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Apr 09 2014

The TSA’s Penchant for Theft

A TSA agent named Pythias Brown was convicted of stealing $800,000 from passengers at Newark International Airport over the course of many years and he says this sort of thing is quite routine from TSA agents around the country. In fact, look at this staggering statistic:

But while Brown believes he might have been one of the worst thieves at the TSA, he imagines the agency’s culture makes it easy for others to do the same. Many officers don’t care about their work and complain about low pay and being treated badly, he claims, which prompts them to steal. To make it even easier to get away with, TSA managers also never search their employees’ bags.

The agency says it has a zero-tolerance policy for theft and terminates the contracts of all thieves within the TSA. In the past ten years, almost 400 TSA officers have been fired for stealing, 11 of which were fired this year.

400 TSA officers fired for stealing. Undoubtedly lots of other agents have been stealing and not been caught yet. In that same period of time, how many terrorists have they caught? I can’t think of a single one. There have been several bombing attempts, including the shoe bomber and the underwear bomber, but they both made it through the TSA inspections. So what exactly are they doing for us?

27 comments

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  1. 1
    doublereed

    So what exactly are they doing for us?

    Stealing, obviously!

    Sheesh, Ed. Try to keep up!

  2. 2
    sugarfrosted

    Undoubtedly lots of other agents have been stealing and not been caught yet. In that same period of time, how many terrorists have they caught? I can’t think of a single one.

    Solid logic right there. “I haven’t heard of one thus they must not exist.” I do know that they have intercepted quite a few people trying to smuggle loaded guns onto planes though and if these people were planning a terrorist attack I highly doubt you’d be able to tell the difference.

  3. 3
    Kevin Kehres

    I had a colleague who pretty much caught one TSA agent stealing $50 from her wallet. He “scanned” her purse three times and once she got it back, the wallet was open and money was missing. But he knew exactly where the cameras were located AND their dead spots, so they didn’t have it on tape and nothing came of the event except she lost $50.

    I suspect that it’s quite a bit more common than you think. That’s why I make sure that I watch all my stuff go into the X-ray machine and make darn sure none of the agents touches anything coming out. Especially wallets. And check it before you leave the security area.

  4. 4
    tbp1

    My wife and I have been lucky, but a good friend and colleague had a suitcase stolen on the way to NYC to perform. Besides losing valuable family heirloom jewelry, she had to go find a dress suitable for singing in Carnegie Hall the same day as the concert. The airline eventually paid some token amount, but they don’t cover jewelry, so she was just out of luck there.

    You could argue that putting valuable jewelry in checked luggage isn’t smart, and I don’t know that I would disagree, but still it’s very distressing that this kind of thing happens so often.

    Incidentally, anecdotally Newark seems to be particularly bad. The people I know personally who have had things stolen have all had it happen there (that’s where my friend suffered her loss). If you’re flying to or hrough there you might want to take extra precautions.

  5. 5
    colnago80

    Re sugarfrosted @ #2

    We also can’t determine the deterrent effect that the TSA has on putative hijackers. Clearly, the system is far from perfect but, given the bureaucratic complexities, doing better would require significant increases in funding which is a no no to the tea baggers.

  6. 6
    democommie

    @5:

    I’m pretty sure that the teabaggists are good with NO TSA.

    Now that TN has passed a law allowing anyone who OWNS a weapon to carry it in the open, can allowing armed “good guys” from passenger aircraft be the next, “common sense” idea coming from the moronz?

  7. 7
    Larry

    So, in addition to firing the thieves, do they prosecute them as well? Is there an attempt to return the stolen property to the victims? Are the victims ever notified that, in fact, their bags were rifled by TSA agents and items were taken from them by the agents? When someone reports items missing from their bags to the TSA, is the response to take the report seriously or just blown them off?

    If the answer to these questions are all no, then TSA is simply putting on a show to “prove” they’re taking some kind of action but not actually addressing and solving the problem. Until they totally eliminate theft as an issue, we’re basically lambs being fed to the wolves. There’s not a huge choice of options to bypass TSA unless one simply chooses not to fly. This is just one more reason TSA is among the most despised government organizations.

