Though long security lines and increasingly invasive searches have become the hallmarks of modern air travel, even the most diligent screeners let a rogue bottle of shampoo or Swiss army knife through on occasion. But authorities are wondering how a Boston-bound U.S. citizen was able to get what seems like an arsenal of weapons — complete with body bags and bulletproof vests — onto a plane.
Yongda Huang Harris was arrested Friday at Los Angeles International Airport after a Customs and Border Protection officer spotted him wearing a bulletproof vest and sent him for a secondary inspection. They found the 28-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen of Chinese descent was wearing even more body armor, dressed in flame-retardant pants and knee pads underneath his trench coat. Officials then discovered a smoke grenade and several other weapons in his checked luggage, ABC News reports. Harris is now facing a federal charge for transporting hazardous materials, according to a statement by the Department of Homeland Security.
The affidavit filed in federal court claims that an officer pulled Harris aside for a secondary bag inspection during a connection from Kansai, Japan to Boston. When the officer asked Harris if he had anything to declare, the man admitted to having only a knife. The affidavit states that officers then searched his luggage and found multiple knives, a polytechnic smoke grenade, three lead-filled billy clubs, a hatchet, a baton, a full-face respirator, body bags, a biohazard suit, masks, duct tape, hand cuffs, leg irons, flexi-cuffs, a dog-repelling device, oven mitts and cooking tongs.
The smoke grenade alone is an explosive device that could fill a 40,000-cubic-foot space with smoke — enough to shroud the cabin of a commercial airplane — and cause a fire, the affidavit notes. The investigation into why Harris was carrying the weapons is ongoing. The Department of Homeland Security states that Harris’ permanent home is in Boston, but U.S. officials have now teamed up with investigators in Japan, where Harris has recently been working.
Checked bags are typically only X-rayed for explosives, according to the Los Angeles Times, so other kinds of weapons can make it into planes’ cargo holds. The Associated Press reports that airport police do not believe Harris has behaved illegally under Japan’s domestic criminal laws. Many of the items, while shocking, are not banned in checked luggage, and TSA regulations don’t ban bulletproof vests aboard aircraft, either.
The office of Harris’ criminal defense attorney, Steven A. Seiden, told ABC that Harris is a diligent student without a history of crime or violent behavior. Seiden is also representing anti-Islam filmmaker Nakoula Basseley Nakoula.
A Tuesday court session for Harris, who is charged with one count of transporting dangerous materials and could face up to five years in prison, was delayed and rescheduled for Friday, CNN reports. Authorities don’t think Harris is connected to a terrorist organization, but one official said Wednesday that Harris is refusing to cooperate with their investigation.