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)

  • It appears that accountability is interpreted differently in each airport. 
    What  baffles me is why the TSA is under the impression it needs to operate above the law to be effective, while hundreds of other agencies across the world manage to do it well within their law.

  • Tom

    What’s crazy in Hawaii is that they have TSA inspecting the bags and 20 feet later have agricultural inpectors asking about fruit. Can’t believe either job is so complicated that they can’t be combined. How about if the fruit guys also X-rayed the bags. Combining the jobs would also help keep the inspectors awake.

  • Sam Varshavchik

    I’ve said this before. This circus will continue until the sheep stop being a sheep, and refuse to pay for the privilege of being treated like a sheep.

    Some may argue that they have no choice but to fly. I disagree. Nobody is forcing anyone to get on a plane. Instead of spending one’s vacation by flying to some tourist trap overseas, do a road trip. If a job requires you to fly, there’s always the option of another job.

    Easy for me to say, well, yes. But my point is only that the statists will never cease being statists on their own free will. There has to be something to motivate the change in the status quo, disbanding the TSA, and return some sanity to flying. And the only thing that the sheep can possibly do, is vote with their wallets. So, you can either stop flying, or be prepared for an impromptu prostate exam every time you fly, and stop complaining about it. Well, you are free to complain, of course, but please don’t bear any illusions that your complaints will have any effect.

    The only effect that could possibly happen will only happen when a lot of people stop flying, and tell the airlines exactly why they’re no longer flying. The sheep have no leverage over the statist government. But the airlines do. If the airlines believe that they’re losing massive amounts of money because people are refusing to be subjected to this abuse, then changes will be made. That is the only solution. It’s clear as day.

  • Sam, indeed.  I, too, have been arguing for an economic boycott.  While I sympathize with people who must fly for work — many of them really do have no choice — there are still millions upon millions who don’t have to fly.  I’m one of them.  That’s why I stopped flying last year, even though it means I’ve had to give up travel abroad, which I love, and have to take 11-hour train rides on business trips rather than 1-hour flights.  Because our rights — the rights of all people — are more important than my personal desires.  But not everyone sees it that way.

    And people who don’t even understand the concept of economic pressure have already chimed in on this blog claiming the airlines have no power.  Baloney.  Money talks.  And it would talk in this case, too, if enough people cared.

    The rallying cry in this country once was “Give me liberty or give me death!”  Now it’s simply “Don’t inconvenience me!”

  • cjr001

    This also ties in with the “We’ll review our policies” after they have a PR blunder. It’s what they say EVERY time, but then there’s no evidence that they ever actually reviewed their policies or changed anything.

    But there’s plenty of evidence of a lack of accountability, from the top with Pistole and Napolitano, all the way down to the lackeys at the security gates who can’t find real threats on the scanners.

  • Guest

    You and the four other people have fun with that.  I prefer to do my job and get paid.

  • Guest

    “If a job requires you to fly, there’s always the option of another job.”

    Or maybe it just doesn’t bother you.  Do people ever think of that?  Did you consider that the reason this doesn’t get more traction is that people really don’t think it’s that big of a deal?  Millions of people fly every year, and really no major outcry.  There was more consumer pressure when MickeyDs changed their fry oil.

    I can at least understand why you would be upset, but I disagree and it just doesn’t rise to my level of dislike.  Fat guy wants to check my package before I get on a plane?  Who cares.  It just doesn’t bother me. 

    Funny thing about the other side of the argument is that they can’t see the other perspective and respond by calling names and criticizing you personally for your opinion.

  • Beachglassandseastars

    Consistency would be an interesting concept for the TSA to explore.  In the story about Drew Mandy, the inconsistency wasn’t between airports, it was between screeners in the same airport at the same time!!
    From the story about the mentally disabled man…. “The TSA took away one toy hammer, but they were still able to take another toy hammer on board the airplane. How did that happen?

    Drew’s mother, always prepared, had another one in her backpack and that already passed through security with no problem.”

