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Ryan Grenoble   |   April 7, 2015    6:47 PM ET

Next time you pass through airport security, double-check your pockets. It's just common cents.

On Monday, the Transportation Security Administration released its 2014 fiscal year report, which disclosed the government agency collected almost $675,000 in loose change left behind by travelers in 2014 -- and it gets to keep every penny.

"TSA makes every effort to reunite passengers with items left at the checkpoint, however there are instances where loose change or other items are left behind and unclaimed," TSA press secretary Ross Feinstein said in a statement Tuesday. "Unclaimed money, typically consisting of loose coins passengers remove from their pockets, is documented and turned into the TSA financial office."

Last year's haul of $674,841.06 is only the latest in a steady increase of yearly collections: In 2008, the TSA collected a "mere" $383,413.79.

In a followup to the report, Feinstein added the airport with the most loose change last year was New York City's John F. Kennedy International Airport, where passengers left behind $42,550 in spare change at the security checkpoint.

Last year's other top grossers include Los Angeles International Airport ($41,506) and San Francisco International Airport ($34,889). Here are the top 20:

loose change tsa airports

TSA Says It Will Stop Touching So Many Black Women's Hair

Julia Craven   |   April 3, 2015    3:13 PM ET

No, you cannot touch my hair -- but it isn’t as if the woman had asked for my permission.

An agent of the Transportation Security Administration is running her fingers across my scalp. Again. It feels dehumanizing as she pats my head. She needed to check my hair for weapons, she said. It feels gross. I feel like "the other."

But all I can do is stand there, endure the stares and pray her latex gloves don’t cause my ends to break off.

As I wait for the unwanted scalp massage to end, I look at the women who have gone through the checkpoint before me. The agent hadn’t checked their hair. Some wear ponytails or buns. Some have hair much thicker than my curly afro. Plenty of room to stash a knife or a grenade or whatever.

But none of them are natural-haired black women.

This uninvited hair fondling apparently occurs across the nation, and the TSA has finally promised to do something about it. Earlier this year, the agency agreed to clarify its policy on patting down people’s hair following an April 2014 complaint from the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California that black women were being targeted. Later this month, an ACLU staff attorney told HuffPost, the TSA begins its new improved training at Los Angeles International Airport, one of the airports named in the complaint.

“Racial profiling is not tolerated by TSA,” said an agency statement provided to The Hill. “Not only is racial profiling prohibited under [Department of Homeland Security] and agency policy, but it is also an ineffective security tactic.”

Well, they got that right. It’s doubtful that the sisterlocks sported by Malaika Singleton -- the woman at the center of the ACLU complaint -- constituted one of those worrisome “anomalies” on the scanner that TSA agents must investigate further. It’s doubtful that a TSA agent squeezing her locks did anything to make the plane safer.

“The humiliating experience of countless black women who are routinely targeted for hair pat-downs because their hair is 'different' is not only wrong, but also a great misuse of TSA agents' time and resources,” Novella Coleman, the staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, said in a statement last week.

Targeting black women's hair for extra scrutiny isn’t new for the TSA. The New York Times noted the problem as far back as 2011, and the ACLU of Northern California pointed out in its complaint about Singleton's treatment that it had raised the issue before.

When singer Solange Knowles had her afro searched in 2012, a TSA spokeswoman said the agency didn’t have a policy that targeted afros for searches.

"If someone is passing through the advanced imaging technology machine, it shows an outline of an individual, the same for every single person," the spokeswoman told CNN. "If the hair area is highlighted, the machine may have picked up an anomaly or a possible threat in the head area."

Anomalies may be such things as bobby pins, hair clips, extensions, ponytail holders and headscarves, CNN wrote at the time.

But as the ACLU statement said this month, the Constitution prohibits both "unreasonable searches and selective enforcement of the law based on race." Moreover, the group wrote, a search must be “tailored to detect threats to security.”

"We have not received clear guidelines from TSA about what their policies up to this point have been for searching passengers' hair," Coleman told HuffPost. She said the ACLU has received different explanations for what sparks a hair pat-down, including the so-called abnormalities, hair extensions and an agent's inability to see the passenger's scalp.

"We have identified these as problematic because they're all subjective criteria that allow racial bias to operate," Coleman said. "When we attend the training [at LAX], we will be looking for more clear and objective guidelines going forward."

