The TSA has launched an Instagram account, showing all the "dangerous items" they
steal confiscate from air travellers. The message is clear: we are keeping you safe from in-flight danger.
But what they don't show is all the grand-jury indictments for conspiracy to commit air terrorism that they secured after catching people with these items — even the people who were packing guns.
That's because no one — not the TSA, not the DAs, not the DHS — believe that anyone who tries to board a plane with a dangerous item is actually planning on doing anything bad with them. After all, as New York State chief judge Sol Wachtler said (quoting Tom Wolfe), "a grand jury would 'indict a ham sandwich,' if that's what you wanted." So if there was any question about someone thinking of hurting a plane, you'd expect to see indictments.
I had this discussion with a TSA agent at LAX last week. He asked me why I'd opted out of the pornoscanner — he'd been my pat-down assistant that day — and we got to talking. I said that as a frequent flier, I was very interested in safe airplanes, but that I didn't think the TSA contributed to that. He disagreed and cited all the stuff he confiscated, but admitted, when I asked him, that he didn't think that anyone actually planned to do anything bad to airplanes with the stuff he took away, nor did he think they'd do something unplanned and dangerous to the airplane with it.
"But," he said, "maybe someone who did want to crash the plane might take the bad thing away from them and attack it."
"That doesn't sound like a very reliable plan," I said. "If you were a terrorist and that was your plan, you'd have to spend a lot of time in the air waiting for someone to open his laptop bag and show you that he forgot to take his handgun out of it before he boarded."
"Yeah," he said. He thought for a moment. "This is really above my pay-grade."