Unsupervised TSA Agents Fail to Screen Bags for Bombs: Report

Watchdog says lack of supervision contributed to security failures, thefts.

ByABC News
October 9, 2012, 9:31 AM

Oct. 9, 2012 — -- Unsupervised TSA agents at an international airport repeatedly failed to screen bags for explosives before putting them on flights with hundreds of passengers, according to a new report from the Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General.

"Without ensuring that baggage is screened as appropriate, TSA risks the safety of the traveling public by allowing unscreened baggage on passenger aircraft," the report says.

The Inspector General's report, which focused on Hawaii's Honolulu International Airport, in part blamed the security failures on lack of supervision from TSA managers at security screening locations, something that DHS Acting Inspector General Charles Edwards said also could have contributed to hundreds of luggage thefts blamed on TSA screeners across the country, as detailed in a recent ABC News investigation.

"Theft and other misconduct by TSA employees has long been a key concern for the Office of Inspector General and our investigators have worked hard to bring individual wrongdoers to justice," Edwards said in a statement to ABC News. "Our audit revealed a lack of effective and consistent supervision of TSA screeners by their managers, as well as inconsistent adherence to operating procedures. These are conditions that can contribute to criminal activity, including the theft of airline passengers' valuables."

The IG's report, released today, says that for some months in late 2010, some TSA workers at Honolulu International Airport cleared luggage for transport without first properly screening it for dangerous materials in the airport's well-traveled overseas terminal.

"Among other things," the report says, "evidence shows [TSA screeners] opening bags, placing notices of inspection inside, and transporting them back to the airline without screening them."

The report comes two weeks after an ABC News investigation revealed that 381 TSA agents have been fired since the agency's founding a decade ago for allegedly stealing from passengers. As part of the investigation, ABC News tracked an iPad that was purposefully left behind at an airport security checkpoint to the home of a TSA agent, who was later fired for the alleged theft.

FULL COVERAGE: ABC News Tracks Missing iPad to Home of TSA Officer

Another former TSA employee, Pythias Brown, served three years in prison for theft and said he stole approximately $800,000 worth of cash and merchandise from travelers before he was caught.

"It was very commonplace, very," Brown told ABC News. "It was very convenient to steal… [TSA agents] didn't think it was okay, but they did it and said, 'I don't care. They ain't paying me. They're treating me wrong.' But when people started seeing they could profit off of it, then it became massive."

The agency disputes that theft is a widespread problem, however, saying the number of officers fired "represents less than one-half of one percent of officers that have been employed" by TSA.

TSA Has 'Concerns' With IG's Report Conclusions

The IG's report said its review was done after the TSA was tipped off to the failed security procedures by a "confidential source." The TSA launched their own investigation into the incident and "took personnel actions" against employees who allegedly acted improperly.

After its review, the IG gave the TSA four recommendations, all of which the Inspector General said the TSA agreed to implement to enhance security checks and screener supervision. But the TSA took issue with the IG's conclusion that the failures would not have occurred if some of the recommendations had already been in place, saying that it wasn't any procedures that made the screeners decide to circumvent protocols.

The report also said the TSA claimed Honolulu was the only travel hub where procedures were not followed, but the IG said the agency "did not provide evidence to support this assertion, nor did it demonstrate it reviewed all airports."