A dozen airport and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees were arrested in February for allegedly operating a massive cocaine smuggling ring.
“During the course of the conspiracy, the defendants smuggled suitcases, each containing at least 8 to 15 kilograms of cocaine, through the TSA security system at the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport” in Puerto Rico, The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Monday in a press release.
The defendants, which include six current and former TSA employees, are accused of smuggling roughly 20 tons of cocaine through the airport from 1998 to 2016, with a total value of approximately $100 million.
Due to typical airport security conducted by fellow TSA employees, the sting operation had to be coordinated and planned out.
The defendants were allegedly able to traffic the narcotics by feigning security responsibilities and sending the illicit packages through the typical checked and carry-on luggage avenues for outbound flights.
For instance, a privately employed baggage handler would transport the cocaine-packed luggage from the drug mules at the airline check-in counter. He would then place the suitcases into the X-ray machines that he knew were being monitored by the fellow colluders at the TSA. After the suitcases cleared the initial security screening, the illegal luggage would be transported to its designated flight, while ensuring that no narcotic K-9 units or law enforcement personnel were present for the final transfer. The last step was to notify a member of drug trafficking organization that the goods were aboard, and subsequently direct the mules to board the plane, according to the DoJ.
The several conspiratorial TSA employees were paid for officially authorizing the drug-filled bags.
“These individuals were involved in a conspiracy to traffic massive quantities of illegal narcotics to the continental United States,” said Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico. “These arrests demonstrate the success of the AirTAT initiative, which has successfully allocated a dedicated group of state and federal law enforcement officers, whose mission is to ensure that our airports are not used in the drug traffickers’ illicit businesses.”
While the U.S. justice system touts the arrests as proof of its great work, the TSA agents direct involvement in the intricate drug smuggling operation shows that the government agency is flawed, if not inept.
The rogue TSA agents’ involvements in drug trafficking isn’t the first example.
Agents of the Department of Homeland Security disguised themselves as normal passengers in the summer of 2015, and brought various forbidden weapons to test TSA employees’ security capabilities. TSA agents were only able to detect three out of 70 weapons, a failure rate of 95 percent. The results were so poor that Melvin Carraway, the then-acting chairman of the TSA, immediately resigned.
The TSA also failed to identify 73 aviation workers who were concurrently employed at the department and on terrorist watch lists.