Woman Arrested at Airport with Fake Bomb

Anyone know what’s going on?

Star Simpson, 19, had a computer circuit board, wiring and a putty that later turned out to be Play-Doh in plain view over a black hooded sweat shirt she was wearing, said State Police Maj. Scott Pare, the commanding officer at the airport.


She was arrested about 8 a.m. outside Terminal C, home to United Airlines, Jet Blue and other carriers.

A Massachusetts Port Authority staffer manning an information booth in the terminal became suspicious when Simpson – wearing the device – approached to ask about an incoming flight, Pare said. Simpson then walked outside, and the information booth attendant notified a nearby trooper.

The trooper, joined by others with submachine guns, confronted her at a traffic island in front of the terminal.

Geez. She’s lucky to be alive. What in the world was she thinking?

EDITED TO ADD (9/21): Okay, clearly we need a lot more information:

The woman later told police the circuit board with lights on it was a work of art.

And this:

“She claims that it was just art and she was proud of the art and wanted to display it. I am not sure why she had the Play-Doh in her hands. She could not explain that,” Pare said.

I have to admit that I would trust the authorities more if it weren’t Boston.

EDITED TO ADD (9/21): Here’s a picture. I’m leaning towards stupid police overreaction right now.

EDITED TO ADD (9/21): Okay, she made it for MIT’s career day:

“She said that it was a piece of art and she wanted to stand out on career day,” Pare said at a news conference.

Definitely stupid police overreaction.

Refuse to be terrorized, people!

EDITED TO ADD (9/21): A better photo.

EDITED TO ADD (9/22): More news. I now have complete symathy for the student, and none for the police. I wonder if anyone wore their DefCon badge to the Las Vegas airport this year.

EDITED TO ADD (9/26): Really good information here:

Last week was Career Week at MIT. As usually happens during such events, the students turned out in high numbers to speak with company representatives
and examine the “free” items that are handed out to students who visit certain booths. Star Simpson, an Electrical Engineering and Computer Science major who enjoys playing around with electronics, wore a bulky handmade nametag to the event. It consisted of a breadboard, LEDs in the shape of a star (for her name), some wires, and a nine-volt battery. She taped it to her sweatshirt to keep it in place, possibly hoping that the company representatives would better be able to remember a student with a flashing nametag.

She also, as is custom, acquired a number of neat little items from the vendors there. I’ve seen some of what was available – bleach pens for clothing, large foam ‘pills’ that you could squeeze as a method of stress relief, small containers of Play-Doh. She picked up a canister of Play-Doh and placed it in her pocket.

Some time after this – I don’t know how long, sorry – she went to the Logan Airport to meet a friend of hers. I can easily see her losing track of time and being too rushed to put her sweatshirt away before leaving. Or perhaps she forgot the breadboard entirely – just as someone with a bandaged wrist will soon ignore its presence. Or perhaps she thought no one would care—she is from MIT, after all, and the culture here does not regard breadboards as weapons of mass destruction. Or perhaps she thought that it wouldn’t matter, since she knew that she would not be going through the security checkpoint.

And the authories are going to make her pay for their mistake.

Posted on September 21, 2007 at 12:20 PM221 Comments


Violet September 21, 2007 11:33 AM

It wasn’t a fake bomb–it was a breadboard with some LEDs and a battery attached, in the shape of a star, used as a name tag for a career fair.

The putty was in her hands, not attached to anything.

Given the mooninite issue last year, though, she should have thought a little more.

kashmarek September 21, 2007 11:42 AM

She was probably a shill for someone who needs to record a success at stopping terrorism. It’l be in some high level report.

Anonymous September 21, 2007 11:49 AM

She probably had some silly putty, and was wearing one of those fun-to-put-together blinky conference tags. They’re fairly common in the college tech world…

My guess is that the putty was blown way out of proportion in the police report and the media. They need SOMETHING to explain their reaction, after all.

Why is it that the world goes crazy when they see an exposed breadboard? They were shown them throughout the 90’s during the put-everything-in-clear-plastic phase. Now they’re suddenly bombs.

ARM September 21, 2007 11:51 AM

This is getting stupid. Doesn’t a “hoax” require the intent to convince people of a deliberate falsehood? Okay, so a Massachusetts Port Authority staffer decided that some flashing lights looked like a bomb. That doesn’t automagically mean that she was intentionally hoaxing people. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.

Ironically, it’s people who don’t know what a real bomb looks like who are likely to run afoul of this sort of thing.

Pat Cahalan September 21, 2007 12:05 PM

The very smart sometimes confuse themselves as to what constitutes a good idea, because they can lack common sense.

This was incredibly stupid. Pulling this as a gag in some other public arena is dumb enough, pulling it at an airport… yeesh.

X the Unknown September 21, 2007 12:06 PM

This looks like “Blinking Light Phobia” overreaction in Boston, again.

Get a grip, folks! Just because some idiot thinks an eggplant looks like a grenade doesn’t make it a “hoax device” – it makes the idiot a fool. Lots of things have (Oh, My Gd!) circuit boards, and a high percentage of these have (the horror, the horror!) *Blinking Lights!

And now, it seems, possession of Play-Doh is a serious crime too. I guess any maleable plastic-like substance is “fake plastique”, especially if it is within several yards of an exposed circuit-board with flashing lights.

Somebody from the U.S. military ought to publish an analysis of just how many IED’s in Iraq had exposed circuit-boards, much less blinking lights. My guess is 0…

A Kamakani Too September 21, 2007 12:15 PM

@Pat Cahalan

Obviously Star is very smart. She’s also a kid from Hawaii where terrorphobia hasn’t quite reached the levels of hysteria it has here on the mainland. Expecting her to understand just how irrational the rest of the US has become is stretching it.

A friend of Star's September 21, 2007 12:20 PM

It was a home-made name tag she made for the MIT Career Fair that week. She was just picking up a friend, not trying to fly.

Lisa September 21, 2007 12:22 PM

I don’t understand about the play-doh. Was it used as putty as a component of the blinky tag together or was she just carrying it around?

I guess I can understand questioning the lady, but the thing doesn’t look very bomb-like to me. Why are home-made electronics scary?

Realist September 21, 2007 12:28 PM

“The very smart sometimes confuse themselves as to what constitutes a good idea, because they can lack common sense.”

I think you should call it stupid sence instead of common sence. The problem smart people have is that they frequently underestimate the stupidity of other people.

bzelbob September 21, 2007 12:30 PM

Everyone should watch the video of the announcements made, you can see a better picture of the “device”. [She had a breadboard and a nine-volt battery.]

This is someone who just wanted to make the authorities look stupid.
Mission accomplished! 🙂

If she had a cell phone (way, way more complex technologically) no one would have said anything. That’s the real problem. There is NO SECURITY people, not when we waste resources stupidly looking for things that are obviously fake, while ignoring cell phones and other pervasive technology.

Donna September 21, 2007 12:36 PM

Those type of things are pretty common now, especially among the somewhat younger (< 25 years of age). Call it art, fashion, whatever. She shouldn’t be charged.

If she wore it seven years ago, she’d be praised for the cool design.

We’re allowing ourselves to be terrorized.

nedu September 21, 2007 12:39 PM

“Geez. She’s lucky to be alive.”
“She’s lucky to be in a cell as opposed to the morgue.”

Wait. Something is very, very wrong here.

Given the reported comments by State Police Maj. Scott Pare, and the reported armament of the police, I find it probable that Ms. Simpson had a reasonable fear for her life.

I haven’t yet heard a reasonable explanation from the police regarding why they put Ms. Simpson in fear of her life.

I’m reading a description of very serious felony here.

something to call you September 21, 2007 12:39 PM

It is apparent to me that:

1) This was not a hoax or a gag of any kind.
2) The student is simply a naive MIT nerd who plays with circuits.
3) The pinheads with guns need to be checked somehow. They are running amok. Eventually they will kill innocent people.

bzelbob September 21, 2007 12:41 PM

@X the Unknown:

“Just because some idiot thinks an eggplant looks like a grenade doesn’t make it a “hoax device” – it makes the idiot a fool.”

Great quote! 🙂 Everyone in the Boston PD obviously needs to read this.

Thank God she didn’t show up at the airport with an small eggplant in her hand…

ryan September 21, 2007 12:44 PM

One thing that is missing is this whole notion of ‘fake devices’ is the discussion of intent. Intent is a powerful thing, and is written in to laws – for example the difference between manslaughter and murder – and is being forgotten in this discussion.

Was her intent to fool the police and cause a problem? My guess is no – it doesn’t seem to fit. Being charged with a ‘hoax device’ suggests that she had intent to deceive, but it’s obvious to everyone that there is no such intent here.

The cops clearly have too much power… guys with powerful guns tasked with the last line of protection. Yeah, that’s working out well.

Anonymous September 21, 2007 12:45 PM

@A Kamakani Too, she may be from Hawaii but she’s a sophomore at MIT which means she’s been in Boston for two years, including over the mooninite scare. Ignorance is no excuse. I also suspect (for what I believe to be very good reasons that I prefer not to disclose) that she may be acquainted with the mooninite perpetrators.

@bzelbob, problem is that the authorities will look stupid to those who already consider them to be stupid, and will look justified to those who are already predisposed to accept the need for anti-terror measures. Actions like this do nothing to shift the balance, they just make both poles more entrenched and resistant to change.

Brandioch Conner September 21, 2007 12:47 PM

@something to call you
“3) The pinheads with guns need to be checked somehow. They are running amok. Eventually they will kill innocent people.”

Yes, they will. Actually, they already have. But that’s a different story.

There is no reason, at this moment, to believe that the cops on the scene even SAW the device until AFTER they had arrested her.

Someone calls in a possible bomb threat and the cops should take the same actions.

Where it breaks down is immediately after. Once the cops have her, they should have been able to assess the threat and then IMMEDIATELY RELEASED HER.

Instead, the we see claims about “fake bombs” and such.

bork September 21, 2007 12:48 PM

The charges are excessive, but I really don’t think the rest of the reaction is. The device by itself isn’t scary. A wired device strapped to someone’s chest in an airport — a bit scarier. She definitely deserved to be arrested and questioned.

Anonymous September 21, 2007 12:50 PM

@OhBoy, based on that image I think it is very likely that this was an intentional provocative action by an acquaintance of the Mooninite artists.

nedu September 21, 2007 12:53 PM


After seeing a picture of the breadboard, I don’t see any probable cause to arrest Ms. Simpson.

I do see probable cause for arrests, though.

derf September 21, 2007 12:58 PM

The police are obviously in the wrong because it absolutely positively could not be a bomb:
1) There was no mechanical alarm clock attached.
2) There were no red cylinders with “dynamite” written on them attached.
3) There were no large bricks of putty with “C4” written on them attached.
4) There was no large LED display counting down to zero attached.
5) There was no ticking sound emanating from the device.

Nope – definitely not a bomb.

Kadin2048 September 21, 2007 1:06 PM

I think the most disgusting part of all this is how the AP is reporting the story. From the opening sentence of the AP story above:

“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.”

What the hell? It “turned out” to be a fake bomb? No, it didn’t. It turned out to be a bunch of blinky LEDs in a breadboard. It was categorically not a ‘fake bomb.’

With journalists like these, who needs propaganda?

MIT Class of 1991 September 21, 2007 1:44 PM

Sounds like she was “acting hinky” to me.

The employee asked about the plastic
circuit board on her chest, and Simpson
walked away without responding, Pare said.

And it sounds to me like the police responded proportionately to the perceived threat:

“She was immediately told to stop, to
raise her hands, and not make any
movement so we could observe all her
movements to see if she was trying to
trip any type of device,”

By all means, refuse to be terrorized, but also be prudent.

Lisa September 21, 2007 1:45 PM

To add to Kadin’s comment: the teaser that displays for the story is “AP – Star Simpson, 19, wanted to ‘stand out on career day’ by walking into U.S. airport with a fake bomb strapped to her chest.”

Okay, #1 having something attached to your shirt doesn’t really constitute having something “strapped” to you and #2 the way this is written it sounds like a career day publicity stunt instead of someone wearing an electronic name tag. (It has a star on it and her name is “Star,” get it, AP?)

