TSA officer caught stealing laptops at JFK

A joint TSA/Delta airlines sting caught a TSA officer and a JFK baggage handler ripping off a laptop and phone from a decoy suitcase and then switching the suitcase tags, deliberately misrouting it to delay any investigation. Wanna bet they're not the only ones, and that this wasn't the first time they did it? Gee, thanks for taking away our suitcase locks, TSA. We're so much safer now that you're free to rob us.
Brian Burton, 27, and Antwon Simmons, 26, stole a laptop and cell phone from the decoy luggage as it moved through Kennedy Airport, Port Authority officials said.
Sting nabs sticky-fingered JFK airport workers going through luggage (via Consumerist)


  1. Don’t worry. I’m sure this was the work of a few bad apples, and we’ve caught them now, so it will never happen again, right?

  2. Ironic that this compromise is supposed to make us more secure as a group but in fact makes us less secure as individuals.

    Which by extension makes us even less secure than before. Now all a terrorist has to do is plant a bomb in a post-checked, unlocked, suitcase.

    TSA is one giant security FAIL.

  3. But why would you check your laptop or anything expensive. Not that locks would have helped much.

  4. I traveled frequently before retiring, unless things have changed recently, when checking baggage request your bags be inspected in your presence and then sealed, you can then use your own luggage locks.

  5. the presence of an obviously corruptible security force creates a bigger security liability than not having one. Are they still threatening to arrest people who complain about having their laptops thrown to the floor?

  6. I had heard the advice that you should make it as difficult as possible for the opportunistic thief: put one (or more) of those nylon strap doodads around the case etc.

    What are glorious TSA’s instructions regarding securing your cases?
    Any more experienced travellers got more authoritative info?

  7. Hrm. It was bad enough when it was “Thousands Standing Around.” Now it’s “Those Stealing A**holes.”

  8. Camera embedded into case. Linked to mobile to broadcast image to web page. busted TSA.

  9. Don’t put laptops, mp3 players, cameras, etc. in your checked luggage! Carry it on the flight, if possible.

  10. I ‘try’ to follow the rules…when it’s convenient, but I noticed the last time I flew that in Detroit the signage said to CHECK your laptop and keys, but while flying home from Vegas it said KEEP your laptop and keys. Which sucked, since I had a knife on my keyring that I didn’t even think about…
    Maybe different rules depending on whether the theft ring crew is on or not?

  11. never had anything confiscated or smashed, but I did get the seriously suspicious “what’s this cable for?” when referring to the power cable for the computer they just watched me remove from the bag.

  12. I think I saw this suggestion here on boingboing, from a photographer: Buy an small, inexpensive handgun. Check it through in a large hard-sided locked case, per regulations. A case that just happens to have the rest of your expensive gear in it. They’ll walk you through the security process, you get to watch while they check the bag, and then lock it up with your own locks.

    The firearm doesn’t even have to be operable. You could remove the firing pin. Come to think of it, you could completely disassemble it and just include the bare, serial-numbered frame. Legally, it is the firearm, and has to be treated as one. Now that I think of it, you could buy a bare AR-15 lower receiver for this purpose for under $100. Just a single flat chunk of machined and engraved aluminum. Cheaper, and less work than disassembling a complete firearm.

    But it’s still enough to get you personally walked through the security process.

  13. Naw, I find I get plenty of attention if I just bundle together a few road flares with some twine and have a long “leash” handing off one end (as a handle)…

    The TSA workers immediately take me to the side and give me their full attention. ;^)

  14. The biggest problem about “9/11” as a justification for anything is that some people (these baggage people) were 16 when it happened. Ancient history.

  15. I favor the government death-penalty here — this government spent years defrauding the public and used the law to bully whistle-blowers. They don’t deserve to be in business for one more second.

  16. @17 MDH

    No, the biggest problem is that “9/11” ceased to be a threat before the day was over. On 9/12 (or whenever they actually allowed the common folk to fly again) they should have issued every passenger a complimentary Bowie knife.

