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December 29th, 2009
01:08 PM ET

Testing the TSA with banned items, fake boarding passes, and suspicious behavior

Program note: Tune in tonight at 10pm EST to hear Jeffrey Goldberg discuss his experience challenging airport security procedures.

Jeffrey Goldberg
Atlantic National Correspondent

If I were a terrorist, and I’m not, but if I were a terrorist—a frosty, tough-like-Chuck-Norris terrorist, say a C-title jihadist with Hezbollah or, more likely, a donkey-work operative with the Judean People’s Front—I would not do what I did in the bathroom of the Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport, which was to place myself in front of a sink in open view of the male American flying public and ostentatiously rip up a sheaf of counterfeit boarding passes that had been created for me by a frenetic and acerbic security expert named Bruce Schnei­er. He had made these boarding passes in his sophisticated underground forgery works, which consists of a Sony Vaio laptop and an HP LaserJet printer, in order to prove that the Transportation Security Administration, which is meant to protect American aviation from al-Qaeda, represents an egregious waste of tax dollars, dollars that could otherwise be used to catch terrorists before they arrive at the Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport, by which time it is, generally speaking, too late.

I could have ripped up these counterfeit boarding passes in the privacy of a toilet stall, but I chose not to, partly because this was the renowned Senator Larry Craig Memorial Wide-Stance Bathroom, and since the commencement of the Global War on Terror this particular bathroom has been patrolled by security officials trying to protect it from gay sex, and partly because I wanted to see whether my fellow passengers would report me to the TSA for acting suspiciously in a public bathroom. No one did, thus thwarting, yet again, my plans to get arrested, or at least be the recipient of a thorough sweating by the FBI, for dubious behavior in a large American airport. Suspicious that the measures put in place after the attacks of September 11 to prevent further such attacks are almost entirely for show—security theater is the term of art—I have for some time now been testing, in modest ways, their effectiveness.

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Filed under: Terrorism • Travel
soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. Tim Gibson

    My partners mother brought us a wonderful kitchen knife, about 12 inches in length as a gift, after 9/11 and in her carry on luggage unaware she should not and went right through security, which a knife of that length was not permitted on carry on luggage prior to 9/11.

    Our security is nothing short of a joke, in our airports, in the action of war and on main street.

    December 29, 2009 at 8:55 pm |
  2. Sheila Rubio

    How did he light the material? Are lighters allowed on the planes? It is shocking if they are. I thought in the past they were not but someone said that President Obama had lighten the rules and now they are allowed.
    I also thought that a red flag went up when someone bought a 1 way ticket and did not check luggage.
    I changed my seat twice before getting a boarding pass 2 years ago and they flaged me and did a through check of myself and luggage before I was allowed to board the plane. I am a 61 year old grandmother.
    Sheila Rubio/ Indialantic, Fl.

    December 29, 2009 at 5:50 pm |
  3. linda r

    my mom and i are traveling from Canada to the USA soon..as for security in the U.S,, especially sense hurricane Katrina.. I`ve sense given F.E.M.A a new name. For me ,it`s called Y.O.Y.O , that stands for "your on your own"!! once again it was up to regular` hero`s` on board that plane..i certainly hope president Obama does more than Bush ever did on this scary topic.

    December 29, 2009 at 4:59 pm |
  4. Susan, FL + IL

    "security theater is the term of art"......yes I agree.

    We need to ask how much we have to pay for all this security theater. And now the UNIONS want in the TSA....I do not understand why the UNIONS would ever be allowed into any governmental agency.....(police, fireman, public garbage collection, governmental (state and federal) employees, etc.

    As we know most governmental agencies have payment plans. If one does not want what they pay then they should not work there. So what is the purpose of the UNIONS in governmental agencies. All I know is that the UNIONS make it impossible to terminate an employee. As a manager, I had spent much of my time documenting an employee's work productivity and then spent much time in UNION meetings in regard to the employee's productivity.....the Union would not allow for that employee to be terminated. In other words, the Unions protect unproductive employees. What a waste of time and money. This would never be allowed in Private Companies.

    December 29, 2009 at 2:46 pm |
  5. zehfilardo

    After this waco was detained in a plane within America allegedly carrying a bomb, and having been flagged ONE MONTH before in the Homeland Security computers, we – those who love conspiracy theories – have all the right to doubt whether this is not just an attempt to justify the large amounts of taxpayers' monnies wasted in the War on Terror, a fake terror emergency to make even more miserable the lives of those who try to travel home or to visit relatives.

    Homeland security is a joke!

    December 29, 2009 at 2:21 pm |
  6. RGJUDO

    We, as Americans and, more broadly, as world travelers, love services. They come in various shapes and forms, they are tailored to our needs, they make us happy and they make us complain when we travel to other parts of the world where these services are not offered. For example, we book our fights online, we print our boarding pass from the comfort of our house and hotel. If not, we use the kiosks at the airports. What we are doing is basically avoiding the human contact, the ticket agencies, the long waiting times at the counter desks. But maybe we need the human contact to spot certain behavioral traits and patterns and alert in advance authorities? Are these services jeopardizing human life. Is this where we are heading? What if we collectively start making some sacrifices and apply more stringent rules before we reach the airports?

    December 29, 2009 at 2:02 pm |
  7. Kenneth Burns

    Imagine reporting suspicious behavior only to be held up for hours of questioning and missing your flight while the suspect flies off on time for his terrorist attack. My point is that with people minding their business in an airport, what's suspicious, and who will catch you? I got on board with matches insisting to throw them away.

    December 29, 2009 at 1:38 pm |