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Worn Circuit Boards as Art -- in Airports:

The AP reports:

An MIT student wearing what turned out to be a fake bomb was arrested at gunpoint Friday at Logan International Airport and later claimed it was artwork, officials said.

Star Simpson, 19, had a computer circuit board and wiring in plain view over a black hooded sweatshirt she was wearing, said State Police Maj. Scott Pare, the commanding officer at the airport.

"She said that it was a piece of art and she wanted to stand out on career day," Pare said at a news conference. "She claims that it was just art, and that she was proud of the art and she wanted to display it."

Simpson was charged with disturbing the peace and possessing a hoax device. A not guilty plea was entered for her and she was released on $750 bail....

I'm not sure quite what it means to say that this was "a fake bomb." I haven't seen a photo [UPDATE: thanks to reader rbj, here's a link], and I'm not sure whether the student intended the circuit board to make at least some people think for at least some time that there's at least some chance that the board was part of a bomb. Still, it does sound like the sort of thing that airport security people should investigate, just in case, and the sort of thing that should be prohibited in airports given the disruption that it's likely to cause.

Some people have asked whether bomb jokes of various sorts are constitutionally protected in airports. I think the answer is that they generally can be punished, even if they aren't intended to be threats. They would be false statements of fact said with reckless disregard of the possibility that they would be believed, and would thus fit within the same false statements of fact exception that authorizes punishment of libel, fraud, perjury, false statements to the police, and the like.

True, in most situations jokes are not punishable when it's clear to most people that the statement is probably a joke, and not a factual assertion. That's why parody and humor is protected against (among other things) libel or slander liability even when it's literally false. But in a context where security people have to react even to small risks that a statement is a factual assertion and not a joke, it makes sense to allow the prohibition of even slightly ambiguous jokes.

Here, though, it's not clear whether any such analysis would even be necessary (which is important for the government, since the student might have been subjectively unaware of the risk that her circuit board would be interpreted as part of a bomb; such subjective unawareness of risk would likely take her statement out of the criminally punishable false statements of fact category). Here's a relevant passage from Rumsfeld v. FAIR, the Solomon Amendment case:

Having rejected the view that the Solomon Amendment impermissibly regulates speech, we must still consider whether the expressive nature of the conduct regulated by the statute brings that conduct within the First Amendment's protection. In United States v. O'Brien, we recognized that some forms of "'symbolic speech'" were deserving of First Amendment protection. But we rejected the view that "conduct can be labeled 'speech' whenever the person engaging in the conduct intends thereby to express an idea." Instead, we have extended First Amendment protection only to conduct that is inherently expressive....

Unlike flag burning, the conduct regulated by the Solomon Amendment is not inherently expressive. Prior to the adoption of the Solomon Amendment's equal-access requirement, law schools "expressed" their disagreement with the military by treating military recruiters differently from other recruiters. But these actions were expressive only because the law schools accompanied their conduct with speech explaining it. For example, the point of requiring military interviews to be conducted on the undergraduate campus is not "overwhelmingly apparent." An observer who sees military recruiters interviewing away from the law school has no way of knowing whether the law school is expressing its disapproval of the military, all the law school's interview rooms are full, or the military recruiters decided for reasons of their own that they would rather interview someplace else.

The expressive component of a law school's actions is not created by the conduct itself but by the speech that accompanies it. The fact that such explanatory speech is necessary is strong evidence that the conduct at issue here is not so inherently expressive that it warrants protection under O'Brien....

Likewise, it looks like wearing a circuit board would not be treated as "inherently expressive" for First Amendment purposes.

Thanks to Victor Steinbok for the pointer.

Tony Tutins (mail):
She wore the sweatshirt with protoboard attached (causing LEDs to light up) for Career Day at MIT. Then she went to the airport to pick up her boyfriend. When she went to an info counter to ask when his flight was coming in, police were called.

Because everyone knows from Grey's Anatomy, that bombs strapped to a person have flashing lights, the coed was arrested.
9.24.2007 2:17pm
rbj:
Here's a link to an image of it:

http://boingboing.net/images/cfa4827569_20070921device3.jpg

This young lady at the very least is lacking some common sense. And as "art" it is really poor as well.
9.24.2007 2:18pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
I should have added that she used the circuit board to show her technical prowess, and impress the recruiters.
9.24.2007 2:21pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Art, huh?

How about trying to provoke the rednecks? How about trying to get attention? How about not being so stupid as to think this is a good idea in an airport post-9-11?

She's an MIT student. The defense of irretrievable ignorance on account of being a humanities major at a small liberal arts college doesn't apply.

How about being so stupid that she thinks the art defense will work?
9.24.2007 2:23pm
KevinQ (mail) (www):
Also, according to early reports, she asked an information person if a certain flight had landed. The information clerk gave her the answer, and then asked her about the circuit board on her chest. Instead of answering, she turned around and walked out of the airport. The clerk thought it was suspicious, and called security.

As one not given to granting the benefit of the doubt to government officials, I still feel that everybody at the airport (other than the defendant) behaved appropriately. They identified a possible threat, responded with force, and didn't shoot an innocent woman.

K
9.24.2007 2:26pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
I'm surprised that the Aqua Teen Hunger Force Lite-Brite incident did not teach police in Boston that LED circuitry does not automatically equal bomb.

