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'Doofus' travellers carrying saws,mines

Guest long keel

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Guest long keel

WASHINGTON (AP) - Many air travellers in the United States apparently still haven't understood the word about leaving their handguns and knives behind when they go to the airport - not to mention chainsaws, landmines and gunpowder, too.

More than three years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, air travellers still are trying to carry thousands of potentially deadly items on planes every month.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration, which took over security screening at 450 airports in February 2002, said Tuesday it had confiscated 15.6 million prohibited items, including 2,150 guns, 75,241 boxcutters and 4.7 million knives through the end of October.

A 79-year-old woman was arrested Tuesday at Fort Lauderdale International Airport in Florida after screeners found a single-shot Colt Derringer and seven bullets in her tote bag. She said she forgot it was in the bag, which she tried to carry on the plane, the Broward County sheriff's office said.

Billie Vincent, former security chief for the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, blames stupidity and forgetfulness in most cases.

"How do you deal with people who have to know about 9/11 and, even inadvertently, are still trying to get knives onto planes?" he asked.

Vincent said a prominent Washington lawyer once failed to realize he had his set of compact, mechanical tools in the briefcase he was trying to bring on board.

"It isn't restricted to the farmer or the doofus," Vincent said.

In October alone, screeners seized ammunition 2,000 times, along with 170,940 knives and 73 guns.

TSA spokeswoman Amy von Walter said local law-enforcement officials have arrested people caught with prohibited items in some cases. It's up to local prosecutors to decide on criminal charges, she said.

A college student who hid bags of boxcutters and fake bombs in the lavatories of four Southwest Airlines jets last year pleaded guilty to a misdemeanour as part of a plea bargain with prosecutors.

The student, Nathaniel Heatwole, said he was trying to expose what he called gaps in aviation security. By taking a dangerous weapon aboard an aircraft, he could have been charged with a federal felony that carries a possible 10-year prison sentence.

Government officials believe the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers used boxcutters to commandeer the four jets that crashed that day.

U.S. Representative Peter DeFazio, ranking Democrat on the House of Representatives aviation subcommittee, said most of the seized items are trivial.

"Primarily nail files and small knives and scissors - mostly innocent things," said DeFazio, who has lost several pairs of mustache scissors to the TSA.

Some have not been so innocent.

The TSA has found knives disguised as lipstick, a radio with a handgun inside, a loaded gun stuffed into a teddy bear. Several people have tried to bring chainsaws onto planes. A U.S. army sergeant was kicked off a flight after an inert landmine was found in his checked luggage. One man packed gunpowder and a fuse for his hobby of shooting golf balls out of cannons.

"You name it, we've seen it," said the TSA's von Walter.

They haven't found everything, though.

DeFazio, who has reviewed classified reports on the screeners' performance, said they have trouble finding artfully concealed objects.

"They're crippled with machines that only look at items in one dimension and are very primitive," he said.

"They have 1970s technology to find 21st-century threats."

Better X-ray machines are on the market, DeFazio said but Congress hasn't given the TSA enough money to buy new ones

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