Explosives UnitMy wife, 9-month-old son and I recently flew up to Seattle on Alaska Airlines and had a great two days checking out the city and staying at the stylish Thompson Seattle. On our way back to Los Angeles, we had an encounter going through security unlike anything we’ve ever seen before…and we’ve taken over 50 flights a year for the past 10 years as a couple!

When we arrived at SeaTac Airport, we used our CLEAR membership, which allows TSA PreCheck users to essentially cut the TSA PreCheck line. There was no line but since we had just become members a few days earlier, we wanted to use it to get more familiar with it. The only problem was that the TSA PreCheck lane was actually closed. I’m assuming this was because it was 2:30pm on a Thursday and not a lot of business travelers were using it at that time. But we were given a red pass so we didn’t have to take our shoes off or go through the millimeter wave scanner, but we did have to take our laptops and liquids out. Otherwise, we just had to the walk through the metal detector.

I’m so used to not taking my liquids out with TSA PreCheck that I forgot about Jack’s oversized eczema cream that was in my bag, so it was rightly flagged. The agent first tried to tell me it wasn’t allowed because it was oversized but as soon as I told him it was my child’s cream for medical purposes and he could see this on the side of the container, he realized it had to be allowed as long as he tested it. He said, “Well, you either have to give it up or get a full-on pat-down and thorough bag check.” I said, “He needs his cream and I’m not in a hurry.”

The agent then started giving me attitude since I wasn’t in a hurry like most other travelers and I don’t think he wanted to take the time to do the pat-down and bag search. I don’t really blame him. He told me it was going to take at least five minutes, and I said it was okay and to do what he had to do. As he started patting me down, I learned my wife’s belongings were also flagged. It turns out she put the baby food in the same bin as her laptop and her agent said that was a big no-no. She gave Natalie attitude for not knowing that the baby food had to go in its own bin.

When my agent really started to go on a power trip, I tossed Natalie my phone and asked her to record my pat down. That didn’t make the agent happy. He turned his back to the camera and called for his supervisor who was a nice guy but knew I had the right to record. However, I didn’t want to be a jerk so I stopped.

Supposedly, my phone tested for some kind of chemical and set off their alarm. And because Natalie touched it and her unopened bottles of baby food tested positive too, they said they had to call in—get this—the Explosives Unit! I thought it was a joke and I was on some kind of Candid Camera show but sadly, it wasn’t.

It took the two Explosives Unit agents a few minutes to get there and I could tell that Natalie was starting to get really worried. Jack was starting to cry because he sensed her fear and he hadn’t liked seeing his mother get a pat-down. I wasn’t worried at all but Natalie later told me she was concerned because she has seen how things can escalate and because she’s brown, living in Trump’s country.

Fortunately, she was immediately put at ease by the Explosives Unit agent who really couldn’t have been any nicer and probably sensed it was a false positive when he saw us. He had everything tested and run through the X-ray again, and had our carry-on bags hand searched. The whole process took at least 30 minutes but it felt longer and I felt bad because it was such a waste of taxpayers’ money. The security line was getting really long and those who had their bags flagged had to wait for us.

My takeaways about going through security with baby food are:

  • Don’t put baby food in the same bin as your laptop.
  • Try not to have more than 3.4 ounces of cream but know that if it’s for medical purposes, you can have more.
  • Show up to the airport extra early, just in case you get flagged.
  • Be polite to the agents but if they question the amount of food or medicine you’re traveling with, ask for a supervisor. Many agents don’t know the rules but most supervisors do.

Bottom line: It was an unfortunate incident but it was a great learning experience for me. As anyone who has ever met my wife knows, she is possibly the nicest person in the world and I’m a nice guy too, but unlike my wife, I will give attitude back if provoked.

I’ve heard from my friends on Facebook (where I first posted about what happened) that SeaTac is known for having overzealous TSA agents. Do you agree? Have you ever had the Explosives Unit called in? Any other tips I should add?



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74 Comments On "Why TSA Called in the Explosives Unit Because of Me"
  1. Muhemmed Haider|

    A very informative article. Totally agree with you. Good work and keep it up.

