Business bans TSA agents – will more follow?

By | February 19th, 2011

KC McLawson works for a cafe near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, and since the body-scan and patdown controversy last November, she says her boss has taken extraordinary measures to ensure the TSA knows of his displeasure.

“We have posted signs on our doors basically saying that they aren’t allowed to come into our business,” she says. “We have the right to refuse service to anyone.”

Banning TSA from a restaurant. Seems a little harsh, doesn’t it? (Here’s an update on the story.)

McLawson (an apparent pseudonym) explains:

My boss flies quite a bit and he has an amazing ability to remember faces. If he sees a TSA agent come in we turn our backs and completely ignore them, and tell them to leave.

Their kind aren’t welcomed in our establishment.

A large majority of our customers — over 90 percent — agree with our stance and stand by our decision.

We even have the police on our side and they have helped us escort TSA agents out of our cafe. Until TSA agents start treating us with the respect and dignity that we deserve, then things will change for them in the private sector.

I wondered if putting TSA on the no-visit list was somewhat extreme. I mean, what have they done to deserve this? And then I reviewed the week’s troubling news.

TSA agents accused of stealing $40,000. Two New York-based TSA officers, Persad Coumar and Davon Webb, were accused of stealing the money from a piece of checked luggage containing $170,000 inside an American Airlines terminal at JFK. The charges include conspiracy, grand larceny and possession of stolen property. We already know that TSA has a little crime problem. But what about the passenger who checked a bag containing $170,000? Isn’t that asking for trouble?

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Another TSA agent pleads guilty to stealing. If you think that’s just an isolated incident, then meet Michael Arato, a TSA officer at Newark airport. He admitted last week to swiping thousands of dollars in cash and other valuables from unsuspecting travelers, mostly non-English speakers. He also confessed to taking kickbacks from a subordinate officer, who stole between $10,000 and $30,000 over the course of a year while Arato reportedly agreed to look the other way. Most troubling, the crimes were committed after passengers were subjected to “additional” screening.

And speaking of Newark. The Newark Star-Ledger last week reported numerous security lapses at the airport, including knives and other dangerous objects that eluded screening. Perhaps the TSA officers would have noticed the contraband if it had been wrapped in greenbacks. But the problems aren’t limited to Newark. An armed officer was able to get through a body scanner in Dallas without being detected. Let me repeat that: A passenger with a gun slipped through one of those controversial full-body scanners that’s supposed to see everything. I guess it only works if you’re looking at the screen.

Senate hammers scanners. Lawmakers passed a measure that would make misusing body scanner images a federal crime punishable by up to a year in prison. It would prohibit anyone with access to the scanned body images from photographing or disseminating the snapshots. Besides a prison term, violators could be fined up to $100,000 per violation. Interestingly, I spoke with a reliable source about the images generated by these scanners, and he suggested that they are very detailed. I believe he may have used the term “pornographic.” Why hasn’t anyone objected? “It’s possible that the resolution was turned down when they showed the machines to reporters,” he told me. Ah, so they really can see my family jewels in crisp detail. Nice.

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So why do passengers hate the TSA? Perhaps a better question is, “Why not?”

I asked McLawson if I could talk with her boss, but she declined. She says she hopes telling her story will raise awareness of the anger felt by small businesses across America toward the TSA.

“Maybe more businesses will step up to the plate and do the same,” she says.

(Photo: grend el khan/Flickr Creative Commons)

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