NPR "Xeni Tech": update on FBI raids fake boarding pass website

It was a dark and stormy night, when agents pounded on the door of Christopher Soghoian's apartment and shouted, "boo!"

OK, it's not a Halloween story at all. But for today's edition of the NPR News program "Day to Day," I spoke with host Alex Chadwick about the recent online controversy surrounding the "The Northwest Airlines Boarding Pass Generator" (cache link) website, and the late-night federal raid that followed. For the segment, I spoke with:

* the office of Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA), who called for Soghoian to be apprehended, and the website killed -- then changed his mind
* Bruce Schneier, author of "Beyond Fear" and computer security researcher who first wrote about the airline security flaw in 2003
* Avi Rubin, author of "Brave New Ballot" and Johns Hopkins professor for whom Soghoian briefly served as teaching assistant
* FBI Special Agent Wendy Osborne, who explains where the investigation is now, and whether charges will be filed.
Link to archived audio.

* Ceci n'est pas un fake boarding pass (10-29-06)
* Congressman on Boarding Pass Generator guy: Uh... oops? (10-29-06)
* Fake Boarding Pass Generator guy and FBI: what about the law? (10-28-06)
* FBI returns to "Fake Boarding Pass" guy's home, seizes computers (10-28-06)
* Fake boarding pass guy reports he was visited by FBI (10-27-06)
* Congressman wants fake boarding pass guy arrested (10-27-06)
* Website generates fake boarding passes (10-26-06)
* Slate's Andy Bowers on airline security loopholes (02-07-05)

ELSEWHERE TODAY: There's a good roundup of the latest on this story at Wired News here.

Reader comment: Anonymous flyer says,

Just an addendum to your "boarding pass" story as it relates to terrible airline security in the US. I've been telling this story to people since getting back to Australia from the USA. When I was travelling in the US in September, I experienced first hand how bad the system is.

I had one of the boarding passes with an "SSSS" on it, and unbeknownst to me, on my way through the x-ray section, the screeners flat out didn't even read my boarding pass - so I walked right through after being x-rayed.

At the time I didn't know anything about what the SSSS was but naturally, I later was told I could not board the plane, and a screener had to come down to the boarding gate and give me a "thorough" search (right in front of all the other passengers). He was a supervisor, extremely apologetic, very professional and polite, and I complied with all his instructions. Nonetheless, it was pretty confronting to be frisked in full 'vitruvian man' position in front of hundreds of nervous looking passengers.

The thing that stunned me at the time, was that earlier, before I went through the x-ray part while waiting in line with other passengers, we could see through the glass to the actual x-ray screens. Myself and one other passenger watched in horror as what was quite clearly a gun went right past her face on the screen and she didn't even flinch.

At the last second she kind of broke her trance and 'rewound' the screen and after a long hard look, pressed a big red button - presumably the offending item was examined and found to be a lighter or something, but to this day I remember the terrified glances all the people in the queue were giving eachother. The funny thing is as soon as I saw her I remember thinking "She must be about 16, and on minimum wage" - then literally seconds later I saw her nearly miss a gun.

On the whole the entire experience was most decidely NOT "secure" or "safe". It was a relief to get back on an international flight on my way home.

Oh by the way... This was on September 5th, in LAX flying out to Austin TX on American Airlines flight 1182.

Anonymous says,
Australian readers will know this happened a little while ago, but your recent post about boarding passes reminded me of a prank pulled off by Australian political satire "The Chaser War on Everything". They took advantage of discount airline Virgin Blue's Online ticket purchse and self check-in service which amazingly fails to check for ID at any point before boarding the plane. The prank ended when the Chaser crew elected to not turn up to the final boarding call forcing airline staff to make announcements asking for "Mr Al Kyder" and "Mr Terry Wrist" to immeadiately make thier way to the departure lounge.

(yes, the title is making fun of "war on terrorism" and this excellent show tends to focus on ridiculous attempts at making us all safer).