National Security

TSA Agent Shirks Responsibilities, Drops to Knees and Openly Prays to Allah While On Duty

 

“Despite anyone’s right to practice a religion, in this case, an on-duty TSA agent forfeited his role as public safety practitioner by negating all situational awareness and throwing tactical preparedness out the window.”

A fully uniformed TSA agent at the Seattle International Airport removed his shoes, bowed down inside the terminal doors and, in customary Muslim fashion, assumed the position to pray to Allah. Despite being filmed, he didn’t seem to mind and merely carried on with his crouched discipline. Whether he knew he was being filmed is unclear. My take is that the cellphone recording was rather covert, from a seated position, given the angle and his seeming aloofness. After all, who doesn’t have their cell phone out during airport down-time?

Nevertheless, aloofness is precisely the point. Here is a federal agency employee, responsible for security at an international airport, depicted worshipping Allah. A gazillion questions may arise. One query leads to another: Is such a spiritual allowance recognized by TSA and its parent agency (DHS)? If so, does it include public display? Is the current TSA director aware of this incident and addressing the fallout and shock among many?

Dr. Huban Gowadia, born in Mumbai, is an Obama appointee serving as acting director for the TSA. In May 2017, Gowadia was in the crosshairs of a Congressional panel for failing to respond to a subpoena it issued to her seeking information on the agency’s personnel practices and protocols as well as the seemingly chronic flaws within the TSA’s operational scope. The word “whistleblower” has come up a lot over the past few years, whereby TSA employees were opening up about agency defects—at least they were trying to.

In March 2017, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform chaired by then-Congressman Jason Chaffetz received a written response from Dr. Gowadia in which she explained circumstances she felt relieved her from having to expose certain answers before Congress, claiming attorney-client privileges precluded her testimony. In a follow-up to that in May 2017, Representatives Jason Chaffetz (R) and Elijah Cummings (D) threatened Dr. Gowadia with “serious consequences” (fines and imprisonment) for failing to comply and present testimony they felt was not protected by attorney-client privilege.

It got sticky. To date, and with Chaffetz’s resignation from Congress, that remains a pending issue.

Personnel Policies

Like any law enforcement or public safety entity, the playbook is not likely to include activities that would serve to undermine the effectiveness of each officer, deputy, trooper, or agent. As a cop, I worked church events on weekends—my children love to eat, so the extra earnings came in handy. From police academy training, field training, and officer safety senses, I knew better than to leave myself exposed to potential perils. It is true that public safety professionals sit with their backs to a wall, not to an open area such as doors, windows, etc. Paramount is always having the upper hand in the event of potential perils. Although TSA agents are not armed with the accoutrements a police officer carries, therefore negating gun retention factors and such, any public safety official is wise to batten down all hatches.

In the attached video depicting this TSA agent in question, his back is to several people sitting behind him. He is exposed to open air. He placed himself in a precarious position should a threat come upon him with malicious intent. Even barring any of that, his projection is entirely unprofessional and telegraphed by the uniform. Simply: it is not the time and place to conduct worship.

As a Field Training Officer (FTO) during the latter part of my police career, I had the toughest time with one particular recruit who seemed determined to flow aloofly. Time and again, I dinged him on his Daily Observation Report (DOR) for positioning his (our) police cruiser in a way that denied him an escape route. His spatial orientation was un-keen. Eventually, he got it—or at least he started to recognize the importance of detailing his constantly changing surroundings. To not only go with the flow but to control the flow creates the hyper-vigilance in public safety personnel. “Head on a swivel” has no alternate meaning other than self-preservation and protection of all others. Owls know this well.

Situational Awareness

TSA training simulates law enforcement closely. TSA’s newly constructed modular training facility, located on the grounds of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Georgia, not only indoctrinates its new hires in airport security practices but also in cross-referencing some federal law enforcement protocols and techniques. “While at FLETC, students spend two weeks training in classrooms and mock checkpoints to respond to situations such as screening individuals with disabilities, tactical threats and emergency situations,” a TSA press release described. Any and all of those possibilities can delay reaction and stifle effective responses if one is conducting worship.

Despite some humans possessing super-sensory abilities—hearing like an owl, vision of an eagle, olfactory acuity of a hungry shark—the common denominator is to not solely rely on any enhancements to compensate for ill-conceived positioning. Hollywood makes it look fantastic, I admit. But in an airport with the inherent hustle/bustle of thousands of unsuspecting travelers and perhaps a lone wolf in the midst, any disadvantage must be preempted. All techniques must be diligently practiced and employed with precision; errors cost lives.

One such technique is “situational awareness,” a universal and vital tactical tenet among all law enforcement officers, military personnel, and field intelligence operatives. Situational awareness is, in practical terms, being acutely aware of your surroundings, its movements, things askew, and advantages to thwart oppositionists. Watch any CIA ops movies and you will see concentrated figures with darting eyes, a controlled demeanor, and an expression of taking in the panorama –having the upper hand is crucial to always fulfilling mission objectives. Complacency and letting down one’s guard is tantamount to failure, destruction, and loss of life.

Despite anyone’s right to practice a religion, in this case, an on-duty TSA agent forfeited his role as public safety practitioner by negating all situational awareness and throwing tactical preparedness out the window…in the interest of talking to Allah. As with any public safety official in federal, state, county and city agencies, such a travesty warrants an internal investigation with termination as a consideration. Any of a number of tragedies can occur in the blink of an eye, and this guy was irresponsible in his mission.

Shoes off, hands clasped or otherwise occupied, head down with eyes shut, and a tight crouch preventing swift upright or ground-fighting stance is a public safety actor out of the game.

If there is a religious conflict (certain time and specific postures required to worship accordingly), consider those factors before you apply for a task-specific career that may counter spiritual principles. Job descriptions and common logic usually provide enough material to make career decisions. On that note, one applies to the job protocols and procedures to meet the agency needs, not the other way around.

Bottom line: relinquishing readiness places countless citizens in jeopardy and invokes vast liability to the agency (taxpayers’ costs), the airport (usually taxpayers’ costs, airline surcharges), and any related entity that had a responsibility to preclude dereliction of duty. No public safety institution can afford that. No airport should even remotely sustain such a breakdown in defenses. Yet, here is footage seemingly depicting a uniformed TSA agent expressing his spiritual side while any number of things could slip through the cracks and go horribly awry.

As a cop, I got The Job done accordingly…and prayed on my own time to repeat the process of police efficacy.

About the new TSA training facility, acting TSA Chief of Mission Support Lee Kair noted, “The training they receive gives them the necessary skills and instills the importance of their critical role as transportation security officers in protecting this nation.” Not if they’re on their knees with head buried south, they won’t.

How would you feel if you saw an on-duty TSA agent crouched in silent repose?

Stephen Owsinski

Stephen Owsinski is a Senior OpsLens Contributor and retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and Field Training Officer (FTO) unit. He is currently a researcher and writer. Follow Stephen on Twitter @uniformblue.

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