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Artful Concealment?

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008
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So, what exactly is artful concealment? Prior to working for TSA, I had never heard the term before. I used the term in a blog post a couple of months ago and based on the responses I got, many of our readers didn't seem to be too familiar with the term either.

So what does it mean? Does it mean to artfully conceal something you need to have Bob Ross paint a happy little tree on it so we won’t see it? Nope…

Let me give you a few examples, and then I’ll give you a definition.

A sword in a cane. A gun umbrella. A derringer belt buckle. A cell phone stun gun. A crucifix knife. A hollowed out bible with a gun inside. A gun taped to the bottom of a steel plate. I could give many more examples, but I don’t really want to give folks any ideas.

So basically, artful concealment is when you disguise an object by modifying its natural form to the form of something that will conceal it. This can be done by modifying the object to look like a permissible object, or it can be done by hiding the object in a belt, or shoe, bag lining etc. An artfully concealed item can also be an item that has been intentionally shielded by another object to hide its view from the x-ray.

In many cases, folks go through a lot of trouble concealing something with an item our x-rays can see right through. It’s sometimes comical to see the things that people think will fool an x-ray.

Here are some of the artfully concealed items that came through various checkpoints around the country just yesterday.

• A passenger was arrested after an officer found 19 rounds of .38 caliber ammunition hidden in their carry-on bag. The ammunition was taped together, wrapped in aluminum foil, and placed inside the handle of his carry-on bag.

• An artfully concealed 3-inch bladed belt buckle knife was detected in the carry-on bag of a passenger. The passenger surrendered the knife and was allowed to continue on their flight.

• A 2-inch pocketknife was hidden inside a laptop. The knife was located between the keyboard and the laptop screen. The passenger stated he knew the knife was in the laptop and that it was a prohibited item. Law enforcement officers issued a summons to appear in court and allowed the passenger to continue on the flight.

• A cane with an 18-inch sword blade was found during checkpoint screening. The police responded, confiscated the cane and interviewed the passenger who stated she did not know the cane (which was given to her by her husband) contained a sword. Law enforcement officers allowed the passenger to continue on the flight.

• A passenger was arrested after an artfully concealed 4½-inch knife was found inside a Santa Claus ornament. Police responded, confiscated the knife, and interviewed the passenger who stated she received the item as a gift and did not know there was a knife inside.

• A concealed pocketknife was detected during checkpoint screening. The passenger alarmed the metal detector and said that he had metal implants in his left hip. The passenger again alarmed the metal detectors and was referred to secondary screening. During hand wanding procedures, the passenger alarmed on his right side. The passenger produced a utility knife with a 2½-inch blade and wooden handle from his right pocket. State Police responded, confiscated the knife and arrested the passenger on the state charge of attempting to circumvent security screening.

• A 2½-inch knife was found inside a passenger’s belt buckle. The County Sheriff’s Department responded, took possession of the knife, and interviewed the passenger. Law enforcement officers allowed the passenger to surrender the prohibited item to a non-traveling family member and continue on the flight.

There are also a few blasts from the past I’d like to mention. We’ve had a gun in a teddy bear and a diaper bag, a knife in a baby carrier, and too many cane-swords to mention. Many of these canes are hand-me-downs or were purchased at an antique store or yard sale and the passenger had no idea whatsoever that there was a sword inside.

So what’s the moral of this story? It’s not worth getting arrested or delayed in your travels to sneak a small knife on a plane. And before you leave for the airport, double check your bags, belt and pocket for items that could cause you trouble at a checkpoint.


EoS Blog Team

Update 12/17/08 1846: This happened after our blog post went live, but we wanted to share it with you anyway. After noticing a piece of metal in a shoe on the x-ray monitor, a passenger was caught artfully concealing a crack pipe under their shoe insert.

EoS Blog Team

Update 12/26/08 1500: Five rounds of .38 caliber ammunition were detected artfully concealed in a deck of cards in the carry-on bag of a passenger. The deck of cards were glued together and had five individual bore holes drilled out in order to hold the five rounds. Police responded and interviewed the passenger, who stated he “wanted to keep the bullets out of the reach of his kids.” Police arrested the passenger on the State Charge of Unlawful Possession of Ammunition.


