Flunkies flunked: TSA arrests CNBC-linked TV crew for simulated IED

When they say, “Kids, don’t try this at home,” they mean it. After years of poor performances on internal TSA audits of threat-detection teams in airports, a TV crew working for CNBC apparently decided to conduct their own test at Newark Liberty International Airport. Big. Mistake. Unfortunately for them, they either got very unlucky, or their big scoop will be that TSA has gotten a lot better at threat detection of late.

They’ll be filing that report from jail:

At least seven members of a cable television crew were arrested after they tried to sneak a fake explosive device through a security checkpoint at Newark Liberty International Airport, the Transportation Security Administration said Thursday.

A law enforcement source with knowledge of the investigation said that the team was filming for cable network CNBC, which is based in Englewood Cliffs. The TSA did not release the names of the people they said were arrested, and the Port Authority only said that it was investigating the incident.

A second source said the fake explosive device was a length of PVC pipe with wires sticking out from it. A bomb tech with the TSA determined that the device posed no threat, and that eight people were taken into custody.

A third source, who also asked to not be identified, said the crew was from the Endemol Shine Group, a Dutch production company that contracts with CNBC.

As NJ.com’s Paul Milo notes, Endemol produces a number of American television shows, with The Biggest Loser one of its more prominent offerings. Given the circumstances of this ill-considered stunt, that’s a pretty ironic point.

How serious could this get for the TV crew? As ABC points out, TSA has the authority to “impose civil penalties of up to $13,066 per violation per person.” Not only that, but they also do make criminal referrals in cases of explosives or “realistic replicas of explosives,” so the fakes won’t get them off the hook for prosecution. They will almost certainly add the suspects to flight-screening lists, all but ensuring that their future experiences in commercial aviation will be lengthy and uncomfortable, possibly for the rest of their lives.

Will the Department of Justice proceed with a criminal prosecution? Probably not, although prosecution would certainly have some value as a deterrent for future stupidity. Endemol and Comcast (CNBC’s parent) will get them good lawyers, who will convince the DoJ that their resources will best be used elsewhere. In the future, though, perhaps we should leave the airport audits to the professionals rather than disrupting travel for everyone else over a two-minute segment on a second-tier cable news outlet.