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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

TSA Not to Blame for This

Q: Did TSA confiscate nail clippers from a soldier returning on a military charter from Afghanistan, but allow him to keep his military weapon?

A: This tale from an anonymous source is an impossible fabrication. TSA doesn’t list nail clippers as prohibited items, doesn’t screen military charters arriving in Indianapolis, and has no access to the terminal in question.


Is this true? Or just another hoax.

Posted by Erick Erickson (Profile)
Thursday, November 18th at 6:28PM EST

A friend of mine sent me this about his TSA experience. He, unlike most of us, was coming back into the country from Afghanistan on a military charter.

As the Chalk Leader for my flight home from Afghanistan, I witnessed the following:

When we were on our way back from Afghanistan, we flew out of Baghram Air Field. We went through customs at BAF, full body scanners (no groping), had all of our bags searched, the whole nine yards.

Our first stop was Shannon, Ireland to refuel. After that, we had to stop at Indianapolis, Indiana to drop off about 100 folks from the Indiana National Guard. That’s where the stupid started.

First, everyone was forced to get off the plane–even though the plane wasn’t refueling again. All 330 people got off that plane, rather than let the 100 people from the ING get off. We were filed from the plane to a holding area. No vending machines, no means of escape. Only a male/female latrine.

It’s probably important to mention that we were ALL carrying weapons. Everyone was carrying an M4 Carbine (rifle) and some, like me, were also carrying an M9 pistol. Oh, and our gunners had M-240B machine guns. Of course, the weapons weren’t loaded. And we had been cleared of all ammo well before we even got to customs at Baghram, then AGAIN at customs.

The TSA personnel at the airport seriously considered making us unload all of the baggage from the SECURE cargo hold to have it reinspected. Keep in mind, this cargo had been unpacked, inspected piece by piece by U.S. Customs officials, resealed and had bomb-sniffing dogs give it a one-hour run through. After two hours of sitting in this holding area, the TSA decided not to reinspect our Cargo–just to inspect us again: Soldiers on the way home from war, who had already been inspected, reinspected and kept in a SECURE holding area for 2 hours. Ok, whatever. So we lined up to go through security AGAIN.

This is probably another good time to remind you all that all of us were carrying actual assault rifles, and some of us were also carrying pistols.

So we’re in line, going through one at a time. One of our Soldiers had his Gerber multi-tool. TSA confiscated it. Kind of ridiculous, but it gets better. A few minutes later, a guy empties his pockets and has a pair of nail clippers. Nail clippers. TSA informs the Soldier that they’re going to confiscate his nail clippers. The conversation went something like this:

TSA Guy: You can’t take those on the plane.

Soldier: What? I’ve had them since we left country.

TSA Guy: You’re not suppose to have them.

Soldier: Why?

TSA Guy: They can be used as a weapon.

Soldier: [touches butt stock of the rifle] But this actually is a weapon. And I’m allowed to take it on.

TSA Guy: Yeah but you can’t use it to take over the plane. You don’t have bullets.

Soldier: And I can take over the plane with nail clippers?

TSA Guy: [awkward silence]

Me: Dude, just give him your damn nail clippers so we can get the f**k out of here. I’ll buy you a new set.

Soldier: [hands nail clippers to TSA guy, makes it through security]

This might be a good time to remind everyone that approximately 233 people re-boarded that plane with assault rifles, pistols, and machine guns–but nothing that could have been used as a weapon.


The incident simply didn’t happen. Although the incident allegedly occurred at the Indianapolis International Airport and involved members of the Indiana National Guard, spokespersons for the airport, governor’s office and Indiana National Guard say they have no report of it happening. The Transportation Security Administration, which has no jurisdiction over arriving military charters at the Indianapolis Airport, says this story isn’t true. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which does have jurisdiction, says it could not have happened.

An Eyewitness Account?

