Troubled TSA heads into holidays with egg on its face

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By Christopher Elliott

Just when it seemed things couldn’t get any worse for the beleaguered Transportation Security Administration, they have.

This morning I reported on a new poll that says travelers feel the federal agency charged with protecting our transportation systems offered the travel industry’s worst customer service in 2010. Worse, even, than the nation’s airlines. But that is likely the least of its worries; after all, the agency apparently doesn’t care about its public image.

The latest incident involves a passenger who passed through a checkpoint with a handgun. Airport security is known to be porous. In this latest example, in which a loaded snub nose “baby” Glock pistol managed to get carried through a Houston TSA screening area without being detected, is shocking by any standard.

It gets worse. Last week, respected security expert Bruce Schneier confirmed what we’d suspected for several weeks. The TSA turned off most of its full-body scanners on Opt-Out Day. By the way, the current security procedures at the airport don’t work. At all.

But there’s more.

TSA lies

Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who soon will take charge of the House subcommittee overseeing the TSA, says he forced the agency to come clean on an incident in which a young boy who was given a pat-down at Salt Lake City International Airport. The boy’s father removed his son’s shirt in the video, prompting a loud public outcry.

TSA’s initial statement on the incident said the boy set off the alarm on the metal detector. This is according to a report in the Salt Lake Tribune. A point disputed by a man who taped the screening and posted it online. Chaffetz says the airport’s top TSA official admitted the boy didn’t trigger the alarm. The congressman went to bat to get the agency to correct its statement.

“I said, ‘You guys knew that at the beginning. You lied at the beginning,’” Chaffetz told the Tribune. The TSA’s blog now says that the boy was given a pat-down because of bulky clothing.

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TSA steals

Last week, Troy Davis, a former TSA officer was sentenced to three years probation for stealing electronics from airline passengers he screened at Philadelphia International Airport. The man had reportedly confessed to stealing five laptop computers and a Play Station game in March 2009 after a baggage handler for American Airlines spotted him hiding the stolen equipment behind an explosive detection machine. Davis pleaded guilty in October 2009 to theft from interstate or foreign shipments by carrier and theft by a government employee. (Related: What gives them the right to frisk Henry Kissinger?)

Another lawsuit

The TSA is going to need to hire more lawyers. Another high-profile lawsuit has been filed against the agency, this time by a breast-cancer survivor alleging the agency gave her an intrusive pat-down last summer. Adrienne Durso, a Carlsbad, Calif., resident, reportedly went through a metal detector at the Albuquerque airport on Aug. 25 but was then subjected to a pat-down. In a telephone interview with a San Diego TV station, she said the agent “heavily concentrated on my breast area where I told her I’d had a mastectomy the year previous and it just seemed to go on and on.” Her son, meanwhile, was not touched because, he did not have “boobs.” (Here’s how to handle the TSA when you travel.)

Apparently, the TSA isn’t getting the message. Not only is it refusing to back down, even in the face of fierce opposition and evidence that its measures are ineffective, but it is actually stepping up efforts to harass travelers. The latest victims? People using mass transit in Washington.

Isn’t it time to bring this madness to an end?

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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.

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