Hazardous Materials in Her Bag?

Sixty-six-year-old mom's security check prompted TSA report.

ByABC News
January 8, 2009, 12:20 AM

July 26, 2007 — -- An unsuspecting senior citizen from Long Island, N.Y. is behind one of the incidents that prompted the TSA to issue a bulletin last week about cases in which they suspect terrorists may have been probing airport security by trying to bring peculiar items on board airplanes.

In her case, Sara Weiss tried to bring ice packs on her flight home.

"I'm not a terrorist. I'm just a 66-year-old woman who's coming back from visiting her son and I have a bad back, so I carry these things," Weiss told ABC News' Lisa Stark.

She may not seem the part -- but on July 5, after visiting her son in San Diego, she was questioned as she was about to board the plane home.

Watch Lisa Stark's full report tonight on "World News with Charles Gibson" at 6:30 p.m. EDT.

"I was showing my boarding pass to the ticket agent," she said, "ready to walk down the hall into the plane when she said, 'Oh are you Sara Weiss?' And I said, 'Yeah.' And suddenly policemen appeared out of nowhere."

According to the TSA bulletin, her checked bags contained two ice packs wrapped in duct tape, and filled with clay -- not the normal blue gel used to keep items cold.

Weiss, who is Jewish and was carrying a report on Muslim Americans because she works to promote interfaith understanding.

Weiss said she had the ice to treat a bad back from a childhood injury.

"I was astonished when the San Diego people … had a problem with this," Weiss said, "because I have been traveling with these for 20 years and never had a problem before 9/11 and after 9/11, never had a problem."

She said the ice packs did not have duct tape, but that she had been using them for close to two decades and she used clear tape to repair holes on them.

"After 15 years there were a lot of pieces of tape on my ice packs," she said. "And so they were very inquisitive about that."

The screeners suspected they were hazardous materials.

The other items in the TSA report besides Weiss' case included mentions of passengers with a block of cheese taped to a bag with a cell phone charger, a nine-volt battery, wires, clay-like material and pipes, and two blocks of cheese with a wire coil, electrical switch and batteries.

Before the San Diego TSA noticed the ice packs, TSA in New York had actually questioned Weiss about the strange looking items when she flew to California with them in her carry-on. So for her return flight she decided to play it safe and put them in checked luggage where the screeners found them.

Security officers then took her to the bowels of the San Diego airport for three hours of questioning by airport police and others. The first questions stunned her.

"The first thing he said after introducing himself was, 'Do you know Osama bin Laden?'  And I thought, 'What?,'" Weiss said.

"At first, I thought it was a ridiculous statement, and then I started to realize, 'He's serious, I better answer,'" she said. "So I said, 'I wish I knew where he was because I would love to have that multimillion dollar bounty on his head.' And then he stopped asking me that question."

Weiss said even after it was clear she was not a terrorist, officials called in a HazMat team to test the ice packs. Finally, they let her go and Weiss thought that was the end of that -- until July 20, when she was shocked to learn her incident was cited in the TSA bulletin.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events