  17. Isn’t putting a lock on your checked luggage sort of like admitting you have something nice and valuable in there?

  18. Thieving thieves are thieving. Opportunistic thieves are opportunistic. Misbegotten TSA from a demented nightmare dimension is misbegotten.

    Those tautologies out of the way, and acknowledging in advance that appearing to have any sympathy whatsoever for the concept of security or law enforcement, much less the practice of it, may be beyond the pale in these threads…

    …I think suitcase locks should have been banned long before the TSA came about in its current “Stasi Dinner Theater” incarnation. If the regulations about what can be put in luggage are reasonable, then so is searching any given suitcase to ensure compliance. If thieving employees are a problem, screen and pay and monitor your employees better. Which appears to be what the TSA was actually trying to do, as in “joint TSA/Delta sting.”

    In fact, this doesn’t really have anything to do with the TSA at all. These thieves could have done precisely the same thing if they both worked, pre-9/11-style, for an airline, instead of one of them being a TSA employee. And surely people just exactly like them, doing exactly their jobs, did.

    The only “power” these guys had came from being off in the employees-only section of the airport, just like the waiter who might be sneezing in your food, or the accountant who might be skimming off your 401(k), or the postal worker who might be stealing the $10 bill from the card Grandma sent you. For all practical purposes, you cannot be rendered safe from such people. Telling yourself it’d all be better if we got rid of the eeeeeevil TSA is as much a piece of “security theater” as anything they make you do in that line.

  19. I flew about 2 weeks ago – my first time since 9/11 as I’m not exactly a frequent flyer.

    I had a normal non-tsa approved padlock on my suitcase and they just made me hang out to the side while they ran it through the xray. Took 2 seconds, then they slapped a destination sticker on it and sent me on my way.

    Of course my laptop, iPod, cell phone and camera were in my backpack. I mean, as if I would trust anyone else with my babies ^^

  20. Can anyone spot the logical fallacy that pulls the carpet out from under this commentary rage? Maybe something like, one is not equal to all?

  21. If they steal valuables from the luggage, what’s to prevent them from planting an explosive? Who’s watching the watchers?

  22. @jadedlion If I understand you, you’re arguing something like “a few bad TSA employees is not equal to all TSA employees being bad”. I disagree. The end result is the exact same thing: if the TSA is designed so that it’s possible for employees to steal, then the TSA is fundamentally misdesigned; what we have is *not* a system where only a few employees steal, but a system where all employees are given the opportunity to be thieves.

    I actually worked maintenance at the Austin Bergstrom airport for a year in ’06, and I knew a bunch of TSA drones. I’d say the system is dysfunctional, but there is no system: electronics go missing all the time, and the “system” to prevent it from happening exists in name only. Also, since the airport cops are their own jurisdiction (at least in Austin, anyway), the cops aren’t part of the larger city police force and are about as likely to be involved in things going missing as the TSA.

  23. An associate had his custom golf clubs stolen at BNA. The light fingered TSA agent was stupid enough to list them locally on ebay, my associate won the auction & the agent gave him his address so they could pay cash & avoid shipping!

    I’m not sure which scares me more, the thieving or the stupidity?

  24. Cory, you should have linked this to TSA screener ripped off hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of electronics from passengers, TSA itself didn’t notice
    and to
    $31 million worth of lost valuables on the TSA’s watch.

    The story about the TSA screener was exceptionally interesting. You could see that the TSA was lying about the magnitude of the guy’s thefts just by reading the newspaper stories and checking the guy’s eBay account.

    The TSA said the guy stole upwards of one hundred items from travelers going through Newark. However, the police seized 186 items from Brown’s house. When you added in his eBay auctions, which were all for the same kind of items the police seized and travellers had reported missing, the total came to 449. Moreover, it was clear from the evidence in his eBay account that he’d been selling stolen merchandise a full year earlier than the TSA admitted. I posted two long comments about it at the time: first, second.

