BY CHARLES MEMMINGER – Being a big fan of irony, I was amused to learn of the arrest of a Transportation Safety Administration screener caught stealing money right out of the wallets of Japanese tourists while they were being screened at the Kona airport. You’d think that the national agency whose main duty it is to screen people getting on airplanes to make sure they aren’t carrying bombs would be able to screen its own screeners to make sure they aren’t thieves.
Though TSA officials initially let the thief slip through their nets and secure a position of high security in their organization, I suppose they should get credit for setting up a sting operation and busting the sticky-fingered screener when they learned that she had set up a sweet little operation stealing money from international travelers leaving the Kona airport for home. Still, you have to wonder about an organization that not only hired the crook but allowed her to rise through the ranks to become, according to news accounts, “a lead transportation security officer.”
The female officer’s modus operandi – i.e. method of operation – was not what you would call “sophisticated.” While a passenger was going through the metal detector or getting up close and personal with another TSA screener during a routine grope, the officer would merely paw through the person’s bags, find a wallet and lighten it of only enough cash so as not to be immediately noticeable to the victim.
An undercover TSA agent posing as a Japanese tourist had 13 marked $100 bills in a “Hello Kitty” backpack. (The “Hello Kitty back pack was another nice ironic touch to the operation: “Hello Kitty! Good bye freedom!”) When the backpack emerged on the other side of the scanning machine the agents found that two C-notes were missing. They were found wadded up in the screener’s back pants pocket along with loot suspected to have been taken from other real, non-undercover passengers.
Now, you would expect that the thief’s highly trained fellow security officers, who are able to detect a guilty person simply by gazing into their shifty eyes or noticing rogue drops of sweat drizzling down their forehead, would have noticed their colleague’s brazen wallet diving in broad daylight right in front of them.
But they may have had other things on their minds, like, well … that the TSA reportedly is investigating 27 other officers for failing to screen checked-in baggage for explosives. It makes you wonder what the screeners are doing when they aren’t stealing from passengers and not screening luggage for explosives. Riding on the moving walkways? Taking turns taking snapshots of each other in the radar machine?
The screener apparently resigned from her job after getting caught, which as a damn nice thing for her to do under the circumstances. She could have filed a union grievance alleging entrapment and sued the TSA for ruining her life. (Note: The head of the TSA this year granted, sua sponte, – i.e. “on his own” – TSA employees the right to join federal public employee unions, which most passengers see as just another way for TSA employees to insulate themselves from being fired or punished for misdeeds. I don’t know whether Hawaii TSA workers have yet to avail themselves of that privilege.)
Curiously, the busted screener is not under investigation for theft, but for embezzlement. That’s strange because embezzlement usually applies to “the fraudulent appropriation of property by a person to whom it has been entrusted,” like a bank teller who steals money from a cash drawer.
As far as I know, we do not entrust the money we carry on our persons when going through airport screening to the screener. As long as we aren’t carrying more that the legal amount of cash allowed by law, the money is ours and has nothing to do with the TSA. But who knows, as the power of the TSA grows, maybe airports will become the “no rights” zones they seem to be evolving into.
It is because of the oppressive screening environment and the way screeners violate passengers’ personal privacy by invasive searches – while apparently not bothering to look for bombs in bags – that the incident at the Kona airport has caused a gleeful reaction from the teeming traveling masses. As someone fluent in Latin might put it: Accipere quam facere praestat injuriam, which I believe means “Dudes, put your own house in order and don’t touch my junk.”