The recent arrests of three Transportation Security Administration officials expose critical security flaws at American airports, experts told The Post.
TSA officers Elizabeth Fuster, Labarius Williams and Josue Gonzalez are charged with organized fraud after Thursday’s bust at Miami International Airport.
Surveillance video from Checkpoint E showed the trio conspiring to “distract passengers while they were being checked” and steal cash from pockets, according to affidavits obtained by The Post.
Fuster, 22, and Gonzalez, 20, confessed to “numerous thefts” from travelers and admitted to stealing an average of $1,000 a day while they worked together. Williams refused to speak to investigators, Miami-Dade Police said.
In one case, footage showed Williams and Gonzalez stealing $600 from a passenger’s wallet during the screening process, according to affidavits.
The TSA has relieved the accused officers of their checking duties, but the alleged conspiracy exposes loopholes in the last line of defense at more than 440 airports patrolled by the federal agency, public safety experts said.
“While these travelers unfortunately have had their valuables stolen, it is the same controllers who are preventing people from bringing guns or possibly a dirty nuclear bomb onto a plane,” said Bill Stanton, a national security adviser and former NYPD officer.
He criticized the “minimum” qualifications required for traffic security officers, including a high school diploma or a year’s full-time experience as an X-ray technician, aviation inspector or security industry professional.
“Essentially the same qualifications as a job as a security guard in a hypermarket,” Stanton told the Post. “So what gets you a job in a big store literally allows you to be the last porter stopping a would-be terrorist from boarding a plane. We have to understand that.”
TSA security officers whose Part-time salaries start at $37,696must be US citizens or nationals and pass a drug screening, medical exam, and background check.
TSA security officials are held to the “highest professional and ethical standards,” officials at the agency said in a statement to The Post on Tuesday.
“We have actively and aggressively investigated these allegations of misconduct and have submitted our findings to the Miami-Dade Police Department and are working closely with them,” the TSA statement on the recent indictments said. “Any employee who fails to comply with our core ethical standards will be held accountable.”
TSA officers have been involved in high-profile arrests in recent years, including Michael Williams attempting to smuggle $8,000 in methamphetamine through Los Angeles International Airport. Federal authorities said last March.
In 2012, a former TSA security officer served more than two years in prison Theft of items valued at over $800,000 of passengers at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey revealed the job made it “very convenient” to steal.
“It was very commonplace, very,” Pythias Brown said ABC Newsadding that his four-year career only ended when a camera he had stolen was discovered on eBay.
“It was so easy,” Brown said. “I walked straight out of the checkpoint with a Nintendo Wii in hand. Nobody said a word.”
Brown, 61, of Dayton, New Jersey, declined to comment when The Post reached him on Tuesday.
According to the federal agency established after the September 11 terrorist attacks, TSA “condones no misconduct” in the workplace and arrests of employees are a “rare” occurrence.
TSA officials declined to provide data on recent employee arrests. A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request was not returned.
The agency, which employs more than 60,000 people, screens around 2.2 million passengers a day across the country. Approximately 20% of employees are active military or veterans. according to its website.
“TSA conducts lawful screening of air travelers as authorized by the Aviation Security and Transportation Act,” the statement concluded. “We recommend making sure bags are empty and putting all valuable items in carry-on bags such as cash, wallets, cell phones, jewelry to name a few.”
The alleged theft ring at Miami International Airport, which employs no private security officers, came in what is expected to be a record year for guns seized at terminal checkpoints.
TSA enforcement officers recovered 3,251 firearms at airport security checkpoints in the first half of this year — or an average of 18 a day. Officials announced this on Monday.
That’s a 6% increase from the 3,053 guns seized in the same period last year, and the agency expects to surpass a record 6,542 firearms seized in 2022, TSA officials said.
However, according to Stanton, who wrote “Prepared Not Scared: Your Go-To Guide For Staying Safe In An Unsafe World” in 2019, an exponential increase in the training and compensation offered by TSA would improve airport security even further.
“The American traveler, I think, travels in ignorant bliss,” he said. “This is the tip of the iceberg of a much bigger problem that should be questioned.”
TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein on Wednesday denied claims that the country’s airports had security vulnerabilities.
“We’re always concerned about insider threats,” Farbstein told The Post. “TSA has multiple layers of security, and a checkpoint is just one of those multiple layers.”
Daniel Karon, a Cleveland-based attorney who has led antitrust and consumer fraud class actions, said he sees a possible civil lawsuit against the TSA for negligence in airport searches.
“I see the possibility of a class-action injunction that will require stricter training processes and more transparency to keep people safe,” Karon told The Post.
“I would be a little concerned,” he said. “I would like a little more accountability and openness about these people’s credentials so I know who’s looking at my stuff… Just because they’re wearing a blue shirt and a badge doesn’t mean it’s all on the level.” ”