TSA Watch: Who’s more dangerous — terrorists or the TSA?

For an agency that claims to have “zero tolerance” for criminal behavior, TSA agents sure spend a lot of time declaring their guilt.

I was reminded of that unfortunate fact a few days ago after a screener reportedly faced accusations of stealing $5,000 from a passenger’s jacket as he was going through security at John F. Kennedy International Airport. The agent, Alexandra Schmid, hasn’t confessed yet even though officials have it all on videotape. But a closer look at the TSA’s rap sheet reveals that often, employees accused of crimes simply roll over and play dead when someone points a finger at them.

Take Coumar Persad and Davon Webb, accused of swiping $40,000 from a piece of luggage in January 2011. They were charged with grand larceny, obstructing governmental administration and official misconduct. Last month, they pleaded guilty and were sentenced to six months in jail and five years’ probation.

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Speaking of theft, how about the TSA supervisor and screener accused of taking between $10,000 and $30,000 from luggage at Newark Liberty International Airport. A federal judge sentenced the supervisor, Michael Arato, to 2 1/2 years in prison and his subordinate, Al Raimi, to six months of home confinement, after both pleaded guilty.

Or Randy Pepper, the TSA supervisor who worked at Seattle-Tacoma, an airport with what many passengers would argue has the worst TSA workforce in the country?

Pepper in 2010 confessed to removing money and jewelry from the luggage he was inspecting, including sterling silver necklaces, earrings, bracelets and rings. Few of the items were recovered; most were melted down for the gold or silver content, according to the Justice Department.

And it’s not just theft.

How about drugs? Here’s a doozy of a drug trafficking case that involves a conspiracy to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana and money laundering.

It also involves Minnetta Walker, a Behavioral Detection Officer employed by the TSA. Walker assisted the bad guys in bypassing the normal security procedures, measures, and requirements at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, according to the FBI.

Oh yeah, and according to him, too — he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States and was sentenced to 24 months in prison last month.

Minneapolis TSA agent George Thompson pleaded guilty in federal court to assaulting an 83-year-old Somali man in 2010, a federal hate crime, according to the Department of Justice.

During the plea hearing, Thompson was said to have targeted the elderly man because he had a red beard, which caused him to believe that the victim was a Muslim and an African immigrant. During the assault, Thompson yelled that the victim should “go back to Africa.” Thompson admitted that he assaulted the man solely because the victim was Muslim and Somali.

Child pornography, anyone? Andrew Cheever of Lowell, Mass., admitted to it in December. Specifically, he pleaded guilty to having thousands of child pornography images and videos on his home computers. He faces up to 10 years in prison.

Why not fight the charges? TSA critics have long charged that agents who confess are let off with a slap on the wrist, and looking at some of these sentences, it’s easy to agree with them.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking — this is so unfair. I’m cherrypicking and drawing attention to a few bad apples, to mix my fruit metaphors. But some have argued that the crime rate among TSA agents is higher than the general population, and even higher than a comparable law enforcement agency. (Except that the TSA has no law enforcement authority.)

But these guilty pleas raise a bigger question. Given the well-documented criminal element within the TSA, it kinda makes you wonder — who needs protection from whom?

Are the jihadists who allegedly want to bring down another plane a greater danger than the agency charged with protecting America’s transportation systems?

Think about it. How many crimes again airline passengers have terrorists committed in the last decade?

What’s that? None?

TSA agents, on the other hand — and by their own admission — have assaulted, stolen, trafficked drugs and downloaded child pornography.

Maybe we don’t need to be protected from the terrorists. Maybe we need protection from the TSA.

(Photo: miss_millions/Flickr)

49 thoughts on “TSA Watch: Who’s more dangerous — terrorists or the TSA?

  1. How long before a TSA goon with Muslim/Arab sympathies starts looking the other way when REAL terrorists want to board a plane, much like Walker turned a blind eye to drug thugs in the Buffalo case that Chris mentions?  As we can see from all the thieves, sexual pervs, and general morons they employ, it’s not as if the TSA screens its new-hires…

  2. Anyone who seriously asks that question needs to load their kids up on a bus with a guy bearing an exploding vest.   Crime happens everywhere  – but to compare it to terrorism?  Your traffic must be down Chris.

