehicle that operates on gasoline? Do tell. Or how about this, just in case we citizens wonder whether blowing up disrupting common items frequently carried in vehicles is the way it’s just going to be from now on?

Authorities have noted that pressure cookers have been used in the past to create explosive devices.

Presumably, these same authorities can also be counted on to point out that planes have been hijacked in the past, just in case anyone has forgotten the “devices” used in high-profile terrorist attacks on American soil.

While I appreciate the fact that law enforcement officers don’t really have the luxury of gambling with other people’s lives by playing “Bomb or not?” when coming across items like these, there’s a definite lack of restraint in play here. The person who owned the vehicle was located and charged (because how can you not after you’ve smashed his back window, blown up his personal property and, as a last step, performed a “hand search” that turned up nothing suspicious) with “operating after revocation”: driving without a valid license.

Israel Shimeles operates a food truck (SUSPICIOUS!) and moved those items to his parked car to make more room in his truck. He has since apologized and calls his own actions “stupid.” That’s the world we live in today, where a propane tank and a pressure cooker laying in plain sight in a parked vehicle results in destroyed property and apologies from the person who’s now out a pressure cooker, propane tank and rear window.

He also says he’ll “be more careful” in the future. This suggests the “explosive” items will be safely stowed in his food truck or out of sight in a parked vehicle. This will also keep the inherently suspicious items out of the view of passing police officers — the sort of precaution one would assume an actual terrorist would take to ensure his or her “disruption” isn’t “disrupted.”

And let’s not overlook the dissonance of the solution. The items were deemed a threat to others in the crowded National Mall area, but could be safely “disrupted” a few yards away from their original location. While I understand it’s not safe to carry around possible explosives, this fix seems about as respectful of the public’s safety as the TSA’s policy of tossing seized liquids (“potential explosives,” to TSA agents) into nearby trash cans. If something may blow up spectacularly (and dangerously), why is it suddenly “safer” a few feet removed from its origin? Yes, it was a “controlled” detonation, but there’s a lot of incongruity to the visual of the “disruption” tossing debris within a foot or two of the vehicle the supposed bomb was removed from.

I don’t expect authorities to do nothing when spotting possible explosive devices. I’m just disappointed that this is the new standard for “suspicious” items — a mindset that will outlast terrorist-“targeting” government surveillance programs, apparently. Because two people used pressure cookers in their terrorist attack, pressure cookers are now viewed as bombs by default — despite 99.999% of pressure cooker purchases resulting in nothing more than cooked food.

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Comments on “An Innocent Pressure Cooker Pays The Price In The War On Terror”

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102 Comments
tom (profile) says:

If the smell of gasoline was one of the justifications for labeling the vehicle suspicious, then detonating anything near said vehicle was itself an endangerment of public safety since gasoline vapors tend to be somewhat explosive.

Also not sure how the officials justified a ‘driving after revocation’ charge since the car in question was unoccupied at the time. Maybe his brother/sister/random stranger drove it there in exchange for a free food item.

aldestrawk says:

Re: Re:

“Also not sure how the officials justified a ‘driving after revocation’ charge…”

This is why any lawyer will recommend you never, ever, talk to the police. When they interviewed this guy he probably admitted to driving his vehicle and parking it with the leaky explosive device (i.e. gas tank + engine) attached to it. Of course, he had to balance the possibility of being held indefinitely as a material witness while refusing to cooperate against admitting to actually driving the vehicle.

Anonymous Coward says:

parallel construction?

How do we know that a stovetop pressure cooker (a poor choice of pressure vessels, BTW) was really used to make a bomb, and that this story was not just another case of “parallel construction” to avoid revealing to the public (and instructing copycats) how the deadly crime was actually perpetrated?

Akiva (profile) says:

Wrong - blowing up potential bombs is standard practice

In this case your insights are off base. Applying “strong force” to disrupt a potential explosive device without risking the bomb squad trying to disassemble and or disarm, at literal risk of life and limb, is standard practice. The point is to apply a moderate force to destroy either the triggering mechanism or the primer mechanism.

