Louis DeBroux / April 8, 2013

TSA Foils Lotion Bomb Plot, Nabs My Daughter

One day last week, I woke up, got dressed for work, and hugged and kissed my 18-year old daughter goodbye, as she was shortly to be heading out to the airport to fly out west to visit a friend. I then got in my car and headed to work. About two hours later, I received a phone call from my wife, who was sobbing and inconsolable. It took me a minute or two to get her calmed down enough to understand what had happened; and when she told me what happened, I was livid.

It seems that my 18-year old, 5'7", 125-pound daughter was involved in a dispute with a TSA agent (my daughter is many things, but meek and soft-spoken she is most certainly not). As she was making her way through security, the TSA agent began going through her purse, and proceeded to begin throwing away personal toiletry items, including a bottle of lotion that exceeded the maximum 3.4 ounce limit by a few ounces. My daughter, who is extremely sensitive to perfumes and additives found in most lotions, soaps, and shampoos, has to buy this expensive lotion for her hands and arms. Seeing the agent throw the lotion in the trash, she asked the agent if she (the agent) was going to pay to replace it, and when the agent declared she would not, my daughter removed the lotion and put it back in her purse.

At this time the TSA agent removed her from the line and sent her to a second line for additional screening. Unbelievably, after waiting to go through the second security line, the TSA agent in that line did not bother to even check her bag. It should also be noted that my daughter had these exact same items in her purse two months ago when she took the exact same flight. So, did the TSA catch a terrorist that day? No, but they did make my daughter miss her flight, which precipitated the call from my wife, who felt like an awful mother for leaving my daughter (who, not being a regular airline passenger, was now crying and confused and unsure what to do next) at the airport by herself. So now I found myself trying to console my wife (and explain to her that it is pointless to go back to the airport because she will not make it to my daughter without a boarding pass), and my daughter (who now thinks she can’t go see her friend and has lost the cost of the ticket that she paid for with her own money).

Tragically, this is just one personal anecdote out of thousands that occur each day at airports across the United States. And to what end? The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was created shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, ostensibly because a single government agency would do a better job or coordinating security needs than a disparate group. But has that been the case? In the decade since the TSA was established, its budget has skyrocketed by 63%, and it has ballooned to nearly 60,000 employees, yet we are no more safe, and arguably less so, than we were a decade ago. We waste massive resources looking in all the wrong places.

Now, it would be one thing if taxpayers were spending billions of dollars to hire the most astute, dedicated people possible to protect us from those who would do us harm. However, as with any bloated government bureaucracy, there are a certain number of hard-working, diligent, intelligent agents…and a bunch of bureaucratic hacks who couldn’t survive in the private sector and were lured by the enticement of getting paid a nice government salary, with nice government benefits, in a job funded by taxpayers (and therefore virtually immune from economic downturns and market forces), and the ability to push people around that can’t push back.

The stories of TSA incompetence and abuse are legion, from terrorizing a 3-year old, wheelchair-bound disabled child, to forcing a wheelchair-bound woman dying of leukemia to lift her shirt and expose her bandages from multiple recent surgeries, and making her do so in front of other passengers, denying her request for a private screening. There is also the fact that many TSA agents are thieves, looting passengers bags of high-end electronics and other expensive goods, like Nelson Santiago-Serrano, who was caught stealing an iPad from a passenger and later admitted to having stolen more than $50,000 worth of items from unsuspecting passengers. Of course, he was a novice compared to Pythias Brown, who was caught after stealing more than $800,000 worth of goods from passengers. To date, around 400 agents have been fired for theft. How many more have not been caught yet?

Maybe, just maybe, we could tolerate the horrific treatment and the theft by the TSA agents if they were actually protecting us, but they are not. They are making us miserable even as they fail the most generous definition of competency. According to a report by WSBTV Atlanta last year, because of a backlog in background checks, the TSA had been authorized to hire any employees needed across the country, even though background check had not been completed. We now know that some of these agents have been accepting bribes from drug smugglers to look the other way as drugs are brought into the U.S. A 2011 report found that there had been more than 25,000 security breaches under the TSA’s watch.

Former Democrat Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle once said of the efforts to unionize the TSA employees, “You don’t professionalize until you federalize.” Yet an internal report from the TSA shows that that is not remotely the case. According to another report from 2011, TSA screeners missed an astonishing 75% of explosives sent through screening at Los Angeles International by inspectors testing the effectiveness of security measures. By contrast, the private security firm screeners only missed 20% of explosives sent through at the San Francisco airport. Ask yourself this question…can you think of a single terrorist attacked stopped by the TSA? The Underwear Bomber and the Shoe Bomber were stopped by alert passengers, NOT the TSA. So what good are they?

On the other hand, if you are an airline passenger flying out of Hartsfield Airport in Atlanta, you can rest assured that if my 18-year old, 5'7", 125-lb daughter tries to hijack the flight, she’ll have to do it with a cell phone, a pack of chewing gum, and DRY, CHAPPED HANDS!!! Does she look like freaking McGyver!? Seriously, is there a federal regulation that mandates that TSA agents refrain from using an ounce of intelligence? Has there been a rash of disabled children, leukemia patients, old women, and teenage girls trying to hijack American passenger jets? I know it is politically incorrect to point out, but pretty much every terrorist attack, or attempted attack, of a U.S. jetliner to date has been committed by people sharing suspiciously similar physical characteristics and religion…and it ain’t Baptists or teenage girls from Georgia. Good heavens! Can we at least pass a law requiring all TSA agents pass a doctor’s exam certifying that they are free from the malady of rectal-cranial inversion?

The government says we need these TSA agents to protect us from the terrorists. But who protects us from the corrupt, incompetent, and tyrannical TSA agents?

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