  • bodega

    Usually luggage being checked go through Ag Inspections before going to TSA.  The xrays and what are being looked for are very different, so no, they should not be combined. 

    Ag Inspectors are employees of the government.  TSA workers are not.

  • “. . . the secretary general of Interpol warned that air passengers were at risk after the theft of 28 million passports and national identity cards. Ron Noble said Interpol was concerned that terrorists could slip into countries undetected because governments were failing to share information on stolen identities . . . last year 40,000 passengers were caught with illegally obtained IDs, with the true number of fraudulent travellers likely to be even higher because of a lack of stringent checks.”

    But let’s keep confiscating that scary shampoo and hand lotion and those dangerous plastic hammers, and let’s keep groping people’s “packages,” as “Guest” put it.  Because that will keep us safe!

  • “Ag Inspectors are employees of the government.  TSA workers are not.”


    The TSA is part of DHS.  All government.

  • bodega

    I didn’t think that those who screen were govenment employees and that those who oversee them were. I could be mistaken and if so, I apologize.  If they are government employees, then our vetting process is flawed as many with questionable backgrounds have been hired and then fired when found out.

  • marlee

    OH boy, Guest….
    No problem having a stranger probing your ‘package”?
    Picture this:
    How about probing your ‘package’  behind closed doors with 2 TSA male agents…one probing and one watching.
    How about having absolutely no control or rights over that probing behind closed doors.
    How would you feel after the probing that they order you to stay there until they check their gloves.
    This happened to me.  It was a surreal experience.  I could not believe it was happening to me.  I kept saying…”this isn’t right” to them.
    I went thru the body scanner and they found a kleenex in my pocket and then ordered the complete pat down behind closed doors. 
    They have authority and power over you.  Some TSA agents abuse that. 

    I bet that has never happened to you.
    Guess what…it can!

  • Sam Varshavchik

    Sure. That’s exactly what I said. If you don’t mind an occasional prostate exam, feel free to keep on’ truckin’. That does mean that you forfeit any standing to complain about being on the receiving end of the prostate exam, if you happen to be selected for one. Since you made the conscious decision to proceed, and you’ve stated that it doesn’t bother you, then you’ll never complain about it, no matter what.

  • Getting Frustrated

    Has anyone noticed that a lot of these TSA incidents cluster in certain airports?  I’ve had numerous problems with TSA at the Detroit airport.  They have violated procedure on several occasions.  In one case, a TSA walked up to me *while I was waiting in line* and PUBLICLY groped my legs and crotch without first notifying me.  In other occasions, the Detroit TSA has repeatedly told travellers that they must remove ALL electronics from their bags (even after this has been clarified that it is not neccessary).  Last time I flew I was directed to the upstairs screening “because the line upstairs is faster”.  Not only did the TSA lie to me (the line was much longer) but the upstairs had the backscatters machines turned on.   Hmmmm.   When I opted out, they forced me to immediately put my bags (and computer) through the scanning machine and then forced me to wait for an agent – separated from my work computer (I lost sight of it).  All of this at the Detroit airport McNamara terminal.

  • Brooklyn

    I don’t know about Detroit, but Albuquerque security was a nightmare even before 9/11.  It has a military base, and they would “train” the recruits on the passengers.  Add to that the fact that quite a few passengers from that community don’t have the means to fly often, and you get chaos; I’ve seen elderly Navajo ladies who don’t understand why they have to take off all their jewelry, cowboys who don’t realize that their guns can’t go on the plane…and the soldiers had no understanding of the local culture and the infrequent flyer. I don’t know whether the screeners at ABQ still come from the base, but it would be interesting to correlate problem airports with a nearby military presence.

  • ButMadNNW79

    “If a job requires you to fly, there’s always the option of another job.”

    Yes, because in this economy, new jobs are available by the dozen. /sarcasm

  • MeanMeosh

    Accountability at a government agency?  Surely you jest.