David September 21, 2007 1:48 PM

Aren’t people forgetting 9/11 anniversary was just this month? I would imagine it heightened a bit of sensitivity in people. If you look at the clear picture of her ‘art’ you can see it does look a little strange. I can’t believe for a second that she didn’t think about that thing on her sweater when she walked into the airport. She should have not worn that in the airport. That was just plain stoopid.

Greg September 21, 2007 1:53 PM

What happens if the cops underreact? What happens if they just assume it’s some silly MIT student with a light badge and it really was someone wanting to blow something up? What then? Everyone screaming that the cops overreacted, would be screaming “WHY DIDN’T THEY STOP HER?!?!?!” I’d rather have the cops overreacting than not reacting enough. And it’s impossible to train every single cop in the US to be a bomb expert.

Anonymous September 21, 2007 1:54 PM

“3) The pinheads with guns need to be checked somehow. They are running amok. Eventually they will kill innocent people.”

Eventually? Will? They already did – read up on, say, Jean Charles de Menezes.

Dale. September 21, 2007 1:57 PM

I actually don’t think it was an overreaction by the police. It certainly was outside the norm, and the sweatshirt could have been holding a payload.

On this forum, we are all well above average in both intelligence and judgement 🙂 We know a real evildoer would hide the circuit board, and there wouldn’t be a bunch of LEDs on it.

The cops stopped her, and handed her over to folks who can recognize bombs. But then the media hype started.

Could she have been shot if she didn’t follow the orders of the cops? You bet. Same risk level if the cops stop someone with their hands in their sweatshirt. If you don’t follow instructions, you could end up in a morgue.

However, as a fellow geek, I feel for her. Back when I was a 19-year-old, I would have never thought a breadboard as a tool of terror.

David September 21, 2007 1:58 PM

Several people have commented that she could have been killed.

Just for the record, a mentally ill man was shot and killed by a member of the police force here in Miami, Florida. He had not taken his medicine and ran off an airplane. Shot and killed because of it.

No, the police officer was not charged with any crime. I would guess that he is back on duty.

Yes, things are that bad.

Brandioch Conner September 21, 2007 2:00 PM

“What happens if the cops underreact? What happens if they just assume it’s some silly MIT student with a light badge and it really was someone wanting to blow something up? What then?”

Then the cops would have been too late. They were called in AFTER someone noticed the “threat”.

Again, the cops reacted correctly when capturing her.

It’s their actions AFTER that are the problem.

“Everyone screaming that the cops overreacted, would be screaming “WHY DIDN’T THEY STOP HER?!?!?!””

No. Again, because the cops were called in AFTER the “threat” was recognized. If it had been a real bomb and she had been intent upon detonating it, she would have done so long before the cops got there.

“I’d rather have the cops overreacting than not reacting enough.”

Again, the cops on the scene did not “overreact”. It is the statements made AFTER they captured here that are the problem.

“And it’s impossible to train every single cop in the US to be a bomb expert.”

And who is claiming that “every single cop in the US” should be “a bomb expert”?

It certainly doesn’t require an expert to see that that was not a trigger for a bomb.

John Hritz September 21, 2007 2:03 PM


I think the facts are still hard to tease out of these accounts. How much time elapsed from inquiring about the flight to being engaged by law enforcement? It sounds like quite a long time elapsed between refusing to answer the question and the confrontation.

A few years back, a friend of mine tried to go through security in ABQ with a chrome belt buckle shaped like a 25 automatic. That went well.

Lou the troll September 21, 2007 2:07 PM

“This looks like “Blinking Light Phobia” overreaction in Boston, again.”

Indeed. I’ve stopped using my turn signals as they’re terribly suspicious looking…

Nicholas weaver September 21, 2007 2:11 PM

I hate to say it, but I don’t think it was an overreaction…

What she wore:


What a real vest looks like:

It is “close enough” that airport security acted in the right manner. Do you honestly expect the snap judgement of the officer to be able to distinguish between a plastic protoboard and a hunk of plastique?

However, I hope she just gets a slap on the wrist for her stupidity, I think she has learned her lesson. But classing this the same as the Moonie overreaction is ridiculous, the instantanious response was appropriate.

Anonymous September 21, 2007 2:12 PM

Apart from Silly Putty, there are ‘kneaded rubber erasers’ that are popular with artists who work in pencil (like so many high-school and college students who enjoy comic books). It’s a grimy gray putty that, gosh, you often carry in your hand and work over while you think.

There was even one time, back in the innocent past of the 1980’s, where I had a Swiss Army knife and was slicing the stuff up into smaller blocks (which then became a kind of miniature cubist/abstract sculpture).

What bothers me most of all is the “It’s a good thing she followed our instructions, or she could have been shot.”

Just amazing.

Anonymous September 21, 2007 2:13 PM

@Lou the troll, anyone who uses turn signals in Boston is suspicious, and obviously not from here.

Josh O September 21, 2007 2:18 PM

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m calling the FBI right away to report a bomb making supply store operating under a cover of “Radio Shack”. Yeah right, guys. I see all those bread-boards and LEDs in there. And what’s this! Toys ‘R’ Us is loaded with various putties. Obviously, we have much work to do!

Eric September 21, 2007 2:24 PM

The security folks are crowing about having caught somebody who was wearing a clearly visible electronic device and asked for information at a kiosk. If anything, I would say that her behavior made her clearly not a threat. How dumb do they think real terrorists are?

Douglas Barnes September 21, 2007 2:26 PM

Here is the most reasonable coverage I’ve seen of the incident: http://www-tech.mit.edu/V127/N40/simpson.html

The police clearly spun this as hard as they possibly could with phrases like “strapped to chest”, implying that the “putty” was incorporated into the device, and, of course, repeatedly referring to it as a “fake bomb,” when in fact it was a “real LED device.”


6 September 21, 2007 2:29 PM


That’s what a trigger for an explosive device would look like.
The circuit board she was wearing didnt even had any capacitor on it, neither any chip that could be a timer. Yes they could have been hidden but why show part of the circuit in the first place…
If she had an optical flash in her hand probably the security wouldn’t have been notified just because it looks like a “regular” device.

Josh O September 21, 2007 2:32 PM

Here’s a scene from the next comedy movie. I Mr. Bean drops his tofu and his cellphone on the floor in an airport. The cellphone breaks in half and the circuit board bounces and lands in the blob of tofu on the ground. Security proceeds to shoot Mr. Bean for assembling a bomb.

Joshua September 21, 2007 2:40 PM

Close-up, it looks “obviously” harmless. Ten feet away, you might not be able to recognise the breadboard. Instead, it’s a rectangular block with wires and a battery.

Shit, if I saw somebody with that in an airport, I’d think it was a bomb. And I’m an electrical engineer, so I’m familiar with exactly that type of breadboard — but things look different from farther away.

If anything, I blame the media for overhyping this. Yes, the “fake bomb” angle was utterly wrong, but before the press conference happened and pictures were released, they didn’t know what it looked like. There’s got to be a better phrase, though, because it’s obviously not a “fake bomb”, and calling something a “fake bomb” implies an intentional hoax. This was more of “a device that resembled a bomb”, at best, which could cover either an intentional hoax or a simple misunderstanding.

Not that journalists give a shit about accuracy, of course.

MIT grad September 21, 2007 2:41 PM

Everyone saying that she “should have known” about the Mooninite scare earlier this year is seriously overestimating the attention the average MIT student pays to the rest of the world. The Mooninite scare happened right at the end of IAP – MIT’s wintersession where students cram their schedules with projects, research, classes, and anything else they “don’t have time for” during the academic year – and right at the beginning of the spring semester. And MIT freshman are notorious for getting so caught up in school stuff that they entirely lose track of the rest of the world. Wouldn’t surprise me at all if this kid has never even heard of the damn lite-brite overreaction.

Anonymous September 21, 2007 2:48 PM

Under the protections of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and art. 14 of the Declaration of Rights of the Massachusetts Constitution, a police officer may not lawfully arrest a person without probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed. “[P]robable cause exists where, at the moment of arrest, the facts and circumstances within the knowledge of the police are enough to warrant a prudent person in believing that the individual arrested has committed or was committing an offense.”

Douglas Barnes September 21, 2007 2:54 PM


I’ve been watching the mainstream coverage shift to hedge a bit more about the “bomb” aspect, and incorporate the “art” meme, but the vast majority of the articles still say “fake bomb” and “hoax.” Given the facts that are now available, maintaining headlines like “MIT Student Arrested With Fake Bomb” starts to look like reckless disregard for the truth.

comreich September 21, 2007 2:56 PM

So “anonymous” was this a case of “probable cause” to arrest her? By that definition it certainly wasn’t. They detained her, identified that the device was totally bogus and still arrested her. That should have earned 10 minutes in detention and a nice burly officer explaining to her that her actions, though harmless, were rather stupid. End of story. She may be clueless, but she is harmless.

Mark J. September 21, 2007 3:12 PM

Sorry, I’m not going for the overreaction stance this time. This was abject stupidity on the part of the MIT student. She is very lucky to be alive.

R. Scott Buchanan September 21, 2007 3:19 PM

Had Miss Simpson not done her cryptic performance artist shtick when the first Massport employee asked her about her shirt, I might buy the police overreaction argument. But she didn’t, and I’m not sure how else Boston PD were supposed to react when they got the call, and didn’t have a clear look at the stuff on her shirt.

Instead, the argument I have to put forth is that MIT has really lowered their admissions standards. It’s not like the undergrads have shown an overabundance of good sense in the past.


vldr September 21, 2007 3:25 PM

If security wouldn’t have ignored her “fake bomb”, you’d probably have written an article about noone acting on someone obviously wearing something that looks like a bomb.

I seriously have the impression she was provoking the airport security and/or trying to get attention.

Anonymous September 21, 2007 3:31 PM

@MIT Grad, re whether she “should have known”

I am fairly sure that she is personally acquainted with the Mooninite artists.

Cochese Tonto September 21, 2007 3:31 PM

Hey Bruce- in the same spirit as your TSA interview, what are the chances of you getting a phone interview with the Chief Yahoo at Boston PD or the Mass Port Auth. and get their take on this year’s influx of Radio Shack-based terrorist cels?

Notice I said “phone interview”- I’d hate for you to travel all the way to Boston just to get shot for brandishing pen & paper.

Antony September 21, 2007 3:33 PM

Something to keep in mind, that’s not being mentioned AT ALL in the press: When she was wearing her hoodie, the circuit breadboard and 9V battery were INSIDE, so the only thing visible was a little green blinky LED star. Why would an MIT art-geek wear an ugly circuit board on the outside of her shirt?

So everyone who’s saying “but from far away it looks like a bomb”… that’s because the only photo you’ve seen is the cop holding the sweatshirt inside-out.

Bill West September 21, 2007 3:37 PM

Indeed. I’ve stopped using my turn signals
as they’re terribly suspicious looking…

Oh, be honest… if you’re a MA driver, you never used turn signals anyway.

Terry September 21, 2007 3:49 PM

Antony: are you sure only the LEDs were visible? I don’t think they are showing the shirt inside out in the pictures, because the LEDs are showing in the picture.

photonics September 21, 2007 3:51 PM

She was wearing her hoodie right side out and had the 2″x6″ breadboard with the 9V battery on the outside. She may be a hip art kid, but the photos do show the entire assembly on the outside of the sweatshirt that she wore to the career fair as a pun on her name.

She’s out on $750 cash bail.

Another Anonymous September 21, 2007 3:51 PM


Please change the title of this blog entry. It unfairly implies that the device was intended to look like a bomb. I consider it bad journalism when journalists pick a misleading title like that.

Bryant September 21, 2007 3:52 PM

Antony — that’s inaccurate. Boing Boing was claiming the circuitboard was on the inside for a while, but take a close look at the picture. The image on the front of the hoodie is surface-only, and wouldn’t be on the inside of the cloth. There aren’t any seams, as there would be if the hoodie was inside out. Finally, you can see the hoodie’s pouch at the bottom of the picture.