I wasn’t wearing anything in my hair when I was searched, and the agent never explained to me why she thought I might be hiding weapons even though my full body scan was clean.

So I wondered: Why is thick, kinky, puffy black hair such a perceived threat?

No one has a definite answer here -- especially not the TSA. A good place to start, however, could be with historical perceptions of kinky hair.

Lots of black people rocked afros in the 1960s in order to “actively define their newly politicized racial identity,” to quote an essay in Women & Therapy. The following decade, afros were donned by black folks who wanted to proclaim their blackness and upset the status quo. Or, as Steven Thrasher put it for BuzzFeed, the 'fro was “a cultural symbol of black ass-kicking.”

Black people choosing to wear their hair natural is an unmistakable challenge to Eurocentric beauty standards and culture. So it isn’t shocking that black hair is seen as something scary, distracting or militant. Just look at the controversial cover of The New Yorker from 2008 portraying Michelle Obama as an afro’d revolutionary.

Nonetheless, the TSA’s agreement to improve its employee training and to specifically track future complaints about hair pat-downs for discriminatory impact is a step in the right direction.

"I hope that this agreement and the proposed trainings will lead to a more equitable treatment of all travelers throughout the U.S., regardless of their ethnic or cultural background and or how they wear their hair," Singleton said in the ACLU statement.

Me too, girl. Me too.

Rahel Gebreyes   |   March 31, 2015    4:52 PM ET

Accusations of racially selective airport searches by the Transportation Security Administration have prompted officials to deem the practice discriminatory. This comes years after Solange Knowles spoke out about her own experience with airport "Discrim-FRO-nation" on Twitter but it appears as though black women are still receiving routine hair searches.

ACLU staff attorney Novella Coleman joined HuffPost Live on Monday and described how she was singled out for "subjective" and "racially discriminatory" searches by the TSA on three separate occasions. She explained:

The first time it happened to me, I was completely caught off guard. I went through the full body scanner at the airport. I turned around and looked at the screen, nothing unusual was on it. And then the TSA agent next to me said, 'Now I need to search your hair.' And then she proceeded to grab my hair and just squeeze it from top to bottom. And then she found nothing. … The two white women that I was with from work went through. Nothing happened. They weren't searched.

When Coleman pressed the TSA agent to explain why she was inspected, she received a multitude of responses. First she was told the TSA's policy is to search passengers' hair if it has extensions. Then the agent widened the policy to include extensions or "abnormalities." Then after Coleman asked again, a manager rephrased the policy once more, stating that they will search a passenger's hair if they cannot see her scalp.

Coleman, who wears her hair in dreadlocks, said that her experience with the "intrusive" searches is not unique.

"I noticed that there was a pattern among black women, particularly those with their hair in a natural style, being singled out for these discriminatory and intrusive hair searches," she told host Alyona Minkovski.

Coleman and her client Malaika Singleton, who has also spoken out about racial profiling in airport security protocols, have reached an agreement with the TSA to ensure that all passengers are treated with "respect and dignity."

Per that agreement, TSA agents at Los Angeles International Airport will undergo training to emphasize racially neutral practices, and the agency will "specifically track" complaints "to assess whether a discriminatory impact may be occurring."

Learn more about accusations of racial profiling in TSA searches in the video above.

Sign up here for Live Today, HuffPost Live's new morning email that will let you know the newsmakers, celebrities and politicians joining us that day and give you the best clips from the day before!

Carly Ledbetter   |   March 31, 2015    7:00 AM ET

Thanks to the TSA's incredible Instagram account and some general knowledge about flying, we know what's not allowed on planes. Don't bring liquids above 3.4 ounces in your carry-on, leave the fireworks at home, and definitely don't pack your brass knuckles.

While there is a long lists of things you shouldn't pack in your luggage, there is also a long list of weird things you actually can bring. Take a look at what we discovered you can bring, and always make sure to check before you fly, as rules could change in a jiffy.

1. Antlers
Though this might be surprising for non-hunters, bringing antlers on a plane is allowed on almost all American airline carriers. Most usually charge a small fee (anywhere from $20 to $200) and ask that the antlers be cleaned and properly wrapped to the best of your ability.

2. Kayaks and bikes
Many airlines let you pack sporting equipment like kayaks, bikes, snowboards and surfboards. It's worth doing some research before you lug it to the airport, as not all airlines allow all types of items, and certain airlines will make you break down equipment (like your bike) and pack it a certain way.

