A bomb disposal squad was called to the entrance of the Strasbourg Saint-Denis metro station in central Paris late on December 30 where they preemptively blew up a gadget with wires and antennae, reports Le Parisien. However, the gadget was later identified as an IMSI-catcher, a surveillance tool that mimics the functions of a regular mobile network to gather data and intercept communications from phones in the vicinity. Per Le Parisien, with my translation into English:
La direction des renseignements ont été informée car ce caisson suspect serait un dispositif servant à la collecte de renseignements électroniques.
The Intelligence Directorate was informed because the suspicious case was believed to be a device that collects electronic intelligence.
The device was discovered when the police stopped a lone woman driver who failed a drugs test. She was found not to be the legal owner of the car she was driving. Police then saw several mobile phones and a small white box with multiple antennae on the back seat. The white box had a wire that ran through the seat to a crate in the boot that contained the IMSI-catcher. The bomb disposal team executed a controlled explosion but subsequently concluded the device contained no explosive materials. Photographs shared on social media by journalist Amaury Bucco indicate how the equipment was arranged within the car.
The ultimate press reaction to this story was: phew, it was not a bomb. But then their reaction should have been: who is driving around Paris, late at night and high on drugs, with a sophisticated radio device that spies on people’s phones? Seemingly none of them thought to ask.