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Old 17th Oct 2008, 02:32   #1 (permalink)
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TSA agent caught stealing

TSA agent helped himself to a $47,900 camera (and more!) - Gadling | travel blog | news, stories, deals, and tips. Go there.

TSA agent helped himself to a $47,900 camera (and more!)

by Scott Carmichael Oct 10th 2008 @ 10:30AM

It's no secret that I'm not a fan of the TSA. While I fully understand the importance of keeping our planes and airports safe, I'm just not sure the TSA is up to the job. The agency is also plagued by bad PR, mainly because of incompetent staff members and insane decisions that impact us as travelers.

The latest in a long lineup of bad press for the agency involves TSA screener Pythias Brown. This 48 year old resident of Maplewood, NJ was supposed to keep bad stuff off the plane, but instead, he was helping himself to valuable items from the bags of people entrusting him with their belongings.

Pythias started small, stealing cameras, laptop computers, gaming consoles and eventually moved on to the good stuff including a video camera belonging to CNN, and a $47,900 camera stored inside the bag of an HBO employee.

The items were sold on Ebay, and as you can see from his feedback listing, these were not cheap items.

His greed eventually came back to haunt him, when CNN found one of their cameras listed on Ebay. With a little help from the local police department and the USPS, Brown was apprehended.

When agents entered his house, they found 66 cameras, 31 laptop computers, jewelry, lenses, GPS devices and more.

The total value of the stolen items is well over $200,000, and if you have ever lost an expensive item when flying from Newark Liberty Airport, you'll be thrilled to hear that the TSA is taking the matter "seriously". News like this just reinforces the need to keep anything of value out of your checked bags.

Of course, this also makes me wonder just how on earth a TSA agent is able to leave the sterile area of his or her local airport with a $47,900 camera hidden in their bag. We passengers get screened, so perhaps it is time to start screening TSA staff when they enter and leave the airport?
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Old 17th Oct 2008, 02:40   #2 (permalink)
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The latest I read was that this fellow has "marriage plans", and applied to the court for permission to leave the country. He wants to honeymoon in the Dominican Republic.

The request was denied. I'm surprised bail wasn't revoked on the spot.

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Old 17th Oct 2008, 03:38   #3 (permalink)

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Of course, this also makes me wonder just how on earth a TSA agent is able to leave the sterile area of his or her local airport with a $47,900 camera hidden in their bag. We passengers get screened, so perhaps it is time to start screening TSA staff when they enter and leave the airport?
Leaving a sterile area isn't the problem. Getting in is the security concern. If a bag is screened and a camera found, it's not a prohibited item...of course someone leaving can have their camera. Who's to prove it isn't theirs?
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Old 17th Oct 2008, 04:27   #4 (permalink)
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Errr, I can see some overlap, actually...

The problem, especially at EWR and JFK (and probably PHL), is becoming so large that something is going to have to be done. No, you won't catch the girl with a "new" set of earrings, but you'll hopefully stop some of the high-end thefts. Lesson to us is to keep valuables out of checked baggage - or buy a lot of insurance.
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Old 17th Oct 2008, 15:09   #5 (permalink)
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In an age where it's difficult to have a pee in the mens toilet without getting video'd, I'm amazed that these people... along with baggage handlers... are not constantly monitored...
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Old 17th Oct 2008, 16:49   #6 (permalink)

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The author of the article questioned the ability of the TSA agent to "leave" the "sterile" area with stolen equipment. People are screened going into the SIDA (secure identification display area)...not coming out. Therefore, the question is meaningless. Should we search each passenger coming off a flight to ensure he's not carrying someone else's bag or personal effects? Of course not. Accordingly, there's no reason to expect that one has to obtain a clearance of be searched to exit, as a worker or passenger or employee.

The author compares passengers being screened in order to enter a secure area, with a TSA employee who is not screened when exiting the secure area. Apples and oranges, or in other words, nonsensical. If the author was to draw a true and correct parallel, the author would have to require the TSA agent to be screened while entering the secure area...which he is. Further, this wouldn't reveal a theft of the camera...because he took it while in the secure area, and exited...just like everyone else. In fact, by the author's own call to attention, the matter was handled properly, and there should be no expectation that the TSA employee would be caught.

