What are they teaching those transportation screeners at Tampa International Airport? In their efforts to find terrorists last month, they made a big flub.
In August, Kathryn Harrington (no relation) and her two sons were traveling through Tampa on their way home to Maryland from a vacation in Orlando. They did the usual routine at the airport screening station.
You know, plop your bags up on the counter, let the screeners zap ’em with X-rays in search for weapons.
Turns out the screeners found something fishy. Was it a weapon? Something sharp like a box cutter? Or maybe it was a funky-looking tube, filled with a suspicious white powder?
It was a bookmark, an 8-inch leather strap with small lead weights on both ends.
It wasn’t a weapon at all. A Transporation Security Administration (TSA) supervisor thought it was suspicious enough to alert the Tampa police.
An officer with the police department asked some questions and then slapped the handcuffs on her and threw her into the back of a police car. Harrington – a middle school educator who’s also a Sunday school teacher – was then taken to an airport holding cell.
TSA spokeswoman Lauren Stover defended the supervisor’s actions.
“We have an obligation to investigate this. We err on the side of caution,” Stover said.
Harrington faced the threat of a criminal trial, and a $10,000 fine.
She was not technically arrested, but was charged with carrying a concealed weapon, which, had she been convicted, could have landed her in jail for a year.
The Transportation Security Administration has come to its senses and will not charge Harrington. Neither will the Hillsborough state attorney’s office.
“We will not likely pursue civil (or criminal) penalties,” said Stover.
That’s good. But this is what you get when you’ve got three executive departments facing down terrorism – which used to be the domain of just one – the department of defense.
But since Sept. 11, everything has changed. In their quest to protect the country, we’ve got no less than three major departments protecting us: the departments of defense, homeland security and the department of justice.
In the process, the three federal divisions are stumbling upon ordinary, good Americans, like this 52-year-old teacher. What’s more, Harrington said that she has taken the same bookmark through other security stations, including Tampa’s, and has never been so much as questioned. No doubt, she will never carry it on board an airplane again.
This incident gives a lot of credence to critics’ charges that the government is stripping us of our civil liberties. Even if the critics are wrong, it shows that the federal bureaucracy has grown out of control.
Along the way, it also shows federalizing the screeners doesn’t automatically make them omniscient.
Some of them can still act like total fools.
Jim Harrington is the editor of the Largo Leader, Clearwater Citizen.