According to the Prince William County Police Department and several media reports, On November 20, 2011, at 3:25 am, police responded to a reported sexual assault of a 37-year-old woman in Manassas, Virginia. The victim and a friend were in a vehicle when they were allegedly approached by an unknown man, later identified as Rodman. The victim was allegedly assaulted after she stepped out of the car to talk with the suspect. The man was allegedly wearing a TSA uniform and displayed a badge before sexually assaulting the victim. Rodman allegedly fled the scene on foot, but was later arrested while coming out of his residence.
These were serious charges, especially disturbing because it involves an alleged abuse of authority by an off-duty TSA security officer. The immediate TSA response indicated that the organization was addressing this recent situation appropriately. According to a TSA official, “This individual was immediately removed from security operations pending an investigation. The Privacy Act precludes the agency from disclosing additional information regarding personnel actions.” The official said that “TSA holds its personnel to the highest professional and ethical standards, and investigates all allegations of misconduct. TSA is working closely with local law enforcement on this matter...the disturbing allegations against this individual in no way reflect the work of the more than 50,000 security officers who every day ensure the security of the traveling public.”
This TSA response deals with the immediate situation with the one accused employee, but it does not address several key questions about what processes the TSA may have in place to prevent people with previous criminal convictions from entering the TSA workforce. In the case of the accused TSA employee Harold Rodman, his name did not come up in a search (conducted December 11, 2011) of either the Virginia State Police database of convicted sex offenders, or the US Department of Justice national database of sex offenders. However, for the other 50,000 TSA security officers, the Rodman situation brings up an issue previously discussed in a November 2010 AirSafeNews article, which asked whether the TSA was allowing convicted rapists to perform pat-down searches of airline passengers.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the parent organization of the TSA, hinted that potential employees with serious criminal convictions may have made it through TSA's employee screening process. In 2004, the DHS released a report that specified 28 kinds of felony convictions that would have disqualified an applicant for a TSA screener position, including rapes or crimes involving aggravated sexual abuse, but only if those convictions had occurred in the previous 10 years. The report implied that a person convicted of rape, attempted rape, child molestation, or similar crimes may not be required to report such convictions during their background check if those convictions were more than 10 years old, or if the convictions were less serious than a felony.
Are there sexual predators at the TSA?
The key issue, then and now, was whether the current TSA screening process would prevent the hiring of anyone who has been found guilty of any crime that involves rape or some similar criminal act, or if already an employee, if that employee would be kept away from direct contact with passengers. Most passengers may want to know if the TSA officer who could be conducting an intimate pat-down search or who may have access to images from advanced screening devices has a record of inappropriate, abusive, or illegal sexual conduct. The TSA's public statements on the screening process for TSA's employees don't indicate if this is something that is done for all employees. Also, the TSA doesn't make it clear what kind of conduct or convictions would either keep someone from being hired or would prevent them from having personal contact with passengers after they have been hired.
Is the TSA protecting the public from predators?
If the TSA could answer the following questions, questions taken directly from the November 2010 article, it would go a long way toward reducing the risk the public would face from sexual assault by TSA employees:
- Are there any current TSA employees who are convicted sex offenders (either for a felony or lesser crime, either as an adult or juvenile), even if the conviction occurred more than 10 years before joining TSA?
- If the answer to the first question is yes, are any of these employees acting as security screeners who have direct physical contact with the flying public?
- If the answer to the first question is no, have all TSA employees, as part of their background check, been asked if they have been convicted of rape or some other sexually based crime, whether it were a felony or lesser crime, either as an adult or as a juvenile, even if the conviction occurred more than 10 years before joining TSA?
- If the first question can't be answered for a TSA employee because of inadequate information, would this employee be restricted from working in a position that involves direct physical contact with the flying public?
- Are TSA security screeners who are convicted of rape or another sexually based crime, no matter how minor, immediately removed from any position where they may have physical contact with the traveling public?
Any screening process, no matter how rigorous, is perfect. Any organization as large as the TSA will have a few people who do not measure up to a reasonable standard of competence or excellence. However, that is no excuse for the current situation where the average passenger is unsure if the person wearing the uniform can be trusted. While the questions listed above are a good start, there is room for improvement. Please feel free to add your suggestions as to how this current TSA situation should be addressed.
- Full Federal & State record searches back to when the applicant reached majority. No 'sealed records' applicants need apply. Zero tolerance for any type of assault. I want to be safe, not assaulted. Slightly off-topic-yet-related... Perhaps the TSA should begin their focus on passengers as they arrive for booking / enter the terminal very similar to El-Al's approach. Look for someone acting suspicious instead of reacting to an out-of-date threat.
- (Do) The same thing they do for convicted drug dealers.
- (Do) Nothing, it's never been a problem.
- What keeps someone from committing the first sexual assault ever as a TSA employee, just because someone does not have a record doesn't mean that some day they wont be arrested for sexual assault, it is tough if not impossible to screne.
- The TSA should be closed and the security should be turned back over to the airlines.
- Disband. If having naked pictures taken of you and/or being groped by a stranger aren't violations of the "unreasonable search and seizure" ban in the U.S. Constitution, then what is?!?!?!?!