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Screening drinks at the gate nothing new, TSA insists

A video posted Monday on YouTube appears to show TSA agents testing passengers' drinks that had been purchased after passing through screening checkpoints. NBC's Tom Costello reports.

The Transportation Security Administration is under renewed criticism for its security tactics after video captured over the Labor Day weekend shows TSA agents testing passengers' drinks at an airport gate in Columbus, Ohio. But the TSA says the policy is nothing new.

The video, which a traveler at the Columbus airport captured on Sunday, shows TSA agents approaching random passengers sitting at the gate and testing their liquids.

"Now remember that this is inside the terminal, well beyond the security check and purchased inside the terminal ... just people waiting to get on the plane," wrote YouTube user "danno02." By Tuesday evening, the video had garnered more than 54,000 views and several hundred comments.

The TSA insisted Tuesday that this policy of randomly checking passengers' drinks at the gate has been going on for five years now.

As part of this process — which TSA  justifies as part of the "random, constantly changing" security profile at the nation's airports — a TSA agent uses a test strip and dropper that contains a non-toxic solution.

"(Officers) simply have the passenger remove the cap/lid and they hold the strip over the opening of the container," the TSA wrote in a blog post in July. "Procedures call for moving the test strip to the side and applying the solution from the dropper to test the strip. If the test results are positive TSA will conduct additional testing to make a final assessment."

TSA justified the random liquid testing at gates, saying they "stay away from static security tactics."

"If everything we did was always the same, it would provide a checklist for people to know exactly what to expect," TSA wrote."While this would be extremely helpful for passengers, it would also be useful to those wishing to do us harm."

After authorities thwarted a transatlantic terrorist plot involving liquid explosives in 2006, the TSA created the "3-1-1" rule. Under those measures, passengers may carry one quart-size clear plastic bag holding 3.4-ounce (or smaller) containers of liquid or gel. Since the rule took effect, purchasing beverages once through airport security has become normal for thirsty travelers.

In response to the 9/11 terror attacks, TSA implemented a number of new security measures — many of them have faced their fair share of criticism, including the use of full-body scanners that use advanced imaging technology.

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