If we were to find compliance with the author's wishes, then all passengers would have to screen both in, and out, of secure areas...which isn't the case any more than it's the case for the TSA employee.

Again, when one is talking about screening for weapons, explosives, prohibited items, etc, one is talking about preventing them from entering the secure area. This is a security issue. We don't see passengers beeing screened for stolen items before they enter the secure area. NCIC checks and other stolen goods or wants checks aren't run on passenger's posessions. Certainly this isn't done as the passenger leaves the secure area. Yet the author calls for criminal checks and property checks on the TSA employee, and tries to justify it by saying that the passengers are subject to such screening...simply not true.

Security screening is safety screening, not part of a criminal investigation. Searching a TSA agent for stolen goods is a criminal investigation and law enforcement function...which has nothing to do with security screening for admittance into the passenger terminal gate area.
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Old 18th Oct 2008, 01:15   #7 (permalink)
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I've often been puzzled by the ham-fisted approach that the TSA uses for checked baggage search. In places like Frankfurt, the German Bundesgrenzschutz also searches baggage on a very regular basis-- but they are smart enough to know that almost all baggage has locks that are so generic that I've been told they have a big keyring with all of the keys-- "oh, the Samsonite there is key #43." This allows them to open, search, close and lock the traveller's baggage without having to resort to the less technically-advanced TSA method-- a #4 crowbar and Baggage Gorilla Badge #383931. Thankfully, they are not issued sidearms otherwise I fear they may try to shoot-open the locks.

When I travel through the USA (it is mostly only a transit stop for me) I don't like leaving my bags unlocked because my destination normally is Latin America, an area where there is a risk of baggage being pilfered before arriving on the claim carousel, which is in itself a security risk.
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Old 18th Oct 2008, 02:31   #8 (permalink)

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In the US, you're required to use a TSA approved lock which they can open. Otherwise your luggage may be forced open (as it's subject to search) or delayed.

It was Frankfurt, I believe, where my computer bag made it through, without the computer. Fortunately, I was able to recover it some weeks later.

I realize that europeans perhaps think europe is nirvana...but it's not. In fact, in the US, I get searched once...entering the secure area.

In some places in Europe, I get searched three times. In England I've seen bags confiscated, even thrown in the trash at Heathrow, because the traveller wasn't informed he couldn't have two bags...and had to choose which one went on from there...and that was going between terminals. You won't see that in the US.

As a crewmember getting to my airplane in Bahrain, I have to be screened several times...that's as a uniformed crewmember. At Brussels, I have to be screened just to cross the airfield...to leave. Same in Hong Kong.

That's not required in the US.

In Australia years ago, my first time in Sydney, I beeped as I went through a detector. I was physically slammed up against a wall and searched, then pushed out of the way and told to move on. In Jeddah, I was physically tossed out of a line when I didn't reply in arabic, and was detained on several occasions in different locations by men with MP5 sub guns.

By comparison, in the US I've travelled on a number of occasions with firearms or other weapons, legally, safely, and have been treated with courtesy and without difficulty. On one occasion I managed to forget a magazine on a belt holster, which had 7 rounds of 155 grain .40 S&W ammunition. It was a concealment rig, and I managed to miss it. I found it just before the detector, held it up, and they were quite courteous...offered to let me go somewhere I could make arrangements to have someone pick it up. I didn't have time, and knew I'd have to give it to them...they apologized profusely for having to take it. On another occasion the same thing happened with a small spyderco knife.

I've never had TSA rip my bags apart. I've always had a note inside stating that the contents have been searched, and asking me to verify the contents. Conversely, I've had airlines rip my bag comlpletely in half before, then refuse to do anything about it.

TSA is not the devil incarnate, followed by a legion of blue an white-shirted minions.
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Old 19th Oct 2008, 16:03   #9 (permalink)
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Baggage handling thieves...