      1. Oh, there’s a whole following of crazy TSA-bashers that troll this site.  Dude — they’re luggage screeners making pretty crap wages for putting up with everybody’s crap attitude.  Personally, I feel sorry for them.  And the whole idea of painting everyone at one workplace with the same broad brush based on the actions of a very few seems disingenuous.  

    1. Ditto. Your silly polls – with your desired response built into the lead-up to the question – have here become truly moronic. I’m back to following real travel news…

  3. By the way – keep these crazy articles coming.  It just helps TSA supporters label the opposition as nut cases. Sometimes I wonder if the TSA sponsors blogs like this to deflect criticism.

    1. Oh, there’s a lot of TSA-Crazies out there, and Chris is just feeding their craziness.  Things like a TSA screener downloaded child pornography?  And … did he steal it from somebody’s luggage?  What’s the relevance?  Yeah, he’s a scumbag, but what’s the relevance to the TSA?  Just because he worked there?

      And he calls their punishments ‘a slap on the wrist.’  Really – has he taken a look at what first time offenders normally get when pleading guilty to simple theft?  I’ll bet it’s right in line with the general sentencing guidelines.

      It’s not exactly news that some people are racists — but when that person works for the TSA, then it’s big news? 

  4. Your last pair of sentences say it all: TSA has shown time and again in the last 10 years that it and its employees are a much greater threat to passengers and America right now than terrorism is.

  5. This article is once more merely red meat for the TSA opposition.  It conveys nothing of value.  If the article were meant to be meaningful there would be some context.  What percentage of TSA workers have criminal backgrounds?  How does the percentage of of wrongdoings compare to other similiarly situated organizations?

    You can always go and cherry pick examples of bad or criminal behavior from any organizaion.  Without putting it in context we do a great disservice to TSA supports as well as its opponents.

    1. Here are the numbers: more than 600 arrests for serious crimes ranging from theft of passenger belongings, taking bribes, and drug smuggling to off-duty crimes including child porn, assault, and rape (which arguably bear uncomfortable resemblances to their on-the-job actions).  The TSA workforce is 60,000.  1% criminality rate.  Meanwhile, fewer than one passenger in a billion is a terrorist.  That screener you see is ten million times more likely to be trying to steal from you or get off on your scanner image than you are to be a terrorist.  And we give these people keys to our luggage?  The world is upside down, and I fear TSA screeners far more than I fear terrorism.

      1. At least you are putting some context to the numbers for which I thank you.

        The other information I would need would be how does this compare to other similiarly situated law enforcement agencies and in particular to the employees who do not have peace office powers.

        I would also want to know how you obtained the one passenger in a billion figure.

        1. How does it compare to “other” similarly situated law enforcement agencies?  I’m sorry, but TSA is *NOT* a law enforcement agency.  They have no law enforcement authority, despite their police style uniforms.  If there is someone they want to detain, they have to get the airport police to arrest/detain the person.

          1. Untrue.  TSA as an entity is a law enforcement agency.  Like any law enforcement agency, certain members have peace officer powers and others do not.  The rank and file TSA agent who screen you does not have peace officer powers.  But TSA also includes armed security officers who indeed are law enforcement officers.

          2.  I am not concerned with how the TSA compares to other law enforcement agencies.  If we learned that the TSA agents at airports were 10, 20 or even 30 percent less likely to be involved in criminal activity then other “law enforcement?” personnel, I would not feel the least bit better.  The issue is that, while the traveler is not there to protect his/her belongings, these agents have complete access to your luggage, your purse, your wallet, your watch and anything else of value that you travel with.  Because of this, it is absolutely necessary that the hiring process for these airport TSA agents screen out potential criminals.  Six hundred arrests of TSA agents means that the current process is an abject failure.

    2. TSA does a great DISservice to innocent travelers and to our nation as a whole.

      They deserve everything that comes their way.

    3. There were 62 TSA screeners arrested for serious crimes in 2011, including rape and murder. Eleven were charged with child sex crimes and four for smuggling contraband through security.

      So far there have been five arrested in 2012 and TSA is pace for another 60 arrests this year.

      Please name one other Federal agency of similar size, i.e. military excluded, with a similar criminal record among employees. Particularly one with such a high proportion of child sex crimes. The answer is that there isn’t.