  • Chature

    The destruction of inbound tourism also seems to be a goal. Read this article, of which here are some extracts:

    “Cruise passengers tell of seven-hour security ‘revenge’ nightmare. Elderly passengers on board a luxury cruise have criticised US immigration officials after they endured a seven-hour security check. When a group of 2,000 elderly British cruise ship passengers docked at Los Angeles for a short stop-off during a five-star cruise around America it was, in the words of one of them, more like arriving at Guantanamo Bay. All 2,000 passengers were made to go through full security checks in a process which took seven hours to complete. The fingerprints of both hands were taken as well as retina scans and a detailed check of the passport as well as questioning as to their background. They were “herded like animals” and made to stand for hours in temperatures up to 80F with no food or water or access to lavatories. Some are said to have passed out in the heat while others were left confused and bewildered. When one lady asked in desperation whether she could use a bathroom, one immigration official is said to have replied: “Do it over the side, we won’t mind.””

  • EH

    Of course, accountability is interpreted differently at each airport. We wouldn’t want the terrorists to be able to predict what the TSA was up to, would we?

    (Note: I’m being sarcastic.)

  • Sam Varshavchik

    Yes, actually. I happen to know, first hand, that there are far more than a dozen new jobs available at the moment.

    Now, you may choose to argue that point, however there’s one point that’s not arguable: if you are firmly convinced that there are no jobs out there for you, then you will definitely not find one.

  • Carver


    Be prepared to be called sheep, sheeple, or any other number of invectives because you have the nerve to disagree with these  nutcases

  • I don’t think he – using the word “package” made it seem like the commenter was a “he” – was saying that everyone shouldn’t be bothered. Just that he, and a large number of those who fly, aren’t bothered.

    I can see that you are bothered by it. I know many people who are bothered by it. I get why people would be bothered by it. However, much like Guest, I am not bothered by it either.

    I don’t care if they fill a room full of a fraternity and make me strip naked, I’m just not that uncomfortable with being naked around other people.

    My overwhelming response to it all is a grand feeling of, “Meh.”

    I was strip searched by security long before there was such a thing as TSA. :: shrug ::

  • Janice

    I saw an interview of Jesse Ventura and he said he is suing the TSA for invasion of privacy.  Is this true?  What chance does he have?  I hope to goodness it is true and, if so, he is my hero!

  • cjr001

    I’m a nutcase, and you’re an arsehole.

    Now we’re even.

  • Yes, he filed his lawsuit several months ago.  Here’s an article on it from the New York Daily News back in January:

    Who knows what his chances are?  EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Center) also filed suit, quite a while ago, and that case is still making its way through the courts, through appeals.  Other people around the country have filed their own lawsuits.  I don’t have my list of names in front of me at the moment.

  • Welcome to America.  That’s the way to keep those tourist dollars rolling in!  USA!  USA!

  • LadySiren

    Those ag inspectors have been there oh, forever. It’s one of the ways that we work to prevent migration of invasive insects that could destroy agricultural crops both in and out of Hawaii. I wouldn’t trust the high school degenerates they seem to be hiring at the TSA these days to find anything (unless it’s worth stealing, of course).

  • This is the kind of idiocy people are more likely to experience while flying: drunken jerks.  But, true to form, passengers immediately suspected “The Terrorists!”

    British holidaymakers arrested over ‘vicious’ mass mid-air brawl at 30,000 feet
    . . . Passengers, including families with young children, looked on in horror as the row quickly descended into violence amid fears the plane was being hijacked by terrorists.


  • Anna

    Same here – well, except that I’m female.

    I’m don’t mind the pat-downs, not even when it’s a male agent. “Meh” sums it up pretty well.

  • . . . TransportationSecurity Administration (TSA) workers told investigators that screeners routinely singled out Hispanic men for referral to law enforcement under trumped up suspicions, in an orchestrated scheme to pump up numbers.

