And New York Post editors remain silent on the issue.
After a New York Post columnist reported an alleged scam by TSA agents on Sept. 11, TSA fired back through its blog. Sports columnist Phil Mushnick said that not only did he witness a TSA agent taking money to move passengers to the front of the line, he participated in the scam to see if it would actually work. After his party was ushered to the front of the line by who he said was a TSA agent, who then asked him to pay cash for the service, he wrote about it for his Sept. 11 column.
“This uniformed airport security officer wasn't on the lookout for suspicious characters or even infirm passengers, she was on the lookout for extra cash,” he wrote. “Nine years and 11 months after 9/11, it was all so easy. And it was appalling.”
What Mushnick didn’t realize, says TSA, was that the person who whisked his friend to the front of the line in a wheel chair, Mushnick and his wife in tow, was a skycap not a TSA agent. And skycaps work for tips, which is why the woman asked for cash. After taking them to the front of the line, she patiently waited on the other side of the security checkpoint for them.
TSA says not only was Mushnick mistaken in thinking she was a TSA agent, but he also timed the release of his column to coincide with Sept. 11. The incident happened on August 12. His column wasn’t published until a month later.
In a letter to New York Post editors, TSA says video of the incident clearly shows a skycap taking Mushnick and his party to the front of the line. “…in pulling off his caper, he falsely accused a blue-uniformed TSA officer of being the one who solicited the service, pushed the wheelchair and accepted the cash tip. There is absolutely no comparison between a white skycap outfit and a blue TSA uniform!"
“Mushnick himself was guilty of a hustle by paying off a skycap and having a travel companion pretend to be disabled to circumvent a line. His actions and falsely accusing TSA are unacceptable,” TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein said.
“We requested that he run a clarification, and he did not. We wrote a letter to the editor and they declined to run it,” Farbstein told Security Management.
The Post is the eighth largest newspaper in the United States based on circulation, according to Newspapers.com, so TSA’s concerns came from such wide dissemination of inaccurate information.
Security Management caught up with Mushnick a couple weeks ago as he headed home from a round of golf--and he’s sticking to his story.
Mushnick said after the column was published he received 30 to 50 emails from readers who had their own stories about what they also perceived to be security breaches and some of those seemed to definitely be talking about skycaps as opposed to TSA agents.
But of his incident he said, “She had TSA identification on her. I know what a skycap is, I’ve traveled long enough.”
“I felt like what I was getting was an attempt to discredit me and my story...instead of routing out what really goes on at these security positions at the airport. What I wrote has maybe stopped this particular scam. I wish they’d spend more time trying to eradicate that security issue than trying to discredit me, but in the end I’m sure it’ll have a positive effect," he said. “Didn’t any of these security people find it odd that after I went through the scanner that he [Mushnick’s friend in the wheelchair] just walked unaided and clearly wasn’t disabled?”
Mushnick said the reason the column ran on Sept. 11 is because he pitched it as a story to his editors twice, but they didn’t follow up on it so he wrote the column over his concern for potentially rogue TSA agents or skycaps--whichever it was--and their ability to circumvent security.
“I can only provide speculation but I’m sure if I had given this woman $20 to hold my toiletry bag as I passed through the scanner, she would have--and then would have handed it back to me. And I would have had a nice little bomb making kit right in my hand,” he said.
Farbstein said that a skycap and the wheelchair would have to be re-screened to meet someone on the other side of a security checkpoint, in addition to providing valid identification.
Numerous calls to the Post’s editors went unreturned.
photo by Inha Leex Hale/flickr