For example in Israel they have an armored drone/robot with a 12 gauge shotgun with buckshot, that rolls up and shoots the potential bomb. Big bang, but not setting off of actual explosives if it’s a bomb.

aldestrawk says:

Re: Wrong - blowing up potential bombs is standard practice

“dangerous objects” are left behind in all sorts of public places every day. Law enforcement has to balance detonating every single one of these against what is potentially a real threat. It’s paranoia versus common sense. I do give our government, and local police forces, some credit for not blowing up any and all shoes left unattended in public playgrounds.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Wrong - blowing up potential bombs is standard practice

In this case your insights are off base. Applying “strong force” to disrupt a potential explosive device without risking the bomb squad trying to disassemble and or disarm, at literal risk of life and limb, is standard practice. The point is to apply a moderate force to destroy either the triggering mechanism or the primer mechanism.

This is absolutely correct, the standard response to “I think this is a bomb” is sadly, “Lets blow it up to see if it is a bomb.” No, “Jeesh, this may not be a bomb, in a matter of fact, it is 99% certainty of not being one, lets check to make sure.” No, “I wonder who owns this car, maybe we should check with them to see if this may be a bomb.”

Whether the standard response is correct in all circumstances is exactly what this article is about. His insights are spot on.

When I was a lot younger (before 9/11,) I was sitting in a football stadium with a good friend at a sibling’s graduation ceremony. His girlfriend was graduating, and we were both there early enough to get good seats. He decided to go and buy some flowers as a present for his girlfriend, and left his backpack sitting on the seat next to me. Within seconds of him leaving, two passing police officers jumped at the opportunity to “search his backpack for explosives”. When they grabbed it, I told them immediately that it was my friend’s backpack, that he had just left to buy flowers for his girlfriend and didn’t want to take the backpack with, and that I was watching it for him. They ignored me, searched his backpack (illegally, I might add, since they didn’t have legal authority to do so as it wasn’t legally abandoned,) and finding nothing, left. I told my friend when he returned, and he laughed, wondering if they enjoyed looking at his change of clothes (which were the only things in the bag.)

Years later (after 9/11,) at the airport, I noticed a piece of luggage left unattended for quite some time just outside the terminal. I brought it to the attention of the police officer, and he picked up the luggage and brought it into the terminal in order to find any identifying information to contact the person who obviously had lost it (obvious to the officer.)

Looking back on both incidents, neither incident turned out to warrant any sort of extreme response. Neither the backpack nor the luggage contained an explosive. Yet, according to standard policy, both bags should have been destroyed by the bomb squad to determine if the bags contained explosives. Extreme, and hardly justifiable or even reasonable.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Wrong - blowing up potential bombs is standard practice

As has already been pointed out, the false positive rate on practices like this is enormous.

But there’s a complementary problem: the false negative rate. Every time some idiotic, moronic, braindead, incompetent pigs do something like this, they’re providing useful operational intelligence to adversaries: they’re explaining exactly how to create false negative errors.

As in: “Just put the pressure cookers in the trunk, because then they’re not visible and the car won’t get broken into and searched”.

Or: “Put the pressure cookers in plain view, watch from a distance, and detonate them AFTER the cops move them to a location where they can inflict many more casualties.”

Or: “Put the pressure cooker full of nothing in plain view, and while they’re busy with that, set off the real bomb — the one that’s behind them.”

It really is possible to “be too careful” in this circumstance and thereby make the future more dangerous than today. Nuanced, careful, balanced reasoning is necessary here — but of course what we get from the pigs is “let’s blow stuff up!”

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Just a modest question

How many false negatives do we get nationwide every year? Does someone have a stat on it? Lives lost? Are they more dangerous than coke machines?

Heck, how many true positives do we get? I’d think that such victories would be espoused and celebrated since we’re desperate to show success and progress in the war on terror.