  8. 8
    cptdoom

    I can’t think of a single one. There have been several bombing attempts, including the shoe bomber and the underwear bomber, but they both made it through the TSA inspections.

    Minor correction here, Ed – both these individuals were coming in from overseas, and so had no contact with the TSA here in the US. What was shocking about the underwear bomber is that he passed through security at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, where security is widely considered very strong.

    That being said, I think Larry @#7 has a really good point. Merely firing people is not sufficient, the agency should be getting to the bottom of the problem. If it is pay, there’s not much they can do about it, but they can damn well figure out how these thefts are happening and where (assuming it is true certain airports have worse problems), and take basic steps to reduce the problem.

  9. 9
    pocketnerd

    So what exactly are they doing for us?

    Funneling money to the security-industrial complex and keeping people good and scared. They were never intended to accomplish anything else.

  10. 10
    matty1

    I was always taught that if you are flying with someone one of you should go through the scanners first and then watch the bags as they come out to make sure no one steal from them.

    Of course now I tend to be flying alone but good advice if you can do it.

  11. 11
    doublereed

    @5 colnago

    We also can’t determine the deterrent effect that the TSA has on putative hijackers. Clearly, the system is far from perfect but, given the bureaucratic complexities, doing better would require significant increases in funding which is a no no to the tea baggers.

    If there is a terrorist deterrent effect, all that would do is make them pick a different target. Or even just target the crowded security checkpoints themselves.

    @2 sugarfrosted

    Solid logic right there. “I haven’t heard of one thus they must not exist.” I do know that they have intercepted quite a few people trying to smuggle loaded guns onto planes though and if these people were planning a terrorist attack I highly doubt you’d be able to tell the difference.

    You can find many examples of people evading TSA security. It’s not even that difficult. Hell, you could even just make improvised weapons once you get past the checkpoint. Just google it. It’s stupid easy.

    As for the TSA, maybe they should try hiring people who aren’t the total dregs of society? That would be a good start.

  12. 12
    colnago80

    Re doublereed @ #11

    As for the TSA, maybe they should try hiring people who aren’t the total dregs of society? That would be a good start.

    That, of course, would cost money and the teabaggers are opposed to government spending.

  13. 13
    iknklast

    I’ve never had anything stolen by TSA, but I have had my checked bags treated badly, whether accidentally or with intent I never determined. Since in both instances what was damaged was my atheist books, I suspect intent, but that could be coincidence.

  14. 14
    timgueguen

    Canada Border Services Agency, our equivalent of the TSA, managed to catch someone trying to bring a gun on a plane recently. An American airline pilot, carrying what is a prohibited firearm in Canada in his carryon bag.
    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/loaded-handgun-at-airport-gets-u-s-pilot-arrested-in-calgary-1.2597084

  15. 15
  16. 16
    pocketnerd

    Thus Spake Zaraalanb, #15:

    This is from 3 years ago: http://www.newjerseyhunter.com/forums/91-hunter-angler-lounge-bar/92622-9-11-if-we-had-followed-2nd-amendment.html

    Woohoo, a hail of gunfire in a cramped, enclosed space at 10km up! Merciless Hell, I’m nominally in favor of gun rights and even I think that’s a dangerously stupid idea. But the dumbest part of the thread is a few posts down:

    I was watching a episode of All In The Family where there was plane hijackings going on at the time.

    Archie had the perfect solution…..”before you board the plane, they pass out guns to all the passengers and then you turn them in when you get off the plane.aint nobody gonna hijack a plane when theyre out gunned.”

    I guess she never noticed Archie Bunker was deliberately crafted as a bigoted, reactionary loudmouth — quoting him in support of an idea is evidence the idea is dumb, mean-spirited, or (most likely) both.

  17. 17
    EricJohansson

    Good timing with the warning. I am flying into Newark Friday to attend NECSS this weekend. Note to self: Keep all valuables and cash out of carry-on. Thanks for the heads up.

