Possibly the Most Incompetent TSA Story Yet

The storyline:

  1. TSA screener finds two pipes in passenger's bags.

  2. Screener determines that they're not a threat.

  3. Screener confiscates them anyway, because of their "material and appearance."

  4. Because they're not actually a threat, screener leaves them at the checkpoint.

  5. Everyone forgets about them.

  6. Six hours later, the next shift of TSA screeners notices the pipes and -- not being able to explain how they got there and, presumably, because of their "material and appearance" -- calls the police bomb squad to remove the pipes.

  7. TSA does not evacuate the airport, or even close the checkpoint, because -- well, we don't know why.

I don't even know where to begin.

Posted on January 31, 2012 at 5:03 PM • 81 Comments


BillJanuary 31, 2012 5:27 PM

You gotta remember, everybody bitches about how much screening costs, so salaries are relatively low (not minimum wage low, but lower than anything a person of decent intelligence would consider). So you get people with at most a high school degree, that want a decent paying job. Most make starting $15/hour and the smarter ones use it as a gateway job to other federal jobs, so you basically have a bunch of people of either average intelligence or average ambition.

You do get what you pay for. You want to lower the incidence of incompetence, pay higher, and require higher education, but you know that won't happen.

CurmudgeonJanuary 31, 2012 5:39 PM

Confiscating pipes from hand luggage makes some sense because enough stupid suburbanites^W^W soccer moms could mistake them for real pipe bombs for them to be usable for a hijacking. You don't need a real weapon to hijack an aircraft--just something people who are too sheltered to know the difference between Hollywood and reality believe is a real weapon.

davidJanuary 31, 2012 5:39 PM

They called the bomb squad "out of an abundance of caution,"
But that "abundance of caution," doesn't apply to passengers?

These people couldn't think their way out of a wet paper bag.

EHJanuary 31, 2012 6:01 PM

I bet each person involved with this story, save the passenger, is legally allowed to designate someone as a terrorist and subject them to indefinite detention.

MegachiropsJanuary 31, 2012 6:04 PM

This is the same bunch that threw two innocent British tourists out of the country for a twitter joke. Can we just put the TSA on welfare and keep them out of the airports? It would be both cheaper and better for our country's reputation.

Clive RobinsonJanuary 31, 2012 6:35 PM

What is not addressed is "why was the passenger carrying lengths of metal pipe in their carry on?"

The only clue appears to be,

Several law enforcement sources told CNN the objects were determined to be homeopathic medical devices

Now call me sceptical on this but the pictures look like a couple of six inch lengths of pipe, one plumbing 15mm copper pipe with end caps, the other an equivalent diameter length of what looks like iron gas/water pipe with open ends, what possible "homeopathic" uses could they have?

Secondly the copper pipe has caps on making it a "closed object" how could the TSA screener reliably determine they were safe in the first place?

I doubt an X-Ray machine of the sort I've seen in airports in the past could do an analysis of sufficient quality to say for definite...

BobJanuary 31, 2012 7:13 PM

I have a college degree. I graduated Phi Beta Kappa. I work as a substitute teacher, and I make about $8.25 per hour, have no benefits, and have to find alternative work in the summer.

The fact that rude, lazy, poorly educated TSA agents complain that their salary, at almost double what I make, isn't enough is ludicrous! If I treated my students with half as much disrespect as the TSA treats passengers, I'd be out of a job in the blink of an eye. The TSA is truly despicable!

gingerestJanuary 31, 2012 7:37 PM

The cherry on top is that the pipes are apparently homeopathic "medical" devices.

RyanJanuary 31, 2012 7:50 PM

@Megachirops: FWIW, no this isn't the same crew that detained and denied entry to British tourists over a tweet. That was Customs, an entirely different agency.

roenigkJanuary 31, 2012 7:53 PM

I found the items here about mid-way down the page.

"1 inch diameter VWR. Length approx. 12 inch." It is a Vortex Water Revitalizer that sells for US $695. That poor traveler is out $1,300!

If only he had properly labeled the items as "medical equipment".

