Entries in Airport Security (42)


Airport Baggage Handler Accused of Stealing $84,000 Worth of Belongings

iStockphoto(MINNEAPOLIS, Minn.) -- A Minneapolis-St. Paul airport baggage handler was busted this week after prosecutors say he was caught on tape stealing valuables from the bags of passengers.

David Vang, 23, allegedly walked away with $84,000 worth of passengers’ belongings over an eight month period.

Guns, jewelry and watches were among the items prosecutors say he stuffed into his backpack.
Vang faces 11 felony counts of theft.

Brad Garrett, a former FBI special agent and ABC News analyst, said it would be difficult to stop something like this from happening again.

“You basically can’t secure bags because of the sheer volume and the movement of the bags and the handlers’ ability to have the bags where no one’s watching him at any given time,” he said.

A second airport horror story was also exposed this week when a Delta Airlines employee allegedly breached security at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Marcelino Aponte, 31, was turned away by TSA officials because he did not have a boarding pass for his flight to Orlando.

Authorities say Aponte then used his airport security badge to get through locked areas and board his flight– completely bypassing any metal detectors.

TSA officials told ABC News they responded within nine minutes, however Aponte’s flight landed in Orlando before he was detained.

“The reality is if you work at an airline and you’re moving around through the airport from non secure to secure areas, you in effect do not have to go through TSA clearances each time you go in and out of a secure area,” Garrett said.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Government Study: Bomb-Sniffing Dog Program Bombs

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Is the government wasting big bucks on dogs trained to keep explosives off planes?

A new report by the Government Accountability Office says that many of these bomb-sniffing or "threat detection" dogs are failing the task they’re assigned to do -- particularly at high-risk airports -- while they cost taxpayers more than $100 million annually.

All this has come to light as the GAO, the main investigative arm of Congress, has secretly followed and videotaped dog teams at airports.

Deployed by the Transportation Security Administration, these dog teams are supposed to sniff out bombs during passenger screenings but the GAO learned they’re mostly used for training or air cargo.

Meanwhile, videos also show dogs unable to pass explosive tests in passenger terminals.

Responding to the GAO finding, the Homeland Security Department agreed with the report and called for more oversight of the program and its funding.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Wheelchair-Bound Preteen Held by TSA After Traces of Explosives Found

WFAA/ABC News(TAMPA, Fla.) -- A Texas mom was dumbfounded and angry when her preteen, wheelchair-bound daughter was left sobbing at the security gate at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport when reps from the Transportation Security Administration detected traces of explosive on her hand.

Shelbi Walser, 12, has brittle bone disease, and was flying to Tampa, Fla., to receive treatment on Sunday when she was randomly selected for an explosives screening on her way through security.  Tammy Daniels, Walser’s mother, said that her daughter tested positive for explosives when a screener swabbed Walser’s palms and fingers.

Daniels was separated from her daughter for an hour while the situation was sorted out.  All she was able to do was film the incident and her embarrassed daughter crying.

“It’s O.K., you didn’t do anything wrong, we’re going to get you on your way,” an official can be heard saying to the girl on the video.

Speaking with ABC News affiliate WFAA-TV, Walser said that she has no idea how the traces of explosive got on her.

“It could have come off fertilizer, because we have chickens.  I could have run through something from them,” she said.  “It could have just come off the ground, because I roll through everything.”

But the TSA is defending their actions after the incident.

“We are sensitive to the concerns of passengers who were not satisfied with their screening experience and we invite those individuals to provide feedback to TSA through a variety of channels,” the TSA said in a statement.  “We work to balance those concerns with the very real threat that our adversaries will attempt to use explosives to carry out attacks on planes.”

Despite the delay, the mother and daughter made their flight to Tampa. Daniels, however, feels that the screening was too much.