My wife has some flashing LED Christmas earrings that look like tree lights. Thank god we don't fly through Boston at Christmas, or she'd have to worry about Boston's finest pointing H&Ks at her.
9.24.2007 2:28pm
Temp Guest (mail):
A fellow student described the young lady as somewhat of an "idiot savant". Others might use the term geek or nerd. She'll make a good electrical engineer someday but is obviously deficient in common sense and higher level interpersonal skills. I've known a large number of MIT students and alumni and many of them fit this description. Thoughtlessly bad and dangerous behavior on the part of MIT students is not rare. (Just a few weeks ago a sponge of sodium metal -- evidently dropped into the Charles River as part of a student prank -- seriously injured several people who wree clearing trash from the river.) If I were the judge in this case I'd have a tough time fixing an appropriate sentence.
9.24.2007 2:31pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
What amount of common sense would prompt the girl to ask herself, "Hey, maybe this outfit makes me look like a terrorist. I should probably go home and change before I go to the airport." She wasn't planning to go through security. Heck, she might not have even expected to go in the terminal; that her boyfriend should have been standing on the curb.
9.24.2007 2:37pm
MIT student (mail):
She was not trying to bring a "fake bomb." This thing looked NOTHING like a bomb. It was a breadboard, a few wires, a few LEDs, and a battery. The LEDs formed a lit-up shape. Anyone with minimal sophistication would know that this was not a bomb. The fact that she is being charged with a crime, and that newspapers are breathlessly reporting how stupid she is, reflects far more on society than on her.
9.24.2007 2:49pm
rjh:
The Boston police and prosecutors have shown little common sense in the past. After the Moonite incident (where Boston was the only city out of 34 to panic when faced with advertising) the Boston police destroyed highway department traffic monitoring equipment, thinking it was a bomb. Previously they charged a political protester dressed like the Abu Graib picture of the hooded prisoner with wires attached to their hands. The Boston police panic easily.

In this case, it makes sense to stop and investigate. The failure to answer is no surprise given the extremely noisy terminal. I doubt she heard the question (if it was asked). But the charge is silly. The appropriate response is for the police to point out to her that wearing toys at the airport is not sensible.

The law requires that a "hoax device" must be made with the intention of causing fear of a bomb by a reasonable observer. This one fails the intention test, and should fail the reasonable observer test. When examined up close it is clearly a harmless LED toy.

Further complicating matters is the internal warfare between various law enforcement organizations. The details remain hidden, but at present the Boston Police and the County DA are fighting over which organization should investigate murders. There are clearly some major administrative problems at work. The issue around murder investigations is likely just the tip of the iceberg.
9.24.2007 2:53pm
rlb:
I can buy the circuit board and flashing lights as art-- but what about the play-doh?
9.24.2007 2:57pm
JK:
I can't believe anyone would legitimately believe that this thing looks like a bomb. The idea that this is what airport personel think a bomb looks like seriously scary. A breadboard with flashing lights? This story belongs in the Onion.
9.24.2007 3:05pm
TerrencePhilip:
yeah, well, does the Second Amendment mean nothing anymore?
9.24.2007 3:07pm
rarango (mail):
May I inquire how many people posting about "not looking like a bomb" have actually seen a home made bomb? Circuitry notwithstanding, C-4 and play doh look exactly alike FWIW.
9.24.2007 3:10pm
WHOI Jacket:
I take it any future jihadist reading the internets will duely place some LEDs on their bombs because "there not supposed to be there. Of course they should have known it wasn't a bomb".

She's lucky she didn't get iced.
9.24.2007 3:18pm
rbj:
I'm surprised that the Aqua Teen Hunger Force Lite-Brite incident did not teach police in Boston that LED circuitry does not automatically equal bomb.

Tony,

It's not that the police would automatically think "bomb", but rather that there is a possibility of it being a bomb and thus needs to be investigated. The default is no longer "don't worry about it unless it is a bomb", but rather "worry about it until you know it isn't a bomb."

No one thought about shoes being bombs until Richard Reid.
9.24.2007 3:18pm
r78:
More idiocy from those who serve and protect us.
9.24.2007 3:19pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
I can buy the circuit board and flashing lights as art-- but what about the play-doh?

What play-doh? All I see is a circuit board, a few wires and LEDs and a 9-volt battery.
9.24.2007 3:19pm
ejo:
if you can't get on a plane with a 3.1 oz. container of toothpaste, do you think a bunck of circuitry with play doh will not, at least, raise eyebrows or warrant further investigation. even pre-9/11, this would have drawn a reaction. she's lucky she didn't catch a bullet for this stupidity.
9.24.2007 3:20pm
WHOI Jacket:
I think she was holding play-dough in her hand at the time.
9.24.2007 3:22pm
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):
I was equally distressed about this until I saw pictures of the shirt. It has a circuit board, some lights, and wifewrap wire "embroidery" saying something to the effect of "I've great to be a VI" --- which, translated from the MIT-ese, means "it's great to be an electrical engineer."

She just didn't realize that no one other than people she knew was going to get the joke.
9.24.2007 3:24pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
MIT student: Is there a connection between high capacity for engineering and Asperger's Syndrome?

