As we’ve mentioned here before, the daily parade of would-be flyers who are stupid (or forgetful) enough to unintentionally carry a gun or some other contraband through a TSA airport checkpoint has become tedious. The TSA arrests the poor absent-minded schmucks and gives them the full prostate exam. Uncle Sam’s minions confiscate their guns and charges them with a felony. Their gun rights? Gone baby, gone. It’s the same story over and over, right? Well not quite. Not if you’re a TSA manager. Once again, with monotonous regularity, we learn that there’s one set of rules for government employees and one rule for us . . .
According an azcentral.com Action Eyewitness On-Your-Side Night Beat Special Investigative Edition Bulletin Report (you know it’s a big deal because they have an actual whistleblower with a pixellated face and altered voice), an unidentified TSA manager unintentionally brought a loaded gun through a TSA checkpoint on his way to work in December of 2008.
Did alarm bells go off? Was local yokel law enforcement called in, as TSA procedure dictates? Was the guy humiliated and frog marched out of there as any Tommy Traveler would have been? No, not quite. According to a transcript,
At 12:11 p.m. the TSA manager enters lane 5 reporting for work. At 12:13 p.m. he puts his briefcase on the conveyor belt for screening. At 12:16 p.m. he enters the checkpoint through the walk-through magnetometer. Then at 12:17 p.m. as the briefcase moves into the X-ray scanner, the TSA manager demonstrates anxiety over his property in the X-ray tube. At 12:17 p.m. a Lead Transportation Security Officer signals to Supervisory Transportation Security Officer Mike Hales, the firearm signal with his hands. At 12:18 p.m. Hales recognizes the employee who brought the gun and responds to him in lane 5. Hales then signals towards the supervisor’s desk appearing to stop the required call to the Phoenix Police Department, Airport Bureau.
At 12:19 p.m. Hales takes the briefcase from the X-ray. Oneminute later, Hales and the TSA manager exit the checkpoint and walk into the airport side of the checkpoint off camera. The TSA manager then walks out of the airport, still carrying the loaded gun with one in the chamber and a magazine.
The whistleblower maintains, “This was a cover-up, this was despicable. It’s the most egregious thing I’ve ever seen while I’ve been with the TSA.”
Evidently the whistleblower hasn’t been at TSA long enough to witness three-year-olds being sexually molested or old ladies in wheelchairs forced to disrobe in public. In any case, the incident wasn’t considered worthy of much note at the time. Not, at least, by Hales’ boss.
More specifically, in an email from Mike Hales to his boss, Dave Couts, the Assistant Federal Security Director of Screening (AFDS-S) Hales informs him of the gun incident. Couts hardly seems troubled by the news responding, “Thank you for the quick turnaround,” Couts wrote, “Will there be cigars needed for your child’s birth? A box is on me.”
But TSA did eventually look into the shady goings on, at which time Hales attempted to justify his actions. Or lack thereof.
An internal memorandum containing the findings of the TSA internal investigation reveals why Supervisor Mike Hales broke policy. In his first sworn statement, Hales writes, “I felt that this situation involving upper-management had the potential to give TSA Phoenix yet another public relations black eye. In an effort to avoid bad publicity for TSA, the TSA Manager, me and the checkpoint I told the X-ray operator to release the bag from the X-ray machine.”
We wouldn’t want the sterling image of TSA to be sullied in any way. At least not “yet again.” What eventually happened to Hales and Couts as a result of this little cluster?
One investigator said Hales should be removed from federal service. But he wasn’t. Months later Hales was given just a 3 day suspension for his actions that day. We tried to speak with Hales but he had no comment. Hales currently holds a position of greater duties and responsibilities with the TSA. He’s employed as a Transportation Security Inspector (Aviation.) His annual salary is $53,605, according to TSA Public Affairs Officer Lorie Dankers.
As for Dave Couts, documents reveal he received a five day suspension in lieu of reprimand. That letter was placed into his personnel file for two years. He’s still with the TSA but in a different position. He’s working as a Program Analyst and his annual salary according to Dankers, is $114,394.
The azcentral.com report, though, makes no mention of the mysterious TSA manager who actually brought the gun through security and was allowed to walk. Nothing about who he or she is or what – if anything – happened as a result of the incident. The intrepid reporterette on the story likely met with a stone wall of stonewalling over that minor detail.
So next time you’re flying the friendly skies, if you happen to leave a heater in your carry-on and slide it into the x-ray machine, ask the arresting officer as he’s cuffing you why the same violation isn’t treated as seriously when a TSA employee is involved. We’re sure he’ll show a lot more leniency as a result.