Jason Edward Harrington, a former TSA agent who worked at Chicago O'Hare from 2007 through 2013, has written a disturbing tell-all about his time in airport security for Politico Magazine.
Harrington says, "I hated it from the beginning. It was a job that had me patting down the crotches of children, the elderly and even infants as part of the post-9/11 airport security show. I confiscated jars of homemade apple butter on the pretense that they could pose threats to national security. I was even required to confiscate nail clippers from airline pilots—the implied logic being that pilots could use the nail clippers to hijack the very planes they were flying."
He took issue with much of the security theater that TSA agents had to perform in, citing an incident in 2008, where he had to "confiscate a bottle of alcohol from a group of Marines coming home from Afghanistan. It was celebration champagne intended for one of the men in the group—a young, decorated soldier. He was in a wheelchair, both legs lost to an I.E.D., and it fell to me to tell this kid who would never walk again that his homecoming champagne had to be taken away in the name of national security."
Harrington confirmed that TSA officers were instructed to pull aside passengers with passports from certain countries (Syria, Algeria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Cuba, Lebanon-Libya, Somalia-Sudan and People's Republic of North Korea) for full-body pat-downs and luggage searches.
Harrington gave a good reminder of why you should always be polite and nice to TSA officers, saying, "we would also sometimes pull a passenger's bag or give a pat down because he or she was rude." So next time you get a "random search" realize that it might not be so random after all.
Perhaps the most disturbing allegations that Harrington makes are in regard to the Rapiscan full-body scanners (which are no longer in use at airports). He claims that the TSA knew that the full-body scanners didn't work before they were even installed. Harrington recalls the training class that TSA officers took on the machines. He writes, "At the conclusion of our crash course, one of the officers in our class asked (the instructor) to tell us, off the record, what he really thought about the machines. 'They're shit,' he said, shrugging. He said we wouldn't be able to distinguish plastic explosives from body fat and that guns were practically invisible if they were turned sideways in a pocket."
Harrington went on, "Officers discovered that the machines were good at detecting just about everything besides cleverly hidden explosives and guns. The only thing more absurd than how poorly the full-body scanners performed was the incredible amount of time the machines wasted for everyone."
Harrington also confirmed many travelers' fears that the body scanners showed everything, stating, "Many of the images we gawked at were of overweight people, their every fold and dimple on full awful display." He claimed that the Image Operator rooms, where TSA agents are supposed to screen the body scanner images, were used as a place to slack off or engage in secret hookups between agents, as no CCTV cameras were allowed in the room, due to privacy concerns over passenger images.
The article, on Politico.com, is definitely worth a read, if only so you can learn the code words that Harrington says TSA officers use to talk about passengers right in front of them.
Politico published a response from the TSA, which said, "many of the TSA procedures and policies referenced in this article are no longer in place or are characterized inaccurately...Every passenger deserves to be treated with dignity and respect and Transportation Security Administration policy upholds this standard. TSA does not tolerate any form of unethical or unlawful behavior by its employees and takes swift disciplinary action if discovered."
What did you think of this tell all? Voice your opinions in the comments.
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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title TSA Agent: We Saw (and Mocked) Naked Passengers.