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A TSA "test plant" of a knife?

A TSA "test plant" of a knife?

Old Jan 8, 04, 12:15 pm
  #1  
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A TSA "test plant" of a knife?

The "back story" to this is long, but I figure that if I don't lay it out now, I'll be filling in the blanks later, so enjoy the story.

On December 18th my 20-year-old daughter flew FLL-MDW, carrying on a backpack. The morning of December 19th she went MDW-SDF and returned on the 20th, all with the same backpack.

On December 26th we loaded up the rental car and drove to MDW for a flight to LAX. While unloading the rental in the MDW garage a person that I took for a Hertz employee rolled up a luggage cart and helped my wife and daughter pile their stuff on, including the backpack. We went inside the terminal and waited in the check-in line. The backpack was on the cart the whole time and in our sight. After putting our checked items through the machine we headed for security. The backpack and my wife's carry-on stayed on the cart until we got to the escalator. They took their bags and headed for security. There was no wait for the ID/boarding pass check. At the metal detector the wait was minimal. It took longer for my 16 year old son to get his construction boots off than for the line ahead of us to get through. My daughter was last in line.

All of us went through the detector and retrieved our carry-ons, except that my daughter's bag was put through a second time.

After the second trip, one of the TSA agents determined that it war her bag and asked if she had a knife. She said of course not. The agent reached into an outer pocket of the pack back (one with a Velcro closure, probably the size of a cell phone) and pulled out a very nice black case. (Much like a good Leatherman belt case.) Inside was a large (5 inch blade) pocketknife and another smaller knife or a multitool. I'm not a "knife" person, but this knife looked new with a stainless steel machine finished body. The case was also very nice, made of heavy nylon.

The TSA agent was very calm and said that they ran the bag twice because they “thought that they saw something”. He asked if my daughter if she wanted to place the knife in a checked bag. My daughter stated that she had never seen the knife and didn’t want it. The agent said, “thank you and have a nice flight”.

My daughter swears that she had never seen the case or knives before. Given the many passes through security, it is unlikely this item was placed in her backpack in Florida. I asked my son (in a way that a father can ask in a stressful situation) if he knew anything about the knife. He denied all knowledge.

So what the heck was going on? My thoughts…

A (bad) practical joke by a friend: not likely. An expensive kit got thrown away. And no one has owned up to it yet.

My kids trying to sneak something in: Again, not likely. They travel enough to know what security is like. Neither has any interest in knives. And they’re too careful with their money to waste it like this.

The parking lot guy: Either for his own jollies, meanness or for evil purposes (see below). The four of us were watching, but it could have happened.

Someone in line: Again we were with the luggage cart the entire time. There was no ID/boarding pass wait and the wait at the detector and x-ray was just long enough to load up the x-ray belt.

The TSA: The bag went through twice, with the knife kit being placed in between exams. The TSA folks had no problem with the “attempt” to sneak in the knife and expressed no concern that we had no idea how the items got in the backpack.

The worse case: Some “bad guy” was trying to get weapons aboard a flight. While not likely (he wouldn’t know which flight or even airline we were headed for), it’s possible. In addition, the TSA didn’t seem too disturbed by all of this. Should they have?

Frankly, I’m hoping that it was the TSA. That would get my kids off and not keep me awake at night thinking about what might have happened on that MDW-LAX flight.

What do you think? Does the TSA really “plant” test items? Has this happened to anyone else? Should I have made a bigger issue of this?



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ejmelton is offline  
Old Jan 8, 04, 1:04 pm
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My guess is was your kids. Kids do a lot of things like that and don't fess up to it.

Seems unlikely that the other possibilities happened. Maybe you just don't want to believe your kids could do something like that.

KT
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Old Jan 8, 04, 1:09 pm
  #3  
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Is it possible your daughter had the backpack someplace where someone else might have confused it for their bag and put in their knife? As you know, lots of bags - and backpacks - look alike. My son goes on a lot of overnight school trips and it seems like he's always bringing home something - clothes, glasses, etc. - that belongs to someone else who went on the trip because they confused his bag with theirs.

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Old Jan 8, 04, 1:15 pm
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If I knew you (or your kids) personally, I might guess differently. But strictly from an outsider's point of view, I'm going to guess it was either your son or daughter, as well. The other scenarios just don't make sense.

It does seem somewhat strange that the TSA didn't think much of it when your daughter said she had never seen the knife before. "Oh, okay, your bag must have just been tampered with by a terrorist then. Thank you, move along. That doesn't make a whole lot of sense, does it? (Then again, we're talking about the TSA here.)

However, I would be very surprised if the TSA (or any other government agency) conducts tests by placing objects in unknowing subjects' bags. There are just way too many variables and risks associated with doing so, not to mention the practicality of actually getting the item there to begin with.

Thus, most likely scenario is that someone with access to the bag (your family) place the object there. Have you talked with the wife?
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Old Jan 8, 04, 1:29 pm
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Could it have been in there so long your daughter just forgot about it?

As for the TSA, they see dozens if not hundreds of these items daily. When I was a screener we even had a guy try to carry a set of tire chains through. Since she "surrendered" it, the whole incident became a non-issue. That it was not caught on other legs is not indicative that it was not there. Screeners are human and miss things from time to time.

