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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  • icon
    Violynne (profile), 8 Dec 2014 @ 5:15am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 8 Dec 2014 @ 6:03am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 8 Dec 2014 @ 9:22am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        ltlw0lf (profile), 8 Dec 2014 @ 10:35am

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          tqk (profile), 8 Dec 2014 @ 11:13am

          Re: Re: Re:

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

          However, you may as well assume that thief has been caught and charged or fired, and justice has been served. It's as good as you'll get these days.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Uriel-238 (profile), 8 Dec 2014 @ 11:23am

            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.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              tqk (profile), 8 Dec 2014 @ 1:21pm

              Re: 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?

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                Uriel-238 (profile), 8 Dec 2014 @ 2:58pm

                We need to accept that unless we see things getting better, they are getting worse.

                The nightmares are there to remind us that the situation is intolerable.

                So long as we pretend we live in a just world, we don't set out to make it the just world we expect.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            ltlw0lf (profile), 8 Dec 2014 @ 2:41pm

            Re: Re: Re: 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.)

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              John Fenderson (profile), 8 Dec 2014 @ 3:06pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: 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.

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

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                ltlw0lf (profile), 8 Dec 2014 @ 3:20pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: 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.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Michael, 8 Dec 2014 @ 11:15am

          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.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          John Fenderson (profile), 8 Dec 2014 @ 11:59am

          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.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Uriel-238 (profile), 8 Dec 2014 @ 10:54am

        A scarier scenario

        At least more frightening to me is the notion that TSA agents may toss in some well placed bombs in order to create an incident with justifies the continued existence of their program.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That Anonymous Coward (profile), 8 Dec 2014 @ 3:44pm

          Re: A scarier scenario

          You mean like the loaded guns & "fake" bombs they have added to peoples bags in the past to test the system and they make it through?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), 8 Dec 2014 @ 6:04am

    TSA

    They'll Steal Anything

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 8 Dec 2014 @ 6:22am

    Passengers haz stuff

    Who knew all these passengers had such desirable stuff in their luggage?

    Oh, wait. The government did. So let's open all the bags--because: forfeiture. That stuff that is "obviously illegal" makes a lovely revenue flood.

    Only problem now is all the d****d agents stealing from the government's forfeiture flood...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Dec 2014 @ 6:36am

    How easy would it be to set people up?

    If they can get in to the bags, how easy would it be to plant drugs or guns etc... into someones bag and send it on its way?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Michael, 8 Dec 2014 @ 11:17am

      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.

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

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        ltlw0lf (profile), 8 Dec 2014 @ 3:35pm

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Dec 2014 @ 6:38am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Dec 2014 @ 1:10pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        John Fenderson (profile), 8 Dec 2014 @ 2:36pm

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Uriel-238 (profile), 8 Dec 2014 @ 3:10pm

          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.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Oblate (profile), 8 Dec 2014 @ 6:44am

    Tons of Stuff Acquired?

    Sounds like the only one watching the TSA is their fence.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Just Another Anonymous Troll, 8 Dec 2014 @ 7:13am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    AnonCow, 8 Dec 2014 @ 7:18am

    The real danger here is that this criminal activity makes the TSA agents and baggage handlers susceptible to blackmail. Imagine if that "fence" was a terrorist organization. It could quickly build a network of hundreds of compromised agents and airline employees.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Janet Napolitano (profile), 8 Dec 2014 @ 7:38am

      Re:

      Regarding my days at that little 'ole terrorist oganization called DHS, and that blackmail you are so concerend about...

      We already did that, with paychecks.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      beech, 8 Dec 2014 @ 8:15am

      Response to: AnonCow on Dec 8th, 2014 @ 7:18am

      Holy shit that's a good point

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Dec 2014 @ 8:39am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Sheogorath (profile), 9 Dec 2014 @ 4:56am

        Re: Re:

        Plus the fact that people of certain ethnicities and from certain countries are more likely to have their luggage searched, increasing the odds that stuff will get stolen from them. After all, everyone knows that brown face from Kuwait = terrorist scum to the TSA.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Dec 2014 @ 8:07am

    Meanwhile, traveling by car isn't any safer as those who are sworn to serve and protect us and our property are also rampant thieves and abusers and they won't even be fired if caught.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jes Lookin, 8 Dec 2014 @ 8:16am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ltlw0lf (profile), 8 Dec 2014 @ 10:46am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Michael, 8 Dec 2014 @ 11:20am

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 8 Dec 2014 @ 1:19pm

          Re: Re: Re: Evidence of Failure

          Last time I had to fly on business and take a case full of tools I wrapped packing tape all around in both axis. Even though I declared on check in that this case had tools it was still searched. My point with the packing tape was that I going to know if it was opened or not.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          ltlw0lf (profile), 8 Dec 2014 @ 2:32pm

          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.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    sciamiko (profile), 8 Dec 2014 @ 9:04am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 8 Dec 2014 @ 9:17am

      Re: TSA approved locks

      The Government has backdoor locks into your luggage. Stuff gets stolen.

      The Government also wants backdoor 'locks' on your phone, email, encryption, and any other number of things. And they wonder why people are pushing back against that.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Dec 2014 @ 9:25am

    Spelling error:

    fired for stealing from passnegers

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Dec 2014 @ 10:00am

    one more reason

    to put the US of A on my very own 'no fly list'

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 8 Dec 2014 @ 11:25am

    This is the real reason the TSA wants to be able to open everyone's luggage. Not to inspect it for dangerous stuff, but so they can go browsing for stuff that they might want.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ysth (profile), 8 Dec 2014 @ 11:35am

    contacted a "fence" or were contacted by?

    all but two of the defendants are alleged to have contacted a "fence," who actually was an undercover police officer.
    This sets off my alarm bells. Who initiated that contact? Could it have been in fact the case that no one stole anything until egged on by the police officer?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Dec 2014 @ 1:58pm

    there to protect you until your designated as an undesirable.

    IE someone not like them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Dec 2014 @ 5:33pm

    "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."

    http://soylentnews.org/article.pl?sid=14/12/06/093244

    (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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    toyotabedzrock (profile), 9 Dec 2014 @ 1:10am

    Maybe they should pay them a decent wage.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Dec 2014 @ 11:55am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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