    1. I. Berke|

      Good content, too bad you had to include your wife’s concern about Trump .the president may be a jerk to you and your wife may not approve, however, I think we can all agree that he is not racist! Not liking illegals and being racist is not the same thing. Now, I am not sure that I want to continue reading your wife’s blog…wish you would both stick to travel facts, start a political blog if you have the time, but don’t insert your snarky comments unless valid.

      1. Johnny Jet|

        No one ever said he was racist — except you. You can’t deny that he has created an uneasy atmosphere for minorities with his rhetoric.

      2. N. Ford|

        Documenting the racially charged atmosphere that has been fueled under Trump as perceived by his wife in this situation is 100% valid. He was documenting an experience, and her perception is part of that experience.

        Political and social climates are a part of travel everywhere in the world. You cannot separate one from the other without compromising authenticity. To ignore the political disruption in Venezuela when writing about a trip there would be absurd – it must be acknowledged to at least some extent – as it affects cultural behaviors and social norms. To ignore the atmosphere surrounding travel under a new administration, for better or worse, in the United States would also be ignoring a hugely important subtext to life in the States.

        1. I. Berke|

          If you re-read the account, there was nothing racially charged about the incident. Two seasoned travelers were trying to test the system to see what would pass through TSA in Seattle. Anyone who travels through Seattle regularly knows that the TSA agents can be unpredictable. Liquids are a problem no matter the color of the traveler….the comment was unnecessary to tell his story. A story, which for a well traveled guy and his wife seems a little odd.

          1. N. Ford|

            The comment involved her perception of her individual experience. Johnny is writing about their particular, unique, experience and that is part of it. As you were not there going thru the experience, there is absolutely no way for you to know if her comment was unnecessary or not. Even Johnny acknowledged that he didn’t think of it that way because he doesn’t have to (he’s not a brown woman). When you try to critique what she and Johnny feel is important to the story in this way, you are trying to discredit another person’s (two persons in this case) experience or, at the very least, diminish it in order to supply your own narrative.

            Say, for example, that you are a 75 year old man and you go to a grocery store. The teenager checking you out gives you attitude which you perceive as having a lot to do with your age difference. If you include that subjective perception in your re-telling of the experience, I may say “he’s mean to everyone – it had nothing to do with your age”. Since I cannot prove that, and you cannot prove otherwise, there is no objective right or wrong. The subjective perception is what matters most and the validity of my experience (second-hand retelling) is inferior to your lived-experience (actually partaking in the experience). Had we both been present, we could talk about, debate about, etc., but it doesn’t diminish how you felt and perceived the experience either way.

            tl;dr when someone tells us how they perceived an experience, we should try listening and discussing before silencing or diminishing.

      3. DJ|

        Mexico is NOT a race

        1. Chris|

          Well put. Also, saying “Trump’s Nation” Johnny is implying some racist overtone. To deny it just makes you look foolish.
          I’d love to get more into this but I have work to do. Obviously some of these commentors have a lot of time on their hands.

  2. S. Richart|

    Great story but you should not have stopped the filming of the pat down. Did the screener touch your or your wife’s genitals? Were you told they would be touching them?

    1. Johnny Jet|

      They did touch both of ours.

  3. S. Moore|

    My experience with TSA in Seattle is that they are not very familiar with the TSA rules, if you show them the TSA rules they refuse to enforce them as written, and they are zealous in their enforcement of rules they make up on the spot. This is true from management on down.

  4. Moma Tungba|

    You lost me right here “I wasn’t worried at all but Natalie later told me she was concerned because she has seen how things can escalate and because she’s brown, living in Trump’s country.”

  5. Halle Eavelyn|

    Johnny, hi! I’ve had pat downs by a LOT of TSA agents, and I gotta tell you, it depends on the person. I’ve had overzealous power trippers in many airports, and then the nicest people other times. I usually opt out if there’s no TSA line because I had a bout with cancer several years ago, and have been reduced nearly to tears a few times by their unkind attitudes. And once I had someone who practically gave me a full body rubdown she pressed so hard ALL OVER my body. Again, the good often outweighs the bad, and I’ve never had a false positive or seen the explosive units, thank goodness!! Happy flying, my friend!!

  6. Phyll Lee|

    Your wife is brown and you’re in Trump country. How racist is that. You do a great job but leave politics out of your comments

    1. linda huber|

      I couldn’t agree more with this statement. STOP with your politics. It doesn’t serve any useful purpose!!

