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Entries in Transportation Security Administration (24)

Tuesday
Oct232012

The Top 20 US Airports for TSA Theft

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Your suitcase has been tagged and whisked away for a security check before being loaded onto a plane en route to your final destination.  How safe are the belongings inside?

The Transportation Security Administration has fired nearly 400 employees for allegedly stealing from travelers, and for the first time, the agency is revealing the airports where those fired employees worked.

Newly released figures provided to ABC News by the TSA in response to a Freedom of Information Act request show that -- unsurprisingly -- many of the country's busiest airports also rank at the top for TSA employees fired for theft.

Sixteen of the top 20 airports for theft firings are also in the top 20 airports in terms of passengers passing through.

At the head of the list is Miami International Airport, which ranks 12th in passengers but first in TSA theft firings, with 29 employees terminated for theft from 2002 through December 2011.  John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York is second with 27 firings, and Los Angeles International Airport is third with 24 firings.  JFK ranks sixth in passenger traffic, while LAX is third.  Chicago, while second in traffic, ranked 20th in theft firings.

The four airports listed in the TSA's top 20 list of employee firings for theft that aren't also among the Federal Aviation Administration's top 20 for passenger activity are Salt Lake City International, Washington Dulles, Louis Armstrong New Orleans International, and San Diego International.

The top airports across the U.S. for TSA employees fired for theft are:

1. Miami International Airport (29)
2. JFK International Airport (27)
3. Los Angeles International Airport (24)
4. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (17)
5. Las Vegas-McCarren International Airport (15)
6. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and New York-Laguardia Airport (14 each)
8. Newark Liberty, Philadelphia International, and Seattle-Tacoma International airports (12 each)
11. Orlando International Airport (11)
12. Houston-George Bush Intercontinental Airport and Salt Lake City International Airport (10 each)
14. Washington Dulles International Airport (9)
15. Detroit Metro Airport and Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (7)
17. Boston-Logan International, Denver International and San Diego International airports (6)
20. Chicago O'Hare International Airport (5)

During a recent ABC News investigation, an iPad left behind at a security checkpoint at the Orlando airport was tracked as it moved 30 miles away 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.  Ramirez was later fired by the TSA.

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 of passenger belongings.  The other nine iPads were returned to ABC News after being left behind.

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 the TSA.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Sep302012

TSA Lets Loaded Guns Past Security, on to Planes

Scott Olson/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- After reports of two loaded guns making it past airport screeners and on to passenger flights this week, one congressman says "hundreds" of prohibited items get past screeners every day, a situation he calls "intolerable."

In one of the incidents last week, Transportation Security Administration screeners allowed a New Orleans Hornets executive to board a plane from New Orleans to Newark, N.J., with a loaded handgun in his baggage.

Hornets Vice President Joshua Richardson reportedly took the bag with the gun on his trip by accident, saying it belonged to his wife.

The loaded gun went undetected on the first leg of his trip.

While there are conflicting reports on whether Richardson carried the loaded gun in a carry on or checked bag, the TSA has confirmed to ABC News that even checked firearms must be unloaded.

However, the agency said it would be less of a security threat if the gun was in a checked bag.

New York Port Authority police told The New York Post that TSA officials learned of the mistake on Friday night, when Richardson attempted to board a flight home from Newark back to New Orleans with the .38-caliber gun still packed away in his luggage.

Just one day earlier in Orlando, TSA officers missed another loaded gun. This time, a firefighter had mistakenly left the gun in her purse and carried it right through security screening and on to her plane. The firefighter realized on her own what had happened and alerted authorities.

Rep. John Mica, the Florida Republican who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told WFTV he believes the mishaps at TSA that are coming to light now are just an indication of the true scope of the security threat.

"Unfortunately the reports I get, it's not just this one weapon. It's hundreds of items every day," Mica said. "It can't be tolerated."

In Dallas, the TSA couldn't keep up with a 65-year old grandmother who also had a gun get by screeners in January.

"It makes me feel concerned about what's really going on," passenger Michael McCullough said at the time.

In a statement to ABC News, the TSA stressed its many successes.