I suspect the drama and trauma to ordinary lives due to false positives is far, far more injurious than those saved by true positives and those lost to false negatives combined. But I’d be happy to see some statistics that prove me wrong.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Just a modest question

That’s a great point. I don’t know the numbers.

But I do know that while we could (possibly) measure the number of false negatives by collating reports from every police agency in the country, that number — whatever it is — doesn’t allow us to asses the consequences.

The reason is that the consequences won’t be known until something bad happens because those who arranged it learned enough to pull off whatever-it-is that they did. And even then, we may be able to connect that incident back to all the false positives — unless, of course, the perpetrators tell us, and well, even then…we’ll have reason to doubt them.

So much of the farsical anti-terror strategies and tactics used in the US are predicated on the unspoken assumption that adversaries are stupid and careless. And some of them are, which is a good thing. But not all. Keep in mind that on 9/11 adversaries successfully attacked US military headquarters despite not having any military weapons at their disposal, despite not having well-trained, experienced pilots, despite plenty of advance warning, despite everything. Think what you want about them but they outsmarted our best.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 That they outsmarted our best, and that our best was careless and inobservant

is not only our most likely scenario (in contrast to saboteurs on the inside, MIHOP or LIHOP) but is also the worst possible scenario.

The barbarian hordes didn’t just shamble to our gates, but didn’t have to try too hard to knock them down.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 That they outsmarted our best, and that our best was careless and inobservant

… is not only our most likely scenario … but is also the worst possible scenario.

I question just about everything you said there. “Our best” back then, along with pretty much everyone else, understood that the chances of getting killed in a terrorist attack in continental USA was miniscule compared to other far more likely ways of being killed (traffic accidents). Hence, the authorities knew that they needn’t bother much about that possibility and were free to fight the far more personally satisfying Drug War instead. Add to that all the agencies were hoarding intel, not sharing, and any sufficiently annoyed teenager could walk rings around them, and had been for years (cf. Columbine).

Bin Laden pulled 9/11 because it could be done easily with very little money and minimal training (they signed up for flying lessons; they didn’t bother learning how to land).

If the feds weren’t so preoccupied with the Drug War, they might have found time to actually protect the country from terrorist attacks. After all, 9/11 was not the first attack on the towers. They’d already failed (?) with a prior truck bomb attack. Oh well.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem applies here.

In an open system it is going to be impossible to cover every contingency. Someone who thinks long enough and hard enough and is determined to address every obstacle in order to launch such an attack will be able to do so.

As we step up security measures, they have diminishing returns in terms of cost of resources, convenience and freedoms for the safety gained. And we’re raising questions now regarding the effectiveness of all the post 9/11 measures we’ve taken. The TSA, the FBI anti-terror efforts, the War on Terror and the mass surveillance program all look like some very expensive Tiger-Repellant Rocks rather than effective measures to counter terror.

My guess is that we should protect our planes (and whatever other sensitive resources we have) with enough security to fend off the rampages and idiots, and then suffer the occasional mad genius that succeeds, knowing that they’re rare and that it takes a lot of time and effort to plan such an attack. Keep calm and carry the fuck on.

The problem there is that we’re not very good at moving on from high-drama catastrophes like that, whether it’s 9/11 or rampage killings or an industrial accident or a natural disaster. So we focus far more energy on those things that might kill us in a high-profile way, than those things that might kill us in a pedestrian way (e.g. utilizing municipal crosswalks as a pedestrian).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Wrong - blowing up potential bombs is standard practice

Saying it is standard practice is the same as saying they were just following orders. Neither should get the individual off of the hook.

If they were truly worried about car bombs, then they should have closed the street to parking during Memorial Day Weekend. If not, then there was no reason to treat a pressure cooker like a bomb. Just because a pressure cooker has been used to house a bomb, doesn’t mean all pressure cookers are suspect. I’m pretty sure cell phones have been used to detonate bombs, are all cell phones suspicious? There have been lots of car bombs in the past, why weren’t all cars suspicious. We still have a forth amendment and being suspicious is not enough due process.