Erick Erickson, editor of the conservative blog RedState and a CNN political contributor, first circulated this story in a post on RedState headlined, "Another TSA Outrage." The item — posted Nov. 18 — contains an anonymous e-mail that Erickson claims to have received from a friend who had recently returned from Afghanistan on a military charter. Erickson would not provide us with the soldier’s name, so we were unable to question the soldier about these claims.

Erickson, Dec. 7: I have spoken to the individuals involved, and am friends with the one who actually sent me the post, I am unable to give out their names as they are still actively serving and are fearful of repercussions.

But we were able to check the facts as presented by the anonymous soldier, and they simply don’t check out.

According to this anonymous soldier, his or her military charter was returning from Afghanistan and stopped in Indianapolis to drop off 100 members of the Indiana National Guard. The e-mail says 330 soldiers — all of whom were carrying weapons — got off the plane and were placed in a "SECURE holding area for 2 hours." The writer alleges that before allowing the soldiers who were continuing on to re-board the plane, TSA officials re-inspected the soldiers and confiscated a Gerber Multi-Tool and a pair of nail clippers, even though all of the soldiers were allowed to carry their unloaded weapons on board.

On Dec. 1, the TSA officially responded to Erickson’s claim in its own blog post on the agency’s website. The TSA blogger — Bob Burns, known as "Blogger Bob" — wrote that military charters at the Indianapolis Airport arrive at a separate terminal and the TSA does not have access to that terminal. In addition, he pointed out that the TSA does not prohibit nail clippers (unless they have blade attachments).

"The bottom line is the story is not accurate and couldn’t possibly be true," the TSA said.

So who is responsible for screening passengers at that terminal? Staff Sgt. Les Newport, a spokesman for the Indiana National Guard, told us that Customs — not the TSA — performs security checks of military planes at the Indianapolis airport. So we called Customs.

Cherise Miles, a Customs spokeswoman familiar with the Indianapolis airport, said all military charters arrive at the International Arrivals Building, which is separate and apart from another arrivals facility for commercial international flights. Customs provides security and conducts inspections at IAB. TSA officers do not have access to that area of the airport, she said.

Miles said that before leaving Afghanistan or Iraq, soldiers and their baggage are checked by military members who have been trained to act as Customs officers, so Customs officers at Indianapolis Airport have no need to process them again during a layover. Before allowing soldiers to re-board the military charter, she said, Customs officials examine each soldier’s military identification documents to ensure that they are who they say they are, but no further security checks are conducted.

‘TSA Lies in Response to RedState’

In response to TSA’s blog post denying any responsibility for security at the Indianapolis terminal for military charters, Erickson wrote another RedState post that accused the TSA of "flat out lying." His source? The same anonymous soldier.

RedState, Dec. 1: I emailed my friend who sent me the original and this is his response:

Wow. Holy sh*t. That’s just an outright lie. What a bunch of do****bags. See, this is why I want to remain anonymous. More bulls**t than I have time to deal with.

The funny thing is, almost everything blogger bob said mirrors exactly what I said–that we were taken to a separate part of the airport, etc–up until he said TSA has no access to the facility. Now that is a lie. I can tell you for a fact that they were there, we were screened by them, and they took nail clippers and a multi-tool.

Notice, he doesn’t even deny that nail clippers are confiscated. He just says “they’re not on the list of prohibited items”. Doesn’t mean a rogue agent couldn’t confiscate them anyway.

Erickson also insisted that he has personally had nail clippers confiscated by a TSA agent. "I know many others who have had the same thing happen," he wrote.

We don’t know if Erickson ever had his nail clippers confiscated, but as we said earlier, nail clippers are not on the TSA list of prohibited items. We found only two mentions of "nail clippers" on the TSA website: this 2002 press release that says that nail clippers are "permitted in aircraft cabins," and this 2005 TSA regulation published in the Federal Register that also lists nail clippers as "permitted items."

We also note that in recent weeks — since the introduction of the controversial full-body image scanners at airports — RedState has published numerous posts slamming the TSA, which suggests that Erickson is not an unbiased source on the TSA and that the topic draws a lot of readers to his site. Erickson wrote that his original post on the alleged kerfuffle at the Indianapolis airport received "more than 500,000 unique page views," as of Dec. 1.

