TSA Asks Passengers In San Diego To Smuggle Fake Bombs On Planes

Turns out there’s a hidden gem in that 2006 TSA report that was recently leaked to USA Today (and previously written about here)—among the various stats and figures is the following statement: “At San Diego International Airport, tests are run by passengers whom local TSA managers ask to carry a fake bomb, said screener Cris Soulia, an official in a screeners union.”

As Bruce Schneier puts it on his blog:

Someone please tell me this doesn’t actually happen. “Hi Mr. Passenger. I’m a TSA manager. You know I’m not lying to you because of this official-looking laminated badge I have. We need you to help us test airport security. Here’s a ‘fake’ bomb that we’d like you to carry through security in your luggage.”

“New TSA Report” [Schneier on Security via BoingBoing]
(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. chucklebuck says:

    I assume you can (and 100% should) refuse?

  2. hypnotik_jello says:

    Sounds like the sheep might just do as their told. bah bah bah

  3. gorckat says:


  4. avantartist says:

    so what happens if you’re caught with a fake bomb

  5. nweaver says:

    If someone came up to me in an airport and tried that, I’d start shouting “POLICE! POLICE! CALL THE POLICE!”

  6. beavis88 says:


    I should hope so. That’s exactly what I’d do, just prior to going and having a chat with the nearest cop I could find.

  7. ThomFabian says:

    So then, do they tell you to lie as well?
    I mean don’t you still have to answer the “has anyone unknown to you asked you to carry anything” question?
    Or did they stop that.

  8. joeblevins says:

    I would love to do it.

  9. girly says:

    I thought they stopped asking that question because they found it was a waste of time.

    I would NEVER agree to carry anything for the TSA.

    That is INSANE!

  10. XTC46 says:

    @ThomFabian: They ask that when you are checking a bag in, not when you are going through security.

    @beavis88: I agree. I might even tackle the guy and yell out “terrorist!” just to make a scene.

  11. DrGirlfriend says:

    If SNL did an updated sketch for their “Bad Idea” jeans commercial, this should be one of the scenarios.

  12. Holy crap.

  13. doormat says:

    Dumb and Dumber personified.

    TSA: Dumb for missing a huge percentage of bombs
    Passangers: Dumber for saying OK to carrying a bomb

  14. Rogue says:

    If the TSA asked me to do it, I would probably do it. So as long as they spoke to my lawyer first. And… there would have to be money. Restitution for the physical distress I’ll end up going through when seven three-hundred pound security guards tackle me.

  15. pinkbunnyslippers says:

    I don’t think it’s passengers that are just randomly approached in the airport. What I think that article is (hopefully) trying to say is that it’s civilians *who are specifically chosen to be passengers* on these missions. You know, kind of like Mystery Shoppers.

    And if it’s not, that’s f-ing scary.

    I just want clarification on who the “passengers” are, since they’re not “agents”…are they pre-chosen people? Assumably yes. But one can never assume nowadays…

  16. Fuck Lion says:

    Maybe it’s just me, but I do believe my first reaction would be to tackle the guy.

  17. backbroken says:

    In related news, the FBI asked me to carry 2 kilos of coke across the border.

    That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

  18. QuirkyRachel says:

    “Are you carrying or has anyone asked you to carry a package for them onto the plane?”


  19. Florentine_Pogen says:

    For some reason I have this unshakable notion that the TSA’s dummy bomb looks like a black bowling ball with a fuse hanging out of the top, or a couple of bright red cylinders wired to a ticking alarm clock.

    But they couldn’t be that clueless, could they?

  20. MyCokesBiggerThanYours says:

    Do we have any proof that the process is casusal and not discussed in an office or something. I mean, really, theres a lot of hate in the comments over something we dont have any details on. Its a form of bigotry.

  21. MyCokesBiggerThanYours says:

    @Florentine_Pogen: No, actually its a glowing sign made of LEDS that resemble cartoon characters.

  22. girly says:

    I wouldn’t care how official it was. I’d still say no.

  23. Little Miss Moneybags says:

    You couldn’t script better proof of the TSA’s ineptness.

  24. Framling says:

    @Florentine_Pogen: Actually, that’s kinda what the article was about. They used to just throw a bunch of obvious bomb-looking stuff into a briefcase or whatever, and send that through. Now they’re being tricker, hiding things in back braces and the like, like actual terrorists would actually do, which accounts for the higher failure rates (i.e., failure rates are getting higher because the tests aren’t unbelievably easy anymore).

