Wednesday, May 16, 2012

TSA Vandalism

A few weeks ago, my wife and I flew to Colorado to participate in an SCA event where we were teaching classes on medieval cooking, including a hands-on class at which we planned to actually cook several dishes. One required sourdough, so I put some in a small glass jar, screwed the lid on tightly, put the glass jar in a slightly larger plastic jar, screwed the lid of that on tightly, and put the whole assembly in my checked luggage.

When we picked up our luggage in the Denver airport, one of the two checked suitcases was partly open, with a broken latch. Fortunately it also had a luggage strap on it which kept it from opening very far. It was a Zero Halliburton metal suitcase, the luggage equivalent of a tank, purchased long ago for transporting a personal computer in the days before laptops. Breaking it is not easy. I do not know whether TSA or the baggage handlers were responsible.

When we unpacked the other suitcase, we discovered a second problem. It contained a note from TSA saying that they had searched it. It also contained sourdough—out of the jars and spread over the contents of one end of the suitcase.

At first glance, that could have been due to carelessness rather than malice, a TSA inspector who opened both jars to check what was in them and did not take much care in closing them. But one of the things at that end of the suitcase was the case for my electric toothbrush. It was zipped closed when I packed the suitcase, zipped closed when I unpacked it—and there was sourdough inside it.

I cannot see any plausible way that could have happened other than the sourdough having been deliberately dumped out of its jars and over the contents of the suitcase, at a point when the inspector had unzipped the toothbrush case. Hence I conclude that I was the victim not of carelessness but of deliberate vandalism.

There is a simple way in which TSA could make both vandalism and pilfering by its inspectors much less common. All they would have to do is to include on the note saying that the suitcase had been searched a number identifying the inspector who searched it. If they got multiple complaints about the same inspector, they could investigate and take appropriate action. 

The fact that, more than ten years after TSA was set up, they have not yet taken that simple precaution seems to me to be overwhelming evidence that, as an organization, they do not much care whether their employees rob or vandalize the luggage they are given access to, and at least weak evidence that they would prefer not to be able to identify those responsible.

Interestingly enough, on a different trip, I found that the note informing us that our luggage had been searched did contain information identifying the agent who had searched it. The note was not from TSA but from a private firm contracted by San Francisco Airport.

The Evidence

Doing it wrong and doing it right

40 Comments:

At 1:56 PM, May 16, 2012, Anonymous invest in bamboo said...

Outsource, outsource, outsource. I've traveled to the States several times from the UK and the TSA are just plain thugs.

 
At 2:10 PM, May 16, 2012, Anonymous David O. said...

The government doesn't care because, like AT&T in the 70's, they don't have to. ("You don't like us? Try two Dixie Cups and a string!") And they know this.

When you're certain you can't be fired and you're ethically challenged, there's just no end to the amount of mischief you can cause as you try to break up the monotony of your job.

What a joy it will be when these people are in put in charge of health care!

 
At 2:12 PM, May 16, 2012, Anonymous Miko said...

An inspector who planned to vandalize/steal from luggage would likely just ignore the reporting requirement anyway.

 
At 3:11 PM, May 16, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's much worse than TSA baggage inspectors trashing well-packed suitcases (as happened to me almost every time); and stealing things... (did I really forget that in the hotel?!)... is that they are also involved heavily in smuggling drugs.

Attention TSA: please remove all drugs you put in my suitcase when it arrives at the destination without spilling.

 
At 6:01 PM, May 16, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My wife had her phone charger cord cut in three pieces in her carry on luggage. On returning to the airport she complained to the TSA. An agent told her they would look at the video of her passing through security. After 3 days, they told her they couldn't find her in any video. She then complained to the airport. They told her they would get to the bottom of it. Two days later they told her nothing could be done. She has since sent a registered letter to an address published by the TSA. It was returned today as undeliverable. Thugs understates the nadtiness of these people..

 
At 6:41 PM, May 16, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post feels a bit like a voice crying out in the wilderness - of course the TSA doesn't hold itself accountable for crimes. Everybody knows this by now. It's like expecting compensation after a DEA swat team shoots your dog - they are just thugs, plain and simple.

However an interesting point is the part about having to break the lock on your suitcase and having no liability for it. In a private market does an automechanic pry your door off its hinges and then leave you with the bill after saying he "has no liability"? Hardly.

 
At 6:41 PM, May 16, 2012, Blogger SheetWise said...

