It’s a situation and scenario we train and prepare for – finding a device that is meant to cause havoc. Recently, that’s where Lead TSA Officer Kwanwah “Kenny” Liu found himself.
Liu was working in the Boston Logan International Airport bag room. With the holiday travel, tons of passengers, gift items in checked baggage, and a constant state of readiness, Liu knew he had to remain focused and perform his job. Little did he know he would discover the components of an Improvised Explosive Device.
Recalling the first bag he searched, Liu said, “I knew that while going through these items, something was up. Something didn’t seem right.” In the bag, he found camping gear and a bottle of sulfuric acid wrapped in bubble wrap inside a box and thought it was weird; how do these items fit together? Lui called Supervisory TSA Officer Patrick McDuff, and the item [sulfuric acid] was considered hazmat.
About a half-hour later, Liu found another bag belonging to the same passenger. “Before opening the bag, I noticed the bag tags and realized it belonged to the same individual,” he said. In the second bag, Lui found another box with a different chemical – formic acid. “I put two and two together and knew something wasn’t right – someone is up to something.”
Liu knew right away something was off. So, he dug deeper. “I searched the second bag and discovered weird items – masks, lotions that protect the skin from chemicals, protective eye wear, a modified homemade timer, and more camping equipment.” McDuff escalated the call for assistance to TSA Manager Kevin Colon.
Shortly, a Transportation Security Specialist – Explosives (TSS-E) responded along with members of the Massachusetts State Police, FBI, Massachusetts Port Authority, and the Joint Terrorism Task Force. They studied the device to make sure no one was in immediate danger. The TSS-E explained that once both chemicals are mixed (binary explosive), the reaction would cause an explosion. Though the chemicals were in two different bags, these potential improvised devices and the chemicals were in bags within reach of each other on the same plane.
“I felt a sense of accomplishment knowing that this could have been an actual device, and lives were saved,” said Liu. “This was a scary situation and definitely something I will never forget.”
Local and federal agents found and interviewed the passenger. The items and the passenger were not allowed to fly. Boston Federal Security Director (FSD) Bob Allison and Deeputy FSD Marcy Donnelly congratulated all involved in identifying the threat and resolving the incident without causing any delays or major cause for concerns.
Allison said, “Liu demonstrated extraordinary skills in identifying a significant threat to the public that had the potential to threaten the safety of every passenger who was travelling on that flight.”
EDITORS NOTE: After further investigation, it was discovered that the individual had planned to harm himself. This catch/intervention prevented that from happening.