TSA tactics: Not so sharp


Knife-packing fliers’ losses are auction buyers’ gains — and it’s apparently going to stay that way. (Gene Blythe/AP)
Al Kamen
Columnist June 11, 2013

Did the Transportation Security Administration have to lose the Great Knife Fight of 2013? Maybe not.

Loop Fans may recall that the TSA formally backed off last week from its plan to allow pocketknives on airplanes. The agency reasoned that small knives have been permitted on board in Europe for years without problem and the ban wasted screeners’ — and passengers’ — time.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

The plan wasn’t all that unreasonable, but supporters and opponents of the policy change agree that, in the end, the effort didn’t have a chance, thanks to some serious political missteps by its own supporters.

First, we’re told that the leading knife manufacturers — Victorinox Swiss Army and Leatherman, which had invested several hundred thousand dollars in a lobbying effort, including about $300,000 in 2008 and 2009, according to congressional reports — wanted TSA to allow smaller key-chain knives, not necessarily the larger 2.36-inch blades that the Europeans allow and the TSA had planned to approve.

Then, after TSA chief John Pistole announced the new policy in March, his predecessor, Kip Hawley, told CNN the agency should have gone further than just allowing small knives, golf clubs, hockey sticks and such.

“They ought to let everything on that is sharp and pointy,” Hawley said. “Battle axes, machetes . . . bring anything you want that is pointy and sharp, because while you may be able to commit an act of violence, you will not be able to take over the plane. It is as simple as that,” he said.

Needless to say, the flight attendants didn’t think it was that simple. In fact, they went ballistic.

And it didn’t help that other manufacturers announced new pocketknife designs, which bloggers picked up and touted as “The most deadly TSA-compliant knife you can get.”

Oh, great. This move was a goner even before the House threatened a vote to block it. So the TSA pulled the plug.

The biggest losers, aside from the knife manufacturers, were golfers and hockey and lacrosse players. Some Loop Fans speculated that the old policy favored the companies: Owners of TSA-seized knives might just buy new ones.

It turns out, a knowledgeable source said, that the existing policy “depressed sales” because the TSA would auction off the confiscated knives at a much-reduced price.

Since many knives come with a “fix it free for life” guarantee, we’re told the new buyers would then simply send in the knives to get virtually new ones.

And the old policy only briefly inconvenienced Peter Mayhew, who played Chewbacca in the “Star Wars” movies. TSA screeners at the Denver airport briefly stopped the 7-foot-2-inch actor as he tried to board a plane for a trip home to Texas last week because his cane was made to look like a light saber.

Officials said it was suspiciously heavy, but, upon inspection, they let him board after a few minutes.

You had to be there

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has been under a lot of pressure, with revelations of U.S. intelligence-gathering programs turning into a massive scandal and scrutiny from the Hill about what he told Congress about them.

And it appears that Clapper is cracking — jokes, that is.

Addressing the audience at a black-tie banquet on Friday night honoring Michael Hayden, the former CIA and National Security Agency chief, Clapper managed to muster some humor about government snooping, according to Government Executive’s account of the event.

“Some of you expressed surprise that I showed up,” he told the crowd, according to GovExec. “So many e-mails to read!”

Har-har.

Then another funny line: greeting TSA chief John Pistole, whose agency just rolled back a plan to allow travelers to carry knives on planes (see above), Clapper asked, “John, can I borrow your pocketknife?”

Quite a knee-slapper. Or at least a line that might elicit some chuckles, which counts for hilarious at those sorts of affairs.

We wonder what other material he’s working on. Perhaps a Jerry Seinfeld-esque musing: “What’s the deal with PRISM?”

Meet the envoys

President Obama on Monday named Daniel Baer , a former Georgetown professor and more recently deputy assistant secretary of state, to be ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, based in Vienna.

Baer is one of as many as five openly gay ambassadors whom Obama is expected to name in coming weeks, sources say.

The list includes HBO executive James Costos , on tap to be named perhaps as early as this week. As we noted recently, Costos and his partner, decorator Michael Smith , bundled more than $1 million for the president’s reelection. Costos, already in the State Department’s training program (called “charm school”), is looking good for Madrid.

Former Office of Personnel Management director John Berry, as we reported in March, is the expected pick for Australia.

Rufus Gifford, former Democratic National Committee finance chairman and Obama’s 2012 fundraising director, is expected to be named soon to be ambassador to Denmark, we noted way back in February.

Another $1 million-plus bundler, James “Wally” Brewster , senior managing partner at SB&K Global in Chicago, is also on tap for an overseas posting.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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