      Even the most corrupt police departments in the country have never approached this level of criminal activity within their ranks. This is particularly disturbing in light of the screener arrested for stealing laptops in Miami last month. In that case the thefts had been ongoing for three years before he was apprehended. This is statistical evidence that there are TSA workers continuing to engage in theft and illegal activity but simply haven’t been caught yet.

      Sadly none of this is a new development and the long history of crime within this agency stretches back to its creation. This reflects the lack of employee vetting and oversight rampant within this agency.

      By encouraging and defending continued mismanagement of a large and critical agency, you not only jeopardize passenger safety but do a disservice to those decent workers within  the agency who are trying to improve it.

  6. As I have said many times before, the TSA is a agency that is totally out of control, that has usurped our constitutional rights & is just another step in this administrations (as well as previous dem & rep) to chip away at our freedoms & make us into a totalitarian nanny state.

    We do need to have airport/airplane security.  It needs to be done correctly, with competent personel.  Not with 10$ hr. idiots.
    This is not to say there arn’t good, decent people, trying to do a good job, but they can’t under this system.

    Profile, profile, profile!  Have people that know how to detect those who are dangerous. 

    For our country’s sake vote Obama & his socialist agenda out of office this Nov.  The US is doomed if you don’t.

    “Those that give up freedom for security will soon have neither” (m/l) Ben Franklin

    1. “For our country’s sake vote Obama & his socialist agenda out of office this Nov.” 

      It was the Bush administration that created the TSA.  I don’t think a change in administrations is going to get rid of the TSA.

      1. You need to read what is written!

        I specifically said dem & rep.

        That being said, it in no way changes what this socialist administration has done to destroy this country.

        If you think this admin will do anything except exacerbate this destruction your nuts.

        The only possible way to correct this is to elect people that read, support & will do what it takes, to ensure that the legislative, judical & executive bodies follow the constitution.

        This means not changing the constitution by judicial fiat or executive (read illegal) orders!

        Also, as I said, “we need airport security”, just not what the TSA is doing.  It doesn’t matter if its called TSA or whatever, as long as it is NOT an unconstitutional abridgement of our rights!

        Again, we MUST get rid of Obama & all his ilk or we’re screwed!

        1. I did read what you wrote.  I merely pointed out that changing the administration won’t fix the TSA.  I wasn’t looking into getting into a discussion about the merits of any one administration over the other, as that isn’t germane to the issue at hand.  My apologies if you thought otherwise.

        2. Tygar,

          Can we please stop with this “socialist” nonsense?  Have you ever actually read anything socialist??

          I’m a socialist, and I hate, loathe, and despise the TSA.  No one has written and spoken out publicly against the TSA more than I have.  I’ve been doing it for years.  The TSA and the entire National Security State are a blight on this country. 

          This has nothing to do with right/left, socialist/capitalist, or any other bullsh*t dichotomy.  Anyone who thinks it does is not only missing the point, but is playing right into our overlords’ hands.  Divide And Conquer — it’s the oldest trick in the book.

          We’re all in this together, people.  Our civil liberties are being trampled left and right.  Every time a civil liberty is taken away from one person, we all suffer.  For the 50th time, y’all need to reread your Martin Niemöller.  “First they came for the . . . .” etc.

          Yes, Obama has been just as big a disaster as his predecessor.  And I don’t care who takes the White House in November; nothing will change.  Because the Congress is craven and clueless, and so is half the population.  As long as people keep putting up with this abuse, it will continue.

          1. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck & craps on people like a duck, it’s a socialist duck!

            Like the Supreme Court Justice said: I know it when I see it!

            Just cause I’m an ol country boy Marine, doesn’t mean I’m uneducated.

            During my 5 yrs of college I did learn what “socialism” & “communism” is, & that “IS” what this cretin is trying to turn us into.

            To respond to your statement that nothing will be done; you may well be correct……but if we don’t get rid of him (& most of the congress), you WILL be right. 

            The only possibility to correct the TSA & all these other infringments, like the Patriot Act, is to fire these people.

            You are ABSOLUTELY correct in that if people keep putting up with this crap, it will continue.

            All it takes for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing.

          2. Tygar, I agree with almost everything you say.  But calling Obama socialist is so laughable I scarcely know where to begin. The guy is a corporate shill. Just like 90% of everyone else in politics. He’s kissing Wall Street’s butt so passionately, Michelle should be jealous.

