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.