    2. Kazza|

      I’m sure Johnny and his wife know more about their experiences in this country since November than you or I do. Don’t like it? Read someone else. It’s a free country

      1. Chris|


      2. Chris|

        My wife is asian and was pulled over by cop the other day. Scared to death until she saw the cops Hillary pin. Thank god that cop wasn’t a Trumpette. I’m not sure what he would have done.
        (everyone needs to get a grip and quit your whining!)

    3. Eric|

      The same thing would have happened in Obama country and you know it. Security theater.

    4. Paul Jacobelli|

      Perhaps you should try to imagine what it is like to walk in their shoes. Then imagine what it is like to be married to someone who has these types of experiences. Your attitude would change if either of these situations were a part of your daily life.

    5. Jim|

      But, Johnny is correct. Little donnie has changed this country’s image, as a place that is not friendly to foreigners.

  7. Diane|

    Really you in my humble opinion are out of line. You were in Seattle hardly Trump’s country. Lost a lot of respect for you on this one. “I wasn’t worried at all but Natalie later told me she was concerned because she has seen how things can escalate and because she’s brown, living in Trump’s country.”

    Read more at: https://johnnyjet.com/tsa-called-explosives-unit/

  8. M Harrison|

    It’s definitely your right to videotape your encounter. I worked in law enforcement for 28 years and never had one complaint. I prided myself on being fair and compassionate. People only started videotaping contacts the last few years of my career. But when someone whipped out a camera and started videotaping a contact, I took it as an insult. I’m human. Immediately assuming I’m going to do something wrong that would need to be documented was something I considered as a huge dis to me and my profession. I watched many officers in these videotaped situations. The officer usual become unusually stiff, overly robotic and by the book. If you might have got off with a warning, you’d most likely get a ticket. I not saying to not videotape, just beware if you do you are likely to aggravate the situation to a some degree. In today’s anti-law enforcement society where everyone wants to videotape ever encounter I imagine officers will become accustomed to the videotaping and it won’t bother most officers.

    1. linda huber|

      you do want to be safe, don’t you? My gosh, you are overdone on this one.

  9. Kimberly|

    I was just in Seattle the beginning of June and TSA Pre-check was also shit down.

  10. Cynthia Guarino|

    My son and my ex-husband travel regularly. Since my son has ADHD and some sensory disorders he has to take several meds. Even though my ex-husband is a physician I still enclose my son’s physician information and med information along with dosage since I don’t send the actual bottles. That way if there is a question they can contact his physician or pharmacy to verify. It sounds crazy,but I feel like I have to think one step ahead of TSA screeners.

  11. Nancy|

    This just happened to me in the SRQ airport last month, my carry on tested positive for explosives! After a lengthy pat down the agent told me it could have been the soap I carried in my carry on bag (a bar of Dove soap!). They were very nice but it did take some time to get cleared and agree with your recommendations above.

  12. Chuck|

    JJ, disregard the hater replies. You did nothing wrong as long as you tell the truth and be honest with yourself. If the haters don’t like what you have to say, they can switch the channel. BTW, I get singled out a number of times at TSA even though I have pre-check. I generally give the TSA folks a break because it is a thankless lousy job.

  13. Craig Smith|

    Wow, blaming it on Trump. How typically leftist of you. Seattle is hardly Trump country, it’s a bastion of leftys, just like you. Not going to bother with your columns any more. unfollowing you on FB. Buh bye.

    1. Jim|

      Don’t let the door hit you on the way out. Stop by when you can’t stay so long.

  14. Madelyn Lacroisiere|

    I really don’t understand why people are getting so bent out of shape! Unless you’ve walked in his wife’s shoes, who are you to invalidate her feelings? Grow up, people – she’s entitled to an opinion, too, just like all of you who have no problem spouting yours here!!

  15. Dianne|

    Good for yuu to post your experience here. Anyone who reads your posts knows that you always want to HELP others who might have similar experiences. Makes no sense to not have the TSA PreCheck line open. Should always be open. People had to be screened and pay extra for the privilege and should have it in any airports that usually have it.

  16. Javi|

    You’re not exempt from rules. All the flying you doband you don’t know how to pack carrry on items??? You provoked it as welll asking your wife to video it.
    What a poor example you are to escalate the situation. TSA has to follow all the rules for everyone when items alert the machine. Swallow your ego and follow the rules next time. Learn how to pack as well. You are nothing special and with all your experience should know better.