Spent some time with an engineer recently. I mentioned that a person of our acquaintance could piss off Billy Graham, the Pope, and Mother Theresa before breakfast and never have a clue. My engineer buddy's response....?
"Mother Theresa's dead."
Then there was the one who, when I had finished a particularly good joke, reflected a moment and then said with some annoyance, "You can't fit that many people into a car."

Some folks just don't get it. And you can't explain to them, either.
9.24.2007 3:26pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Is there a connection between high capacity for engineering and Asperger's Syndrome?

In all seriousness, I would imagine the correlation is extremely high indeed.
9.24.2007 3:31pm
Dan Weber (www):
Having been a student there, I guarantee some people don't quite get it all the time.

I was probably one of them. When you're down deep enough in the pressure cooker, you forget how to deal with people in the real world.

Most people get better after they graduate.
9.24.2007 3:36pm
Libertarian1 (mail):
Once again, on an issue that has never before arisen we get the usual dicotomy. Liberals on one side and conservatives on the other. I can well imagine the SCOTUS breakdown.

If I understand r78, JK, MIT student, Tony et al is that because it had LEDs it could not possibly be a bomb, didn't look at all like what they imagine every single bomb ever made looked like and the poorly prepared police force over-reacted.

That makes absolutely no sense to me. Back-packs or bread boxes are completely harmless unless they hold a bomb. Until you examine them how could you possibly know? A Molotov Cocktail that doesn't hold gasoline is harmless but I am not prepared to bet my life that the fluid is just water. That is why at airports seemingly harmless carry-ons are searched.

She was very smart to raise her arms and lie down. Otherwise she may very well be dead right now.
9.24.2007 3:42pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
I think jokes and circuit board body art should be protected speech. In other words, the police shouldn't be able to arrest a person for them.

On the other hand, even protected speech can sometimes subject a person to an investigatory stop. I see no problem with detaining and investigating a passenger who cracks a joke about terrorism or wears a circuit board in an airport.
9.24.2007 3:45pm
Sean O'Hara (mail) (www):
I think it's perfectly reasonable for the cops to stop her and question her about the device, maybe put the fear of God into her before letting her go, but charging her with a crime is a bit much.

But I do have to wonder, is it really good procedure to have uniformed officers with guns drawn approach someone they suspect of having a bomb strapped to their chest? If she'd actually been a suicide bomber, it seems like the result would've been lots of dead cops in addition to dead civilians. Wouldn't it make more sense to have a couple plainclothesmen approach her, preferably when she's relatively isolated, and only make their presence known when they're close enough to physically restrain her if she does something hinky?
9.24.2007 3:59pm
Fub:
Temp Guest wrote at 9.24.2007 1:31pm:
(Just a few weeks ago a sponge of sodium metal -- evidently dropped into the Charles River as part of a student prank -- seriously injured several people who wree clearing trash from the river.)
I'm not sure I understand how a "sponge of sodium metal" would last long enough in water to injure anyone who wasn't in the water near it at the time it was put into the water. Is there a link to the story?
9.24.2007 4:05pm
rarango (mail):
Sean O'Hara: I think the officer's SOP calles for guns drawn and go for head shots to deal with a suicide bomber (recall the fate of the poor Brazilian in London shortly after the 7/7 bombings). I for one and happy to see the police took the threat seriously; YMMV. (But I suspect there would be a whole bunch of people wondering why the police failed had it really been a bomb.)
9.24.2007 4:08pm
Mac (mail):
Sean O'Hara wrote

Wouldn't it make more sense to have a couple plainclothesmen approach her, preferably when she's relatively isolated, and only make their presence known when they're close enough to physically restrain her if she does something hinky?

Are you volunteering for the plainclothes job?

I think I'd rather be at a distance. A gun is pretty effective at stopping someone reaching for the detonation device, I would imagine.
9.24.2007 4:11pm
Brooks Lyman (mail):
It does seem to me that the Boston Police could have done things a bit more sensibly. My understanding is that a whole bunch of cops with drawn SMG's circled her at close range. If I were intending to do some harm to "the system," I would certainly have detonated my bomb then and there, taking out half a dozen of Boston's Finest.

Much more sensible would be for one policeman to accost the lady - whether with drawn gun or not doesn't make much difference - while his backup kept watch from a safe distance. After all, a suicide bomber would presumably prefer to die while being a bomber that simply surrender to the police.

But then, I grew up in Boston and have heard a lot of Boston Police stories over the years....

As for MIT, it's a funny place. It's an engineering and science school, but is also one of the more radicalized places around - possibly the fault of people like Noam Chomsky. On the other hand, it has a national champion Varsity Pistol team. And as a member of the MIT Pistol and Rifle Club and a certified Firearms Safety Instructor, I have taught pistol marksmanship courses to scores of MIT staff and students with no problems.
9.24.2007 4:16pm
Dan Weber (www):
People are making a bunch of assumptions about the ways that bombs work, and how suicide bombers "really act."

Maybe they'll give a speech first. Maybe they won't.

Maybe they're using a dead man's switch. Maybe they aren't.

Maybe they want people to cluster near them. Maybe they don't.