I think she should have been released, and I certainly think the charges should be dropped. I also don’t think she was intentionally provoking anyone. It’s really easy to imagine a distracted student in a busy airport missing the question, or not hearing it, or what have you.

Anonymous September 21, 2007 3:59 PM

Everyone should go to airports in protest wearing breadboards with LEDs. It must be done en masse so that the police cannot hound a lone individual, and so that if mass arrests occur, people realize the state this country is in and do something about it.

In the 60’s we’d be marching on Washington already.

Brainiac September 21, 2007 4:04 PM

  • Woman Arrested at Airport For Wearing Art Someone Didn’t Get.
  • Misunderstood Artist Arrested at Airport.
  • Woman Wearing Blinking Shirt Arrested for Disturbing the Peace.

I don’t know, I just don’t feel alarmed reading these headlines. They can’t be any good.

Alan De Smet September 21, 2007 4:05 PM

She made a bad decision. These things happen, and our systems should be good enough to elegantly handle these situations. Three things stick out a unreasonable in how this situation was handled:

  1. She’s being charged with “possessing a hoax device”, the same BS charge that the Mooninite scare used. For it to be a hoax, there has to be intent. Unless they can reasonably claim her intent was to convince people that it was a bomb, there was no hoax, so it’s BS charge. Unfortunately intent is hard to judge, which may be why the Boston prosecutors like the charge so much.

  2. She’s being charged at all. This was a stupid mistake, but everyone makes stupid mistakes. No one (excepting her) was at risk. She should get a stern, “Don’t do that!” If they feel the need, give her a token fine. But that’s it.

  3. The police were carrying what was described as either submachineguns or machineguns. Assuming this is used to describe fully-automatic weapons, what the hell? Airports are typically crowded buildings full of innocent people. That’s a bad situation for fully automatic or burst fire. Anytime you fire a bullet you risk hitting a bystander, so why chose weapons designed to put lots of bullets into the air? What possible advantage could having machineguns provide over pistols? If you’re facing a lone or small number of violent criminals, pistols will do just fine. If you’re facing more, well, we’ve got much, much deeper problems if we’re reduced to large scale gun battles on US soil.

Anonymous September 21, 2007 4:07 PM

@Another Anonymous, if the intent was that the device would be mistaken for a bomb the title would be correct.

It would still be a “fake bomb” even if the intent was to prove overreaction to a device that didn’t look like a bomb beyond the most cursory glance.

Personally I think that’s the case, it probably was intended to elicit the same reaction as a bomb from a casual observer while having minimal resemblance to a bomb.

Sam September 21, 2007 4:17 PM

@6 – Are you serious? Dod you actually expect cops to examine the breadboard close enough to pick out capacitors?

From the sound of it, the police EOD team ( highly trained experts), pretty quickly determined it was a benign device.

This situation went exactly as it should have. Police stablized the situation, experts were called in, determined there was no bomb, and she was charged with being a dumbass.

A Kamakani Too September 21, 2007 4:28 PM


I’m quite sure she has nothing to do with the mooninite artists. But you keep repeating that baseless claim. Put up or shut up.

Leila September 21, 2007 4:32 PM

Context is everything. She was in an airport. She was in an airport that had hosted two of the 9/11 hijackers. I would agree with Mark J.: Abject stupidity and she is very lucky to be alive.

She should also win an award for solipsism.

Andrew September 21, 2007 4:36 PM

I am going to turn the dial all the way to the right on this one. Let’s say it WAS a bomb. That’s kind of why we can justify waving automatic weapons around in a crowd, right?

Was any effort made to separate her from the large number of people she could have killed by walking over to the crowded TSA sheeple line?

Was a bomb bucket, blanket or other ad hoc device available?

Could the airport police have obtained compliance from her by putting as few officers as possible at risk?

Has anyone done studies on what happens if one Tasers an IED?

Last but not least, just what is supposed to prevent a nice taxicab laden with a small circuit board and a lot more boom from driving into the departures area?

Just saying . . . either we are at war, and should act that way, or we should stop blaming distracted MIT geniuses for our security problems.

Rob September 21, 2007 4:36 PM

What possible justification is there for hassling her and not every person carrying a briefcase? They could be hiding anything in there!

A dumb mistake was made by whoever first decided a funny-looking nametag was more likely to be a bomb than any given carry-on. OK, dumb mistakes happen.

Arresting her and going to the press about a “hoax device” is the part that is inexcusable, not to mention actionable.

Having got anywhere near shooting her is deeply disturbing and makes me sad for the state of our society.

Sean Barrett September 21, 2007 4:42 PM

That salon blog says that friends “say she wears the hoodie on a regular basis — it’s just unfortunate that she had it on while trying to pick a friend up at the airport.”

I’m just confused why the fact she wore a sweatershirt with a hood is even relevant in the first place–as well as the fact that it was black, both of which are mentioned in the first sentence of the Guardian quote. Nobody seems to be claiming she was wearing the hood.

Chris Tucker September 21, 2007 4:53 PM

based on that image I think it is very likely that this was an intentional provocative action by an acquaintance of the Mooninite artists.

Posted by: Anonymous

You really and truly are a huge fsking idiot.


TJ September 21, 2007 4:56 PM

“The very smart sometimes confuse themselves as to what constitutes a good idea, because they can lack common sense.”

The very smart can sometimes forget just how dumb some others can be … especially if they hang around with smart people all day.

Leila September 21, 2007 5:02 PM

Shouldn’t we expect a student from one of the top universities in the country to understand enough about the society we live in today to not enter an airport wearing anything that could be even remotely mistaken for a suicide bomb vest?

Apparently not. Apparently MIT students “don’t really do mornings.”

From Salon blog:

A woman from Instructables.com who knows Simpson tells Boing Boing that Simpson’s friends at MIT “say she wears the hoodie on a regular basis — it’s just unfortunate that she had it on while trying to pick a friend up at the airport. MIT students don’t really do mornings, or worry about what they’re wearing, so I can’t imagine she’d even think about her clothes before heading out to pick up a friend at the airport before 8 a.m.”

From the prosecutor’s comments in this article, this young woman appears to have no understanding whatsoever of anything beyond her own addled consciousness.


Chris Tucker September 21, 2007 5:07 PM

Dear Lord, I wish someone would put together a kit of parts and the PCB for this.


Imagine a few hundred people going about their lawful occasions at Logan, each one wearing their own personal Ignignokt, graphically displaying how they feel about the terror theater taking place every day there.

Anonymous September 21, 2007 5:17 PM

@Chris Tucker, jumping to conclusions that my statements show me to be an idiot, without yourself having any clue about what grounds I might have, show you to be equal or worse.

@A Kamakani Too, personal acquaintance with one or more of the three individuals involved provides grounds for my comments. I don’t want to be more specific than that, for reasons that should be obvious.

Imputing motive or conscious thought may be inappropriate. As several posters have mentioned, very smart people sometimes fail to think, or think in strange ways.

I may also be assuming too much by inferring acquaintance means familiarity. Star might know Sean and/or Leonid without knowing anything about their Mooninite fame – although it seems unlikely to me. Her being unaware of the Mooninite flap is even less likely, assertions in other posts here notwithstanding.

Reasonable September 21, 2007 5:21 PM

I don’t think police over-reacted. In fact, I want police to keep questioning anyone carrying anything that looks like a bomb. Much better than the other possibility.

JohnAnnArbor September 21, 2007 5:22 PM

The same people complaining about “police overreaction” here are the types that scream the loudest when a real security breach happens.

Chris Tucker September 21, 2007 5:25 PM

@Chris Tucker, jumping to conclusions that my statements show me to be an idiot, without yourself having any clue about what grounds I might have, show you to be equal or worse.

No, really, you are a fsking idiot. Unless you provide something more than “Guess what, she knows those two guys that did something with LEDs and I’m not gonna tell you any more about how I know she knows those two guys. I know something you don’t know!”, you will remain a fsking idiot.

And for God’s sake, have the balls to use your real name!

No one really cares what an anonymous coward has to say. Certainly not an anonymous coward who makes an accusation and them refuses to back it up.

Chris Tucker September 21, 2007 5:30 PM

By the way,

I may also be assuming too much by inferring acquaintance means familiarity.

Jeebus, is this what passes for English education these days?

You imply, I infer.

Anonymous September 21, 2007 5:34 PM

The key thing is that no MIT EE/CS student would ever think that a blinking breadboard looks anything like a bomb. So the intent behind the hoax aspect is pretty unlikely, and the media’s failure to notice this almost seems to be slander by negligence.

As for the rest.. if you are surrounded by people smart enough to know the difference between an LED and an IED, day in and day out, it might be easy to forget that large parts of Boston security apparatus at large just don’t “get” electronics that way.

Now, it seems to me that LEDs are probably much cheaper than IEDs. So somebody could really cause a lot of inconvenience by taking advantage of the Boston PD’s inability to discriminate between the two. Imagine a real Hollywood movie plot, where many many blinking boxes are put out on the streets in order to distract the police from addressing actual threats. For a reaction force to be so easy to distract actually bothers me some.

Anonymous September 21, 2007 5:38 PM

Look, the police should have released her once they determined it was not a bomb. Maybe with some warnings about not wearing blinky things into an airport that has a lot of overreactive, paranoid fools, but come on.
Charge someone like her if the device actually looks like a bomb or is a bomb but stop overreacting to a battery and lights.

Adair September 21, 2007 6:19 PM

And suppose she had really been wearing a bomb when the pigs approached with automatic weapons drawn. “Freeze! Don’t Mo…” (Boom).

Really smart.

Pat Cahalan September 21, 2007 6:27 PM

@ TJ

The very smart can sometimes forget just how dumb some others can be

Right, because they lack common sense 🙂

Common sense says that packing a weird looking device with wires when walking into an airport will get you into serious trouble. Justified or not, she’s really lucky that some trigger happy idiot didn’t blow her head off.

The fact that this would have been a tragic, stupid overreaction wouldn’t make her less dead.

fogg September 21, 2007 6:28 PM

@Nicholas Weaver: If I was looking at a set of images, trying to pick the suicide bombers from the innocent bystanders, I’d have to spend more than a couple seconds to distinguish this toy from a suicide bomb (agreeing with you here). If I was at Boston airport and saw those two people, I’d assume the LED thing was a toy, and it might take as much as a minute to figure out the other was a suicide bomb. There haven’t been a lot of airport suicide bombs in the U.S. recently, so I wouldn’t really be expecting to see one.

Anonymous September 21, 2007 6:38 PM

Often quoted was the cop who said “she’s lucky she’s in a cell, not in the morgue.”
The COPS are lucky she’s not in the morgue. Despite what the internal investigation would have said, it would have gone poorly for the cops had she been shot. There was a hell of a hullabaloo when Victoria Snelgrove was shot to death by a cop wielding a pepper-spray gun (siad cop not even being certified to use said gun) and there’s still a lot of sore nerves about it.

Joel Sax September 21, 2007 7:11 PM

I took one look at the “evidence” and decided that there was woeful stupidity all around. If Simpson miscalculated anything, it was the degree to which airport people are inclined to consider anything electronic as a “bomb”. These are people who panic over bottled drinks, after all.

Fortunately she was smart enough to follow instructions and hit the deck when they drew the bead on her.

Ben Rosengart September 21, 2007 7:22 PM

I’ve seen a lot of comments on news stories indicating that she “should have known” that this would happen.

I wonder how many of the people saying that don’t own a television. Because the way I read that is, it should be illegal to be a little weird and out of it. And that pisses me off. I’m a little weird, but not out of it — but it’s my right to be out of it if I want to be.

RC September 21, 2007 7:34 PM

The most likely explanation is that the woman is mentally ill. In almost any other circumstance, that explanation would be given due consideration. But because it was an example of faux terrorism, that explanation seems to be rejected out of hand.

Leila September 21, 2007 8:03 PM

Ben, with all due respect. She was an MIT student. To not know that airports are immensely edgy places these days would mean a degree of being out of it that is basically implausible. She doesn’t need to have a television. She lives in a city, there are newspapers, there are conversations, there is the Net. She has flown in planes from Hawaii, she presumably knows about the attacks. She was a top student in Hawaii, she got into MIT. Nothing about her suggests a hermit fresh from the Mojave or Sinai for the past 20 years.

