10 Crazy Ways People Have Tried To Smuggle Stuff

iStock / iStock

As airport security lines stretch out to their full holiday season expanse this month, travelers would be wise to check the TSA's website to find out what they can bring on the plane and in their checked luggage. They should definitely not follow the example of one woman who, in 2008, was arrested after a Santa Claus ornament she was trying to bring through security was discovered to have a 4.5-inch-long knife concealed inside. (She said that the ornament was a gift and claimed to have no knowledge of its contents.) None of these innovative efforts to smuggle contraband worked, either—but they all get points for creativity.


In May 2016, Customs and Border Protection agents in Tucson, Arizona busted a woman traveling from nearby Nogales for attempting to transport a pound of methamphetamine in what appeared to be burritos, sans any of the typical burrito toppings. (She must have known guacamole is extra.) Drug-sniffing dogs led agents to the loot, which was worth about $3000.

This isn't the first time Mexican food has hidden something: In April 2014, agents at the Sonoma County Airport discovered an 8.5-inch knife in an enchilada. Because "the passenger’s intent was delicious, not malicious," the TSA notes on its Instagram, "she was cleared for travel."


A carry-on bag full of plush tigers bound for Iran caught the attention of X-ray operators at a Bangkok, Thailand airport in 2010 when they discovered it also contained a live—and sedated—tiger cub. Authorities spotted the 2-month-old cub’s beating heart in the scan. The Thai woman carrying the bag was arrested, and the cub went to a rescue center.


Who knew those T-shirt cannons they fire up at every NBA game could serve a purpose other than starting a fan brawl in the arena’s upper decks? Smugglers, apparently. U.S. Border Patrol agents reported seizing more than 30 cans of weed worth about $42,500 scattered across an Arizona field in 2012 after smugglers used pneumatic-powered cannons to lob the goods from Mexico over to American soil.


One traveler must have thought she wouldn’t make much of a splash when, in 2005, she loaded a specially-made apron with 15 water-filled plastic bags carrying 51 live tropical fish. The woman tucked the walking aquarium under her skirt; after she flew from Singapore to Australia, she was busted by customs agents, who "became suspicious after hearing 'flipping' noises coming from the vicinity of her waist," according to a press release. The woman faced time in prison and a fine of up to $83,617 (USD).


It must have been an uncomfortable boat ride for one Norwegian man in 2009 when he traveled from Denmark to Norway with 14 live royal pythons and 10 albino leopard geckos hidden under his clothes. Customs agents were tipped off by a tarantula they found while searching one of the man’s bags and then really tipped off when they noticed the suspect’s “whole body was in constant motion.” He had transported the lizards in cans attached to his thighs and the snakes in socks duct taped to his torso. The man was fined $2256.


In likely the most colorful of smuggling schemes, inmates at a New Jersey prison in 2011 were found to be sneaking in the prescription drug Suboxone on the pages of children’s coloring books. The drug was dissolved into a paste that appeared to be orange paint on the Disney princess-topped pages, which were also scrawled with child-like handwriting in crayon to make things look extra innocent.



Passengers in a Chevy traveling through the Paso Del Norte entry point in El Paso in 2011 failed to mention the wheels of cheese they had hidden in their car’s spare tire well during their customs inspection. The stowed-away snacks reportedly weighed in at 116.5 pounds and cost the not-so-sneaky cheese smugglers nearly $700 in fines. Even more of a bummer? Border Patrol destroyed the cheese in question. "The best course of action to avoid penalties and help prevent the spread of pests and disease in the U.S. is to declare all your items to CBP," Hector Mancha, CBP El Paso Port Director, said in a press release. "Every traveler is given multiple opportunities to declare their goods. If they declare the item and it is prohibited they can abandon it without incident. However, if they fail to declare the item, the product will be seized and they will face a $300 civil penalty."


Ecstasy is said to expand your mind, but it’s unclear what effect more than 10 ounces of the drug produced in one famous head. A Mr. Potato Head toy was intercepted by authorities on its way from to Australia from Ireland in 2007 after officers noticed the famous interchangeable face was carrying more than just spare arms within its back panel. Customs official Karen Williams told the Associated Press that "Whilst this is one of the more unusual concealments that we have seen in recent times, people need to be aware that Customs officers are alert to unusual and often outlandish methods of concealment."


You might be surprised by how often TSA agents find items concealed in the guts of a computer or external hard drive. In 2012, TSA agents in Jacksonville discovered a knife in a computer; the traveler, who had rented the device, taken it apart, and put it back together, didn't realize he'd left it there. The situation, Bob Burns wrote on the TSA blog, was "similar to when a surgeon stitches a scalpel inside a patient."

That was an accident, but many other incidents can't be explained away, like a 2-inch knife concealed in a laptop between the keyboard and the screen; a 3-inch knife found in a laptop's hard drive at Dayton International Airport; a knife hidden in an external hard drive; or a loaded 9mm handgun held in place inside a computer with duct tape and modeling clay.


TSA Blog

One traveler at Omaha International Airport in October 2015 had about as much luck using a can of shaving cream to smuggle something as Jurassic Park's Dennis Nedry. When TSA agents ran his bag of liquids through the X-ray machine, they discovered that the can of shaving cream had been hollowed out and a multitool had been hidden inside.


According to the TSA, sword canes—which are exactly what they sound like, swords hidden in canes—are actually usually smuggled by accident. The security agency comes across the concealed weapons a lot: they make regular appearances on the underrated TSA Blog. Most travelers busted for transporting the walking sticks got them as family heirlooms or from antique or thrift stores with no knowledge of their sharp secret, and are more surprised than the TSA agents when they’re flagged.