Identifying prohibited items while performing X-ray duties is what TSA officers train long and hard to do. When you add an artfully and well concealed fiberglass knife to the mix, practice and preparation pay off.
“We train rigorously on empowerment, engagement and critical thinking so officers are positioned for these exact, difficult scenarios,” said Alaska’s Juneau International Airport (JNU) Assistant Federal Security Director Dave McDermott.
So when JNU TSA Officer Nicolas Blanco’s instincts told him something didn’t look right about a particular bag, he took a closer look. He spotted a faint outline of what he thought looked like a knife on one monitor, but he couldn’t see it in the corresponding view on the other screen, which shows another view of the bag from a different angle.
“It didn’t look right,” said Blanco.
With his suspicion raised, Blanco called for a bag check and closely communicated the item’s location to TSA Officer Forrest Burke.
“It first looked like a comb handle, but something didn’t sit right with me, so I spoke with Burke and pointed out what I was seeing,” recalled Blanco.
Burke was working in the role of dynamic officer—the team member who conducts a bag search once the bag is sent for further inspection. He carefully searched for the threat item.
“The initial search took around five to seven minutes before I called a supervisor over,” said Burke. “As I was searching, I was getting worried I wasn’t able to immediately find [the suspicious item] in the bag contents. That’s when I thought that it may be concealed and decided to get a supervisor involved.”
The bag was emptied and rerun through the X-ray to narrow down the search.
“I talked with Burke,” said Blanco. “We both felt something was not right with the bag, and we needed to find out what the image was.”
After seeing the new image, Burke discovered a hard-to-find fiberglass knife taped to the bag wall under the liner and against the metal frame of the bag. Fiberglass weapons, such as this blade, don’t contain metal and aren’t easily detected by X-ray.
Advised of the discovery, Supervisory TSA Officer Jessie Ashton notified the Juneau Police Department, who interviewed the passenger and allowed him to surrender the prohibited item to TSA and continue to his flight.
Although Blanco, who joined TSA in October 2020, and Burke, who came onboard in December 2019, have discovered their share of prohibited items in carry-on bags, this was the first artfully concealed item either officer has found.
“Usually, any weapons I come across are blades of some kind; however, they usually aren’t intentionally placed in bags,” said Burke.
“It feels good knowing I’m doing my job right, and I’m keeping prohibited items off airplanes,” said Blanco when asked how he felt about his great catch. “I’m happy I found it.”
“I was definitely relieved that the item was found and that a potential incident didn’t occur on the plane,” Burke echoed.
“This outstanding demonstration of commitment to the mission and team engagement led to the detection of an extremely difficult catch,” said McDermott. “An engaged officer is very difficult to beat, and an engaged team is near impossible. I am extremely proud to work alongside these dedicated officers.”