It is perhaps America’s most unsafe airport. Despite being the launching point for one of the planes hijacked on 9/11 — Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania — Newark Airport has had numerous security violations since. The latest: a fake bomb that made it past Transportation Security Administration officers. Here, a Newark TSA screener who recently left the agency tells how silly policies and lazy workers do little to stop real threats:
A LOT of what we do is make-believe.
I’ve had to screen small children and explain to their parents I had no choice but to “check” them. I would only place my hands on their arms and bottom half of their legs, and the entire “pat-down” lasted 10 seconds. This goes completely against TSA procedure.
Because the cameras are recording our every move, we have to do something. If someone isn’t checked or even screened properly, the entire terminal would shut down, as this constitutes a security breach.
But since most TSA supervisors are too daft to actually supervise, bending the rules is easy to do.
Did you know you don’t need a high-school diploma or GED to work as a security screener? These are the same screeners that TSA chief John Pistole and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano refer to as a first-class first line of defense in the war on terror.
These are the employees who could never keep a job in the private sector. I wouldn’t trust them to walk my dog.
An agent got through Newark last week with an improvised explosive device? That’s not even news to anyone who works there. It happens all the time. The failure rate is pretty high, especially with federal investigators, and the pat-down itself is ridiculous. As invasive as it is, you still can’t find anything using the back of your hand on certain areas.
When there are internal tests, conducted by the Newark training department, it’s easy to cheat because they use our co-workers. You could be working with someone all morning, and then they’re gone. Word gets around the checkpoint. Someone will come over to you and say, “Hey, it’s Joe. He’s got a blue duffel bag.”
What are the chances of you being on a flight where something happens? We always said it’s not a question of if terrorists get through — it’s a question of when. Our feeling is nothing’s happened because they haven’t wanted it to happen. We’re not any big deterrent. It’s all for show.
A real pat-down is when a police officer pulls you over, uses his hands to search, actually goes into your clothes. We have to use the back of our hands around certain areas. It just doesn’t work. It’s a really bad way to pat somebody down.
If I had to guess, I’m sure lots of things get through. One screener told me about something he did going through security when he went on vacation. Let’s just say the screeners did not catch something that was really obvious to anyone who was paying attention.
Most TSA screeners know their job is a complete joke. Their goal is to use this as a stepping stone to another government agency.
We work in a culture where common sense has no place. All but a very few TSA personnel know they’re employed by a bottom-of-the-barrel agency.
Our first question to anyone in a wheelchair is to ask if they’re able to stand for a pat-down. If someone is in a wheelchair, he likely can’t stand. Even when they’re sitting, we’re required to ask them to move so we can check under their buttocks.
All I needed was for a passenger to fall over because I asked them to stand. And if that did happen, the screener would be vilified and the official p.r. spin would be that he needed “additional training.”
Every time you read about a TSA horror story, it’s usually about a screener doing what he or she is instructed to do.
Supervisors play absolutely no role in day-to-day functions except to tell you not to chew gum. Gum chewing is a huge issue with management. I once saw a supervisor make an officer open his mouth to prove he had a mint and not a piece of gum.
Goofing off and half-hour-long bathroom breaks are the only way to break up the monotony. There is also a lot of ogling of female passengers by the male screeners. So, ladies, cover up when you get to the airport. These guys are checking you out constantly.
A small number of screeners are delusional zealots who believe they’re keeping America safe by taking your snow globe, your 2-inch pocket knife, your 4-ounce bottle of shampoo and performing invasive pat-downs on your kids.
(Incidentally, the flap over the new rule allowing small pocketknives is overblown. Most of the public doesn’t realize it, but you are already allowed to bring scissors, screwdrivers, tweezers, knitting needles and any number of sharp instruments on board.)
The rest are only there for the paycheck and generous benefits. Screeners start at $15 per hour, and there is tons of overtime — mainly because they are filling in for the many screeners who don’t bother coming to work. For every 40 hours you work, you receive four hours of vacation and four hours of sick time.
One screener didn’t come to work for four weeks. When he finally reappeared, he asked for another week off. The answer was no. So what did this brainiac decide to do? He took another week off — and didn’t get terminated.
People have been caught falling asleep on the job. They get written up, it’s put in their file, and that’s it.
New hires see how bad it is working there, and, believe it or not, TSA does manage to hire some pretty decent people. They just don’t last because they can get a normal job.
It’s the people who’ve been there a good number of years who could never find employment elsewhere. When you have a real job, it usually means you have to actually work and think, which a lot of them have a hard time doing.
Anyone boarding an aircraft should feel maybe only a teeny tiny bit safer than if there were no TSA at all.