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04.26.12

TSA Detains Rand Paul and Other Airport Scandals

Several TSA agents were indicted on April 25 for corruption and drug trafficking, just months after the agency kept Sen. Rand Paul from a flight after he refused a pat-down. From confiscated cupcakes to strip-searching Grandma, The Daily Beast looks at the agency's greatest mistakes. Plus, see the TSA's shocking pat-downs.

1. Several TSA agents at Los Angeles International were indicted on April 25 for corruption and drug trafficking. The agents allegedly let suitcases packed with cocaine and methamphetamine through the airport in exchange for thousands of dollars. This came on the same day the agency defended the pat-down of a crying four-year-old in the Kansas airport. The California indictment alleges the agents would meet the smugglers and place them in line so that they would be at the monitoring desk when they passed through, then meet them again in the airport bathroom to get their money.

2. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is a libertarian who believes in limited government intervention. So it’s no surprise that he refused a TSA pat-down in the Nashville airport today, even after an “anomaly” with the body scanner. His dad, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), who is running for president, posted on his Facebook page that Rand asked to be scanned a second time, but the agency rejected the offer. The senator was then reportedly detained for failing to comply with agents.

3. The TSA stumbled into Cupcake Gate in December when an agent confiscated a passenger’s frosted snack at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. The cupcake’s frosting was too similar to a gel and thus violated the TSA’s liquid restrictions. After a minor media firestorm, a TSA spokesman said that passengers are, in fact, allowed to bring cupcakes on flights.

4. A Long Island grandmother alleged that TSA agents at JFK International Airport strip-searched her. Lenore Zimmerman, 85, said she asked to forgo the body scanner because of her defibrillator, but said she was then whisked into a room where two agents undressed her. At the time, the TSA claimed it did not strip-search, but later admitted wrongdoing.

5. Eighty-nine-year-old Ruth Sherman was also at Kennedy airport when she was reportedly told to pull down her pants and show her colostomy bag to screeners. The TSA said she was never asked to remove her clothing, but Sherman strongly disputes that claim. “They asked me to pull my sweatpants down, and now they’re not telling you the truth,” said Sherman, who uses a wheelchair.

6. It’s common for a traveler to find a note in her luggage, informing her that it has been inspected. But blogger Jill Filipovic got a little something extra on her note when she opened her suitcase after a flight from Newark to Dublin, Ireland. Someone wrote "GET YOUR FREAK ON GIRL" after finding a “personal item” in her bag. The TSA initially said there was no evidence suggesting one of its agents left the message, but later said it found the employee who did it and removed the person from screening duties.

7. File this under unfortunate. Back in June, TSA officials forced an elderly woman to remove her adult diaper for screening. The 95-year-old cancer patient was patted down by officials when they found something “wet” and “firm,” and she had to walk through the airport without underwear, according to family members. The TSA defended its agents, saying they followed protocol.

8. Could that 6-year-old waiting in the security line be a terrorist? Sometimes the TSA thinks so. The agency has come under fire for patting down children. Perhaps the most famous example is the video a bystander shot of a young boy at the Salt Lake City airport in November 2010. The TSA agents selected the boy for additional screening after he set off a metal detector. When the boy wouldn’t keep his arms raised for the pat-down, his frustrated father removed his shirt and gave it to the agents to inspect.