Another Batch Of Baggage Handlers Accused Of Stealing From Luggage; Because Airport 'Security' Isn't

from the shopping-for-your-goods dept

Just last week I flew into JFK airport’s terminal 4, and thankfully I only had carry-on luggage, because this morning I read that seven baggage handlers from JFK — working in terminals 4 and 7 — have been arrested for stealing stuff from people’s luggage. And doing so without much fear of getting caught (even if they were, eventually):

According to the criminal complaints, between March 2012 and June 2014, the defendants stole Apple iPads, iPhones and MacBook computers; Samsung Galaxy phones and tablets; Dell, Toshiba and ASUS laptops; and other electronic items, as well as a pair of two-carat diamond-and-gold earrings. The complaint said the items were taken from passengers’ checked luggage, and all but two of the defendants are alleged to have contacted a “fence,” who actually was an undercover police officer.

The defendants named their prices, set up meetings on airport grounds or nearby, and even made promises about other items that they could steal, the complaint said.

Now, if this were a one time thing, it might not even be that noteworthy. But this seems like fairly common practice at airports. A few years ago, we wrote about TSA agents stealing iPads and stories of TSA agents and baggage handlers stealing stuff from luggage are not at all hard to find. In fact, reports from a few years ago noted that over 400 TSA employees have been fired for stealing from passnegers in the past decade.

And related stories are all over the place. Hell, back in March, another group of JFK baggage handlers were arrested. On nearly the same day, it looks like a similar theft ring involving baggage handlers at LAX was broken up. Even more recently, a similar theft ring at New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong International Airport. Amateur sleuths were needed to bust up a baggage handler theft ring in Charleston, South Carolina. A WSJ article from a few years ago details a long list of baggage handler thefts from a wide range of airports.

And it’s not just baggage handlers, but the TSA itself, who (we’re told) is supposed to be protecting us from bad people. Here’s $8,500 stolen from a bag. Here’s a TSA officer stealing a computer. Here’s a TSA agent swiping $36 from a passenger. A few years ago, a convicted TSA agent, who admitted to stealing $800,000 from passengers at Newark Airport in New Jersey, spoke out about just how common theft was among the TSA:

“It was very commonplace, very,” said Pythias Brown, a former TSA officer at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey who admits he stole more than $800,000 worth of items from luggage and security checkpoints over a four-year period.

“It was very convenient to steal,” he said.

Speaking publicly for the first time after being released from prison, Brown told ABC News his four-year-long crime spree came to an end only because he tried to sell a camera he stole from the luggage of a CNN producer on E-bay but forgot to remove all of the news networks’ identifying stickers.

“It became so easy, I got complacent,” Brown said.

All of this should raise a variety of questions about airport security. We’re told that these people are there to protect us, but it seems that they’re not able to do that. At all. Hell, as Amy Alkon points out, if it’s so damn easy to take stuff out of people’s bags, you know it’s pretty easy to put stuff in as well. And, of course, this has been going on for years. Many of those links above are more recent, but plenty are from years past and it doesn’t seem like anything has changed very much. Airport “security” remains security theater at the best of times, but it’s even worse when it’s actually putting people at more risk.

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Comments on “Another Batch Of Baggage Handlers Accused Of Stealing From Luggage; Because Airport 'Security' Isn't”

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Violynne (profile) says:

First, the TSA steals a person’s dignity.

Using the abhorrent groping to psychologically traumatize passengers, they then steal a person’s belongings.

Cultivating from the first two thefts, the TSA all but admits it will do nothing but try to steal the trust of those passengers as well, rather than earn it justly deserve it.

Terrorizing Safe Americans. That’s the TSA for you.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

But the real concern needs to be on not having to much liquid or keeping your shoes on.

Perhaps it is time to consider the truth that we are in less danger from passengers than “trusted” people who rarely face repercussions for their bad acts.

Won’t make as many pretty soundbites or headlines, but it would be a real step towards making air travel safer.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Perhaps it is time to consider the truth that we are in less danger from passengers than “trusted” people who rarely face repercussions for their bad acts.

Well, as the story says, “… you know it’s pretty easy to put stuff in as well.” Imagine Muhammad Attah and his buddies getting jobs as baggage handlers (or TSA), then stuffing bombs into selected bags, all timed to go off simultaneously, or attached to cellphone actuated detonators.

With a bit of bombsight style acumen, they could rain down destruction on anything they fly over, along with passengers of course.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Well, as the story says, “… you know it’s pretty easy to put stuff in as well.”