  17. Jerry Fazol|

    Great way to lose fans by bringing politics into your great travel blog. No need for politics in a travel blog Johnny, please. If I want politics I know where to find it. I come to you for non political information.

  18. Gary L.|

    Johnny Jet, you definitely got picked on! Next time take a pointer from your wife, a Canadian, and learn how to say sorry, even when you’re not. Canadians are a sorry bunch! Hahaha! We even occasionally say sorry when we don’t mean it, especially under stress at the airport. LOL
    I have travelled to many countries but I always feel more intimidated whilst travelling through USA screening, I’m not sure why, but I think hearing stories like yours don’t help.

  19. Robert Bechard|

    To all the negative commenters: So people aren’t allowed an opinion if it doesn’t agree with yours? Why are you entitled to say what you want but Johnny and his wife aren’t? If she felt threatened or frightened in some way, who are ANY OF YOU to say that she was wrong or that Johnny is wrong in mentioning it? He didn’t go on a political tirade – just one sentence about his wife’s feelings during what was obviously a stressful situation. Get off your high horses!

  20. Ron|

    Life is politics and politics is life. Unfortunately too many people don’t realize it.

  21. Vicki|

    I traveled from IAH-LAX-SEA and o had to go through security again at LAX because I changed airlines and my precheck wasn’t on my second ticket. My bag got flagged at LAX and I got the full pat down but I did request a private screening because I was alone and really embarrassed by the process and didn’t want even more strangers to be witnesses and if I was inconvenienced, they could be too. It gave me some place to repack my bag too. They were professional but it is incredibly terrible. And it was exactly the same bag that was fine a few hours earlier, I hadn’t purchased a thing.

  22. 8bb8b8|

    Did the tester make a different noise when they tested everything? It was noticeably different the time I set it off. Also, did you happen to handle fireworks? The only time I set the thing off they swabbed a compartment in my backpack that had previously held (weeks prior) smoke bombs, sparklers, etc. and they were even in another bag albeit not sealed.

    1. Johnny Jet|

      It did not and I didn’t touch fireworks.

  23. Playalaguna|

    Too bad your post about “certain” privilege brought out the haters. Only those of us who travel with and without privilege appreciate the scope of your comment. Travel safe despite of the TSA, who seem find oversize liquids but can’t detect weapons.

  24. 8bb8b8|


    If that didn’t happen then they were screwing with you or at least using their subjective latitude of “threat” for the additional screens. I have noticed that my bags seem to be subject to additional search substantially more often when lines are light. Not sure if it’s boredom or they use the time for “training”, probably both.

  25. Barbara|

    I was once denied boarding out of the Colorado Springs airport because the cast I had on my hand tested positive for explosive residue. The TSA agent took me back to a screening room and swabbed the cast again and still positive. She asked if I had lotion on and I said I did. I had just washed my hands in the bathroom and applied lotion before getting into line. She said the soap was probably the trigger because it is a glycerine base. She called a supervisor, because she said he could allow me through. Now here comes Mr. Attitude. He came back and asked for my ID. I gave it to him. He asked for additional ID. Huh? I had my military ID and my passport so I pulled those out. Now he really is grouchy. He asked how long I had the cast on and I told him 2 weeks prior it was put on at the Air Force Academy. That was the last straw for him. He now says that there is no way he will allow me to board. I was on business and needed to get to California. His response is “to bad” and walked out. The TSA agent apologized and told me to get to the United counter and fly out of Denver where they had a cast scope. And that was what I ended up doing. So some good ones and some bad ones. Just like life every where.

  26. fran|

    A few months ago, a fellow traveler was flagged for explosives in Auckland’s airport. Apparently it was the “fantastic” hand lotion she purchased in New Zealand and had used that morning. Last year I had to undergo a body search at the Frankfurt Airport because the scan showed a large sweat patch on my back resulting from carrying my backpack. Oh well.

  27. Scott Eddy|

    Damn bro, glad it all worked out in the end!!! Happy 4th to you guys!!!!

  28. Joseph B|

    Great article and great reporting Johnny! Unlike some of your readers, I appreciate your telling of things as they happened, whether people like it or not. Keep up the great work.

