Here is a 10 minute CNN interview with Senator Rand Paul, as he discusses his side of what happened at the Nashville airport on Monday. Senator Paul says he was detained by TSA because he wanted to walk through the body imaging machine a second time after the machine apparently showed he had something on his leg. Senator Paul wanted to lift his pant leg and show there was nothing there. TSA, apparently, insisted on patting down the United States Senator. Senator Paul declined and was not allowed to travel on that particular flight.
Here is a link to the Transportation Security Administration’s blog telling their side of the story. One part of that post includes this explanation:
When a passenger or bag alarms in screening technology at a TSA checkpoint, the alarm has to be resolved before the passenger can enter the secure area past the checkpoint. Passengers who refuse to complete the screening process can’t be granted access to the secure area. TSA notifies law enforcement when this happens, and law enforcement officers can escort them out of the checkpoint. This isn’t done to punish the passenger– it’s done to ensure that every person who gets on a plane is screened appropriately.
The White House press secretary had this to say about Paul’s claim he was detained:
“Let’s just be clear… the passenger was not detained. The passenger triggered an alarm during routine airport screening, but refused to complete the screening process in order to resolve the issue. Passengers, as in this case, who refuse to comply with security procedures are denied access to the secure gate area. In this case, the passenger was escorted out of the screening area by local law enforcement. It’s my understanding he has now rebooked and passed through security without incident, and that has resolved itself.”
Senator Paul said: he certainly felt like he was detained.
“If you’re told you can’t leave, does that count as detention?” Paul asked. “I tried to leave the cubicle to speak to one of the TSA people and I was barked at: ‘Do not leave the cubicle!’ So, that, to me sounds like I’m being asked not to leave the cubicle. It sounds a little bit like I’m being detained.”
I heard TSA Administrator Pistole a few weeks ago talking about wanting to move TSA away from looking for dangerous objects and toward looking for dangerous intent.
I think that is a worthwhile objective.
To implement that idea, Pistole (and yes, it is pronounced “pistol”) noted in a speech last month, TSA has :
… begun implementing additional risk-based security measures at numerous airports [to] expedite the screening process for travelers we know and trust the most, and travelers who are willing to voluntarily share information with us before they travel.
This initiative includes easing access for the military:
U.S. service members are entrusted to protect citizens with their lives and as such, TSA is recognizing that these members pose very little risk to security.
In the decade TSA has been in business, the agency’s employees have:
screened more than five billion passengers and detected thousands of firearms among countless prohibited items discovered and prevented those weapons from entering the cabin of an aircraft.
I have not seen or read evidence or anecdotes to suggest any – repeat – any of the TSA-screened passengers caught with prohibited items planned to commit a terrorist act. And that includes Sergeant 1st Class Trey Scott Atwater, the man who reportedly brought C4 explosives with him in his carry on baggage last December. (Earlier this month, Atwater was released on a 50,000 dollar unsecured bond.)
I do not have access to classified information. Maybe TSA has prevented or displaced terrorist aviation-related attacks. I want to grant the agency the benefit of the doubt here. But I am willing to bet, say, $10,000 none of those possible attacks was perpetrated by a United States Senator.
People can be — and are — stupid, criminal, sneaky and forgetful when it comes to bringing things onto an aircraft. (I am not without sin here.) But at what point do we start actually doing risk-informed, risk-based, risk-whatever decision making with passenger screening?
Unless TSA’s continuously evolving risk-based security model seeks to achieve zero risk, why does it take so long to develop discretionary policies “for travelers we know and trust the most,” for people who a reasonable person would consider not to be a risk?
During Monday’s Republican debate in Florida, Newt Gingrich used the phrase “huge institutional barriers against doing the right thing.” Is that what’s going on here? Is it congress, the administration, TSA, the airline industry who intends to take another decade to get this worked out? Who is calling the timing shots here? What is the delay?
I do not ask this to be snarky. I’d really like to know why a nation-wide trusted flyer program cannot be put into place before the summer arrives.
I would be more than happy to make space available on this blog to help clarify why this is taking so long.
Some flyers may experience a tinge of Schadenfreude at Senator Paul’s experience. But something is deeply wrong when TSA employees are not given — by law, or policy, or doctrine, or procedure, or whatever — the discretion to treat a United States Senator with some common sense.
Senator Paul did not have “dangerous intent.” He was not planning to bring the plane down.
If he wanted to destroy America he has access to a much more powerful device.