Airport security breach caught on camera

A passenger at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport says he caught a blatant security breach on his cell phone camera. The passenger with an iPhone was in the cell phone waiting lot when he recorded a woman tossing a bag over a fence to an airport worker.

The bag gets stuck and the worker climbs up to get it, all this unfolding just feet from the runway. One air safety expert wonders what’s in the bag but says that’s not the biggest concern.

“It’s obvious that they’re not concerned that security is going to be on top of them,” Air safety expert Brent Brown says.

He also says it tells him this isn’t the first time this has happened.

The worker was standing next to a Delta Air Lines luggage truck so Delta and airport officials say they are investigating the security breach.
A TSA spokesman says airport perimeter security is not their responsibility, but they are helping with the investigation.

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Homeland Security: Making a watch list and checking it twice?

The United States Department of Homeland Security collects and retains personal information on potential security risks to U.S. transportation security including airline passengers, flight crews, contractors and TSA employees – and anyone else’s personal information stored on several data lists created by the federal government since 9/11 in an attempt to “connect the dots” that may have been previously overlooked.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Transportation Security Administation’s (TSA) Office of Intelligence & Analysis Trends and Patterns Branch (TPB) will now integrate all the personally identifiable information (PII) collected into one “jumbo list,” in order to better analyze and identify previously unknown links or patterns among individuals who undergo a TSA security threat assessment.

Exactly whose information is stored in the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB) and DHS and TSA compiled lists is a secret.

Most Americans are aware of the U.S. government “no fly lists,” which supposedly flag potential terrorists before they board commercial airliners, and security threat assessments of flight crews and passengers, and individuals with questionable identification and airport workers. Some lesser known TSA security threat assessments are conducted on registered overnight hotel guests (Registered Guest) at certain hotels physically connected to airport terminals, Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) holders, certain non-travelers, and anyone seeking Sensitive Security Information (SSI) in a civil proceeding, and much more.

On the FBI website, the agency quotes an Washington Post editorial to explain why watch lists such as “No Fly list” and “Selectee list” remain undisclosed:

“There are legitimate law enforcement reasons for keeping the list secret: Disclosure of such information would tip off known or suspected terrorists, who could then change their habits or identities to escape government scrutiny.”

Who can access all of the personal information collected by the U.S. government? It is entirely at the discretion of the TSA.

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The secretive world of air marshals

When you think of aviation security, you’re likely to conjure up images of security screeners at TSA checkpoints.

But the Federal Air Marshal Service is a clandestine layer which operates in plain sight every day.

With a requirement to be accurate at least 85 percent of the time, no other federal agent has sharper shooting skills than air marshals.

“Our main work environment is the aircraft,” air marshal Kimberley Thompson explained. “At 35,000 feet, you don’t have room for error.”

For decades, the covert organization has avoided cameras. But it agreed to give us a rare inside look at its training facility in Atlantic City, New Jersey along with two former Dallas police officers who are rising through the ranks.

Tony Metcalf carried Badge 6666 with DPD. He worked downtown and as a DWI officer before 9/11 and FAMS began recruiting.

“I faxed a two-page resume and got a call the next morning,” Metcalf said. “I actually thought it was a co-worker of mine playing a joke.”

Metcalf said air marshals develop cover stories to explain why they’re flying in case other passengers strike up a conversation.

Blending in is paramount, Metcalf said, and that’s much easier for his female colleagues like Thompson.

“I think the only unique challenge for women is the fact that the weapon is a pretty large weapon, and sometimes it is hard to determine what you need to wear to conceal it,” she said.

Thompson spent four years as a Dallas police officer working at Northwest Patrol.

“When 9/11 happened, it was something that spoke to me and said I need to do something more,” she said.

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The Top 20 Airports for TSA Theft

Your suitcase has been tagged and whisked away for a TSA security check before being loaded onto a plane en route to your final destination. How safe are the belongings inside? The TSA has fired nearly 400 employees for allegedly stealing from travelers, and for the first time, the agency is revealing the airports where those fired employees worked.

Newly released figures provided to ABC News by the TSA in response to a Freedom of Information Act request show that, unsurprisingly, many of the country’s busiest airports also rank at the top for TSA employees fired for theft.