GeorgeJanuary 31, 2012 8:15 PM

I can't wait to see how Blogger Bob spins this one. He'll probably insist that every TSA employee involved followed procedures properly and did an excellent job of protecting aviation. The only problem is with the biased media, which for some reason always tries to make the TSA look bad.

(He's probably saving his high-speed spin, evasive dance, dense perfumed smokescreen, and porcine lipstick for the upcoming GAO report on the effectiveness of nude-o-scope scanners. Based on an article I read today, Blogger Bob will be working round the clock to contain the damage.)

Dilute MeJanuary 31, 2012 8:18 PM

A homeopathic device is a highly dangerous thing. It wantonly participates in violating Avogadro's Law - which makes a mockery of all security. We should commend the TSA agents, given their backgrounds, for recognizing this. Science +1.

NobodySpecialJanuary 31, 2012 8:37 PM

@Dilute Me - they were obviously homeopathic bombs. Security found no traces of explosives, which had been diluted to the point that it wasn't present - thus making the devices even more effective

homeopathy_is_bsJanuary 31, 2012 8:37 PM

To call it "medical equipment" would be grossly wrong - I applaud the TSA for confiscating this snake oil, it's just a shame they didn't shoot the practitioner ...

(said in jest of course, but homeopathy is bs ...)

NobodySpecialJanuary 31, 2012 8:40 PM

@bill - the police here make about 3x my mere physicist salary, it doesn't seem to have been reflected in the performance level of the people.

NickJanuary 31, 2012 8:52 PM

In fairness, the traveler was out $1300 long before getting to the airport.
But really, this helps illustrate one of the most absurd things about airport security. If you really were a terrorist hell bent on killing as many people as possible, and the security guard found your bomb, what would you do? Detonate it right there, probably doing as much damage to people waiting in line to go through security as you would detonating it on the plane.

GabrielJanuary 31, 2012 8:56 PM

You mean I can get $600 for welding a spiral inside a copper pipe? I'm in the wrong line of work...

@Clive: just think of all the folks who spent good money for a magnetic bracelet that is supposed to make your circulation better or give you good juju of some sort. This traveler would have done much better to buy $30 carbon filter to clean his water wherever he went.

GeorgeJanuary 31, 2012 10:02 PM

@Nick: That was immediately obvious (and rather worrisome) to me the very first time I went to the airport after 9/11 and saw the crowd waiting to be screened at the TSA checkpoint. The TSA's attempt to protect aviation from terrorists is practically an invitation for a suicide bomber to join the queue, detonate, and claim his 72 virgins (or white raisins, depending on the translation).

I guess that isn't obvious to the people at Headquarters who design the secret procedures because they're just too important to waste their time being subject to what they inflict on lesser mortals. They have government jets that take them to their important meetings, so they never have to set foot in a public airport terminal.

What amazes me, though, is that no terrorist actually has accepted that invitation. That's either because there aren't any terrorists interested in doing that, or else the TSA has succeeded in convincing them to consider other targets that don't (yet) have checkpoints. But we haven't seen that either. Something just doesn't seem right.

WarLordJanuary 31, 2012 10:58 PM


I'm going with no terrorists because I've had exactly teh same question for years now

Jim BJanuary 31, 2012 11:08 PM

You complain that they didn't evacuate the airport when the second shift found the suspected pipe bombs. Fine.

But be honest ... if they had evacuated the airport, would you now be complaining that they shut down the airport for nothing, costing millions of dollars and inconveniencing everybody over homeopathic witchcraft?

its_not_for_youFebruary 1, 2012 12:15 AM

I heard an interesting argument re: suicide bombing the large crowds at the security line: it's not about you, it's about preventing airplanes from being turned into missiles and used to destroy federal property. If the TSA was about protecting actual people, they'd have addressed the security line threat.

We all know that the low cost act of reinforcing the cockpit doors, and perhaps arming the pilots would likely solve the planes-as-missiles threat.

The TSA is at best a jobs program, and at worst as means of indoctrinating the populace to a police state -- because they sure aren't protecting anyone, and far cheaper countermeasures exist to protect aircraft.