Saying what the cops "should've done because of the hypothetical situation I mention" ignores all the other hypothetical situations where that action would be very bad.
9.24.2007 4:18pm
Dan Weber (www):
It's an engineering and science school, but is also one of the more radicalized places around - possibly the fault of people like Noam Chomsky.


MIT culture is hardly homogenous. While Chomsky does have his followers, individuals are just as likely to be extreme libertarians as they are extreme hippies.
9.24.2007 4:22pm
whit:
one correction:

yes, the ATHF thing was boston. as is this case. but this was not the "boston police."

logan is policed by the "concrete commandos" aka the Mass State Police, NOT the boston police.

totally different agency than Boston PD

facts matter. NOT Boston Police

MASS STATE POLICE
9.24.2007 4:33pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
Trying to think like a terrorist: If I wanted to sneak a bomb into an airport, I'd put it in a suitcase, or a teddy bear, or something else unremarkable that would pass unnoticed. If I wanted to become part of a public spectacle, I might wear a bomb, but I'd go to the counter and point to my wearable bomb and say, "Give me $1 million in small bills or I'm blowing myself and everyone else up." I wouldn't just go, "Can you tell me if AA 465 came in already?"

It just seems stupid that failure to change your clothes constitutes a bomb hoax, when there was no intent to make others think you had a bomb.
9.24.2007 4:35pm
whit:
"Much more sensible would be for one policeman to accost the lady - whether with drawn gun or not doesn't make much difference - while his backup kept watch from a safe distance. After all, a suicide bomber would presumably prefer to die while being a bomber that simply surrender to the police."

um, no. i don't know what kind of experience or training u have in police tactics, but that would be neither sensible, nor preferable to how the staties handled it.

GIVEN that they had a reasonable suspicion it was a "device" (which of course is the major point in this incident), drawing down at her, at a reasonable distance with SMG's is quite appropriate. of course, if she had a deadman's switch, they'd probably be #$(#$( if they shot her even in the head, but you can't always have the optimal scenario, just the best one given the circ's.
9.24.2007 4:37pm
whit:
"Trying to think like a terrorist: If I wanted to sneak a bomb into an airport, I'd put it in a suitcase, or a teddy bear, or something else unremarkable that would pass unnoticed. If I wanted to become part of a public spectacle, I might wear a bomb, but I'd go to the counter and point to my wearable bomb and say, "Give me $1 million in small bills or I'm blowing myself and everyone else up." I wouldn't just go, "Can you tell me if AA 465 came in already?"

btw, dan weber's respose is quite good...

not everybody who intends to cause harm, or blow people up follows the "surreptitious islamofascist hide the bomb mentality"

i can say this from personal experience in dealing with deadly force incidents. her behavior is actually very consistent with people who would be committing a suicide by cop. wearing the "device" in the open.

again, there's a lot of armchair quarterbacking, but given what the staties probably knew (guy calls them from desk she had just approached, and said there's a girl with a possible bomb on her shirt, battery, wires, etc. (i also read a report that said she had playdo in her hands. don't know if this is true)), it would be ridiculous to think "oh well, it's not a bomb because if it WAS, she would try to hide it".

i have seen criminals do things like this on numerous occasions ... dumb stuff . that doesn't mean it's not a real bomb

just because she did not follow the "playbook" does not mean you ignore the potential threat.
9.24.2007 4:42pm
Ken Arromdee:
I can't believe anyone would legitimately believe that this thing looks like a bomb. The idea that this is what airport personel think a bomb looks like seriously scary.

Yet if it had turned out to be a bomb, the news headlines would have read "Clueless Homelad Security Misses Blatantly Obvious Bomb".
9.24.2007 4:46pm
whit:
"It just seems stupid that failure to change your clothes constitutes a bomb hoax, when there was no intent to make others think you had a bomb."

assuming (Which is an assumption, fwiw), that she did not intend to cause fear, etc. by INTENDING to create the perception that she was carrying a bomb... have you read the actual statute? i haven't. it may be that there is some sort of language like "recklessly creates the perception/risk that people will believe she has a bomb" is the language. iow, 1) it is nowhere clear that she did NOT intend to create this fear that she had a bomb (i realize the anecdotal evidence suggests she is probably just an idiot) 2) being colossally stupid can lead to criminal charges in many instances in regards to recklessly creating a perception.

Mass. has a lot of laws that incorporate "breach of the peace" or "anticipatory breach of the peace" which would seem to apply.

regardless, the facts are not clear yet.

i am willing to believe she is stupid enough (don't ever accuse academic intelligence with common sense) to have not perceived that her behavior that day could have reasonably been perceived by others (time, place, etc.) to be a threat. however... we don't KNOW that. recall that in the "don't tase me bro" case, few would have necessarily assumed this guy was a semi-professional heckler and provacateur. once his website was perused, those facts came to light.

her best defense is that she is a colossal idiot. a teenager . sophomoric, which literally means "wise idiot". few more descriptive terms exist.
9.24.2007 4:49pm
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):

MIT student: Is there a connection between high capacity for engineering and Asperger's Syndrome?