What should have happened was.

1) Officer spots pressure cooker and gets nervous.
2) Officer contacts superiors while attempting to locate owner of car and possibly cordoning off the area.
3) By cross referencing DMV data with food truck license data, pressure cooker is no longer suspicious, but a propane tank in a hot car may be worrisome.
4) If they are unable to contact the owner of the car, breaking into the car to remove the propane tank to a cooler location may be justified. However, since it would not be suspicious, the city would likely have to pay for a new window.
5) If the police were able to locate the owner of the vehicle, they should have been very careful not to hear him say anything about driving without a license and instead should have said things like, “Good thing you didn’t drive this car without a license.” A few times. It would have been reasonable to ask him to come remove the propane tank since it was making people nervous.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Wrong - blowing up potential bombs is standard practice

OP
“And let’s not overlook the dissonance of the solution. The items were deemed a threat to others in the crowded National Mall area, but could be safely “disrupted” a few yards away from their original location. While I understand it’s not safe to carry around possible explosives, this fix seems about as respectful of the public’s safety as the TSA’s policy of tossing seized liquids (“potential explosives,” to TSA agents) into nearby trash cans. If something may blow up spectacularly (and dangerously), why is it suddenly “safer” a few feet removed from its origin?”

“after temporarily closing off the area on the long Memorial Day holiday weekend.”

I don’t really see the dissonance. I would argue it’s safer and much quicker to clear the area than attempt to move an explosive around.

ltlw0lf (profile), May 28th, 2015 @ 8:54am
“When we used propane in our forklifts, they were stored in a propane tank outside of the passenger portion of the forklift, so that leaking propane would dissipate harmlessly into the environment.”

Which makes sense because you don’t want to create a combustible air to gas mixture.

aldestrawk (profile), May 28th, 2015 @ 7:38am
“he probably admitted to driving his vehicle and parking it with the leaky explosive device”

If true then this person knew a potentially dangerous vehicle was being parked someplace that it could be a danger to others and did nothing to stop it. In so doing they potentially put themselves, and everyone else, at risk.

The police sensed a possibly dangerous situation and sought to mitigate the potential danger. They were mistaken but I would still argue that safety is more important than the items in the vehicle, the police had a reason for concern here, and they were acting to keep everyone safe. Had it been the other way around, had the vehicle exploded and hurt someone, everyone and their mother including techdirt would be complaining about how the police suspected a possible danger and didn’t act according to protocol to handle the situation.

mcinsand (profile) says:

I need to be more suspicious!

A few years ago, I helped to clean out a friend’s mother’s house, and I threw away about a half dozen pressure cookers. My sister-in-law was shocked that I would do so, given that there is apparently a very high interest in classic pressure cookers. She claimed that people refurbish them with new seals and use them to cook food. Thanks to our law enforcement, I’m starting to wonder just what these people are really up to. Imagine if I had kept them and sold them on eBay! I’d be rotting in jail, no doubt!

Nicholas Weaver (profile) says:

Not an overreaction...

This is not the typical “oh its a suspicious package” overreaction. This was a parked car, on the capital mall, with a pressure cooker in view.

Pressure cookers ARE bombs by design: as pressure bombs go (aka pipe bombs), pressure cookers are up there, with way more punch than an ordinary pipe bomb but slightly less punch than a fire extinguisher.

Not only that, but you can easily build a pressure cooker bomb that doesn’t have an external igniter but a timer in the bomb itself, so it doesn’t look any different from a pressure cooker. In fact, for a timer-based bomb, its easier to do that way.

So this was far more reasonable than the typical “its a mystery box, call the bomb squad” reaction, but what I would want the capital police to do in this situation.

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

Re: Not an overreaction...

I agree that this article is rather hysterical, esp. considering the last paragraph of the article:

Three people were killed and more than 260 others wounded in April 2013 when two pressure-cooker bombs were set off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

The real question is was the food truck owner compensated for his destroyed property? That’s where the true injustice lies.

aldestrawk says:

Re: Not an overreaction...

