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How TSA testers use PB&J to sneak explosives past security

MORRISVILLE, N.C. — Tony Aguilera has tried numerous ways to sneak simulated explosives past security at airports, but he’s particularly proud of the fake peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Aguilera is an explosives specialist for the Transportation Security Administration, the federal agency that runs those checkpoints. Part of his job is testing the screeners to make sure they’re looking for explosives in all the right places.

“We have a variety of things to keep them on their toes,” he said Friday. “This goes on daily.”

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Aguilera was standing behind a table full of items he and others have used to test security screeners. The TSA periodically holds events like this for the media to remind people what they need to do while going through security and why. Among the items on the table were shoes, tablets and a laptop, a toy car, a baby bottle and, at one end, the sandwich.

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After seeing a soft drink can with a false bottom meant to hide valuables, Aguilera began looking around for other hiding places disguised as food. The fake sandwich opens like a wallet, with zippered compartments in each slice of bread designed to hide cash or credit cards. Aguilera puts a piece of sheet explosives and a detonator in one slice and sends it through security.

“In a sandwich bag, it looks like a sandwich going through,” he said.

When Aguilera was asked how often these test explosives get through, TSA spokesman Mike England leaned in and said, “We can’t talk about test results. That’s classified.”

Aguilera said X-ray screeners can pick up hidden explosives in a carry-on bag, but they also look for items that have been altered. He held up a pair of brown sandals and noted that one had a hole drilled in the toe where a detonator could be inserted.

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“Because there’s a lot going on at the checkpoint, we try a lot of smuggling techniques,” he said.

Here some tips to help ease your way through security:

— Read the signs and video screens and listen to the TSA officers as you approach the checkpoint. They’ll be telling you what to do.

— You can bring a quart-sized bag of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams and pastes in containers that are 3.4 ounces or less each. Pull the quart bag out of your carry-on as you get to the checkpoint. Larger liquid items should be in your checked baggage. There are exceptions for medications and baby bottles.

— Take off your shoes, if instructed, but don’t put keys, cellphones or other items inside them before you put them on the belt. The screener may want to know what’s in the shoes, slowing down the process.

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— Take any electronic items larger than a cellphone out of your bags, including tablets.

— Understand that TSA won’t allow through weapons and some objects that can be used as a weapon, including hammers, screwdrivers longer than 7 inches and scissors longer than 4 inches from the pivot.

For more information, go to www.tsa.gov/travel

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