“I am by no means undermining our safety in the air.  After 9/11, by no means am I doing that,” Daniels told WFAA.  “But when it comes to children, common sense is not in a textbook.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Man Busted With Weapons, Body Armor at LAX

Creatas/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- A Boston-bound man wearing body armor, flame retardant leggings and knee pads under his trench coat was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport after a Customs and Border Protection officer found a smoke grenade and several weapons in his checked luggage. He is now facing a federal charge for transporting hazardous material on an airplane.

According to an affidavit filed in federal court, Yongda Huang Harris, 28, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Chinese descent, was flying from Kansai, Japan, via Inchon, Korea, to LAX on Friday.

He was pulled aside in customs for a secondary baggage inspection when an officer noticed Harris was wearing a bullet-proof vest. The officer asked Harris if he had anything he would like to declare in his checked luggage.

Harris told the officer he had a knife, but when his bag was searched, the officer found a troubling array of suspicious items.

In addition to the smoke grenade, officers found three leather-coated black-jack billy clubs, a collapsible baton, a full-face respirator, several knives and a hatchet.

Officers also found body bags, a tyvex biohazard suit, various masks, duct tape, hand cuffs, leg irons, flex cuffs, oven mitts and cooking tongs.

The smoke grenade, manufactured by a company called Commando, is classified as an explosive and is capable of filling a 40,000-cubic-foot space with smoke, according to the affidavit. The grenade is also capable of causing a fire.

It is not clear why Harris had those items in his luggage, but the investigation is ongoing.

Authorities say they are working with investigators in Japan, where Harris has been living, to learn more about why he would bring such an assortment of implements on board an international flight. LAPD and FBI are assisting in the investigation.

Harris, according to a Department of Homeland Security statement, makes his permanent home in Boston.

Though he was arrested Friday, due to the federal holiday Harris made his initial appearance Tuesday in a Los Angeles federal court and remains in federal custody.

He is scheduled to be back in court Friday for a detention hearing. A call to his attorney has not yet been returned.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


US Airline Passengers Claim TSA Ignoring Their Theft Reports

TSA(NEW YORK) -- Hundreds of air passengers reacted following an ABC News investigation into theft by uniformed employees of the federal agency in charge of airport security, some saying they were victims of theft and were ignored by Transportation Security Administration officials.

Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, called Friday for "a total reform and complete overhaul" of the TSA.

The ABC News report, which included footage of a TSA officer who appeared to have taken an iPad left behind on purpose at the Orlando airport, "is another eye-opening example of how this bloated security agency cannot properly recruit, train and oversee a ballooning 65,000 person workforce," said Mica.

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., a member of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security, said the report showed that the TSA had more than just an image problem.

"The bloated agency is so overwhelmed with managing its workforce that it has lost track of its real security mission," Rogers told ABC News. "It needs to become leaner and smarter."

Department of Homeland Security Acting Inspector General Charles Edwards said the case of the Orlando TSA officer, Andy Ramirez, has been referred to the U.S. attorney's office for criminal prosecution and that any theft involving TSA personnel is "a key concern."

"Our investigators have dealt with a number of theft cases while our auditors are currently examining the root causes and recommending deterrents to TSA management," Edwards said.

The TSA said Ramirez was fired Wednesday, one day in advance of the ABC News broadcast, in keeping with its "zero-tolerance" policy for theft from passengers. Ramirez was the 381st TSA officer to be fired for theft, according to the TSA, and one of eleven this year alone.

The agency disputes that theft is a widespread problem, however, saying the number of officers fired "represents less than one-half of one percent of officers that have been employed" by TSA.

Since the original report aired, ABC News has been flooded with hundreds of comments on its website and on Facebook from passengers, many of whom claimed they had personal belongings taken from their luggage.

Echoing similar stories, one woman wrote that she had a laptop stolen after TSA officers went through her checked bags at JFK airport in New York and said "the airlines and TSA have been zero help" in getting her things back.

Several said they opened their carry-on or checked luggage after a trip in the U.S. to discover their laptop, iPad or cameras were missing. One woman said that her 10-year-old daughter had all of her jewelry stolen.

Talon Windwalker told ABC News that after his Kindle went missing, no officials seemed to care.

