Thursday, December 29, 2011

The TSA's little child pornography and predator problem: A Twisted, Sick Abomination

You don't have to be a parent to feel utterly nauseated upon reading stories like this one, the details of which were just posted at The Smoking Gun (charges--two counts of felony child porn--were filed last month in a Maryland circuit court):

As cops raided his Maryland home, a Transportation Security Administration screener confessed to downloading child pornography, acknowledged that it was “not right in a legal and moral sense,” and stated that he has a “problem.”

The admissions by Scott Wilson, 41, came as Baltimore investigators recently searched his home after an undercover agent downloaded child porn from his computer via a file sharing program.

And you don't have to be a Nervous Nellie to make the logical leap to asking the obvious questions:

Is this a serious systemic problem, and are these government employees--who are tasked with screening American travelers by looking at their nude images, physically groping their sex organs, or both--themselves being screened?

Or could this simply be a case where, as in any large organization, one or two bad apples will turn up, and sometimes they'll display an ultra-high degree of rot?

Allow me to settle that for you right now (and I apologize that the truth of the matter is so disturbing): There are far more than a few "bad apples" floating around the TSA barrel. Even as we, the traveling public, are expected to allow strangers to aggressively touch us--and, until recently, our babies and children--on any and every body part (and many parents report being barked at to "stand back", or move to a different location, while this happens), we are clearly not being afforded the kind of protection from child molesters, rapists, and other sexual predators that one would expect. Certainly one would not expect an organization whose job it is to "keep us safe" to be hiring child porn enthusiasts, child molesters, and child rapists.

In Boston:

Andrew W. Cheever, 33, appeared before on a complaint charging him with possession of child pornography. Last December, State Police executed a state search warrant of Cheever's former residence in Lowell. The initial search identified approximately 2,000 images of child pornography and several uniform items bearing the TSA logo.

In Spring Creek, Idaho:

The Elko County Sheriff’s Office was notified in July of possible sexual contact between David Ralph Anderson, 61, and a girl younger than 14.

According to Elko Justice Court records, the victim told investigators that on seven to 10 occasions between 2010 and this year, Anderson allegedly taught the victim about various sexual acts and had sexual contact in the form of touching each other’s genitals. [...] Anderson, who is a TSA employee according to Elko County Jail records, is being held on $250,000 bail.

In Orlando:

Suspects include then-Transportation Security Administration agent Paul David Rains, 62, of Orlando, who no longer works for the agency.

He and the other suspects face charges ranging from child pornography and sex battery to lewd and lascivious assault and sexual performance by a child.

In Philadelphia:

A passenger screener at Philadelphia International Airport is facing charges that he distributed more than 100 images of child pornography via Facebook, records show.

Federal agents also allege that Transportation Safety Administration Officer Thomas Gordon Jr. of Philadelphia, who routinely searched airline passengers, uploaded explicit pictures of young girls to an Internet site on which he also posted a photograph of himself in his TSA uniform.

In Nashville:

A TSA agent has been arrested in Rutherford County on charges of statutory rape.

Clifton Lyles was arrested by U.S. Marshals Tuesday night, following a grand jury indictment.

In Londonderry, New Hampshire:

A TSA employee who worked at Manchester Boston Regional Airport has been arrested on five counts of aggravated felonious sexual assault, according to police.

Police arrested Dwayne Valerio, 44, at his 192 Rockingham Road home on Friday, March 18, according to Lt. Robert Michaud. Police released few details on what led to his arrest, citing the alleged victim's age.

"The victim is a juvenile," he said.

Again in Orlando:

A TSA agent has been arrested and charged with lewd and lascivious molestation of a minor after police say he tried to keep a girl as a sex slave. Police arrested 57-year-old Charles Bennett of Winter Garden on Friday. A 15-year-old girl was the one who reported him to police.

According to reports from the Orange County Sheriff's Office and the Orange County Jail, the 15-year-old victim confided in her caregivers that Bennett had touched her inappropriately three years ago when she was 12. She says he also asked the young girl to be his "sex slave," an accusation investigators say Bennett admitted to in a written statement to police.

And again in Boston:

A Transportation Security Administration worker at Logan International Airport is accused of assaulting a 14-year-old girl.

Sean Shanahan, 45, of Winthrop is being held on $50,000 cash bail following his arraignment in East Boston District Court. He is charged with statutory rape, enticement of a child and indecent assault and battery on a person 14 or older.


And these are just the 2011 incidents! It must be further noted: the vast majority of sex crimes--like enticement, molestation, and rape--are not reported (for example, only about one in six incidents of rape are reported). This is due to a complicated array of cultural and legal factors that includes misplaced shame (where victims, especially young ones, blame themselves), fear of having to relive a horrific incident in a courtroom setting, fear of retribution, fear of the perpetrator himself, and more. Thus, we can fairly conclude that there were even more such crimes committed by TSA employees than those in the hardly-brief list above.

