Video: TSA on e-Bay

updated 4/28/2005 5:11:05 PM ET 2005-04-28T21:11:05

From the unthinkable to the unmentionable, it's hard to believe what we leave behind.  Even today, people will try to get just about anything past airport security.

So far, the National Transportation Safety Administration has intercepted more than 18 million items from travelers since February 2002, with seven million collected just last year. 

“It makes me wonder what goes through people's minds,” says Marybeth Enggren of Pennsylvania's Bureau of Surplus Operations. Enggren sees these items every day as the result of a program set up by the NTSA to dispose of them.

After passengers "voluntarily surrender" restricted items at airport security stations, the NTSA distributes them to several state surplus offices. Items are then sorted and sold to the public at a government warehouse, usually in bulk. 

But now, Pennsylvania is one of a few states allowing you to buy back what you left behind on eBay.  If you can find it among their boxes up for auction. Auction items range from 50 pounds of utensils to 100 pocketknives, from 40 pounds of nail scissors to a purple sombrero.

At the Pennsylvania State Surplus warehouse, sorters carefully pick through boxes from eight northeast airports. More than 60,000 pounds are delivered here every 90 days. Most are filled with everyday items. Scissors, nail clippers, and pocket tools top the list.   But it doesn't end there.

“I've seen automotive transmissions, automotive wheels, blenders, some knives that would make your skin crawl, some toys, guns, you name it,” says sorter Bob Webb.

Other items found on a recent visit to the warehouse include a two and half gallon jug of corn oil, a helium tank for blowing up balloons, a three-foot long black wooden salamander, a power drill, a cleaver wrapped in duct tape, and oh yes, lots of handcuffs. Metal ones. And furry ones.

“I haven't seen any live animals yet but I'm expecting that... soon,” jokes Ken Hess, Director of Bureau Supplies and Surplus Operations.

The money raised from these online sales in Pennsylvania helps to fund other surplus programs in the state.  This past month, NTSA items generated more than $14,000 in revenue here.

Enggren says one woman told her she purchased a large quantity of scissors to send to schoolchildren in Iraq.  Another bought a large box of scissors so that, "she'd never have to buy them again." Most buyers, however, sell off the items at flea markets or simply repost them on eBay.

On rare occasions, items avoid online auctions and actually find their way home.

“A woman in California called and a pair of embroidery scissors had been handed down for generations in her family and they were engraved... she knew that it was in a lot that came here and oddly enough we were able to reunite her with her scissors,” says Enggren.

Scissors may be easy to part with, but if you don't want to see your sombrero on eBay remember, when it's time to fly... you can't always take it with you.

Monica Novotny reports for 'Countdown with Keith Olbermann'.  The show airs weeknights at 8 p.m. ET. on MSNBC.


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