Who Is Watching The Watchers?

Airport baggage inspection information sign light panel giving directions in departure lounge
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Travelers report missing valuables

By Bob Nesoff

Airlines travelers are in a bind. As they go through security checkpoints at airports they are required to empty their pockets. Remove jewelry and stand before the X-ray machines that at one time looked as though they were taking pictures for a porn show. Today that has changed. The image on the screen is simply an outline of a human figure.

Passengers going trough security check at the airport.

But while they are standing in the machine, all of their valuables are on a conveyor belt out of your sight or control. As a frequent flier I am most nervous when my back is turned as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents have complete control over bags passing through.
And while not to tarnish an entire group of people, it must be said that some are not only petty thieves, but some are major criminals.

On one trip that covered four airports over several days, we were required to pass though security a number of times. Coming from McAllen, Texas to Dallas, we had purchased several bags of snacks in McAllen, intending them to be munched on in the hotel that evening. This was not a major haul. Three bags of cashews, dried pineapple chunks and dried peaches would prove relaxing as we watched television after a long and hard day.

As most travelers know the hotel room coffee is about one step above auto oil. If there are snacks in the mini-fridge, use them and the price could equal your room. So, we brought out own. They were placed safely, or so we thought, in a carry-on that went through the usual security check by TSA agents.

Relaxing after the long, hard day and the flight to Dallas, we sat back with the cups of Dunkin Donuts purchased at an outlet near the hotel, opened the suitcase to take out the snacks
Nothing there.

Passengers going trough security check at the airport.

They had been packed on top of the clothes so as to be easily retrieved. What could have happened. There was an anonymous standard note indicating TSA had flagged the suitcase for a random inspection. There were no guns, no hand grenades, nor was there a rocket launcher. There was only clothes and our snacks.

Not to be petty or accusatory, but there was little doubt in our minds that some TSA agent was munching on cashews and dried fruit. We did send a letter of complaint to TSA in Washington. No response. This must have been a regular occurrence and they decided it was too much trouble to respond.

Is this an anomaly? Heck no. A former TSA agent we know once took our grandchildren into his bedroom, opened a chest draw and told them to take whatever they would like. The draw was filled with all sorts of pocket-knives, cigar/cigarette lighters and an assortment of jewelry
While this may have been small potatoes, big oaks grow from little acorns. At one airport a TSA agent was arrested for stealing more than $800,000 from passengers whose luggage passed him on the conveyor belt. In Miami three TSA agents were arrested for stealing cash and other items from the suitcases they checked at security checkpoints.

Ever try taking a good bottle of wine or champagne through security? That is immediately confiscated and placed atop the x-ray machine. One agent was overheard commenting that it saved him the trouble of buying wine for a dinner with family that evening.

People waiting in line waiting for security check

To some frequent travelers TSA is referred to as “Thieves Society of America.” And that’s unfortunate to the greater majority of TSA agents who are honest and would never dream of stealing.

Security guards in major shopping malls are often derisively referred to as “Rent-a-Cop.” The truth of the matter is that they are hard workers who receive a salary that approaches minimum wage. They are often vetted by the security company that they work for. TSA agents receive a salary that is comparable to the “Mall Cops” and are minimally vetted by the government agency. The clearance for TSA agents is as follows: a high school diploma or one year of full-time experience as an x-ray technician, aviation screener or security professional. Not a big bite of the apple.
A security expert commented: “These are basically the same credentials to be employed at a big box store. That lets you act as the last line of defense to stop a potential terrorist from boarding an airplane. And that could be your plane.”

TSA officers are often part-time and earn the munificent salary of $37,696 to start. They must also be United States citizens and pass a drug screening test, medical evaluation and a minimal background check.

Beautiful curly Hispanic female traveler putting her personal belongings into two trays. She is standing beside a Caucasian female security worker. She has light brown hair and she is wearing a white shirt and blue jeans.

With all this TSA officials say that agents are held to the “…highest professional and ethical standards. OK. Whatever they say. With that all there was the theft of $8,000 of an agent arrested as he attempted to smuggle a large quantity of meth through Los Angeles Airport (LAX) for $8,000. There was the former TSA agent who spent more than two years for stealing the aforementioned $8,000 from passengers at Newark Liberty International Airport. He told a news outlet: “It was very commonplace. “It as so easy I walked right out past the checkpoint with a gamer set in my hands and no one said anything.”

So, what can you do to protect your valuables? Actually, it’s pretty simple. Put your jewelry and cash in a separate bag as you go through security. Hand it to a TSA agent and demand that it be inspected in your sight-line. Don’t leave any valuables in your suitcase. That excludes the obvious. You absolutely cannot take knives, firearms, hand grenades or anything that could be constituted as a weapon of any sort. You will lose that item and, in all likelihood, be arrested. So be smart and have a safe trip.

Photos are courtesy of Bob Nesoff

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