Nobody is saying it should be “illegal” as you put it to be a little weird and a little out of it. But it is dangerous. Since you say you are not “out of it,” it appears you do see the usefulness of being in touch.

I don’t think she was naive. I think she was either stupid, arrogant, or pulling a stunt.

Nathan L. Walls September 21, 2007 8:20 PM

I’ve seen a lot of comments about her alleged “intent” to cause trouble at the airport particularly when she, an MIT student, deigned to ignore a “lowly” Massport employee. Please spare us the lecture that fits the world-view that gowns want to piss on the townies. The truth, I suspect, is far more benign. Troublesome when it doesn’t fit with preconceived notions.

Honestly, I can see that someone made something they thought was cool, put it and went to the airport, because putting clothes on to go to the airport is what people tend to do.

Sometimes, I carry a pocket knife. I can see being forgetful and getting to security with it in my pocket. Does that make me a bad person, “ignoring the reality of a post-9/11 world?”

Is it possible she was a bit absent-minded and didn’t hear the question? I know I’ve spaced out in public spaces before. Thank God it wasn’t with a Lite Brite.

Besides, it’s far more likely the next batch of terrorists are going to short circuit their LiIon batteries. Is an exploding Dell an “infernal device?”

A Kamakani Too September 21, 2007 8:26 PM

Leila, perhaps you don’t understand college life for people in the sciences. Engineering majors are well insulated from the rest of the world. They don’t watch the news, they don’t read the newspaper. They study all night, and spend their days in the classroom, in the lab or if they are lucky, getting some nooky. World events pass engineering majors by like the wind blowing in an empty valley.

It’s amazing how many people are willing to ascribe malicious or otherwise deliberate intent to her actions when anyone with a hint of empathy can see that she’s just been caught up in someone’s irrational hysteria.

Just because Star has flown a few times across half the pacific does not mean she knows just how truly stupid the TSA is. For example, if she wasn’t carrying liquids, she wouldn’t have had to deal with that bit of silliness.

Perhaps I am biased since we are both kamakanis, but damn! You people are doing exactly the kind of thing that Bruce talked about in his essay on correspondent inference:

UNTER September 21, 2007 8:44 PM

@Sam “She was charged with being a dumbass”.

I’ve then got charges for about 99% of the human race. That comment, that for being a “dumbass”, or in other words eccentric, the proper response is to charge the individual with some crime, is mind-blowingly stupid and authoritarian.

I think that about says it all – why this country is going in the sh*tter so quickly. Being a bit strange is enough to deserve punishment. That’s how the soviets felt, that’s how the fascists felt, that’s how the people in every totalitarian or slinking towards totalitarian state feel.

Kill the freaks! Why? They make us nervous, and that, by itself, is a crime.

UNTER September 21, 2007 8:53 PM

@A Kamakani Too:

No, it’s not correspondent inference. It’s something much older – projection.

If I live in terror, constantly thinking about how everyone and everything may be a danger too me, how every stranger may want to kill me, how everything unusual may be the end of the world, well someone who simply doesn’t live there must be either evil, insane, arrogant or stupid.

Otherwise, it might be that I’m the one with the mental problem – and that just won’t do. Not at all…

It’s all happened before.

DG; September 21, 2007 9:54 PM

Maybe they should consider taking bullets away from all these police officers carrying ‘submachineguns’. That way they can posture, without the chance of killing anyone by over-reacting.

Sounds like a false arrest lawsuit in the making.

MIT Grad September 21, 2007 9:56 PM

Leila: With all due respect, you do not understand what the life of an average MIT grad is like. Many (I won’t say most because I have no idea about kids who lived on the other side of campus) MIT students do not have tvs and do not get the newspaper. Their news is entirely filtered by what shows up on blogs (like this one) and Google news, IF they have time to check the news. But when you work sixteen hour days just to stay afloat, checking the news suddenly becomes a lot less important. You just don’t hear the news unless you are a serious news junkie or unless something is big enough that everyone around you is talking about it, and keep in mind that everyone else is just as snowed under as you are, and also working sixteen hour days, and not getting enough sleep to stay coherent.

I can’t buy the claim that she was being arrogant or deliberately pulling a stunt by ignoring the airport official. MIT students are notorious for our complete lack of social skills and ability to communicate with other people. ITt’s a regrettable stereotype, but one that has strong basis in truth. School has been in session for several weeks now, and if she’s like most kids I knew in school, she’s probably suffering from extreme sleep deprivation which is known to cause lapses in good judgement akin to those caused by drunkenness.

I dont know if Anonymous is correct in asserting that she knows the Mooninites – I don’t know any of the players in either drama. Even if she does know them and was aware of the lite-brite nonsense, well, see above about lack of sleep and its effects on decision making skills.

Stefan Wagner September 21, 2007 10:18 PM

Do a google-image-search for wearable electronics:
Are there real planes at Bostons airport or montgolfieres?

I found fake-bomb in my washing-machine, mobile-phone, printer, bycicle-tachometer, tv, – I’m surrounded by fake-bombs.

I guess the security staff is bored, watching no terrorists day after day – year for year.
A blinking device is a big sensation after investigating 11oz. liquid, 9oz. liquid, 12oz. liquids…

Leila September 21, 2007 10:31 PM

Fair enough MIT grad, but I would assume 9/11 and its aftermath would be big enough events to qualify. Also, she’s just a sophomore mind you, so she hasn’t been in that MIT world more than two years. If you and “A Kamakani too” are serious, and engineering and other science students know almost zero about world events and care even less, that speaks quite ill of their education and their capacity for future useful and especially ethical behavior since their work may eventually be used in political ways.

I only used arrogant and stunt as possibilities. I am more inclined to agree with the ed in chief of Wired, one of her supporters, who spoke of a “lapse of judgment.” The less kind would translate that as stupidity.

nedu September 21, 2007 11:32 PM

I just listened to the prosecutor’s side of the story at the arraignment. And then I compared the facts alleged by the prosecutor to the elements of the crime with which Ms. Simpson is charged.

I don’t need to watch her response to the prosecutor’s allegations. There’s no crime made out here.

Her bond should be returned to her with apologies from the people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

(raw video of arraignment follows newscast)
(possing a hoax device)

Further, we do need to find out why the police felt it necessary to arrest her “with guns drawn”. This “lucky to be alive” and “morgue” stuff is unreasonable.

Leo September 22, 2007 3:57 AM

It’s amazing how many people here believe that we should be living in a police state, that 9/11 is justification for throwing away the freedom so many from earlier generations died for.

Ms. Simpson did nothing wrong. She didn’t even have a “lapse in judgement”. Law enforcement, on the other hand, over-reacted. They know they did, too. That’s why the bail is so low. If we still live in a free society then when all this is over all the charges will be dropped in return for Ms. Simpson agreeing not to sue. That’s the way law enforcement has covered up their mistakes for a long time. If she’s actually prosecuted then we’re on the way to a police state.

As far as no one being harmed, as some have said, Ms. Simpson has been harmed. In a truly just society she’d make good money off the lawsuit.

averros September 22, 2007 6:05 AM

“Geez. She’s lucky to be alive.”
“She’s lucky to be in a cell as opposed
to the morgue.”

Wait. Something is very, very wrong here.

Yes. The police became a heavily-armed criminal gang threatening grave violence to people who didn’t commit ANY crimes and just happened to irritate sensibilities of some goons in uniform.

They were edging that way for decades, but now what they are is plain for everyone (who keeps their eyes open) to see.

And,. folks, stuff the BS about “being stupid” in provoking the goons. She has a RIGHT to wear whatever decorations she wants. They have NO right to detain, threaten, or harm her for that. These cops are criminals, guilty of kidnapping, making murder threats, battery, and attempted assault with deadly weapons.

It is as simple as that.

Dom De Vitto September 22, 2007 7:32 AM

Rudolf the Raindeer shot dead at Boston Airport.

Police said “Yeah, he had lights, cables and some kind of bomb-like parcel..”.

OMG! Think about bringing a Christmas tree into Boston – WHO are they using as experts on this? Why do they think that bombs have blinky lights???

Have they noticed that Hand grenades DONT have blinky lights, batteries or wires?

Did IQs suddenly drop since 9/11 ?

jeff September 22, 2007 7:43 AM

Hm, from my remote point of view (a.k.a. Europe) the police at least in parts of the US seems a bit trigger-happy. Nevertheless, internationally it also seems to be a well known problem that, wherever you go, customs police and airport security assembles the biggest morons around, dresses them and hands them weapons.
Anyway, overreactions like that will only be a matter of time, so I guess these guys were only lucky when walking around in Berlin last year, wearing cool stuff like that [1] using subway trains and stations while at least the railway police seemed smart enough not to bother them.

[1] http://blog.wired.com/wiredphotos11/2006/12/german_hacker_g.html

jmr September 22, 2007 7:59 AM

I’m ashamed to live in this state.

My friends and I make jokes about “The People’s Republik of Massachusetts”, but it isn’t funny any more.

MadOverlord September 22, 2007 8:09 AM

She did an incredibly stupid thing. A moment’s reflection would have told her that. So she either had a brainfart of legendary proportions, or she did it deliberately. Either way, dumb. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

The reaction of the security staff was justified. First, there was no way they could know if it was real or not, at the time — but it looked horribly suspicious. Second, concerning the “well, since it was exposed, it couldn’t have been a bomb” line of reasoning, consider that if they don’t react, then they have now told the bad guys exactly how to proceed – walk in with something that looks suspicious, and you’ll get left alone. Not to mention that she could have been a garden-variety psychotic.

So they have to default to reacting to any perceived threat, because from their standpoint, better to have a false positive than a false negative.

Note that this does not mean that I agree that the current security protocols at airports, etc., are wisely designed — I don’t. It merely means that, given the job the security staff was tasked to do, and the reasonable limitations of their expertise, they made the right call. Can you tell the difference between C4 and PlayDough/putty at a distance?

The aftermath, of course, that’s a different story.

L8Shift September 22, 2007 8:40 AM

How well did she do at the Job Fair?

I suspect most HS pre-engr. students would have done a better job with the ‘board’ than she did…

I can forgive genius types for lacking some ‘common sense’….

nedu September 22, 2007 8:43 AM


Assume, arguendo, that the police were able to articulate a reasonable suspicion that an individual carrying a bomb was in the airport terminal.

Then, what was the appropriate police response?

I submit that a panic response with drawn guns and visible threats of deadly force was the wrong reaction.

Suppose that she had been meeting a confederate, planning to pass the device to someone about to board an airplane. Intelligence is required to meet that threat.

Or, suppose that she was merely a deranged psychotic. I’ll leave the appropriate response in that case to expert testimony. But I’ll submit that the police response was inapproprate even for that contingency.

And, let me stress again: The flat fact here is that accepting all of the factual allegations of the prosecution as true, there is no probable cause to believe any offense has been committed by Ms. Simpson.

jmr September 22, 2007 8:47 AM

See the URL for the source for the following. This is the applicable section of Massachusetts General Law:




Chapter 266: Section 102A1/2. Possession, transportation, use or placement of hoax devices; penalty; law enforcement or public safety officer exemption

Section 102A1/2. (a) Whoever possesses, transports, uses or places or causes another to knowingly or unknowingly possess, transport, use or place any hoax device or hoax substance with the intent to cause anxiety, unrest, fear or personal discomfort to any person or group of persons shall be punished by imprisonment in a house of correction for not more than two and one-half years or by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than five years or by a fine of not more than $5,000, or by both such fine and imprisonment.

(b) For the purposes of this section, the term “hoax device??? shall mean any device that would cause a person reasonably to believe that such device is an infernal machine. For the purposes of this section, the term “infernal machine??? shall mean any device for endangering life or doing unusual damage to property, or both, by fire or explosion, whether or not contrived to ignite or explode automatically. For the purposes of this section, the words “hoax substance??? shall mean any substance that would cause a person reasonably to believe that such substance is a harmful chemical or biological agent, a poison, a harmful radioactive substance or any other substance for causing serious bodily injury, endangering life or doing unusual damage to property, or both.