  7. I use Ben Franklin’s quote enough that I thought I should refresh my knowledge of it.  So here is the exact quote so all of you can use it.
    “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety. “

    The question posed by Christopher is a comparison of apples to oranges. 
    A terrorist with a bomb has to potential to kill 200 to 400 travelers.  A crooked TSA agent is stealing valuables and yet has the potential to aid and abet terrorists.
    Loosing a watch, camera or jewelry is bad, infuriating, when the perpetrator is someone is a government official sworn to serve the public.  It should be dealt with severely and the fate of the TSA criminal advertised to both the public and the TSA agents.  The public will have respect for the agency and the agents will be motivated to honesty. Oddly, it seems counter productive for TSA to hide these cases out of shame.  I’d like to see stories of bad TSA agents, found guilty, on the TV news.   
    If ordinary civilian theft on civilians carries a sentence of 2 years in jail, a policeman or TSA agent found guilty should get triple the sentence. 

    1. Bad fruit? I think it’s time for tree cutters and stump grinders.
      Because of access and near immunity, TSA is the perfect place for criminal cartels to flourish. These are just the cases where someone was caught.

  9. Chris:
    Let’s get real. A few (ok, more than a few) TSA agents may be dummies and thieves, but they haven’t killed thousands of Americans and other people. I know that flaming sells advertising but it isn’t good journalism.

    1. Here we go again.  O woe are we! 

      Millions of people around the world suffer far more from terrorism every day than this country ever has.  Yet people here are willing to hand over their rights – and their human dignity – bit by bit, all for the illusion of “security.” 

      “The Terrorists! The Terrorists Are Everywhere!  Please Save Me! I’ll Gladly Bend Over And Spread ‘Em, Especially If You Tell Me It’s For My Own Good!”

      Congratulations, United Sheeple of America. You’ve done us proud.

  10. I think you forgot to mention this case which happened here in my “backyard”.

    STAMFORD — Three Transportation Security Administration
    agents allowed a drug trafficker to smuggle tens of thousands of
    dollars in cash and prescription painkillers from Florida to Connecticut
    on domestic flights in exchange for hundreds of dollars in bribes, the
    U.S. attorney for Connecticut said


    1. Could just as easily have been bombs and other weapons they were smuggling. TSA keeps us safe? Hell no! They’re just another terrorist organization picking up the spoils of Al Quaida.

    1. True.  But with the TSA reputation of being dishonest, and have already shown there are people in the agency who will work with criminals to allow them to circumvent security, personally I feel less safe flying know the “guards” who are suppose to protect us could very well be working with the terrorists.

        1. Well, that’s really comforting to know that all police departments are criminals. I am so relieved. Finally, we are all safe.

        2. TSA screeners are not law enforcement officers – or didn’t you know that?  When an agency hires from the bottom of the barrel, they get thieves and perverts.

          TSA doesn’t kill?  How many people die on the highways because they chose to drive to a destination rather than fly?
          “In a recent study done at the Naval Postgraduate School, Mary Elaine Kessler and Brett R. Seeley estimated that as many as 275 more Americans each year could be killed in automobile fatalities as a result of substituting driving for flying.”


  11. The punishments for the crimes are much too lenient. This sends a message if you don’t get caught look how profitable. If you do get caught, no big deal just a few months in detention. Say $40,000 divided by 6mo is about $6,660/month. Not a bad salary. It is the probable with our entire society.

  12. I used to read your column for travel tips and articles but now it is constant TSA bashing and I find it ridiculous. I get that you dislike this agency and find the process of having your bags checked and going through security a terrible burden, but I do not find that it ruins my life and I have found almost every TSA staffer to be polite and helpful. When someone employed breaks the law, they should be punished. But tarring an agency employing thousands of people by declaring that they are similar to terrorists makes you sound deluded.

    1. One article a week is “constant TSA bashing”? Sounds like you are the one whose perception of reality is skewed. Why don’t you just skip over those articles if you don’t like them?

  13. The “broad brush” that we can legitimately paint them with is that they are NOT highly trained law enforcement officers doing targeted intelligence but unskilled laborers whose TSA jobs are the alternative to work in fast food or retail. 

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