TSA Overreacts Again, Printer Cartridges Are Now Banned

Government Regulation, Safety/Security

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is at it once again. In a typical reactive move, you can now no longer bring printer cartridges over 16 ounces on an airplane. If this weren’t so sad, it would be downright comical. There has to be a better way to do this.

Bomb in 1 Quart Ziploc Bag

You all know about the recent terrorist plot, right? Terrorists in Yemen shipped bombs via cargo aircraft to the US. It’s unclear what the ultimate target was, but it is clear that the goal was to blow something up. It didn’t happen. These bombs were disguised in large printer cartridges. Did we really need to guess what the TSA reaction would be?

As of now, cargo from Yemen has been banned completely to the US, and the feds threw in Somalia as well just for kicks. And yes, printer cartridges over 16 ounces are banned. But get this, they’re only banned on domestic flights and international flight inbound to the US. Really? What a pain.

Now, I can’t imagine there are too many people trying to lug around 16 ounce printer cartridges; these are not the ones you find in your standard inkjet. But they are out there and now you can’t ship them. But, uh, how exactly is the TSA going to enforce this? Let’s say you’re traveling to London. It should be fine to carry your cartridge, right? But not if you go to Detroit. Remember, you go through the same security checkpoint as everyone else, so does this mean that the TSA is going to start enforcing rules by destination? Sounds like just what we need to slow things down even further. And how are they going to pick out a boxy-piece of plastic on the x-ray anyway?

Let’s not ask questions and just realize that we are now safer. How? Well, the next time someone tries to ship a bomb in a printer cartridge, there’s now a small chance the TSA would actually detect it. Just forget about the fact that it’s unlikely they’re going to try to use printer cartridges again anyway. We can, of course, all sleep easy at night because this is clearly going to keep us safe.

I mean, there’s no chance that terrorists will just laugh and move on to something else. Knowing that the TSA will just ban anything that the people try to use as weapons, you’d think that the next bomb will be in a toothbrush, or maybe in a razor. Next thing you know, Schick will try to put razor-bombs in Gillette razors to see if it can get only Gillette razors banned.

Of course, the terrorists (and no, I’m not calling Schick a terrorist) could go too far. If they try to put a bomb in a laptop, then business travelers around the world will revolt. Just imagine what would happen if the TSA tried to ban laptops . . .

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49 comments on “TSA Overreacts Again, Printer Cartridges Are Now Banned

  1. I’m half tempted to start a petition encouraging the next terrorist to put the next bomb in a 1 quart ziplock bag… Whats funniest is that these weren’t carried on they were shipped. Its like saying bikers get hit by cars, so lets not let anyone walk on the sidewalk. I’m going to get my logic professor to visit the TSA and provide a lesson or 42 for them.

  2. This stupidity will soon be over: At some point some terrorist puts a bomb inside himself. Then TSA bans persons from flights as they may have hidden bombs inside. With no travellers, there won´t be a need for TSA checkpoints and then all will be fine :)

    1. >>>At some point some terrorist puts a bomb inside himself..

      That’s already happened, over in Saudi Arabia, IIRC… A bad guy managed to get within the inner circle around a government security official, and set-off the bunch of PETN he had up his wazoo. The official survived, but the bad guy became a new wallpaper pattern…

      What will also be interesting to watch is how TSA reacts to the young guy who got on the flight from Hong Kong to Vancouver wearing the old man mask, and then removed it in the aircraft lav once airborne. What will TSA do then–pinch our cheeks like Grandma used to do?

  3. Excellent post.

    Methinks we need to drop back and punt. Other than creating a new cadre of self important civil servants, I am afraid that the TSA has been a relative failure.

    Of course, if we come up with something better than TSA, I will miss the entertainment of dealing with these guys on a regular basis. I dealt with a guy over the weekend who I swear was Nick from the old Barney Miller TV show (wonder if he makes bad coffee, too?).


  4. It’s just political covering of backsides. If in 2012, another bomb was found in a printer cartridge, the head of the TSA loses his / her job. By banning cartridges, the TSA can say they tried but didn’t have a big enough budget to scan everything being loaded as baggage / cargo and the head of the TSA keeps their job

  5. The best part was that at the bottom of your article on my google reader, there was an ad for a printer and ink cartridges. :)

  6. Good lord. Here we are again, our TSA is proving once again that they are great at trying to stop the LAST terrorist threat.

