Faked airport security breach at MSP shows failings of TSA, writer says

  • Article by: PAUL WALSH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 20, 2008 - 10:54 PM

In an article in Atlantic, Jeffery Goldberg details how he talked his way through security and onto a plane, even though he intentionally made himself look suspect.

A first-class traveler cleared security with a phoney Twin Cities-to-Washington boarding pass for Northwest Airlines, no photo identification and wearing an Osama bin Laden T-shirt under his coat as part of a test of airport security in this post-9/11 world.

The security breach, assisted by longtime airport security critic Bruce Schneier, is outlined in a first-person account in the November issue of Atlantic magazine. The article was written to argue that the federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) "represents an egregious waste of tax dollars," author Jeffrey Goldberg wrote.

Goldberg claimed that he has circumvented security numerous times by "bringing bad things" through security at airports in Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Chicago and Wilkes Barre/Scranton, Pa. Among the items he said he brought on flights: pocketknives, matches from hotels in Beirut, dust masks, nail clippers, an inflatable Yasser Arafat doll and box cutters.

Ellen Howe, a spokeswoman in Washington for the TSA, characterized the Atlantic article Monday 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."

Concerning the phoney boarding pass, Howe said the TSA recently installed scanners at eight airports (not including Minneapolis-St. Paul International) that can detect a forged pass, even if the pass was printed on a home printer. She expects the scanners to be in use nationwide "within about a year."

Howe acknowledged that "any layer of [airport] security can potentially be defeated. ... You can't protect 100 percent of the time."

Northwest spokeswoman Michelle Aguayo-Shannon's only comment on behalf of the Eagan carrier was that "this appears to be an issue with the TSA and would best be addressed with them." Twin Cities airport spokesman Pat Hogan similarly left it with the TSA to address.

Arriving at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport for Northwest flight 1714 to Reagan National Airport just outside Washington, Goldberg said, he began his real-life experiment standing in a restroom, ripping up fake boarding passes and "waiting for the social network of male bathroom users to report my suspicious behavior." No one piped up, he said.

From there, he said, he tried "to pass through security with no ID, a fake boarding pass and an Osama bin Laden T-shirt under my coat."

He splashed water on his face "to mimic sweat" and wore a coat on a summer day.

With driver's license hidden, he said, he approached security with his bogus boarding pass and told security that he had lost his ID but still hoped to board.

The security employee called for a supervisor.

"I can't find my driver's license," Goldberg said.

After showing the supervisor his fake boarding pass, Goldberg said, "I need to get to Washington quickly."

He was asked for more identification. Goldberg said he produced a credit card with his name on it, a library card and a health-insurance card. "Nothing else?" the supervisor asked.

"No," Goldberg said.

"You should really travel with a second picture ID, you know."

"Yes, sir," Goldberg said.

"All right, you can go," he said. "But let this be a lesson for you."

Kip Hawley, head of the Transportation Security Agency, was quoted in the Atlantic article as saying: "There are vulnerabilities everywhere, in everything. The question is not 'Is there a vulnerability?' It's 'What are you doing about it?'"

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482

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