Sixteen of the top 20 airports for theft firings are also in the top 20 airports in terms of passengers passing through.

At the head of the list is Miami International Airport, which ranks twelfth in passengers but first in TSA theft firings, with 29 employees terminated for theft from 2002 through December 2011. JFK International Airport in New York is second with 27 firings, and Los Angeles International Airport is third with 24 firings. JFK ranks sixth in passenger traffic, while LAX is third. Chicago, while second in traffic, ranked 20th in theft firings.

The four airports listed in the TSA’s top 20 list of employee firings for theft that aren’t also among the FAA’s top 20 for passenger activity are Salt Lake City International, Washington Dulles, Louis Armstrong New Orleans International, and San Diego International.

The top airports across the U.S. for TSA employees fired for theft are:

1. Miami International Airport (29)

2. JFK International Airport (27)

3. Los Angeles International Airport (24)

4. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (17)

5. Las Vegas-McCarren International Airport (15)

6. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and New York-Laguardia Airport (14 each)

8. Newark Liberty, Philadelphia International, and Seattle-Tacoma International airports (12 each)

11. Orlando International Airport (11)

12. Houston-George Bush Intercontinental Airport and Salt Lake City International Airport (10 each)

14. Washington Dulles International Airport (9)

15. Detroit Metro Airport and Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (7)

17. Boston-Logan International, Denver International and San Diego International airports (6)

20. Chicago O’Hare International Airport (5)

During a recent ABC News investigation, an iPad left behind at a security checkpoint at the Orlando airport was tracked as it moved 30 miles away to the home of the TSA officer last seen handling it.

WATCH the ‘Nightline’ report on ‘The Case of the Missing iPad’

Confronted two weeks later by ABC News, the TSA officer, Andy Ramirez, at first denied having the missing iPad, but ultimately turned it over after blaming his wife for taking it from the airport. Ramirez was later fired by the TSA.

PHOTOS: A Rogues’ Gallery of TSA Agents

The iPad was one of ten purposely left behind at TSA checkpoints at major airports with a history of theft by government screeners, as part of an ABC News investigation into the TSA’s ongoing problem with theft of passenger belongings. The other nine iPads were returned to ABC News after being left behind.

The agency disputes that theft is a widespread problem, however, saying the number of officers fired “represents less than one-half of one percent of officers that have been employed” by TSA.

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TSA Removes X-Ray Body Scanners From Major Airports

The Transportation Security Administration has been quietly removing its X-ray body scanners from major airports over the last few weeks and replacing them with machines that radiation experts believe are safer.

The TSA says it made the decision not because of safety concerns but to speed up checkpoints at busier airports. It means, though, that far fewer passengers will be exposed to radiation because the X-ray scanners are being moved to smaller airports.

The backscatters, as the X-ray scanners are known, were swapped out at Boston Logan International Airport in early October. Similar replacements have occurred at Los Angeles International Airport, Chicago O’Hare, Orlando and John F. Kennedy in New York, the TSA confirmed Thursday.

The X-ray scanners have faced a barrage of criticism since the TSA began rolling them out nationwide after the failed underwear bombing on Christmas Day 2009. One reason is that they emit a small dose of ionizing radiation, which at higher levels has been linked to cancer.

In addition, privacy advocates decried that the machines produce images, albeit heavily blurred, of passengers’ naked bodies. Each image must be reviewed by a TSA officer, slowing security lines.

The replacement machines, known as millimeter-wave scanners, rely on low-energy radio waves similar to those used in cell phones. The machines detect potential threats automatically and quickly using a computer program. They display a generic cartoon image of a person’s body, mitigating privacy concerns.

“They’re not all being replaced,” TSA spokesman David Castelveter said. “It’s being done strategically. We are replacing some of the older equipment and taking them to smaller airports. That will be done over a period of time.”

He said the TSA decided to move the X-ray machines to less-busy airports after conducting an analysis of processing time and staffing requirements at the airports where the scanners are installed.

The radiation risk and privacy concerns had no bearing on the decision, Castelveter said.