Having had a camera (without a sim card) added to my luggage in San Fransisco International Airport, I can confirm that it is easy to have crap added to the bag. When I reported it, and just wanted an address to send back the camera, the TSA blamed it on the foreign inspectors (I was coming from Japan) and then on the contractors, and then finally on me, instead of accepting the blame and providing an address to send the camera. The Japanese version of TSA opened my bag and inspected it with me present, and there was no camera there. They then sealed the bag and it went on board the plane sealed. When it got to San Fransisco, it was still sealed with a tamper-proof seal. I went through customs with the bag still sealed. When it was dropped off at TSA, the seal was broken and the contents of the bag examined, in a secluded room while I was not present. When I got home, the seal was broken, a “we inspected your bag and added stuff to it without your permission” form was included as well as the camera.

TSA’s only solution was to ask the contractors who run their system in San Fransisco to review the camera for evidence, but according to the contractor, none of the cameras were working when my bag was inspected, so no evidence. I asked them how they could hope to stop drugs or bombs from being added to the bag, and they said they would never do that. And yet, they added a camera to my bag.

I believe one of the TSA inspectors took that camera from another bag, got caught by a supervisor, and quickly added it to my bag to hide the theft of the camera, but that is only speculation since TSA doesn’t examine bags in the presence of the owner, and doesn’t have working cameras in the inspection areas.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 This is USA, 2014.

However, you may as well assume that thief has been caught and charged or fired, and justice has been served.

Pics or it didn’t happen.

You missed the “It’s as good as you’ll get these days.” bit. We are seriously screwed with this situation as it is. We’re entirely within the power of malicious individuals if they want to jerk us around. The worst is, these are just low-level TSA grunts or baggage handlers, not powerful agents of TLAs who’re out to get us.

I was just offering him a platitude to help him sleep at night. Happy nightmares?

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Meanwhile, some other hapless traveler is missing a camera (and everything in it).

Luckily, they pulled the chip out of the camera before packing it in their bags. The chip was missing from the camera.

According to the TSA agent I lodged a complaint report with, the airline probably covered the loss of the camera with insurance, but the TSA agent wouldn’t give me an address to send the camera to in order to return it (or put it in their lost and found,) and the airline said they didn’t want anything in their lost and found that was found in my luggage…only if I found it on the plane or in the airport. Covenant, the company that TSA contracts with in SFO, said they had no interest in me returning the camera to them either and that I should just keep it (probably the most unethical response I had ever heard from a security company.)

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

The company the TSA contracts to is called Covenant?? Really? Wow. Aside from the many layers of irony in that name, it sounds like a religious outfit. Very creepy.

Covenant Aviation Security. They have an email address and phone number for their lost and found, but no mail address and nobody seems to want to provide one. Also, there was a CAS NOI in the bag, but it wasn’t stamped…despite their claim, and TSA’s requirement, to hand stamp CAS NOIs.

Also, this is a good time to point out yet again that the TSA contracting this stuff out is a terrible idea.

The ONLY way to fix this is to outlaw TSA, or any contracted agency, from inspecting any article without the person who owns that article present, along with cameras and preferably several screeners present. TSA claimed, at the time that I filed the report, that they inspect so many bags this would be impossible. Yet every other country I’ve been to does it.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I believe one of the TSA inspectors took that camera from another bag, got caught by a supervisor, and quickly added it to my bag to hide the theft of the camera

Clearly, the supervisors don’t really care if things are being taken. My guess is that they inspect several bags at once and aren’t very careful while repacking to make sure things get back into the original bag.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“I asked them how they could hope to stop drugs or bombs from being added to the bag, and they said they would never do that.”

“Trust us” is never an acceptable answer, so when you asked this (completely reasonable) question, the answer you got really meant “we can’t.”

Once again, I encourage everyone to do what I do: don’t check any baggage at all, and only bring on carry-on those things you will actually need before you get to your destination. Send your luggage ahead of you through UPS or equivalent. If your destination is a hotel, call them to let them know you’re shipping something to the hotel. They’ll hold it for you until you check in. It will get there without getting lost, inspected, stolen from, etc.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: How easy would it be to set people up?

Why bother? They don’t need to present the drugs or guns to anyone, so they can simply say they found some during their inspection and put you in jail.

They aren’t law enforcement…even if they claim to be. In order to get you for something like this, they are going to have to involve law enforcement and law enforcement is going to want drugs or bombs in order to prosecute you.

That way, they don’t actually have to keep guns and drugs on-hand.

That is not the point. The point is to turn you into an unwitting mule. TSA on one end of the line puts a sizeable amount of drugs into your luggage, and then the TSA at the other end removes the drugs. If it gets discovered, you are the one holding the bag…not them.

Like “Tijuana car remodels” (where they borrow your car in Tijuana, pull it apart and add drugs to various places, and then return it before you know it is missing,) you get nabbed by the police when the drugs are found, and if not, they steal your car once you get north of the border and take the drugs…you are the perfect mule because you have no clue that something is amiss.

Anonymous Coward says:

At what point are we no longer responsible for anything?