I’ll bet you that there were, at least, several other objects in that car related to cooking. Objects, the police are being coy about describing now. Also, it would have been awfully easy to cover the pressure cooker so it was not easily visible. Same potential danger. Any terrorist who isn’t a total moron would have covered it up. If a terrorist merely put a detonator on the gas tank that could be as dangerous. My point is that common sense would direct you to looking at the entirety of the situation. After all, restaurant kitchens are being invaded to destroy all pressure cookers. Also, why couldn’t they have contacted the owner first, while maintaining a cordoned off area around the vehicle?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Not an overreaction...

A more sane approach would have been to clear the area, run the plates and attempt to contact the owner of the vehicle to try to figure out IF there is a reason to be alarmed or not before you go destroying people’s personal property.

Furthermore, the charge they arrested him for appears to be a bullshit excuse to pin SOMETHING on him to make him look bad. “Operating after revocation”, of what exactly? Was he selling food from his truck after the health department had pulled it or are they trying to claim he had been driving after his driver’s license had been revoked. Did they actually witness either of these things occurring or were they just fishing for something to charge him with to claim he’s a bad guy so that they could claim their actions were justified? My bet is the latter.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Not an overreaction...

Let’s think about this logically. The owner of the car also owns a food truck. The car I would suppose has a license plate that is likely registered to the owner. You would think that the first thing the police would do after making sure the area was clear, would be to run that plate to find out who the owner is. If the owner runs a food truck, I would presume that he has to have some sort of permit from the city health department to operate that food truck and that would likely turn up in that search. Then you would have to ask yourself why police would continue to think that a pressure cooker in a parked car owned by the operator of a food truck would still be suspicious. Either 1. the police were too lazy to look anything up, 2. their computer network/database is basically useless, and/or 3. these police too incompetent to investigate anything.

Adam (profile) says:

Re: Not an overreaction...

Seriously? What property did you just describe does not apply to every device that can be made? Let’s call this pressure cooker a cardboard box… or let’s call it flower vase… or a jack in the box. The bottom line is that a visual inspection of an ordinary item does not indicate nefarious activity. A pressure cooker in a car in plain sight deserves no action, let alone an overreaction. By this type of logic let’s hope that terrorists don’t start using cars in general to blow things up… oh wait.. yeah, that already happens.. I suppose they should just blow up every unattended vehicle in the mall parking lot.. after all that trunk might be totally loaded with you know a pressurized spare tire that could explode any moment.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Not an overreaction...

“Pressure cookers ARE bombs by design:”

Aren’t they cooking tools by design?

This sounds a lot like high school, when I got in trouble for owning a metal ruler because I could sharpen the edge into a blade and use it as a weapon, and got in trouble again for pointing out that I could achieve similar results for far less effort with a pair of scissors or a pen.

If prison has taught us anything, it’s that humans are cunning and resourceful tool users, and ANYTHING can be a weapon if the owner is desperate enough.

JP Jones (profile) says:

Re: Not an overreaction...

A couple questions…

1. Why would you consider a pressure cooker a bomb by design? Aren’t they designed to cook food?

2. If you were going to blow up people with a pressure cooker (or anything else) why would you leave your bomb in plain view?

3. Why not blow up the car instead, which happens to be filled with gasoline?

Just curious. Having gone through numerous classes on IED (improvised explosive device) identification I do not recall “cooking device in plain view” as an indicator. Recently dug holes, dead animals with wires coming out of them, a single pothole that is filled in around other potholes with discoloration in the road nearby…there are plenty of IED indicators out there, admittedly applying to a combat zone where IEDs are relatively common.

But a cooker sitting in the back of someone’s car? I must have missed that class. Where did you get that training? My guess is from your own fantasy world near your anti-zombie preparations.

Anonymous Coward says:

surprised they didn’t blow up the car considering it could have been a bomb instead of just the cooker inside. Nothing like the let people wielding weapons of war make choices with fear ruling their thoughts.