Kai HowellsFebruary 1, 2012 2:02 AM

@Jim B
Either they thought the devices were dangerous, in which case they should have evacuated the airport.
If they didn't think they were dangerous, then why did they call the bomb squad?

Yes, if they shut down the airport, we would be complaining about the shutdown for nothing and the millions of dollars wasted, but that would have at least been consistent with thinking they were dangerous.

If they didn't think they were dangerous, then why call the bomb squad.

@NobodySpecial - that's pure gold. Homeopathic bombs. The next hollywood plot.

WooFebruary 1, 2012 2:15 AM

@Zal: I don't know how you come to think that they confiscated a thumb drive. Your ebay search shows anything containing "ntsa".. and the seller set that string as manufacturer part number.

There's a few other false positives in that list..

Nick PFebruary 1, 2012 3:09 AM

"Where do we... begin?" (The Joker, The Dark Knight)

With the bulls*** I guess... ;)

AdamFebruary 1, 2012 4:47 AM

$695 for a copper pipe. It beggars belief that anyone would be dumb enough to fall for a scam like but clearly they exist.

MoscowFebruary 1, 2012 5:26 AM

Queuing at airports for security is the same as queuing to gain entrance to any high level event. Security is protecting the mass of important people on the inside, because simply that is where there are more people (bigger target). There may be a queue outside, in a less protected environment but there is little you can do about that other than have your outer circles profiling people, and who hopefully have the means of engaging a threat. Or maybe you think you should stagger every single persons arrival to an airport or security check? Security at airports is NOT just to prevent a hijacking. Security at aiports existed way before 9/11. You have infrastructure, thousands of people and millions of whatever currency in losses if there is a fear of flying or an attack that leads to disruption (not to mention mass loss of life). I really wonder if the internet is a good thing. So many armchair bloggers with opinions about things that they should not be sharing who refuse to be educated!

Clive RobinsonFebruary 1, 2012 6:28 AM

Hmm these vortex do-hickies are a foot long and an inch across with very significant strengthening double helix structure inside...

I don't know about the US but in the UK the Police would want to have a long and quite pointed chat with you if you were caught walking down the street with them about your person or possessions.

I wonder if the company who make them would make one out of lead for Colonel Mustard, then atleast the TSA would have a Cluedo that the things are effective lethal weapons, not medical equipment.

Then again you'd probably have to beat into the DHS/TSA leaderships respective heads to get the message home to the lower ranks.

bilFebruary 1, 2012 7:06 AM

@Moscow, I'm old enough to remember when you could walk into the airport and up to the gate and enjoy that fine moment as you watch someone you care about take off in the plane or come right off the plane. We are diminished by the loss of enjoyment in life in the vain attempt to create security and no safer for it. Real security is hard to do and even more expensive than the theatre of security we have now.

And yes, if we are going to be serious about security at airports, we need highly trained professionals in rings about the airport with the means to engage a threat. What if these were bombs and they were detonated at the security point? That's where you are most likely to have a large dense crowd of people.

What makes a weapon is how it is used. A ballpoint pen can be a very dangerous thing. I don't care if someone carries a foot long pipe in their bag, as long as it stays there.

RandyFebruary 1, 2012 8:26 AM

I nominate this story and comment thread as the Saddest *and* Funniest of all time!

What a hoot!

Randy -- andigavebrucetheheadsupaboutit

mikeashFebruary 1, 2012 8:26 AM


It's sad that we now live in a country where one is expected to justify carrying basic hardware supplies. What ever happened to "anything is permitted which is not explicitly forbidden"?

PaeniteoFebruary 1, 2012 8:48 AM

@Bruce: "I don't even know where to begin."

Maybe at the surprisingly risk-adequate decision of *not* shutting down the airport?

mcbFebruary 1, 2012 8:52 AM

@ Jay from BKK

"A: The TSA and homeopathy.

Q: What are 'two things that don't work,, Alex?"

Coffee clean up in cubicle 1-124

DerrickFebruary 1, 2012 8:59 AM

I have 14 years experience as a police officer and have been to Iraq twice as a military contractor and applied to TSA for a position. They rejected me because my school loan was late. Twice I had a baby-faced TSA officer confiscate "mustache scissors" from my luggage insisting they were "deadly" weapons. Thank God they did me a favor in rejecting my application.