3. Lighters
One lighter is approved for carry-on luggage, but two lighters or more with fluid must be checked in Department of Transportation-approved cases. People traveling with lighters without fluid may bring as many as they want in the checked luggage.

4. Fishing rods
The TSA says fishing rods are allowed on as either carry-on or checked luggage, but ultimately the decision rests with your airline carrier. So before you trek that fishing gear all the way to the airport, just make sure you can actually bring it on the plane.

5. Human remains
According to a TSA rule, cremated human remains are allowed onboard or in checked baggage. Some airlines do not allow crematory remains as checked baggage, so be sure to check with your airline before flying. For carry on, crematory remains should be placed in a wood, cardboard or plastic container, as metal urns might not be allowed through security.

6. Parachutes
You can bring a parachute in your carry-on or checked luggage. Just make sure the rig is separated from other parts of your luggage, and arrive half an hour early in case the TSA wants to ask you some questions.

7. Pie and cake
Yep, you can bring your pie or cake through security, though it might require a little additional screening.

8. Ice skates and rollerblades
Yep, ice skates and rollerblades are TSA-approved items for either carry-on or checked bags. So whether you're going to Canada or Florida, you'll be prepared.

9. Wrenches, pliers and screwdrivers
Make sure your tools are less than 7 inches long, and you can bring them onboard or check them with your luggage.

10. Knitting needles
As long you don't bring circular thread cutters or any cutter with a blade through security, the TSA says you can bring knitting needles on the plane. If you do happen to have thread cutters or needles with blades, just make sure those go in your checked luggage.

11. Wrapped gifts
If you're bringing them as your carry-on (which is totally allowed), just note that TSA agents might have to unwrap the gift if they think they see something suspicious. So while you can bring it on the plane, it might be best to wrap it at your final destination.

Happy travels!

Sharon Bernstein   |   March 27, 2015   12:42 PM ET

SACRAMENTO, Calif., March 26 (Reuters) - Two black women who said their hairstyles made them targets for airport security pat-downs said on Thursday the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) had agreed to stop singling out women for screening based solely on their "sisterlocks."

Malaika Singleton, a neuroscientist based in Sacramento, said she was on her way to London last year for an academic conference on dementia when a TSA agent at Los Angeles International Airport began pulling and squeezing her hair.

"I was going through the screening procedures like we all do, and after I stepped out of the full body scanner, the agent said, 'OK, now I'm going to check your hair,'" Singleton said on Thursday.

The same thing happened when she passed through the Minneapolis airport on her way back home, Singleton said.

She contacted the American Civil Liberties Union, and it turned out that one of the lawyers there, a black woman who also wears the tiny, stylized form of dreadlocks known as sisterlocks had the same experience - twice.

Novella Coleman, the ACLU attorney, had already filed a complaint about the practice in 2012, to no avail, Coleman said on Thursday. She filed another complaint based on Singleton's experience, and on Thursday the two women said that the agency had agreed to conduct anti-discrimination training sessions with its officers to avoid what they called racial profiling of hair.

"The first time I was on a trip with colleagues, some other attorneys who were white and Latina," said Novella Coleman, the ACLU lawyer who filed the complaint.

"The woman said, 'I need to search your hair now,' and she just started grabbing my hair and squeezing it from top to bottom," Coleman said. Her white and Latina colleagues underwent no such searches, she said.

Asked the reason for the search, Coleman said she was given a variety of explanations. One officer said all passengers with hair extensions were searched, but Coleman wasn't wearing extensions. Another said people are searched if they have "abnormalities" in their hair, she said.

Other black women have had similar experiences, she said.

David A. Castelveter, a spokesman for the TSA, said the agency had no immediate comment on Thursday night.

Coleman said it was not immediately clear what kind of training the TSA planned for its staff.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Sandra Maler)

  |   March 27, 2015   11:01 AM ET

Fidgeting, whistling, sweaty palms. Add one point each. Arrogance, a cold penetrating stare, and rigid posture, two points.

The 6 Freakiest Things Smuggled Through Airport Security

Conde Nast Traveler   |   March 19, 2015    2:35 PM ET

by Caitlin Morton

Human remains? Live animals? The TSA blog is a treasure trove of weird things uncovered at security checkpoints over the years. Here are some of the strangest findings.

