A Transportation Security Administration worker who pretended to find drugs in a passenger's bag at the Philadelphia International Airport in January had played the prank more than once and told at least one of his victims that "she would have to admit it was funny," according to TSA documents.
The documents, which detail the dopey antics of a bomb appraisal officer whose name has been blacked out, were released as part of a Freedom of Information Act request and posted this week on The Smoking Gun Web site.
Inquirer columnist Daniel Rubin first broke the story of Rebecca Solomon, 22, in January. Solomon said that on Jan. 5, a TSA worker pulled a small bag of white powder from her luggage and asked her where she got it. After fear set in, the worker told her it was his and that he was just joking around. She didn't think it was funny.
Solomon had said she was told that the worker was training staff to detect contraband, but according to the recently-released memos, the worker, referred to only by his title of bomb appraisal officer (BAO), was actually collecting data for screening equipment being evaluated by a security company.
Each phase of that data collection can take up to 10 minutes and while the BAO was waiting around, he started to mess with passengers to pass the time, according to the TSA documents. He brought with him what the TSA said was a small vial of of white, creatine powder that was being used in the data collection, according to the documents. Witness accounts, however, said the powdery-white substance was in a clear baggie, not a vial.
The first passenger the BAO pranked found his antics kind of funny, according to the documents. When the BAO asked the traveler if the vial had come out of his bag, the passenger said "No." When asked if he was sure, the passenger said "Yeah, I'm pretty sure," and then laughed, the document said.
The second victims of the BAO's prank did not find it so amusing. Although TSA documents said the BAO targeted two female passengers traveling together, Solomon has previously said she was traveling alone that day. The BAO asked if she had anything in her bag she wasn't supposed to and he asked if she was sure. He then pulled out the white powder and asked if it came from her bag, according to the documents. When she said she didn't even know what it was, the BAO said he knew it didn't come from her because "You seem way too nice." The TSA claims one of the passengers said "You almost had me."
According to one TSA worker's statement, the woman was crying when he went to investigate the incident and she was scared to even point out the worker. When she did, she told the investigator accompanying her that "with all the things that are going on in the world today, that she did not consider what BAO did as a funny joke." Within the hour, two other woman approached TSA officials and said they wanted to be witnesses on the woman's behalf, documents said. One of those woman said that if the worker had pulled the same joke on her then TSA "would still be hearing her hollering and something would have been done right then and there."
When the TSA investigator approached the BAO, he "did say humbly that he was completely wrong and he made a mistake," according to the investigator's report.
Reports by other TSA workers in their own writing indicate that at least one of them saw the prank and "resumed running the X-ray belt." Another only went as far as to tell the BAO "Don't do that."
In yet another report, a witness writes that it was only when the BAO realized that the passenger was upset that he revealed his cruel joke and told the woman that "she would have to admit it was funny." The witness writes that the woman said "it was not funny but was rather cruel and unprofessional."
Shortly after news first broke of the story in January, the TSA said the BAO was no longer employed with the agency, but whether his departure was forced or voluntary remains unknown because of privacy laws