Asked about the changes, John Terrill, a spokesman for Rapiscan — which makes the X-ray scanners — wrote in an email, “No comment on this.”

The TSA is not phasing out X-ray body scanners altogether. The backscatter machines are still used for screening at a few of America’s largest 25 airports, but the TSA has not confirmed which ones. Last week, Gateway Airport in Mesa, Ariz., installed two of the machines.

Moreover, in late September, the TSA awarded three companies potential contracts worth up to $245 million for the next generation of body scanners — and one of the systems, made by American Science & Engineering, uses backscatter X-ray technology.

The United States remains one of the only countries in the world to X-ray passengers for airport screening. The European Union prohibited the backscatters last year “in order not to risk jeopardizing citizens’ health and safety,” according to a statement at the time. The last scanners were removed from Manchester Airport in the United Kingdom last month.

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the two types of body scanners the TSA uses.

The X-ray scanner looks like two blue refrigerator-sized boxes. Unseen to the passenger, a thin beam scans left and right and up and down. The rays reflect back to the scanner, creating an image of the passenger’s body and any objects hidden under his or her clothes.

The millimeter-wave scanner looks like a round glass booth. Two rotating antennas circle the passenger, emitting radio frequency waves. Instead of creating a picture of the passenger’s body, a computer algorithm looks for anomalies and depicts them as yellow boxes on a cartoon image of the body.

According to many studies, including a new one conducted by the European Union, the radiation dose from the X-ray scanner is extremely small. It has been repeatedly measured to be less than the dose received from cosmic radiation during two minutes of the airplane flight.

Using those measurements, radiation experts have studied the cancer risk, with estimates ranging from six to 100 additional cancer cases among the 100 million people who fly every year. Many scientists say that is trivial, considering that those same 100 million people would develop 40 million cancers over the course of their lifetimes. And others, including the researchers who did the EU study, have said that so much is unknown about low levels of radiation that such estimates shouldn’t be made.

Still, the potential risks have led some prominent scientists to argue that the TSA is unnecessarily endangering the public because it has an alternative — the millimeter-wave machine — which it also deems highly effective at finding explosives.

“Why would we want to put ourselves in this uncertain situation where potentially we’re going to have some cancer cases?” David Brenner, director of Columbia University’s Center for Radiological Research, told ProPublica last year. “It makes me think, really, why don’t we use millimeter waves when we don’t have so much uncertainty?”

Although there has been some doubt about the long-term safety of the type of radio frequency waves used in the millimeter-wave machines, scientists say that, in contrast to X-rays, such waves have no known mechanism to damage DNA and cause cancer.

The TSA has said that having both technologies encourages competition, leading to better detection capabilities at a lower cost.

But tests in Europe and Australia suggest the millimeter-wave machines have some drawbacks. They were found to have a high false-alarm rate, ranging from 23 percent to 54 percent when figures have been released. Even common things such as folds in clothing and sweat have triggered the alarm.

In contrast, Manchester Airport officials told ProPublica that the false-alarm rate for the backscatter was less than 5 percent.

No study comparing the two machines’ effectiveness has been released. The TSA says its own results are classified.

Each week, the agency reports on various knives, powdered drugs and even an explosives detonator used for training that have been found by the body scanners.

But Department of Homeland Security investigators reported last year that they had “identified vulnerabilities” with both types of machines. And House transportation committee chairman John Mica, R-Fla., who has seen the results, has called the scanners “badly flawed.”

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TSA Gone Wild: 8 Unexpected Ways the Government is Spying on You

Near-constant surveillance is the new normal. We’ve come to expect it. On the bus to work, I used to take note of the number of speed and surveillance cameras, private and public, along the two-mile route. My tally passed eleven, then twelve, then thirteen, then I lost count.

Most of us regard the trend as inevitable, save a few reactionaries like one Maryland resident who’s taken to destroying them (that won’t work because municipal governments can just respond as Prince George’s county is, by buying cameras to watch the cameras). Perhaps it is. But the voting public might be a bit more outraged if they were aware of the extent of government surveillance that goes on without their knowledge. Here are eight examples:

1) Cell Phone Tracking

The Supreme Court ruled in January that law enforcement couldn’t attach GPS tracking devices to cars without a warrant. But if perp in question has a GPS-equipped smart phone, that might not even be necessary. Last year, cell phone companies responded to 1.2 million information requests from law enforcement, according to the New York Times. Not all of them required warrants, and GPS data was frequently a subject of the requests. A federal appeals court reaffirmed last month that warrantless tracking was permissible under the Constitution.

