TSA Watch: Could you please define “accountability”?


That was the dramatic headline on TSA’s blog late yesterday announcing the firing of at least 30 employees, including two senior managers, at Honolulu International Airport, for “improperly” screening baggage. Actually, the luggage wasn’t screened at all.

Not that it really mattered. No planes exploded mid-air, thanks to their negligence.

It’s nice of the TSA to be talking about accountability. But there is much to still be accountable for.

Agents pat down mentally disabled man
How about this one? The Mandy family was flying from Detroit to Orlando when two TSA agents singled Drew Mandy out for a special pat-down. Although Drew is 29, he has the mental capacity of a two-year-old. They confiscated a toy and stopped his father from trying to explain that his son posed no threat to the security of the flight. Many of you thought the TSA should be held accountable at high level for allowing a humiliating pat-down to be performed on a passenger with virtually no security risk.

Have no ID, will not fly
What about Phil Mocek, the Seattle software developer who who was arrested in 2009 in for trying to fly out of Albuquerque. His crime? Flying without an ID. He faced several misdemeanor charges, all of which were dropped after recordings proved he was on his best behavior. But how about some accountability? Mocek is reportedly suing the city of Albuquerque, their aviation police and the TSA for civil rights violations.

The full monte
And then there’s Lynsie Murley, the 24-year-old woman flying out of Corpus Christi airport in May 2008. She was selected for an enhanced pat-down, and an agent pulled her “blouse completely down, exposing Plaintiff’s breasts to everyone in the area,” according to one report. Then the agents joked about the incident, promising to watch it again on video. TSA settled with her for $2,350, but no one at the agency was warned, reprimanded or fired in the incident. The best she could have hoped for, besides the settlement, was an impersonal apology. “We regret that the passenger had an unpleasant experience,” an agency representative said. That’s accountability? Come on.

He checked your bags and swiped your laptop
A former TSA agent in Orlando is accused of stealing $5,000 worth of electronics from travelers’ luggage while working at Orlando International Airport. Elliot Iglesias was stationed in front of the US Airways ticket counter and authorities allege he stole four laptops and a wireless modem from luggage. A co-worker reportedly caught him in the act, leading to his termination. Although Iglesias faces up to a decade in jail, I’m doubtful he’ll spend even half that amount of time behind bars.

All of these incidents raise essentially the same question: When it comes to the TSA, what is accountability?

Is it a word the agency is allowed to use when it’s convenient, but can otherwise ignore because it’s above the law? Or is it a core value, and is the Honolulu incident a turning point that signals a new era in real accountability for federal screeners?

Oh, who am I kidding?

(Photo: hom as23/Flickr Creative Commons)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on our help forum.

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