Actually, yes --- quite a strong correlation.
9.24.2007 4:52pm
Kenvee:
This reminds me of the college student who took condoms full of baby powder on the plane home for Christmas, claiming they were just stress-relief toys she wanted to show her friends. There is absolutely no way even the most clueless college student wouldn't think that this wouldn't draw people's attention and make them think something wrong is going on. It's a case of cocky college students trying to "make a point" or get one over on the man so they can laugh later about everyone's reactions. They don't think about the potential consequences. This girl is lucky.
9.24.2007 4:57pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Why should little rubber bags of flour in my suitcase draw attention? But now that Janet Lee learned her lesson, aren't we supposed to keep our stress-flour OUT of the condoms, which is exactly what Star did?

Of course the circuit board could be a bomb. But so could anything else that anybody else in the terminal is carrying or wearing, above a certain mass or volume -- should the police draw on all of them (and shoot the ones that don't react properly fast enough) because if one of those was actually a bomb they'd be questioned why they didn't?

Does "it has LEDs and wires" give any Bayesian probability that a device is dangerous?

Angry columnist Howie Carr made the transition within one paragraph from complaining that the Aqua Team Hunger Force guys didn't come forth to say "It's art" to complaining that Star said "It's art".

I've got a circuit board right here (it's a printed circuit board, not a bread board) and it's got a little LED on it. Circuit boards sometimes emit puffs of smoke, to indicate that it's time to buy a new circuit board, but they don't explode.

And once again, yes, folks with Asperger's Syndrome like things much more than people, especially things with moving and interactive parts. (Like the autism spectrum of which it's a part, AS comes in varying degrees.) I don't think Star is particularly deep on the spectrum -- as evidenced by her donation to Locks for Love, her team participation, her participation in the recruiting event, her meat-space boyfriend, and her quick understanding of the cops. I was aware that my GPS and my scanner in my carry-on could cause suspicion (although I wasn't aware that the TSA droid would rather search for it himself than have me open up the particular compartment and show it to him) and I was pleasantly surprised that they didn't care that the government-issued photo ID I gave them was for something other than driving, but it wouldn't have occurred to me, either, that something with the electronics in plain view would arouse suspicions or worse.
9.24.2007 5:28pm
whit:
"but it wouldn't have occurred to me, either, that something with the electronics in plain view would arouse suspicions or worse."

so what you are saying is that you are as ignorant as star?

amazing.

yes, having a device on your sweatshirt that appears homemade (which it was), has exposed wires, circuit board, and a power source WOULD and SHOULD arouse suspicions in an airport.

also, according to several reports, she also had what was later determined to be Playdoh in her hand, according to the state police.
9.24.2007 5:37pm
whit:
"although I wasn't aware that the TSA droid would rather search for it himself than have me open up the particular compartment and show it to him"

i forgot to mention. perfect example of elitism right above.

"TSA droid".
9.24.2007 5:39pm
Kenvee:
David Chesler:

Why should little rubber bags of flour in my suitcase draw attention?


Right. If little bags of a white powdery substance in someone's luggage don't draw the attention of airport screeners, they're doing a bad job. Just as a homemade device with exposed wires, circuitry, and a batter should draw the attention of any reasonable airport security agent. This girl was either trying to get a reaction or she was (as Whit put it) a colossal idiot. And being a colossal idiot can be a criminal offense, when it's something a reasonable person would have known would cause the reaction.
9.24.2007 5:55pm
jack brennen (mail):
As I understand it this interaction took place outside of the secure section of the airport. What rationale is there for enhanced vigilance in an airport on the public side of security screening above any other public place? Or is the argument that the police would have been equally appropriate to approach her with drawn guns at the MIT job fair?
It seems to me that the only thing special about an airport is the airplanes, and if you haven't gotten through the security screening necessary to get anywhere near one normal public area rules should apply.
I understand the complaints from the "anything can be a bomb" crowd and it is tough to expect a airport employee with little to no technical knowledge to apply some common sense about what is likely to be a bomb, but this whole LED == bomb thing is pretty unfortunate. I've seen kids at the airport with LEDs in their shoes, should they have been approached with guns?
9.24.2007 6:09pm
Gaius Obvious (mail):
Someone who demonstrates her "technical prowess" with blinking LEDS in the shape of a star is failing miserably to demonstrate her "high capacity for engineering." I would rate a blinky LED-board high if she were in fifth grade. If it was from a middle school student I would have rated less than average. But for an MIT student it is pathetic beyond hope.
9.24.2007 6:45pm
Bill Sommerfeld (www):

What rationale is there for enhanced vigilance in an airport on the public side of security screening above any other public place?

I can think of a number of them: 1) protect against/deter attacks on people waiting in line to go through security 2) general defense in depth.


this whole LED == bomb thing is pretty unfortunate

It's not an LED=bomb thing. it's a "homebrew electronics might be a bomb" thing.
9.24.2007 6:46pm
Philistine (mail):


It's not an LED=bomb thing. it's a "homebrew electronics might be a bomb" thing.