If it was a terror plot for some reason I am more inclined to think its another fake plot designed by the FBI than any real extremist plot

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Do you realize the ridiculous level of heat that would have to be built up in a car in order for that to be an issue. Propane tanks have to be able to handle a pretty ridiculously high level of pressure for that very reason. I honestly don’t think the interior of a car on a hot day is capable of causing enough of an increase in pressure to compromise that unless something is seriously wrong with the tank – and there is more than one reason those tanks are usually exchanged and not simply refilled for you. It not only makes it easier and more efficient, but it also allow the tanks to be tested and replaced if they don’t meet the standards.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Don’t think about ignition point of propane. Instead, imagine a vehicle filled with propane vapour. Just opening the door could trigger a small spark of static electricity, turning said vehicle into a bomb.

It took a long time for us to twig to the fact that cars turning into infernos at gas stations were being set off because said vehicles were being filled by people who were fiddling with their keys or digging into the vehicle for something while fuel was being loaded.

Oregon still won’t let you pump your own gas. I’m not sure that’s wrong thinking, considering the potentials involved. Not that your average pump jockey is that much better, but I’d prefer to be at the till paying if it did decide the time was right.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“Just opening the door could trigger a small spark of static electricity, turning said vehicle into a bomb.”

Not so much, really. It could turn the vehicle into a fireball, but not a bomb. Propane is not a high explosive, so to make a bomb with it requires a container that is sealed much more tightly than a car with a door cracked open.

(I speak from personal experience here, having lost an RV to propane system malfunction that filled it with propane.)

bureau13 (profile) says:

I’m going to agree with the (apparent) minority here, and say that this wasn’t really much of an over-reaction. You’re definitely overstating how common it is to find a car parked and left with a propane tank and pressure cooker inside, especially in a place like the capital mall. Also, you make the “controlled disruption” of the “device” sound like the resulting explosion was in some way similar to what you would get if an actual pressure cooker bomb had been set off, and that’s simply not true. I also agree with the poster who wondered how the owner could be charged with operating a vehicle when he was nowhere near the area. Perhaps he copped to it, but if not, no way that stands.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

How to be really really safe

Does this mean that every law enforcement officer in the US has instructed their significant other to toss out any pressure cookers in their own households?

I can see it now, Officer Friendly comes home for dinner, sees pressure cooker on stove top, calls bomb squad and evacuates family. The reward is no dinner that night.

Anonymous Coward says:

Want to know what else pressure cookers have been used for?

Authorities have noted that pressure cookers have been used in the past to create explosive devices.

They have been known to cook a nice pot roast too. In fact, they have cooked so many more pot roasts than bombs that the odds of them being used as a bomb can’t even be calculated they are so small.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Want to know what else pressure cookers have been used for?

In fact, they have cooked so many more pot roasts than bombs …

The last I heard, there are two handguns (?) for every US citizen. How many of them are used in the commission of a crime? Just as vanishingly small a percentage. What are cops absolutely paranoid about? Guns. Reach for your cellphone or your wallet, and they’ll shoot you assuming you’re going for a gun.

Cops are very good at over-reacting. It takes very little to get them to do it. I often wonder if it’s in the job description.

JustShutUpAndObey says:

It wasn't a pressure cooker

Most of the media (and the “authorities”) keep repeating it was a pressure cooker, however, the owner and several local news stations have pointed out that it was in fact a RICE COOKER. I suppose all cooking utensils look the same when you see threats everywhere.

DogBreath says:

Re: Re: It wasn't a pressure cooker

Here is one:

Owner of Suspicious Car Carrying Rice Cooker Calls Capitol Scare a Misunderstanding

The man who triggered a security scare on Capitol Hill says it’s a big misunderstanding. He says it was a rice cooker from his food truck that caused concern yesterday on the National Mall. His car was found on 3rd Street just blocks from the Capitol and reeking of gasoline. News 4’s Chris Gordon spoke to the owner today.