(c) This section shall not apply to any law enforcement or public safety officer acting in the lawful discharge of official duties.

(d) The court shall, after a conviction, conduct a hearing to ascertain the extent of costs incurred, damages and financial loss suffered by local, county or state public safety agencies and the amount of property damage caused as a result of the violation of this section. A person found guilty of violating this section shall, in all cases, upon conviction, in addition to any other punishment, be ordered to make restitution to the local, county or state government for any costs incurred, damages and financial loss sustained as a result of the commission of the offense. Restitution shall be imposed in addition to incarceration or fine; however, the court shall consider the defendant’s present and future ability to pay in its determinations regarding a fine. In determining the amount, time and method of payment of restitution, the court shall consider the financial resources of the defendant and the burden restitution will impose on the

John Phillips September 22, 2007 9:14 AM

It now appears that the US has become the home of the scared shitless rather than the home of the brave. The terrorists have already won, the US just hasn’t fully woken up to the fact yet

Douglas Barnes September 22, 2007 9:36 AM

It’s abundantly clear that airport security should have firmly asked her not to display the shirt (since the staff at the airport are jittery idiots) or leave. Guns, hysteria, charges, and cries of “hoax device” are completely uncalled for.

(As an aside, my wife treats a number of patients for 9-11 related psychological trauma, and every time there’s another one of these ridiculous hysterical scares, they’re re-traumatized.)

I wonder if MIT is still taking the position that her actions were “reckless” now that all the facts are out.

(From http://wbztv.com/topstories/local_story_264104114.html)

“MIT is cooperating fully with the State Police in the investigation of an incident at Logan Airport this morning involving Star Simpson, a sophomore at MIT. As reported to us by authorities, Ms. Simpson’s actions were reckless and understandably created alarm at the airport.”

This is an entirely irresponsible statement, and should be retracted if MIT doesn’t want to be contributing its deep pockets to her defamation claim.

The only parties I’ve seen who could be described as “reckless” were the gun-toting cops who consider her “lucky” not to be “in the morgue.”

Mitch September 22, 2007 10:33 AM

@John Phillips:

“It now appears that the US has become the home of the scared shitless rather than the home of the brave. The terrorists have already won, the US just hasn’t fully woken up to the fact yet”

The quote that is becoming more and more relevant here is:

“I love my country, but fear my government.”

Chris Tucker September 22, 2007 10:48 AM

Chris Tucker, please make your points without the name-calling. Thank you.

Well, I suppose one man’s ‘name calling’ is another’s ‘stating the bleeding obvious’, but there you go.

As you wish.

Guillermito September 22, 2007 11:11 AM

I live in Boston. Every time I go downtown to buy some LEDs at a RadioShack close to some federal buildings, I’m afraid of being shot on sight. It’s a pity, especially in this city full of electronic students, hackers, DIYers and tinkerers. One day, any attempt at creativity will be considered dangerous.

Anonymous September 22, 2007 12:06 PM

Morons: “She was immediately told to stop, to raise her hands and not to make any movement, so we could observe all her movements to see if she was trying to trip any type of device,” –Don’t they realize that the damn things are set off BY raising their hands? If they really believed it was a bomb, they should have just shot her, no questions asked, at least they showed some restraint…

And or course, all the bombers out there are going to be wearing circuit boards with blinking lights in plain view…ahh, I could go on and on, but it is just crazed over-reaction.

Yep, living in Boston, I guess you should be more careful, but really she was just wearing what she had put on earlier…

JJ Brannon September 22, 2007 12:09 PM

I believe this was inadvertent

Career Day was Thursday, 20 Sep 2007, a festival-like occasion.

She made and wore the day before, woke late to meet her boyfriend at the airport, grabbed her hoody [to preen before her BF], ran two blocks to Kendell Red Line, changed at South Station to the Silver Line, and stepped off at Logan at the first information kiosk.

Then she went outside to either look for him or to return to her residence hall.

As a middle-aged, Caucasian, conservative-leaning, civil liberties-respecting MIT alumnus, that’s my take.


Nick Lancaster September 22, 2007 1:05 PM

The issue is not with clueless, ill-informed, or common-sense lacking citizens.

The problem is with law enforcement that is increasingly responding to matters with a bogus ‘post-9/11’ mindset that is equally lacking in common sense.

Everything can’t be a bomb. Certainly, I question the assumption that a terrorist will wear their circuit boards on the OUTSIDE, carry plastic explosives IN THEIR HAND, and openly approach an airport employee.

(I was at a Star Wars convention back in May, and security had an issue with a Nerf blaster I was bringing in for an event, ‘because it fires projectiles.’ Funny thing is, nobody seemed to notice the person who had the exact same Nerf blaster painted black and worn as part of a costume …)

Nick Lancaster September 22, 2007 1:08 PM

Oh – and in the ‘post 9-11’ ‘Jack Bauer’ mindset, Simpson wouldn’t have been the terrorist – she’d have been the poor girl who’d been kidnapped, drugged insensate and set loose with a bomb taped to her hoodie, waiting for ol’ Jack to swoop in with the CTI team to defeat the timer …

Tesla September 22, 2007 2:06 PM

Question for the group: how many genuine suicide bombers have been apprehended at U.S. airports over (say) the last 6 years?

Richard George September 22, 2007 3:12 PM

Star would have predicted that wearing an unusual electronic device would provoke a reaction from the airport security people; Why would she invite the cops to make a mistake and arrest her, or do something much worse?

I think your Breadboard suffragette is misdirecting her protests — it’s the people who set the TSA policy that need to be made to change their ways.

Suppose the guard had said:

“Ooh, that’s a funny home-made electronic device that I really don’t understand, and she’s holding a substance which could be plastic explosive, or just silly putty. Well, it’s probably OK because she says so. I hope she doesn’t use the ambiguity to change her story on board and threaten that she has a bomb, because then she might be able to hijack the plane on the strength of a threat alone, irrespective of whether the device is functional or not.”

If it were revealed a guard let such an ambiguous device go through in our current climate, that guard would loose their job and be replaced by someone more aggressive. If the device were used to threaten an attack, that guard would be assumed to be complicit and spend the rest of his life in jail, or worse.

I really don’t see what was achieved here, other than needlessly stressing out some random TSA minions.

Jay Levitt September 22, 2007 4:32 PM

I can’t believe we’re even debating this. Two things should be obvious to anyone:

  1. In a post-9/11 world – seven years after the terrorists killed thousands of Americans in a plot that involved no bombs – you don’t go around with things that contain visible components that look like what other people who don’t know what a bomb looks like might potentially think a bomb could look like based on many, many well-documented movies produced right here in the United States of America.
  2. Given #1, there is absolutely no way that any sane, reasonably-aware person could think that ANY device with (a) wires, (b) batteries and (c) lights might not be a potential bomb – especially if it’s large. People should simply not be permitted to carry wires, batteries, and lights. Period. The ONLY exception is if those wires, batteries and lights are contained in some sort of compact, attractive, glossy housing, preferably with rounded corners. (Terrorists hate rounded corners as a symbol of Western civilization.)

It’s ridiculously simple.

Battery, two wires, and green LEDs, fastened to a breadboard: Potential terrorist threat.

Battery, many curly wires, red LEDs, a numeric readout, and a keypad: Probable time bomb with secret disarming code.

Battery, many flat wires, multicolor LEDs, an alphanumeric readout and a keypad in an attractive metallic case: Cell phone.

Battery, many flat wires, no LEDs, no readout, no keypad in an attractive metallic case: Very, very suspicious. I’m watching you, Apple.

Nick Lancaster September 22, 2007 4:49 PM

I know that I – and probably others who post here – are not arguing against reasonable prudence on the part of airport personnel.

But if ringing a young woman who may have a suspicious device on her person with armed guards (who seem to also have admitted that they were ready to pull the trigger) is ‘reasonable prudence,’ I’d hate to think what the response will be to a honest-to-goodness terrorist incident.

We continue to be told that suspicion, fear, and armed response are the right thing, the sensible thing in a ‘post-9/11’ world. That phrase, ‘post-9/11’ world is nonsensical. We weren’t living in a ‘post-12/7’ world, or a ‘post-11/23’ world, or a ‘post-7/20’ world before that – the only thing that changed is our awareness of our fallibility, NOT the sudden presence of a colossal threat by an insidious, creeping evil.

And let’s look down the road. What they’re really saying is that 9/11 is the day America learned to be afraid and jump at shadows. Why are we looking for reasons to remain afraid, instead of reasons to be free?

I agree wholeheartedly with Bruce: refuse to be terrorized.

tbshmkr September 22, 2007 5:10 PM

Over-reaction & Impatience!!

The police should have waited until public opinion and photos were published.

Then she would be innocent and all realize an electronic breadboard does not look like a bomb or other dangerous device.

Then again, no story!

Eater September 22, 2007 5:26 PM

I wish there was a bit more emphasis on what should have been done, instead of just pointing out how stupid the over-reaction was.

I’d guess that someone from security should have (calmly) asked her what the thing was, asked why the hell she’d wear that to the airport, and then (seeing no threat) told the nearby storm troopers to stand down. Yeah?

Sure, it didn’t look like a real bomb. But it’s sort of, uh, hinky… to see in an airport.

Douglas Barnes September 22, 2007 7:45 PM

@Sam: accounts conflict in the coverage; in the more recently revised articles, they say she told the information desk people that it was “art” and walked away.

Tom Dibble September 22, 2007 10:21 PM

So, let’s see. Wearing anything with lights on it now == a bomb hoax. Someone already mentioned Disneyland, that hive of villainy, and I’d add to that many July 4 parades and just about any major hometown sports victory celebration. People like things that light up.


Oh, the thing that makes it a “bomb hoax” is that she put it together herself, with a breadbox, instead of having it encased in a corporate-approved plastic housing.

Remember, this is “at” the airport: nowhere near any planes. The functional equivalent of a major mall in terms of potential lives “threatened”. So, I suppose we can expect the same over-reaction in front of the Orange Julius?

This is ludicrous. I am now officially ecstatic I no longer live in Massachusetts and therefore no longer ever fly in and out of Logan airport. To know that the slightest “suspicious” activity in the lobby of the airport puts you within a hair’s breath of semi-automatic gunfire … I’m pretty sure that’s when “the terrists have won”.

Leila September 22, 2007 10:27 PM

Even her mom agrees her daughter was stupid:

“But Stephanie Simpson said it was an important lesson for her daughter. “You can be shot if you’re that stupid to come up to the airport with something like that,” Simpson said by phone from her Maui home. “She’s going to have to learn from this experience.”

From: http://starbulletin.com/2007/09/22/news/story04.html

Then again her mother also says it was a case of “sleepyheads.” Sleepyheads? The woman is 19! Apparently geniuses are permitted to be treated as infants.

But what I really want to object to is the notion advanced by some here that if you criticize Simpson for foolishness you are somehow buying into the rising American police state. That doesn’t follow. I consider her to be a brilliant MIT student without an ounce of common sense, but I don’t think she should have been charged and I pretty much worry about our eroding civil liberties every day.

Joel Sax September 23, 2007 12:09 AM

Leila, you seem to have a lot vested in seeing Star Simpson as stupid. Or are you trying to tell us that you are smarter than she is? In all things?

Nick Lancaster September 23, 2007 12:34 AM

Actually, geniuses are permitted to be treated like everyone else.

And that means they occasionally do dumb things, from wearing shirts inside-out, mismatched socks, not hearing people ask the simplest of questions, and so on.

Simpson’s answer of ‘It’s art,’ is being singled out as being somehow funky or hinky or strange. Actually, it’s the direct response of an engineer-type: it’s art.

How would she have been treated if she said, “It’s an electronic circuit board hooked up to a bunch of lights and stuff.”? Are people suggesting a more thorough explanation would NOT have drawn the same response from security?

