TSA Warns of Terrorist Dry Runs
A leaked TSA memo warns screeners to be on the lookout for terrorists staging dry runs through airport security. (The TSA issued a short statement following the leak, and here’s an AP story on the memo.)
Honestly, the four incidents described, with photos, sure sound suspicious to me:
- (U//FOUO) San Diego, July 7. A U.S. person—either a citizen or a foreigner legally here—checked baggage containing two ice packs covered in duct tape. The ice packs had clay inside them rather than the normal blue gel.
- (U//FOUO) Milwaukee, June 4. A U.S. person’s carryon baggage contained wire coil wrapped around a possible initiator, an electrical switch, batteries, three tubes and two blocks of cheese. The bulletin said block cheese has a consistency similar to some explosives.
- (U//FOUO) Houston, Nov. 8, 2006. A U.S. person’s checked baggage contained a plastic bag with a 9-volt battery, wires, a block of brown clay-like minerals and pipes.
- (U//FOUO) Baltimore, Sept. 16, 2006. A couple’s checked baggage contained a plastic bag with a block of processed cheese taped to another plastic bag holding a cellular phone charger.
The cheese and clay are stand-ins for plastic explosive. And honestly, I don’t care if someone is carrying a water bottle, wearing a head scarf, or buying a one-way ticket, but if someone has a block of cheese with wires and a detonator—I want the FBI to be called in.
Note that profiling didn’t seem to help here. Three of the incidents involved U.S. persons, and one is unspecified. Also, according to the report:
Individuals involved in these incidents were of varying gender, and initial investigations do not link them with criminal or terrorist organizations. However, most passengers’ explanations for carrying the suspicious items were questionable, and some investigations are still ongoing.
I wish I had more information on what the “questionable” explanations were.
Flagging suspicious items is what the TSA is supposed to do. Unfortunately, suspicious is a subjective term, and problems arise when screeners aren’t competent enough to distinguish between potentially dangerous and just plain strange. If bulletins like these are accompanied with real training, then we’re getting some actual security out of the TSA.
EDITED TO ADD (7/25): I was quoted in the AP story.
EDITED TO ADD (7/26): At least one of the incidents seems to be bogus.
EDITED TO ADD (7/28): Seems like all four incidents might be bogus:
“That bulletin for law enforcement eyes only told of suspicious items recently found in passenger’s bags at airport checkpoints, warned that they may signify dry runs for terrorist attacks,” CNN’s Brian Todd reported Friday afternoon. “Well it turns out none of that is true.”
“The FBI now says there were valid explanations for all four incidents in that bulletin, and a US government official says no charges will be brought in any of these cases,” Todd reported.
I’m skeptical. I can’t think of a valid explanation for “wire coil wrapped around a possible initiator, an electrical switch, batteries, three tubes and two blocks of cheese.” I’d like to know what it was.