ChelloveckFebruary 1, 2012 9:03 AM

@George: You're right, of course. The airport security checkpoints themselves are such juicy, low-hanging fruit. Hit one and you'll foul air travel for weeks. Hit several simultaneously around the country and you'll foul it for the foreseeable future. Why hasn't this happened? The only conclusion I can draw is that, despite what we've been told, there actually are no legions of ne'er-do-wells ready to martyr themselves against the USA.

Dave XFebruary 1, 2012 9:23 AM

What Chelloveck said.

If the boogeymen weren't fictional, they'd try something else.

RSaundersFebruary 1, 2012 9:39 AM

@Moscow: The TSA is not protecting the people at the airport. The pre-9/11 security system was for that. The TSA is protecting the White House and the Capital from terrorist-piloted airplane attack. A couple of years back Bruce did an April 1 contest to suggest attacks that the TSA would not catch or would make worse. There were a zillion entries (OK, maybe a couple hundred).

TSA at the airport is protecting against the incident that led to the formation of the TSA. Don't read too much into them.

MoscowFebruary 1, 2012 9:40 AM

Playing devils advocate on the matter of the pipes: they were a bit suspicious so they weren't allowed on the plane. That happens. Could even have been a test run (i'm sure in this case they weren't). They were left where they were at the search bay. That was just negligence from the screener. Next shift finds it, looks, knows that is looks suspicious enough to be left over from a self test. I doubt they were that concerned. It may be procedure that they don't handle anything remotely suspicious and refer to the Police/Bomb squad. I am sure dozens of articles are collected on a daily basis that could potentially be suspicious but are not suspicious enough. That is reality.

Going back to circles of protection: terrorists want glamorous targets. For sure, a suicide bomber challenged outside a venue can detonate there if he realises he won't reach his primary target, however, you have to hope that the circles of protection will work and that he/she is detected early enough to clear people away whilst challenging them. Less people will always die outside the venue unless people heavily congregate at the end of an event.

But lets face it, any committed attacker with a sharp knife can go berserk in a shopping mall, train or cinema and kill or main dozens of people before being neutralised. Have that happen at several locations simultaneously and that would be effective. Let's hope they continue to think up super elaborate plots that get them caught.

NobodySpecialFebruary 1, 2012 9:52 AM

@Chelloveck - it did used to happen. When we had a real terrorism problem your luggage would be searched outside of the terminal building in an open area before you were allowed into the airport

Now with 'improvements in security' - thousands of people are funneled into a crowded underground room with concrete walls for screening.

Bill SidisFebruary 1, 2012 10:01 AM

Shhh. The TSA is not there to protect airlines, passengers OR the White House and Congress. It's actually a brilliant plan to concentrate the maximum number of the stupidest Americans in a few places so that, when the terrorists finally do blow up a checkpoint, our consistently declining national average IQ will suddenly shoot upwards. Sure, you all gripe about the fifteen bucks per hour per moron now, but we're only one crater away from a new Age of Reason. Genius, I tell you, pure genius.

chris yFebruary 1, 2012 10:02 AM

The cherry on top is that the pipes are apparently homeopathic "medical" devices.

Damn, I was picturing a couple of elgant, long-stemmed Meerschaums.

ChrisFebruary 1, 2012 10:02 AM

I once bought a 20 ounce Mountain Dew at a little shop directly outside the security line so I could drink it on the way to my flight. The TSA screener "confiscated" it because it was more than X ounces of liquid, which we all know automatically made it dangerous. He did this in spite of the fact that I was drinking this suspicious, potentially deadly liquid right in front of them (in his defense, a suicide bomber wouldn't care much about drinking poisonous liquids).

What's worse than the fact that they allow passengers to buy drinks and then immediately steal them is what he did with it afterward: tossed it in the trash can by his feet. So, he took it because it might be filled with liquid explosives yet disposed of it by literally throwing it in a random wastebasket. I know I felt safer after seeing such bravery on display.

karrdeFebruary 1, 2012 10:26 AM


Hmm these vortex do-hickies are a foot long and an inch across with very significant strengthening double helix structure inside...

