The fact that some TSA employees are idiots does not mean they are all idiots. But wow, some of them are utter and complete idiots.
Last week's idiocy, or at least the one on Friday, was the confiscation of a bottle of Jimmy Choo perfume that, to an idiot, looks kind of like a grenade. At least I infer that from the reaction of TSA agents at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, who—and you realize I don't make any of this stuff up, but I still feel the need to mention that I'm not making this one up—shut down a checkpoint for an hour and called in a bomb expert to examine a bottle of perfume.
See, here's what an actual grenade looks like, or at least what one looked like in World War II. This is probably the kind that most of us think of when we think "grenade." The shell of the grenade has grooves in it to make sure there are lots of deadly fragments when it explodes [edit: or maybe to make it easier to grip], which gives it the distinctive "pineapple" shape. Not all grenades have that—most today are round and smooth—but I'm guessing this is what confused the idiots.
A bottle of Jimmy Choo perfume also has grooves in it, sort of, and is also sort of vaguely grenade-shaped. But there's no pin to pull, no lever to keep it from blowing up before you throw it, and it's made of glass. I did a little research, and I didn't find any other grenades made of glass, possibly because that would be a stupid *$%@ing thing to make a grenade out of. But probably the easiest way to distinguish a bottle of Jimmy Choo perfume from a grenade is this: grenades typically do not come with a spray top THAT SQUIRTS OUT SOMETHING THAT SMELLS NICE.
It's a pretty good rule of thumb. Really.
Lois Lewis, whose perfume caused the crisis, is a record promoter for country-music acts. She probably is not with al Qaeda; for one thing I doubt any of them could tolerate country music for long. (Although Osama bin Laden did have a cowboy hat.) She is a member of another questionable organization, though: PreCheck, the extortion scheme program where the TSA will let you pay it $85 to be groped less often. According to this TSA report, $14.50 of that fee pays for the FBI to run a criminal-records check, and the other $70.50 (83%) goes to the TSA for administration. What is the TSA actually doing, besides paying itself to administrate? Hard to say. There are several major line items here that have something to do with "vetting" applicants. But shouldn't the FBI be doing that, not these numbskulls? And if the FBI is doing that, why does the TSA get most of the fee?
Anyway, here's the thing: the TSA estimates it will collect $65 million over five years for the PreCheck program, about $54 million of which it will keep, and at least based on Lewis's experience that money will get you exactly nothing at all. If they won't even trust you with a glass bottle of perfume, what the F did you pay 85 dollars for?
The TSA's position is apparently that this was not a case of mistaking a perfume bottle for a grenade. No, it was about the policy of excluding items that look like weapons not because they are dangerous but because they could be perceived as such. "They said if as a passenger you were to get on an airplane and you were to wave this around," Lewis said, "that people could maybe construe that as you making some sort of a threat." First, if that's what really happened, why the bomb expert? Was he a replica-bomb expert? Please. Second, what the TSA is evidently saying now is that they're not the idiots—it's you. If someone were to get up and start waving a bottle of Jimmy Choo perfume around, they seem to think, you will panic because you are too stupid to distinguish between that bottle and a grenade. And so they must protect you (at your expense) from your own stupidity.
They may also relieve you of your valuables while they're at it, of course. The "bomb expert" kept the bottle of perfume, which cost $83. Probably running a bunch of tests on it right now.