It’s been revealed that some Transport Security Administration (TSA) agents have rescued a woman from two kidnappers. The effort was carried out as a group of travellers passed through security at Miami International Airport on July 5.
During the incident, two TSA behaviour detection officers – who have been trained to recognise terrorists in passenger queues – noticed 25-year-old Nelkis Alvarez shaking and trying to hide injuries on her face at an airline ticket counter. At first, the woman said she was fine, but she broke down crying later and said she had been kidnapped. The agents separated Alvarez from the four people she was travelling with, which led to her rescue. TSA federal security director at Miami International Airport said the officers recognised the woman was in danger and immediately acted to protect her.
The two women in the group were arrested on kidnapping and other charges after the four (which included two men) were interviewed by authorities. Police have identified them as 19-year-old Tori Beato and 25-year-old Melissa Pineiro – both from New Jersey. The pair have been charged with kidnapping, false imprisonment and other charges related to the situation. Police say they have since been released on bond.
Although the incident happened early last month, it was first reported by NBC 6 on Tuesday. This was the day before a congressional hearing on misconduct among TSA screeners. Several officials say the time the news was released was a coincidence. Nevertheless, TSA deputy administrator John Halinski noted the kidnapping case as an example of the agents’ good work. He said they basically stopped a kidnapping through the abilities and quick thinking of their behaviour detection officers (BDOs).
Alabama representative, Mike Rogers, the chairman of the Subcommittee on Transportation Security, agreed that only a small number of TSA agents are unprofessional. However, he says that the frequency of their misconduct is due to a bigger problem. In some cases, they have seen poor screening performance going uncorrected, being covered up, encouraged or even happening among management.
Rogers noted a case last year in which staff at Honolulu airport failed to check bags for explosives. The agency’s federal security director isn’t on top of things. One case is too many, but there have been other disturbing incidents since then – including issues at Newark, JFK, in Philadelphia and in southwest Florida, he added.
The TSA has defended its workforce, saying that a majority of its staff have behave professionally and that they work aggressively to weed out workers who don’t behave as such. Halinski said criticism of the agency mostly comes from the media, politicians and bloggers. Of the 600 million travellers they screen every year, about 750,000 initiate contact with them and less than 8% register complaints. Looking at the large number of passengers going through security checkpoints at airports, he thinks the statistics speak for themselves. Halinski said that he’s not saying they are different from other American groups, as they are exactly like other groups of Americans.
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