Updated at 9:27 PM EDT on Monday, May 25, 2015

A man whose vehicle carrying a rice cooker and propane tank triggered a scare on Capitol Hill Sunday afternoon called it a big misunderstanding.

Israel Shimeles of Alexandria, Virginia, told News4 he is a law-abiding citizen.

U.S. Capitol Police smelled gas coming from his vehicle parked near the U.S. Capitol and called in the bomb squad. They broke out the back window, removed the rice cooker and propane tank and disrupted them with explosives.

Shimeles said he understands they needed to protect the crowd gathering for the evening Memorial Day concert.

A bomb squad safely destroyed a pressure cooker found in a “suspicious” vehicle left unattended Sunday afternoon on the National Mall near the U.S. Capitol building and the vehicle’s owner was located and arrested, a U.S. Capitol Police spokeswoman said. (Published Monday, May 25, 2015)

“Right in front of the Capitol, of course I would have done the same thing,” he said. “You know I would have freaked out and I would have done the same thing.”

Shimeles said he operates a food truck. He needed space in it so he removed the rice cooker and a propane tank and put them in his car. They were in the car when he parked near the Capitol.

“I just happened to be there,” he said. “I should have thought about it a little bit more. You know, if I had to do it again, absolutely I would have been a little more careful.”

Shimeles said he’s sorry for delaying anyone trying to get to the Memorial Day concert.

He was cited for driving on a suspended license.

Authorities have noted that pressure cookers have been used in the past to create explosive devices. Three people were killed and more than 260 others wounded in April 2013 when two pressure-cooker bombs were set off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

Authorities have also noted that x-rayed Nintendo video games look like three sticks of dynamite, so they have that going for them…

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Propane tanks and hot cars

Since a number of commenters brought up that it’s dangerous to store a propane tank in a hot car, I did a little research on the question. I was interested because there are numerous permanent propane tanks installed outdoors in areas that can reach crazy high temperatures during the summer… so what is the actual danger?

It turns out that there is a bit of risk, but not of the type that I imagined. Heating propane tanks cause the propane to expand, which increases internal pressure. If that pressure gets too high, then a relief valve opens allowing the propane to escape the vessel.

So the danger of storing a propane tank in a hot car is not catastrophic explosion. It’s that the tank may fill your car with propane, which is clearly an extreme fire risk. Good to avoid, but (relatively) harmless to things outside the car.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Propane tanks and hot cars

Does that also apply to cars and trucks that are fueled by propane? Or any other pressurized fuel for that matter?

I remember growing up my school district tried several school buses fueled by propane. These were retrofit kits installed on existing buses. The next state safety inspection for those buses resulted in a threat to decertify those buses if the propane kits were not removed. Turns out the laws at that time did not allow propane to be used as a motor fuel on a school bus. Since then the laws have changed and now I see propane fueled school buses all over the place.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Propane tanks and hot cars

I remember growing up my school district tried several school buses fueled by propane. These were retrofit kits installed on existing buses. The next state safety inspection for those buses resulted in a threat to decertify those buses if the propane kits were not removed. Turns out the laws at that time did not allow propane to be used as a motor fuel on a school bus. Since then the laws have changed and now I see propane fueled school buses all over the place.

Most buses are fueled with LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) which is different than propane.

When we used propane in our forklifts, they were stored in a propane tank outside of the passenger portion of the forklift, so that leaking propane would dissipate harmlessly into the environment. I believe the buses that use LP (Liquified Propane) do the same, usually storing the propane in the same place that LNG buses do (on the roof or outside of the passenger compartment,) but I would have to confirm this since my knowledge of the subject is a few years old.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Propane tanks and hot cars

It turns out that there is a bit of risk, but not of the type that I imagined. Heating propane tanks cause the propane to expand, which increases internal pressure. If that pressure gets too high, then a relief valve opens allowing the propane to escape the vessel.

