Cool as McCumber

Ahh, the July 4th holiday weekend: a rich American tradition personally proposed by the Founding Fathers, although there has been historical debate over the actual date.

On July 3, 1776, John Adams wrote from Philadelphia to his wife Abigail back in Massachusetts: "The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more."

He got most of that right. He felt everything had been wrapped up on the second day of the month. However, bureaucracy being what is it is (even in the eighteenth century), the fourth was selected as the “official” date after some more political haggling was apparently required.

My wife and I took advantage of the Monday holiday this year to go to Ohio for some golf and to visit with our daughter and grandson. Our grandson is only two, and will inherit an American family lineage dating back to the war that bought us our freedom from Great Britain. I am eager to tell him stories of his forebears that fought the Hessians at the Battle of Trenton, and the one whose name I bear who died at Gettysburg. I look forward to teaching him about those who came before, and sacrificed for this nation to ensure he can live in a better, more peaceful world.

As my wife and I landed back in Raleigh-Durham on the 4th of July this year, we were happy to be home. We gathered our checked bags and golf clubs from the luggage carousel, and took a taxi back to the house. After we unloaded the taxi’s trunk outside the garage, I noticed some things out of order.

My golf bag was missing its TSA-approved lock, and was partially open. I finished opening it to see a sheaf of TSA leaflets letting me know it had been inspected. Apparently, they actually removed several clubs, as they were all randomly tossed in the bag, and in no way resembled the neat packing job that had arrived at Cleveland-Hopkins Airport.

As I removed shirts for cleaning and socks for washing from my checked bag, I picked up an energy drink bottle I had put in my bag in the hotel. When I picked it up, I realized it was empty, and something was inside. I opened the bottle. The wrapper that had sealed the top was stuffed inside. Someone had picked up the sealed bottle, removed the seal, drank the contents, put the trash inside the bottle, and simply tossed the empty container bag in my bag.

I recalled the TSA luggage handler at Cleveland-Hopkins asking me twice if my bag was unlocked. Each time, I assured him it was. I watched as he scanned the bag, and then sent it on its way. Somewhere in the process of getting to RDU, my suitcase was opened, my energy drink consumed, and the trash simply tossed back in my bag along with a nice TSA flyer saying they had "inspected" my bag.

Two months ago, from the same checked bag, I arrived at my hotel to find I had “lost” three pair of cufflinks worth about $175. They weren’t that expensive, but one pair was a gift from my wife on a special occasion. I learned from that experience, and now have to disguise my cufflinks in little hidey-holes in my luggage.

Three days later, on July 7th, I saw an item in the newspaper that caught my eye. A TSA "officer" in Florida with two years on the job, had been arrested after being caught trying to stuff an iPad into his pants while "inspecting" travelers' luggage. Sheriff’s deputies believe this guy has purloined over $50,000 worth of items in his short tenure with TSA. An honest and concerned airline luggage handler reported him to the county sheriff’s office. Am I to believe after two years and $50,000 worth of other peoples’ stuff, no co-workers or supervisors even suspected this guy?

It is not this petty thievery and abuse of trust that bothers me the most — it is the fact these items are being pilfered by people called “officers” wearing federal badges whose mission it is to protect the traveling public. It is no longer just the few “bad apples” — this is institutional rot. Where is the security in transportation security if there is not enough training and oversight to identify and weed out those who abuse their government credentials? What am I supposed to learn from this new 4th of July lesson? Is putting up with theft of our possessions — even an energy drink — now necessary for us to have “security”?

When I tell my grandson of the sacrifices of his forefathers at America’s times of great need, will I be able to point with pride at those who are called upon to defend us in this new era? What lessons is he learning today? What would John Adams say now?

John McCumber is a security and risk professional, and author of “Assessing and Managing Security Risk in IT Systems: A Structured Methodology,” from Auerbach Publications. If you have a comment or question for him, e-mail