Did It Even Happen?

No one in any position of authority that we contacted knew anything about this alleged incident. In addition to Miles and Newport, Jane Jankowski of Gov. Mitch Daniels’ office and Susan Sullivan of the Indianapolis International Airport said they had not heard about the incident and had no information about it.

In addition, Newport cast doubt on the circumstances of the alleged incident. The Indiana National Guard spokesman said the claim that 100 Indiana guardsmen were on the plane didn’t seem right. He could not recall that many returning Indiana guardsmen on any one flight. "That number is weird to me," he said. However, he couldn’t say for sure whether the incident had occurred, because neither the date of the incident nor the flight number was provided by the anonymous soldier or by Erickson.

And the story has gotten weirder as it has gained traction in the blogosphere — particularly through one blogger who calls himself "Sgt. Mad Dog Tracy." Mad Dog’s post includes details and comments that were not included in Erickson’s original post. For example, the Mad Dog post said: "To top it off the tsa demanded we all be swabbed for ‘explosive residue‘ detection. Everyone failed, [go figure, we just came home from a war zone], because we tested positive for ‘Gun Powder Residue’. Who the F**K is hiring these people?"

We will leave you with these words from a TSA blog from a year ago that playfully shot down rumors that nail clippers, corkscrews and knitting needles were prohibited items on airplanes. They are not, the blogger said, as long as they don’t have blades attached:

TSA blog, May 9, 2009: Trim those nails, in flight if you want, just be sure the passenger sitting next to you doesn’t mind a flying hang nail.

— by Lara Seligman, with Eugene Kiely

Correction, Jan. 3, 2011: We originally reported that the TSA doesn’t screen passengers on military charters. That is true for military charters arriving at the Indianapolis International Airport — where this incident allegedly occurred — but it is not true for all airports. We have updated our report to reflect that.


Erickson, Erick. "Another TSA Outrage." RedState. 18 Nov 2010.

Tracy, Sgt. Mad Dog. "TSA Brainless Imbeciles Tormenting Our Troops." Sitfu.com. 6 Dec 2010.

"Erickson Joins the Best Political Team." Press release. CNN. 16 Mar 2010.

Transportation Security Administration. "Explosives Trace Detection." Undated, accessed 15 Dec 2010.

Erickson, Erick, editor, RedState. E-mail sent to FactCheck.org. 7 Dec 2010.

"TSA Response to Claim That Nail Clippers Were Taken From Armed Soldiers in Indianapolis." The TSA Blog. 1 Dec 2010.

Transportation Security Administration. "Prohibited Items." Undated, accessed 15 Dec 2010.

"TSA Issues Guidelines to Help Passengers through Security and Expands List of Prohibited Items." Press release. Transportation Security Administration. 30 Apr 2002.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration, "Prohibited Items," Federal Register. 1 Mar 2005: 9877.

Erickson, Erick. "The TSA Lies in Response to RedState." RedState. 1 Dec 2010.

Martin, Hugo. "Maker defends airport full-body image scanners." Los Angeles Times. 22 Nov 2010.

"TSA Urban Legends (Nail Clippers, Knitting Needles, and Corkscrews)." The TSA Blog. 9 May 2009.

Newport, Staff Sgt. Les, spokesman, Indiana National Guard. Interviews with FactCheck.org. 7 and 8 Dec 2010.

Miles, Cherise, spokeswoman, U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Interviews with FactCheck.org. 9 and 15 Dec 2010.

Smith, Ron, spokesman, spokesman, U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Interview with FactCheck.org 8 Dec 2010.

Sullivan, Susan, spokeswoman, Indianapolis International Airport. Interview with FactCheck.org 7 Dec 2010.

Jankowski, Jane, spokeswoman, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. E-mail sent to FactCheck.org. 7 Dec 2010.