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‘Mock IED’ that led to airport panic likely not ‘anything sinister’: expert

A “mock IED” that led to a security panic at Toronto’s airport, and a criminal mischief charge against an American man, looks far more like a cheap Chinese-made backup power supply than any bomb, according to an electrical engineering expert.

“It’s not obvious that it’s anything sinister, but it’s also not obvious that it’s anything particularly useful,” said William Dunford, professor of electrical engineering at the University of British Columbia, with a focus on power conversion. “It’s not obvious what it is, but the most likely explanation would be that it is some sort of power supply.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection released a striking photograph Monday of the device, which was found on April 6 in a man’s checked luggage as he transited through Pearson International Airport on his way home to Milwaukee from a vacation in Brazil.

In a tweet, the American agency, whose officers discovered the device during a “preclearance” search of the Chicago-bound flight, called it a “mock IED,” or improvised explosive device. Canadian officials repeated that description.

Its discovery led to a four-hour delay as the United Airlines jet sat on the runway, and another four hours as passengers were evacuated, isolated and reprocessed for entry into the United States. Canadian authorities swabbed the device for explosives but found none.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Patrol
U.S. Customs and Border Protection PatrolA mock improvised explosive device that led to delays at Toronto's Pearson International Airport when it was found in a passenger's luggage on April 6. American Joseph Galaska was charged with mischief.

Joseph Galaska, 58, a retired tool-and-die maker, was charged with mischief and held for a bail hearing. He has since been released, and although his case is due in court on Tuesday, he is not required to attend.

In announcing his arrest, Peel Regional Police said they are “investigating the possible motivation behind the incident, such as a trial run.”

Galaska’s wife, Maria Silva, has told ABC News the device is not a bomb but a homemade alarm clock. “It’s a toy, I swear to God, it’s a clock,” she said.

Dunford expressed concern that security officials jumped to conclusions. The device might look sinister, especially with cardboard tubes that might appear to be sticks of dynamite, but those look to him like batteries, of a kind found in any off-the-shelf power drill, the professor said.

“If the question is whether it looks like a bomb, I would say that to the untrained eye you might think that, but certainly those brown tubes look like the batteries I’ve got right in front of me on my desk here,” he said.

“I often do carry circuit boards around for my own purposes, and so if I’m about to be hauled off because they don’t know what it is, I’m interested to know that,” he added.

The professor said that judging by the green capacitors, magnetic components and batteries seen in the photograph, the device looks like a backup power supply, mounted on a commercially produced circuit board, the sort of thing you might discover beneath the plastic casing of a cheap retail product.

The photograph also shows a screen that reads 12A, which could suggest a clock, but it is not obviously connected to everything else.

Dunford looked up the code on the rectangular integrated circuit, labelled 2005AZ, and found it refers to some sort of commercial circuit for controlling displays, which might relate to an array of lights that appear haphazardly arranged, as if cheaply or amateurishly.

“Why it would be packaged like this, I don’t know. It’s a really amateurish thing. However, the circuit board has got printing on it. It looks like it was commercially produced, rather than just a prototype. It’s not that well put together, but it is typical of the sort of thing I’ve seen from Chinese manufacturers.”

“There are odd things,” he added, such as a blue wire in the middle that goes through the hole of a transistor. “You wouldn’t normally do that,” but cheap electronics are economized in all sorts of ways, he said.

The newly published photo is not part of a court file, nor is it formally evidence. It came from American authorities, who are not prosecuting the case against Galaska. His lawyer in Toronto has not even received disclosure of evidence yet from the Crown. At the moment, legally, it is just a tweeted photo.

“It’s Mr. Galaska’s position that he did not commit a criminal offence and he’s going to be defending against this charge,” said lawyer Naomi M. Lutes. “Obviously he’s embarrassed by all the attention and he’s glad to be home.”