Memos Detail TSA Officer’s Cocaine Pranks
(THE SMOKING GUN) NOVEMBER 2–The Transportation Security Administration worker who earlier this year was canned for falsely claiming to have discovered cocaine in the luggage of travelers was a bomb appraisal officer who was supposed to be evaluating new screening equipment at the time he was pranking his unsuspecting targets, records show.
TSA documents released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request provide further details about the January incidents at the Philadelphia International Airport. The name of the bomb appraisal officer has been redacted from the material, though one memo indicates that when the worker was confronted, “He did say humbly that he was completely wrong and he made a mistake.”
The TSA officer was working near a passenger screening checkpoint “collecting data for several new pieces of equipment that are currently being evaluated by Northrop Grumman,” according to a TSA memo. Since individual data collection phases could each take up to ten minutes, the worker apparently decided to fill up the time by pranking travelers: “While the data was being collected,” the bomb appraisal officer “began to engage passengers.”
As one passenger gathered their belongings (which had just emerged from an X-ray machine), the TSA worker displayed a “small vial of white powder” and asked, “Did this come out of your bag?” When the passenger replied, “No,” the officer asked, “Are you sure?” The traveler, according to a TSA memo, said, “Yea, I’m pretty sure,” and began to laugh. “Okay, just wanted to make sure. Have a nice flight,” the officer replied.
The white powder that appeared to be cocaine was actually creatine, a nutritional supplement that was “being utilized for the data collection” being performed by the bomb appraisal officer.
His first prank–details of which have not been previously disclosed–completed, the bomb appraisal officer “returned to the equipment to begin another phase of the data collection.”
However, the TSA worker would later return to a screening lane and approach two young women who were collecting their luggage from a conveyor belt. One of the women has been previously identified as Rebecca Solomon, a 22-year-old University of Michigan student who was en route to Detroit. Solomon’s name has been redacted from the TSA documents.
After first confirming that the items in front of him belonged to the pair, the TSA employee asked the women, “Do you have anything in your bag that you’re not supposed to?” After the passengers answered, “No,” the worker again displayed some purported cocaine. While a TSA memo notes that the white powder was in a vial, Solomon has said that she was shown a plastic baggie filled with powder.
“Did this come out of your bag?” he asked. “The passengers replied, ‘No way. I don’t even know what that is,’” according to a TSA report. The worker “concluded with, ‘I’m just checking. I know it didn’t come out of your bag, it belongs to me. You seem way too nice. Have a good flight.'”
“You almost had me,” one passenger is reported to have responded, according to a TSA memo.
Solomon, crying, eventually approached an airline worker to lodge a complaint about the TSA worker. Referring to “the things that are going on in the world today,” Solomon said she did not consider the cocaine prank a “funny joke.” She added that airport security workers “should be taking our jobs seriously.”
Two other passengers quoted in the TSA records told officials that they saw the bomb appraisal officer showing the women a bag of white powder that appeared to have been removed from a bag. One witness said that she felt bad for the women after subsequently learning that they were the target of a prank. She added that if the officer “had played that joke on her then we (TSA) would still be hearing her hollering and something would have to be done right then and there.”
As part of its probe of the pranks, investigators spoke with other TSA employees, five of whom confirmed that the officer had tried to trick passengers into thinking that cocaine was found in their luggage. One worker said that they told the officer, “Don’t do that,” when a victim of the prank appeared distraught.
Only one of the workers interviewed, however, informed a supervisor of what was transpiring at the security checkpoint.