2015-03-19-1426789595-7114480-54ff640b560f0bf2218ef42d_tsasnakes.jpg
One of several live snakes found in a man's pants in 2011. | Photo: Courtesy The TSA Blog

The TSA was all over the news last week after a chihuahua was discovered in a checked bag at New York's LaGuardia Airport. The dog ended up returning home unharmed, but not before the TSA issued an important reminder on Instagram: "It's always important to double check your bags before traveling, especially to make sure your chihuahua hasn't stowed away inside."

While this particular incident was the result of a wanderlust-filled pup (it snuck into the owner's suitcase when she wasn't looking), people try to sneak contraband items through security every day. The TSA's blog writes updates reviewing the various items they've found at security checkpoints each week, from concealed weapons to, yes, live animals. We delved into the blog's archives to find the standout reports--here are some of the strangest things people have tried to bring onto planes with them:

1. SNAKES

In 2011 at Miami International Airport, a man was discovered with seven snakes hidden very...unusually. Each snake was wrapped in hosiery and each reptilian bundle was stored in the man's pants, along with several small turtles. The animals were picked up by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the passenger was arrested, and Samuel L. Jackson got to take the rest of the day off.

2. PIGEONS

Also filed under the "men stuffing things in their pants" category is the story of a passenger landing at Melbourne in 2009 with two completely live pigeons down his trousers. The man was stopped after arriving from Dubai -- a 10-hour flight -- with one pigeon hiding in each sock, and also wrapped in padded envelopes for extra "protection." The birds miraculously made it out alive. The man was arrested on the scene.

3. HUMAN SKULL

While TSA agents were checking baggage at Fort Lauderdale in 2013, they came across clay pots containing fragments of an actual human skull. While the passengers in question claimed they had no idea of the pots' macabre contents, the security lines were slowed down tremendously as the area had to be treated as a crime scene.

2015-03-19-1426789788-7554306-54ff6602560f0bf2218ef44d_tsaskull.jpg
Fragments of a human skull were discovered at Fort Lauderdale. | Photo: Courtesy The TSA Blog

4. CHASTITY BELT

What if we had metal detectors in the Middle Ages? All that armor... Anyway, in 2012 a body scanner detected a metal chastity belt on a passenger, who was eventually allowed to pass through and board the plane. No word on where she packed the key.

5. MARIJUANA...STUFFED IN A GRENADE

In 2012, one Denver International Airport passenger thought the best way to sneak marijuana through airport security was to hide it in a fake explosive--which wouldn't be allowed on a plane anyway. The TSA said it best: "We're not looking for drugs, but you can guarantee the odds are in our favor of finding them if they're stuffed in a grenade."

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A knife attached to a walker at JFK International Airport. | Photo: Courtesy The TSA Blog

6. WALKER-MOUNTED KNIFE

The TSA has tons of stories of intricately concealed items, be it knives disguised as hair combs or drugs stuffed in jars of peanut butter. But no story is quite as unusual as that of an elderly JFK International Airport passenger who attached a metal blade to his walker. "Usually, the only attachments you see on walkers are tennis balls," the TSA blog quipped.

See 5 more of the freakiest things smuggled through airport security on CNTraveler.com

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Carly Ledbetter   |   March 16, 2015    2:40 PM ET

If you weren't already aware, the TSA has an Instagram account and it's crazy. Chock-full of all the ridiculous (and scary) banned items you could ever think of, let's just say that it's definitely worth a "follow."

Even though the TSA gets a pretty bad rep for its slow service and mundane requests, we're pretty happy these fireworks, brass knuckles and assortment of medieval weapons didn't make it onto the plane with us.

Here are 10 of the TSA's most intriguing confiscated items:

1. This dagger.






2. A grenade.





3. This sword.




4. A few sticks of dynamite.





5. This anti-tank weapon.





6. A homemade avalanche charge.






7. This meat cleaver.




8. A concealed lipstick knife.





9. Some brass knuckles.





10. This gigantic pair of scissors.





  |   March 7, 2015    8:49 AM ET

Authorities say two security screeners at San Francisco International Airport have been charged with allowing methamphetamine to be smuggled through carry-on luggage at an airport checkpoint in exchange for money.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports ( http://bit.ly/1H9DtoG ) a federal complaint unsealed Friday names 30-year-old Claudio Rene Sunux of San Francisco and 27-year-old Amanda Lopez of South San Francisco, who were security screeners contracted with the Transportation Security Administration. It also names 28-year-old Anibal Giovanni Ramirez of San Francisco, an alleged drug smuggler.

