The list of horror stories about gadget theft by Transportation Security Administration agents just got a little longer, with ABC News catching one officer in the act of stealing an iPad.
In an investigation of ten major U.S. airports, ABC News checked luggage containing iPads and cash, and purposely left behind iPads at TSA security checkpoints. Although all the checked luggage arrived safely, and nearly all checkpoint officers called travelers back to claim their iPads, one officer in Orlando instead grabbed the iPad at a security checkpoint and took it to his home, 30 miles away.
When confronted two weeks later, the agent, Andy Ramirez, claimed that his wife took the iPad from the airport, despite video evidence of him handling the device. The TSA then fired him.
The agency claims that widespread theft isn't a problem, noting that only 0.5 percent of officers employed by the TSA have been terminated for stealing. In total, 381 officers have been fired between 2003 and 2012, including 11 this year.
But one termination out of every 200 employees isn't exactly stellar, and doesn't account for employees who haven't been caught. U.S. Rep. John Mica (R-Florida), who serves on the House Transportation Committee, said the latest iPad theft is just “the tip of the iceberg.” He accused the TSA of failing to perform proper background checks on employees to root out bad apples.
A former TSA agent, Pythias Brown, who recently got out of jail for stealing, also told ABC News that the problem is widespread. Brown, who worked the screening machine at Newark, relied on tips from colleagues when overhead cameras weren't working. Over four years, Brown stole $800,000 worth of items, and said he wasn't the only one.
Besides, there's plenty of anecdotal evidence of TSA agents stealing expensive electronics. Here are a few examples:
- In January, a baggage screener in Orlando was arrested for allegedly lifting goods from checked bags, using a laptop-sized hidden pocket in his work jacket, and then selling the wares on Craigslist.
- In July 2011, a TSA employee in Fort Lauderdale was arrested after allegedly removing an iPad from a bag and stuffing it into his pants pocket. He later told authorities that he'd stolen $50,000 worth of electronics, and would typically sell the goods online before his shift had ended.
- At Dallas/Forth Worth, an agent was caught in April for stealing eight iPads over an eight-month period.
Seeing as this isn't a new issue, and the TSA isn't willing to publicly admit that it's a widespread problem, don't expect horror stories like these to go away.
If you're flying with expensive electronics, always keep them in your carry-on bags instead of checking them, and keep your eyes on your gadgets while heading through security checkpoints. For added protection, iPhone and iPad users can install Apple's “Find my iPhone/iPad” service to track missing devices, and Android users can install third-party device location services, such as LookOut Plan B and AndroidLost.