Transportation Security Administration head John Pistole spoke at the National Press Club on airport screeners increasing focus on high risk passengers.
Airport screeners found 1,306 guns in carry-on bags last year, and passengers continue to try sneaking prohibited items onboard, hiding them in their shoes or using hollowed-out books.
John Pistole, the man in charge of the Transportation Security Administration, said the full-body scanners are catching much of the contraband. That includes ceramic knives, which don't show up on the metal detectors and, remarkably, "exotic pets strapped to a passenger's legs."
In nearly all these cases, he told the National Press Club on Monday, the passengers don't plan to use the weapons onboard the plane. "Very few have malicious intent," he said.
A passenger bound for Antigua was stopped at a Newark Liberty International Airport checkpoint on Feb. 10 after TSA officers discovered a spear gun and utility knife in his carry-on, "Just to be clear, passengers should not attempt to bring a spear gun as a carry on item. The same rule holds for utility knifes," said TSA Spokesman Kawika Riley.
A man was arrested at LaGuardia International Airport on Feb. 3 after TSA officers discovered that he had a baton with an 18-inch, double-edged dagger concealed inside that he was planning to bring onto the aircraft.
This weapon confiscated at Westchester County's White Plains Airport on Jan. 16 was determined to be a BB gun.
A TSA officer spotted these two hand grenades inside a passenger's carry-on bag March 2 at Newark-Liberty International Airport. As it turns out, the grenades were determined to be inert replicas altered to be used as gearshift knobs on a car.
This "gun" spotted in the X-ray machine at LaGuardia International Airport on Feb. 22 was actually a flashlight/lighter designed in the shape of a firearm.
A TSA officer spotted what appeared to be a grenade in a passenger's carry-on bag at JFK International Aiprort on Feb. 23, but it turns out it was just a bottle of cologne. "You know what, it may have been cologne, but having something like that in your carry-on just stinks!" said TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein.
Pistole said the TSA plans to continue expanding its Pre-Check program, which allows passengers who submit information about themselves in advance to get faster airport screening. They usually won't have to take off their shoes, for example, or remove laptop computers and liquids from carry-on bags. The program is underway at nine airports now, and TSA hopes to expand it to 45 by the end of the year.
TSA will soon begin allowing active duty military personnel who carry valid ID cards to get the same expedited treatment, beginning with departures at Reagan National Airport outside Washington, D.C.
Pistole was asked today whether he has ever been patted down. "Oh, yes," he said. "I go through regular screening several times."
The most notable event, he said, came overseas during a recent trip.
"I was transiting through a well-known western European hub. I went through the walk-in metal detector. I knew I had no metal on me, but the alarm went off."
"I received a thorough pat-down. I complimented the security officer on the thoroughness of his pat-down. It made me stand up straight," he said.