I haven't flown commercial since the TSA was banded -- I use trains, boats, buses, taxis, or private transportation. But in the past couple of years, they've been showing up at train and bus stations. I suspect "non-discriminating" roadblocks are the next expansion opportunity.

 
At 3:01 AM, May 17, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This happens all the time and TSA will always deny responsibility. I've had things stolen four times and TSA refused payment every time. In one case they simply refued to respond.

This is a corrupt agency staffed by criminals and low lifes who couldn't care less about safety, only what they can steal or get awayt with.

TSA needs to be replaced with an accountable agency.

 
At 5:16 AM, May 17, 2012, Blogger Hiram J Goldstein II said...

I can't believe that a legally protected monopoly wouldn't take precautions to do things right!

 
At 11:09 AM, May 17, 2012, Anonymous RKN said...

Is it possible the sourdough exploded during flight? Accumulated gas from the activity of the bacteria?

...

My wife recently returned home from a conference in Phoenix, where she bought me an expensive ball cap at an auction, packed the cap securely in her bag, kept the bag with her at all times, checked it with Alaska Air in Phoenix, but it was gone when she arrived home (Anchorage). There was a TSA inspection tag in the bag.

She called TSA to complain. Their initial response was, "How do you know TSA took it?" Our reply, "Who else is responsible for the bag once it's checked by the gate agent?" The idea that a baggage handler stole it while transferring the bag to the plane, or between planes, seems unlikely, given there was no evidence outside the bag as to what was inside.

 
At 3:15 PM, May 17, 2012, Blogger David Friedman said...

To RKN:

If gas pressure from the sourdough was responsible, the jars or their lids would have been damaged. They were not.

Besides, that doesn't explain how it got inside a closed toothbrush case.

 
At 4:18 PM, May 17, 2012, Blogger Soldier Grrrl said...

The TSA is an organization of liars and thieves. I've had things stolen, my bag unpacked and just thrown back together and generally think TSA agents are miserable excuses for human beings.

 
At 7:08 PM, May 17, 2012, Anonymous Jeff said...

Our organization is meeting with Congress next Tuesday to present factual evidence on why the strip search scanner program is not effective, even if one ignores the blatantly anti-constitutional issues.

http://fttusa.org for how we are fighting the TSA, details on home page.

Unfortunately, your experience is not abnormal.

 
At 7:33 PM, May 17, 2012, Anonymous joeftansey said...

What would happen if you packed your luggage in a deliberately... destructive way?

"Oh yeah I rig all my luggage with a stink bomb trap. Forgot to disarm it... my bahd"

 
At 10:48 PM, May 17, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While TSA inspectors are notorious for stealing items from checked luggage and damaging items, I am unaware of any cases of vandalism.

It is possible that after opening your suitcase, the inspector opened the electric toothbrush case for inspection. The inspector then opened the jars containing the sourdough. The pressure build up from the gases caused the sourdough to explode upon opening of the jar and to land in the open toothbrush case and open suitcase. The inspector then closed everything without bothering to clean up the mess.

 
At 10:55 PM, May 17, 2012, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Sourdough starter doesn't build up that sort of pressure in a period of a few hours. And if it did, it wouldn't explode and spatter starter out of the jar. At most, when you opened the lid, you would get some expulsion of gas.

I don't know what you count as vandalism, but I've had a luggage strap that was not locked cut.

 
At 11:48 PM, May 17, 2012, Blogger Jonathan said...

We currently have some problems here in Europe. However, the more I hear about the way things are in the USA, the happier I am to be here and not over there.

 
At 10:00 AM, May 18, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've recently read that incredibly the TSA doesn't do background checks on their employees. Makes you wonder if the TSA agent that just fondled your 5 year old daughter had just gotten out of prison for child molestation or the agent at the scanner hasn't been arrested for rape.

 
At 2:54 AM, May 19, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw case of bizarre TSA behavior at Honolulu airport, for a flight to Japan. The TSA inspector was lifting up each suitcase and then deliberately smashing it down hard on the conveyor belt. Then he'd look around the crowd as if defying them to say anything. The room filled with Japanese travelers, who watched this spectacle impassively. My wife tried to slip our suitcase past this guy, but he noticed and bellowed that it was a breach of security. He then opened up the suitcase, looked through it, and put it down gently on the conveyor belt -- a seeming admission that his previous behavior was wrong. Then we left. Later, I reflected that he didn't arrest us because, probably, his own behavior would have been called into question. There was a whole room full of witnesses, and probably video to boot. In fact, the guy blackmailed himself. (I assume it was TSA. Come to think of it, I never checked.)