"They were no help and basically just shrugged their shoulders. Didn't even offer to take a complaint," he said via Skype.

Dallas businessman Dirk Wenzlaff said he got the cold shoulder from TSA after his iPad disappeared from his checked luggage.

Using the Find Me app, Wenzlaff tracked the homing beacon on the iPad to TSA officer Clayton Dovel, who authorities said was found with at least five other stolen iPads when he was arrested.

The director of the Consumer Travel Alliance, Charlie Leocha, said the thefts in terms of dollar amounts are often minor, but still an irritation to passengers.

"It's less the value, it's the factor of being violated in some way," he said. "It's like you've got someone going through your underwear, for Christ's sake."

The Consumer Travel Alliance works closely with TSA, he said, and he urges travelers to always file a report with TSA and their airline when something goes missing.

"They are going to study it, and check into it. But you are not necessarily going to get any reimbursement from TSA" because it is often difficult to determine whether it was an airline or a TSA problem, Leocha said.

"In some way, passengers are kind of stuck, they really don't have any specific rights when it comes to TSA or the airlines," Leocha said.

For the ABC News investigation, iPads were purposefully left behind on 10 different occasions at TSA checkpoints at major airports with a history of theft by government screeners. TSA officers at nine of the ten airport checkpoints followed agency guidelines and immediately contacted the owner, whose name and phone number were displayed prominently on the iPad case.

But when one iPad wasn't returned from an Orlando airport, ABC News filed a missing property report but no other action was taken. It was only when ABC News tracked the iPad to TSA officer Ramirez's home that it was recovered two weeks later. Ramirez claimed at the time that his wife had taken the iPad but was later fired.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


ABC News Tracks Missing iPad to Florida Home of TSA Officer

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- In the latest apparent case of what have been hundreds of thefts by Transportation Security Administration officers of passenger belongings, an iPad left behind at a security checkpoint in Orlando International Airport was tracked as it moved 30 miles to the home of the TSA officer last seen handling it.

Confronted two weeks later by ABC News, the TSA officer, Andy Ramirez, at first denied having the missing iPad, but ultimately turned it over after blaming his wife for taking it from the airport.

The iPad was one of 10 purposely left behind at TSA checkpoints at major airports with a history of theft by government screeners, as part of an ABC News investigation into the TSA's ongoing problem with theft from passengers.

The full video report will be seen Thursday on Good Morning America, ABC World News with Diane Sawyer and Nightline.

"This is the tip of the iceberg," said Rep. John Mica, R.-Florida, chair of the House Transportation Committee and a frequent critic of TSA senior management.  "It is an outrage to the public, and actually to our aviation system."

The TSA said Ramirez was no longer with the agency as of Wednesday afternoon.  In a statement to ABC News, the agency said it has "a zero-tolerance policy for theft and terminates any employee who is determined to have stolen from a passenger."

According to the TSA, 381 TSA officers have been fired for theft between 2003 and 2012.

The agency disputes that theft is a widespread problem, however, saying that the number of officers fired "represents less than one-half of one percent of officers that have been employed" by TSA.

In the ABC News investigation, TSA officers at nine of the 10 airport checkpoints followed agency guidelines and immediately contacted the owner, whose name and phone number were displayed prominently on the iPad case.

Luggage checked at the same airports with iPads and cash went through security undisturbed.

But in Orlando, Fla., the iPad was not immediately returned, and two hours later its tracking application showed the device as it moved away from the airport to the home of the TSA officer.

After waiting 15 days, ABC News went to the home and asked Ramirez to return the iPad.  He denied knowing anything about the missing iPad and said any items left behind at security checkpoints are taken to lost and found.

The Orlando airport's lost and found said there was no record of an iPad being turned in on the day in question.

Ramirez produced the iPad only after ABC News activated an audio alarm feature, and turned it over after taking off his TSA uniform shirt.

His explanation for the missing iPad in his home was that his wife had taken it from the airport.