    . . . the report alleges that from early 2008 to late 2009, BDOs routinely looked for Hispanic male passengers, especially Mexicans and Dominicans, to see if they had proper visas or passport stamps.

    The Star-Ledger wrote: ‘If not, those passengers would be subjected to bag searches, pat downs, questioning, and referrals to immigration with bogus behaviours invented by the screeners to cover up the real reason the passengers were singled out’.

    Newark BDO Paul Animone reportedly told investigators: ‘It became a joke in the unit, these individuals were called the great Mexican hunters.

    Managers were accused of telling BDOs to ‘make up behaviours’ that warranted suspicion, in order to target ‘illegal aliens’.


  • Sam Tyree

    Sam, that’s a ridiculously broad statement and you know it. While it’s true that there is still a “Help Wanted” section in every newspaper in America, that doesn’t mean that any given person is qualified for all (or any) of those jobs. I’m not even taking a position on the TSA in this case, just pointing out that your argument is see-through. I don’t know what kind of work you do, but I would bet that if it’s of a professional nature, there are not “more than a dozen new jobs available at the moment” in your local area for which you are qualified or that would suit your needs (location, hours, pay, benefits, etc.).

    If that’s the best you can do to support your argument, then your argument has no merit. There are many reasons that people stay in a job, in addition to location, hours, pay, and benefits. I have a very good job with a company that I’ve been with for 12 years. I’m fully vested in the pension plan, I have a good reputation within the company, I have many friends and contacts here, etc. To change jobs because I don’t like the TSA would cause me to lose much more than I would gain. Instead, it makes a lot more sense to work to change the policies of DHS and TSA.

    Your take-it-or-leave-it attitude is un-American. If our forefathers had used your approach, where would we be now? Can you imagine George Washington saying, “We don’t like British rule, so we’re just going to leave OUR country and go somewhere else”? How about Rosa Parks? Would you tell her that if she doesn’t like the rules then she can ride her bike to work instead of the bus? Or, if you don’t like drinking from a different water fountain, then don’t drink water?

    The point is, there is a way to effect change that doesn’t require us to simply take it or leave it. Regardless of what people say, in this day and age, flying IS a right. So many people depend on air travel in their daily lives that it’s hard to argue that it is still a privilege the way it was 50 years ago. So when people make broad statements like, “You can always drive…you don’t have to fly to your destination,” or “If you don’t like to fly for your job, get a new job,” it just emphasizes that you really don’t have ANY valid argument at all.

  • Guest29

    Ouch, and I am in Detroit this week. I hope I get through security without hassle. I travel for work and own my own business, if I didn’t fly, I wouldn’t have work, but I also want this work because I love doing it and love my work and the travel, so my choice is to fly for work. 

    But I also believe that the TSA is going to far. I have been lucky to not have any issues, but while I wouldn’t feel violated if they did a pat down on me, I still think that their policies need to change.Wouldn’t one option is to have a protest in Washington where lots of people show up. But of course to get to that protest, you might have to fly to Washington. Damn catch-22.

  • More TSA antics, all designed To Keep You Safe!

    TSA on School Buses:

    Webcast Pushes Benefits of TSA Security Training for Student Transporters


    Second stowaway incident (that we know of):

    TSA looking into stowaway incident


  • TSA misses four sharp chef’s knives while patting down chef for wallet (hope they didn’t steal any money)

    A celebrity Chicago chef got stopped at O’Hare and patted down by an alert agent who wanted to make sure there was nothing dangerous in his wallet. That agent missed the fact that chef Paul Kahan had forgotten four giant, sharp chef’s knives in his bag. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure he did take his shoes off, and terrorists don’t ever do that, right?

    Chicago Chef Paul Kahan Slips Chef Knives Through TSA Security (via Consumerist!)


  • Texas Public Utility Commission chairman Barry Smitherman:  “You’re punishing me for opting out, aren’t you?”

    TSA agent:  “Yes, we are.”