  25. Pop Socket says:

    I had this happen to me at the international terminal of Dulles. A plainclothes TSA agent put a phony package on the conveyor behind mine. The x-ray technician caught it, so it must have BOMB stenciled on it in lead paint.

  26. LetMeGetTheManager says:

    What if the TSA just happened to give a fake bomb to someone carrying a real bomb? Chances are slim…but possible…

  27. FLConsumer says:

    Get rid of the TSA… easiest solution. Then we all know what the actual status of airline security is rather than being given false promises without even a courtesy reach-around.

  28. IRSistherootofallevil says:

    I’d refuse to carry a package through security for ANYONE. Someone asks me that, I’ll flat out refuse. They can ask again, I’ll refuse again. I may consider changing my mind once they’re on their knees.

  29. Lin-Z [linguist on duty] says:

    @MyCokesBiggerThanYours: NEVER FORGET!

  30. erratapage says:

    I forgot.

  31. CurbRunner says:

    Anybody doing this could very well end up dead under police custody like that poor woman in Phoenix a few weeks ago.
    If a TSA agent asked me to do this, I’d report it to a cop immediately and then call a TV crew to come and film the discussion between the cops and the TSA agent.

  32. btdown says:

    I’m highly skeptical of this story, even though the TSA has some real winners working there (like most places). The risk/liability of letting a civilian carry a fake ied or other weapon through the checkpoints are HUGE.

  33. brockmjd says:

    Years ago (’98?), I was coming into Detroit from London. As I was deplaning, in the little jet-bridge vestibule, a uniformed guy approached me and said, “We’re training a drug-screening dog. Would you mind assisting us by carrying this for us?” It was a little toy football wrapped in duct tape. It was a split-second decision; I figured that this guy was in the ‘sterile’ area, he was wearing a uniform, and about forty people just heard him say this (Oh, and I could see his friends on the other side of the jetbridge). So I agreed. I went through the door, and as soon as I did, the dog’s handlers started with the “c’mon, find it, find it boy…” but they really needn’t — the dog beelined for my pocket. He got praised; I gave them the bait, went on my way. It was kinda cool.


    If a TSA agent asked me to carry a fake bomb today, I’d probably decline, or get a hell of a lot of verification, probably in the form of asking someone who I know is a legit TSA agent about it. In any case, if I had anything less than 80 minutes before my flight left, no way. Period.

  34. nuton2wheels says:

    Authority isn’t your friend. Its purpose is to perpetuate a worthy existence by continuously legitimizing itself. In the process of establishing its cause as just and respectable, some of its explicit objectives (i.e. law enforcement) are met. Implicitly, it serves as a figurehead to intimidate citizens into following the doctrines it represents while allowing politicians and corporations to retain the power they wield. Provided your paths don’t cross, everything will be OK. That being said, I don’t trust people in cheezy uniforms who try to gain my confidence with shiny laminated badges, especially when they could be trying to sell me a one way ticket to federal pound-me-in-the-ass prison!

  35. Trai_Dep says:

    Imagine the highjinks that would insue once a TSA official left his post for a coffee break, leaving the test passenger high, dry and shot to bits.

    Oh, LUUCY!

  36. Ok…. And I hope no one agreed.

  37. Mozoltov, motherfucker says:

    I work for an unnamed shipping company at LAX, the TSA and Airport Police ask people to do this all the time. The airport police asked my coworker to put a handgun through the X-ray machine one time. You guys have too many conspiracy theories. Perfectly safe.

  38. Benstein says:

    Well, to defend them a bit… the test is rather obvious if you are going to get plained clothed policemen or TSA employees to do it. It would be far more “difficult” for the TSA screeners to give the fake bomb to a grandma or a dad traveling with a wife and kids with realistic baggage.

  39. mthrndr says:

    This should only be done by plainclothes TSA or police. What happens when you go through with the fake bomb, and the “TSA Manager” is on a lunch break, or your name accidentally didn’t get added to the list of participating passengers? Bye-bye flight, hello lockup.

  40. nardo218 says:

    @nuton2wheels: Ooo. Someone’s in college.

  41. girly says:

    I see your point, but if they think a terrorist is going to be able to get a grandma and kids involved in smuggling something, then the TSA should just find or hire employees that look like that.

    Dateline NBC manages the kid part–I’m sure they can find some fresh-faced employees, and with it getting harder to retire, I’m sure they can find some older employees.

  42. Chols says:

    What’s a “fake” bomb. The kind with the big red LED countdown and yellow, green, and red wires?