 
At 10:23 PM, May 20, 2012, Blogger randian said...

There is one solution to this problem: travel with a declared firearm. Not only are real locks (which TSA by law can't open outside your presence) and hard cases mandatory, it creates a paperwork trail and you must display the weapon to the counter agent. Now just imagine what would happen if you claimed a firearm was stolen. Law enforcement takes that seriously. Theft they'll turn a blind eye to, but weapons are another item entirely. Furthermore, they can't deny you ever had the item, you have paperwork.

 
At 5:00 PM, May 25, 2012, Blogger Karl said...

Piggy-backing on randian's comment, the declared firearm can be a starter pistol, which, I understand, can be owned and packed in the luggage by anyone in any state of the union.

 
At 7:25 AM, May 30, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My theory:

The TSA agent is telling you not to bring stuff like that in your luggage anymore. Jars within jars containing some weird material need to be investigated by TSA agents. That means work and they don't like it. They are trying to teach you a lesson. The lesson is stop bringing that type of stuff on the plane with you.

I have had a similar experience with recovery drink powders I have brought with me. In an effort to save space I moved the powders out of their original, large container and put them in some smaller tupperware. The final result was powder all over the inside of my suitcase. Like you said, there were steps taken to make it look obvious that it was intentional. The powders have NEVER made it through without being all over the suitcase. Eventually I figure things out.

 
At 3:27 PM, June 01, 2012, Blogger Windy Wilson said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 3:29 PM, June 01, 2012, Blogger Windy Wilson said...

Appropos Anonymous at 7:25 am May 30:
I once worked with a man who had relatives in Lithuania. This was when the Soviet Union was still considered a major threat to world peace by tne non-marxists in the West. He described how he wanted to send his granny some instant coffee when that was new and unobtainable behind the iron curtain. He sent it the first time in the orginal, labeled glass jar. It was not delivered and he got a note saying that they can't ship glass containers because of the breakage hazard. The second time, he sent it packed in Tupperware, which was also something new and unobtainable behind the iron curtain. It likewise was not delivered, and he received a note saying they couldn't deliver an unidentified brown powder.
At that point he decided the powers that be didn't want instant coffee polluting their worker's paradise.
Who'd have thought that we would hire all those unemployed KGB and Stasi personnnel -- In the land of the free?

 
At 11:04 AM, June 07, 2012, Blogger Vitamin Lawyer Health Freedom Blog said...

Sometimes it is the pettiest of of statist annoyances that really bring into sharp contrast the collectivist mentality in which only impersonal forces are believed to be acting.

It isn't Human Action occurring, they might articulate, but the collective forces of history... a la Hegel.

But, of course, it is only and just Human Action ever at work.

Our friends at Downsize DC have an abolish the TSA action item: https://secure.downsizedc.org/etp/tsa/

 
At 5:45 PM, June 08, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of course, the only way to guarantee the right inspector # is on the card is to have someone else place it ... who could be the vandal.

 
At 9:16 AM, June 09, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was sexually assaulted about 60 years ago and will never get over it so I have not flown since they hired the perverts to assault people at the airport.

Before that the bureaucrats were so vicious and nasty that twice I found a chair and sat and cried when I got through being abused by them.

Since we can only carry on small containers, I went without my wild yam cream that comes in a 4 ounce jar and came home suicidal because I went without it for too many days.

 
At 10:09 AM, June 10, 2012, Anonymous Alex the Lesser said...

Random note: the page title for this post is "Ideas: TSA Vandalism", so when a link to this post is shared elsewhere on the web, at first glance it looks like somebody sharing ideas for vandalism against the TSA...

I used to love to fly, but I haven't flown in probably 8 years and would desperately avoid it now, as I have a young son whom I want to protect from being bullied and molested by government thugs.

 
At 3:52 AM, June 12, 2012, Anonymous association management companies said...

All they would have to do is to include on the note saying that the suitcase had been searched a number identifying the inspector who searched it. If they got multiple complaints about the same inspector, they could investigate and take appropriate action.

 
At 11:06 PM, June 12, 2012, Anonymous Rebecca Friedman said...

