The things he carried

A few years ago, my sister visiting me from Vermont, had a potential problem when heading back home. Vermont doesn’t have photo IDs to show the security agents along with her boarding pass. And she had a bag full of knitting with, of course, knitting needles. I was sure she’d be spending another night at Casa News Cut after being turned away, but she had a pretty good plan. “I’ll find a security agent who looks like a grandmother and knits,” she said.

She got through faster than I ever did.

Though it impressed the heck out of me, apparently it wasn’t such a big deal. Anybody can get through security at Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport, suggests an article in this month’s The Atlantic magazine.

In Minneapolis, I littered my carry-on with many of my prohibited items, and also an Osama bin Laden, Hero of Islam T-shirt, which often gets a rise out of people who see it. This day, however, would feature a different sort of experiment, designed to prove not only that the TSA often cannot find anything on you or in your carry-on, but that it has no actual idea who you are, despite the government’s effort to build a comprehensive “no-fly” list. A no-fly list would be a good idea if it worked; Bruce Schnei­er’s homemade boarding passes were about to prove that it doesn’t. Schnei­er is the TSA’s most relentless, and effective, critic; the TSA director, Kip Hawley, told me he respects Schnei­er’s opinions, though Schnei­er quite clearly makes his life miserable.

“The whole system is designed to catch stupid terrorists,” Schnei­er told me. A smart terrorist, he says, won’t try to bring a knife aboard a plane, as I had been doing; he’ll make his own, in the airplane bathroom. Schnei­er told me the recipe: “Get some steel epoxy glue at a hardware store. It comes in two tubes, one with steel dust and then a hardener. You make the mold by folding a piece of cardboard in two, and then you mix the two tubes together. You can use a metal spoon for the handle. It hardens in 15 minutes.”

Jeffrey Goldberg also used fake boarding passes, made by an acquaintance on a laser printer. But it’s not just our local airport, according to his article.

The reaction of the people in charge? A spokeswoman characterized the article as “more of an entertainment piece than a treatment of security. … It’s absurd to think that we take things from people because of what they wear,” according to the Star Tribune.

She acknowledged no level of security can provide 100% protection.

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