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TSA Transportation Security Officer takes a nap at New York's LaGuardia Airport while on duty (photo by Bucky Turco included in Rep. Marsha Blackburn's report)

Some might consider it one of the most important jobs in America after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks: Protecting the nation’s airports, airplanes and citizens from would-be terrorists hell-bent on mass murder.

But the TSA screeners patting you down and combing through your belongings don’t have federal law-enforcement training, may earn about as much as a McDonald’s shift manager and are not required to possess a high-school diploma or GED.

In fact, they might even be criminals.

If recent news reports are any indication, many Americans can’t even trust that TSA’s screeners won’t steal their laptops, money or jewelry.

What does it take to work for the TSA?

In May 2012, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., released a report titled, “‘Not on My Watch’: 50 Failures of TSA’s Transportation Security Officers.”

“While in the last decade TSA has employed many dedicated public servants who truly have a deep desire to serve our country, they have also hired an alarming number of individuals who in many cases would never have passed a simple background check,” Blackburn’s report stated.

“This problem has only exacerbated itself since 2005 when TSA administratively reclassified airport security screeners as Transportation Security Officers. To make matters worse, TSA upgraded TSOs uniforms to reflect those of federal law enforcement officers, complete with metal officer badges. Despite their new title of officer, TSOs receive zero federal law enforcement training and … many TSOs have displayed little respect for the titles they hold and the uniforms they wear.”

A recent search of job postings revealed the Transportation Security Officer positions come with a salary as low as $29,131 per year and are open to U.S. citizens and U.S. nationals.

TSA lists key requirements for the position of TSO, including:

  • a background investigation, including a credit and criminal check
  • a drug screening and medical evaluation
  • no debt defaults of $7,500 or more (except for some bankruptcies)
  • no delinquent federal or state taxes or past-due child support payments
  • males must be registered for Selective Service
  • must be a U.S. citizen or U.S. national at time of application
  • must be at least 18 at the time of application
  • must be English proficient
  • must have a high-school diploma, a GED –or – “at least one year of full-time work experience in the security industry, aviation screening, or as an X-ray technician.”

TSA made headlines in July 2010 when it was discovered the agency was advertising its open positions in Washington, D.C., area airports on the tops of pizza boxes.

Pizza box with a TSA job ad (photo: WTOP/Federal News Radio)

Its ad slogan? “A career where X-ray vision and federal benefits come standard.”

The blogosphere went wild when TSA reportedly posted a screener position in the Ann Arbor, Mich., edition of Craigslist, encouraging applicants to “Be part of a imperious [sic] security team protecting airports and skies as you proudly establish your future.”

Several bloggers noted that the job description appears accurate, since the dictionary definition of “imperious” is “overbearing, arrogant, domineering.”

TSA’s recruitment video describes screeners as “dedicated to America and Americans.”

“[TSOs] have to be able to concentrate and focus on the job at hand without being distracted, even when the airport is loud and busy,” it states. “And they have to be able to live up to the expectations of travelers, of TSA, and of their teammates.”

One female TSO emphasizes the “customer service” aspect of the job:

“TSA, I believe, expects me to be polite, professional, courteous to passengers, respect the passenger. You want to provide customer service as well as security.”

However, a recent survey conducted by Frequent Business Traveler revealed 90.8 percent of frequent fliers think TSA is doing either a fair or poor job of managing security screenings at the nation’s airports.

Also in the video, a male TSO warns prospective agents not to attempt to arrest airline passengers:

“When you’re a transportation security officer, you’re not a police officer. So it’s very important to keep that distinction. Obviously, as a police officer, you have arrest authority. And as a transportation security officer, you do not have that authority. So you never want to cross the boundaries, and it’s just important that you operate in the confines of the security-officer aspect of the job.”

Another agent shares the touchy-feely aspect of the job:

“Our job requires you to touch people, touch their bags. Sometimes people are uncomfortable. They don’t want you touching anything that belongs to them. We just try to talk to them calmly, politely, explain what we’re going to do before we touch them. That usually makes them feel a lot better … Then we can do things privately if they’re more uncomfortable being out in the open.”