"I'm so embarrassed," he told ABC News.  "My wife says she got the iPad and brought it home."

Moments later, his wife appeared at the door to say she had found it and "not told my husband."

Asked how that was possible given that ABC News tape showed him handling the iPad at the security checkpoint, Ramirez shut the door and has not responded to questions since.

No TSA official, including director John Pistole, would agree to be interviewed by ABC News about the issue of theft and what steps TSA has taken to address the long-standing problem.

In its statement, the TSA said it "holds its employees to the highest ethical standards."

A spokesperson said Pistole has established the Office of Professional Responsibility to investigate allegations of misconduct and that most TSA employees are "honest, hardworking people."

Congressman Mica says TSA management has failed to properly do background checks on the employees it hires as officers, and had earlier this year asked the Government Accountability Office to do a full investigation of TSA's theft problems.

"[If] you're not vetting them before you put them on the job, and allow them to rummage through people's personal effects, there is something wrong," said Mica.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


TSA Detains Woman Because of ‘Attitude’

Education Images/UIG via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A woman who claims the Transportation Security Administration detained her from her flight because the agent didn’t like her attitude has posted a video of the confrontation on YouTube.

The 22-second video has 45,000 views as of Monday morning. It is posted under the name AirportVideoofTSA. The person who uploaded the video writes, “I was not allowed to board a plane (even though I had already been through airport security) because I drank my water instead of letting the TSA ‘test’ it.  The TSA agent finally admitted that it wasn’t because they thought I was a security risk-it was because the TSA agent, Louis Godeaux, was mad at me!”

Though the audio is garbled, the exchange goes like this:

Woman: Do you think I’m honestly a threat? Do you think that?

TSA agent: No, no, no but with your attitude . . .

Woman: Wait, let me get this straight, this is retaliatory for my attitude? This is not making the airways safer, this is retaliatory.

TSA agent: Pretty much, yes. [Inaudible]

Woman: Is that legal?

TSA agent: Yes it is.

ABC News contacted the TSA which said, “In our initial review, we concluded that this individual was screened in accordance with standard procedures.”

Though TSA has been testing liquid post-security since 2007, the issue made news last week when a video was posted of TSA agents testing passengers’ liquids at the airport in Columbus, Ohio.

“The test involves a test strip and a dropper containing a nontoxic solution. In case you’re wondering, our officers don’t place the test strips in your beverages/liquids,” said the TSA’s blog.

The incident took place at the Houston airport. The poster said she got out on the next flight. Attempts to contact the person who posted the video were unsuccessful.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Jet Skier Breaks Through NY Airport's $100 Million Security System

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A man whose jet ski failed him in New York's Jamaica Bay swam to John F. Kennedy airport, where he was easily able to penetrate the airport $100 million, state-of-the art security system.

Daniel Casillo, 31, was able to swim up to and enter the airport grounds on Friday night, past an intricate system of motion sensors and closed-circuit cameras designed to safeguard against terrorists, authorities said.

"I think he should be given dinner and a bottle of champagne for showing us our faults," said Nicholas Casale, a New York Police Department veteran and former Metropolitan Transportation Authority deputy security director for counterterrorism.

Casillo's night began innocently enough, as he and some friends were racing on jet skis in Jamaica Bay near JFK airport when his watercraft stalled.  After calling for and receiving no help, he managed to swim towards the only thing he could see, the runway lights at JFK.

Once he made it to land, Casillo climbed an eight-foot barbed-wire perimeter fence and walked undetected through the airport's Perimeter Intrusion Detection System and across two runways into Delta's terminal 3.  Unnoticed until then, Casillo walked into the airport dripping wet and wearing his bright yellow life jacket.

When he was eventually spotted by a Delta employee, police arrested Casillo and charged him with criminal trespassing.

"It's outrageous," Casale said.  "Why in 2012 do we not have a security system throughout our airports?"

This is not the first time an airport's security systems failed.