For the record -

As a 22-year-old girl who frequently ends up flying alone, I have never had to deal particularly much with being "bullied and molested by government thugs." Not to say it does not happen, but I think I can say that it does not happen the vast majority of the time. I remember the TSA being much worse right after the rules came in - I think in the meantime, they've fired at least some of the jerks and acquired people who at least care a little about their public image.

They still aren't nice, they still aren't efficient (as shown by the original post) - but neither are they monsters.

 
At 5:17 PM, July 07, 2012, Anonymous Stephen Brand said...

I can't wait for personal private air transportation to take off (pardon the pun) so we don't have to deal with this garbage any more.

 
At 1:16 PM, July 16, 2012, Anonymous Jan said...

A TSA postcard with the cut lock also found in the suitcase after the return from a US business trip. Although I seem not have suffered any loss, the idea of legality of breaking into the luggage performed by TSA is concerning me. Additionally, uncertainty of the health impact of the scanner on a growing child triggered me to cancel the planning a family trip there.

 
At 8:17 AM, July 22, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The TSA is run by vandalizing teenage high school dropouts. I recently flew several legs of a trip and when I got home half a bottle of vitamin B-12 was dumped put in my suitcase. It was a stupid juvenile prank. The bottle was sealed, and their stupid TSA note was in the bag. Also, they removed my iPad from its sleeve (which is NEVER necessary) and put it in backwards so none of the buttons were accessible. So now every time we fly we are inconvenienced by the actions of terrorists a decade ago AND we are now harassed by teenage high school dropout misfits who just want to vandalize and torment their own countrymen.

 
At 1:43 AM, July 23, 2012, Anonymous concrete batch plant said...

If they got multiple complaints about the same inspector, they could investigate and take appropriate action.

 
At 9:16 PM, August 21, 2012, Anonymous concrete batch plant said...

After 3 days, they told her they couldn't find her in any video. She then complained to the airport.

 
At 10:27 PM, September 22, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The last time I traveled by air to the USA (2004), when departing the TSA inspector did not cut the lock on my suitcase — they cut the slider on the zipper, ruining the suitcase. At my destination my suitcase came down the luggage conveyor wide open with clothing hanging out.

Eight years later (just weeks ago) a friend's bicycle box was opened and left open. This box traveled from the US, through Heathrow to the destination — open with items hanging out.

 
At 10:27 PM, September 22, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The last time I traveled by air to the USA (2004), when departing the TSA inspector did not cut the lock on my suitcase — they cut the slider on the zipper, ruining the suitcase. At my destination my suitcase came down the luggage conveyor wide open with clothing hanging out.

Eight years later (just weeks ago) a friend's bicycle box was opened and left open. This box traveled from the US, through Heathrow to the destination — open.

 
At 10:18 PM, February 11, 2013, Blogger Anarchist Chossid said...

The government and its employees are not evil, just inefficient.

 
At 10:20 AM, April 02, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First time flying in 25 years. TSA screening went well at both departures. Agents were polite. I noticed that some of the passengers were hostile tho. It's like people come to the airport with issues. A different story about checked luggage tho. My suitcase was searched both times. The lock was cut and thrown away. I placed items in plastic bags as stated in instructions. The plastic bags were opened and nail polish spilled. Fiber and shower gel were also spilled. The spills were contained to the bag. Nothing missing, just messy. As in any other line of work, there are people who are doing their job and others who are there to collect a pay check and move on after a few months. Passengers can be Jerks too. Like the woman who has to lay her seat all the way back on my daughter's lap, as if those seats arn't cramped already. It was a 2.5 hour flight for God's sake.. She can't stay up or sleep upright for that long? Please...Lay off the booze. Also, look at the mess some people leave behind on their seats. Slobs. And lastly..Ladies, TP the toilet seats or carry seat protectord, or clean up after yourself... disgusting...In summary TSA have done some bad things, but there are allot fewer of them then passegers, who also do bad things. RESPECT each other.

 
At 5:58 PM, November 09, 2013, Anonymous Linda B said...

My Husband and I just came back from Hawaii. We went to Pearl Harbor and bought souvenirs for our children these were just books from pearl harbor and they were taken we also had papers in there too and they were taken. I understand about the inspection but why do they have to steal items? This also happened when we came back from Alaska. Items were taken and the bag was a mess. We should be able to report this and something should be done, but it seems that we can't do anything about it. So sad especially in this country.

 

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