The TSA’s little child pornography and predator problem

You don’t have to be a parent to feel utterly nauseated upon reading stories like this one, the details of which were just posted at The Smoking Gun (charges–two counts of felony child porn — were filed last month in a Maryland circuit court):

As cops raided his Maryland home, a Transportation Security Administration screener confessed to downloading child pornography, acknowledged that it was “not right in a legal and moral sense,” and stated that he has a “problem.”

The admissions by Scott Wilson, 41, came as Baltimore investigators recently searched his home after an undercover agent downloaded child porn from his computer via a file sharing program.

And you don’t have to be a Nervous Nellie to make the logical leap to asking the obvious questions:

Is this a serious systemic problem, and are these government employees–who are tasked with screening American travelers by looking at their nude images, physically groping their sex organs, or both — themselves being screened?

Or could this simply be a case where, as in any large organization, one or two bad apples will turn up, and sometimes they’ll display an ultra-high degree of rot?

Allow me to settle that for you right now (and I apologize that the truth of the matter is so disturbing): There are far more than a few “bad apples” floating around the TSA barrel.

Even as we, the traveling public, are expected to allow strangers to aggressively touch us–and, until recently, our babies and children — on any and every body part (and many parents report being barked at to “stand back,” or move to a different location, while this happens), we are clearly not being afforded the kind of protection from child molesters, rapists, and other sexual predators that one would expect. Certainly one wouldn’t expect an organization whose job it is to “keep us safe” to be hiring child porn enthusiasts, child molesters, and child rapists.

In Boston:

Andrew W. Cheever, 33, appeared before on a complaint charging him with possession of child pornography. Last December, State Police executed a state search warrant of Cheever’s former residence in Lowell. The initial search identified approximately 2,000 images of child pornography and several uniform items bearing the TSA logo.

In Spring Creek, Idaho:

The Elko County Sheriff’s Office was notified in July of possible sexual contact between David Ralph Anderson, 61, and a girl younger than 14.

According to Elko Justice Court records, the victim told investigators that on seven to 10 occasions between 2010 and this year, Anderson allegedly taught the victim about various sexual acts and had sexual contact in the form of touching each other’s genitals. […] Anderson, who is a TSA employee according to Elko County Jail records, is being held on $250,000 bail.

In Orlando:

Suspects include then-Transportation Security Administration agent Paul David Rains, 62, of Orlando, who no longer works for the agency.

He and the other suspects face charges ranging from child pornography and sex battery to lewd and lascivious assault and sexual performance by a child.

In Philadelphia:

A passenger screener at Philadelphia International Airport is facing charges that he distributed more than 100 images of child pornography via Facebook, records show.

Federal agents also allege that Transportation Safety Administration Officer Thomas Gordon Jr. of Philadelphia, who routinely searched airline passengers, uploaded explicit pictures of young girls to an Internet site on which he also posted a photograph of himself in his TSA uniform.

In Nashville:

A TSA agent has been arrested in Rutherford County on charges of statutory rape.

Clifton Lyles was arrested by U.S. Marshals Tuesday night, following a grand jury indictment.

In Londonderry, New Hampshire:

A TSA employee who worked at Manchester Boston Regional Airport has been arrested on five counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault, according to police.

Police arrested Dwayne Valerio, 44, at his 192 Rockingham Road home on Friday, March 18, according to Lt. Robert Michaud. Police released few details on what led to his arrest, citing the alleged victim’s age.

“The victim is a juvenile,” he said.

Again in Orlando:

A TSA agent has been arrested and charged with lewd and lascivious molestation of a minor after police say he tried to keep a girl as a sex slave. Police arrested 57-year-old Charles Bennett of Winter Garden on Friday. A 15-year-old girl was the one who reported him to police.

According to reports from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and the Orange County Jail, the 15-year-old victim confided in her caregivers that Bennett had touched her inappropriately three years ago when she was 12. She says he also asked the young girl to be his “sex slave,” an accusation investigators say Bennett admitted to in a written statement to police.

And again in Boston:

A Transportation Security Administration worker at Logan International Airport is accused of assaulting a 14-year-old girl.

Sean Shanahan, 45, of Winthrop is being held on $50,000 cash bail following his arraignment in East Boston District Court. He is charged with statutory rape, enticement of a child and indecent assault and battery on a person 14 or older.


And these are just the 2011 incidents!

It must be further noted: the vast majority of sex crimes — like enticement, molestation, and rape — are not reported (for example, only about one in six incidents of rape are reported). This is due to a complicated array of cultural and legal factors that includes misplaced shame (where victims, especially young ones, blame themselves), fear of having to relive a horrific incident in a courtroom setting, fear of retribution, fear of the perpetrator himself, and more. Therefore, we can fairly conclude that there were even more such crimes committed by TSA employees than those in the hardly-brief list above.

For its part, the TSA repeatedly claims to have thoroughly screened all applicants:

“TSA cannot comment on an ongoing police investigation, however, we can assure travelers every TSA employee is subject to a significant background check, including criminal history, before they are offered a job. Unfortunately, these checks do not predict future behavior.  This individual is not working at the airport at the present time.”

Translation: Hey, these guys don’t work for us any more — what are you worried about? Don’t blame us!  We aren’t fortune-tellers and you can’t expect us to be able to tell if someone is going to commit a crime in the future . . . oh, wait . . . .

(Photo: 00 Caffiene/Flickr; H/T to Bill Fisher for the list of 2011 TSA crimes against children)