TSA screeners breaking the law & harassing Americans

But Blackburn’s report detailed 50 crimes for which TSA employees had been arrested from 2005-2012. TSA agents had been arrested for:

  • theft,
  • stealing $500 from a wheelchair-bound passenger,
  • stealing painkillers from a passenger,
  • accepting bribes,
  • aggravated felonious sexual assault,
  • assaulting a man for taking a parking spot,
  • threatening a man with a baseball bat,
  • stealing nearly $40,000 from checked baggage,
  • assisting drug traffickers through security checkpoints,
  • murdering a woman by stabbing her to death,
  • smuggling marijuana,
  • drunken driving on the wrong side of the road,
  • impersonating a federal officer,
  • running a meth lab
  • and distributing tens of thousands of oxycodone painkillers for illegal sale.

The most common offenses in the report included theft of money and laptops and trafficking child pornography.

One agent allegedly wore his uniform and displayed a badge before sexually assaulting a woman before fleeing on foot. Another TSA agent was arrested for kidnapping a woman and sexually assaulting her. At least four of the agents in the report were arrested for sexually assaulting young girls.

One agent wore her uniform while she sold heroin near a local elementary school.

Two agents were arrested for illegally carrying guns into airports.

More recently, TSA screeners made headlines when they were accused of traumatizing a disabled toddler in a wheelchair.

TSA reportedly banished a 56-year-old rape victim from an airport for refusing a pat down.

One TSA agent – who was arrested twice for stealing – remained on the job. TSA agents have been caught stealing iPads, iPods, iPhones and headphones. Pythias Brown, an agent convicted of stealing $800,000 worth of items from travelers at Newark Liberty International Airport, admitted that theft is “commonplace” among members of airport security. “It was so easy,” he said. “I walked right out of the checkpoint with a Nintendo Wii in my hand. Nobody said a word.”

One TSA screener was even arrested for allegedly beating his 75-year-old mother.

Another agent was arrested for attacking a pilot with hot coffee after the pilot asked the agent to stop swearing in front of travelers.

According to reports, TSA screeners slammed a woman into a table, pulled an elderly man’s pants down, told a child to remove his leg braces, strip-searched a young boy and a forced a passenger to remove her nipple ring with pliers. One breast cancer survivor was purportedly told to remove her prosthetic breast.

Renowned German cellist Alban Gerhardt recently complained that TSA had destroyed his bow and cello.

A frequent traveler became so frustrated with TSA’s screening process that he removed all of his clothing for the procedure in protest of the “harassment”:

In October, TSA announced it would fire 25 agents and suspend 19 others at Liberty International Airport in Newark, N.J., for failing to follow established screening procedures.

Screeners have also been known to wave large chef’s knives, box cutters and razor blades through security, while others confiscated plastic toys from a mentally disabled man. (Even TSA’s scanners have been rejected for use at prisons because testing revealed the machines failed to detect a full 43 percent of objects such as drugs, scissors and knives.)

WND provided a list of these incidents and arrests to TSA and asked, “Why is this problem of employing criminals plaguing your agency?” TSA was also asked whether it is conducting thorough background checks of its employees or taking any steps to prevent TSOs from engaging in criminal behavior. The agency has not responded to WND’s request for comment.

TSA maintains a blog, where employees post images of the items they confiscate. Obviously discontent with the job performance of TSA screeners, several people have posted comments to the blog, including:

  •  Why no mention of the three airports in the news this week with substantial missing property? Either TSA employees are robbing people blind or baggage handlers are. … Seeing as how TSA has refused to act responsibly and screen airport workers, the chances are that something will get loaded someday that will destroy the aircraft and all souls on board. All while TSA is harassing innocent passengers, grabbing travelers crotches, and confiscating their harmless water. TSA = FAIL
  • So why do you need body scanners again?
  • How many terrorist found this week? How many terrorist plots foiled?
  • By the TSA’s own admission they only stop roughly a third of weapons at the checkpoints. That means that for the 30 guns found this week there were as many as 70 more that made it past the checkpoint and were on the airplanes. Maybe even sitting right next to you the whole time.
  • So it seems TSA is finding about 50 or so legitimate weapons each week. Sounds great, right? So 50 weapons in a year’s time is
    50×52=2,600 weapons each year. Still sounds pretty good, right? TSA needs EIGHT BILLION DOLLARS to find these 2,600 weapons.

Concerned individuals may contact TSA.

What should be done about TSA agents?

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