The Transportation Security Administration's Instagram page is a nightmarish mash-up of national security state propaganda and bad dad jokes. The fact that the TSA has captured more social media awards than it has terrorists says something about what the agency is actually good at.
Sometimes the account serves up a truly maddening cocktail of earnest obedience to nonsensical rules while simultaneously demonstrating just how silly those rules are. That's what happened Wednesday when the TSA Instagram account posted a picture of six bullet-shaped whiskey stones agents had confiscated from an unlucky traveler at Idaho's Lewiston-Nez Perce County Airport:
As the post explains, whiskey stones are steel objects that can be used instead of ice to chill drinks, and they're very useful if you don't like watered down whiskey. They are also, of course, not weapons—not even when shaped like bullets.
If you read through the awful puns and ignore the ridiculousness of the TSA admitting that it did not, in fact, make the skies any safer by stealing someone's whiskey stones, the post eventually gets around to explaining why the whiskey stones were seized.
As you might expect, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
The TSA doesn't allow bullets and other ammunition in carry-on bags, of course. Even that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, because bullets can't do much on their own—but, given the TSA's awful track record at keeping guns and other weapons from getting through security checkpoints, maybe they're just operating as if a gun might be on the plane.
The story of the seized whiskey stones takes a turn for the absurd when the TSA explains that empty shell casings with the primer removed or discharged—in other words, bullet-shaped objects that cannot be fired—are, in fact, allowed in carry-on bags.
What's the fundamental difference between an empty shotgun shell and these whiskey stones? One will keep your drink cold, and the other won't—but that distinction should not matter to the TSA. What matters is that neither can be fired out of a gun.
This is a little thing, of course, compared to some of the bigger issues facing the TSA. But, like the fact that many TSA employees hate their jobs, and the agency's efforts to make itself the center of attention on anniversaries of 9/11, it's a little thing that points to bigger problems. Nearly two decades after it was created, the TSA is not the last line of defense against terrorism. It's a bloated, wasteful bureaucracy that treats innocent Americans like criminals and then shares those stories for laughs on social media. It kills bunnies, gropes grandmothers, detains kids, and still can't find actual weapons being smuggled onto planes.
The nonsensical explanation for the confiscated whiskey stones is perfectly in keeping with the TSA's legacy. It's telling that when United Airlines told passengers returning from last year's San Diego Comic Con that comic books were banned from checked bags, lots of people thought it was true. It wasn't; the airline had misunderstood a confusing TSA directive.
To recap: It's fine to carry ammunition that cannot be fired in your checked bag—but it's illegal to carry whiskey stones (which, of course, cannot be fired) shaped like ammunition. Otherwise the terrorists win.