TSA agent missed Mace in handbag — and what else?

I recently wrote about some of the most unusual things that airport security confiscated last year. I wondered what people were thinking when they tried to take items such as grenade artwork, a knife made of bone and a wicked-looking pizza cutter on a flight. Plus, the pictures of the Transportation Security Administration’s “Top Ten Most Unusual Finds” were interesting and worth sharing. 

One reader kept the conversation grounded, though, by sharing his own airport security experience with me. He questioned why agents missed a can of Mace that his daughter mistakenly left in her purse.  

That made me wonder how often weapons slip through TSA checkpoints. I did some research and found that I could just as easily have written a column about the “Top Ten Missed Items.”  

Last year, the TSA’s inspector general conducted undercover tests of security checkpoints’ ability to identify potential threats. The results weren’t top-notch.  

“We identified vulnerabilities with TSA’s screener performance, screening equipment and associated procedures,” the inspector general said in a report in September.  

Details of the lapses and where they happened were not revealed because they were considered to be classified or sensitive security information. But the inspector general shared the details with the House Committee on Homeland Security in a private briefing prior to a hearing in November about TSA’s role in preventing attacks on transportation systems.  

“Quite frankly, I found that briefing disturbing,” committee Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul said at the hearing. “We need to do more to confront the growing threats aimed at the aviation sector.”  

The Washington Post reported that covert testers carrying banned items got through airport security about eight of 10 times. TSA spokesman Mike England wouldn’t confirm or comment on the Post’s report.  

In a statement following the hearing, TSA Administrator David Pekoske said the agency takes the inspector general’s findings “very seriously and are implementing measures that will improve screening effectiveness at checkpoints. We are focused on staying ahead of a dynamic threat to aviation with continued investment in the workforce, enhanced procedures and new technologies.”  

The inspector general recommended eight ways to improve checkpoint security. Those recommendations were not made public for security reasons. TSA said it concurred with them. The agency said it conducts its own internal tests and continues to make improvements to protect travelers.  

Let’s hope so. There are few things in life that we should expect to be perfect but this is one of them.  


Paul Muschick of The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.) helps consumers fight errors, incompetence and arrogance by businesses, governments and institutions.

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