Exactly. I'd imagine it was the exposed wire and battery that was what concerned people, rather than the LED. That, and the lump of play-doh she was holding in her hand.
9.24.2007 6:56pm
New Pseudonym (mail):

But I do have to wonder, is it really good procedure to have uniformed officers with guns drawn approach someone they suspect of having a bomb strapped to their chest

The news story I read stated the police had submachine guns. (But who knows what a submachine gun is to a reporter). Does it really make sense to have fully automatic weapons in a crowded airport. This has puzzled me since the late 1960s when security heightened in Europe, where I lived at the time. The Stadtspolizei patrolling Berlin-Tempelhof were all equipped with this type of weapon.
9.24.2007 7:21pm
whit:
"The news story I read stated the police had submachine guns. (But who knows what a submachine gun is to a reporter). Does it really make sense to have fully automatic weapons in a crowded airport. This has puzzled me since the late 1960s when security heightened in Europe, where I lived at the time. The Stadtspolizei patrolling Berlin-Tempelhof were all equipped with this type of weapon"

first of all, do you KNOW they were fully automatic weapons in germany? hint, the only difference (to the trained eye) is in the selector switch.

semi's have no "full auto" setting. full autos DO.

i can't believe we are devolving into discussing the MSP choice of weaponry, but assuming the MSP's have fully auto submachineguns (by definition, all machine guns can fire fully auto), they also have selector switches that allow them to be fired in semi-auto and burst mode (generally speaking).

there is a time and a place for full-auto mode, but it is rare. but these guns have the OPTION of firing full-auto. they do not always fire full auto
9.24.2007 7:30pm
neurodoc:
MIT takes more pride in its legendary pranks (aka hacks) than in its greatest football victories. (OK, MIT doesn't have a varsity football team, but it does have as many or more other varsity sports as any school in the country, and none make bigger waves, including the crew and very good sailing teams, than legendary pranks/hacks.) My favorite was the huge balloon that sprung up on the field and start inflating, disrupting the Harvard-Yale football game one year. Telephone hacking in the '60s arguably, if sometimes feloniously, advanced the field of computer sciences. And though it has been so many years, I recall as if it were yesterday when the dorm guys got into the Green Building and lit up the windows of that 20+ story edifice facing the Charles in a pattern that spelled out IHTFP (I Hate This F...... Place), that a rapid response to what Theta Chi had done the night before. But those were all witting, some requiring months of planning and preparation, whereas what this girl did was unwitting, if not witless.

I don't know what basis there is for suggesting the MIT is an especially "radicalized" school, Chomsky or no Chomsky, especially when compared to its near neighbors.

Techies and Aspergers - MIT undoubtedly has its fair share, though perhaps fewer since the school started to take into consideration more than just grades and SATs. (The dean of admissions most responsible for the changed policy has since been fired, but for other reasons.) I expect that there are other places in this country where the incidence of Aspergers is elevated, those being where the tech jobs are most concentrated. (Some have theorized that those techie males with Aspergers, and there are more of them than females with Aspergers, stand a better chance of finding a mate in Silicon Valley because women in those parts appreciate that what these guys may lack in social skills, they may make up for in earnings potential.)

Ah my alma mater, I get founder of it the more distant the undergraduate experience becomes.

[Apropos Ms. Star, I could give the humor magazine's ungallant definition of a Tech coed, but I won't.]
9.24.2007 7:32pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
It's not an LED=bomb thing. it's a "homebrew electronics might be a bomb" thing.

I guess it makes sense for cops to be afraid of homemade electronics. After all, my mom made us kids throw away any homemade Halloween treats we collected, lest a caramel covered popcorn ball be lethal. At least the girl wasn't carrying one of these.
9.24.2007 7:32pm
whit:
"I guess it makes sense for cops to be afraid of homemade electronics"

the word is VIGILANT.

being afraid is what people who RUN THE OTHER WAY exhibit. i didn't see that that is what happened at logan. frankly, i have seen incidents were cops acted out of fear (and overly PC "wait for backup at all costs" training such as columbine. but this incident was not one of those)

they responded in a perfectly reasonable way to a perceived threat. and as usual, people who presumably have never faced an armed threat in their life (something that most cops do numerous times in their career) like to laff and think they are more edumacated and discerning than the average cop when it comes to this sort of thing.

there is exactly ZERO doubt that if this thing DID turn out to be a bomb, and the cops did not act the way they did, that people would be blaming them for ignoring the threat.

when you have reasonable suspicion that somebody has a bomb, you present them with deadly force, in overwhelming #'s, and issue verbal commands. they played it exactly like it was supposed to be done. by the book (and yes, i am a firearms instructor, teach deadly force, and have been involved in deadly force incidents).

fortunately, this young lady followed their instructions, and the situation was resolved optimally.
9.24.2007 7:40pm
Dick King:
Tony Tutins:


If I wanted to become part of a public spectacle, I might wear a bomb, but I'd go to the counter and point to my wearable bomb and say, "Give me $1 million in small bills or I'm blowing myself and everyone else up." I wouldn't just go, "Can you tell me if AA 465 came in already?"


You might, if you wanted to kill someone whom you expected had come in on AA 465 and were willing to kill yourself to do so.

-dk
9.24.2007 7:41pm
SG:
I guess it makes sense for cops to be afraid of homemade electronics.


No, it makes sense to investigate homemade electronics worn on the person and brought into an airport. And when the person wearing the homemade electronics doesn't respond to questioning, it makes sense to follow up.

