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Tools, scissors, and pocketknives are among the items that have been seized at Logan International Airport.
Tools, scissors, and pocketknives are among the items that have been seized at Logan International Airport. (David L. Ryan/ Globe Staff)

Banned items find new home in discount bin

Air contraband culled, sold

CONCORD, N.H. -- Why on earth someone would ever pack a claw hammer or a hacksaw in an airplane carry-on bag remains a mystery to Tom Zekos .

All he knows is that he loves the chance to get top-quality tools for his workshop for $1 each, thanks to a unique bazaar, in the middle of a corn field, that sells contraband items seized at Logan International Airport and three other New England airports.

``I come to Concord from time to time, and I always stop by here to see what's new," Zekos, 54, of Bradford, N.H., said during a lunch-hour visit last week to the White Farm, the state of New Hampshire's surplus property sales office. ``There's good, quality stuff that's quite inexpensive."

There are also some head-scratching, what-were-they-thinking moments, too. Between the bins of tools and jackknives seized by airport security screeners and put out for sale, there were three boxes of 2 -inch galvanized nails. ``What's this all about?" Zekos laughed. ``Why did somebody try to bring nails on an airplane?"

For security officials at Logan, the White Farm has become a solution to a vexing side effect of post-9/11 crackdowns on potentially dangerous items in carry-on bags.

For most of this year, Transportation Security Administration screeners at Logan have confiscated 12,000 banned items every week. That's ebbed significantly since Aug. 10, when British officials revealed an alleged terrorist plot to blow up 10 trans-Atlantic jets with carry-on bombs. The threat spawned bans on liquids and gels in carry-on luggage, prompting many travelers to check bags, which means fewer objects to be seized.

But the White Farm still has a large inventory. Last week, the austere store off Route 13 had five bins of knives, tools, and multi purpose Leatherman-style folding tools on display, and 20 more boxes in storage, said Robert McClenaghan , warehouse manager for the New Hampshire surplus property office.

``It runs the gamut," McClenaghan said. ``Little Red Sox baseball bats, knives with 12-inch blades. We've had surgical tools come through. You've got cap guns that come through all the time."

Contraband from Logan and airports in Manchester, N.H., Providence, and Windsor Locks, Conn., is collected by a federal agency, the General Services Administration, which has a building on the White Farm property. The GSA transports and sorts the goods; it keeps mostly knives and tools for sale and throws out the rest.

The federal agency sells off jackknives for $1 (or $2 for Swiss Army brand knives) and tools for $1 to $3 through the White Farm, a humble collection of buildings surrounded by cornfields, where New Hampshire officials have sold government cars and surplus property such as desks, computers, and office furniture since the mid-1970s.

Selling seized airport items is ``not a big moneymaker or a glamorous thing, but it helps defray some of the costs over there," said Robert Stowell , McClenaghan's supervisor. ``We made $26,000 last year."

Neither Logan nor the TSA pays the state of New Hampshire or the GSA to dispose of the contraband -- nor does New Hampshire or the GSA pay either entity for the goods. Rather, the state and the GSA split proceeds from the sales to offset the items' shipping and handling expenses to get to the White Farm.

The ``airport seizure" table has attracted a devoted, if small, following. Pete Fernandes , a town employee in Henniker, N.H., who has been a frequent visitor but is now serving in an Army public affairs unit in Iraq, visited Wednesday during a two-week home leave to see what was new.

``It's hit or miss. You've got to be here at the right time to get what you're looking for," said Fernandes, who is always interested in finding a good tool or knife or any other ``good deal."

It helps if you don't mind owning a knife with someone else's name on it. Last week, for example, the selection included knives belonging to people with initials TDW and HSW; ``Skip"; an unnamed parishioner from Ocean State Baptist Church; and a presumably female owner of a pink knife with the word ``Diva" on it.

At Logan, roughly 80 percent of the items seized are cigarette lighters, as many as 10,000 a week, according to Patrick O'Connor , a TSA manager who oversees disposition of contraband items. Clean Harbors Inc. , the environmental cleanup company, collects those in barrels filled with fire-retardant material, then disposes of the lighters in industrial incinerators.

Twice a week, TSA agents visit the 12 Logan checkpoints to collect seized items. About every six weeks, once they've accumulated typically 1,700 to 2,000 pounds worth of knives, tools, and other objects, federal workers arrive from New Hampshire to bring the haul to Concord.

The vast majority of non lighter items seized are knives. But TSA Logan officials see plenty of bizarre objects. Inside a guarded room at Logan recently were a citrus juicer, rotary saw, drywall knife, replica hand grenades, a belt buckle the shape of a derringer handgun, machetes, double-sided razor blades, food-processor blades, .50-caliber ammunition, golf clubs, and a cricket bat. In recent years two fully-fueled chainsaws have showed up in Logan travelers' carry-on bags.

Invariably, people say they forgot the banned item was in their bag. Still, O'Connor, a former security director at Salem's Peabody Essex Museum , said, ``If the general public saw this, they'd say, `My God Almighty, I don't want this on a plane.' "

Moreover, O'Connor said, ``You can associate every one of these items with us having to search a bag. You're looking at thousands and thousands of minutes of delays."

And after four years of managing the flood of contraband, TSA officials have learned to never be surprised.

The most recent jaw-dropper: a 15 pound cobblestone a tourist from Iowa tried to carry on his flight home.

``I asked him," O'Connor said, ``where the heck it came from, and he said he found it on one of the streets over behind the Union Oyster House, and he wanted to take it back home because it looked so historic. I said, `For crying out loud, if every visitor did that, we'd have no more history!' "

And so the cobblestone joined the next load bound for the White Farm.

Peter J. Howe can be reached at howe@globe.com.

Photo Gallery PHOTO GALLERY: The loot at Logan
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