TSA on the Run

TSA on the Run

Have you been to an airport lately? The security business is booming, and TSA agents are out in full splendor, screening passengers left and right. Nobody gets by the security agents staffing the front gates.

Well, almost nobody.

On June 25, federal agents questioned a Nigerian man after he successfully flew from New York to Los Angeles. They arrested him four days later as he was attempting to fly from Los Angeles to Atlanta. Problem was, he didn’t have a valid boarding pass for either flight.

How did he get past security? You and I always have to show a valid boarding pass and proper government identification to get past security, much less board the airplane. Olajide Oluwaseun Noibi swept past security at JFK International Airport on June 24 and successfully boarded Virgin America flight 415. Even more suspicious was that the boarding pass was not in his name and it was for a June 23 flight.

Something is clearly not quite right here—but it gets even better. Neither the airline nor TSA noticed that his ID was a University of Michigan student card—and that the name on it did not match the name on his boarding card.

By now, you’ve probably heard the story, but what you may not know is that the only reason this guy was caught was because he was sitting in the wrong seat and an airline attendant asked him for his ticket and identification in mid-flight.

The FBI met Noibi at LAX after his first run-in, where they interviewed and then released him, finding that he didn’t pose much of a threat even though he was in a secure area without proper identification. When he was discovered trying to board another aircraft, again with a faulty boarding pass, he was stopped. He had 10 more expired boarding passes in his possession, belonging to other people.

It’s an interesting story, and it casts a pall on TSA, but remember: TSA isn’t the enemy; al Qaeda is. Meanwhile, however, officers felt compelled to pat down a disabled, 95-year-old leukemia patient at Northwest Florida Regional Airport. TSA agents made it abundantly clear that the lady would not be able to board her flight home to Michigan until her adult diaper was inspected.

Seriously? There’s no way on earth this lady should have been subjected to this kind of treatment. While TSA officials say they work to resolve issues in a respectful manner, they failed miserably in this instance.

This incident comes on the heels of additional screening incidents involving small children.

In April, there was public outrage over a video that showed a 6-year-old girl getting the official TSA pat-down at Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans. She was patted down because she moved during the electronic screening, causing a blurry image.

How dare that 6-year-old act her age. The incident fueled enough outrage that the government has made a change in policy for patting down children. Yet in May, TSA screeners were criticized again after a photograph was published of them working over a baby.

The photograph, taken at Kansas City International Airport after the baby’s stroller set off an alert, gained worldwide attention. Kansas City pastor Jacob Jester captured the image on his cell phone and later posted it on his Twitter account. Jester said he noticed the mother and baby behind him because he has a son about the same age.

“My thinking was, this is an extreme measure,” he said. “I wouldn’t want this to happen to my own son.” Of course, TSA has reviewed the screening of this family and found that because the child’s stroller alarmed during an explosives check, a closer look was warranted. TSA said its officers followed proper procedure and that the family was cooperative and on their way to their gate rather quickly.

“I’m not out to embarrass the TSA,” Jester said. “But I do believe there has to be a line drawn. I do not believe that an 8-month-old constitutes a security threat.”

These are only a few of the embarrassing moments in the life of the Transportation Security Administration. The agency deserves all the respect accorded to a group of people just trying to do their jobs the best way possible. Their jobs are to keep the flying public safe and secure, and, regardless of how it sometimes feels, it’s important to remind ourselves that they are not the enemy. It is, however, situations such as this that prompt the public to feel a little less than secure, and a little more used. It also means a face-to-face visit to Congress by agency officials.

Testifying before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, TSA boss John Pistole said his agency is working on policy changes for screening children without resorting to invasive pat-downs. Screeners have now been instructed to use a modified pat-down for children ages 12 and younger.

Pistole told the Senate committee, “We need to use common sense.”

Historically, that is often what is missing during times that try men’s souls.

This article originally appeared in the August 2011 issue of Security Today.

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