For its part, the TSA repeatedly claims to have thoroughly screened all applicants:

"TSA cannot comment on an ongoing police investigation, however, we can assure travelers every TSA employee is subject to a significant background check, including criminal history, before they are offered a job. Unfortunately, these checks do not predict future behavior. This individual is not working at the airport at the present time."

Translation: Hey, these guys don't work for us any more--what are you worried about? Don't blame us! We aren't fortune-tellers and you can't expect us to be able to tell if someone is going to commit a crime in the future...oh, wait...

(H/T Bill Fisher for the 2011 links)


  1. Isn't it common knowledge that some fields and activities attract predators due to the power or trust it provides them among their preferred victims? I can't say I'm surprised that a job which entails looking at and touching people as part of one's job duties would attract voyeurs, pedos, and such. Combine Lord Acton's dictum about power corrupting with the most hard-wired pleasure response in the human brain, and... well, the results have been noted clearly by our author.

  2. Nightshift, absolutely.

    As psychologists and prosecutors alike have often said, rape is a crime of power.

    In the cases of child pornography and child rape, there is obviously, for the perpetrator, an even greater sense of power, because the victim is young and physically smaller.

    If I were to editorialize, I might suggest that the TSA actively seeks personality types that lean toward the sadistic and power-hungry, since they make the best fascists, but that would be slightly irresponsible and and a bit inflammatory of me! ;-)

  3. Thank you for digging into this and putting it all together so we can see the patterns emerging in this new form of government invasion & assault.

  4. I would probably agree with "actively," but not "consciously," seek such people. Any employer wants a motivated worker, after all, and the linchpin of bureaucracy is that everyone other than the individual miscreant has plausible deniability when this rot inevitably occurs.

    However, I doubt that many TSA or HS personnel have the self-awareness to realize that they are actively making this country more authoritarian.

  5. You hit the nail on the head - it's the investigation or background check that is lacking for this program. I'm not totally sure that I agree that screeners are more likely to be sex offenders or that perverts (using the term loosely) gravitate to those jobs for the "thrills" they may provide. I think if you dug deeper, you would find a wide variety of criminal offenders in the ranks, including; thieves (okay, you don't have to dig too deep for that one), drug abusers, and other offenders in their midst. But then again, what intelligent, law-abiding citizen would take part in the kind of criminal activity TSA engages every day?

  6. Considering the amount of power/authority these people are given, lack of education or training they have or receive, and the general TSA culture of "citizen, obey" they should have some sort of psychological testing, like the military or police.

  7. Those of us who predicted, once Michael Chertoff's porno-scanners were inflicted on American subjects nee citizens, that the TSA had instantly become the employer of choice for gropers and child pornographers, have been unfortunately proven correct. This is what happens when we GIVE UP our God-given rights. Being sheep might seem easy at first, but the consequences are always horrible. The path of least resistance is always downhill.

  8. No, I don't believe that the TSA as a whole employs more rapists, pedophiles, etc. etc. than any other organization. And I think that's the wrong tack to take, though I understand that it has great visceral power and is therefore useful. As you know, since I've been fighting this battle for so long, I'll take whatever ammo I can get.

    It's the position of unlimited power that guarantees -- not makes it more possible, but guarantees -- that abuse will occur. And that it will be perpetrated by most of the employees. Glad I keep my turntable handy cause I use it so often: Philip Zimbardo, Stanley Milgram, Solomon Asch. They all demonstrated abuse of power -- predictable abuse of power -- in their famous experiments over 40 years ago. I've said it till I'm blue in the face and I won't stop saying it.

    When you give people unlimited power, unlimited authority, unlimited control, most people --even "good" people -- will abuse it. It's not a question of "if," it's a question of "when."

    The TSA is completely unrestrained. John Pistole routinely lies to and ignores Congress. His power is unrestrained. So of course his employees' power is unrestrained - when it's directed against us, not against him. I'm sure there are many unhappy TSA agents who don't want to be poking people's privates. The turnover rate at that agency is testament to that.

    But if they stay, if they're in dire financial straits, which in this economy, let's face it, lots of people are, they have nowhere to turn the abuse of that power except towards us.

    This behavior is predictable -- I mean just look at prison guards and police departments and the military -- and the TSA's abuse was predictable.

    Speaking of which -- here's another prediction come true:

    TSA Conducts Car Search at SRQ
    Department of Homeland Security pulled over random vehicles entering Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport Wednesday as part of an exercise.

    Yes, goddamn it, I said it would happen and it has.