I don't know about the US but in the UK the Police would want to have a long and quite pointed chat with you if you were caught walking down the street with them about your person or possessions.

I'm not fully up-to-date on this, but I suspect a man can carry a cane onto an airplane. Even if he isn't limping...

Very few policemen will stop a man with a cane. I'm told that a man who has clearance in the Pentagon or the White House can bring a cane into them, no questions asked.

Yet a steel cane (wood-sheathed or not) is more dangerous as a bludgeon than these copper tubes would be.

Would the police in the UK question a man walking with a cane?

karrdeFebruary 1, 2012 10:28 AM

(note to self...use preview. Somehow paragraph 2 of my post above got stripped of the properties of the tag from paragraph 1...)

SiFebruary 1, 2012 2:32 PM

> what possible "homeopathic" uses could they have?

Doesn't everything have a homeopathic use? I mean, you can make up some crap about anything. In this case, I believe you're supposed to run water through the pipes to give it "natural vortex energy" or some similar nonsense.

GeorgeFebruary 1, 2012 3:36 PM

On further thought (I know, we're supposed to leave any thinking about airport security to the experts at TSA headquarters, while we unquestioningly obey their screeners) the pipe incident can easily be explained as an embarrassing example of the inconsistency that has become synonymous with "TSA."

Whether an item is dangerous depends on the "interpretation" or "judgment" of individual screeners. We know this "interpretation" or "judgment" varies widely between airports, checkpoints, and individual screeners, which is one of the things that makes TSA screening so frustrating. So this is just a case of different screeners making different determinations of about the same item. It's no different from what passengers experience.

The first screener exercised his arbitrary authority to create an entirely new class of prohibited items: Something explicitly deemed not a threat, but prohibited anyway. The most likely reason is the primary mission of the DHS and TSA, to avoid any blame if the screener got it wrong and the pipes turned out to be a threat. I'm sure the passenger would readily agree that the forfeiture of property worth $1,300 is a price well worth paying to ensure that the arses of the screener, the TSA, and the DHS are securely covered. That's what "security" means!

Since this is merely arse-covering, and the items are not threats, they're treated just like all the "contraband" confiscated water bottles and left at the checkpoint until the janitors get around to carting them away.

Meanwhile, someone on the next shift of screeners sees the pipes and applies his "interpretation" and "judgment" to reach the exact opposite conclusion of the first screener. To make sure his arse is covered, he calls the bomb squad.

Why didn't they evacuate the airport or close the checkpoint? My guess is that the supervisor who would have made that decision was in trouble for poor throughput metrics. Closing the checkpoint would have further reduced those numbers, getting him into even more trouble. So he decided that the threat was not sufficient to risk the monthly metrics.

Once you start thinking like a bureaucrat, the reasons for conduct that seems inexplicable become trivially obvious!

DavidTCFebruary 1, 2012 4:10 PM

Are we sure these weren't _homeopathic_ pipe bombs?

Perhaps they contained explosives diluted with air! Perhaps the intend was to keep them open on the airplane, allowing the explosives to dilute even more, turning the entire airplane into a giant pipe bomb that, according to homeopathic logic, would be strong enough to blow up an entire state.

Arthur FrainFebruary 1, 2012 5:12 PM

Confiscating a bit of pipe because it could look like a bomb makes no sense at all. Nearly anything can be made to look like a bomb, and the chance that a TSA agent has of stopping an actual terrorist with even the mildest amount of ingenuity from bringing "things that might look like a bomb" onto a plane is astonishingly close to zero.

Try a couple bottles of some product (under 3oz, of course!) and a roll of red duct tape. Or anything shaped like a box with some tightly twisted ribbon coming out of it. The possibilities are endless.

Even with just a soccer ball, a black marker, and a length of white string you could probably fool a TSA worker into thinking it's a real bomb (fortunately, that kind only turns your face black until you leave the picture frame).

nmapFebruary 1, 2012 7:03 PM

It's good of Moscow to use the name Moscow, attempt to squelch free speech and use ad hominen attacks on us instead of actual logic.

