TSA: First Pat-Downs, Now Sticky Fingers? Inquiring Republicans Want to Know

Photograph by Stan Honda/AFP via Getty Images

A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent checks the luggage of a passenger on May 2, 2011 at Orlando International Airport in Orlando, Florida.

Sometimes it’s not easy being the Transportation Security Administration.

The furor over the idea of passengers armed with pocket knives has died down. It’s been a while since a celebrity or lawmaker tweeted about their overly aggressive pat-down and a search of a grandmother or disabled person hasn’t made national news of late.

What better time to shine a congressional spotlight on the malfeasance of TSA airport screeners?

That’s what the House will do Wednesday, with a Homeland Security subcommittee hearing to discuss incidents of theft and other misconduct.

The biggest takeaway may be a realistic sense of how safe the average traveler’s stuff is. House Republicans who convened the hearing may try to illustrate how private companies would do a better job than the government.

It’s not a new issue. Last year, TSA screeners at Los Angeles International Airport were accused of accepting bribes from drug traffickers. Since then, an ABC News broadcast showed what happens when cameras show up at the front door of a TSA  officer caught on video stealing a planted iPad. At the time of that report last September, 381 TSA agents had been fired for stealing over the years.

The TSA uses closed-circuit cameras in checked-baggage areas to deter theft and rebut false accusations of stealing, John Pistole, the agency’s administrator, said at the National Press Club last year. In cases where the video shows theft has occurred, the agency fires the individuals and seeks criminal prosecutions, he said.

TSA security officers undergo criminal background checks, submitting fingerprints to the FBI. Names are cross-checked against terrorism watch lists. Applicants can be disqualified for any one of 28 criminal offenses, ranging from interference with navigation to treason and felony arson.

That doesn’t mean the system is fool-proof. In December, a 10-year agency veteran was arrested in a sting operation with a backpack full of iPads and other electronic devices.

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