    Do we not have ANY forward thinking people inside that cluster of an organization???

    1. Although David is right (just political covering of backsides) your post sums up my feelings quite nicely.

      In the end, it’s the airlines that suffer. Me? I just travel less or find things within a reasonable drive.

  7. While I agree with CF and all the other commentators, I would like to see a blog post dedicated to how security should be implemented to be effective, comprehensive, affordable and non-intrusive/invasive (preserving our human/civil rights). I think it would ultimately be a more productive discussion than this, you know, knee-jerk reaction of a blog post :)

      1. Totally agree. And if people don’t like this proper security, then don’t fly. And if people don’t like racial profiling (that is NEEDED for proper security) then don’t fly either. It’s about time people say it as it is.

        1. With all due respect Sam, the Israelification mentioned behavioral profiling – not racial profiling. As quoted in the article:
          “The word ‘profiling’ is a political invention by people who don’t want to do security,” he said. “To us, it doesn’t matter if he’s black, white, young or old. It’s just his behaviour. So what kind of privacy am I really stepping on when I’m doing this?”
          I’m still surprised TSA didn’t ban clothing on planes in response to the underwear bomber. That would make flying interesting for all.

          1. Between me and you, they do a mix of racial and behavioral profiling. I’ve been through Israeli security dozens of times.

        2. I personally don’t think racial profiling helps anything at all. It’s the same thing that the TSA is doing now. A bomb goes into a printer, it gets banned. With racial profiling, you just shift it slighty. An Arab causes a problem, you profile Arabs. Meanwhile, the terrorists will just move on to Asians, blacks, or whites. Behavioral profiling? Oh yeah, that’s the good stuff to keep an eye on. But racial profiling seems needlessly racist to me.

      2. It would indeed be interesting to see Cranky analyze the “Israelification”. There is certainly a problem with problem with scale — how many airports does Israel have and how many are there in the US that all “feed” into the system? But that’s not to say that it’s not worth considering or at least evaluating.

  8. I posted a comment over at USA Today saying when is the TSA going to ban the most dangerous thing on the plane…..humans!

    Makes you wonder if they put a bomb in baggage/packages that looks like a boom would TSA see it? They are to busy looking for shampoo, shoes and now ink cartridges.

    Why did a cartoon bomb that looks like a black bowling ball with a wick that Wile E. Coyote would try an use against the Road Runner just pop into my mind?

  9. The point has been made many places. Going back to pre-9/11 security is the answer. We solved the planes used as missiles problem within hours in air over Pennsylvania. Locks on cockpit doors help too. Divert the money spent on the TSA to the FBI and CIA to stop these problems before they start.

  10. What if all luggage was band from airplanes do to terrorism fears including carry-ons? Yes, I know it sounds totally farcicle, but you cant put anything past the paranoid TSA & there reactionary stances. I can understand if the TSA did something that was perventitive, but as it stands the TSA only reacts after the fact.

  11. The targeted ad that appeared with this post in my Google reader feed was for Ink & Toner…. with free shipping to anywhere in the US.

  12. Have they said anything about mobiles yet?

    ‘spect they will.

    The bomb packages, such as the U.S.-bound printer discovered on a plane in Dubai, contained explosives and “an electrical circuit linked to a mobile phone SIM card”, according to the early reports.

    Over the past few years, many of the major airlines have been investing heavily in the development of in-flight mobile phone communications. You think they are going to let passengers phone out or anyone phone in to a plane while it’s airborne?

    1. I haven’t seen anything about mobiles, but maybe it’s because they realize that’s a losing battle. There will be a huge uprising if that gets banned.

  13. Why don’t we require the shippers to screen their cargo in the first place? Oh that is right they just spent $20 mil to lobby not to require it!! I am sure the families of the two UPS pilots that recently died from the cargo incident will sleep much better knowing that UPS did not want to spend the money and that TSA is just trying to stop the threats. TSA the whipping boys just trying to make it safer. I guess I am just a bit sensitive about 300 of my union brother firefighters being murdered and TSA is just trying to stop it.

    All you that are only whining about TSA can take Greyhound!

