``The threshold is that, if you're looking at it and you don't know what it is, if you can't recognize the everyday, ordinary object, then you call for someone to check the bag,'' Garcia-Hamilton said. ``When they look at a screen, they can point out objects that, to you or I, we could not tell.
``But it's not 100 percent foolproof. There is a human factor.''
TSA has been testing its employees. In undercover stings, officials pack bags full of travel items, and suspicious ones, and put them through security to see whether the screeners can spot them. While Garcia-Hamilton said her team is doing well on tests, a May report by the federal General Accounting Office said weaknesses and vulnerabilities remain at all American airports.
``While these test results are an indicator of performance, they cannot solely be used as a comprehensive measure of any airport's screening performance or any individual screener's performance,'' according to the report, which recommended stricter controls for monitoring the completion of training.
Meanwhile, airports are filled with travelers carrying on all kinds of stuff. Among the more unusual items collected recently at Bob Hope - a cattle prod, a stun gun, numchucks, inert grenades, a sword concealed in a cane, a dagger and a belt-buckle knife.
Usually, passengers will surrender lighters, cuticle scissors and other small items without a problem. But passengers caught carrying knives and guns or who try to conceal other prohibited items can face fines or arrest.
``Most folks don't really have any ill intent,'' Garcia-Hamilton said. ``Most of it is, 'I forgot it was in there,' or 'I didn't know it was in there.'''
Lighters, which make up the bulk of the items - 28,932 so far this year at Bob Hope and 350,342 at LAX - were added to the list of prohibited items on April 14.
They were banned years after would-be shoe-bomber Richard Reid in December 2001 tried to use matches mid-flight to light plastic explosives in his shoes. Reid was sentenced to life in prison in 2003. His actions spurred the TSA to search passengers' shoes.
At Bob Hope Airport on Thursday, Vanessa O'Neill, 28, of Ventura was stopped at security because TSA screeners noticed she had a lighter in her purse.
``I totally forgot that was in there,'' she said as a TSA supervisor informed her it wasn't permitted on the plane. She was on her way to New York for a wedding and surrendered the lighter - engraved with dolphins - with no questions asked, saying, ``It's not like I can't find another lighter with dolphins on it.''
Jason Kandel, (818) 546-3306
Agency leader says screeners need to focus on finding bombs.
Small scissors will be allowed on aircraft
A memo by TSA Staff is being criticized for suggesting passengers be allowed to carry scissors, ice picks, razor blades and knives.