Officials say Sunux, Lopez and Ramirez agreed to allow methamphetamine to be smuggled in carry-on luggage through the security checkpoint at SFO in exchange for money.

The three planned the operation in part through messages on Facebook.

All three have charged with conspiring to distribute methamphetamine. They are in federal custody and are expected to appear in court next week.

You Haven't Lived Until... You've Had a Stroke

Harshada Rajani   |   March 3, 2015    4:24 PM ET

That is one insanely odd, oxymoronic-seeming statement, I know, but let me explain. While I was studying abroad in Spain and working in India and China, as expected of any carefree, fun-loving college girl gallivanting across the world, I had some unbelievable memories that couldn't feel real unless I wrote them down and shared them with my friends. Instead of detailing each experience through my longwinded and boring prose that only my mom would read, I titled the emails, "You haven't lived until..." and I listed about 10 of my absurd experiences. From ice-skating on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower and singing Akon's "So Lonely" with a nine-year-old boy in Morocco who spoke zero words of English, to bathing in the conspicuously dirty yet spiritually clean Ganges river and having a little too much fun at Oktoberfest in Munich, I thought these once-in-a-lifetime experiences were worthy of the title. As I grew up, and life, well, happened, I went through some even (arguably) crazier times. Having a stroke has given me some of the most unnerving, unpredictable, unnatural, yet unforgettable moments that leave me saying that, without a doubt, you haven't lived until you've had a stroke.

You haven't lived until...

10. You've had your hair searched at airport security. I don't know if it's my brown skin, my wheelchair, or my insanely thick hair that looks as if it could definitely hold some secrets, TSA gives me such an unbelievably hard time at security, which always leaves me feeling kind of violated and kind of in disbelief. They pat down every last inch of my lady parts, my wheelchair, and, of course, my hair, all done conveniently in front of everyone!

9. You've been vegetarian on a purée foods diet. Puréed peas, puréed squash, puréed brussel sprouts, and for the main course, drum roll please, puréed white beans! During the first few months after my stroke, I had a tube connecting my stomach to the outside world, through which I bitterly and silently watched the nurses, all day, every day, pour liquefied food, medicine and water into my body. Mortifying. Humiliating. Disturbing. Every time. As you can imagine, I was over the moon when my throat muscles were finally strong enough to pass the infamous swallowing test -- a test which I had previously failed miserably three times (yes, yes, the first test I had ever failed in my entire life). But here's the kicker: for the doctors to remove my stomach tube, I had to prove to them that I could consume enough nutrition by mouth by eating 75 percent of every meal. Given the fact that each hospital meal was made to satisfy the appetite of the average adult male, combined with the fact that my completely paralyzed state ensured that I never, ever worked up an appetite, each meal was pure, unadulterated torture of the most disgusting kind. Once, I forced myself to eat an entire plate of puréed beans only to throw it all back up half a second later. Ew.

8. Someone has mistaken you for a stripper. Before I could pronounce any words, I could only make a few sounds with my mouth. To prevent any awkward misunderstandings, I relied on the failsafe method of maintaining complete and utter silence. One day in the hospital, my nurse was excitedly telling me that her girlfriends wanted to celebrate her birthday at a strip club as a joke. I, unfortunately, got a bit overzealous and broke my own rule -- I tried to speak. I exclaimed, or thought I exclaimed, "I've been to a strip club!" However, she thought I had said, "I was a stripper!" For the next 45 excruciating minutes, I tried, desperately and unsuccessfully, to clear up this humiliating misunderstanding, but my voice wasn't clear enough to communicate anything that would help the situation. Despite my unyielding efforts, by the end of our conversation, she was convinced that I used to strip on weekends to help pay for my exorbitant medical school tuition!

7. People have talked to you as if you are not a human being, but actually a cute, little, dazed and confused puppy. This, surprisingly and kind of unsurprisingly, happens a lot. When speaking to me, people love to employ the classic baby talk or the ever familiar slow, high-pitched voice as if I'm a wounded animal. We don't realize it, but these voices drip with condescension when there is an actual adult human on the receiving end. Strangers assume that since my outsides are rather messed up, my insides (my brain) must be messed up too. It used to really bother me, but now I just laugh, hysterically, which probably just serves to confirm to them their assumption that I am, in fact, cracked, but I figure it's better than bursting into tears, right?