  29. mark|

    I stopped going to Seattle because of the left wing politics up there.
    But now that this is “Trumps’ Country” maybe its time to go back?

    or is that just bs from another lefty? First time i have ever read your blog, last time too.
    And for the haters, its his right to say whatever kind of bs he wants, and its my right not to listen.

  30. Michael|

    Sorry you had to go through all of that. And even sorrier that some people are so sensitive about how they react to a factual statement of how your wife was feeling.

  31. Deb|

    Occasionally, we meet persons in government or in the service industry who aren’t exactly professional when dealing with the public. They may behave that way because of fear of losing their jobs or fear of the worst thing happening. They may be having a bad day (a bad life) or they could simply be on a “power trip”. Running into those persons can be both traumatic and humiliating. That experience can haunt a person (even people who enjoy bullying others) long after that incident has passed. That is why a person in power such as a TSA agent, a policeman or a politician (in any office) should always try to behave in a professional and respectful manner toward other human beings. I’m not saying that they should be weak or not strong… just behave professionally (probably, the way they were originally trained and the reason why they were originally chosen for that job). In other words, treat others as you would want to be treated yourself. Thank you for your story!

  32. Rita|

    I also got flagged and searched a couple of years ago. The reason I was flagged was because I had on jeans that had metallic threads in them. I was then checked for explosives which was positive. So, I had to go to a room to be patted down and have my carry on hand searched. The very nice young ladies that searched me told me about the metallic threads in my jeans and that it was the lotion I used before leaving home that gave the explosive alert. They also said jeans with decorations on them often set off the alarm. So, you can add these items to your tip list.

  33. Phil|

    Jeez, Johnny… My wife is a dark skinned Mexican American who just retired as a Sergeant after 32 years with the Los Angeles Police Department. She is very happy to be living in Trump’s America, rather than Merkel’s Germany, for example. You think that TSA personnel are Trump supporters? Please be non-political. On the other hand, your name is on the Masthead and you can say whatever you want! My right is to cancel all my subscriptions to JohnnyJet.com!

  34. Stanley Williams|

    JOHNNY- I carry hunting weapons all over the world and firearm ammo and fireworks do not set off the ‘wipe’ test- but nitro from my Dad’s heart medicine sure will- use your resources to find out actually sets off the ‘alarm’.
    Be thankful you are living in the USA which does not really belong to Trump- and you as a world traveler you should appreciate that.

  35. Onix|

    I understand this kind of situations. I used to travel regularly because of my job. To be a good TSA agent, training and updates need to be accomplished at least every year to make the agent more knowledgeable. For the persons that got your political statement in the wrong manner I have an advise for them: Educate in political science or history before you make a comment with no grounds. Humanities and social sciences are expressed by professionals in these fields. I am sure that nobody makes comments about chemistry without studying natural sciences first.

  36. MangoKid|

    Fly from Medellin in Colombia back to the USA and you get the full pat down twice from the before you get to board. And you do not get to ask for a private pat down. Oh my, the trama and humiliation of modern air trsvel is enough to make me cry not!!

  37. Mary L. Clarke|

    I’m equally amused and saddened by all the comments from people who are so strangely outraged over another person’s experience. How lovely for you to have never felt uncomfortable before and how bizarre to say you’re unsubscribing and not reading any more because of an experience you know nothing about. I suspect no one will miss those of you who leave, for you intolerance and narrow-mindedness.

  38. kritika|

    Very detailed and informative stuff. Guidelines Useful for everyone. Keep sharing.

  39. Lyn|

    I also triggered the explosive squad. I was a midwest, tired, senior citizen traveling on the last leg “home” after several weeks in Europe. After several positive swabs and several swabbers, the concensus was that my lunch bag – one of those silver coated plastic insulated bags – caused the problem. I had transitioned through 6 other check points in several other countries without a problem with the same lunch bag. These swabbers were testy with me that I caused this problem for them!

  40. John Frankly|

    So many idiot bloggers living in a leftist bubble. Leave politics out of it unless you want to lose a good amount of your readers

  41. Paul Cole|

    …”she was concerned because she has seen how things can escalate and because she’s brown, living in Trump’s country.”l

    This was NOT appropriate to your article.
    If you choose to write about YOUR political views, maybe CNN or MSNBC would be more to your liking.
    I NEVER recalled you commenting on the MANY, MANY Barack Obama’s acts of racism?

