A former TSA agent claims groping happens every day at security checkpoints across the United States and staff routinely bend the rules to get their hands on passengers.
Jason Edward Harrington, who worked with the government agency for six years, added screeners will often pull attractive travellers aside so they can inappropriately touch them and will conduct bag checks on people they simply do not like.
His comments follow revelations that two TSA workers were fired for manipulating body scanners in Denver as part of a scheme to pat men down before they boarded their flights.
Writing for TIME magazine, he said the case was disturbing but admitted it came as no surprise to him.
‘Over the course of my six years with the TSA, the leveraging of rules and surveillance tools to abuse passengers was a daily checkpoint occurrence,’ he said.
‘And while it’s easy to focus all the blame on the two unsavory screeners who are now no longer with the agency, perhaps the bigger issue here is a systemic one: There are far too many federal hands on people’s private parts in airports.
He added: ‘Perhaps the most disturbing part of the sexual assault of male passengers at Denver International via full-body scanners is that the victims will likely never even know they were assaulted, since so many passengers have their private parts fondled when passing through the scanners, anyway.
‘It’s difficult to tell where airport security ends and sexual assault begins these days. Pat-downs of people’s sensitive areas should be much rarer than they are at the airport.’
Mr Harrington also alleged the body scanners, that are used by millions of Americans every year, are ‘practically useless’.
‘The TSA, in its rush to replace the controversial “nude” radiation scanners that they phased out in 2013, swapped out one poorly functioning line of machines for another.
‘The current millimeter wave scanners, with their outrageous false-positive rates, regularly cause unnecessary pat-downs: The agent running his or her hands over you after you pass through the scanner is almost never doing it for a good reason.’
The sackings follow a number of controversies over the screening of passengers at U.S. airports since 2010, when the agency adopted heightened security measures including full body imaging and pat downs.
In November, a TSA employee tipped off the agency that a male screener at the airport told her he groped male passengers he found attractive, according to a Denver police report.
In response, an investigator went to the airport in February and saw the screener signal to a female colleague when a certain male passenger entered the screening area, the police report said.
The woman colleague used a touchscreen system to categorize the passenger falsely as a female, which caused a scanning machine erroneously to detect an anomaly and trigger a pat-down of the passenger, the police report said.
The investigator watched as the male screener then used that opportunity to pat down the passenger’s groin and buttocks, according to the police report.
The woman screener was later interviewed by the investigator and told him she had participated in the pat-down scheme at least 10 other times.
“These alleged acts are egregious and intolerable. TSA has removed the two officers from the agency,” the TSA said in a statement.
The names of the two fired TSA screeners were withheld from the Denver police report released to the media.
The TSA submitted its findings to Denver police, who turned the case over to the district attorney’s office for a possible charge of unlawful sexual contact.
None of the passengers believed to have been touched by the screener could be identified, so prosecutors declined to file that charge, said office spokeswoman Lynn Kimbrough.
Potential victims have already began contacting the TSA and, as the investigation continues, criminal charges could come in the future.
Earlier this month it was also revealed the TSA would ‘enhance’ pat-down training following complaints from African-American women that they were being racially targeted for unnecessary screenings.