Agent was contraband detection trainer; 'no longer employed' at TSA

These days, joking about anything illegal while in an airport security line will likely land you in a holding cell, and might even result in criminal charges. But this column from the Philadelphia Inquirer has some wondering whether that rule applies to TSA employees themselves.

Inquirer columnist Daniel Rubin reports that a 22-year-old University of Michigan student fell victim to a particularly cruel "joke" at the hands of a TSA employee at Philadelphia International Airport on Jan. 5.

As Rebecca Solomon passed through security on her way to boarding a Detroit-bound flight, a TSA agent pulled a small baggie filled with white powder out of her carry-on and asked, "Where did you get it?"

A panicked Solomon suffered for 20 seconds before the guard cracked a smile and said, "Just kidding."

Rubin describes the bizarre encounter like this:

A TSA worker was staring at her. He motioned her toward him. Then he pulled a small, clear plastic bag from her carry-on -- the sort of baggie that a pair of earrings might come in. Inside the bag was fine, white powder. She remembers his words: "Where did you get it?"

Two thoughts came to her in a jumble: A terrorist was using her to sneak bomb-detonating materials on the plane. Or a drug dealer had made her an unwitting mule, planting coke or some other trouble in her bag while she wasn't looking.

Put yourself in her place and count out 20 seconds. Her heart pounded. She started to sweat. She panicked at having to explain something she couldn't.

Now picture her expression as the TSA employee started to smile. Just kidding, he said. He waved the baggie. It was his.

And so she collected her things, stunned, and the tears began to fall.

The Inquirer's Linda Loyd reported later Thursday that the TSA says the employee in question in the incident is "no longer employed by the agency."

The TSA reportedly isn't disputing Solomon's version of events.

The employee can't be named because of TSA privacy regulations, which also prevent the TSA from saying whether he quit or was fired. But Solomon told the Inquirer that she was told he was a trainer who taught TSA employees how to detect contraband.