2) Accidental Military Drone Surveillance

The Air Force occasionally operates domestically for training purposes, missions pertaining to disaster relief, and to do a handful of other things. As drones have become a permanent part of the military infrastructure, it’s reasonable to expect they will have a role in the future for some of those same types of domestic missions. Drones belonging to intelligence agencies and the military aren’t supposed to photograph citizens in this country, but should they do so by accident, they have three months to get rid of them. As Wired’s Spencer Ackerman put it, “if an Air Force drone accidentally spies on an American citizen, the Air Force will have three months to figure out if it was legally allowed to put that person under surveillance in the first place.” In the meantime, whatever the drone collects could be turned over to domestic law enforcement with a court order. Privacy rules for domestic drones will likely be different.

3) Reading Your Social Media

Use words like “riot,” “pipe bomb,” “plume,” “toxic” or “chemical burn” in a tweet or status update and there’s a decent chance it will get picked up by DHS contractors who are paid to monitor social media. Technically, this data is usually supposed to be stripped of information that can identify individuals, but there are exceptions. In January, the FBI put out a call for an “Open Source and social media alert, mapping, and analysis application solution,” which is to say, software that processes tweets and status updates.

4) X-Ray Vans

You know those TSA X-Ray machines? Imagine one of those, but twice as powerful and on a truck. While the main customer for Z-Backscatter Vans has been the military, domestic law enforcement agencies including the NYPD have been getting in on the action too.

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Top 10: Ways To Get Through Airport Security Faster in the US

Getting through airport security can be one of the most frustrating aspects of the travel experience. Slow lines, grouchy TSA agents and borderline violations of privacy are just some of the joys you can hope to experience on your next trip to the airport. However, there are some ways to make this process less painful, so here are are picks on the top 10 ways to get through airport security faster.

1. Elite Status: One of the best ways to get through airport security faster is by having elite status. Most airlines allow at least their mid-tier and high-tier elites to access the priority security lines. This benefit is usually extended to any companions traveling with the elite member, so it can’t hurt to try and bring them along with you. Passengers having any one of the following elite status are eligible for this benefit:

Delta: Gold Medallion, Platinum Medallion and Diamond Medallion members
United: Premier Silver, Premier Gold, Premier Platinum, Premier 1K members
American: AAdvantage Gold, AAdvantage Platinum, and AAdvantage Executive Platinum members
US Airways: Silver Preferred, Gold Preferred, Platinum Preferred, and Chairman’s Preferred members
Southwest: A-List and A-List Preferred members
Alaska: MVP, MVP Gold, and MVP Gold 75 members
Jetblue: TrueBlue Mosaic members and those seated in Even More Space seats
Virigin America: Elevate Silver and Elevate Gold members

2. Fly Premium Class: In addition to allowing those with elite status to enter the priority security lanes, those flying in First or Business class are also allowed to use these lanes. Some airports, such as Honolulu, will put a stamp on your boarding pass when you check-in that will allow those seated in a premium class to use the faster security lines. Some airports even have their own terminal for first class or business class passengers. Delta has this at Terminal 2 at JFK for their Sky Priority customers, and of course Lufthansa has their First Class Terminal in Frankfurt where the security screening process is almost instantaneous.

3. TSA Pre-Check: The TSA risk-based screening initiative, TSA Pre-Check, started in October 2011. The goal of this initiative is to test modified screening procedures for selected passengers traveling through certain security checkpoints within the U.S. Customers with certain elite status levels as well as members of Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Global Entry, SENTRI, and NEXUS Trusted Traveler programs who are U.S. citizens may be eligible to participate in this pilot program. Eligible members must opt-in to be considered for Pre-Check. Members may opt in by updating and saving their Secure Flight Passenger Data, or by adding their Trusted Traveler / Membership Number / PassID (for Global Entry, SENTRI, and NEXUS members) in the Known Traveler field in the Secure Flight section on airlines’ sites. The great thing if you are selected is you don’t have to take your shoes, belt, or jacket off and you can leave laptop computers in the bag. This can be a big time saver, but since it’s random, there is no guarantee passengers will get it, even if you are enrolled. Depending on the check point, this is only available for passengers flying on Delta, United, American, U.S. Airways and Alaska Airlines. This is currently available at over 20 of the nation’s busiest airports and new locations are continuing to be added each month.

