In the wake of the murder of a Transportation Security Administration official at Los Angeles International Airport last week, the union representing the agency’s employees is calling on lawmakers to give some TSA agents guns, handcuffs and the power to make arrests.
Many lawmakers and the Administration of Barack Obama have called for a review of airport security procedures following the shooting, but the TSA union has already come up with a proposal that would create a new class of TSA agent with all of the powers of a regular law enforcement officer.
The union claims that adding the new, more powerful agents to the TSA’s workforce — which is already comprised of 45,000 employees — would serve to protect what union officials describe as a workforce that has been unfairly demonized by “the right-wing media and certain members of Congress.”
The liberal Southern Poverty Law Center has already jumped at the opportunity to link the 23-year-old LAX shooter, Paul Ciancia, to the broader conservative movement because the deranged individual was carrying “a one-page ‘manifesto’ that included references to the ‘New World Order,’ the Federal Reserve and ‘fiat currency…’”
SPLC’s Mark Potok noted on the organization’s website:
Ciancia’s language and references seemed to put him squarely in the conspiracy-minded world of the antigovernment “Patriot” movement. The New World Order refers to a longstanding conspiracy theory that today, in its most popular iteration, claims that global elites are plotting to form a socialistic “one-world government” that would crush American freedoms. Often, the root of the alleged conspiracy is traced to the 1913 creation of the Federal Reserve and the adoption of fiat currency — paper money that is not backed by gold, as it was once was in the U.S.
So-called Patriots also increasingly see the DHS, which produces intelligence assessments of extremists that are distributed to other law enforcement agencies, as an enemy and even a collaborator in the New World Order conspiracy.
And from now on, it seems the TSA union will use Ciancia’s beliefs to attempt to classify any traveler who feels he has been mistreated by the TSA and objects as an imminent threat.
“Our officers are verbally assaulted every day; they’re physically assaulted far too often, and they need better protection at those checkpoints,” David Borer, the general counsel for the American Federation of Government Employees, said during an interview with Federal News Radio.
“That’s why we’re advocating for a new class of officer who is trained as a law enforcement officer, has a weapon, has arrest authority and so forth to protect those checkpoints.”
Representatives of the union also claim that the addition of TSA agents with broader power would lead to an overall increase in airport security and better equip the agency to deal with incidents like the Friday shooting.
“We feel a larger and more consistent armed presence in screening areas would be a positive step in improving security for both [security officers] and the flying public,” said J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, according to POLITICO. “The development of a new class of TSA officers with law enforcement status would be a logical approach to accomplishing this goal.”
The TSA already has armed Federal air marshals and a class of “armed security officers” that it either employs directly or contracts. The agency says that these employees must meet “qualifications established by TSA, in coordination with the Federal Air Marshal Service.”
Arming a greater number of TSA officers will likely be a tough sell, however, as recent years have seen increasing calls from the public for Congress to quell the agency’s power and TSA agents have been at the center of a number of embarrassing incidents.
A Government Accountability Office report in August stated that misconduct among TSA agents has increased by about 26 percent in the past three years, though Borer claims that the agency’s bad apples represent only 1 percent of the TSA workforce. Some of the latest reports of TSA abuses and incompetence include the story of a 9-year-old boy who snuck past a checkpoint and boarded a flight without a ticket, agents detaining a 3-year-old girl bound to a wheelchair, and an undercover inspector sneaking an explosive device past a checkpoint. There have also been countless reports of TSA agents using their authority to grope passengers for perverse ends and a report last month of an air marshal — employed by the TSA — taking cellphone pictures up female passengers’ skirts.
Even Representative John Mica (R-Fla.), who is largely credited with creating the TSA, has become a critic of the agency in recent years. In 2011, the Congressman lamented that what “was meant to be a very lean, adaptive security agency that would set standards” had grown into a monster and an insult to the freedom of the American flying public.