Given that it’s by far the average state of the populace to be preoccupied, caught up in our own thing, and not thinking of our actions or possessions as being the tools of a terrorist, we need to find a method of handling security that discerns the normal from the abnormal, with a better default position than a 50% chance of going to the morgue.

TSA screeners routinely confiscate knives and other objects – yet we don’t charge those passengers with attempted terrorism; we rightly judge that they overlooked the item, and ask they surrender the item before passing through the checkpoint. Neither is any judgment made about their intelligence or abundance/lack of common sense.

So why is a circuit board with blinky lights so radically different, so threatening that we respond en masse with drawn guns and cops admitting they would have shot Simpson if she so much as twitched the wrong way?

Simpson isn’t the one who can answer that question. It’s up to law enforcement to do that, and up to the rest of us to call b.s. when the answer is drenched in syrupy fear.

Wesley September 23, 2007 1:09 AM

I can easily see how sleep deprivation would cause you to give an unclear “it’s art” explanation to the person that you thought was just interested in the cool nametag you had on your sweatshirt.

Mark Grennan September 23, 2007 7:35 AM

Refuse to be terrorized.

But I do feel terrorized by my own police / security. I’m a armature radio operator (HAM) and make and use think like this all the time. Most even more compacted and harder to explain. Thinks like APRS GPS Receivers / Transmitters. (No I wouldn’t use it on a plane.)

If I could get shot just for have some electronics around an airport I am either not going to go around airports or not going to carry my electronics.

I guess I will not Fly. If modify your behavior because of another’s actions is being terrorized. I am.

nedu September 23, 2007 8:30 AM

Listening to the prosecutor’s side of the story from the arraignment again. The Commonwealth alleges:

“In addition, there was word that a possible explosive device was in the airport that started to get around, causing several employees at that time to flee [unclear], fleeing in fear.”

(“Raw Video: Logan Hoax Suspect Charged In Court”, beginng at approximately 1:13) (Second video in related videos group.)

Although, for the purposes of determining the Commonwealth’s lack of probable cause to arrest Ms. Simpson, the Commonwealth’s factual allegation is deemed correct, I sincerely hope that further investigation will find this report unfounded.

If borne out by the evidence, it indicates that airport employees have not received sufficient training. It clearly points to employees’ lack of familiarity with procedures to be followed in the event of a bomb drill.

If ultimately found true, the inference should be made that Logan airport’s security management is incompetent.

There’s no excuse for not drilling this stuff, people.

Prohias September 23, 2007 10:33 AM

Here is a very clear photo:


We can drop the prosecution considering there was no intent to mock security, but the police were right in stopping her. If a middle eastern looking male did this, he would have been shot dead – MIT student or otherwise. At least her parents get the stupidity of her behavior.

DougC September 23, 2007 10:48 AM

Can anyone point to an incident where a real bomb was designed to ATTRACT attention? All the ones I know of are the reverse, highly concealed and or contained in something “normal” like a boom box or briefcase.

Instantly obvious it wasn’t a bomb, from close or long range. And no way big enough. Takes a certain amount of any explosive to do the job.

Glad I don’t live in Mass. Kidding people I know who still do. What a bad joke.

sujal September 23, 2007 11:02 AM

Just so we’re all clear on this, she DID ANSWER the desk staffer who asked her what the contraption on her sweatshirt was. She responded that it was art.


The employee had to repeat the question before she got an answer. This bit of info was missing in the original AP version, which made it sound like she refused to answer what the device was.


Nick Lancaster September 23, 2007 11:03 AM

I’m so reassured that in the case of a potential bomb in the airport, the airport employees are going to go all ‘sauve qui peut’ on me, and run off.

(‘Sauve qui peut’ … essentially, every man for himself.)

cmills September 23, 2007 11:17 AM

From bruce’s latest news link :

“”They showed amazing restraint, which may not have been there if she’d moved or if she’d tried to hide the explosive,” said former FAA agent Bryan Sullivan.”

If she’d tried to hide the explosive? Was there any explosive even involved in this incident? F*#@ing fascist pigs.

joe September 23, 2007 1:23 PM

Funny, but what if it really WAS an explosive device? I don’t fault the TSA for checking. They did the right thing. If it was an explosive device, and was used, Bruce would would say “how could you let a person with that device pass through!?”

This girls is an IDIOIT.

epp_b September 23, 2007 6:23 PM

Once again, I am utterly amazed the people who hired to be protecting the country’s airspace are basically trained to be xenophobic imbeciles.

BenL September 23, 2007 9:52 PM

It’s amazing how easily ignorance leads to fear, fear to (the threat of) violence. Who’d have thought a breadboard, some LEDs and a 9V battery could cause police to so massively over-react as to threaten the life of a citizen.

Mark Townsend September 23, 2007 10:03 PM


In one of your books, you mentioned that an optimal target for terrorism is the waiting line in an airport – set off a bomb in the area before the scanners for maximum damage.

A “security officer” was the first person to see the item and ask her what it was. When she walked away ignoring him, he alerted law enforcment.

There is a great deal of difference in the ability of a security officer making $12 an hour with minimal training than a professional law enforcement officer in making a first run analysis of what a threat is (or is not).

When law enforcement is engaged in a potential attack – they are to protect the public and contain the threat. They are working on credible (but maybe not accurate) information from a trusted source.

Everyone thinks terrorist – but the threat could easily be a person with mental instability that wants to strike back or go out in suicide by police fire.

Would you expect a person that was flipping burgers last week to distinguish what a bomb looks like? I don’t think you would.

She did act “suspicious” by not answering and walking away.

You see the “outside of the clay” – but we don’t know if there is a receiver and charge “inside it”.

Too many unknowns for a field person to take a chance at being “wrong”. Boston is still living with the stigma of not having enough security in place as two of the planes involved in the 9-11 attacks came from Boston.

I’m quite surprise she wasn’t shot. Not because she was wearing electronica and carrying clay like substance, but because she had them, ignored a justified question regarding what they were and walked towards a populated area ignoring a security officer.

Don’t fall into the liberal trap, I have too much respect for you.

Anonymous September 23, 2007 10:03 PM

@ Mark Grennan, what the heck is a “armature” radio operator. Do you by any chance mean “amateur”?

Cardude September 23, 2007 10:24 PM

A lot of people say “an evil-doer would hide a device, therefore she’s not evil”

Okay – how about mentally incompetent with suicidal tendancies? Those people tend to scream for attention just before they go off.

Terrorists are not the only ones that kill.

A person at a info counter or a security gaurd isn’t going to know what a bread board is for – or if that is silly putty or plastique.

Law enforcement is responding to a person acting strangely and equipped with electronica and carrying putty in her hand.

I think Law Enforcement responded correctly – they detained the person in a manner consistent with securing a potential threat.

The tough part is determining what to do next – is this catch and release or did she act in a criminal (even if negligent) manner? Law enforcement had to make the decision based on data and statements, and an Attorney General had to review the case and decide to press charges.

Folks – it’s not always about terrorism. And everyone making the leap so quickly to the terrorist angle and ignoring all other motives or threat angles.

Bradley September 23, 2007 11:59 PM

It must have been a joke, an outrageously successful stunt, though perhaps unintended to draw that much attention, and the playdoh seems to be the proof.

Only youth could be so foolishly courageous.

A great media story, and 15 minutes of fame for a local girl. Can we ask for better entertainment? I think this is as good as it gets in our culture of fear.

jv September 24, 2007 12:14 AM

An interesting edited summary of the news reporting of the “fake bomb” incident especially playing up the play doh aspect can be found here:


Also, nobody seems to have commented much on another error in reporting where the “play doh” or “clay like material” is called a detonator. Though ludicrous, I can understand confusing the play doh for a plastic explosive, but doesn’t the TV/movie watching public realize by now that a detonator looks like a tube of metal with a wire attached that sticks into the explosive material?

So much wrong with the reporting in this case.

Zepano September 24, 2007 1:42 AM

Leila, with all due respect, there is a difference between going to the airport to pick someone up and going to the airport to fly somewhere. I’m aware that airports are edgy, and if I were going to fly, I’d think about everything I was taking in order to pass security. In just going for 5 mins to pick someone up in the midst of a busy day, however, I don’t really tend to make an all day production of scrutenizing everything I’m wearing or carrying. So I hope I don’t forget and find myself in the airport wearing light-up, blinking earrings and a mooninite shirt, or a shirt with Arabic script, because even if I try to go outside, like she did, I’ll probably be confronted by the same 10 guns with machine guns.

Zepano September 24, 2007 2:03 AM

“I’m quite surprise she wasn’t shot. Not because she was wearing electronica and carrying clay like substance, but because she had them, ignored a justified question regarding what they were and walked towards a populated area ignoring a security officer.”

Except she didn’t do any of that. She answered the question, her answer just didn’t satisy the employee. Of course, there’s pretty much nothing she could have said that would have satisfied the employee “it’s a name tag, a breadboard, it lights up”?), and I don’t even want to think what would have happened if she’d attempted to remove the hoodie to hand to the employee for a closer look. And as for a populated area, she went outside. Less populated there than insider the terminal, generally. So tell us, how could she have diffused, so to speak, the situation?

Anonymous September 24, 2007 2:30 AM

She wasn’t really showing much intelligence here, was she? Going to an airport with a blinking electronic widget strapped to her front and a handfull of something grey putty plasticlike substance in her hand.

Christophe Thill September 24, 2007 3:47 AM

When will all those scientific and creative types understand? The USA aren’t a safe place for them anymore. Come to Europe, people, you’ll be welcome! Perhaps you won’t make heaps of money, but at least the police will leave you alone.

CBM September 24, 2007 3:55 AM

Points to remember:
1) To anybody familiar with electronics the device does not look even faintly weird or threatening (a little crude, maybe). It is entirely possible (though unlikely) she didn’t even realize that it might cause alarm.

2) To every one who says she should have known better at an airport- remember that she was meeting someone not catching a plane – is is a whole different though process – sure boarding a plane you prepare to go though the security wringer and try to anticipate what might cause unrest among the primitives; but if you are not, you just don’t think about it.

3) That said sure she was probably trying to stir the more emotionally fragile. So what?
Are we going to ban Goths from wearing black because someones granny thinks they look like Satanists?

See if you can work out where they went wrong:
1) person at information desk reports strange device to security (good – call in the experts: info desk person has no qualifications to identify the device or interview the suspect)
2) security respond (we should hope!), and attempt to ascertain the nature/seriousness of the incident (hand on a minute – no they didn’t, it seems they just went directly to suspected explosive device [or hoax]). At this point someone should probably have looked her over determined the threat was slight, and a single officer could have quietly questioned/warned her about strange devices in airports. Still, we all make mistakes, maybe they misread her as a possible threat…

3) security respond to contain the threat – detaining the suspect (perfectly reasonable for a suspected bomb/hoax, but over the top since they had no reason to think it was a bomb/hoax).

4) Once detained repeat classification check/information gathering – I am sure they did this – and no doubt very quickly determined that she was harmless (though possibly being provocative), so you de-escalate and sent her on her way with a warning, and debrief security staff to try and improve handling of similar incidents in future.

But what actually happened: I can only assume that the major success metric for the TSA is headlines/month.

Nick Lancaster September 24, 2007 4:49 AM


You’re reaching. The what-if game is exactly what the security people are playing, and playing badly. And even if Simpson was a distressed person, is surrounding her with armed security personnel ready to shoot the smart thing to do?

The issue here appears to be what qualifies as ‘hinky’ – in this case, it was Simpson’s somewhat distracted answer of ‘It’s art.’ (And again, that’s the completely graceless answer of a preoccupied engineer, not a potential suicide bomber.)

There appears to have been no effort made to ascertain the nature of the device after the desk clerk’s initial assessment.

Now, I know the TSA has briefing sheets of concealed weapons (including two different styles of ‘credit-card knives’ that I happen to own) … so why isn’t similar information being made available to other public-interface personnel? (Or, perhaps we need to place a TSA screener at an information kiosk.)

As CBM points out, there’s a breakdown between the clerk spotting Simpson and the security response. I can’t imagine what they’d do in the face of a real threat.