GabrielFebruary 1, 2012 8:43 PM

@No One: oh great idea. I'll even put a ver de gris patina on it, so it can have antique value. Then I'll build a working stick figure man out of these, where water poured in the head will flow down the body and into a fountain. That should easily draw ten times the amount that those figures welded from scrap auto parts do, since it will be homeopathic art.

jonFebruary 1, 2012 8:49 PM

TSA officers harassing homeopaths? Are you sure this scenario actually took place on our planet, and not in Hell?

Clive RobinsonFebruary 2, 2012 5:11 AM

@ Karrde,

"(note to self...use preview. Somehow paragraph 2 of my post above got stripped of the properties of the tag from paragraph 1...)"

I've suffered the same problem...

From a tiny bit of testing, I believe the software Bruce is using does an "auto close" when it detects a "blank line". Thus you need to put a new set of tags around the next block of text.

Any way back to your original post 8)

Would the police in the UK question a man walking with a cane?

Simple answer from personal knowledge yes.

Due to past activities both prior (sports injuries) and whilst under the pay of Her Maj's Government (wearing the green) I have damaged my spine, hips, knees, lower leg bones, ankles and feet, the result I walk with one or two elbow crutches these days depending on just how bad the pain is on any day, and that's also how I know "opiate drugs" don't work for me (and the NSAID's cause other problems by conflicting with the "rat poison" I'm on.

Prior to going back to using the crutches I used to use a Victorian walking stick that was left to me by one of my relatives. I was stopped three times in a year by the police in the evening, on the(ir) assumption it might be a "sword stick".

Also with regard to your comment,

Yet a steel cane (wood-sheathed or not) is more dangerous as a bludgeon than these copper tubes would be

You missed a trick, I also was left a "poachers stick" which is indead a steel cane only it's hollow and has a breach to hold a point two two bullet or "garden gun" shotgun shell.

Which oddly brings me back to these "vortex do-hickies" one of the cut away pictures suggests that the double helix has a hole down the middle... Now some designs of moderators (aka gun silencers) also have, disks, cups or helixes to break down the supersonic wave front caused by the expanding gases behind the bullet and thus disperse it's energy both in time and into a volume not surface.

So a combination of "poachers stick" and one of these do-hickies could be used as a "Movie plot" variation/remake of "The day of the Jackle" ;-)

Clive RobinsonFebruary 2, 2012 5:36 AM

@ Derrick,

... applied to TSA for a position. They rejected me because my school loan was late.

Tut tut, you commited the ultimate sin of "not rendering unto Ceaser that, that was Ceaser's right", back in the days of old not paying "tribute" could not only get you killed it could also get you crucified or worse.

From "the states" point of view a crime against the citizen's such as mugging or murder is just an expensive nuisance to deal with. However commit a crime against the state or the state's representatives demands not just a prosecution but an exceptionaly punitive one. So it is not unknown in the UK for those alleged to have withheld tax to be treated far worse than murders and to be stripped of their rights and subjected to a sequestration of all assets under legislation such as POCA. Commit the sin of hurting maiming or killing an agent of the state earns you a significantly increased "tariff" on your sentance.

Historicaly "The Revenue man" had the right to kill suspected smugglers for simply running away, without the benifit of lawfull process and it was never repealed. Thus as the revenue are now joind with tax, I sometimes wonder if you could now be killed for running away from the taxman or for allegedly not paying your income tax on time...

Clive RobinsonFebruary 2, 2012 6:14 AM

@ mikeash,

What ever happened to "anything is permitted which is not explicitly forbidden".

Well one of the biggest differences between the UK and the Continent was that the UK was "permiso" and the Continent was and is "non permiso" in outlook.

My dealings with "the state" of recent times tells me that we have as far as the state is concerned now become "non permiso" in that you have to now get down on your knees and beg the state or it's representitives for permissssion to do anything. And whilst you are down on your knees also hand over "tribute" in the form of large fees.

