A former agent for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago alleges that he and his fellow agents routinely laughed at naked X-ray images and engaged in rampant racial profiling.
Writing in Politico, Jason Edward Harrington claims that employees regularly behaved inappropriately in what is called the Image Operator, or I.O., room.
Because the TSA assured the public that nude images of passengers would not be stored on any recording devices, there were no cameras in the I.O. room, which was also locked from the inside. So, Harrington writes, “I.O. room duty quickly devolved into an unofficial break” in which employees “gawked” at “overweight people, their every fold and dimple on full awful display.”
Moreover, “[a]ll the old, crass stereotypes about race and genitalia size thrived on our secure government radio channels.”
The lack of internal surveillance also allowed other kinds of bad behavior to thrive. “Officers who were dating often conspired to get assigned to the I.O. room at the same time,” Harrington claims, “where they analyzed the nude images with one eye apiece, at best.”
These behaviors were not a security concern, Harrington writes, because the “TSA was compelling toddlers, pregnant women, cancer survivors — everyone — to stand inside radiation-emitting machines that didn’t work.”
After the full-body scanners were installed, “[o]fficers discovered that the machines were good at detecting just about everything besides cleverly hidden explosives and guns.”
[Image via AFP]
According to a CBS4 report, police are investigating Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers at Denver International Airport after a woman filed a criminal complaint claiming that her frisking was tantamount to sexual assault.
Jamelyn Steenhoek was frisked by TSA officers while escorting her 13-year-old daughter to her gate. She was not flying herself that day, but had acquired permission to accompany her underage child to her gate.
As she attempted to move through the TSA checkpoint, an alarm sounded. Steenhoek told CBS4 that she believes that metallic jewels sewn into her rear pants pocket were responsible for setting off the machine. She said she consented to have her hands swabbed.
“They told me I tested positive for explosives,” she said, and was then ushered into a small TSA screening room in with her daughter. She was told to spread her arms and legs, and when she told the female TSA agent that she needed to get her daughter to her plane, the agent’s demeanor changed.
“At that point she did a pretty invasive search. They are just areas of the body I’m not comfortable being touched in. On the outside of my pants she cupped my crotch. I was uncomfortable with that,” she said.
“The part of the search that bothered most was the breast search. You could tell it shouldn’t take that much groping. To me it was as extensive as an exam from my physician — full touching and grabbing in the front. I felt uncomfortable, I felt violated.”
When the search yielded no explosive materials, Steenhoek said, the TSA agent repeated it, only this time there was “more touching and grabbing than the first time.”
After successfully escorting her daughter to her flight, Steenhoek complained to TSA officials, but felt they were not taking her complaint seriously enough, so she filed charges with Denver police.
“I was looking for consequences, for TSA to be accountable for what they do to people,” Steenhoek told CBS4.
Watch the entire CBS4 report below.
Travelers left behind a record $531,395.22 in loose change at security checkpoints in US airports in fiscal 2012, the Transportation Security Administration says.
In a report to Congress, seen by the Washington Post, the TSA said more than $10,000 in change was forgotten at each of 13 major airports in such cities as New York, Dallas, Atlanta and San Francisco.
Passengers at Miami International Airport, a prime gateway for Latin American travellers, left $39,613, more than at any other airport.
The total amount collected included about $32,000 in foreign currency, the Post reported Friday.
Under US law, the TSA — with a $7.6 billion budget for the fiscal 2012 year that ended September 30 — is supposed to spend any loose change it finds on civil aviation security.
But on Tuesday, the House of Representative passed a resolution calling for the cash to go to non-profit groups that assist travelling military personnel and their families.
Nickels, dimes and quarters aren’t the only things TSA agents come across at security checkpoints.
Last week alone, they discovered 34 firearms — 27 of them loaded — as well as 22 stun guns in carry-on baggage, the federal agency said last Friday.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
In 2012, 15 Americans were killed in terrorist attacks.
The previous year, more than 32,000 Americans died from gun violence (including homicides, suicides and accidents). That total represents an almost 2,600 person increase in gun deaths since 2001.
So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the first Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent to be killed in the line of duty was not slain by an al-Qaida terrorist, but rather by an American with a gun.
Gerardo Hernandez, who was shot and killed at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on Friday, was tasked with protecting Americans from a threat that barely exists. Instead, he died from a threat that we as a nation tacitly accept as a “price of freedom”: practically unfettered access to firearms.
