The Transportation Security Administration or TSA was created on November 19, 2001 following the tragedy of September 11, 2001. The agency was made a part of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act which was the bi-partisan brainchild of House of Representatives, Republican Don Young from Alaska and Democrat Ernest Hollings of South Carolina, former U.S. Senator (more proof that bipartisan efforts never render anything good?).
The Act was signed into law by then President George W. Bush. The TSA originally was a part of the United States Department of Transportation but was moved to the Department of Homeland Security (HHS) on March 9, 2003. The TSA exercises authority over the security of the traveling public in the United States. It is a huge arm of the federal government with an annual budget of $7.91 billion and 55,600+ employees.
The “exercises authority” verbiage seems to set the tone for the agency as more akin to a police or military-type organization rather than mere baggage screeners. In addition, the words “security of the traveling public” opens up the possibilities of expanding the reach of the agency to any form of transportation that the public uses, including perhaps your own vehicle if it was deemed necessary? This seems more possible than ever since the agency is now part of HHS.
So then, are you in good “hands” with the TSA? Many of us have heard stories from friends or other individuals who claim they were groped while going through the screening process. Still others have complained that they were sexually assaulted by TSA Agents/Officers as they went through the screening process due to excessive groping. There haven’t been as many stories praising the TSA for a job well done in thwarting actual breaches of security of which I’m aware. Perhaps they are just under reported?
In any event, one website has been created to keep a record or master checklist of all incidents that occur at TSA security checkpoints. This list was established following the October 30, 2010 start of “pat downs” at airports and is extensive. The checklist contains details from passengers accusing TSA of “abusing” them in the screening process.
Some of the highlights or lowlights, as the case may be, describe an occasion when a couple of female passengers in 2010, who were being screened in Chicago, were asked by a TSA Agent if “a quick peek in their panties” would be okay. Another event in 2010, involved a cancer survivor who had to remove her prosthetic breast during the pat down.
In 2011, a man believed that he was sexually assaulted when a male TSA Agent “repeatedly rubbed his hands over my buttocks and penis area. He thrust his hand down the front of my pants.” The TSA Agent then reportedly refused to provide the name of his supervisor when asked by the passenger.
More recently, in June 2013, a 56 year old woman, traveling to Seattle following a surgery, had her surgical stitches “ripped and a surgical drainage tube dislodged from her right breast under her right arm” during her airport screening process. Additional surgery was required to repair the damage when she reached her final destination.
No one seems to be “safe” in the screening process. Even Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill had an experience that left her feeling uneasy. She tweeted out to her twitter followers that she had received “a private, more aggressive pat down” which had made her uncomfortable following a “test on her hands that was positive.” She tweeted that it was “#veryuncomfortable.”
Are all of these occurrences just standard operating procedures conducted by a group of highly-regarded professionals? The reports on at least some of these TSA Agents since 2010 would suggest otherwise.
For example, earlier this year, in June 2013, a lead transportation security officer who had been employed with TSA since August 2002, was arrested on child pornography charges after over 1,000 pictures of children were allegedly found on his personal laptop computer. A Charlotte, N.C. TSA Agent was arrested after allegedly stealing $36 from a passenger’s suitcase on New Year’s Day. Another agent in New York was arrested as part of a sting operation, after allegedly stealing passengers’ iPads and other electronic devices from their luggage at JFK Kennedy airport where he worked.
In another incident, an airline passenger in Alaska alleged that he put his wallet on a conveyor belt in order to go through the screening process. He further alleged that after he was “groped” he saw a TSA Agent leaving with his wallet. Once the officer returned, the passenger claims that his cash was missing. Finally, the New York Post reported several events in which TSA Agents were caught running drugs, in addition to stealing passengers’ personal items from their luggage. The list of alleged abuses and crimes against the agency is long.
Even a report out of the Government Accountability office earlier in 2013, shows that the TSA misconduct is rising, with a spike of 26% in reported incidents over the past three years. There were cases of theft, sleeping on the job, leaving work without permission, and allowing friends and family to bypass security screening procedures, according to the report.
The report also noted 426 cases of neglect of duty, 384 cases of ethical violations involving bribery or credit card abuse, and the taking of thousands of dollars from passengers’ baggage by 56 TSA Agents. A total of 381 employees have been fired by the agency in the last ten years. Finally, the report showed that there have been close to 10,000 cases of misconduct since 2010, of which 1900 were classified as security threats. The report also concluded that the TSA failed to properly review cases involving serious misconduct.
According to the TSA website, in order to become a TSA Officer you must be a U.S. citizen or U.S. National and pass a background check. People who have certain convictions need not apply and there is an indication that a fingerprint check with the FBI is conducted along with a credit report. While these background checks may be a requirement, the Huffington Post reported in 2012, that not all screeners received full background checks due to backlogs. TSA reported that although the screeners may not have been given full background checks when hired due to backlogs they would eventually receive a full background check. This assurance may be little comfort for those passengers who have had items stolen from their luggage possibly by TSA screeners.
Are there other security breaches that have occurred or are occurring that the public should concern themselves with? An article written in March 2013 indicates that TSA issued security badges to 11 TSA new hires even though they had criminal backgrounds. These security badges allowed the agents unfettered access to secure areas of U.S. airports.
Do all of these breaches and allegations of wrongdoing by TSA Agents leave you feeling that you are in good hands with TSA? Perhaps the next time you go to the airport and have to submit to the screening process by a TSA Agent, you may want to ask yourself just where those TSA hands have been?
Susan Knowles is an author, psychotherapist and former practicing attorney. Her latest book, a political fiction, is entitled, “Freedom’s Fight: A Call to Remember” available on Amazon.com. Her website is www.susanknowles.com where this article may be found.
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