It was a scandal that rocked the nation – a New York Transport Security Agency security officer found guilty of stealing close to $1 million worth of belongings from passenger luggage. But according to the convicted officer, the problem was even more widespread than ever feared and is still going on today. In a candid tell-all interview Pythias Brown told ABC News thefts from aircraft baggage were ‘commonplace’, allowed to prevail by a ‘culture’ of indifference. The former Newark Airport employee confessed to stealing more than $800,000 worth of items over a four-year-period, ending only when he tried to sell on Ebay a camera pinched from the bag of a CNN producer and failing to remove all of the network’s identifying stickers. It was game over for Brown and he was convicted in 2009, sentenced to three years in prison, at the time offering 80 cameras, video games and computers on the auction site. Up until then it had been ‘very convenient to steal’ he said. ‘It became so easy, I got complacent. ‘It was like being on drugs, it was. I was like, “What am I doing?’ but the next day I was right back at it”.’ Shocking though his actions were, Brown was not alone. 381 TSA officers have been fired for stealing from passengers in the last nine years, including 11 so far this year.
Brown told ABC how he would frequently work alone, assigned to screening luggage behind ticket counters, and be told when overhead surveillance cameras, preventing theft, were not working. He was never asked about suspicious behaviour and was given a heads-up by a former colleague when bosses started to get wise to his misdemeanors. Learning how to read X-ray scans, Brown was able to pick and chose which bags to target for his loot, based on content, and he figured out how to pick TSA luggage locks without being detected. Speaking for the first time since being released from prison earlier this year, Brown told ABC he is going public about his crimes in an attempt to warn passengers what goes on behind the scenes. Poor morale and low pay put temptation in the way of many of his fellow officers, he said. They didn’t think it was okay, but they did it and said, “I don’t care. They ain’t paying me. They’re treating me wrong”,’ he said. ‘But then when people started seeing they could profit off of it, then it became massive,’ In a statement, TSA insisted that it has ‘a zero-tolerance policy for theft and terminates any employee who is determined to have stolen from a passenger.’ The agency added that the number of officers fired ‘represents less than one-half of one percent of officers that have been employed’, denying that theft is a widespread problem among employees.