    1. Paul, my condolences. I don’t think anyone on this blog is advocating that the TSA cease to exist completely. Rather, I think we’re asking for intelligent security that looks for today’s equivent of hijackers using planes as missiles. That problem was created on September 11th, 2001 an interim, partial solution was tried on Septemer 11th, 2001 by the passengers and crew of United 93, and a much more permanent system was rolled out in 2001 and 2002 in the form of reinforced cockpit doors, along with the fact that pilots will no longer allow hijackers in the cockpit, has solved this problem.

      I personally think the TSA folks on the ground do a respectable job, it is the leadership’s lack of vision that is disheartening.

    1. 100% Agree. But we’re so politically correct that no one wants to do that. We’d rather settle with a false sense of security called the TSA rather than do it the right way.

    2. El Al has had experience with this and women and the elderly have been used by terrorist in the past. One elderly woman was caught with packages that she was carrying for a neighbors “brother” even though she had no idea what they contained. Another incident involved a mother with a bassinet loaded with explosives given to her by her “husband” to bring on an El Al Flight. The Isralies know that the terrorist cannot be easily “profiled” You have to suspect everyone …even the pretty ladies and the grandmas….

      1. Exactly. The Israeli model works. DHS cannot be in the business of avoiding hurt feelings, but sadly, a major subset of the US population would rather see another 9/11 than risk hurting the feelings of those who may fit the ethnic profile.

  14. I can’t wait for the terrorists to put a bomb in a laptop and the government do something stupid like banning laptops or better all electronics. Last time I took a flight to the US, I had two laptops and an iPad. I was told that there was no way I was going to get on the plane with both laptops and iPad on me. I had to buy a a new handbag and check-in two laptops. Ridiculous. TSA is going to go to such extreme measures that it will be better to drive than fly.

  15. Let’s see now. All plots, both successful and unsuccessful, have involved passengers or cargo. While they’re at it, why doesn’t TSA (Terminally Stupidly Anal) just go ahead and ban all passengers and cargo? The airlines would go bankrupt; but, hey, you can’t have everything. :)

  16. Most of the comments are posted by folks either to young or to forgetful to remember 9-11. There was a great cry to “do something” after that tragedy. Local enforcement and private sector were just not up to the task. Hindsight is easy when we listen to the radio talk show hosts who now form public opinion in this country. TSA is not perfect and they have a hard job. They make many decisions we question, but to do nothing is not an option. They must form regulations and rules based on current and credible threats…and they have. I have never seen as much armchair quarterbacking and whining in my life!

    1. I resent the insinuation that I don’t remember September 11, 2001. I was scared that day. Very scared, and I was nowhere near New York or Pennsylvania. I remember feeling a need to do something, and deciding the only thing I could do was to pack up my tux and attempt to return it. (My closest friend had gotten married the day before.)

      Living constantly in a state of fear just isn’t reasonable. There is some risk from everything, and to expect any system, including security, to be failsafe is naive and unrealistic. An excellent book about the shift to expecting things to be completely free of risk and failure is laid out nicely in Mark Eberhart’s book, Why Things Break: Understanding the World by the Way It Comes Apart.

      Printer cartridges were yesterday’s threat, reacting to them doesn’t matter, because the terrorists have already decided on the next method.

      1. Why Things Break: Understanding the World by the Way It Comes Apart.

        Interesting Book! I read it in Grad School as well…thanks for the link and reminder!

    2. RE: “Most of the comments are posted by folks either to young or to forgetful to remember 9-11”

      Brad, I resent your remark. This is about common sense, a commodity which seems to be in short supply at TSA. For example, supposing Al-Quaida finds a way to make a bomb so that it is worn as an article of clothing. Using TSA’s irrational rationale, there would follow a regulation banning passengers from wearing clothing.

  17. Ah, keywords and webpages…or not! While reading this Cranky post on the left side of the page, a large ad for 123inkjets.com appears on the right side offering free shipping on orders of $55 or more (contiguous U.S.only)!

  18. TSA’s reaction to a threat that has been found out: ban. I mean, I’d think the terrorists would be smart enough to use something else, as people now know what to look for… no reason to ban said thing… But TSA is TSA. By the way, Brett- your amigos over @ VA posted a net profit… I’m sure you will have a post on that tomorrow.

  19. Brad, I also resent your comment about folks being too young or forgetful to remember 9/11. I most certainly do remember it. Much like the TSA, your comment is completely lacking in logic.

  20. This is getting to the point of… actually, it’s already passed the point of ‘Flying Circus’!

    Air travel has already become so horrible that I’m avoiding it whenever I can, even at the cost of not traveling.