    I also posted about the many TSA uniforms and insignia that have gone missing — and, more alarmingly, turned up neatly folded in the luggage of unsuspecting civilians, as though the uniforms were being forwarded to someone inside the system but had gone astray.

    As I said, if I were a wicked terrorist, my aim would be to place my people in the TSA department that investigates internal corruption. It’s useful to know about employees who are already crooked. And if someone notices funny patterns and reports them, you’re in a good position to quash the investigation.

  25. Please explain to me:

    A) How one little crappy lock on your suitcase is supposed to keep anybody out in the first place? They’re going to break the lock, steal the stuff and send it elsewhere anyway. They only need to look at the x-ray to see if there is anything worth stealing to begin with.

    B) Who is dumb enough to put valuables in check-in luggage?
    If you can’t carry your valuables, ship them. Otherwise, you’re just a stooge.

    This is nothing new with the advent of the TSA agents, just more visible with a specific group to point fingers at.

    Cory makes it sound like nothing ever got lost, stolen or damaged before there was a TSA.

  26. @#30 Bitman: B) Who is dumb enough to put valuables in check-in luggage?
    If you can’t carry your valuables, ship them. Otherwise, you’re just a stooge.

    What’s wrong with expecting the same level of professionalism and service from airline baggage handlers as we do from postal or “shipping” handlers?

    What’s wrong with complaining, and loudly, when the service falls below the standards we can reasonably expect?

    Saying “Who is dumb enough to put valuables in check-in luggage?” seems cowardly and defeatist to me.

    If, a few years from now, postal workers start routinely stealing things from the mail, will you be here to say “Who is dumb enough to ship valuables? Carry your valuables where you want yourself. Otherwise, you’re just a stooge.”?

  27. “of course the police beat you and took the last of your stuff, how could you have been so stupid as to call them after you were mugged?”

  28. @bitman362 #30:

    A) How one little crappy lock on your suitcase is supposed to keep anybody out in the first place?

    A luggage lock won’t deter someone who is willing to break into your suitcase, but a busted lock is a great indicator that someone HAS been in your suitcase. That way you can notify the authorities as soon as your bag comes through baggage claim instead of realizing you’ve been robbed hours after the fact.

    Which are the airport cops more likely to investigate: a theft that clearly happened while your bag was in the custody of airline staff, or a theft that happened at some indeterminate time during your trip?

  29. What’s wrong with expecting the same level of professionalism and service from airline baggage handlers as we do from postal or “shipping” handlers?

    How would this be practically enforced? (And ideas such as a mandatory death penalty for stealing luggage are non-starters.)

  30. TAKUAN suggested:

    how about a lock that explodes when opened?

    I assume you meant to say “how about a lock that explodes when opened incorrectly?

    A lock that explodes when opened would be of minimal value, sort of a hard-core version of the dye marker used in bank robbery bags…

    Hey, maybe that’s it – when the luggage is opened incorrectly, the lock explodes with indelible blue ink – let’s see the baggage handler explain that, and why that suitcase is dripping matching blue ink…

  31. “If, a few years from now, postal workers start routinely stealing things from the mail, will you be here to say “Who is dumb enough to ship valuables? Carry your valuables where you want yourself. Otherwise, you’re just a stooge.”

    You’re assuming they don’t; I worked for a media company a while ago and whenever we used to do large mailshots of obviously DVD shaped packages, about 30% of our post would mysteriously “disappear” en route.

    When we stopped franking the (well-known) name of the company on the outside of the package, that number dropped to about 10-15% but it was only ever the DVD shaped packages that went missing.

    If you were a poorly paid postal worker working for Royal Mail, why not steal anything that looks like it could be valuable? There are no investigations into missing post; they simply claim it on the insurance and the whole process repeats again…

  32. Someone needs to create a gps tracker that slots into place where your cd drive usually is in a laptop.

  33. I will be flying to America for the first time in 10 years this December – and new like this scares the piss out of me.

    My laptop is the key to how I run my life and business at this particular junction in my life – losing it would be a major blow.

