THAT’S WHAT HAPPENED to hundreds of passengers whose bags was screened by Pythias Brown at Newark International. For a year +, he would swipe 2-3 valuable items per week from passenger luggage and sell them on eBay for cheap, making a total of $400,000.
Brown was caught and jailed in 2009, but the problem is much bigger than him. Since the creation of the TSA after 9/11, somewhere around 500 employees have been fired for baggage theft, with JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark seeing the largest numbers.
Laptops, cameras, jewelry, cash — with the TSA’s broad authority to open and search any bag they see fit, there aren’t many barriers to theft for someone who’s set on it. And, with the low starting pay, minimal chance for advancement, and reportedly awful morale (how would you feel if the public taglined your agency “Protecting you from yesterday, tomorrow”?), it seems a lot of people were/are set on it.
Besides another reason to hate flying, here are some points about this story that are especially shitty:
- TSA doesn’t seem to keep clear records of incidents of theft and the subsequent firings. Does not inspire confidence.
- Through the TSA claim system, passengers can report items lost. If theft is determined as the reason, TSA will compensate what was taken, presumably with taxpayer money.
- How scary do the implications get? Thom Stukas, an HBO cinematographer who had $47,000 worth of camera gear stolen by Brown and eventually tracked him down on eBay, put it like this: “What’s to stop them from taking a $100,000 bribe from somebody and putting something in the bag instead of taking something out? What’s stopping them from putting a fucking bomb in there?”
I respect the TSA and appreciate the duty they’re tasked with. But, exactly because their job is so important, shouldn’t they have more control over their employees?
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Hal Amen is a managing editor at Matador. His personal travel blog is WayWorded.
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