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[This message has been edited by The Unknown Screener (edited Jan 08, 2004).]
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Old Jan 8, 04, 1:38 pm
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I realize that she released the item to the TSA and was free to go, but it raises an interesting point. If someone claims that a weapon that was in their bag is not theirs, don't you find it strange that SOP would be to just confiscate the weapon and allow the bag to continue into the "sterile" area?

I am NOT asking for more screening, but isn't this why they used to ask whether we'd packed ourselves, or received gifts?
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Old Jan 8, 04, 1:45 pm
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While I remain "skeptical", I have had the TSA ask me if they could place a knife in my bag to "test" the security screeners. But to just do it and not ask, I find improbable.
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Old Jan 8, 04, 1:46 pm
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It is unlikely the TSA "planted" the knife in a test situation. The TSA, FAA, and in the past the airlines themselves were responsible for "testing" the local checkpoints with various forms of prohibited items with their own personnel. You noted that the knife was new and looked expensive, this should rule out any involvement on their part.

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Old Jan 8, 04, 2:07 pm
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l99
<font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">Originally posted by Dromomaniac:
I realize that she released the item to the TSA and was free to go, but it raises an interesting point. If someone claims that a weapon that was in their bag is not theirs, don't you find it strange that SOP would be to just confiscate the weapon and allow the bag to continue into the "sterile" area?

I am NOT asking for more screening, but isn't this why they used to ask whether we'd packed ourselves, or received gifts?
</font>
No, in the event of a gun, or knife with a blade over 4" in length, there would be an investigation and the person carrying said item would most likely not be flying that day. In this instance, the knife (multi-tool) is not an illegal item to own, just prohibited in carry-on bags. Since the bag was cleared (no prohibited items) she was free to go. Had the item been artfully concealed, then that would have been a different matter altogether.


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Old Jan 8, 04, 2:22 pm
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<font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">Originally posted by The Unknown Screener:
Could it have been in there so long your daughter just forgot about it?

</font>
We thought about that. She is a "technical theatre" major and works with tools and, like another FTer said, things end up in the wrong packs sometimes. But...she had gone through security three times (FLL,MDW and SDF) since leaving her house. Did all three miss it?

To the "kids do strange things" comments: Yes you are correct, they do. (Mine included. I have a great story about the son who went "looking at trees" rather than to church and ran out of gas.). As the oldest of five kids and a parent of these two, anything is possible. On the other hand, they are both pretty open when they mess up and the TSA folks were so nice that it wouldn't have been hard to says "whoops", I forgot.
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Old Jan 9, 04, 12:38 pm
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<font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">Originally posted by ejmelton:
We thought about that. She is a "technical theatre" major and works with tools and, like another FTer said, things end up in the wrong packs sometimes. But...she had gone through security three times (FLL,MDW and SDF) since leaving her house. Did all three miss it?

To the "kids do strange things" comments: Yes you are correct, they do. (Mine included. I have a great story about the son who went "looking at trees" rather than to church and ran out of gas.). As the oldest of five kids and a parent of these two, anything is possible. On the other hand, they are both pretty open when they mess up and the TSA folks were so nice that it wouldn't have been hard to says "whoops", I forgot.
</font>
It is certainly possible that it was missed on the other flights. When I was a screener we found many things that people told us they had carried through other airports. I find that the busier airports tend to have more prohibited items get through than slower ones.



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Old Jan 9, 04, 10:45 pm
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<font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">Originally posted by The Unknown Screener:
l99 No, in the event of a gun, or knife with a blade over 4" in length, there would be an investigation and the person carrying said item would most likely not be flying that day.
</font>
About 2 years ago, a screener asked me if I had scissors in my laptop bag. I said no, but they insisted there was one and wanted to check my bag. I said "sure", thinking maybe a little 1" set of scissors from a hotel sewing kit or something had fallen out.

She pulled out a pair of scissors that must have been at least 8" long - big black grips, shiny blades, etc. She asked what I wanted to do, I said they weren't mine and they could have them, and went on my merry way.

It was in the main case of my bag, which I open several times a day. Either co-workers decided to be funny, or someone decided to test security without telling me. I wasn't amused but neither was I detained, held, etc.

It was very odd.

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Old Jan 10, 04, 8:12 pm
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<font face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif" size="2">Originally posted by ejmelton:
We thought about that. She is a "technical theatre" major and works with tools and, like another FTer said, things end up in the wrong packs sometimes. But...she had gone through security three times (FLL,MDW and SDF) since leaving her house. Did all three miss it?
</font>
I found a folding knife that I had left in one of my computer bags while travelling. That bag had gone through at least 5 screens when I found the knife. I immeduately placed the knife in my checked luggage. I was pretty suprised that the screeners hadn't found it. In the same bag, I had a pair of needle nose pliers that had been there for an even longer time
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Old Jan 10, 04, 8:14 pm
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TSA now do not ask passengers to carry through test items nor would they plant items without the passenger's knowledge.

It is not uncommon for a passenger to deny having an item because they believe they will be arrested. Screeners are advised to advise to the passenger that they can return the item to their car, put it in checked baggage or surrender it.

It could be possible that someone was testing if items could get through the checkpoint.

There was an incident in florida a while ago where a stranger gave a child a teddy bear. When the bear went through the x-ray a 22 was found in it.
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