This afternoon, after a few conversations with various people at a Federal Security Agency and Multi-State Jurisdiction Law Enforcement Agency, I became aware of an interesting, but misguided, story that is soon to be published by Philip Messing of the New York Post. Rather than wait for the New York Post story to be published to refute it, I’ve decided to be proactive and go after the same story, but from a completely different perspective. Why? Because the whole premise of the story makes no sense.
I learned the same information from two different agencies, both involving in a rather one-sided pissing match … so this, to me, would fall under “the facts are undisputed.”
So … on with the story …
It would seem Mr. Messing has been furnished with a number of gun seizure reports from the New York New Jersey Port Authority Police Department’s (PAPD) Police Benevolent Association (PBA). Using these reports, Mr. Messing has been investigating the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) under reporting the number of guns that the agency seizes at New York City’s JFK International Airport (JFK) and LaGuardia Airport (LGA), both in Queens, New York. Now, if you follow the TSA on Twitter, or the TSA on Instagram, you can see why this whole notion of the TSA under reporting the number of firearms taken from checkpoints is utter non-sense … but let me get into this a bit further.
First, a bit of history. The TSA and Port Authority Police have been at odds with each other for a number of years. The PAPD, who has law enforcement jurisdiction over JFK and LGA, has long since exhibited a prevailing attitude that the TSA is encroaching on their turf, despite the TSA not being law enforcement and the PAPD not providing aviation screening services.
The tensions between the TSA and PAPD began to come to a head in April 2013, which I wrote about here, “When Pissing Matches Impact Security : PAPD vs TSA,” and have not eased much since. For reasons that remain largely unclear, the PAPD has on multiple occasions sought to damage the already tarnished image of the TSA … and it would seem the PAPD’s PBA is at it again with providing Mr. Messing with inaccurate information pertaining to actual firearms seizure reports at the airports in New York City’s airports.
The information the PAPD’s PBA provided to the New York Post indicate that a significantly larger number of guns have been seized at JFK and LGA than the TSA reports … this is entirely true.
Yes, many more guns are seized from passengers traveling through these airports than the TSA includes in its internal reports and external releases … however the TSA is not hiding anything, nor are they under reporting the number of firearms they have seized.
How is this possible? Let me explain … the TSA only reports on firearms that Transportation Security Officers (TSO) discover at screening checkpoints. Any weapon recovered at a check point, including guns, knives, brass knuckles, the occasional mace club, claymore mine (yes, a claymore mine), is photographed, then photographed with the boarding pass of the passenger who was traveling with the weapon.
Guns that are discovered by airline personnel due to improper packing, improper declaration, or those caught traveling through the airport legally possessing the gun, but not having a New York State license for the firearm do not have TSA involvement. These incidents directly involve the Port Authority Police, who investigate and confiscate the weapon. There is no need for the TSA to be involved.
The TSA does not confiscate gun parts inside of checked baggage, such as the two empty AK-47 magazines that were discovered in the checked baggage of a man flying to Yemen from JFK this past May. The two AK-47 magazines were discovered when Bassam Alkhanshli was flagged for the one way ticket he purchased to Yemen, and he was questioned by Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a law enforcement agency within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). When CBP discovered Mr. Alkhanshli had not declared he was traveling to a foreign country with more than US$10,000, as he was required to do, his bags were searched. The reason the TSA did not confiscate the two AK-47 magazines in the checked baggage, when the bags were screened, is that empty rifle magazines pose no threat to aviation security.
Yes, these rifle magazines violate New York State law, but the TSA does not enforce New York State or New York City laws. The TSA also took no action against Mr. Alkhanshli for possessing US$12,000, because cash poses no threat to aviation security. The TSA does not ask for international travelers to produce any declarations the CBP may require.
In fact, passengers need not declare ammunition in checked baggage either. Firearm ammunition may violate a local legal statutes, but it is not a threat to aviation security. The TSA is looking for explosives, things that can explode in flight. No, a passenger cannot have bullets in the passenger cabin, but bullets in the checked cargo hold, they aren’t going to explode and no one in the aircraft cabin can get to them, so they are not a threat.
Now, if the PAPD wants accurate firearm reporting numbers there is a question for them … why is it sometimes the PAPD notifies the TSA when they have seized a firearm at an airport … and … sometimes they don’t? Wouldn’t a little consistency be nice in information sharing?
So, should Mr. Messing and the New York Post pursue the story, and following their previous coverage, just bash the Transportation Security Administration using half-truths and incorrect information, such as their story in the AK-47 magazines … I would sincerely hope that they realize the TSA is not under reporting the number of guns seized. The TSA is only reporting the guns seized at checkpoints that would have otherwise made it on-board the aircraft in a passenger’s carry on.
As I have said many times on Flying With Fish, it is easy to attack the TSA. The agency makes it all to easy some days. If you are going to go after the agency, at least do it with a real story, and research your facts, because just making it up and letting it fly does everyone a disservice.
You want a good story? Try the massive security gaps in the screening of certain types of vehicles entering the airfield each and every day at JFK and LGA that come in direct contact with passenger aircraft. Holes in fences with gaps in security camera coverage, where airside vehicles drive past all day, every day … one of these areas being right in front of the Customs and Border Protection Offices at JFK. Now that’s a fun and scary story.