EoS Blog Team


Submitted by RB on

Go for the head. Work through your legislators and public opinion to make changes.

Now is the time.

January 2, 2009 2:15 PM

Yes go for the head and while doing that toss a handful of sand in the many gears that will make the machine grind to a halt.

All legal effots should be taken, none excluded, when dealing with an agency that has failed its assigned mission.

Submitted by TSO Tom on

Anonymous said...
TSO Tom, after your comments in the post dated, December 27, 2008 12:24 PM, I left a couple of follow-up posts with a couple of questions for you.

Your sure did get quiet all of a sudden.

Tom, they weren't hard questions. One was asked what airport you worked at and the other questioned how you might refer people for immigration violations.

If you didn't understand the comments because the words were to big I will be happy to rephrase them so you can understand.

What say you TSO Tom?

January 1, 2009 9:26 AM
first of all I haven't made it a secret as to what airport I work at if you go back through my postings you will surely see for yourself where I am. Secondly, I don't make referrals for immigration violators at all.

Submitted by TSO Tom on

One poster said in part:
TSO Tom could easily see no problem with referring anyone to Law Enforcement for any reason since he does not understand that having money is not a violation of the law and is not a concern of TSA. Or that I should be concerned that I will in fact be referred to an LEO if I just happen to have money and wish to fly on a commercial airplane.
First of all, I have not come across anyone who was artfully concealing large amounts of cash, I have not personally. Some of my co-workers have however come across such items. As to whether or not I have a problem referring someone to law enforcement, no I do not have a problem doing that, because that is what I am REQUIRED to do....I contact my supervisor, my supervisor determines what needs to be done, and if that involves law enforcement officers, so be it. End of my part is when the supervisor steps in.
Tomas Said in part:
Legally carrying a large amount of cash for whatever personal reason I might have, even it it is concealed, is NOT smuggling. It is not doing something unlawful. it is not something that should concern the TSA. It shouldn't concern the government at all unless I attempt to cross a national border with it, and then it is Customs' concern to the extent that I need to fill out a form so they know. I don't even have to show it to them.
Tom, the key word is LEGALLY CARRYING. My point involves those who are NOT LEGALLY carrying, and I'm sorry if you or anyone else in this forum disagrees with me or the policy, it is what it is, I'm doing what I'm required to do, period. As to the customs issue, when we come across cash that is in excess of ten grand we are REQUIRED to notify the LEO who is then required to notify customs, who then checks to determine whether the passenger is crossing a national border and if so, has the cash been declared to customs? End of story for me guys.


Submitted by Ayn R Key on

My point about the phony crack pipes we made to annoy base security has been ignored by spokespeople for the TSA.

Not surprised.

Submitted by Anonymous on

TSO Tom said in part..........

first of all I haven't made it a secret as to what airport I work at if you go back through my postings you will surely see for yourself where I am. Secondly, I don't make referrals for immigration violators at all.

January 3, 2009 7:09 PM
"Secondly, I don't make referrals for immigration violators at all."
Very telling Tom. Would this be because you only support certain laws and refuse to act on those you personally disagree with or has TSA put out a directive saying to not take notice of someone who may be illegally in the country?

What about their documents used to ID themselves? Any thought that they could be less than legit?

Or if in the country illegally that the person could have infiltrated to participate in some sort of attack on the country?

Every little bit I learn about the TSA and its employees reinforces that something is very wrong in your agency.

What other violations of law do you cherry pick Tom? Would this practice be in agreement with TSA integrity polices?

I hope others pick up on your statement.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Ayn R. Key said...

"My point about the phony crack pipes we made to annoy base security has been ignored by spokespeople for the TSA.

Not surprised."

Perhaps because they felt it would be a waste of time to discuss such a childish act performed by a member of the military. How would you have felt if there was an actual security breach while you had the MP's chasing after your faux crack pipes? You are just as sad as those who constantly defy the 3-1-1 policy out of sheer pettiness and petulance. Ever wonder how smooth it would be for your fellow travelers if everyone just paid attention and followed the few small rules? Less bag checks = less frustration for all involved and a happier and safer public. Think about it while you grow up.