4. Ask Nicely: This can actually go a lot further than you might think. Most often, the agents manning the priority security lines are independent airport contract workers and sometimes even TSA agents. Rarely is it the actual airlines’ employees since their time can be spent better at the check-in areas or the gates. Whether it is because you are cutting your time too short and your flight is starting to board or if you are traveling with small children, they just might send you through the priority line. It can’t hurt to ask!

5. CLEAR: This is an innovative program that helps travelers zip through airport security using the biometric CLEARcard. The standard unlimited annual pricing plan is $179 (not worth it unless you are based in one of their cities and fly a lot). The current locations of CLEAR are at Denver International Airport (DEN), Orlando International Airport (MCO), San Francisco International Airport (SFO), and Dallas/Ft Worth (DFW). With the limited number of locations, and since it really is just a front of the line benefit, I couldn’t justify the annual fee – I think TSA PreCheck is much better.

6. American Airlines Flagship Check-In: Another good way to speed up your time at airport security is with American’s flagship service. In addition to the customer service representatives who personally assist with your individual check-in and travel requirements including baggage check, seating, itinerary changes, there is a designated premium security line with expedited access. To take advantage of Flagship Check-in service you must fall into one of the following groups: Five Star Service passengers, ConciergeKey members (those who pay $125+ for VIP services), those traveling first class onboard an international American or British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines and Qantas flight anywhere in your outbound itinerary, and first class passengers on an American three-class transcontinental aircraft between MIA and LAX, and from LAX to JFK. The two current locations of this are at Los Angeles and now at Miami, though American says it will be rolling out to future locations this year. At Miami especially, this can save a ton of time since there are so many AA elites based here, and even the elite line can take 20+ minutes.

7. Selectively choose your security line: Many airports have multiple entries into the airport. If you see a huge line at one checkpoint, try another. Educate yourself on the options at your home airport. Many airports have connected terminals once through security, so you can sometimes save time by entering a further security checkpoint and then transiting once in the terminal.

8. Dress appropriately and know what, how and when to take certain items off and put them back on: Have your ID ready when approaching the TSA agent right before going through screening. Remove shoes (try to leave your thigh-high lace-up boots at home!), belts and everything in your pockets before entering the screening technology and put your shoes directly on the belt to go through the X-ray machine instead of in a bin with other items. Tip: I like to put my wallet, phone and any other loose items in a coat or jacket pocket so I can throw it on once through security. Another tip: you don’t need to take off most jewelry. I always see people taking off watches, but I never have and they haven’t set off metal detectors. Take your laptop out and put it in a bin (there are some laptop-friendly cases in which your computer doesn’t even have to come out). iPads, cameras and other devices can stay in your bag. Take your liquids out of your bag and place them in a clear plastic bag (seriously, double check to make sure your water bottle isn’t in your bag- it delays the whole line when they have to re-run your bag). The TSA recommends the 3-1-1 approach. Once through the screener, take your belongings and either move them down the lane or try to reassemble yourself at a nearby bench. Trying to do everything at the belt slows everything down, so do your best to keep the movement going even though it can be stressful trying to reclaim your items and put your shoes and belt back on.

9. Adjust approach for children and seniors: Infants and children need to be taken out of baby carriers and strollers before they can go through the metal detector. Strollers and baby carriers can go through the X-ray machine with your bags. If possible, collapse the stroller before arriving at the metal detector. Children 12 and under can leave their shoes on during screening. For seniors, modified screening measures allow passengers 75 and older to leave on shoes and light jackets through security checkpoints. Seniors can also undergo an additional pass through Advanced Imaging Technology to clear any anomalies detected during screening. Check out our earlier post about Tips for Traveling with a Mobility-Challenged Person for even more advice.

