Former TSA agent: Your worst fears about us were true

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A former Transportation Security Administration agent has stepped forward and is offering up more information about the nation’s airline security agency, sure to send a shiver up passengers’ spines.

“Dear America, I saw you naked and yes, we were laughing. Confessions of an ex-TSA agent” Jason Edward Harrington, a former TSA agent (stationed at Chicago O’Hare International Airport) turned author, titles his article in Politico Magazine.

Harrington — who initially wrote about his experiences as an agent on an anonymous blog — walks readers through troubling circumstance after troubling circumstance.

“Just as the long-suffering American public waiting on those security lines suspected, jokes about the passengers ran rampant among my TSA colleagues: Many of the images we gawked at were of overweight people, their every fold and dimple on full awful display,” Harrington writes of the full-body “nude” scanners that TSA pulled in 2013. “Piercings of every kind were visible. Women who’d had mastectomies were easy to discern—their chests showed up on our screens as dull, pixelated (sic) regions. Hernias appeared as bulging, blistery growths in the crotch area.”

Not only were these scanners invasive but they were also ineffective — a fact, Harrington writes, TSA knew.

“We knew the full-body scanners didn’t work before they were even installed. Not long after the Underwear Bomber incident, all TSA officers at O’Hare were informed that training for the Rapiscan Systems full-body scanners would soon begin. The machines cost about $150,000 a pop,” he wrote, recalling one instructor who told a class of TSA officers that the scanners were “shit.”

And while the full-body scanners have been scrapped, Harrington offers additional details about TSA officers’ day-to-day, including pat downs for rude customers, code lingo for attractive women, and seizures of items.

“Once, in 2008, I had to confiscate a bottle of alcohol from a group of Marines coming home from Afghanistan,” he writes. “It was celebration champagne intended for one of the men in the group—a young, decorated soldier, He was in a wheelchair, both legs lost to an I.E.D., and it fell to me to tell this kid who would never walk again that his homecoming champagne had to be taken away in the name of national security.”

According to Harrington, TSA provided agents with a list of largely Middle Eastern countries whose residents deserved extra scrutiny from TSA. He notes that the list was “purely political” as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia was not included on it, despite those countries’ proclivity for harboring terrorists.

“In private, most TSA officers I talked to told me they felt the agency’s day-to-day operations represented an abuse of public trust and funds,” he wrote.

Harrington begins to wrap up his piece by recalling that he used to hint on his anonymous blog that a terrorist who wanted to beat the system could do well simply by joining it.

“That assertion stemmed from personal experience,” he wrote. “A fellow officer once returned to O’Hare from a trip to TSA headquarters and confessed that he had run into some complications: Someone realized that his background check had never been processed in the four years he had been an employee. He could have been anyone, for all TSA knew—a murderer, terrorist, rapist. The agency had to rush to get his background investigated. Who knows how many similar cases there were, and are, at airports around the nation.”

No longer blogging anonymously and out of the agency, Harrington is currently working on a novel about his experiences.

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Caroline May