If dozens of agencies can get into your phone, computer, tablet, luggage, cars, etc…

Then how can anyone claim ever again that anything in their possession is completely under their control and that they are responsible for what it contains?

If so many can so easily access everything, then we should no longer be held responsible what what it contains.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: At what point are we no longer responsible for anything?

That’s why encryption can turn on us , with out it we have the benefit of the doubt , but it is a double edged sword which damns us either way these days, we have the fake sting sting operations ,honestly who trusts any form of law enforcement anymore, we can’t afford to, they lie, steal, kill and aren’t held accountable for anything at any time.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: At what point are we no longer responsible for anything?

“honestly who trusts any form of law enforcement anymore”

The courts.

There is no “benefit of the doubt” without encryption. If the cops accuse you of something, the benefit of the doubt goes to the cops, not to the notion that somebody planted something on you.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Gewaltmonopol des Staates

The courts continue to hold that power because the investigative agency is the same as the the enforcement agency (that is, the agency that holds the monopoly on violence..

I think we have plenty of cause to question the validity of the courts as a source of fair adjudication, but they are the ones that tell the guys with the guns what to do.

Just Another Anonymous Troll says:

What about the government-sanction thefts?

And those are just the illegal thefts. What about the “oh you had prohibited item X in your luggage so we’re gonna auction it off”? A much better way to do that would be to allow travelers to either have the item shipped to their destination, or let them rent a probably overpriced locker to store the item until their return. But government doesn’t do that, they’d much rather take your stuff because screw the 4th amendment.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It also makes hacking them (the theft-prone TSA staff) relatively easy: while they’ll probably fence most of the stuff, they might choose to keep particular choice items. So load up a laptop or a phone or a tablet with “phones-home” malware and pack it in checked luggage…then wait.

Won’t work every time of course, in fact, it might not work very often at all. But if you’re a nation, then you can afford the time and the budget required to keep trying until it does.

Jes Lookin says:

Evidence of Failure

If I remember correctly, airport ‘security’ is reviewed checkin of people and baggage that is then ‘secured’/inspected/tamper-free. Each one of these report is a security incident and a violation of law. The companies/agencies/people are ALL responsible and should be accountable. Period – if you want security. If not, then the ‘security’ is something else, TBD.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Evidence of Failure

If I remember correctly, airport ‘security’ is reviewed checkin of people and baggage that is then ‘secured’/inspected/tamper-free.

Certainly true in foreign countries that care about Security (including the places I’ve been to: Japan, Germany, France and Bahrain.) Not true in the US. In these countries, your bag is examined (if it needs to, or randomly) in your presence, and then sealed using tamper-resistant tape or other restraints, and sent on its way to the plane. In the US, TSA can examine the bag without you or working cameras present, and you can only use a lock which they can open and tamper-seals from other countries are broken/removed.

If we followed the same system everyone else uses, TSA or airline employees wouldn’t have the capability to steal from luggage without it being easily discovered, which I believe is why TSA doesn’t want to implement this.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re: Evidence of Failure

and then sealed using tamper-resistant tape or other restraints

Since it’s the TSA’s tape, I’m sure they could re-open and re-seal it as many times as they want.

The only way it would be secure is if it was your tape or if you signed the tape in some way that you could identify it had not been replaced.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Evidence of Failure

Since it’s the TSA’s tape, I’m sure they could re-open and re-seal it as many times as they want.

Nope…it is the foreign government’s tape (or other tamper resistant device.) TSA doesn’t apply tape. They rip it off and don’t re-apply it after they rip it off. I know when they do it because it is missing.

sciamiko (profile) says:

TSA approved locks

I thought these days that baggage had to be locked with TSA approved locks when flying to the USA. This means the TSA have the master keys to get in, or else they will cut the bag open if they want to see what’s inside.

I do not suppose that it was difficult for baggage handlers to get their hands on those master keys.

Anonymous Coward says:

“A government surplus vendor has Rapiscan Backscatter Body scanners listed for sale on ebay. The price – just $8K. Brand new they were $160K. These are the same units that were affectionately dubbed “porno scanners” before the TSA bowed to public pressure and yanked them out of commission.”

(My comment below)
“before the TSA bowed to public pressure”

Did the TSA really ‘bow to public pressure’ or is it really that the contractors selling these machines involved already got paid and so no one cares at this point what happens to them?

Anonymous Coward says:

A Better Use for the TSA

Why bother stealing stuff? This seems like a good way to use passengers as unwitting, unpaid mules.

Given all the cops watching interstate drug trafficking corridors and their love of forfeiture, the roads aren’t that great for low-volume high-value contraband. The TSA seems to be perfectly set up as the mechanism for an airport smuggling network, with each layover as a route-switching point. Just stash the stash in luggage headed the right way, and transfer as needed until it gets to the destination. If some honest employee ever comes across the goods, the passenger takes the blame.

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