I'm unsure what you want the police to do. Here's someone wearing something unidentifiable in an airport while handling some sort of putty. What's the appropriate response? Can you distinguish the art project from the true threat with 100% certainty at a glance?
9.24.2007 7:45pm
whit:
"If I wanted to become part of a public spectacle, I might wear a bomb, but I'd go to the counter and point to my wearable bomb and say, "Give me $1 million in small bills or I'm blowing myself and everyone else up." I wouldn't just go, "Can you tell me if AA 465 came in already?" "

fallacy #324-b

that all criminals (even those who are mentally ill and/or prone to suicide by cop) will act in a perfectly rational, reasonable, predictable manner, and always do things that are in their self interest.

absolutely 100% not supported by my empirical experience in deadly force and force incidents in general, nor by any of the literature.

but here's a hint. people who are deranged enough to attach a bomb to themself and walk into a public airport are often not thinking rationally. and thus, often do not conform to the "dick king playbook of how i'd act if i wanted to be become part of a public spectacle"

iow, the cops should have said "well, i know this guy from the desk is reporting there is a woman with a possible IED on her sweatshirt and she has some sort of putty in her hands, but clearly dick king said that this isn't reasonable that she asked when flight AA 465 is coming in. so, i think i'll go back to my clam chowdah, dunkin donuts coffee, and the crossword puzzle i was doing. no way that could be a threat"
9.24.2007 7:46pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
I'm going to concede that stopping the girl with the protoboard was good police work, and move on to something I'm more familiar with:
stand a better chance of finding a mate in Silicon Valley because women in those parts appreciate that what these guys may lack in social skills, they may make up for in earnings potential

No. The male/female ratio in SV allows women to be quite picky. Even female engineers avoid male engineers as dating prospects. I tried to fix up a friend of mine with an office worker who told me that engineers were just plain boring, that an engineer was someone who, after painting a room, would tell you how much smaller the room was, now that there was an additional coat of paint on the walls and ceiling.
9.24.2007 8:19pm
Bill Sommerfeld (www):
OK, MIT doesn't have a varsity football team ...

Actually MIT has had a varsity football team for a number of years -- currently NCAA Division III.
9.24.2007 9:26pm
New Pseudonym (mail):

first of all, do you KNOW they were fully automatic weapons in germany? hint, the only difference (to the trained eye) is in the selector switch.


Do I know the weapons were fully automatic? Yes.
Do I know the selectors were on auto? No.
9.24.2007 11:55pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
I've wondered the same thing, why the show guards have guns capable of automatic fire. Do they think a squadron of enemy soldiers is going to try to storm their position?

"although I wasn't aware that the TSA droid would rather search for it himself than have me open up the particular compartment and show it to him"

i forgot to mention. perfect example of elitism right above.

"TSA droid".


I'm a fairly agreeable and helpful person. I know my carryon bag better than someone else. Somebody who is wasting my time pawing through my stuff is worthy of my contempt, and who wastes my time by refusing my help is an idiot, and even more worthy of my contempt.

They are mindlessly and humorlessly following policies that do more harm than good. I stand by "droid".

Back before 9/11 and before digital cameras, one of the luggage-checkers attempted to figure out if my camera was a camera by opening it up, exposing the film.
9.25.2007 1:38am
Ralph Phelan (mail):

it makes sense to investigate homemade electronics worn on the person and brought into an airport. And when the person wearing the homemade electronics doesn't respond to questioning, it makes sense to follow up.

I'm unsure what you want the police to do."


I'm fine with what the police did.
It's the charging her once they determined it was a false alarm that I'm not so sure about.

As with the Aqua Teen Hunger Force thing, I suspect they're embarrassed they got taken in and think charging the person somehow makes them look less dumb. In my opinion they'd be better off admitting it was a false alarm and then patting themselves on the back for their vigilance.
9.25.2007 9:26am
Bill Sommerfeld (www):

Do I know the weapons were fully automatic? Yes.
Do I know the selectors were on auto? No.

I have you beat ... I had a long layover at the Frankfurt airport. The guard stationed at the exit from the secure area was clearly bored, because he was flipping the selector switch of his rifle back and forth about once a second.
9.25.2007 10:03am
Kenvee:

I'm a fairly agreeable and helpful person. I know my carryon bag better than someone else. Somebody who is wasting my time pawing through my stuff is worthy of my contempt, and who wastes my time by refusing my help is an idiot, and even more worthy of my contempt.


It's wonderful that you know your bag best and would be able to take the inspector to the exact spot of concern. But the bad guys also know their bag best and would be able to take the inspector to exactly what harmless thing they would want him to see instead of what's actually of concern. These inspections aren't designed with the average law-abiding, fully cooperative person in mind. They're designed to account for the bad guys who want to blow stuff up and aren't exactly going to cooperate with airport security to do it. So I fail to see anything wrong with the inspector preferring to inspect your bag himself. That is, after all, what he's there for.
9.25.2007 10:17am
David Chesler (mail) (www):
He didn't run it through X-Ray a second time. He was looking for the thing or things with wires. It took him longer to find the thing with the wires, and he caused extra disruption to the bag in doing so. Once he had the thing, whether by finding it himself (and possibly destroying it) he made the decision himself whether what he was holding was what caused the unusual image on the scanner, same as if I'd directed him to the decoy GPS in an attempt to hide the real GPS that was sewn into the lining of the bag.

