In their line of duty, US Transportation Security Administration officers, or TSAs, have come across a number of bizarre and dangerous items, from Batarangs and tomahawks to stun guns disguised as everyday items like lipstick, cigarettes, and cell phones.
But perhaps the oddest items people pass through TSA screening are the ones they have made to look threatening.
The TSA considers improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, the “main threat” and one of the most important things that officers have to find when screening passengers and baggage. IEDs are particularly hard to find because they could be made from some of the most common items, even toilet paper.
“An IED is limited only by the imagination of the bomber and the materials readily at hand,” Bill Morgan, an explosives specialist and TSA Academy instructor, told his class of new TSA recruits when we visited the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia, in July.
Historically, the TSA doesn’t have the best track record for catching threats. During a number of covert audits on passenger and baggage-screening operations last year, airport TSA screeners failed to detect banned weapons in 67 of 70 tests at dozens of airport checkpoints around the country, prompting, among other things, a complete overhaul of how new officers are trained.
And apparently a few passengers have decided to take it upon themselves to keep the TSA on its toes.
“One of the weirdest things I’ve ever experienced on the job is just people trying to package things in a way to see if we can actually catch it,” said Jason Pockett, a TSA Academy instructor who joined the agency in 2010 as a TSO, during Business Insider’s visit to FLETC in July.
Pockett said he’s seen all sorts of strange configurations, like batteries taped to different types of Tupperware containers.
“When it comes through, it just doesn’t look right. It’s got an unusual look to it,” he said.
In 2015, the TSA reports its officers screened more than 708 million passengers, 1.6 billion carry-on bags, and 432 million checked bags. So it’s not all that surprising that TSOs are privy to some fairly odd behaviour.
Pockett said he’s also seen some pretty gross — albeit ingenious — attempts at dissuading TSOs from conducting screenings. “We’ve had individuals put sensitive items like dirty laundry in their bags just so we won’t go in there,” he said.
“Every day, honestly, is a different experience,” he said.
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