6. You've desperately tried to recall the steps involved in something as simple as putting on your shirt, but realized trying to remember something you never once actually thought about, is pretty much impossible. Did I put my shirt on while sitting or standing? Did I put my arms in first or my head? Did I hold the shirt with my right or my left hand or both? Did I bend my elbow or raise my shoulder to get my arm in? Did I lift my arms up or bend my neck down to get the shirt over my head? I have no idea what the answer is to any of these questions, so it makes the whole process of relearning these seemingly natural activities really frustrating and nearly impossible. There are so many questions to consider with an activity that is this simple; imagine how many complicated questions arise with an activity more complex, such as walking.

5. People touch your butt every day, and you don't even think twice about it. My therapists and trainers, male and female, are burdened with the sometimes awkward responsibility of trying to help me strengthen my gluteal muscles, which are surprisingly necessary for many functional activities. This inevitably leads to a lot of seemingly inappropriate touching, feeling and borderline groping (kidding!) that is actually only helping. One day, my best friend accompanied me to therapy, and watched, completely mystified, as my therapist helped me practice standing up with his hands underneath my glutes. Afterwards, she whispered to me, "I usually make a guy buy me dinner before I let him do that!"

4. The guy that you were dating for two-and-a-half years sends his mother to come break up with you for him. Unnerving, unpredictable, unnatural, yet definitely unforgettable! ;)

3. You've craved alcohol to actually help you walk BETTER. I have crippling (literally) levels of stage fright whenever I attempt to walk (among other things) in public, causing my muscles to physically lock up and stubbornly refuse to activate properly. Though alcohol is traditionally supposed to make your walking worse, by affecting your cerebellum which controls the coordination of movement patterns, I have a feeling that a simple shot of Goose might magically make my walking smoother, and may even add a little swagger in my step.

2. You've unwillingly developed a habit of bursting into tears as a response to anything and everything. While these sporadic episodes of exaggerated emotion can be insanely frustrating and downright embarrassing, most people don't realize it is actually a neurological disorder. I have Pseudobulbar affect, or my favorite name for it, emotional incontinence, which is an absolutely annoying side effect of my stroke, but surprisingly, the least of my problems! Whether I'm touched, frustrated, angry, overwhelmed, upset, or even the slightest bit sad, I have one emotional response: sobbing.

Stranger: You're truly our hero!
Me: Bursts into tears.

Friend: I'll miss you.
Me: Bursts into tears.

Acquaintance: I'll miss you.
Me: Bursts into tears.

Ross to Rachel: I love you.
Me: Bursts into tears.

Dumbledore: After all this time?!
Snape: Always.
Me: Bursts into tears.

On the other side of all this, I laugh just as easily as I cry, so I pretty much laugh at every joke, even if it is not really funny. Basically, my stroke is good for YOUR self-esteem. #yourewelcome

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1. You've become your own best friend. Though me, myself, and I are total besties, my parents, my brother and my dog come in at a close second. For so long, I was trapped alone inside my own head. But I could hear something else -- something loud, something dying to get out, something dying to be heard. It was the fear building up inside me, screaming with pain. But there was no escape, no exit, and no way out. I had to learn pretty quickly that those fears, thoughts, and questions that were haunting my every second, were locked forever inside me. I was hopelessly trapped inside myself. Instead of letting my mind self-destruct, I embraced it. What I mean is that, I somehow embraced being locked inside myself. I became best friends with myself. I went dancing with my thoughts, singing with my fears, and playing with the answers to my own questions. I learned an irreplaceable lesson during those first few months: you can always find security, comfort and peace deep within the recesses of your own mad mind.

  |   January 21, 2015   10:44 AM ET

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a former air marshal who was fired after leaking plans to the media about security cutbacks can seek whistleblower protection.

By a 7-2 vote, the justices said Robert MacLean did not violate federal law when he revealed that the Transportation Security Administration planned to save money by cutting back on overnight trips for undercover air marshals.

Larry Neumeister   |   December 23, 2014    8:22 PM ET

NEW YORK (AP) — A brazen scheme in which guns — even an AK-47 rifle — were taken onto passenger jets for years in carry-on luggage was described by a Brooklyn prosecutor Tuesday as a terrorism threat that should cause the airline industry to end the practice of letting some workers enter airports without security screening.