"TSA screens nearly 2 million people every day, including their carry-on and checked luggage. An average four firearms are intercepted every day at airport checkpoints. This year alone, travelers have attempted to carry nearly 1,100 weapons through security and into the sterile area, attempts thwarted by TSA Officers," an agency spokesman said.

The agency stressed it takes incidents like these seriously and is conducting a full review of each.

ABC has also confirmed the officer who allowed the Orlando firefighter to pass through security with a loaded gun, has been removed from screening duties pending an ongoing review and possible further disciplinary action.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Sep272012

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

Tuesday
Jun052012

Florida TSA Workers Fired, Suspended for Not Doing Random Screenings

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(FORT MYERS, Fla.) -- Five Transportation Security Administration workers at a Florida airport have been fired and another 38 have been suspended for failing to perform random screenings last year.

The incident occurred during the late shift and affected up to 400 passengers over two months at Southwest Florida International Airport, according to the TSA.  At the time, all passengers and bags were screened, but random screenings were not conducted.

The security issue was brought to the attention of officials by a TSA employee who was hired last year and noticed procedures were not being followed properly.

The 43 employees were disciplined last Friday and can appeal their terminations and suspensions.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Feb082012

TSA Head: After Air Marshal Allegations 'People Were Fired'

Scott Olson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The head of the Transportation Security Administration said Wednesday that people were fired after an investigation into allegations of sexism, bigotry and incompetence in the Federal Air Marshal Service -- charges described in a government report obtained by ABC News.

"In terms of addressing those issues, obviously, a number of personnel changes were made," TSA Administrator John Pistole told reporters Wednesday. "Several people were fired. Some people resigned. New management was brought in in several locations to address both the perception and the reality of the situation."

Pistole's comments came after an ABC News Nightline report Tuesday evening, which featured the findings from an investigation by the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General's Office into several instances of alleged misconduct at the Federal Air Marshal Service.

Current and former air marshals told ABC News employees with the service regularly made fun of blacks, Latinos and gays, took taxpayer-paid trips to visit families and vacation spots, and acted like a "bunch of school kid punks."

Former air marshal Steve Theodoropoulos said he was working in the Orlando air marshal office when he witnessed a, "distorted air marshal Jeopardy game board" with classifications that were racial slurs aimed at minority and gay air marshals.

"Category 'pickle smokers' was directly aimed at gay males," he said of the board, which he discovered in a training room at the air marshal office in Orlando. The air marshals say it was removed in 2009.

Other categories included "Our Gang" for African-Americans, "Geraldo Rivera" for Latinos, and "Ellen DeGeneres" for gay female air marshals.

One of the five women listed on the board later tried to commit suicide, according to Theodoropoulos and other air marshals familiar with the case.

Air marshals who were military veterans were listed as "Operators" because they were often called away for training and perceived to be shirking their flight assignments.

"Anybody that's not like them, they're against," said Theodoropoulos. "I mean, how do you operate under those conditions?"

In another case, a marshal was photographed apparently asleep on a plane -- with a loaded pistol -- in 2006.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D.-Florida, who ordered the investigation in 2010, said the unprofessionalism could be a security risk.

"This behavior went well over the line," he said. "Sooner or later, if you do not have people operating at peak efficiency, then you take the risk of that a terrorist is going to get away with his dirty deed."

The Inspector General's report is scheduled to be made public on Thursday, but according to an advance copy obtained by ABC News, the investigation found, "a great deal of tension, mistrust and dislike between non-supervisory and supervisory personnel in field offices around the country."

It concludes that the allegations, perceived and real, "posed a difficult challenge for the agency" but, according to a survey of air marshals, "do not appear to have compromised the service's mission."

The survey found that 76 percent of air marshals asked said, "people they work with cooperate to get the job done."

But the Inspector General also warned that "these allegations add unnecessary distraction at all levels at a time when mission tempo is high and many in the agency are becoming increasingly concerned about workforce burnout and fatigue."

Pistole told ABC News Tuesday that security was "absolutely not" compromised by the behavior of some air marshals.

"TSA took a proactive approach to the issues raised and has developed and implemented solutions ahead of the conclusion of the investigation," the TSA said in a statement in response to the ABC News report.

