Logan still finding armed travelers
Searchers seize potential weapons in record numbers
A record number of potential weapons -- 640,891 -- were confiscated last month from passengers trying to board planes at the nation's airports, according to federal officials. But the record at Logan International Airport was set in June, when screeners seized 14,900 potential weapons -- the most since federal officials took over security at the airport last year.
In Boston, federal screeners discovered many ordinary items that concealed knives, including lipstick containers, cigarette lighters, belt buckles, pens, even a cane. Yet some passengers were stopped at checkpoints with more obvious contraband, like a 6 1/2-inch bowie knife in a sheath, or a straight-edged razor.
"I just think it's ignorance," said George Naccara, the federal security director at Logan for the Transportation Security Administration. He said most passengers said they forgot they were carrying the weapons or didn't know the items were banned from carry-on luggage. "There's no malice."
As for the secretive, spy-like items seized, Naccara said most of them were probably bought over the Internet. "I think people are just coming up with some of these creative weapons, artfully concealed, for personal protection . . . People still forget that these are prohibited items and they still forget that they've got them on their person."
Naccara speculated that droves of college students leaving Boston for home or vacation may be partly responsible for the spike in the number of potential weapons confiscated at Logan in June. "I'll bet they had a lot of things in their backpacks they didn't even think about," he said.
Terrorists armed with boxcutters hijacked two flights out of Logan on Sept. 11, 2001, and crashed them into New York City's World Trade Center towers.
The number of potential weapons seized is steadily climbing at many of the nation's airports and the TSA has intercepted more than 7.5 million items, including 49,331 boxcutters, 1,437 firearms, and 2.3 million knives, since it began taking over security at the nation's major airports in February 2002, according to federal officials.
Because July is one of the busiest travel months for vacationers, federal officials said, it makes sense that more potential weapons were confiscated last month. Still, they said they're concerned about the number of seizures.
The TSA began a media blitz around the country yesterday and is holding a news conference at Logan Airport today, to warn people to brush up on passenger prohibitions before flying out for Labor Day weekend by going to a website, www.TSATravelTips.us. At Logan, where the TSA took over security in November, federal screeners have been seizing an average of 10,000 potential weapons each month, officials said. While most passengers were released after the items were confiscated, in some cases arrests were made.
Earlier this month, a Paxton teenager was arrested at Logan and removed from a plane bound for Hawaii after a baggage screener found a profanity-filled note inside his checked luggage that read, "Have you found a [expletive] bomb yet?"
A Boston advertising executive was arrested in February at Logan Airport after he was found carrying an inert, hollowed-out hand grenade through security.
The biggest offenders appear to be travelers who don't fly often and say they didn't know about the many prohibitions that have been put in place since the terrorist attacks, according to aviation officials and State Police.
A state law enacted last year makes it a felony in Massachusetts to enter a secure area of an airport with a prohibited weapon and carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
State Police Major Thomas Robbins, who oversees Troop F at Logan, said troopers are called when a weapon is confiscated at a checkpoint to investigate the passenger and his or her intent. "There's zero tolerance. You're not going to get on a plane with a weapon and you may get arrested."
In some cases, passengers are allowed to leave, then are later summoned to court to face charges, he said.
"If there was an honest mistake proceeding to the checkpoint, you don't want to arrest people," Robbins said. But he noted that it's a traveler's responsibility to know what is prohibited on planes before trying to board.
"I can't imagine why someone would buy a pen knife unless they thought it was for self-protection," Robbins said. "But what are you thinking in this day and age in bringing this on an airplane?"
Jose Juves, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Port Authority, said the statistics show that more potential weapons are seized during peak periods of leisure travel. "The business traveler is much more accustomed to flying, so they know what they can bring and what they can't bring. In the summer you get more infrequent fliers. These are people who are much less familiar with TSA regulations."
While knives concealed in pens and lipstick containers aren't allowed in carry-on bags, they are allowed in checked luggage, according to the TSA's regulations.
"People don't have access to the checked baggage. It's completely stored in the belly of the aircraft," said Naccara.
When asked if the confiscation of potential weapons at Logan Airport may have prevented another terrorist attack, Naccara said, "It's always difficult for any federal agency to measure prevention. I'd like to think that . . . what we have done has been a form of deterrence.
"All of our aviation targets have been hardened . . . now it's not so easy to get something on a plane."
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.