  18. 18
    Modusoperandi

    tbp1 “Incidentally, anecdotally Newark seems to be particularly bad.”
    Yes. And the airport is pretty bad, too.

  19. 19
    Marcus Ranum

    If you want to keep that iPad, you’re soft on terrorism!!

    I had a nice sweater vanish on one trip (and I know it was in my bag because I wore it to the airport) that was when I stopped travelling with firearms; basically you are supposed to label the case AND make sure it’s got a lock TSA can open. Um, duh?

  20. 20
    abb3w

    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

    There may well have been aphorisms older than the Latin….

  21. 21
    Area Man

    In that same period of time, how many terrorists have they caught? I can’t think of a single one.

    To play devil’s advocate, the main function of the TSA isn’t to catch terrorists, it’s to deter them. Success isn’t measured by how many they catch, but by how many would-be acts of terrorism do not occur. Of course, that’s impossible to know with any precision.

    That said, the opinion of security experts seems to be that the TSA is pathetic and that a sufficiently motivated and intelligent (fortunately, most aren’t) terrorist could easily sneak weapons or explosives of some sort onto a plane.

    This article is a bit dated, and one hopes the TSA has improved since then, but it’s still frightening. Money quote:

    Schnei­er took from his bag a 12-ounce container labeled “saline solution.”

    “It’s allowed,” he said. Medical supplies, such as saline solution for contact-lens cleaning, don’t fall under the TSA’s three-ounce rule.

    “What’s allowed?” I asked. “Saline solution, or bottles labeled saline solution?”

    “Bottles labeled saline solution. They won’t check what’s in it, trust me.”

    They did not check. As we gathered our belongings, Schnei­er held up the bottle and said to the nearest security officer, “This is okay, right?” “Yep,” the officer said. “Just have to put it in the tray.”

    “Maybe if you lit it on fire, he’d pay attention,” I said, risking arrest for making a joke at airport security. (Later, Schnei­er would carry two bottles labeled saline solution—24 ounces in total—through security. An officer asked him why he needed two bottles. “Two eyes,” he said. He was allowed to keep the bottles.)

  22. 22
    democommie

    @Alanb:

    My modest proposal after September 11, 2001 was to hand each passenger a cue ball (I changed that to a baseball, seemed more U.S.ian) . Then if someone decided to pull out box cutters, they would be faced with a lot of really pissed off people throwing baseballs. Having been hit by a few of them, I know how they can concentrate the mind.

  23. 23
    D. C. Sessions

    To play devil’s advocate, the main function of the TSA isn’t to catch terrorists, it’s to deter them.

    In other words, tiger repellent.

  24. 24
    Matrim

    I’ve had zero faith in airport security since I was in the military. I was coming back to Europe from Nevada after a month long range clearance (basically blowing up a bunch of undetonated munitions). I got through security, had a connection in England, and reached my final destination. I washed my uniforms, as I hadn’t had enough time before the trip. When I pulled my uniform out I found about 3/4 of a pound of C4 that I had apparently forgotten in one of my pockets (oops), more than enough to cause trouble. I disposed of the stuff properly, so no harm was done, but the fact it had made it through didn’t inspire confidence.

    Oh, and everyone I worked with knew you don’t check anything valuable, because the TSA steals. It was a well-established fact.

  25. 25
    dysomniak "They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred!"

    @24 Not C-4 but in October 2001 I flew from Oregon to Idaho and had my carry on bag hand searched twice in addition to the usual x-ray. Imagine my surprise when I finished unpacking and found that 8 inch throwing knife I’d been looking for!

  26. 26
    Modusoperandi

    Worse, the TSA checked me, found nothing, and let me through. It wasn’t until I got on the plane that I realized my hands are deadly weapons. I’ve got the license to prove it and everything!

  27. 27
    tfkreference

    Twice my wife has had the switch on a hair dryer in her luggage broken. How is a functioning hair dryer in checked luggage a threat?

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