Flying home from a friend’s wedding on Sunday, the TSA confiscated a couple items from me at their security checkpoint: a tube of Crest toothpaste and a small bottle of hair gel. I admit to being ignorant of the agency’s carry-on regulations because they are so haphazardly enforced: Not only did I travel to the wedding with those same items, but also the very TSA team that took them neglected to seize four additional toiletry bottles that, let’s face it, were dangerously large.
Even so, I was surprised to learn that undercover agents were able to smuggle mock explosives and weapons through 95 percent of airport checkpoints in the United States. In a report given to ABC News, TSA screeners failed to detect 67 out of 70 tests at dozens of airports throughout the country. I admit that immature outrage still strikes me whenever my common sense is contradicted by draconian policy, but really, TSA, I had smelly breath for half a day and lost a good chuck of change when you took my nice hair product.
“In one test, the network said an undercover agent was stopped when he set off an alarm at a checkpoint, but that TSA screeners then failed to find a fake explosive device taped to his back when they patted him down.”
The report on mock weapons and explosives is an embarrassing one, and it stings even more when Jeh Johnson, secretary of the Homeland Security Department, defends his record by saying that this year the TSA “seized a record number of prohibited items.” Yes, Mr. Johnson, your TSA officials have been seizing our regular-sized toothpaste tubes in record numbers. Double marks for diligently keeping statistics on the matter.
Christopher Chabris, associate professor of psychology at Union College, explains how airport security officials easily miss the forest for the trees. In 2004 he was the co-recipient of an Ig Nobel Prize for his now-landmark experiment “Gorillas in Our Midst,” which demonstrated that when subjects focused their attention on one thing, they often failed to notice something as conspicuous as a woman in a gorilla suit.