The government watchdog organization Judicial Watch has gone to court to try to pry loose from the Transportation Security Administration information about allegations from airline passengers of sexual assault by its employees.
The organization is following up on a Freedom of Information Act request submitted last March that seeks details of passenger claims of sexual assault by agents at airports in Washington, Chicago, Denver, Miami and Los Angeles in 2013.
“With 56,000 employees and a $7.7 billion budget, the TSA is a massive government agency that requires diligent oversight,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “It is bad enough that many experts argue that it is unnecessarily intrusive and ineffective. The fact that TSA would stonewall basic information about potentially egregious and criminal assaults on airline passengers is a further proof this agency is out of control.”
Fitton said the agency “now must answer in federal court for its illegal secrecy.”
“President Obama, despite his supposed commitment to transparency, continues to allow his agencies to flout our nation’s basic open records law without consequence,” he said. “When will President Obama take personal responsibility for his administration’s repeated violation of federal law?”
The charges began in 2010 when agents were ordered to routinely conduct full-body pat-downs. But the outrage reached new heights in January when the Denver CBS television affiliate documented Jamelyn Steenhoek’s experience, which led to a sexual assault investigation by Denver police.
Steenhoek, 39, said she was patted down by TSA agents Dec. 26 as she was escorting her 13-year-old daughter to a flight bound for Philadelphia.
“I feel like someone who works for a powerful agency that we are afraid of used their power to violate me sexually – to put me in my place,” she told the station.
“[The agent] did a pretty invasive search. They are just areas of the body I’m not comfortable being touched in. On the outside of my pants she cupped my crotch. I was uncomfortable with that,” she said.
“The part of the search that bothered most was the breast search. You could tell it shouldn’t take that much groping. To me it was as extensive as an exam from my physician – full touching and grabbing in the front. I felt uncomfortable, I felt violated.”
Then when nothing was found, the agent repeated the search.
Weeks later, the TSA’s reputation took another blow when TSA officer Jason Harrington penned for Politico an article titled, “Dear America, I Saw You Naked.”
Subtitled in part “Confessions of an ex-TSA agent,” he explained agents had code language like “fanny pack in lane 2,” for “women they found sexually attractive and who may be put through a revealing full body scan.”
In a followup article, Harrington, who assisted Judicial Watch in preparing its FOIA request, said the TSA’s infamous “nude image” scanners didn’t work and TSA agents “were making predictably awful jokes about passengers’ bodies.”
Further, according to Judicial Watch, a Government Accountability Office report just one year ago “revealed that misconduct is rampant among TSA officers.”
Judicial Watch said the report found that between 2010 and 2012, TSA officers “were cited for more than 9,600 cases of misconduct.”
“In nearly 2,000 cases officers were sleeping on the job, not following procedures, or letting relatives and friends bypass security checkpoints. Thousands of others failed to show up for work, appeared late or left their post without permission. Some TSA workers were caught stealing expensive electronic items, cash and other valuables from passengers.”
The report said the TSA “does not have a process for conducting reviews of misconduct cases to verify that TSA staff at airports are complying with policies and procedures for adjudicating employee misconduct.”
Judicial Watch originally sought, “Any and all passenger complaint forms (referred to as ‘yellow cards’), ‘To From’ memoranda, and Incident Reports filed in 2013 at the following U.S. airports: Dulles International Airport, Chicago O’Hare International Airport, Denver International Airport, Miami International Airport, and Los Angeles International Airport.”
It later narrowed its request to incident reports relating to officers accused of assaults relating to sexual misconduct in 2013 at the five airports identified in the original request.
WND has reported extensively on the charges of offensive behavior by TSA agents.
At one point, Miss USA Susie Castillo was reduced to tears by federal agents inspecting her body to make sure she was not a terrorist. And an 8-month-old infant was patted down by a federal agent to make sure it wasn’t wielding a weapon.
In Texas, lawmakers considered adopting a law that would bring state charges against TSA agents who become too aggressive in their searches.
The related fight over the agency’s use of invasive body scanners went to court earlier when the Electronic Privacy Information Center sued to force the agency to follow the rules.
EPIC noted in its case: “The federal appeals court for the D.C. Circuit found that the agency unlawfully deployed body scanners in U.S. airports. In a proposed two-sentence change to the agency’s extensive regulations, the TSA seeks to grant itself authority to continue to deploy Nude Body Scanners (‘NBS’) without establishing privacy safeguards. EPIC, which brought the successful challenging to the TSA program, is urging public comment on the agency proposal. EPIC is recommending that the TSA adopt more effective screening procedures. If the TSA continues with Nude Body Scanner program, EPIC said the agency should make clear the right of individuals to opt-out as well as require privacy filters for all devices.”