TSA agents fired over system to fondle male genitals in Denver

Reuters/Kevork Djansezian
Two Transportation Security Administration officials at Denver International Airport (DIA) have been fired for conducting a scam on male passengers. A male and female agent collaborated so the male could fondle the genitals of men he found attractive.

At some point in 2014, the male TSA agent told a female coworker that he “gropes” male passengers he finds attractive, and he asked her for help manipulating the system, according to law enforcement documents obtained by KCNC.

“He related that when a male he finds attractive comes to be screened by the scanning machine he will alert another TSA screener to indicate to the scanning computer that the party being screened is a female. When the screener does this, the scanning machine will indicate an anomaly in the genital area and this allows [the male TSA screener] to conduct a pat-down search of that area,” the documents said.

Enhanced pat-downs were introduced by the TSA in 2010, and are “primarily used to resolve alarms that occur at a walk-through metal detector, if an anomaly is detected during screening with advanced imaging technology (AIT), or during random screening,” according to the agency’s blog. Pat-downs are conducted by same gender officers.

A TSA official turned in the two employees in November, but it took three months before the agency took action.

On February 9, in response to the anonymous tip, TSA security supervisor Chris Higgins watched the DIA screening area, observing the employees.

“At about 0925 he observed [the male TSA screener] appear to give a signal to another screener… [the second, female screener] was responsible for the touchscreen system that controls whether or not the scanning machine alerts to gender-specific anomalies,” the law enforcement documents said.

A security alert from a TSA full body scan (Transportation Security Administration)

Higgins then watched a male passenger enter the scanner at DIA “and observed [the female TSA agent] press the screening button for a female. The scanner alerted to an anomaly, and Higgins observed [the male TSA screener] conduct a pat down of the passenger’s front groin and buttocks area with the palm of his hands, which is contradictory to TSA searching policy.”

Then Higgins interviewed the female agent he saw participating in the manipulation, according to KCNC.

She “admitted that she has done this for [the male TSA officer] at least 10 other times. She knew that doing so would allow [the male TSA officer] to perform a pat down on a male passenger that [the male TSA screener] found attractive,” Higgins wrote in the report.

“These alleged acts are egregious and intolerable,” a spokesperson for TSA said in a brief written statement to KCNC. “TSA has removed the two officers from the agency. All allegations of misconduct are thoroughly investigated by the agency. And when substantiated, employees are held accountable.”

Earlier in April, KCNC asked a prosecutor from the Denver District Attorney’s Office to review the case, but she declined to press charges because there was no reasonable likelihood of conviction and no victim had been identified.

Previously, the TSA denied that its agents abuse their authority by targeting attractive people.

In a blog post responding to allegations made by a Texas woman that TSA agents at Dallas International Airport subjected her to a full body imaging scan three times and told her that her figure was “cute,” the agency wrote, “First, I want to reassure all passengers that TSA does not profile passengers.”

The post, titled ‘TSA Officers Focus on Security, not Good Looks’, noted that the imaging system software only shows the outline of a generic person. However, the blog did not address whether agents could manipulate the alert system to re-scan whomever they want, as the two fired Denver officials were found to have done.

The image produced by backscatter machines, which are no longer in use(AFP/Chip Somodevilla)

The TSA switched away from previous software in 2011 and completely removed the backscatter machines that were nicknamed “naked scanners” by June 2013, after years of complaints and following serious concerns over their inability to protect the privacy of passengers. A 2014 study found that those types of scanners were ineffective at finding smuggled weapons, especially the explosive C-4.

It’s not the first time that TSA agents at DIA have been accused of inappropriate touching.

In December 2013, Jamelyn Steenhoek, 39, accompanied her 13-year-old daughter to a departure gate at DIA when she was stopped for a pat-down. Although Steenhoek was not boarding a flight that day, she set off a security alarm at an airport checkpoint and attracted the attention of TSA officials.

After what she described as a “pretty invasive search” by a female TSA agent, Steenhoek filed a complaint with the Denver Police Department, which in turn opened an investigation into the incident. Criminal charges were not filed against the official.

According to district attorney spokesperson Lynn Kimbrough, two deputy district attorneys looked over the details of the 2013 incident, and both concluded that the case should be dropped along with any charges. She added the attorneys did not think they could prove the TSA’s pat-down had elements of abuse or gratification.