Anyone who has been selected for secondary screening, or bag screening, by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is familiar with the agency’s procedures for swabbing of a Transportation Security Officer’s (TSO) gloves for traces of explosives following a pat-down or search of a bag.
But what does a passenger do when the gloves TSA TSO’s are using have already been contaminated with traces of explosives? This has been the case recently at Port of Columbus International Airport (CMH), in Columbus, Ohio.
Twice in the past week I have heard from travelers that have been screened with contaminated gloves at the airport. The first person to alert me to this problem is a Delta Air Lines regional airline flight attendant (who wishes to remain unnamed due to her job) and the other is Martin Rottler, an Aviation Lecturer at Ohio State University’s Center for Aviation Studies.
The batch of gloves in use by TSA TSO’s at the airport have been manufactured in Malaysia, and while the agency is aware of the contaminated gloves, rather than Explosive Trace Detection (ETD) swabbing a sample glove from each box as it is opened, the TSA continues to use them for screening passengers with a high rate of false positives. As the contaminated gloves are used to search a travelers bag, or pat them down, they are not only increasing their search times by using the contaminated gloves, they are also contaminating the passenger, their belongings, and wasting man hours and wasting supply money.
While the Port of Columbus International Airport is not the first airport to encounter this problem, they are the first airport I am aware of to have an on going issue lasting at least a week with a known batch of contaminated gloves.
As Mr. Rottler passed through the airport last week, already aware of the problem, he asked the TSA TSO to ETD swab the gloves before he was patted down … the gloves tested positive before they ever touched him. This means that not only would he have been trace contaminated, but the TSA TSO had already been contaminated. Every time that TSO touched someone, they would alarm in the explosives test.
What should the TSA do? First, determine how a large batch of gloves could have been contaminated in the factory where they were manufactured. Second the agency needs to destroy the entire batch, determine where else the gloves are, destroy them, and set in place a policy for testing batches of gloves before being placed into hands on security operations.
Should TSA TSO’s become complacent knowing their gloves will alarm for explosives they will let their guard down. Should someone with the intention of smuggling an explosive through a TSA checkpoint be aware of these lapses, it gives them greater opportunity to pass through security as just another traveler that was improperly screened by contaminated gloves.
Happy Flying … and if you’re flying through CMH, ask them to swab the gloves before they touch you!