About That Cheese


This morning I noted, somewhat sarcastically, that the Transportation Security Administration had put out a bulletin warning that terrorists may be conducting dry runs for future attacks using airlines. The bulletin was based on the discovery of odd contents of passenger luggage around the country, including “block cheese.”

But it wasn’t just cheese. One incident involved mysteriously altered ice packs:

San Diego, July 7. A U.S. person – either a citizen or a foreigner legally here – checked baggage containing two ice packs covered in duct tape. The ice packs had clay inside them rather than the normal blue gel.

Or so it seemed. Now it turns out the ice packs didn’t contain clay, as initially reported, but rather they had leaked and the gel had congealed. False alarm.

The San Diego Union-Tribune sniffs out what really happened:

San Diego Harbor Police Chief Kirk Sanfilippo said the incident involved a bag checked by a woman in her 60s flying out of Lindbergh Field.

Sanfilippo said a routine swab test of the bag indicated the presence of a chemical that is sometimes used in explosives or medications. Inside the luggage, inspectors found cold packs, wrapped in clear packing tape, that were old and leaking.

The TSA bulletin said the ice packs were covered in duct tape and had clay inside of them.

Sanfilippo said they weren’t covered in duct tape and didn’t have clay inside of them. “It is a little bit off,” he said of the bulletin.

The chief said a Harbor Police officer found what appeared to be hardened old gel that had seeped out of the ice packs and dried, leaving a clay-like substance around the outside edge of the pack.

. . .

In all, it took about three hours for the woman’s luggage to be cleared by security officials.

After the packs were cleared, the woman told authorities she didn’t want to keep them and they were thrown away, Sanfilippo said.

Sanfilippo said he first heard the San Diego incident was being highlighted in the TSA bulletin early Wednesday morning on the TV news.

Still no word on whether TSA got the “block cheese” reports wrong, too, but the money quote comes from the local TSA official in San Diego: “We get these [bulletins] all the time,” he told the Union-Tribune. “Almost all the time they prove false.”


David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.