MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) - Following the discovery of a knife, razor blade, and heroin inside the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, the TSA issued a statement to Fox 9 saying the agency’s ”greatest focus” is on explosives.
The statement read: "We continue to take the discovery of sharp items and other prohibited items seriously. However, in today's post 9/11 security environment, intelligence tells us our officers' greatest focus needs to be the biggest threat to aviation today - explosives and explosives components."
Given that sharp objects, not explosives, allowed the 9/11 plane hijackings, Fox 9 asked the TSA to explain how it prioritizes sharp objects. A spokesperson responded that their original statement spoke for itself.
But a quick search of news articles reveals that, in other incidents when sharp items may have gone through security checkpoints, TSA used the exact statement: its “greatest focus needs to be…explosives and explosives components.”
A review of documents and testimony helps explain the statement.
In 2007, a Government Accountability Office leader told senators of the TSA's plans to shift “focus from items considered by TSA to pose a low threat (including certain scissors and tools) to items considered to pose a high threat, such as explosives.” More recently, the TSA dropped a plan to allow shorter knives on planes following backlash from flight attendants, pilots, and others.
The shift in focus is the result of attempts to detonate liquid explosives on planes and other threats. But safety enhancements in planes also allow for the shift in focus. Both a former and a current pilot told Fox 9 that planes have multiple layers of protection against knives and guns: locked cockpit doors, air marshals, and sometimes armed pilots. Yet, there is little to stop a bomb on a plane from causing catastrophic damage.