Proper procedure is going to carry the day most of the time. Ticking-bomb heroics should be left for episodes of ’24.’

bob September 24, 2007 7:08 AM

There are several things here which could change the entire course of it, yet are suspicously like information that shows up AFTER an event, not during:

-She walked away without answering a question about the ‘device’.

-She was carrying ‘putty’ and could not explain why.

These sound like embellishments derived after the situation was over in order to reinforce the justification of the response, kind of like the woman spilling/dumping water at the airport a couple of months back.

My 5 cents worth (I think pennies should be discontinued – when you find trays of something at convenience stores and fast food joints to be used for free, then it is no longer money): I do not expect every person who works near an airport to be able to tell the difference between a bomb and an electronics kit from a glance. Therefore a security response (with people who can) is not a bad idea. However, once it has been examined and shown to be harmless – get over it. Everybody did their jobs, they can feel justified in spending the pay they received for that day.

Having said that, however; anyone over the age of 10 who lives in the US should know that, like hospitals, airports are now a good place to accidentally catch something that kills you (in this instance a severe case of lead poisoning) and care should be taken while there.

nedu September 24, 2007 7:19 AM

“… airports are now a good place to accidentally catch something that kills you…”


Shooting a civilian in America without probable cause should be punished at least as severely as shooting a Red Army soldier along the inter-German border.

If you’re so eager to shoot somebody, then what about the employees who deserted their posts during action…?

trub September 24, 2007 7:43 AM


I don’t know, but I guess you want me to answer “zero”, from which I guess you wnt me to infer that thre is no need for security in airports because there have been no suicide bombers there in the last six years.

Nick Lancaster September 24, 2007 7:59 AM


If the question is ‘how many pink dinosaurs have been spotted at airports in the last six years?’ and the answer is also ‘None,’ do we conclude that we must nonetheless guard against pink dinosaurs?

Let’s be realistic about the level of the threat. There is no reason to believe that, in the wake of 9/11, there are suddenly hordes of suicide bombers just waiting for the right moment to descend upon the nation’s airports.

Cardude September 24, 2007 8:43 AM

@Nick Lancaster

I don’t think I’m reaching, perhaps I didn’t explain myself fully. I’ve dealt with mentally ill people personally. They are erratic and can seem on the surface as distracted – this is often because they are going over in their brain “am I going to do it?”. Too often we play the easy terrorist card when threats come in many forms.

I do however (was up late last night) agree with the comments that a second assessment could have been performed more discreetly. They could have quietly and invisibly secured the area while one person qualified to assess the situation made the stop.

Because guns came blazing – you will see her charged. I do agree with other comments that once a response hits a certain magnitude – the system must follow thru to whatever end.

BTW: Remember the border control gaurd on the west coast that made a stop because something was hinky? They found a car packed with explosives.

Anonymous September 24, 2007 9:55 AM

You can’t yell fire in a crowded theatre …
That’s what State Police Maj. Scott Pare did …
Even if it is just a security theatre ..

Nick Lancaster September 24, 2007 10:02 AM


Distraction is relative. My wife is ADHD, and it’s a challenge holding a linear conversation at times. But I’d damn well take issue with any security guard who wants to do a pigeonhole analysis and qualify that as ‘potential threat (terrorist or not).’

The thing about ‘hinky’ is context. I’m not sure what questions were asked at the border crossing, but an information kiosk is not generally considered a critical security point. And I’m used to dealing with people who are blunt simply because they multitask.

I don’t like the ‘once the response has reached point x, it must follow through’ – because that implies that a bad call is going to end up with someone getting shot. The system must be able to escalate as well as de-escalate.

dotter September 24, 2007 11:12 AM

At least they are consistent in Boston. They did take a good look at Hollywood movies and understand that anything with wires and/or LED could be a bomb.

Nobody better tells them that boobytrap bomb made by terrorist like in Afganistan look like ordinary usage object.

— Me does not live in boston

ALbert September 24, 2007 11:28 AM

“Authorities said they were amazed that someone would wear such a device eight months after a similar scare in Boston, and six years after two of the jets hijacked in the Sept. 11 attacks took off from Logan.”

Obviously she thought she was living in a free country or something–what a schmuck!

Moomar September 24, 2007 2:16 PM

The actions of our airport security people are completely out of hand. I guess I shouldn’t expect undereducated, underpaid homeland security people to be able to tell the difference between this and a real threat. This looks like one of thousands of examples of overreaction and abused authority on the part of our idiot man-child airport security people.

AJ September 24, 2007 2:35 PM

I think the police were not unreasonable. An adult, in an airport, holding silly putty, with a circuit board embedded in her shirt, clearly falls in the “hinky” category. Had the silly putty really been C4, she could very well have been a deranged, suicidal attention seeker who was going to blow herself up. Terrorists (i.e. people who target random innocent civilians to advance their political agenda) aren’t the only people who can do a lot of damage.

See http://blog.kamens.brookline.ma.us/~jik/wordpress/?p=124 for a more thorough exposition of this (not my blog, but I agree with the sentiment).

For those who think the police overreacted in this instance –why do you think so? I think now, after the fact, that it seems that Ms. Simpson was not trying to cause trouble, but is simply seriously lacking in common sense, but the police at the time had no way of knowing that.

James September 24, 2007 3:23 PM


The overreaction in this case isn’t the fact that they reacted. There was a reason to: someone felt threatened by something that they thought was a bomb. Whatever anyone wants to say about what the device was, or what type of person attends MIT, at least one person (perhaps an overreaction on their part) thought it might have been a bomb. There are aspects of this which should have been handled different at a level lower than the “militia”, but for whatever reason, it was escalated past airport security.

The overreaction is the “submachine” guns (hard to say if this journalism or truth), and the number of guards. As was pointed out by others earlier: shooting, tasing, having her raise her arms all could have set off the bomb. There is also a period of time implied in the story, indicating that she had a significant amount of time to herself before the authorities showed up (this is something also related to the Mooninite scare: either they overreacted by sending out the force the way they did, or they’re ineffectual because the devices were not noticed sooner).

It was pointed out earlier that airport security should have cleared the area and and set up an individual to talk to the suspect. Airport security failing this, the “militia” should have done this. Secure an area clear of civilians, contain the problem, determine a solution. Waiting for her to walk through the door into your area of 10 heavily armed guards doesn’t solve the problem. Shooting her would have been as likely a way to set off the “bomb” as anything else.

The correct response is always to control the situation as much as possible.

In defense of the info desk clerk, I can understand their fear. I would likely identify that as a breadboard with leds & a 9-volt, and would recognize that there really wasn’t enough there to be a proper explosive device, and bombs are usually hidden, and blah blah blah, but that’s not going to stop me bein’ a little weirded out, and there’s always the part of it that you can’t see. ::shrugs:: Would I have called in the militia? Probably not. Can I see where they’re coming from? Yes.

Kyle Wilson September 24, 2007 3:40 PM

The most terrifying aspect of this case is the assumption that any sort of exposed electronics and/or wires imples a bomb threat. I have heard of another case (less catastrophic) where someone had a small kit-built cell phone charger with exposed wires and was hassled about it by airport security. The assumption that a bomber will have wires hanging out of their clothing and blinky lights in odd places is worrisome in itself. Any vaguely sane bomber can pack lots of bang in a sealed backback or shoulder bag with little or no effort. Distractions from odd looking items aren’t helpful and have the potential to get someone hurt. This could just as easily been someone carrying around the pieces of a piece of stock gear that dropped and broke open. Pretty scary if such an incident can get you shot.

Tom Dibble September 24, 2007 5:44 PM

@Nick Lancaster: “Given that it’s by far the average state of the populace to be preoccupied, caught up in our own thing, and not thinking of our actions or possessions as being the tools of a terrorist, we need to find a method of handling security that discerns the normal from the abnormal, with a better default position than a 50% chance of going to the morgue.”

Quote of the bunch. I agree 100%.

@Joe: “Funny, but what if it really WAS an explosive device? I don’t fault the TSA for checking. They did the right thing. If it was an explosive device, and was used, Bruce would would say “how could you let a person with that device pass through!?””

The device was a bunch of blinking lights attached to a breadboard. It is about the LEAST likely “bomb” that passed through the airport that day. As has been stated here: bombs tend not to be designed to ATTRACT attention, but to hide and go unnoticed.

What if your wristwatch really WAS an explosive device? Should we have you taken down by armed guards, just to be sure?

@CBM: “But what actually happened: I can only assume that the major success metric for the TSA is headlines/month.”

I can imagine this being added to the “threats averted” column in the Big DHS Scoreboard quite easily.

@AJ: “For those who think the police overreacted in this instance –why do you think so? I think now, after the fact, that it seems that Ms. Simpson was not trying to cause trouble, but is simply seriously lacking in common sense, but the police at the time had no way of knowing that.”

Hmm. Let’s say you are walking around, lost in thought, and suddenly are surrounded by a handful of heavily-armed officers aiming semi-automatic Really Big Guns in your direction. There is a VERY high chance that at that point you’ll do something “wrong” given that you have no idea what the situation is or what “right” might be. Do you raise your arms up, or will sudden movements provoke a hail of gunfire? Do you drop your cellphone, or will they see that as a tossed grenade? Obviously your instincts were wrong at some point, or you wouldn’t be in this situation to begin with; do you trust them now? Again, the chances of a Very Bad Ending at this point are very high.

SO: let’s avoid that situation, right? Instead of a squad of armed guards, perhaps the guards should be placed to be able to take action as necessary, but one guard approaches the individual. Perhaps instead of assuming the unsatisfactory response to the clerk’s question was a declaration of war, ask again with a shiny badge and some visible authority.

There’s this real divide between what “works” in Hollywood movies and what works in real life. Most often, going in with guns drawn in a display of intimidating force does NOT diffuse a situation, and moves it closer towards a tragic resolution instead of a just one.

X the Unknown September 24, 2007 6:49 PM

MIT (and others) are calling her actions “reckless”. This is a loaded term, with many meanings. In this context, people tend to thing “reckless” = “criminally negligent”.

However, I think “reckless” is exactly what we have: she literally didn’t reckon on possible reactions to her choice of clothing accessories.

That does not make her stupid, nor even lacking in common-sense. It may possibly qualify her as a bit foolish. But, consider: does anybody ever reckon all possible reactions from all the choices they make? It can’t be done, folks. You’d spend too much time examining the implications to ever take a single step.

That’s one of the reasons we develop habits and customary behaviors. Assuming we have properly tuned our habits, they get us by most of the time, without having to reckon every possible detail. Habitual behaviours are, per definition, “reckless”.

How do we develop “effective” or “better” habits and behaviours? Through experience. Experience comes only with age and activity. She’s 19, and going to one of the most-exclusive universities in the world. She comes from the extremely laid-back society found in Hawaii. It seems very unlikely that she has ever experienced anything remotely like what occurred in Logan Airport.

Thus, her habits and behaviours were “out-of-tune” with her environment. She was reckless, in that she didn’t habitually “reckon” in this instance. You can damn well bet she’ll never leave her room again, without carefully examining her choice of apparel, in case some fool decides to accuse her of plotting some heinous action based on her manner of dress.

In fact, this incident has probably overly-reinforced a new behavior. I really isn’t very productive to have one of our best and brightest wasting that much time and anxiety-levels over what she wears and carries. But, she has been a victim of mass hysteria, in a form she had never encountered before. She now lives in the midst of hysterical people, who don’t act “normal” – by either her experiential standards, nor even their own past behavioural standards.

Reckless – definitely, in an all-too understandable and human way.

Criminal – no!

Godiva September 25, 2007 8:39 AM

I propose that we become a mandatory clothes free society. Then we will have no clothes upon which to hang suspect fun jewelry. Nowhere to hide a thing! Might get cold for those naked cops in Boston out chasing around after “fake bombs” (whatever the hell that is). Our emperor already wears no clothes, so why not?

mb-de September 25, 2007 8:40 AM

Reading all this, and the inference of some that the potential use of lethal force was in a way sensible and acceptable, I am glad that I do not live in the US, and that I did not have the displeasure to pass through US airports since early 2001 – though I am going through the equivalent routines at European airports about twice every week.

