TSA at MIA and FLL: 35 Guns, a Chainsaw, and a Cannonball Confiscated

TSA at MIA and FLL: 35 Guns, a Chainsaw, and a Cannonball Confiscated
Illustration by Brian Stauffer

Piled on a table in a quiet conference room at the central terminal of Miami International Airport is a dazzling collection of items that could be used to bludgeon and stab one's way through a crowded airplane.

There's a pair of metal telescopic nunchucks, a silver Rambo knife sharp enough to plunge straight through an adult torso, plenty of box cutters, and a lead hammer that could crack a human skull like an egg.

That's just a week's worth of confiscations at MIA. Other recent pick-ups from air passengers there and at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport include a sword disguised as a cane, a fueled-up chainsaw, and the "explosively viable" shell of an 18th-century cannonball, according to reports from the Transportation Security Administration.

Oh yeah, and there have been 35 guns — most loaded and some with bullets in the chamber — taken from passengers this year at the two airports. Nationwide, nearly 1,000 guns have turned up at security checkpoints in 2012.

What possesses South Florida's weaponized wingnuts to try to bring this stuff onboard? Perhaps "absentmindedness [or] a failure to peruse a bag that was last used for a road trip," says Sari Koshetz, a pragmatic straw-blond TSA spokeswoman. "As more time has passed and 9/11 is not as vivid a memory, the trend is escalating."

Turns out that despite the many weapons uncovered, some people don't think the TSA is doing its job of foiling terrorists.

The agency has burned through approximately $60 billion since it was founded after the attacks 11 years ago. In 2012, it has an $8 billion budget and more than 58,000 employees. This past May, the U.S. House Oversight Committee issued a scathing report that claimed the agency was "wasting hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars," including $184 million worth of unused screening equipment that was sitting in storage.

Then there are the endless cries of discrimination and allegations that the agency unconstitutionally probes and scans civilians. "Security theater is security that looks good but doesn't do anything," Bruce Schneier, a security expert and author, tells New Times. "TSA is like that."

Schneier, based in Minneapolis, contends the agency hasn't stopped a single terrorist attack since its inception. The only things that have made planes safer in the wake of 9/11 are reinforced cockpit doors and passengers who know they have to fight back if conflict arises, he says. From Schneier's perspective, the TSA has wandered far from its sole mission of stopping terrorism and instead has made the country more prone to attacks that don't involve planes.

"We spend $8 billion on TSA," he says. "If terrorists go bomb shopping malls, we're kind of wasting our money."

To remain relevant and well-funded, the agency hypes the discovery of everything from snakes in a passenger's undergarments to chainsaws and pistols — contraband that would have been scrutinized and seized under pre-9/11 security measures, according to Schneier. "Anytime the TSA puts out a blog of cool things it seizes, it proves its irrelevance," he says. "These things have nothing to do with terrorism."

And though some South Florida travelers have been caught with dangerous items, they mostly aren't terrorists. Or maybe they are. It's tough to tell exactly how many people end up getting arrested for acts of packing stupidity. The TSA only discovers the weapons; it's up to local police, or federal agencies in certain cases, to decide who should be arrested. Most guns are simply returned to the owners, who are then allowed to store them. A kid carrying a toy gun through a checkpoint would just be asked to hand it over, but a guy with a steak knife concealed in his shoe — which happened this year at MIA — could face tougher consequences.

Miami-Dade police spokeswoman Aida Fina-Milian refused to turn over names of American citizens being held after airport arrests, claiming they are "protected as sensitive security information." The Broward Sheriff's Office was less like the KGB. It forked over two arrest reports from this year involving people who were caught with guns but no permit.

One of the culprits was Andre Ullysse, a 23-year-old Hollywood resident who had a loaded .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun in his bag when he showed up at the Fort Lauderdale airport April 5. Upon further investigation, police learned Ullysse was an active-duty soldier who was home on leave for two weeks. He wasn't taken into custody.

The other miscreant was Darrian Tillman of Virginia, a 24-year-old with shoot first tattooed across his stomach. Police records allege Tillman approached another passenger at the airport and asked if it was OK to bring a gun on a cruise ship. The passenger alerted police, Tillman's bag was searched, and now he's awaiting trial on felony firearm charges.

So, are these instances small victories in the War on Terror or props in TSA's security theater?

TSA advocates note that since the agency was formed, more than 6 billion flights have touched down safely on U.S. soil and thousands of weapons have been discovered at checkpoints. Over the years, it has had to adapt to shoe-bombers, underwear-bombers, and drunken travelers who think it's funny to say there's a bomb in their luggage — again, something that happened in Miami this year.