Twelve years ago this month, when Congress created the TSA, the threat from terrorism seemed real. Just two months earlier, 3,000 Americans had been killed by the worst terrorist attack in American history. Congress, acting with a level of responsiveness that in today’s current political context would seem unimaginable, established a vast new federal bureaucracy to take responsibility for protecting airplanes and passengers from the supposed scourge of international terrorism.
Today, with a budget of nearly $8bn, the TSA employs almost 50,000 transportation security officers who screen the nation’s air travelers. Yet, as incidents of terrorism directed at the United States have declined and al-Qaida’s global reach has been constrained, the TSA’s mandates remain in place. They’ve even been expanded, often in response to terrorist attacks or alleged plots.
When Richard Reid, aka “the Shoe Bomber”, attempted to light explosives hidden in his shoes on a trans-Atlantic flight – and reports surfaced of other potential “shoe bombers” – it led to new rules “encouraging” passengers to take off their shoes at TSA checkpoints. In 2006, when a plot to bomb multiple trans-Atlantic flights with liquid explosives was foiled by British police, it brought new restrictions on bringing liquids on planes – and a shift to mandatory shoe screening. Even large printer cartridges were banned on planes after a foiled terror plot in which they were used to hide explosives.
No other form of domestic travel, like trains or buses, has the same level of security as is seen on airplanes. Considering that cockpit doors are now locked (one of several post 9/11 reforms that is, in fact, keeping Americans safer), and given that passengers are conditioned by the events of 9/11 to not respond in a docile fashion to a potential terrorist attack, the threat of in-air terrorism seems even more limited.
Then again, perhaps an abundance of caution is in order. TSA restrictions are frustrating and time-consuming, but they are hardly onerous. While there have been occasional complaints about the infringement on personal freedom and the inconvenience that TSA screening represents, Americans have, by and large, accepted their presence as the price that must be paid to protect the nation against terrorism.
This begs the question, however: why do Americans accept such restrictions – to combat a threat that barely exists – and recoil at the notion of placing similar restrictions on guns, which kill 2,000 times more Americans every year than terrorism?
America has the laxest gun laws in the developed world, more guns per person and the highest rate of death by firearms of any developed nation. The US also leads the world in mass shootings. As Mother Jones points out, of the 62 mass shootings that have taken place in the United States since 1982, three-quarters of the killers used legally obtained weapons.
While, mercifully, the gun ownership rate is in decline, millions of Americans continue to buy handguns for protection. This is the case, even though having a gun in one’s home puts all those who live there at dramatically greater risk of dying as a result of gun violence – and provides negligible deterrent benefit.
Of course, there is little talk of banning all guns in the United States; rather, restricting the ability of people to purchase them. However, even that is too high a mountain to climb.
For example, the gun used in the LAX shooting was a .223-caliber assault rifle, a weapon that exists for only one reason – to kill multiple numbers of people (a similarity it shares with virtually all guns). There really is no justifiable reason for such weapons to be in the hands of ordinary citizens. And yet, as Senator Dianne Feinstein noted Sunday on “Meet The Press”, it would be a virtual impossibility to pass a bill in Congress banning them.
It was seven months ago, after all, that the Senate blocked a measure to expand background checks on gun purchasers. That occurred the same week that a major American city was shut down because there was a wounded, unarmed, single terrorist on the loose.
In the wake of the Newtown school shooting that took the lives of 28 people, including 20 children, no major federal gun control regulation has been enacted. Meanwhile, two researchers who are compiling Slate.com’s extraordinary and sobering gun death database estimate that more than 29,000 Americans have died from gun violence since that terrible day – a number dramatically higher than the more than 10,000 deaths officially reported (which, in itself, is a heartbreaking and appalling total).
There’s been new research indicating that 500 US children are killed, and 7,500 are hospitalized, every year from gunshot wounds. None of this brings real policy change. In fact, in state senate recall elections in Colorado, two Democratic legislators were defeated because of their support for an earlier state bill that had placed restrictions on gun ownership.
Quite simply, the unceasing death toll from gun violence continues unabated.
In a sense, we’re all complicit in the deep narcissism of gun-owners who demand that their absolutist definition of freedom (largely unencumbered access to firearms of all shapes and sizes) takes precedent over the carnage it causes every day in communities across America.