    Not to prematurely don the tin-foil hat, but it almost makes me wonder if I wouldn’t be better off shipping it ahead in a box so it can’t be confiscated while I’m anally probed for my ‘micro-expressions’ and sippy-cup bombs.

  34. Cory, you said, “Wanna bet they’re not the only ones, and that this wasn’t the first time they did it?”

    Straight from the article:

    “The pilfering pair – who had been on cops’ radar, a source said – took the bait, failing the so-called integrity test.”

  35. Wait, wait, wait.

    The best way to get your stuff through TSA screening without hassle is to CARRY A GUN ?!

    Alice, you can come out now. Can you bring “drink me” with you?

  36. How hard could it possibly be to stop security agents from stealing? At least on such a massive scale?

    In situations where sensitive data or physical things are dealt with, companies/governments usually come up with policies such as:

    no bags of any size allowed

    no pockets in the uniform

    uniforms designed to prevent hiding laptops etc. inside (people used to steal full-size records this way…)

    only the tiniest little lockers for the employees keys/phones/medicinal/hygiene items only

    video surveillance

    hand-scan machines for entry/log in and out

    And, honestly, none of these are even scary or draconian, when you consider that they are employees of the govt and/or companies responsible for keeping giant metal tubes up in the sky.

    Hell, a friend of mine worked at an internet-famous wine store – as a developer – and they had these rules to stop the sketchy, underpaid stock room people from stealing wine. No-bags, hand-scan machines and all.

    It’s just that the TSA and airlines don’t care to treat customers’ property as valuable enough to warrant the effort. After all, people have to fly.

  37. I had my Macbook stolen by TSA people in Detroit-Wayne State International Airport in 2006.

    I slid my computer bag into the x ray machine, she said, “I need to check that bag for the computer.” She takes it behind a small wall, gives me my bag back. I go down to the gate and go for my laptop, and there is a weighted binder. Go back, security refuses to co operate and the lady who checked my bag was gone.

    I was given to a case number that was never registered.

    The last time I will ever step inside the USA. Filthy country.

  38. Funny Topic to me!!!

    I just returned from my honeymoon, and flew DELTA.
    When I arrived at my destination, they told me my bag was delayed and would be shipped to my residence the following day. It was, but when I opened it, my camcorder and digital camera were missing! They took all of the chargers and memory cards, but left the blank disks and carry case, NICE!

    So whether it was TSA or DELTA I don’t know, but hope that it made the jerk’s day by stealing photos/memories I won’t get back!!

    I was naive in packing these items in my checked bag, just had too much trust in the low-life’s the government and airlines hire.

  39. I had a specialty digital camera stolen by another passenger while I was going through additional screening and was stopped from retrieving it until the tsa agent was done. they had the whole incident on security tape and did nothing to help me get it back. according to the supervisor “not the focus of their job”. I feel safer already.

  40. The TSA at JFK stole a $3000.00 camera from my baggage yesterday (12/3/2009). I was one of the first passengers off of the plane in Paris and actually spotted my bag as it was being unloaded from the plane. It looked suspiciously flat. I was worried that my equipment had been crushed in flight. However, when I picked up my baggage from the baggage claim belt, it was not only flat, but was light as a feather. My camera and lenses were all gone, stolen by some gorilla who doesn’t have enough sense to operate a camera. I’m sure it’s for sale somewhere on Canal street right now.
    What a bunch of lowlifes.

    David Murdock
    New Orleans, LA

  41. So how much stuff had to go missing just at this location BEFORE they got concerned enough to mount a STING? In the good old pre 911 days, I used to be a diver and underwater photographer / videographer. The cases with 10K + of photography gear and dive gear always arrived safe and sound, locks intact. Now I wouldn’t even dream of trying. They make you limit carryons to nothing, and want you to fly your cases open with big steal me signs on them. I feel so much safer every time I get home, find my luggage opened and a nice inspected by the TSA brochure inside. Mind I did have a laugh the time I got to my destination to find a Christmas present opened, and re-wrapped with TSA SECURITY tape…

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