Submitted by Ayn R Key on

Anonymous TSO wrote:
Perhaps because they felt it would be a waste of time to discuss such a childish act performed by a member of the military.

The point of the story is - just because it looks like drug paraphanelia doesn't mean it was ever used for illegal purposes. Thus the assertion that it must be reported as an illegal item is false.

Think about it while you grow up.

Think about the constitution while you grow up.

Submitted by Vincent on

We need to abolish the TSA. This is a destructive government agency which is helping to sink us even further into the bottomless pit of debt that we are already too deep to get out of. This agency puts on the charade of security but the only real security to prevent another 911 is locked cockpit doors and alert passengers. No plane will ever be hijacked again because passengers will not allow it! It makes more sense to be afraid of lightning, or sharks, or aliens even than a terrorist statistically. This is a fraud and a sham and each TSA employee should hang their head in shame for harassing even one person and interfering in the running of a business on the free market. This is disgusting, when will Americans here in the USSA figure out what is going on and call it what it is? I don't want this crap on my airline, how come I can't pay to fly on one that doesn't have this nonsense? That would be an American solution, all the skirts could fly "safe" airlines if they like and then we could look at the statistics and see that this charade makes us no more safe than an airline could by it's own actions and be accountable to us, the customers. That is fact. The government has never been good at anything but war and welfare, and it's not good at those either.

Submitted by Stephen on

> I think most all questions get answered
> but the person asking does not
> understand the answer or doesn't like
> the answer so they keep asking the same
> question.

Well often people tend to ask questions that can be half answered, and I see a lot more of that than anything else.

I don't mean to bash the TSA bloggers, lord knows they are the only people at the TSA whose job I approve of (if only because the organization exists and I think its good that they take comments, at least until this country has the good sense to defund them)

However, I see a lot of cherry picking. A lot of answering the really easy questions, and ignoring the real points.

Bruce Schnier's repeated point in several articles (which has appeared in many blog posts here) has gone utterly ignored, while weaker points near it get answered definitively.

If you accept the liquid ban makes sense (which is a whole different issue), then you HAVE to treat EVERYONE with a prohibited amount of liquid as a bona fide terrorism suspect....because if there is no consequence to getting caught with liquids, then they can just keep trying till they get something through.

SOp either you give up entirely (which I believe is his suggestion on that issue), or you toss every old lady who brought a container of eye drops thats .05 oz over the limit up against the wall and arrest her.... with no possibility of tossing her contraband and continuing on.

Anything in between is just "Theater", a show put on for the benefit of the TSA budget justification.

Frankly, I agree 100% with his assesment and I have yet to see ANY serious attempt to address the real issues brought up.


Submitted by Anonymous on

Dan @ "Could carrying [a 29c Bic] in my attaché or laptop case be construed as 'artful concealment'?"

Yes. If a TSO thinks you might be a terrorist capable of using a pen as a weapon, then the pen is a prohibited item and if they think you've cleverly concealed it, then you are guilty of artful concealment. See this PDF for your fines.

Submitted by Jim Huggins on

TSO Tom writes:

As to the customs issue, when we come across cash that is in excess of ten grand we are REQUIRED to notify the LEO who is then required to notify customs, who then checks to determine whether the passenger is crossing a national border and if so, has the cash been declared to customs? End of story for me guys.

And that's why we are questioning the TSO policy. We understand that you are obeying the rules established by your superiors. However, there is a serious question as to whether or not the TSA policy is sound.

Submitted by Harmony1 on

Its seems as if all peoople have to speak of is negativity. It is as if regardless of any situation, TSA will never be right. As in any organization, their are a few bad apples, but it is rediculous to deem all TSA employess as horrible people. It seems as if now days people are more concerned about keeping their water that they know has not been allowed through the checkpoint for more than 2 years now vs. getting a $400 moving violation ticket. TSA is here to help you believe it or not. Nobody likes taking t hings from passengers but, it is our duty to protect you and the rest of the traveling public to the best of our ability. Hopefully all the TSA haters will start to see that TSA is for no not against you. It's better to be safe then sorry. Until next time.