In March, a black jeep sped down a runway at Philadelphia International Airport.  That incident came on the heels of another in California, when a BMW slammed through an airport fence when the driver reportedly lost control.

Last year at JFK, there was a huge uproar over that same perimeter fence, when it was knocked out by weather and remained down for days.

New York Port Authority officials told ABC News this time around they "took immediate action to increase its police presence with round the clock patrols of the facility's perimeter and increased patrols by boat of the surrounding waterway."

"We have called for an expedited review of the incident and a complete investigation to determine how Raytheon's perimeter intrusion detection system -- which exceeds federal requirements -- could be improved.  Our goal is to keep the region's airports safe and secure at all times," the Port Authority said in a statement.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


TSA Confrontation Leads to Spilled Ashes

Education Images/UIG via Getty Images(ORLANDO, Fla.) -- A man carrying his grandfather’s ashes home from Florida’s Orlando airport is furious after a confrontation with a Transportation Security Administration ended with the deceased man’s ashes spilled on the airport floor.

John Gross was leaving Florida with the remains of his grandfather in a tightly sealed jar marked “Human Remains,” ABC Indianapolis affiliate RTV6 reported.

“They opened up my bag, and I told them, ‘Please, be careful. These are my grandpa’s ashes,’” Gross told the station. “She picked up the jar. She opened it up.”

Gross said the TSA agent used her finger to sift through the ashes and accidentally spilled it.  He said one-third to one-half of the ashes spilled and that the agent laughed as he tried to gather what he could from the floor.

“She didn’t apologize. She started laughing. I was on my hands and knees picking up bone fragments. I couldn’t pick up all, everything that was lost. I mean, there was a long line behind me.”

With regard to the transportation of human remains, the TSA web site reads, “Passengers are allowed to carry a crematory container as part of their carry-on luggage, but the container must pass through the X-ray machine.

“Out of respect to the deceased and their family and friends, under no circumstances will an officer open the container even if the passenger requests this be done. Documentation from the funeral home is not sufficient to carry a crematory container through security and onto a plane without screening.”

The web site also states it may be possible to transport the remains as checked baggage, depending on the air carrier.

“I want an apology,” said Gross. “I want an apology from TSA. I want an apology from the lady who opened the jar and laughed at me. I want them to help me understand where they get off treating people like this.”

TSA did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Former TSA Agent Arrested for Demonstrating Pat Down

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- A former TSA agent in Ft. Myers, Fla., who received a pat down she found intrusive is heading to court in early July to protest misdemeanor battery charges after she demonstrated on a security supervisor to complain about the way she was touched.

Carol Price, of Bonita Springs, Fla., was traveling on United Airlines from Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers to Cleveland, Ohio on April 20, en route to her brother's funeral in Cincinnati.  When she went through security, Price received a pat down that she felt involved "intrusive touching of her genitals and breasts," said her lawyer, John Mills.

According to Mills, Price went over to Kristen Arnberg, her former supervisor, to complain about the pat down. When Arnberg asked what she meant by intrusive, Price demonstrated on her, said Mills.

"She used to be a TSA employee up until 2007, she obviously knows the procedure," said Mills.

According to the police report, Price "did intentionally and without consent grab the victim and slide her hands into the crotch area" of Arnberg. Mills says that Price and Arnberg did not get along when they worked together.

The police report states that Price "attempted to walk away from the scene" following the altercation, and disregarded a Lee County Port Authority police officer's instructions to stay in the area.

Subsequently, Price was arrested for battery and resisting an officer. She is due in court July 2 on misdemeanor battery charges.

When contacted, Arnberg refused to comment.

Mills says they've turned down all three plea offers and want to take the case to trial.

"She doesn't feel like she's done anything wrong, and I agree with her," said Mills. "We hope to get a not guilty verdict and have her named cleared."

The TSA at Southwest Florida International Airport has recently come under scrutiny after 42 workers, including the head of federal security, were disciplined earlier this month after an internal investigation uncovered hundreds of random screenings had not been performed last year.

A TSA representative could not be reached for comment.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio