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Transportation Security Administration

Disturbing Incident in Denver

Thursday, April 16, 2015
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By now I’m sure some of you have seen or heard reports in the media about a pair of Transportation Security Officers at Denver International Airport who were engaged in what can only be described as egregiously inappropriate behavior at the passenger screening checkpoint.

The two were caught because an alert employee noticed something was not right and reported it to TSA’s Office of Inspection Hotline. After a thorough investigation, including a review of closed-circuit television camera footage, the allegation was confirmed and the individuals were removed from duty and are no longer with the agency. They now potentially face local criminal charges as well.

This blatant violation of public trust by two individuals has significantly tarnished TSA’s reputation. Think about it – in an agency that employs more than 50,000 people, the irresponsible and potentially illegal behavior of just one or two reckless employees can severely and negatively impact the operational effectiveness of everyone else committed to carrying out our vital national security mission.

The vast majority of our employees act with the utmost integrity and professionalism every day, but unfortunately the conduct of a few can do significant damage to the entire workforce – and this damage is very difficult to overcome. We are committed to working very hard to prove ourselves to the public we serve in the months ahead to regain your trust.

Our mission requires that we initiate direct contact with the American people millions of times each day. In doing so we must learn from every incident and become better. The lone bright spot in this dark and disturbing behavior is that another employee saw what was going on and did not allow it to continue. Our workforce is strongly encouraged to report illegal or unethical behavior wherever and whenever they see it. Professionalism and integrity are at the core of who we are as counterterrorism professionals, and it is up to each and every one of us to demonstrate this with every passenger at every airport around the country. We must perform our work, for you the traveling public, with honor and pride. Anything less is a disservice and will not be tolerated.

Melvin J. Carraway
Acting Administrator


Submitted by Anonymous on

Since I haven't the foggiest idea what "egregiously inappropriate behavior" you're talking about, your whole message is wasted on me. Either be more explicit or don't waste time (yours and mine) with messages like this.

Submitted by Christine Buckley on

I am so sadden by this, for Denver and our entire workforce. I hope like you said we can move forward and regain the public trust.

Submitted by Landon Ascheman on

How long between the offense and when the police were notified? Did supervisors get the names of the victims? Have the victims been notified?

Submitted by Anonymous on

Don't kid yourself, Melvin, screeners abuse travelers every single day and do it for gratification, not only sexual gratification but rather the satisfaction of teaching passengers a lesson:

At one of the airports where I worked, it was common for creeners to impose additional screening and/or try to make passengers miss their flights if the passenger made them feel disrespected or requested special treatment -- for instance, asking for hand inspection of medication or camera film. This was colloquially referred to as "passenger education" -- i.e., we'll teach them not to do that again.
Supervisors were complicit in this, although we were warned not to admit it if any of the higher-ups questioned our behavior. We were told to
simply say we were doing random screening, or had noticed something
suspicious that required investigation.

copy made of this comment

Submitted by Laura Monteros on

Thank you for your forthrightness and promptness in addressing this issue. I am sure most of the TSA agents are people of integrity. But this was not the only incident reported this week. Several baggage checkers were caught stealing.

It seems it is all to easy for employees to break the law and the trust of the people who have no choice but to deal with them every time we enter an airport--even to see off a relative.

TSA needs to be much more proactive, and hire agents to monitor the agents more closely.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Even though a minutely small fraction of travelers is looking to cause any harm to planes or fellow passengers, your employees treat each and every passenger as a potential threat to national security.

Therefore I see no problem whatsoever as treating every TSO I encounter as a potential pervert and criminal.

Trust is a two-way street.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Why did it take three months to fire them? Why does it take on average three to four months to fire "bad apple" TSOs?

Submitted by Skyking on

I wonder how many passengers will file law suits in regard to being groped by these individuals. Also, this calls to mind the hundreds of reports concerning other TSA agents groping other passengers including many children. Calls into question hiring practices and ongoing supervisory skills lacking.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Does your concept of "the utmost integrity and professionalism" include censoring comments that discuss the PHL supervisor who committed perjury at taxpayer expense? How about refusing to allow his name to be posted here, despite his FELONY PERJURY being a matter of public record?

What am I saying? Of COURSE you think that protecting a perjurer is a good idea. I mean, you won't even name the scumbags in Denver who you ADMIT were sexually abusing passengers. You protect them, even after they've violated the rights of god-only-knows-how-many law-abiding Americans. You closed ranks around the worst of your agency.

Face it, Mel: when you hire amateurs to work security you're going to get amateur-level security.

You're also going to have scandals.

And the moment you and Bobby clumsily try to downplay the scandal and claim that TSA is comprised of patriotic professionals, there will be another scandal. And another. I can keep the list going all day-- in less than 14 years, the TSA's bumbling blue-suiters have run up QUITE the record of unethical behavior.

But each of the MANY scandals is just an "isolated incident"-- right, Mel? A person can't reasonably draw any inference from any single incident, so you beg us not to look at the big picture. Because the big picture is where the TSA's distinguished history of criminality, incompetence, pettiness, and lack of accountability becomes too clear to ignore.

Mel, you need to save the talk about professional security until you've actually HIRED a few security professionals. The blue-suiters definitely don't qualify.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Yet this only took 3 months to have anything done about it. How do plan on earning the public trust when you keep having the same problems with your personnel.Where were the BDO who should have seen this. Please answer this in a straightforward way and not make the passenger the guilty one.

Submitted by Mike Toreno on

"This blatant violation of public trust by two individuals has significantly tarnished TSA’s reputation. Think about it – in an agency that employs more than 50,000 people, the irresponsible and potentially illegal behavior of just one or two reckless employees can severely and negatively impact the operational effectiveness of everyone else committed to carrying out our vital national security mission."

Actually, no. The reputation has not been tarnished. Everybody thinks this is just business as usual. What you need to ask yourself is, why is the reputation of the TSA so low that this incident didn't damage it.

And no, you do not have a vital security mission.

"The vast majority of our employees act with the utmost integrity and professionalism every day,"

No they don't. See above.

but unfortunately the conduct of a few can do significant damage to the entire workforce – and this damage is very difficult to overcome. We are committed to working very hard to prove ourselves to the public we serve in the months ahead to regain your trust."

One thing you can do is show some integrity yourself. I notice you omitted the fact that it took 3 months to get rid of those guys.

Another thing is to start firing people who don't know their jobs or who abuse passengers. One way to start is to fire dishonest members of the blog team - that would be all of them.

Submitted by Randall Scott King on

I haven't seen the news reports -- what did the TSA officers in Denver actually do?

Submitted by Concerned Traveler on

Well done mr carraway and the person that addressed this. Unfortunately I don't believe most travelers are aware of what the procedure is for a "pat down". I have not seen it posted in my travels. Maybe it should be posted near where all this takes place so travelers know what to expect. I know that I am now aware that this is improper and will be aware of what I think is inappropriate touching in the future.

Submitted by Curtis on

Actually, Administrator, it was allowed to continue for several months. And for the record, this is EXACTLY the abuse that we predicted when Pistol introduced the "enhanced patdown."
This is on you. Change your policy.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Your reputation was tarnished well before these employees were CAUGHT. Many of us - members of the traveling public - have been forced to submit to unnecessary pat-downs under your allegedly heightened security standards. Now that my family members have moved within driving distance, I don't fly to see them anymore, in part because of your ridiculous assertion that because I use hiking sticks instead of canes or crutches as mobility aids I am some sort of terrorist threat.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I continue to wait for some justification for active duty military being included in pre-check, but not retired military or holders of current DoD or LE background investigations. military retirees have at least 20 years documented service to this Nation, pretty much proving their lack of risk. both DoD and LE background investigations should reveal any risk factors. active duty military do not, necessarily, have a background check or any significant length of service. neither citizenship nor a background investigation is required to enlist in the military, in fact there are likely illegal immigrants serving. if it is really about safety, then why are potentially unscreened non-citizens allowed through? sounds like it is just pandering to an admirable group to get PR, not adjusting the rules to ease screening on those who present a lower likelihood of threat.
Let me be clear: pre-911 screening should be the norm. it is all that is required, now that cockpit doors have been reinforced and locked, and flight crews and passengers know that the rules have changed and passivity=death. however, if we are going to continue this massive waste of tax dollars on security theatre, at least have _some_ of the rules make sense. now you're even allowing college kids (kaydets) to endure more reasonable screening, but those who served and sacrificed for 20+ have to take their bloody shoes and belts off!!

Submitted by Albert Lopez on

I subscribed to this blog back in 2013 when I applied for a GOES card. In all that time, with all the attendant happenings f=of the TSA, you chose this incident in Denver for the first message from the Acting Administrator? I find this curious...and lacking.

Submitted by Chris Boyce on

Two questions:

1. How could you possibly know that the machines were set for the female sex when you assured us that these machines do not save or transmit images? Read the procurement and operational specs sometime. You have more integrity issues than you have hours in the day.

2. Why wasn't the supervisor clerk who allowed this to happen not fired and charged as well?

Submitted by Anonymous on

The sad thing about this is that no victims came forward until this story broke. That leads me to believe that passengers have been conditioned to accept any form of inappropriate contact as a part of the normal screening process. Either that or they figured speaking out would lead to retaliatory screening and missing their flights. Plenty of people have been threatened with "Do you want to fly today?"

How is a passenger supposed to know what is appropriate and what isn't? When I am at the checkpoint, the screeners use euphamisms such as "meeting resistance" instead of the correct anatomical names for the body parts. I've received some invasive pat downs. I've felt that some of these crossed the line. Who was I supposed to complain to? I figured nobody would listen or I would be detained and miss my flight.

In the future I need to be ready to miss my flight. If I am travelling with someone, we will be ready to video our patdowns. I think that is the only way to protect ourselves from this assault by the TSA.

Submitted by Anonymous on

This exposes yet another flaw in the body scanners. TSA workers have been caught in drug smuggling stings. A female passenger could smuggle contraband down the front of her pants and the screener could hit the male button on the scanner. The scanner won't alarm because it is expecting to see something in that area.

Submitted by Anonymous on
The vast majority of our employees act with the utmost integrity and professionalism every day,

The vast majority of travelers are not terrorists or criminals, but that doesn't change how we are treated by the TSA..
Submitted by Anonymous on

"...Transportation Security Agents at Denver International Airport who were engaged in what can only be described as egregiously inappropriate behavior at the passenger screening checkpoint."


It can be described many, many ways.

I think the best description would be *Sexual Assault.*

Good luck controlling the narrative on this one.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Melvin, why is there still a supervisor on duty in PHL who committed perjury against an innocent passenger who asked for a complaint form?

Why did it take so long for anyone to stop the sexual assault conspiracy in Denver?

Why did you have a child pornographer on duty in Manchester?

Your agency is rotten to the core. I hope someday you get to experience the same sort of violation an unknown number of passengers suffered in Denver. It is what you, and everyone in your agency, deserved.

Submitted by Anonymous on

So why, exactly, should anyone ever trust anyone who works for your agency again?

If a TSA screener ever touches me, I'm going to assume they're planning to commit sexual assault, and I will ask them if that's their intent just like the screeners in Denver.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Well said.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Sorry, buddy, but no amount of PR statements are going to make this right.

Many of us have been saying, since the very first time TSA started talking about body scanners, that they would open the door to exactly this sort of sexual abuse. And now that's happened, and no one, at ANY airport, should ever trust your agency again.

I've heard that a few airports have shut down the scanners today, and are instead directing all passengers to the metal detectors. That should not be a one-day change at a few airports. That should be the standard for each and every passenger. Keep the scanners on hand for people who request them (such as folks with metal implants) and end the nonsense of scanning every single passenger.

This is a gut check moment, Melvin. You can do the right thing or you can show that your entire agency is no better than Denver. Your choice.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Why do the words "sexual assault" appear nowhere in this statement?

Submitted by Anonymous on

Thank you for stopping this awful situation that no one deserves when they are traveling.
We absolutely need protection in our skies but violating any human being is horrible.

Submitted by Anonymous on

So you encourage employees to report it to the TSA higher ups but those selfsame leaders do not involve the local police? Even more troubling than the sex assaults is that the TSA policy is designed in such a way that criminal charges are actively avoided.

Your 'investigator' should have taken the time to identify the victim(s) and handed this information to the proper authorities for charges. Instead, he or she became an accessory to the act by allowing the perpetrators to get away.

Submitted by M De Marcos on

After spending over 22 years in the airport environment and working VERY closely with all levels of TSA personnel, I found/find that everyone I came in contact with at TSA was professional, dedicated and beyond reproach. From time to time, in any organization, there is always someone that does not do the 'right thing'. That happens. However, I believe TSA continues to be a top-notch organization dedicated to the traveling public's safety and well-being. Don't let a few 'bad eggs' make you think otherwise.

Submitted by Anonymous on

It is refreshing to read a TSA Administrator take responsibility for egregious and inappropriate behavior of his workforce, of which there are many examples over the years.

However, it is unfortunate that 5 years into this ineffective, inappropriate, and offensive screening procedure that Melvin still can't grasp how something like this incident can happen.

People are sexually assaulted at TSA screening chokepoints every day because the TSA leadership has made sexual assault possible. I know because this exact same thing happened to me at ATL. Reporting it to a supervisor was met with a nasty retort, and filing a complaint through official channels was met with a form letter and report to the FSD that was ignored. Simply put TSA leadership seems to want to sexually assault people for no good reason.

These procedures need to go. Yesterday. The incidents at DEN highlight this fact far better than any other example we can bring. The reason it happened is because it can.

It matters not that thousands of officers are professional. We know at least 2 of these people abuse innocent people sexually. There are more. There are a lot more.

Melvin oversees an environment where any one of these lurking predators has access to anyone's crotch at any time for any practical reason. And he has come to this blog to defend it. That is unacceptable.

Melvin, do the right thing and stop the current madness. There has to be a better way to screen for non-metallic threats.

DHS OIG screen shot

Submitted by Anonymous on

TSA was warned of this exact scenario in several comments during the delayed public comment period it was forced to undergo which it still ignores.

Why is Melvin ignoring that he created this situation and continues to encourage it happening again?

/OIG screenshot

Submitted by Anonymous on

I had to go on line and read a news report to find out what had happened. If your going to try and be open about this then speak out clearly and concisely not some watered down, they were bad we fired them drivel. this blog is a way for the public to learn from. Where were the supervisors and why did this not get handled then, why the hot line,are your people afraid to speak out openly.

Submitted by Anonymous on

While passengers may appreciate your apparent swift response to this, one must wonder how may other similar situations aren't reported by employees who don't want to rock the boat.

Regardless, it's probably pretty hard to tell the difference between purposeful abuse and the extreme fallout from AIT screening units. You probably do know, at least approximately, the false positive rate from these units. I'm certain you won't release that number, even if you know what it is, because it would be laughably embarrassing.

Can you suggest how a passenger might tell the difference between employee misconduct and the now-usual "pat at least some personal body part of every passenger" after a false positive?

George Peck, Evergreen, CO

Submitted by Andrew Mochulsky on

"They now potentially face local criminal charges as well" is a very wise weasel-wording, as TSA's own inaction will severely hinder any prosecutorial efforts. Specifically, TSA's failure to properly stop or identify any of the offended parties—parties that were specifically reported as observed by TSA investigators—will make it exceptionally difficult for charges to be filed. Without a named complainant, charges related to specific sexual battery cannot go forward, as that's contrary to the right of the accused to face their accuser. In other words, TSA's intransigence and craven concern for its own image will allow these horrid people to escape essentially unscathed but for their jobs. The "lone bright spot" you mention is entirely overshadowed by the fact that TSA's inaction will, in the end, specifically prevent prosecution of these criminals—and make no mistake about it, what they did was a crime, and warrants criminal prosecution.

So, what's the excuse for not preserving some semblance of evidence in furtherance of prosecution? Assuming an excuse is forthcoming.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Does ANYONE believe this is an isolated incident? And who determines what constitutes "groping"? I'll tell you, I've had some pretty damn invasive pat downs, and I resent it. Which is why I don't fly anymore. If I can't drive I just don't go. If that sort of scrutiny is the price I have to pay for my "safety", it's not worth it. The TSA is typical of what happens when the government becomes too involved in private sector business, and the kind of deviant, blatantly illegal behavior that occurred in Denver is just the tip of the iceberg.

Submitted by Adrian on

"what can only be described as egregiously inappropriate behavior"

Actually, there are lots of ways to describe it, such as conspiracy to commit sexual assault.

But let's face it, these aren't the only two bad apples out of the 50,000. While I'm sure there are many well-intentioned TSA officers, the TSA seems to have more than its fair share of people who abuse their authority. Drug traffickers, weapons traffickers, violent/suicidal BDO officers, and common thieves. The good ones are simply cogs in meaningless security theater.

It's time to return airport security to independent contractors to eliminate the inherent conflict of interest between the watchers and the watched.

Submitted by Anonymous on

The TSA's reputation was tarnished long ago. To act as if this incident is a big surprise is yet another insult to the taxpayers who fund your agency.

Submitted by Susan Richart on

"A former TSA screener at Denver International Airport says colleagues who conspired to grope male passengers viewed what they were doing as “just a game....

He said the agents involved in the fondling were part of a larger clique that communicated with each other via group text messages.

“They had a group chat at work. I definitely know that because of the group text and chat there was more people that knew it was going on. There could be numerous people who knew it was going on.”

Melvin your problems go far deeper than just the two screeners who were fired.

And BTW, as you going to fire the inspector also? The inspector who watched a man being sexually assaulted by one of your screeners and DID NOTHING?

screen shot/DHS OIG statement

Submitted by Anonymous on

I've had some invasive pat downs in the past. I felt some of them definitely crossed the line. I've had some that felt retaliatory because I opted out due to medical reasons, not to mention the mocking I've received for opting out.

Who should I contact in these situations? I feel that saying something to the TSA employees will lead to retaliatory punishment or delaying me until I miss my flight.

I found this article and the situation is even worse at Denver. Lots of people were in on this and they thought of it as a "game".

It makes me wonder how many other airports particpate in this "game".

Submitted by Anonymous on

According to a former screener from DEN this incident was actually part of a larger game.

How pathetically sad.


Submitted by Anonymous on

1) "The agency received an anonymous tip about the alleged gropings from an employee in November, according to KUSA-TV in Denver.

However, the agency reportedly did not look into the allegation until February..."


2) How many passenger complaints were there regarding this, before, and/or, after this supposed anonymous employee tip. (If it's anonymous, how do they know it was an employee?) Why weren't these passenger complaints (if any) not followed through on, which, for all we know, could have brought this situation to light long before??

Submitted by Chris Bray on

Weird that this post has generated no comments at all.

Submitted by Villa Anderson on

I am sorry I did not hear anything, but bad things happen in all walks of life, I wont let it reflect on other people,I will be taking my husband to Paris France on May 2nd and coming back home to Maine on the 10th of May, my husband has MS , the people at the airport are very nice to us.thank you Villa Anderson.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Why are you calling this an "incident" when it was in fact an ongoing conspiracy to commit sexual battery?

Submitted by Anonymous on
Randall Scott King said...

I haven't seen the news reports -- what did the TSA officers in Denver actually do?

One would signal the other when a guy came through that he wanted to grope. The other would switch the naked scanner to 'female' mode, causing it to alert on the male passenger's crotch. Thus giving the first agent a reason to 'search' the passenger.
Submitted by Anonymous on

Let's face it -- this is business as usual at your organization.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Could someone explain how touching the groin or breast areas of passengers using the palm of the hand is inappropriate but using the back of the hand is ok? They are both sexual assault in any other context.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Passengers face a far greater risk of being assaulted or robbed by a TSA worker than ever being harmed by a terrorist. Yet passengers are treated as if they are all criminals or terrorists.

If a passenger had complained about this treatment and didn't have the TSA investigator witness it or have a report break the story, would we have ever heard about it? I have a feeling the blog post would have said "We have reviewed the video and proper procedures were followed." That has happened in too many other cases.