The irony of our divergent responses to terrorism and gun violence is that the shooting in LAX was, by any meaningful measure, an act of terrorism. According to a note found in the possession of the shooter, he made “a conscious decision to kill multiple TSA employees”. The note reportedly stated that he wanted to “instill fear into their traitorous minds”, and he allegedly “claimed the TSA treats Americans like terrorists even though all people aren’t equally dangerous”.
Now, of course, if the shooter had screamed “Allah Akbar” as he needlessly took the life of TSA agent Gerardo Hernandez, or if he had had links to an al-Qaida terror cell, there’d be no question about how to describe this incident. Moreover, there would almost certainly be a major policy response.
In fact, if this latest act of gun violence were described accurately as terrorism, it would perhaps lead to the same quick response that led to the creation of the TSA. How else to shake Americans and their elected leaders from their collective slumber over the menace of gun violence?
But don’t bet on it happening. This shooting, like the approximately 85 other acts of gun violence that take an American life every single day, will almost certainly lead to the same policy result to which we’ve become far too accustomed – even inured to – in this country.
But at least we’ll be safe from the terrorists.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is pressing the Transportation Safety Authority (TSA) for answers following more than 20 complaints on behalf of disabled passengers concerning their treatment at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport.
The Arizona Republic reported on Tuesday that McCain has contacted both TSA Administrator John Pistole and Jeh Johnson, who was nominated by President Barack Obama to head the Department of Homeland Security, following an earlier report by the Republic detailing incidents involving passengers getting groped in public, stripped of articles of clothing and removing prosthetic limbs.
“I was appalled,” the Republic quoted McCain as saying. “You are just disgusted by it.”
According to the Republic, 26 complaints were lodged against TSA officials at Sky Harbor Airport in 2012, double the amount from 2011, findings that McCain cited in a letter demanding information from Pistole.
“I write to ask you to explain the alleged wrongful actions of TSA personnel at Sky Harbor and review TSA’s screening policies for passengers with disabilities to ensure that security protocols meet contemporary threats and respect the dignity of travelers,” The Hill quoted McCain as saying in his letter.
KPNX-TV reported that in one incident, a 92-year-old man who uses a wheelchair said he heard one TSA agent tell another, “Find out if he has his knees and his hips. If he does, then there is no reason he can’t stand.” In another complaint, the grandson of an 82-year-old woman reported that his grandmother, who had survived breast cancer, was forced to remove her prosthesis, blouse and bra in a back room.
“I am sure you would agree that no 82 year-old woman should ever have go through such a process in order to board an airplane,” McCain said in his letter. “Of course, TSA has to strike a balance between privacy and security, but in the case of passengers with disabilities, that common-sense balance seems to be eluding TSA’s screeners at Sky Harbor.”
The Republic also reported that more people have come forward with their own stories about alleged mistreatment by TSA officials, including one woman who said agents were overly aggressive on multiple occasions when her 15-year-old autistic daughter set off a metal detector.
“They don’t use any discretion,” the woman, Jill Graf, told the Republic. “They always escalate by saying, ‘I don’t like your attitude.’ They escalate by arguing with a 15-year-old girl. It always involves patting down her chest.”
The TSA denied that any strip searches have taken place in a statement sent to the Republic.
“A passenger should not be asked to remove or lift any article of clothing to reveal a sensitive body area or to remove a prosthetic,” the agency’s statement read. “TSA works with numerous groups including breast cancer organizations to continuously refine and enhance our procedures to improve the passenger experience while also ensuring the safety of the traveling public.”
Watch KPIX’s report on the TSA’s alleged wrongdoings, aired on Tuesday, below.
[Image via CNN]
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Stephen Colbert welcomed the news on Tuesday that the Transportation Security Authority (TSA) was moving beyond airport security into train and bus stations and sporting events.
“They have the safety of this nation in the palm of their hands — also, your genitals,” Colbert said. “And they’re finding all sorts of places to do it.”
Colbert did point out that the expansion comes after a federal report noted an increase in reports of misconduct by TSA agents.
“What you want to do is spread that misconduct over a broader sample size,” he said. “Just like if you ever cheat on your girlfriend, you have to get a bunch more girlfriends, so you’re more faithful per capita.”
Colbert also argued that the expansion, to be handled under the TSA’s Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) program, also covered cars (particularly NASCAR racers) and should apply to the oldest transportation system of all — your legs.
“With all the threats out there, wouldn’t you feel more comfortable with a TSA agent clinging to one at all times?” Colbert asked his audience.
Watch Colbert defend the TSA and the VIPR program, aired Tuesday on Comedy Central, below.