TSA To Ban Printer Cartridges Next Week : SD 1554-10-05

This coming Monday, the 8th of November,  the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) expects to announce that it will prohibit airline passengers from flying with printer ink and toner cartridges, sized at 16oz by volume or larger. This will be Security Directive (SD) 1554-10-05.

As of this evening, the TSA appears to be working on the exact wording of prohibiting these items, however prohibiting printer cartridges  poses a few challenges … mainly that generally printer cartridges do not have their ink or toner volume readily listed on the cartridge its self.

Having been made aware of this information earlier today, and having confirmed it with a management source within the TSA this evening, I sought the opinion of a U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) terrorism analyst for their opinion. This is what the DoD terrorism analyst had to say:

“The prohibition of printer ink and toner cartridges does nothing to enhance the security of passenger flights.

Now that the global security community is aware of printer cartridges as a potential way to conceal explosives anyone seeking to stay out of the line of sight of security forces will move onto a new item to conceal their weapons. If I was on the front line of aviation security I would suggest seriously looking at desktop hard drives, portable DVD players or home video game consoles. These are all items with enough internal space to pack an explosive in addition to providing the ability to camouflage the trigger wiring harness.  Under normal circumstances these items may not catch a second glance, but you have to wonder what kind of person checks a desktop hard drive, portable DVD player or home video game console given the likelihood of damage or theft.

As I said in my initial assessment of the Yemen air cargo terrorism plot, organized terrorists are long term planners and they do not play the same cards more than once. The TSA’s reaction in focusing any energy or assets on printer cartridges is a waste of resources and ultimately furthers the public perception of security theater instead of preventative security intelligence.

The Yemen air cargo plot was fouled because of intelligence, likely planted intelligence. The next time an attack happens it will not be what we are expecting and it won’t come from where we are expecting it.

We have needed an air cargo universal security process, both here and abroad, for many years so there are no gaps. This includes real intelligence and actions, not four suits in a room saying “This will sound good on the 11 o’clock news, let’s get some cameras down here and show printer cartridges being removed from bags.”

This action is a waste of human capital and of the skill sets that should be in place with Transportation Security Officers interacting with passengers and screening baggage at airports. ”

It is unclear at this time if the TSA is prohibiting printer cartridges for carry on or checked bags, or both. I have heard a ban on-carry on as well as a ban on both carry-on and checked bags.  I sought an official answer from the TSA’s Office of Strategic Communications this evening, however they were unaware of any upcoming addition of printer cartridges being added to the prohibited items list.

My question with ink and toner printer cartridges being prohibited is this … are a lot of commercial airline passengers flying with printer cartridges?

I would hope that TSA screeners would find a mobile phone, with no SIM card, wired to a printer cartridge unusual during the baggage screening process and pull that bag for secondary screening … with or without this item being on the prohibited list.

EDITED ON 6-NOVEMBER-2010 AT 5:00PM EST TO ADD: One airline has confirmed that it will no longer transport ‘large printer cartridges’ on board its aircraft, be it passenger baggage or as an item shipped via their cargo service.  This can lead to an increase in shipping times and costs for ink cartridges for large scale graphic printers and ‘professional grade’ laser printers if these cartridges are banned from both passenger aircraft and cargo aircraft.

Happy Flying!


  1. Just like you said in one of your tweets prior to posting this, it’s just security theater, nothing more. I sure wish we would focus more energy on catching the bad guys before they get to the airport or the aircraft. More focus on intelligence gathering. Just my humble opinion.

  2. John

    The thing that gets me is that the TSA is focusing on an old tactic rather than the next tactic and more than one intelligence official I have had correspondences with all say the intelligence was planted and the bombs were never meant to reach their target. Proof of this exists in that one of the bombs was attached to a mobile phone, without any SIM inserted, that was acting as a time … when found the timer was reportedly at under 20 minutes. If would have blown on the ground.

    Happy Flying!


  3. re:
    >the TSA is focusing on an old tactic rather than the next tactic

    Doesn’t that sum up every response of ours over the last 9 years? We keep reacting to what has happened with little visible effort to figure out what can happen.

  4. i actually do hope that the rule is only for hand luggage and not checked baggage, since i quite often take toners with me back and forth since the printer i have in dubai does not have a local supplier for it’s cartridges.

  5. Imagine the public outcry if restrictions on portable electronics were ever enacted! Your intelligence source is very forward thinking, and should be sought for counsel by the TSA. I’m with you on this post and wish they’d be more forward-thinking in their security measures, instead of acting like kids caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

  6. Sue,

    You can contact the Department of Homeland Security for the exact wording. For specific reasons, such as my run in with the TSA back in December, I won’t publish the exact wording of SD 1554-10-05 at this time.

    The exact wording does specify printer ink & toner cartridges of 16oz or larger.

    Happy Flying!


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