Your Safety, Their Punch Line

I once thought working for the Transportation Security Administration was serious business. I didn't have a clue

His request was denied, appealed, and denied again. In early March 2004, Karantsalis (who's also a law librarian) filed a pro se lawsuit in federal court, alleging that TSA violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. His managers not only refused to back down, they initiated disciplinary "counseling" (a prelude to firing) three days after he filed his lawsuit. The grounds for counseling: "Unauthorized appearance in a TSA uniform." Karantsalis had sent his TSA awards ceremony photograph to friends via the Internet.

The counseling prompted him to sue again, charging retaliation. About a month later his shift was changed and he withdrew the lawsuits. He wasn't fired, but his superiors thought it prudent to recruit a colleague to eavesdrop on his phone conversations and generally spy on him. The co-worker later reported the following threatening behavior in a memo: "I became aware of Theo instructing the screeners on the Privacy Act and the Freedom of Information Act. He encouraged them to request their files from Washington. The insinuation ... was that they could never trust what was being put into their files."

More bad stuff: "Theo has a habit of engaging passengers in conversation, especially if he recognizes them as being important people. He compliments them and ultimately attempts to gain information from them."

The Heads of State
The Heads of State

We found a different sort of memo posted on our pod bulletin board just days before that November 2003 awards ceremony. It had to do with another checkpoint supervisor. "Ronald Gould's son was killed this past week [in Iraq] when the military helicopter in which he was being transported crashed," stated the memo from then-acting FSD Alex Miranda. We were welcome to donate hours of annual leave or cash to Gould "in this time of special need."

A few weeks later, after money had been collected and almost two weeks' worth of leave pledged, Karantsalis was arranging a memorial to be held at the police department in Miami Springs, where both Gould and Karantsalis lived. Gould had been on leave from work and no one knew exactly where he was, so Karantsalis called the U.S. Southern Command to verify the sketchy information he had about the young soldier. To his shock, no branch of the military could find any trace of anyone who might be a son of Ronald Gould. And when the names of the soldiers who died in the helicopter crash were published, none of them was the alleged son.

We received no further memos, but Gould continued to be unreachable and finally mailed a letter of resignation to FSD Thomas in April 2004, five months later. All that time he was still on the TSA payroll, incommunicado. When Karantsalis tried to find out what had been done with the cash and leave donations, he was accused of being disrespectful toward a fallen U.S. patriot. The FSD's office denied there had been any donations or even that the initial memo existed. So Karantsalis wrote to his congressman, Lincoln Diaz-Balart, and sought copies of the memo and other relevant records via the Freedom of Information Act.

Diaz-Balart's office contacted Thomas's office and reportedly was told that Karantsalis was blowing everything out of proportion and that no one really knew what had happened to Gould's putative son. Records later obtained by Karantsalis showed that $52 in cash had been collected and been locked in an administrative office desk until April 2004. (As of a few months ago there was no indication that any of the cash had been returned.) No donated annual leave, according to Thomas's office, was charged to any employee. Yet one screener who maintains that two hours were deducted from her leave disputes this; when she asked a manager for her hours back, she got a vague promise that when the manager learns what's going on, he'll tell her. Many screeners continue to believe Gould's son was killed in Iraq and that Gould is still on leave.

TSA apparently considers almost everything it does to be "sensitive," even if it's widely known. Take the case of Andrew Washington. In June 2003, TSA screeners Washington and Edwin Reyes, who worked on the ramp at MIA, had been caught on videotape stealing CDs and perfume from suitcases they were supposed to be inspecting. Later they were indicted on conspiracy charges by a federal grand jury. Reyes pleaded guilty, telling prosecutors that he and Washington had committed additional, pettier offenses of which scores of other MIA screeners also were guilty to some degree -- taking food out of luggage and sharing it with other screeners, passing around pornographic photos, stealing little things that caught their fancy. They also allegedly slapped green "TSA MIA CLEARED" stickers on luggage without inspecting it -- in itself grounds for termination.

Reyes received probation for his help, but Washington defiantly opted for a jury trial. Two days into the proceedings, U.S. District Court Judge Adalberto Jordan allowed Washington's court-appointed lawyer to call an expert witness to testify about the methods TSA uses to screen for explosives. The prosecution reaction was surprising: Rather than risk the escape of sensitive information, they announced, the government would drop all charges. Washington walked out of the courtroom free and clear.

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