However other air marshals, still working undercover on flights and unable to reveal their names publicly, alleged that managers regularly scheduled themselves on flights so they could visit family or vacation spots.

In one example, the air marshals provided a photograph of a manager who arranged to fly to Brussels at Christmas time, and then jumped a fence to sit next to the Baby Jesus in a nativity crèche in the city's main square.

Former federal air marshal Theodoropoulos has had his own issues, stemming from an altercation with a bartender that led to his dismissal from the air marshals after a 20-year career in law enforcement.

He and his union say the government used a relatively minor incident as a way to get rid of a whistleblower and send a message to other air marshals to keep quiet.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Feb082012

TSA to Expand Expedited Passenger Screening Program

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(ARLINGTON, Va.) -- Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Administrator John Pistole and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced Wednesday morning the expansion of the airline passenger pre-screening program that allows passengers who are enrolled to have expedited screenings.

Those associated with "Pre-Check" face fewer hassles; they no longer have to remove their shoes or belts, they can wear light jackets, and they can keep their computers in their bags and their three-ounce liquids and gels in their carry-ons.
 
“By the end of March, Pre-Check will be operating here at Reagan National, and also we are expanding it to New York's JFK Airport, Salt Lake City International and Chicago O'Hare.  By the end of calendar year 2012, we will have Pre-Check up and running at 28 of the nation's busiest airports. Expanding TSA Pre-Check is about more than just speeding up travel. It's part of a fundamental shift in how we approach aviation security,” said Napolitano at a news conference at Reagan National Airport Wednesday morning.


[CLICK HERE TO SEE THE 28 AIRPORTS GETTING PRE-CHECK LATER THIS YEAR]


“Immediately after the attacks of 9/11, we simply did not have the information and analytic capability to identify travelers who posed the greatest potential risk and so we had to take a one-size-fits-all approach,” she said.  “Our experience over the past several years has made us smarter about the evolving threats we face and how best to deal with them.”
 
Pistole said that random screening checks would still be employed by TSA officers despite an individual's enrollment in Pre-Check, but he described how the program would normally work.

“The key is that we have done pre-screening before somebody ever gets to the checkpoint.  So when the person arrives, they will have in their -- on their boarding pass, embedded in the bar code, the fact that they are part of the TSA Pre-Check program.  And so there will be a dedicated lane for those individuals. Thus far in the seven airports where it's currently operating, we've had over 310,000 flyers go through this program.” Pistole said.
 
The program is currently being used with frequent flyers with American Airlines at airports in Dallas, Miami, Las Vegas, Minneapolis and Los Angeles, and with Delta at airports in Atlanta, Detroit, Las Vegas, and Minneapolis.  US Airways, United Airlines and Alaska Airlines will begin to have their frequent flyers enroll in the program later this year.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Jan182012

Woman Boards Plane with Gun in Her Bag

Hemera/Thinkstock(DALLAS) -- A passenger at the Dallas/Fort Worth International airport was able to board a plane with a gun inside her carry-on luggage Wednesday, but was taken off the aircraft and detained by security officials before the flight could take off.

The 65-year-old woman walked away from the security checkpoint, luggage in hand, and onto an American Airlines flight before screeners became aware of the bag's contents.

The woman will be charged with places weapons prohibited, according to ABC News Dallas affiliate WFAA-TV.

The Transportation Security Administration released the following statement:

At approximately 6:20 a.m. CST, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Officers at Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport checkpoint D-30 detected a firearm in a carry-on bag. The owner of the bag left the checkpoint before the screening process was complete and prior to surrendering the firearm. To ensure the safety of the traveling public, TSA worked with local law enforcement to locate the passenger and firearm before the plane departed. The passenger in question was taken into custody by Dallas Police and normal operations have resumed.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Dec122011

Senator Calls for Passenger Advocate After TSA Strip-Search Claims

Scott Olson/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- In response to recent claims of elderly women being strip-searched by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners and another woman being stopped because of a colostomy bag, New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer on Sunday called for the creation of a passenger advocate at airports who could immediately act and respond to concerns related to screenings.