For instance did you know that in the UK you now have to get "planning permission" for an electrician to change the electrics in your homes kitchen or bathroom, worse they have to be "registered with the state" for a nice fat fee each year, and then you have to further pay to have an electrical test certificate (thankfully since the demise of HIPS doing it yourself does not carry penalties on trying to sell your home).

A similar issue of planning permission also now applies to the windows and doors of your home, such that if you break a window or it's frame you have to pay a Council Planning Officer just to make a repair.

And woe betide the person who accidentaly puts a tea bag into the "house hold refuse" or "recycling" bin as opposed to the "food waste" bin in some places people have been hit with very large fines, even though they cannot prevent other people sticking a tea bag in a "council issued" bin on their property (and yes people have been fined because their neighbours have stiched them up one way or another).

The whole idea behind the UK's current Prime Minister's "big society" is to "delegate liability and responsability" as far from central government as possible, but at the same time "withholding the authority to put limits on the liability to those who have been made liable"... So it's just a variation of the old "hot potato" game where the last in line gets their "fingers burned". But the variation is unlike the original game where you got some reward for playing, now you are forced to play if you want to or not and thus the only reward is not being so liable if you can pass the buck on...

Clive RobinsonFebruary 2, 2012 6:34 AM

@ George,

Whether an item is dangerous depends on the screeners. We know this "interpretation" or"judgment" varies widely between airports checkpoints, and individual screeners, which is one of the things that makes TSA screening so frustrating. So this is just a case of different screeners making different determinations of about the same item.

Yes but you forgot one small but very major difference between the first and second screeners. The first screener had the benifit of the passenger to explain what the pipes were.

Thus the first screeners determination was probably "not correctly labeled medical equipment" thus "confiscate".

The second screener just had two, one inch diameter one foot long metal pipes in a bucket or pile and no other information. So they had to make a call on if they were either "confiscated items" or "unknown forign objects placed there by person or persons unknown"...

My guess is the second screener assumed they were probably "confiscated items" but also decided (not unreasonably) to get in more expert investigation to check the items were not a threat.

But lets wait and see how long it takes "TSA Bob" to come up with his explanation and if it's the same or very very similar to your suggestion with my additions (if it is we can assume TSA Bob or his friends read this blog ;-)

Peter AustinFebruary 2, 2012 9:04 AM

Does sound rather like a bomb.

These are designed to to create "a powerful vortex energy field in the water. In this process, the water is simultaniously energized by the supercharged unit itself. You could call the revitalized water liquid light!".

JoesPiperFebruary 2, 2012 11:23 AM

Every airliner is a flying BOMB. If the public actually knew how dangerous they are, they wouldn't fly. Wires, fuel, oxygen, flammable materials, hydraulic fluid, alcohol, and much more than you know all wrap around your seat. Call the the BOMB squad for every flight.

David Lloyd-JonesFebruary 3, 2012 1:07 PM


I think that what you're telling us is Al Quaeda won: they destroyed the United States we used to know.


GeorgeFebruary 3, 2012 1:28 PM

@David Lloyd-Jones, it's actually more tragic than that. Al-Qaeda did not destroy the United States we used to know. They merely attacked targets of economic and symbolic importance.

Our Leaders, however, decided to make the attack the opening shot of a Global War on Terror, in which victory is neither definable nor desirable. Then they decided that their political and personal ambitions (and those of their donors) could best be served by immediately surrendering the United States we used to know.

Worse yet, even though the Leaders who surrendered are now gone, their replacements (who promised "hope and change") have apparently decided to keep and even expand the "Unitary Executive" powers the Bush administration obtained through the surrender. Among other things, the TSA is more intrusive and powerful than it was under the administration that created it. And that's just the visible tip of a large invisible iceberg.

Peter GerdesFebruary 4, 2012 11:40 PM

As much as I dislike the TSA this isn't inconsistent.

Given that the pipes sat at the checkpoint for such a long time without any harm it was quite reasonable for the TSA agent to infer that they posed little immediate risk requiring evacuation. But he could, with perfect consistency, think there was a higher risk presented by opening or disposing of the items and hence feel that the safest thing to do was hand them over to someone with more experience (bomb squad) to make the call.