The most dangerous place to store a propane tank, on a hot day, is inside your house or garage (and less of a risk inside a car.) You should never place a propane tank in an enclosed space, because it may release propane even without being a hot day, but the risk is rarely the tank itself exploding. You are more likely to have problems with lack of oxygen entering an enclosed area with a propane release than you are with fire danger, since propane, being heavier than air, tends to push oxygen out of the enclosed space (same issue with CO2 and other liquified air tanks.) Which is why you should never drive with a propane tank inside the vehicle.

Most people don’t think about the danger, but there tend to be a lot of things that have an open flame (pilot light) in both locations, and a release of pressure as a safety mechanism for a tank may result in the propane released igniting, causing a fire and burning down a house.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

“Odor of gasoline” emanating from a vehicle that operates on gasoline? Do tell.

Seriously?

I’m sorry, but that’s so wrong it’s not even right enough to be properly wrong. It’s so wrong it makes me ask “has the person who wrote this ever driven or even ridden in a gasoline-powered vehicle?”

Because anyone with actual experience with motor vehicles can tell you that if you smell gas and you’re anywhere other than at a gas station (or knowingly working with a gas can), your immediate assumption should be that something’s wrong and you’re in danger. Gas tanks (and the entire fuel system) are sealed air-tight for a reason, and said reason can be summed up rather succinctly with the word “KABOOM!

As several people have already pointed out, the response to this was entirely appropriate, and if it was a genuine mistake as the guy claims, then he’s quite right that he did something stupid.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

More likely than not this mysterious “odor of gasoline” is akin to the “odor of pot” that is often recalled when the police need to justify the search of a vehicle. It magically appears in the officer’s memory of the incident after the fact despite no other evidence to suggest that it was ever really there in the first place.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Really? If I go to work, or a grocery store, or a restaurant or whatever, and I walk around in the parking lot, I don’t smell gasoline. I’m surrounded by cars, but I don’t smell gas, not even “a little but not so much that it makes me think there’s a problem.” I know that if I smelled even a little from my car, I’d immediately take it to the dealership and have someone look at it. But that’s just me, I guess.

DCL says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

In parking lots I occasionally get a whiff of gas that seem to come from parked cars that date back to the 90’s.

If it was a newer car (last 10 years) then smelling gas does increase the suspicion but there are other things that it could be. I know a number of people that don’t understand why you shouldn’t “top off after the click” and spill gas on the car on a regular occurrence. It takes a while to dissipate.

Don’t forget classic cars… you know those before emissions standards?

Ambrellite (profile) says:

SOP stupidity

It’s standard practice–and it’s pointless.

Let’s be frank: for someone motivated to build an explosive device, it isn’t hard, even with all of the barriers that have been put in place. That’s precisely what the Boston bombing demsonstrated. Like the restrictions on carry on luggage, these activities only provide an illusion of security, but we accept them because the impact is limited to those who bumble into the security net.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: it was just a backpack near the finish line...

Not an open excuse to search all backpacks. Not an excuse to assume every pressure cooker is a bomb.

In fact, how many people have been injured or killed by bombs over the last ten years. Let’s compare that to, say, motor vehicles, tobacco, heart attacks, bathtubs and vending machines.

I suspect that bombs are closer to vending machines than motor vehicle collisions.

dr evil says:

FTFY and ramblings

correct non-bomb percentage is closer to 99.999999 percent
number of bombs discovered after BM is closer to 0.000000 percent. if containing pressure is the goal, a scuba tank is a far, far better device housing, albiet harder to assemble but the cooll factor is there – guy in scuba flippers and wearing a tank on his back is not suspicious. All of my cars have a faint odor of gasoline – esp after fueling – and the vintage ones, it is a requirement. I would still bill the police for the damage. and finally, slightly off topic, everyone charged with a crime from now on should ask, in court and depositions both, point blank: was there any parallel construction in this case? maybe snag a few folks for perjury later. (although DOJ and other gov’t personnel can just be assumed to be lying, forgetful, ignorant, or misinformed)

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