In making the announcement, Schumer said, “While the safety and security of our flights must be a top priority, we need to make sure that flying does not become a fear-inducing, degrading and potentially humiliating experience.”

The TSA has denied the strip-search claims, saying it does not conduct those type of searches.  It also says it is already planning its own advocacy service.  TSA spokeswoman Kristin Lee says the agency is planning to establish a toll-free hotline in January that passengers can call if they feel they need assistance.

Lee says the service will, “give passengers direct access to guidance and information specific to persons with disabilities or medical conditions" prior to them flying.  The spokesperson said TSA screeners are also regularly trained on how to handle passengers with disabilities or medical conditions.

Schumer, however, wants an advocate in place at airports to intercede in person on the passenger’s behalf.  New York State Sen. Michael Gianaris has teamed up with him in calling for a passenger advocate.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Monday
Dec052011

TSA Apologizes to Granny Who Claims She Was Strip-Searched

Scott Olson/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The Transportation Security Administration says it has apologized to an 85-year-old New York woman for her “unpleasant screening experience,” but denies her claim that she was strip-searched.

The incident began when Lenore Zimmerman went to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport last Tuesday to catch a JetBlue flight to Fort Lauderdale.  Zimmerman uses a walker and avoids the screening machines because of her pacemaker. She requested a pat down for that reason, and instead she says she was taken to a private room and was shocked when she was asked to take off her pants and other clothes.

The TSA issued a statement saying, “Private screening was requested by the passenger.  It was granted and lasted approximately 11 minutes.”

On Sunday, the TSA issued a second statement saying it, “contacted the passenger to apologize that she feels she had an unpleasant screening experience, however, TSA does not include strip searches in its protocols and a strip search did not occur in this case."

Reached at her winter home in Florida, Zimmerman reacted to the TSA response by telling the New York Daily News, “I say they’re lying.  They’re doing it to protect their butts."

The grandma says she really doesn’t remember if the TSA called to apologize, saying she’s been so upset she’s been taking sleeping pills.

When asked if she accepts the TSA apology, Zimmerman told the Daily News, “Yes, I may sue them anyway because it was a very traumatic experience.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Nov162011

Traveling This Holiday Season? TSA Offers Tips for an Easier, Safer Trip

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- With the holiday season about to kick into full gear, millions of people will soon be flocking to airports, which can lead to a rather hectic experience for travelers.

John Pistole, the administrator of the Travel Security Administration (TSA) is offering passengers tips that will hopefully make their travels a lot easier and safer for the holidays.

“Obviously we’re expecting a large number of people traveling over the holiday season, [with] Thanksgiving coming up, we’re expecting perhaps as many as 3 percent more people traveling than last year,” he said.

People traveling this year can anticipate a few changes while going through security lines, especially while traveling with children.

“Children 12 and under will be allowed to keep their shoes on generally, we’ll still do random and unpredictable [checks] in case there’s something suspicious, but that addresses a lot of the hassle factor if you will, the inconvenience especially with small children if they have tie shoes and things like that,” Pistole said.

The other change is the “privacy filters,” which are simply the generic outline of a person going through the imaging machine.  Currently, the TSA has the privacy software upgrades on the Millimeterwave technology, which is used in more than half of the estimated 500 Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) machines in place at airports.  TSA officials say they will begin testing the privacy software on AIT Backscatter systems later this year.

Privacy however, still remains a concern for many passengers dealing with security at airports.  TSA is working on better technology so passengers can keep their shoes and jackets on, and that showing “too much” in these body imaging machines will one day no longer be an issue.

Already, the TSA Pre-Check “Trusted Traveler” Program is currently being implemented in four airports.  Passengers who have voluntarily given out their information in Detroit, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Miami, and Atlanta airports no longer have to take off their shoes, jackets and belts.

“The more we know about people who are traveling, the better judgments and decisions we can make,” Pistole said.

And if you're traveling with gifts, leave the expensive gift wrap at home.

“There’s not too many ways of resolving [it] other than opening up the package, so for example last weekend, we found two Christmas packages, wrapped packages, one had probably 50 pounds of marijuana in it,” Pistole said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







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