Beyond naked scanners: The TSA's 4 biggest scandals
It hasn't just been invasive pat-downs that got the Transportation Security Agency in hot water with the public. A look back at other controversial mess-ups
If the Transportation Security Authority was breathing a sigh of relief that the furor over its controversial pat-downs had died down, it ought to think again. New Jersey-based TSA workers recently admitted to shaking down passengers for as much as $30,000 — then bribing their supervisor to look the other way — spurring a new backlash against the government agency. Truly, the TSA and controversy seem to just go hand and hand. Here, the four biggest scandals of recent years:
1. Leaking security details onlineBungling TSA officials posted a confidential guide to airport passenger screening on the internet in December 2009. The 93-page manual contained easy-to-copy examples of I.D. badges for CIA officials and air marshals. This, plus inadvertent tips on how to "falsify documents," is the sort of info that makes life easier for "would-be terrorists," said Ann McFeatters at The Nashua Telegraph. No wonder the TSA is "one of those agencies we love to hate."
2. Pranking passengers with white powderEveryone knows it's forbidden for passengers to joke with TSA officials about the "bomb" they've hidden in their luggage, but apparently the TSA doesn't hold itself to those rules. A memo revealed by The Smoking Gun last November revealed that a TSA screening officer told a passenger that a suspicious vial of white powder had been found in his luggage. The passenger didn't think much of the "joke," and the TSA officer was later fired.
3. Cheating on bomb detection testsThe TSA uses undercover operatives to test its airport screening staff, but back in 2006, a TSA administrator alerted certain workers that such supposedly confidential tests were under way, supplying (via email) descriptions of the undercover agents. The man who leaked the information was eventually removed from his position. The TSA said the email was sent out of concern that terrorists were posing as transportation officials, says Becky Akers at LewRockwell.com. "Yep. That's our concern too."
4. Lying about secretly collecting passenger data Back in 2005, the Department of Homeland Security revealed that the TSA had secretly obtained millions of passenger records from various air carriers, including JetBlue, to test a passenger tracking database. It handed out this data, which included incomes, occupations, number of children and Social Security numbers, to contractors — and worse yet, lied to the public and to Congress about it. The saga showed "just how underhanded, untrustworthy, and generally incompetent" the TSA is, said Jon Stokes at Ars Technica.