How much worse can the TSA behave?

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By Christopher Elliott

When you’re on probation, you steer clear of trouble. You try to to avoid any appearance of impropriety, and you’re on your best behavior. Not the Transportation Security Administration.

The agency assigned to protect America’s transportation systems is on notice — from Congress, from its former chief administrator, and from the American public. But it’s acting as if it has an unlimited mandate and the unreserved support of the American people, two things it never had in the first place and certainly doesn’t have now.

(By the way, I’ve asked whether things could get any worse for the TSA in the past. I guess now we know the answer.)

There were two troubling incidents involving kids last week. In the first, a couple traveling with their seven-year-old daughter, who uses crutches because she has Cerebral Palsy, was reportedly harassed at JFK and missed her flight.

Her crime? After encountering two “exceptionally aggressive” agents, her father began taping her screening on his iPhone.

You can’t make this stuff up

My colleagues over at TSA News blog said it best: You can’t make this stuff up.

And then there was the story of the four-year-old who tried to give her grandmother a hug at the airport. The shocking details are here.

“It was implied, several times, that my mother, in their brief two-second embrace, had passed a handgun to my daughter,” the child’s mother, Michelle Brademeyer, wrote in an online account.

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A pre-schooler packing heat? You’ve gotta be kidding.

The TSA agrees. It reviewed the incident and insists no such thing happened. But what else would it say, now that the story has gone viral?

That’s not all

Here are the airport’s finest, accused of being part of a meth ring in LAX. Authorities in California have charged four current and former agents with trafficking and bribery, alleging that they received thousands of dollars in cash bribes in exchange for turning a blind eye on drugs packed in suitcases.

Can the TSA top that? Like you have to ask.

How about going after a U.S. Congressman? No problem. U.S. Rep. Francisco Canseco last week said he was assaulted by a TSA agent at the San Antonio International Airport.

“The agent was very aggressive in his pat-down, and he was patting me down where no one is supposed to go,” Canseco told a local TV station. “It got very uncomfortable so I moved his hand away. That stopped everything and brought in supervisors and everyone else.”

Congressman’s clash with TSA agent amidst congressional oversight

When the Congressman pushed the agent’s hand away, Canseco says he was assaulted. The TSA says it is dealing directly with the representative’s office on the issue, and has no comment.

It’s ironic that a Transportation Security Officer would go after a Congressman, since Congress has the agency in its own crosshairs. It’s considering a bill that would prevent screeners from referring to themselves as officers, for example. They’re calling for hearings on the safety of body scanners. And the latest Congressional oversight hearings have been anything but cordial. One representative is even asking for TSA chief John Pistole’s head on a platter.

As if that isn’t enough, former TSA Administrator Kip Hawley is attacking his ex-employer, calling airport security “broken.”

I’ve enjoyed the reviews of his new book more than the book itself. Here’s a write-up from the Homeland Security Institute, which has a long track record of being pro-TSA.

Former TSA chief Kip Hawleys candid admission and future prospects

“Now that Kip Hawley is out of office, anxious to consult, and needful of distinguishing himself from a herd of other such persons, he tells us what we already knew–that none of that stupidity increased security a whit,” it quips. “Put another way, Mr. Hawley has now seen the light, although he is no longer able to do much about it.”

Maybe we could turn this into a reality TV show called Hawk Cage Fight?

Passengers haven’t been this mad at the federalized screeners since the pat-down/body-scan fiasco two Thanksgivings ago. But no worries, Janet Napolitano knows just what to do. She plans to cross-train TSA agents as passenger advocates.

Let me repeat that: The head of the Department of Homeland Security thinks screeners can police themselves, thanks very much. She’ll even train them to do the job (with your tax money). No need for any outsider to try to help.

Wow. I’m a consumer advocate, and I thought I had problems with fake consumer advocates. But this would be even worse. The foxes would be guarding the henhouse, as they say.

We really want to believe that there are some good in the TSA, but why are TSA agents acting like thugs?

No one really knows. It could have something to do with the fact that it doesn’t bother screening some of its applicants, a little problem that it admitted to last week. But it’s also a safe bet their managers haven’t posted any “secret” memos encouraging their “officers” to be on their best behavior. (Read here on how to handle the TSA when you travel.)

Given the fact that the agency is, for lack of a better term, on probation, that might be a good start.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in Panamá City.

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