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Judicial Watch Sues TSA Over Cover-Up: Passenger Complaints "Assaults Relating to Sexual Misconduct"

FOIA Lawsuit Seeks TSA 2013 Records From Dulles, Chicago, Denver, Miami, and Los Angeles Airports

WASHINGTON, DC -- (Marketwired) -- 08/21/14 -- Judicial Watch announced today that it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) seeking "Incident Reports" of alleged sexual misconduct throughout 2013 by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers at Dulles, Chicago, Denver, Miami, and Los Angeles airports (Judicial Watch v U.S. Department of Homeland Security (No. 1:14-cv-01179)). The lawsuit was filed on July 11, 2014.

The Judicial Watch lawsuit was filed pursuant to a March 5, 2014, FOIA request seeking the following:

Any and all passenger complaint forms (referred to as "yellow cards"), "To From" memoranda, and Incident Reports filed in 2013 at the following US airports: Dulles International Airport, Chicago O'Hare International Airport, Denver International Airport, Miami International Airport, and Los Angeles International Airport ...

On March 13, 2014, Judicial Watch, at TSA's request, agreed to narrow the scope of its March 5 FOIA request to the following:

Incident Reports relating to [Transportation Security Officers] accused of assaults relating to sexual misconduct in 2013 at the five airports identified in the original request.

The TSA, despite Judicial Watch's accommodation of its request to narrow our request, did not produce any documents or respond in any other substantive way as required by law. (In a separate Judicial Watch request for "complaints" about TSA security, the agency responded by asking Judicial Watch to define "complaint.")

TSA sexual misconduct allegations drew nationwide attention in early January 2014 when a Colorado woman, Jamelyn Steenhoek, filed a complaint against TSA officers at a checkpoint at Denver International Airport saying the frisking she received amounted to sexual assault. According to a news report on Denver TV station CBS4:

She said the female TSA agent seemed to get agitated when Steenhoek tried to hurry the process along so she could get her daughter to her plane.

"At that point she did a pretty invasive search. They are just areas of the body I'm not comfortable being touched in. On the outside of my pants she cupped my crotch. I was uncomfortable with that."

Steenhoek said the agent repeatedly dug her fingers into Steenhoek's armpits.
"The part of the search that bothered most was the breast search. You could tell it shouldn't take that much groping. To me it was as extensive as an exam from my physician -- full touching and grabbing in the front. I felt uncomfortable, I felt violated."

She said when the search turned up nothing, the agent repeated it a second time.
"So it didn't make any sense. The whole search was done over and more touching and grabbing than the first time."

On January 30, 2014, former TSA officer Jason Edward Harrington wrote an article for Politico.com entitled "Dear America, I Saw You Naked," and subtitled, "And yes we were laughing. Confessions of an ex-TSA agent." In the article, Harrington revealed that TSA agents had a code for women they found sexually attractive and who may be put through a revealing full body scan procedure:

  • Alfalfa - TSA malespeak for an attractive female passenger
  • Code Red - Officer malespeak. Denotes an attractive female passenger wearing red
  • Fanny Pack, Lane 2 - Code for an attractive female passenger
  • Xray Xray Xray! - Code for an attractive female passenger, general
  • Yellow Alert - Code for an attractive female passenger, yellow clothing

In a subsequent article for Politico.com, Harrington reported, "'nude' scanners didn't work and that TSA employees were making predictably awful jokes about passengers' bodies." Harrington assisted Judicial Watch in preparing its sexual misconduct FOIA request.

In August 2013, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report revealed that misconduct is rampant among TSA officers. According to the report, from 2010 to 2012 TSA officers were cited for more than 9,600 cases of misconduct. In nearly 2,000 cases officers were sleeping on the job, not following procedures, or letting relatives and friends bypass security checkpoints. Thousands of others failed to show up for work, appeared late or left their post without permission. Some TSA workers were caught stealing expensive electronic items, cash and other valuables from passengers. According to the GAO report, "TSA does not have a process for conducting reviews of misconduct cases to verify that TSA staff at airports are complying with policies and procedures for adjudicating employee misconduct."

"With 56,000 employees and a $7.7 billion budget, the TSA is a massive government agency that requires diligent oversight," said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. "It is bad enough that many experts argue that it is unnecessarily intrusive and ineffective. The fact that TSA would stonewall basic information about potentially egregious and criminal assaults on airline passengers is a further proof this agency is out of control. This agency now must answer in federal court for its illegal secrecy. President Obama, despite his supposed commitment to transparency, continues to allow his agencies to flout our nation's basic open records law without consequence. When will President Obama take personal responsibility for his administration's repeated violation of federal law?"

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