SnallaBolagetFebruary 5, 2012 5:28 AM

Peter Gerdes is right, and whoever it was that suggested that there would be bit**ing about the costs of evacuation if that had happened is also right.

It's actually encouraging to see that people have some differing opinions on here now, instead of the uniform (and frankly useless) "the TSA is stoopid" trend that ruled these comment fields earlier. Definitely a step towards a more useful discussion. Just my opinion, mind you... ;)

Sune BeckFebruary 5, 2012 9:48 AM

At Berlin-Schönefeld, I once brought my monopod which kind of looks like a long pipe, and in the eyes of a screener might be used for harmful activities such as hitting people (of course, it would probably have better effect to use a broken bottle from duty free). I was unfortunately not allowed to bring the monopod through the security checkpoint.

Luckily, SXF has two different terminals leading into the same area after security. Brought it through with no problems at the other checkpoint :)

walnuttreesFebruary 5, 2012 10:25 AM

I don't know which story is worse, this one or the C-4 incident, which is being covered up by the TSA.

SnallaBolagetFebruary 6, 2012 7:30 AM

So instead of just checking the thing, which is useless to you on board, and then zipping through security, you went out of the security checkpoint, stewed over it for a while and then decided to go to the other terminal, on the off chance you'd be allowed to bring it through there??

That makes less sense than the TSA on any given day. And yes, I know Securitas mans the checkpoints at SXF - an ex-SAS guy is in charge. Know him well.

But hey, you're just wasting your own time, I suppose...

PaeniteoFebruary 6, 2012 1:10 PM

@SnallaBorget: "So instead of just checking the thing"

Checked things tend to get lost, damaged and what-have-you, apart from the enormous delay if it would have been his only piece of checked luggage.
And, besides, Sune did not waste any more of his own time than he would otherwise have wasted waiting.

Werner SchmidtFebruary 6, 2012 5:14 PM

As the anthem states :" Land of the free, Land of the Brave". You need to be brave to be free. The powers of the TSA can only be changed by the politicians, who set it up. At the next election *do* make the TSA as an issue and ask the candidate and its party what their policy is to control the practices committed by the TSA, all founded on perceived fear. So if you do nothing, don't lament at the result. Vote carefully and make the politician accountable for the oger they created.

SnallaBolagetFebruary 7, 2012 7:18 PM

"Checked things tend to get lost, damaged [etc]"
Really? They "tend to", as in more checked luggage is lost and/or damaged than reaches its destination in the same condition as when it was handed over?
Hardly. If that's what you're saying, then I'd like to see some sources for that. One, even.
Also, where do you see this "enormous delay"? The times I've been through SXF, checking in luggage has been a 5-minute process, if that.

Going to the other Schönefeld terminal to try that checkpoint could very well have been an exercise in futility, since there was no guarantee that the ploy would work, and THAT would have meant an "enormous delay".

Checking the thing would have made infinitely more sense.

The reason why this worked in the first place is that the Schönefeld staff is highly trained people, who are allowed to use their own judgement. That means that sometimes, you'll have screener decisions that differ. That actually adds to the security process, improving it, over having mindless drones who only follow orders and lists.

Sune BeckFebruary 10, 2012 7:07 AM

@SnallaBolaget, i'm just a cheapskate and didn't want to pay EasyJet for that. :) If I'd get rejected on the 2nd try, I would have been right next to the EasyJet counters.

I'm sure the Securitas are generally nice and compentent, although I often see some fun things... For example they'll stop you from bringing more than one lighter but if you have them in separate trays (e.g. one in your jacket and one in the bag, and you put each in a different plastic tray) then it works.

Randomness also noticed. Either the metal detectors are set on different levels or they manually activate it sometimes; I travel with the exact same clothing and all the time and sometimes the same detector will activate; sometimes not.

SnallaBolagetFebruary 13, 2012 3:07 AM

Well, I guess at least you have a reason for it you'd have to pay extra for checking it in.

Randomness is part of the game - the metal detectors are set to react to a percentage of the passengers, alarming for a reacheck or pat-down even if no real alarm has been triggered.

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