Despite overwhelming Congressional and public criticism of its personnel and policies, the TSA continues undaunted in its public relations program, which many have deemed a propaganda campaign. Instead of addressing the documented shortcomings within the agency, the TSA opts instead to waste effort planting spurious press releases and making false claims.
Just this week there were stories regaling supposed improvements being made at three of the TSA’s most troubled airports, Newark-Liberty (EWR), Miami (MIA), and Ft. Lauderdale (FLL). Unfortunately, facts and recent performance contradict the rosy TSA portrait.
In the case of Newark, the list of TSA failures and crimes has become legendary. Aside from the frequent number of terminal evacuations, this is the airport implicated in the BDO racial profiling scandal. It also has the distinction of performing so badly for so long that the Federal Security Director, Barbara Bonn Powell, had to be replaced. These problems are supplemented by ongoing reports of thefts and criminal activity by TSA screeners, though this is not a problem confined solely to Newark.
Newark-Liberty Airport (EWR) TSA has had its share of criminal screeners, but there are plenty of criminal arrests at other airports, which we’ve written about at TSA News many times. The most egregious to date was a theft/bribery scheme headed by TSA Supervisor Michael Arato, who took kickbacks from a TSA colleague in exchange for looking the other way while the colleague stole money and electronics from passengers’ bags. Arato also dipped his hand in bags and came away with cash himself. It’s estimated that tens of thousands of dollars were stolen from passengers’ bags before the crime spree was stopped.
What EWR lacks in the crimes contest it more than makes up for by leading the nation in unnecessary airport evacuations. There have been ten major evacuations at Newark in less than two years, some extending for hours and collectively resulting in millions of dollars in disruption.
One was on August 5, 2012, where a woman suspected of concealing explosives (or maybe hand lotion) got tired of waiting and left the checkpoint, unbeknownst to TSA workers. She flew to Cleveland while the TSA emptied the terminal for three hours looking for her. This evacuation disrupted airline operations nationwide for the remainder of the day and caused dozens of flight cancellations.
Things have deteriorated so badly at Newark that even their staunchest supporter, Rep. Peter King, has put the TSA on notice to fix its problems or face an Congressional investigation. King, who heads the House Homeland Security Committee, perhaps has the most influence with the TSA since his committee controls the agency’s funding.
Of course, he may first have to wake some the TSA workers to tell them to shape up.
In another story, the FSD (Federal Security Director) for the Miami International and Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood airports announced that these airports, too, were improving security operations. The statements were similar to those made in the Newark story and are equally unfounded in fact.
While neither of these airports can match Newark in terms of bungling security and causing massive disruptions in the air traffic system, they have been able to carve out different niches of infamy. Ft. Lauderdale enjoys the reputation of having two screeners arrested for child pornography. The latest was Andrew Smeal, who was arrested on September 12, 2012, only two months after being hired by the TSA. He was under investigation by the FBI at the time of the hire, despite TSA claims of thorough background investigations and holding employees to high standards.
Another TSA screener at FLL, Nelson Santiago, was arrested in July of 2011 for thefts of electronics totaling over $50,000 and is now in prison for the offense. Another TSA worker, Toussain Puddie, was not as prolific, electing instead to simply pocket a $450 pen that was on the X-ray belt.
Not to be outdone, the TSA at Miami has kept pace in the crimes department by having several TSA screeners arrested for theft. The most recent was Michael Pujol, who went so far as to have his wife sew a pocket into the back of his TSA jacket so that he could hide the laptops that he stole from passengers as they passed through Miami Airport. Three other TSA workers, Christopher Allen, John Best, and Brigitte Jones decided to make some extra money the “Miami Vice” way by smuggling drugs through security in cooperation with accomplice police in New York.
Of course, not all TSA workers get in trouble at the airport. Some prefer to commit crimes for fun and entertainment. Just this year, three Miami TSA workers were arrested for extracurricular crimes. TSA agent Milagros Casanas was arrested in Key West after grabbing a phone away from a bystander and attacking the woman who was trying to get away. Two other TSA screeners, Jeffrey Piccolella and Nicholas Anthony Puccio, decided to shoot up their hotel room in South Beach while on a drunken rampage.
And then we have the gun carnival from Miami to Cuba. While the TSA is busy sticking its hands down your pants, it’s letting guns go on planes to Cuba, prompting Cuban officials to complain repeatedly and the TSA to issue its usual b.s. boilerplate response.
TSA officials tell us that America feels safer knowing that these agents are in charge of airport security. Perhaps they were partying in South Florida with their coworkers and are still a bit impaired.
(Photo: Flickr Creative Commons/renaissancechambara)