Submitted by Kaleb Klein on

I think you have other problems if somebody can still take down a plane with a 2" knife.

If we keep up worrying at this rate, soon buff men won't be allowed on flights because those muscles are prohibited!

Submitted by Frank Sanders on

I recently read in the NY Times that dozens of those swords hidden in canes are seized every year. Many people have purchased these second hand and do not even know what they have.

Submitted by Pianoz4u on

I know it is an inconvenience to be patted down or go through a screening device, and thoroughly embarassing and humiliating, but I would rather be embarassed than just one person slip through the system that could bring down my ride.... Just my thought... I know the system is not perfect yet, and may never be, but those few discoveries made by TSA is one less possible problem.... I like to look at the overall picture rather than the smudge in the corner.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I can't say I've flown since 1992 (think thats what year it was)?
I would have only been 12 flying with my 14 yr old brother. Going from Oakland to Chicago to Harrisburg. Was very fun & enjoyable.

Of course back then I wasn't too surprised that my suit case with a brick of fireworks, some bottle rockets, a machete & real nun chucks got through. Of course this was NOT a CARRY ON.

If I ever do fly again.
I will try to pack light (without banned stuff) & get through security as fast as I can. & be polite to the Security workers.
Without bitchen n moanin.

(So that the line of impatient people behind me don't have to wait longer (because of me) & get more impatient & then be rude to the TSA people. Who may then be rude to you or hold you up on purpose just because you're being rude & holding up all the people behind you...making the whole process more longer n drawn out. Making the travelers & workers more impatient...& so on.)

Submitted by Anonymous on

So where do all these weapons & fluids go?

Are the coolest weapons raffled off @ the Company Christmas party???

I think if they auctioned off the weapons. Recycled the fluids & sold them in a store after you got off your flight...Then they could lower airfares & baggage fees???

Submitted by Anonymous on

"You are wrong. TSA does not look for cash. Yes they come accross it sometime."

This is an absurd statement. Due to the depths of the searches it is the presumption that nothing will be missed. Therefore, one can presume that if they're carrying a large amount of cash it WILL be noticed.

"There are not international flights out of my airport, but the connecting flight could be out of the country. Which is why when a large amount of cash is found (not looked for) a LEO is informed. So that they can be sure that there is no illegal activities occuring IF the person is indeed traveling outside of the US."

It is an unreasonable search to search someone and question them regarding something that MAY be illegal in some possible place in their near future. Considering that someone MAY have a connecting flight out of the country is not probable cause.

Submitted by Anonymous on


Submitted by Brian on

Really great post. For me we can't have something like gun for example in us.
It's very dangerous and i hate that
Thank you

Submitted by Old Hippie on

What is "drug paraphernalia" to some people is often "medical devices" to legal medical marijuana patients in 16 states (and counting!). I hope the TSA will use compassion and common sense in dealing with people.

Submitted by Reza on

And so Chad, in the event that 5 in . scissers are allowed up to speed that will undertake equally as much injury because within the knifes regarding equivalent or lower time-span, what makes 5 centimeter scissers granted although the 2" pad utensil against the rules?

Doesn't help make sense at all, however, not a whole lot TSA really does often.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I think TSA sucks. Still, the fact the some idiots think they can outsmart xrays and sneak ammo on a aircraft makes me less angry at the existence of TSA... All this aside, why TSA will allow a pair of three inch scissors and not the pathetic knife in a swiss tool is INANE. More so, if I cannot carry my own water through the checkpoing, I expect the price of water to be lower than market, not five-fold the market price. Screw all that.

Submitted by Thomas Clark on

I think Concealment of Art is a kind of stegnography concept means, An art which has any hidden message in it. Your exmaples are not enough to explore whatever you want to tell.
Overture Art Show

Submitted by Anonymous on

So if someone accidentally forgets a pair of fingernail clippers or a pocket knife in their bag then they shouldn't be able to fly? Ur a little extreme.