    Travel is travel & politics is – well, just that.

    BTW, I have over 60,000 readers of my articles on TripAdvisor and have always keep my views of US politics to myself.

  42. Tom Sieswerda|

    ”she was concerned because she has seen how things can escalate and because she’s brown, living in Trump’s country.”
    Your wife is, of course entitled to her own views. Why would you include something that would tick off half of the people that voted. Half of the people that look forward to your posts.

    1. Johnny Jet|

      I didn’t think it would tick people off and of course, I didn’t mean to. I was just detailing exactly what happened and was said.

  43. Amy|

    Thanks for sharing your story of what happened and the fears that you and your family felt. I do not understand why people are so upset by those observations. You were not calling anyone racist, you were simply stating how your wife felt.

  44. Frederick|

    Johnny…We didn’t know you were “snowflakes.”…Now we do. Cheers.

  45. K|

    Really appreciate this post. Totally support you deciding to moderate comments before they’re published, so none of us have to witness more online abuse in this world. Your wife has every right to share what’s true for her. Nobody with common sense can deny the realities we’re all dealing with.

  46. Jen|

    Johnny, your recounting of your experience was fair. Stand by your position to include valid emotions. In my experience the TSA does whatever they want. Rules are enforced arbitrarily and are certainly not the same at each airport. My 10 year old son accidentally left a water bottle in his carry on when we went through security in our home airport of SFO. I asked the agent if we could dump the water, or drink it and keep going, but she evidently really wanted to teach us a lesson because she insisted on escorting us back out to the end of the security line where we could dump the water and start over. (Fortunately we have CLEAR, so it didn’t take a lot of extra time, but it was still an inconvenience.) I’ve met tons of great TSA agents, but there are definitely plenty of power-tripping ones out there as well. As a white woman and frequent traveler, I try to stay calm no matter how ridiculous a TSA agent is for fear of repercussions; in these sad days, I can only imagine what it must feel like to be traveling while brown.

  47. JPHart|

    You – Johnny Jet introduced politics and race! Again.
    I’m tired of your tirades. After years of reading you – I’m done!
    Go back to LA, I don’t care where you go.

    1. Matthew Barnes|

      Can you explain where all your anger is coming from about another individual’s experience and feelings that have nothing to do with you? I’m genuinely curious why you are so outraged?

    2. K|

      Sadly, you are the only one on a tirade.

  48. Matthew Barnes|

    Wow Johnny – the comments on this post are truly shocking to me. I can’t believe people would react so heinously to your poor wife’s experience. Do these people think that they are upholding or supporting any of the values we like to think of as truly American … acceptance for all? By spewing their negativity on your blog they are only supporting exactly what made your wife feel uncomfortable in the first place!!! Although I’m not surprised because you’ve got to be pretty ignorant to reply the way they have anyway. Sorry you guys have had to deal with these terrible comments and hope you know that likely most of your informed, intelligent and compassionate readers do not feel this way.

  49. Jim M|

    SEA security is iffy. I have had very pleasant agents and also had not so nice agents. I have not been there in a while, but the last time I was there the security setup was so cramped and confined that it was difficult for everyone, including the screeners, and if you happen to be in a hurry (which I wasn’t) it could be a problem. Airports were not designed for 21st century security. Except DFW – they seem to have enough space.

  50. Mark O|

    The crazy thing here is that all the negative comments just validate what Natalie said! Looks like she’s right to feel the way she does … SAD – to coin a phrase some of you may recognize

  51. George Masterson|

    Travel and politics go hand in hand – these days especially. And anyone who suggests otherwise is not only completely idiotic but they’re being willfully blind as well.

  52. Christine B|

    People need to ease up on your wife. Even an experienced traveler can get stressed and make ‘mistakes’ while traveling with a 9 month old….juggling your purse, diaper bag, carry-on, maybe a stroller, and a little person who is not yet walking but full of wiggles. So if she put the baby food in the same bin as the laptop, you just adjust and run them through again…cut her some slack…it’s not like she was carrying a loaded gun or something.

  53. Ted Liptak|

    Thanks for the tips. If you are travelling with your family at least you should distribute the medicines-pills to each bag.

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