I avoid airports, mostly for crap like that, but my credit union has branches in federal buildings, and I've found the guards to be fairly useful in working with the customers to find out what is setting off the magnetometer. "Do you have a cell phone? A wallet with any passes in it?"

(I don't know what good they do, and after a bunch of trips through I know enough of their routine so if I were sneaking something in I wouldn't tape it to my calf above the socks, but rather in my shoes so that when I pull up my trousers enough that they can see skin between the cuff and the sock it wouldn't show. I also use the visitor entrance, even though it has a longer line, because the magnetometers there are set less sensitive than the units for visitors at the entrance mostly for staff. The credit union has a coin-counting machine and I've brought in a few pounds of metal coins with no problem.)
9.25.2007 11:07am
David W. Hess (mail):
Richard Aubrey:
MIT student: Is there a connection between high capacity for engineering and Asperger's Syndrome?

I remember reading about the genetics of Asperger's Syndrome where the correlation between children and their engineer or scientist parents was one of the first things to arouse suspicion that something specific was happening. There were specific areas of the country like Lawrence Radiation Labs where such couples were more common and it was first noticed. The hypothesis is that there is a brick wall function for the expression of the genes in question where too much of a good thing becomes an overall detriment much like the relatively simple expression of sickle cell anemia.

Fub:
'm not sure I understand how a "sponge of sodium metal" would last long enough in water to injure anyone who wasn't in the water near it at the time it was put into the water.

Sodium or potassium metal stored under oil tends to look like swiss cheese after a couple years do to the continuous reaction with water that slowly diffuses into the oil from the atmosphere. Pieces larger then a cubic centimeter tend to produce an explosion violent enough to throw molten metal a considerable distance.

Gaius Obvious:
I would rate a blinky LED-board high if she were in fifth grade. If it was from a middle school student I would have rated less than average.

I remember being very proud of the 7404 astable multivibrator I built on perfboard for show and tell in 4th grade and completely mystified in my classmate's incomprehension. I did not learn to keep a much smaller profile until after college unfortunately.

I would hate to experience DHS reacting to some of the devices I have built. I got pulled over once before 9/11 where the standard "search anything not actually combination locked" procedure turned up my 1 GHz precision stepped attenuator which I had considerable difficulty explaining.
9.25.2007 1:45pm
abb3w:
I'd beg to differ with the assessment that wearing a circuit board would not be treated as "inherently expressive" for First Amendment purposes. Wearing a pocket protector at work (as I do), PCB earrings, or a Graphic Equalizer T-Shirt, it clearly says "I am Geek, and stranger than your feeble mind can comprehend. Don't try to out-weird me, I eat stranger things than you in my breakfast cereal." Alas, police tend to react with hostility to what they don't understand. I sometimes wonder if the ignorant luddite technophobes allegedly working to make us "secure" have more in common with the Authoritarian Islamocratic Monoculturalists than with the average engineer or proto-engineer.

I'd also posit that distinguishing geeks from terrorists is a trivial exercise in psychology, and discouraging the expression of geekiness is probably counterproductive to the war on terror. While geeks are mostly introverted, they usually respond favorably to expressions of non-hostile curiosity. If you ask them "what's that?" about their LED T-Shirt, they'll probably give you a detailed explanation of how they made it, where they got the parts, a spiel about exactly how much hassle it was to solder the board without setting the cotton shirt on fire, and offer to email you the instructions. Terrorists, on the other hand, do NOT want extended attention; they are busy On A Mission From God. Their answers are more likely to be brief, low detailed, and be unwilling to make any effort to encourage further communication.

Also, geeks are useful. Not only are they the ones who keep our technology progressing at a rate that bewilders even those willing to consider a post-13th century worldview and making those who aren't stand out in a crowd like a bewildered emu, not only does their mindset tend to come up with nifty toys that make it harder for bad guys to smuggle C4 in their sneakers, but their curiousity means that they're the most likely ones to notice a real bomb, wander up to it and go "Pretty lights... what does this do?" (Poke, poke poke....) Which, admittedly, reduces their already low prospects for reproduction, but serves to protect the more directly productive members of the species.

Geeks: bright, expendable, and going "Ooohh! Shiny!" — briefly.
9.26.2007 12:51pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
"I am Geek, and stranger than your feeble mind can comprehend. Don't try to out-weird me, I eat stranger things than you in my breakfast cereal."

Poseur! Geeks do not eat cereal for breakfast. Breakfasts of choice include cold pizza, cold Chinese food, and Twinkies and Coke.
9.26.2007 4:21pm
abb3w:
abb3w: "I am Geek, and stranger than your feeble mind can comprehend. Don't try to out-weird me, I eat stranger things than you in my breakfast cereal."

David Chesler: Poseur! Geeks do not eat cereal for breakfast. Breakfasts of choice include cold pizza, cold Chinese food, and Twinkies and Coke.

Tsk, tsk; a true geek would catch the Hitchhiker's Guide reference, even as a misquote. (And if you should meet one, a Real Geek can give you all four "correct" versions of the quote.)

Oh, for reference: Indian, Thai, and Vietnamese leftovers are becoming more common these days. However, today's breakfast was about a pint of kiwi berries and, yes, a can of coke; I'm saving the leftover Shrimp Vindaloo for lunch.
9.27.2007 11:43am