As for the girl and the event as such (public display of electronic device/circuit leading to panic reaction by third party), I shall describe an incident in which I was the ‘perpetrator’ in a similar way she has been here:

In the mid of the 1980ies I had been busy with studies towards an engineering masters in telecommunications and RF engineering.
My group was busy with some microwave test set up placed in an outstation of the university, and I had been phoned in my lab to deliver a replacement termination resistor. The device can be described as a off-black painted cylinder of about two inches in diameter and five inches in length, with prominent cooling fins, a large coaxial connector on one end, the latter covered with a dustcap which in turn secured against accidental loss by a small chain. I took the device, walked out of the lab building and to the light rail stop in front, to take the next tram to the outstation. The tram arrived, no other passengers on board – only the driver. I entered, showing my ticket to the driver, holding the terminator in my other hand, and sat down in a seat ajacent to the driver compartment. After three minutes I started wondering why the tram did not start moving, and look in the direction of the driver, noticing that he is staring at me in panic, and at the same time trying to reach the handset of his radio. I asked the driver what was going on – he did not say anything, but instead of that he turned his eyes towards the termination resistor, panic level increasing. At that moment I realised that the driver had mistakenly considered the device to be a large fragmentation grenade, and had been trying to trigger a security alarm… I told him calmly what he was looking at, and offered to him to hand the device over for inspection. The driver went ‘ufff….’, and, after a closer look, understood the explanation, combined with the comment that I should better transport such a device in a sealed enclosure, not to risk misidentification. He accepted my apologies, no report was filed, and I had learned a lesson:

I simply had not contemplated the possibility for misidentification, which – at the time – could have had rather unpleasant consequences – Europe had at the time terrorist scares of its own, with trigger-happy police on call… The whole thing was on my side a simple, honest, and stupid mistake – I just did not imagine that anybody shoud find the device threatening…after all, it was perfectly inoffensive for the ininiated.

In short, and assuming, that Ms. Simpson did not form part of a prank gone awry, I can find myself in her absent-mindedness – or disconnectedness from public sentiment.

I think that the people responsible for public security in the Boston area should cater for such inoffensive incidents as well, and not only for flat-out terrorist threads – or innocent people will die – see the London incident.

Just my two cents…


JeffM September 25, 2007 11:12 AM

These articles damning her for having an LED circuit thing. All the people I hear saying how she was stupid to be in the airport in a “post-9/11 world.” Why has my home area become so abysmally stupid and narrow minded? How many people will die this Halloween and Christmas when they were their little light-up/flashy LED ornaments?

Reading these articles, and saying that this young woman is lucky to have not been shot at Logan airport makes me wonder why these people aren’t all fired for coming a hair’s breath of committing murder, not safe and secure. If anything, after whole Mooninite light bright fiasco, I would expect security to become more aware of such things and have procedures in place for not over-reacting, rather than being more uptight and tense about such things.

And why isn’t the press backing up the woman whom security admits to nearly gunning down?

Saurabh September 25, 2007 11:46 AM

I wish I could upmod Derf… one of the few sane guys here. There is an ocean of difference between the Boston animation fiasco and this.

NDG September 25, 2007 1:24 PM


Final piece missing from your analysis:

5) Last set of blinking lights netted the City USD1million, wonder how much we can get for this one?

Adam Brewster September 25, 2007 3:19 PM

I’m surprised to see this response, especially the postscripts, from an author who promotes the use of people who are able to identify “hinkey” behavior in a way that machines aren’t.

Walking into a sterile airport terminal with an electronic device attached to her chest is hinkey.

Many people that read this blog and newsletter have probably taken a class in electric circuit theory and likely know what that device is, but an airline employee might not.

Worse, when she was questioned about the device she just walked away instead of explaining that it’s just a breadboard and some LEDs. That’s hinkey.

How should the authorities react when a person shows up wearing something that looks unfamiliar and potentially dangerous and acts suspiciously?

Godiva September 25, 2007 3:41 PM

People keep saying she was acting suspiciously when someone at the counter asked her what she was wearing (the fake bomb but real art/pin) and she did not reply. Is it suspicious when you may have other things on your mind to not reply to every question which you may perceive as inane? Maybe she did not even understand the question or fully hear it. Ooooooh, she didn’t answer a question. Call out the machine guns! Oh yeah, they did.

xf September 25, 2007 4:21 PM

Stories like this always evoke fond memories of the time in 1983 I flew to OKC to pitch a contract proposal to the Air Force Logistics Command. I took along as a talking piece the 5V@20A power supply from the backplane of the mission computer on an E-3A AWACS – about fifteen pounds of aluminum heatsink, a couple of power transistors in TO-3 cans on the side, and a 7-layer PC board riveted to the back of it. Since I didn’t want to check it, I threw it into an old, beat-up vinyl bag and carried it on. I personally have never seen anything that looked more like it might be a homebrew bomb.

I got to Oklahoma all right, and halfway home. It wasn’t until I was changing terminals in Denver on the way back that a bag screener finally asked me what that thing was I was carrying.

mike September 25, 2007 9:07 PM

She’s lucky to be alive. What in
the world was she thinking?

That she lived in, “the land of the free and
home of the brave”?

oops, wrong on both counts.

Geesh September 26, 2007 2:46 PM

@mike: “That she lived in, “the land of the free and home of the brave”?”

Yeah, Mr. Genius, if she lived in someplace that wasn’t as tyrranical as the big bad USA, she may be beheaded, jailed, executed on the spot, or ran feet first through a tree shredder. Or maybe none of those things because she might night have rights, being a woman and all.

The USA isn’t a perfect nation, but I get sick of all the ingratitute for how good we have it. Not to say we don’t make mistakes or do bad things, but if this wasn’t the land of the free, as you sarcastically stated, you may get executed just for saying it.


Joseph Dunphy September 27, 2007 11:10 AM

Older comment, from “Violet”, I think:

“It wasn’t a fake bomb–it was a breadboard with some LEDs and a battery attached, in the shape of a star, used as a name tag for a career fair.

The putty was in her hands, not attached to anything.

Given the mooninite issue last year, though, she should have thought a little more.”

You know, Violet, we’ve had our own authorities do some fairly ignorant, stupid, even barbaric things here in Chicago, too. The name “Jon Burges” does come to mind. The difference is that here in the Midwest, where people haven’t gone completely batshit crazy, just mostly batshit crazy, there’s at least some acknowledgement, occasionally, that the answer to that sort of thing is to insist that the authorities start cleaning up their act, not to have the rest of us accept that their derangement makes law.

And if the police really and truly are able to ignore the public will when the public will hold that those who are charged with enforcing the law ought to be expected to abide by it, then what exactly is the difference between Boston and Beijing at that point? Freedom that comes as a free gift to be granted or denied at the whim of authority is a very fragile kind of freedom, indeed.

junior September 27, 2007 1:59 PM

So from what I understand, she got arrested and faces conviction because she was wearing a Lite Brite name tag , which uses the same technology as those blinky-light things that bicyclists are required by law to wear at night, as she was LEAVING an airport.

To everyone who is saying “well she should’ve remembered the incident with the Mooninites”: So, you’re telling me that every time I put my Chapstick in my pocket, I should remember that the contents of this little plastic tube could be misconstrued to be explosive jelly? Or maybe that every time I use a cell phone, that cell phones can be rewired to become remote triggers for all sorts of various devices?

Come on.

Paul Larson September 28, 2007 1:12 AM

And now for the flip side!


basic – man with pipe containing dimes and cicuit board WENT through security. Pipe confiscated and man boards plane. Afterwards TSA decides to be cautious, closes Eugene Oregon airport and Denver Colo. airport. Passenger and companion released but MIGHT be facing hoax-device charges.

Just from the supplied photograph THAT looks like a pipe bomb, at least what they show on TV.

Mhmd September 28, 2007 11:10 AM

“Many people that read this blog and newsletter have probably taken a class in electric circuit theory and likely know what that device is, but an airline employee might not.”

An airport police officer would presumably have been trained to recognize a suicide bomb. This didn’t look like one.

I think if this would have happened in most other airports, it would have been handled without weapons drawn. At the airport where I work, the police department would not have even responded.

They would figure, if she had not detonated in the 45 minutes it takes them to answer the call, chances are she’s no threat.

John October 9, 2007 10:31 AM

A difficult situation. I think the police acted correctly in making a stop and ascertaining what the object was. To actually go on to arrest her, detain her and charge her is, based on what has been reported, too much and wrong-headed. Police are too much into deadly force, too fast these days. It does seem true, and it is unfortunate indeed it is true, that she may have been killed by police with hair-trigger nerves. Looking at the poor woman in Phoenix that was needlessly arrested for being loud and losing her termper, and died in police custody, and now this – the real solution is do not go anywhere near airports for any reason. DO NOT FLY.

Vhett November 1, 2007 4:06 AM

Any of you realize that there’s a picture of a MAN ON FIRE on that sweatshirt, right above the device? So while the info. desk person is staring at this thing, adrenalin going, sees this image.
The girl is lucky she wasn’t shot. We’re lucky that info. desk attendant didn’t shrug and get on with her work.

Anonymous November 1, 2007 7:46 AM

Any of you realize that there’s a picture of a MAN ON FIRE on that sweatshirt, right above the device? So while the info. desk person is staring at this thing, adrenalin going, sees this image.
Yes, we realize. Unlike you, we’re not idiots, and therefore not frightened by stylized pictures of things on the front of shirts.

The girl is lucky she wasn’t shot.
Only in the sense that that is true of any interaction with American authorities, yes. Which is an indictment of their incompetence in itself.

We’re lucky that info. desk attendant didn’t shrug and get on with her work.
No. No, we’re really not. Shrugging and getting on with her work would have been the correct, appropriate, and measured response.

Peter November 1, 2007 11:25 AM

Simpson was supposed to have been tried on Monday, the 29th, but her attorney was ill, and the case was continued to next Monday.

The Murdoch-owned Boston Herald carried this story here:

Intriguingly I can’t find any mention of a similar story on the Boston Globe’s site. (The Globe is owned by the New York Times.) I’m not surprised the Herald is pursuing the matter since protecting us all from terrorists is high on their agenda.

I thought about attending last Monday’s session but other commitments made that impossible. I’ll be curious to see how this case is handled as it’s being tried in the East Boston Municipal Court, hardly a locale where First Amendment debates are a common occurrence.

Skribe November 15, 2007 9:17 AM

What amazes me about everyones’ comments is that NOW we know it wasn’t a bomb. NOW we know what it did/didn’t have. WE have the benefit of hindsight. The cops and people in the airport at that time, didn’t. Career day wasn’t at the airport was it? Why would she wear it THERE? Why would she have the playdough in her hands? I realize this site is for “intellectuals” and by extension means you have to pound the police for daring to come down on one of your own, but use some common sense. If you were in that airport, that day and saw that black hoodie, the “putty” substance and the odd circuit board looking item… would you say to yourself “Hmm obviously a very intelligent MIT student has decided to stand out on career day…. here at the airport… I can see no wires, etc… so it must be harmless.” Or would you back away and get the hell outta there, hoping the authorities would take care of the situation?

Vasigix November 15, 2007 11:48 AM

Boycotting airports mean the terrorists have won. Meaning we all are obligated to book a flight this year.

If the woman with the blinking lights is found guilty we are all in a lot of trouble.

Unfortunately, we had better all start studying the Koran. Then our only choice is which faction do we want to die in.

Geek 123 Testing January 13, 2009 11:15 AM

If it was really a bomb it wouldn’t have enough balls to blow the fuzz off a peach.

“Those who give up freedom for the sake of security deserve neither and will lose both.”

Benjamin Franklin

Tiffany September 16, 2015 10:55 AM

All but one of the links in this article are now dead. It’s sad how quickly news sites change their URL schemes… Some of these don’t even have a 404 page, they just go back to the home page.

And it’s not even as though these links are gone because the entities running the servers are gone, or stopped running the servers. They just arbitrarily change their URI scheme as they jump from CDN to CDN.

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