This reminds me the good "old days" with PanAm's JFK and MIA handlers...
Years were the 1980s... and before the days of the TSA...
The airlines had started to X-ray checked baggage.
And some of these agents used the X-rays to identify valuable items...
Back then, expensive SLR cameras, and lenses or accesories etc.
So, these thieves "knew" which baggage to open, and steal some valuables.
There was a ring of thieves at our JFK and MIA baggage handling facilities.
I would not be surprised that some rogue TSA people continue the tradition.
Checked baggage and, carry-on.
And this can be in the USA, in UK, or any other airports in the world.
As a crewmember, of course I take my few valuables in my flight-case.
All you will get from my checked baggage, is (dirty) laundry and (smelly) socks.
Especially if I travel as passenger.
Wife's gold and diamonds...? For travel, she was briefed to pack "fakes" only.
Or wear these items around her neck.
My advice to anyone is "do not take valuables", and if any, keep them with you.
And be careful around their X-ray machines and metal detectors.
Makes me smile... In the days before reinforced cokpit doors, I had a cockpit key.
The key marked "Boeing" with a serial number...!
Do you think that TSA ever took it away from me...? - Never...
Yet, that key could open ANY Boeing cockpit door, any airline in the world.
They were quick to steal (or forbid) my little Swiss army knife...
I often had to buy (replace) that Swiss army knife, buying another one in the terminal.
Stores located in the airport's "sterile area"...
Even though my carry-on items made it obvious I was an airline pilot.
Have you ever thought about the 151% proof rum bottles in duty free stores...?
That should be illegal. Easy to torch airline seats and carpets with it.

Happy contrails
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Old 1st Nov 2008, 14:52   #10 (permalink)
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Apples or oranges?

On the contrary, it appears that there is a need to screen the workers as they leave the secured area.
The travelers are those being served by TSA, while the staffers are subject to whatever legally permissible conditions their employer wishes to impose. If exit screening of the TSA employees is made a job requirement, there is nothing the workforce can do to stop it.
A very simple approach would be to adopt the real-world practice of limiting what employees are allowed to bring into a secured area. The TSA folks are neither flight crew nor techs, so they should need to bring nothing with them beyond their lunch, their ID and their personal keys, all of which could be secured in the non-sterile area. Obviously, an employee cannot leave the secured area carrying an item he was not permitted to bring in.
In this case, it is evident that the employee involved was not the sharpest knife in the drawer, since Ebay is not a particularly discreet venue in which to offer hot, easily identified merchandise. It makes you wonder how widespread the problem is. It seems perfectly reasonable to insist that TSA more closely monitor its own staff.
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Old 1st Nov 2008, 18:06   #11 (permalink)
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At most airports, passengers are not permitted to use photographic equipment in the security check area. So how should TSA employees be allowed to do so in their secure area? There cannot be any logic in the argument that shey should be allowed to carry cameras out of their work space.
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Old 8th Nov 2008, 07:16   #12 (permalink)
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TSA my favorite folks. Based on who works there at the lower end they should be screened every hour or so and specially when leaving the workplace.
We have to prepare accordingly. I never bring anything of value anymore and others who lose big time should know better. This is Amerika and they hire the lowest common denominator to work there.
In other words I would not let these mopes into my house let alone want them in my Luggage. But they are looking out for me..right.
You bet he was headed for the domincan republic and he would be back here, but with a new name and the blessing of our wonderful immigration policies.
Hey, Somali Cab drivers refuse to haul people here because of their beliefs, get the out of here.........What a joke this country has become.
AND thats not the real problem. TSA is run by a bunch of retired FBI types who through the good old boy system do other than collect a fat paycheck. The rules they have set down are ridiculous. Remember a few years ago we couldnt take Brand new Zippos in our luggage because they were a fire threat. Are you me? Took a year to straighten that out.
So to me its no surprise this mope had a house full of OUR toys, what surprises me is that its the only one that has made the news. Lots of folks lose stuff, but dont want to waste time reporting it.
Look at EBAy next time your missing something and also if you want an eye opener look at all or your things the government via TSA siezes while you go through. They sell it by the pound and you can see it for sale on ebay by some enterprising people who bid on it. I think I have a nail clipper on there somewhere.
As a footnote, anyone try to hijack a plane with a nail clipper lately?? I wish them well because the Passengers will be on them like a dirty shirt, if for no other reason than they way they were treated during boarding.
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