"I hope this is a wakeup call for the nation," Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson said at a news conference. "This was an egregious breach of our nation's air traffic security."

Thompson's comment came as he described a case brought against five people, including an airline baggage handler who was charged a day earlier by federal authorities in Atlanta.

Thompson said he was not trying to scare anyone. But he said it's "truly frightening" what investigators learned after a probe that started as a way to reduce gun violence in Brooklyn.

He said Mark Quentin Henry, 45, who was fired by Delta Air Lines in 2010 after three years for abusing its buddy pass system, took guns aboard at least 17 commercial airliners this year as they traveled from Atlanta to both New York City airports.

The prosecutor said Henry was given the guns, sometimes in airport restrooms, by Eugene Harvey, 31, an Atlanta baggage handler who worked for Delta before he was fired as a result of the investigation.

Three others were arrested on gun charges in the probe.

Henry's lawyer, Terence Sweeney, said his client, held without bail, "maintains his innocence and he's looking forward to his day in court."

Henry was arrested Dec. 10. Investigators videotaped him in the Atlanta airport prior to a morning flight to Kennedy International Airport in New York, where he was videotaped leaving the airport and was followed to his residence in Brooklyn.

Thompson said when Henry was confronted by investigators, he said there were guns in a knapsack in his apartment.

"He said: 'I just brought them from Atlanta on the plane. He made that admission," Thompson said.

The prosecutor said investigators discovered that guns were individually wrapped and that ammunition was in the bag next to them "that he could have just put together and started shooting."

He said the scheme "really poses a threat in terms of terrorism."

"They can put guns on a plane, they could easily have put a bomb," Thompson said.

Thompson said 153 guns, almost all of which were bought in Georgia, were seized during the seven-month gun trafficking probe, which led investigators to Henry and his frequent flights between Atlanta and New York.

The prosecutor said investigators believe he has been transporting guns on planes for at least five years, using companion passes available because his mother had worked for airlines for years before retiring.

On Dec. 10, Henry flew with 16 weapons, including four 9mm pistols, a .380-caliber pistol and ammunition and magazines, Thompson said. The prosecutor said he flew with the AK-47 in November.

He said it was likely he chose airplanes for the speed and ease of the travel.

"We didn't know for sure that he was transporting guns on a plane until Dec. 10," Thompson said, though he added that Delta was notifying investigators each time Henry boarded a plane.

Delta spokesman Morgan Durrant said Delta has cooperated with authorities.

"We take seriously any activity that fails to uphold our strict commitment to the safety and security of our customers and employees," he said.

In a statement Tuesday, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport spokesman Reese McCranie called safety and security its "highest priority."

He said all employees must pass extensive criminal history record checks, security threat assessments, and security training prior to being approved for access to secured areas and employees are subjected to continuous vetting and random inspections.

"In light of these recent events, we are reviewing the security plan and will make the appropriate changes to prevent future incidents of this nature," McCranie added. The airport is considered among the world's busiest.

The Transportation Security Administration, which is responsible for screening airline passengers, said in a statement that it takes "potential for insider threats at airports very seriously."

It said security threat assessments and airport criminal checks made before people are hired is an ongoing process that includes random checks.

"TSA continues to closely partner with law enforcement on this investigation and, where possible, will use the findings from the investigation to improve current processes," it said.

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Associated Press writers Phillip Lucas in Atlanta and Joan Lowy in Washington contributed to this report.

PHILLIP LUCAS   |   December 23, 2014    7:32 AM ET

ATLANTA (AP) — An Atlanta airline baggage handler suspected of helping smuggle firearms onto passenger jets to New York City has been arrested by federal agents, authorities said Monday.

A FBI affidavit said there was enough evidence to charge Delta ramp agent Eugene Harvey, 31, with trafficking firearms, violating airport security and aiding others in the scheme.

ERIC TUCKER   |   December 6, 2014    9:49 AM ET

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal agents who guard the border and screen passengers at airports would be exempt from new racial profiling guidelines that must be observed by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. The Obama administration is to announce those guidelines in coming days, but officials say the changes would curtail numerous federal agencies from considering factors such as religion and national origin during investigations.

A U.S. official familiar with the guidelines said Friday night that the new rules banning racial profiling exempt the Transportation Security Administration and also do not cover inspections at ports of entry and interdictions at border crossings. The official was not authorized to discuss the guidelines by name and spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of a formal announcement expected soon.