10. Don’t be an idiot: While you may disagree with TSA procedures, snarky responses and rude behavior to front-line employees are not going to make a change in policy. Like it or not, TSA agents actually have a decent amount of power, so if you try to make stupid jokes or give them a hard time, you won’t only hold up the process for yourself, but for everyone behind you as well.

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Hidden government scanners could soon analyze your every molecule

Possibly as early as 2013, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will be able to beam a laser at us from 164 feet (50 meters) away, analyzing the molecules of our bodies, our clothes, our luggage, whatever meal we’re digesting inside our guts, whatever gun powder residue might have clung to terrorists, whatever drugs are floating around in our urine or glommed onto the soles of our shoes, and how nervous we might be according to our adrenaline levels, all without patdowns or having to touch us at all, without us even knowing it’s happening.

Human body, courtesy of ShutterstockThe news comes from a researcher who chooses to remain anonymous.

He’s currently completing his PhD in renewable energy solutions and published the news of this impending death of privacy on Gizmodo.

Regardless of his anonymity, the researcher backs up the premise with publicly available information.

For one thing, in November 2011, the technology’s inventors were subcontracted by In-Q-Tel, an organization that defines itself as a bridge between the CIA and new technology companies, to work with DHS.

In-Q-Tel describes the technology as a “synchronized programmable laser” for use in the biomedical, industrial and defense and security communities.

The anonymous researcher writes that DHS plans to install this molecular-level scanning in airports and border crossings across the US.

The “official, stated goal” is to quickly identify explosives, dangerous chemicals, or bioweapons at a distance, he writes, and will likely be used to scan absolutely anybody and everybody:

The machine is ten million times faster—and one million times more sensitive—than any currently available system. That means that it can be used systematically on everyone passing through airport security, not just suspect or randomly sampled people.

The technology isn’t new: it’s just “millions times faster and more convenient than ever before,” the researcher writes.

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TSA officers charged with trashing South Beach hotel room, shooting gun

Miami Beach police say two Transportation Security Administration officers partied a little too hard Tuesday night, trashed their South Beach hotel room and then picked up a semi-automatic handgun and shot six rounds out the window.

One bullet pierced a $1,500 hurricane impact resistant window at a nearby Barneys New York, penetrated a wall and tore into some jeans in the closed store’s stockroom, according to store manager Adelchi Mancusi. No one was injured.

Jeffrey Piccolella, 27, and Nicholas Anthony Puccio, 25, were arrested just before midnight. The Palm Beach County men have been charged with criminal mischief and use of a firearm while under the influence.

In a city known for wild, late-night behavior, merely tossing speakers, lamps, a phone, ice chest and vase out a second floor room at the Hotel Shelley, 844 Collins. Ave., might not have drawn much attention.

But according to an incident report, a front desk clerk and security guard called police about 11:18 p.m. after they heard one gun shot, followed by three to five more after a few seconds. When the clerk went back inside the hotel, a guest told him someone was throwing furniture and bric-a-brac out the window of room 217, where Piccolella and Puccio were staying the night.

Detective Vivian Hernandez, a police spokeswoman, said officers arrived and, after a shell casing was found on the ground amid broken room furnishings, the SWAT team was called out.

Investigators went to the mens’ room and then took them to police headquarters.

In a recorded interview, Piccolella told a detective he and Puccio were drinking before returning to their hotel room, according to the incident report. He allegedly said they opened a window, tossed several objects out and then Piccolella grabbed a .380-calliber pistol from his luggage and they took turns shooting out the window.

Puccio said the story was untrue, according to the report.

Police impounded the gun.

Hotel management said $400 in furniture was destroyed.

The two men were booked at the Pre-Trial Detention Center on $5,500 bond each.

TSA spokesman Jon Allen wrote in an email that Piccolella and Puccio are part-time officers who have worked one and two years, respectively, for the agency. They were not in Miami Beach on TSA business, according to Allen.

“TSA holds its employees to the highest professional and ethical standards,” Allen wrote. “We will review the facts and take appropriate action as necessary.”

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