    I really hope this charade comes to an end soon, but far from optimistic on that.

  21. It looks like I’m in the vast minority here, but I’ll go ahead and post a devil’s advocate position.

    First of all, I become just as frustrated as the next person when I’m mired in a 30-minute security line, am in danger of missing my flight, and am stuck between a belt buckle-wearing first-time flyer going through the metal detector with buckets of change in his pockets and a TSA “agent” screaming at me, “I TOLD YOU TO PUT YOUR LAPTOP IN A BIN,” twenty seconds after I’ve already done so.

    That said–and, Cranky, I love your blog, regardless–this post smacks of politics. Does the TSA always exercise common sense? Ha–no way. However, I applaud the Department of Homeland Security for taking what might be necessary, though almost certainly temporary, steps to try and keep dangerous cargo out of the United States while they work to identify, isolate, and eliminate a threat.

    Each day, the DHS and other agencies receive reams of information and intelligence that the general public is not permitted to access. Based on that information, the government decides how best to proceed so as to minimize terrorist or other threats to the U.S. Call me ignorant, but I trust that the general public, by design and for the best, does not know enough to dictate security policy, even in the TSA line, which we all find annoying. If the government wants to ban printer cartridges for the time being because terrorists are obviously trying to use them to cause damage, then we should take a deep breath and perhaps realize that this may just be in our best interest at the moment.

    Also, a word on racial profiling:

    As politically incorrect as this will sound, the unfortunate truth is that, at least to an extent, racial profiling works. Israel has been practicing racial profiling in its commercial aviation security process for decades, and it has been almost (not 100%, but darn close) flawless in preventing catastrophic breaches of security on planes traveling to and from its airports. Again, we have to step back and realize that the purpose of security is to prevent calamity and to save lives, not to be polite or to avoid hurting people’s feelings. I have been on the “watch list” of an airline (and was unable to check in online or check baggage), because my name is similar to that of someone on the national “No-Fly List.” Instead of getting angry, I simply spoke to the airline, which verified my identity and removed me from the list. Frankly, I found it encouraging that a) the airline was practicing such vigilance and b) that a simple inquiry and in-person verification of identity was able to resolve the issue.

    I think we all need to take a deep breath and admit to ourselves that these TSA policies, though often bizarren and inconvenient, really don’t make our lives that much more difficult and may actually make flying safer. It’s a work in progress but a necessary one.

    1. However, I applaud the Department of Homeland Security for taking what might be necessary, though almost certainly temporary, steps to try and keep dangerous cargo out of the United States while they work to identify, isolate, and eliminate a threat.

      What makes you think this is going to be temporary? I mean, sure, they can call it temporary as they’ve said about the liquid ban, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be lifted anytime soon.

      I understand that the TSA uses many different layers of security and this is really just the last line of security. Ideally, any real terrorists will be caught before they get to the airport. But since the airport is the last line of defense, it should be looking for big threats. It seems to me that a printer cartridge set up as a bomb would be relatively easy to pick out. It’s not like a laptop which already has a ton of circuitry. It’s a cartridge. So why both banning them?

      This ban just makes TSA employees look for printer cartridges more, something they probably can’t do very easily with existing technology. So it’s bound to distract them from looking for other things. Having the ban only on domestic and inbound flights adds another unnecessary layer of complexity. Why not just say, “hey, no bombs allowed.” And then tell the TSA folks to keep a closer eye on printer cartridges in the near term to make sure they aren’t concealing bombs.

      1. I guess what you see as superfluous and unnecessary, I see as TSA/DHS simply covering its bases, and since the ban is already in place, I don’t see that it makes a difference whether or not it is short- or long-term. Ideally, it will fit the definition of “temporary” more closely than the liquid ban has, but if it has to pass for a longer-term solution, then so be it.

        As for distraction, I don’t buy the notion that looking for printer cartridges will detract from TSA agents’ ability to detect other threats. Printer cartridges are far less common in carry-on luggage than, say, toothpaste, and I don’t know enough about their engineering to say for sure that it’s either exceedingly easy or difficult to determine whether one is rigged as a bomb.

        At the end of the day, I just don’t think that we can have it both ways. Increased security means that things have to become more complicated. Staying a step ahead of potentially deadly mischief (be it printer cartridge-, cell phone-, penny loafer-, or tighty whitey-born) requires extreme measures at times.

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