Star Simpson and the Massachusetts State Police

By | September 24, 2007

It’s amazing how many armchair experts there are who think they know better than the trained professionals who designed the response protocols used by the Massachusetts State Police and better than the trained, experienced troopers who correctly executed those protocols last week at Boston Logan airport.

“Real terrorists don’t walk around with wires and batteries showing,” they opine. Yes, actually, sometimes they do. A number of suicide bombers over the years have been prevented from killing people in Israel became an observant guard, soldier or civilian noticed and did something about protruding wires.

Suicide bombers in the Middle East were all men, until the masterminds realized that the good guys had figured that out, at which point they started recruiting women, in some cases pregnant women.

Suicide bombers in Israel were all dressed as Arabs, until the masterminds realized that the good guys had figured that out, at which point they started dressing bombers as Jewish housewives and yeshiva students.

Has it occurred to any of the “experts” that the police aren’t worried only about well-trained terrorists, but also about mentally unbalanced individuals who think that blowing themselves up in an airport is a great way to go out with a bang, and the more attention drawn before the explosion, the better?

Terrorists are unpredictable. Crazy people are unpredictable. The police are certainly trained to look for specific signs of potential threats, but they are also trained, and rightly so, not to look only for specific signs, but rather to look for anything sufficiently outside the norm to be a potential threat. Star Simpson’s behavior at Logan certainly qualifies.

Not only was Simpson wearing a circuit board and battery on her shirt, she also just happened to be carrying a wad of silly putty, which coincidentally is used by law enforcement in simulations became of its strong resemblance to plastic explosives.

The reaction of the police to Simpson’s behavior was superb. They apprehended someone they perceived as a potential threat quickly and without injury to themselves, the suspect or innocent bystanders. They did what they were trained to do, and they did it well.

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9 thoughts on “Star Simpson and the Massachusetts State Police

  1. DDA

    Not that it particularly matters but in the interest of clear reporting, it was Play-Doh, not silly putty. Unfortunately, as reported in a couple of articles, police use Play-Doh to simulate C4 because it has the same texture, although I’ve seen no reports of what colour the Play-Doh was in this case.

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  2. jik Post author

    I don’t think anyone except Star Simpson can know at this point what her intent really was, and violation of the “hoax device” law hinges on intent. Filing the charges is therefore reasonable. What would be unreasonable is if they continue to pursue the charges after being unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that her intent was to bring a hoax device to the airport. That remains to be seen.

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  3. QM

    As I’ve told others, I don’t have a problem with the State Police stopping her to see what was going on.

    My big problem is with her being charged for bringing “a fake bomb” to the airport. That is PR-whoring by the DA’s office.

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  4. jik Post author

    I think it’s funny that you’re accusing me of “a particularly egregious form of a straw-man argument” when you’re the one who drew the parallel between what Simpson did and allowing children to play with silly putty.

    I will let the other readers of my blog decide for themselves which of us is using faulty arguments.

    In neither of your last two comments have you made any effort to address the substance of my response to you, which stands even if you remove all of the paraphrases you’re disputing. If you want to discuss substance, great, but if all you want to do is play debating games, I’m not interested.

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  5. Gerg

    Paraphrasing generally is not indicated with quotation marks. I don’t believe I made any claims which can be accurately paraphrased as those quotes. What you’ve engaged in is a particularly egregious form of a straw-man argument where you put forth an obviously faulty argument as your oppponent’s and then shoot it down.

    You said ““It had LEDs on it, so it must not have been a bomb,” is an incredibly stupid thing to say.” which is of course true but bears little resemblance to anything I said. The closest paraphrase you could make for my statement is “It has LEDs on it therefore you can come to no conclusion about whether it was a bomb” which is of course entirely true.

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  6. jik Post author

    The quotes in my last comment are obvious paraphrases of the points you made in yours. Do you understand what paraphrasing is?

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  7. jik Post author

    What the hell? You think a piece of breadboard and leds look like a bomb?

    All you need to build a bomb with plastic explosives is a clump of explosives, some wires, a battery, and a detonator (actually, I suspect that for some plastic explosives, the detonator is optional — the electricity from the battery may be enough to detonate). I think that a person walking around with a breadboard with a battery attached to it and wires sticking out, and carrying a clump of what appears to be plastic explosives in his or her hand, in fact has everything needed to achieve an explosion, were s/he to simply slap the clump of explosives onto the breadboard where the wires have previously been stripped to make contact with it.

    In short, yes, I think Simpson had, in plain view, everything she needed to blow up herself and the people around her, if the clump of material in her hand had been plastic explosives instead of silly putty, something which the police had no way of determining by observation.

    “It had LEDs on it, so it must not have been a bomb,” is an incredibly stupid thing to say. There is no reason why a breadboard intended to detonate explosives could not also have LEDs on it. It’s entirely reasonable to imagine that someone out to draw attention before blowing themselves up might decide to decorate their bomb with LEDs. It’s also entirely reasonable to imagine that someone might put LEDs on their bomb wiring to enable them to confirm with a look that their battery hasn’t died. It’s also entirely reasonable to imagine that a bomber with some knowledge of the previous Boston breadboard incident might put LEDs on their bomb exactly to make people think that it’s “art” or “guerilla marketing” rather than an incendiary device.

    Given that these are all possibilities, the state police had no choice but to control the threat first an analyze it later.

    When’s the last time you told your children not to play with silly-putty because someone might mistake it for plastic explosives?

    In fact, we don’t let our kids bring silly putty or clay into airports.

    In fact, there have been numerous instances where we have refused to allow our kids to bring specific toys into airports because we felt there was a risk that they would cause trouble.

    Also, just to make the analogy correct, I would certainly tell my children, or anyone else, not to walk into an airport wearing wires and batteries and carrying a clump of something that is indistinguishable from plastic explosives.

    “Consider the case of an adult walking into an airport wearing wires and a battery, carrying what appears to be a clump of silly putty, and refusing to give straight answers to questions asked by airport personnel. Let’s replace the adult with a child, remove the airport from the equation, remove the wires and the battery, and then try to pretend that it’s a comparable analogy.” Is your logic always this faulty, or just when you’re backed into a corner and you’re flailing around looking desperately for something to prove your (wrong) point?

    In any case, since you brought up kids, I’ll put out that what Simpson did was really no different from a kid pointing a fake gun at a cop. Actually, there is one difference — kids who do that usually ends up getting shot. Simpson was lucky.

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  8. Gerg

    I don’t think anyone was complaining about the fact that they apprehended someone perceived to be a potential threat. They were complaining that they perceived someone with blinking lights to be a potential threat.

    What the hell? You think a piece of breadboard and leds look like a bomb?

    When’s the last time you told your children not to play with silly-putty because someone might mistake it for plastic explosives?

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