MIT student arrested for entering Boston airport with "fake bomb"

Short version: it wasn't a "fake bomb" at all, it was a wearable tech jacket on the body of a friendly young technologist who would have been *way* better off wearing something else to the airport today. Authorities in Massachussetts who've been accused of overreacting to tech art misunderstandings before -- remember the Mooninite Menace? -- are throwing the book at her.

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A 19 year old female M.I.T. student was arrested at gunpoint after entering Boston's Logan International Airport with what authorities claim was "a fake bomb" strapped to her chest, according to wire reports. The device is said to have been some kind of computer circuit board with Play-Doh and wires attached, strapped over her black hoodie. Link to AP report on her arrest.

The young woman is identified as Star Simpson, shown in the image above left, and she is a sophomore from Hawaii.

Here is her MIT website, here's her homepage, here's one of her recent projects. She has a user account on Instructables.

Snip from her vanity site:


In a sentence, I'm an inventor, artist, engineer, and student, I love to build things and I love crazy ideas.

In a paragraph; I'm currently studying computers and how they work at MIT. I play at a student-run machine shop called MITERS. Before that, I lived for a long time in Hawaii, while traveling the world and saving the planet from evil villains with my delivered-just-in-time gadgets.

This being Boston, I'll be interested to learn whether this was a legitimate threat or a misunderstanding/overreaction by authorities, combined with poor fashion judgement on the young lady's part.

Here's a happy-fun quote from the AP item:

She's extremely lucky she followed the instructions or deadly force would have been used," Pare told The Associated Press. "And she's lucky to be in a cell as opposed to the morgue."
Image of the lovely and talented (seriously!) Ms. Simpson on a better day, with torch and mirror, from this photoset of MIT tinkerers at the MITERS student-run machine shop, shot by George Lange.

Update: Law enforcement spokesperson at press conference being broadcast on CNN right now -- "She said it was a piece of art, and wanted to stand out on career day. I'm not sure why she had the Play Doh on her hands. She couldn't explain that.... there were wires attached to a battery that actually lit up... I'm shocked and appalled that somebody would wear such a device to the airport. We had someone with a submachine gun at the airport go right to the scene."

Update 2: Deja duh: Boston Globe referring to this incident as "Logan Hoax Arrest." And here's a photo of that gun.

Update 3: They're showing the LED hoodie on CNN right now (screengrab from a local TV report below).


Looks like the "improvised electronic device" consisted of a circuit board and a common battery that caused her sweatshirt, which had painted writing on it, to light up. Authorities referred to the paint as "putty."

The hoodie reads "Socket To Me / COURSE VI." A BB commenter familiar with MIT stuff says, "Course VI means she majors in Electrical Engineering / Computer Science."

Sheesh! Someone needs to not let these hyperintelligent hacker chirren out of the house wearing this kind of stuff when they're headed to airports in Boston. {shakes head}. Poor thing.

Update 4: She's being charged with "posession of a hoax device" (again with the hoax devices!) and disorderly conduct. But on the plus side, she's not dead.

Update 5: BB Discussions moderator Teresa Nielsen Hayden puts it in context. And the winner of the comment thread is BB reader Rob Cockerham:

I can't believe NBC is promoting Bionic Woman like this. What a terrible idea.
Update 6: Christy from Instructables.com (Simpson is a regular participant on the site) says:
Star was an intern at Squid Labs this summer, and is an all-around awesome geek who loves to build things. FYI, 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 8am.

When Star gets out we'll have her do an Instructable on

1) how to get arrested at the airport without being shot, and

2) how to package your homemade electronics to look purchased.

Maybe BB and Instructables should start handing out some official-looking stickers and plastic covers to make breadboards look more commercial -- it will keep our readers away from automatic weapons.

I just put up a forum post on Instructables asking for design suggestions. If BB readers have any suggestions, just send them over and we'll print them up asap!

Update 7: Christy from Instructables.com says (1125am PT),
I talked to Star briefly -- she's out on bail, is just fine, and thinks the whole thing is crazy.

Of course, they've impounded her sweatshirt, so she's got to do something else for Career Day.

Update 8: Bruce Schneier: "Definitely stupid police overreaction. Refuse to be terrorized, people!"

And Chris Anderson, who, apart from being Editor in Chief at Wired Magazine is also a total UAV nerd, says:

Sorry to be late chiming in with support for Star, but I can confirm that she's a world-class geek and otherwise cool person. While she was at SquidLabs this summer, she helped with our UAV testing. Cracked one of the imaging problems, too. Really sorry to see the lapse of judgment that led to this arrest, but I'm sure she's got a glorious career ahead of her regardless.
Update 9: BB reader Sujal Shah says,
One clarification: Simpson did answer the original information desk staffer's question about what the art was. That there's no step between an answer that wasn't believed and guns drawn is a big issue to me. Innocent people will get killed this way.

Here's the post I left on Schneiers blog:

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. Link to local TV account. 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.