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4 comments
sirock
sirock

It's easy to get guns onto a plane just look your TSA agent in the Eye hand him a ten dollar bill and say I'm Sarticus it always works for me! 

fisher1949
fisher1949

This is nothing more than pandering TSA propaganda and a disgusting excuse for journalism.

 

Does anyone doubt that TSA would be gone in days if people actually had a choice between TSA and another option?

 

This agency is nothing more than a bloated jobs program feeding on public ignorance and relying on fear mongering to maintain its budget. TSA is inefficient and focused only on its own expansion and not on the mission of airport security.

 

Some recent reports from Ft. Lauderdale and Miami TSA.

 

Ft Lauderdale

FLL TSA worker hired two months ago charged with child pornography

NBC Miami, September 13, 2012

 

Three TSA officers arrested on drug charges in Florida and New York

NY Post, September 13, 2011

 

FLL TSA agent charged in theft of $450 pen

Sun Sentinel, July 22, 2011

 

Baby, 18 months old, ordered off plane at Fort Lauderdale airport

WPBF News, May 14, 2012

 

TSA Agent Nelson Santiago Caught With Passenger's iPad in His Pants; Allegedly Took $50,000 in Other Goods, Cops Say

Broward-Palm Beach New Times, July. 8 2011

 

Bungling screeners miss knife on flight from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to JFK

NY Post, May 11, 2011

 

FLL Airport: TSA Told Us to Lie About Existence of Security Video

Infowars, March 21, 2012

 

Miami

TSA officer, Milagros Casanas, arrested for attempted theft, battery and disorderly conduct in Key West

Miami Herald – July 30, 2012

 

TSA employees charged with trashing South Beach hotel room, shooting gun

Miami Herald, March 28, 2012

 

Miami TSA officer and his wife charged with stealing from passengers' luggage

Fox News, January 1, 2012

 

Cuba complains that guns in luggage checked in at MIA were not stopped.

Miami Herald April 24, 2012

chris_sweeney
chris_sweeney

Hi Fisher1949,

 

Sorry for spreading propaganda, as you claim... But a few points: First, a Gallup study released on August 8 showed that, “Despite recent negative press, a majority of Americans, 54%, think the U.S. Transportation Security Administration is doing either an excellent or a good job of handling security screening at airports.” So I don’t think it’s obvious the TSA would be disbanded if we actually had a choice. I do agree that there should be a debate whether the government or private security should be responsible and who should be footing the bill. It’s cool that you found some headlines showing that a TSA guy had child porn, another got arrested on drug charges, and another one stole a $450 pen. But people from private firms get arrested for the same things – kiddie porn, drugs theft, trashing hotel rooms – on a daily basis. There are also plenty of accounts of cops stealing from the same people they’re protecting and serving, just like a handful of the TSA agents who’ve been busted stealing from luggage. The one headline that does stand out and reflects a problem not necessarily of the TSA but of bureaucracy is the one about an infant being pulled from the airplane because she was on a no-fly list. Protocol and chain of command seem to be a huge hindrance for many organizations the size of TSA. I’m not pandering, just unsure what the better option is, especially when passengers can't even remember to leave their loaded gun at home. If you’ve got a few suggestions, I'd love to hear them...

 

fisher1949
fisher1949

 @chris_sweeney 

Ninety percent of frequent flyers think that the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is doing either a poor or fair job in performing security screenings at the nation's airports, according to a new survey of frequent flyers conducted by Frequent Business Traveler magazine, September 10, 2012.

 

In the past three months 35 TSA workers were fired or arrested and 66 more disciplined for misconduct.

 

There were 99 TSA workers arrested in the last 20 months including 13 arrested for child sex crimes, over 26 for theft, 12 for smuggling contraband through security and one for murder.

 

TSA allows a known pedophile, Thomas Harkins to remain employed as a TSA Supervisor in Philadelphia giving him access to search children. What kind of agency turns a known sex offender loose on children?

 

TSA needs to be replaced with something that actually works before this mismanagement results in a tragedy.

Some suggestions for improvement:

Replace 90% of screeners with bomb sniffing dogs.

 

Stop hiring criminals and get the ones in TSA out.

 

Stop strip searching grandmothers.

 

Stop fondling children.

 

Stop the gratuitous pat downs that never yield weapons and only harass innocent people.

 

Rely on the hardened cockpit doors and passengers as a last line of defense. This has proven to more reliable  than TSA.

 

Eliminate the dangerous x-ray scanners.

 

Use the remaining scanners only as a secondary method as was promised to Congress in 2008.

 
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