The news media lit up earlier this week with reports about Senator Rand Paul (son of would-be Republican Presidential candidate, Ron Paul) being selected for secondary screening by the TSA at Nashville Airport while attempting to fly to DC. Senator Paul refused, and so the TSA in return refused to allow him to pass through security and escorted him out of the screening zone and back into the airport’s public zone.
On the face of it, this is just another example of mindless TSA nonsense, where they insist on pretending that a US Senator might be a terrorist intending to attack the plane he is about to fly on, ostensibly to join a Senate session.
We can only guess how many other passengers with less than gold-plated 110% safe profiles were ignored at security while the TSA people excitedly clustered around a US Senator, enjoying the chance to assert their power over him.
No wonder Rand Paul’s father says that, if (in the very unlikely event) he becomes President, he’ll disband the TSA. That almost compensates for some of his less fortunate views on other topics.
But probe beneath the surface a bit, and there are a couple of additional messages that have been largely obscured.
The first is a very interesting point. Article I, Section 6 of the US Constitution reads :
They [ie senators and congressmen] shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance at the Session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place.
Did the TSA’s refusal to allow Senator Paul to pass through security and on to his flight breach the US Constitution? Or is this another example of how the TSA operates in a ‘constitution-free zone’ (albeit a zone that was never envisioned by the Constitution itself)?
The second is to wonder whether Senator Paul did or did not get special treatment. On the face of it, he did not. He went through a whole body imager, graciously accepting a potentially dangerous dose of X-rays as part of the process. The machine indicated some sort of possible unknown object somewhere on his body, and the TSA then sought to pat him down to determine what the object was.
Senator Paul asked if he could simply try going through the machine a second time (perhaps after removing whatever the offending object was – I’ve had a simple pocket handkerchief set off the alarm in the past, myself). The TSA refused. In my experience, sometimes they refuse and sometimes the allow you to redo the process; indeed, in my handkerchief example, I just said ‘Oh yes, I’ve got a handkerchief in my pocket’ and the guy waved me on through without me needing to show the handkerchief, without any pat down, and without any second time through the machine!
Eventually Senator Paul was ‘escorted’ out of the secure area by a couple of police officers that the TSA had called. The incident report says the police were called to attend a problem with an irate citizen (more of that in a minute).
But – was this special treatment? The TSA says it was normal procedure, that when a passenger refuses secondary screening, they are in turn refused to pass through the checkpoint. But in other cases, the TSA has said that when you first enter the screening area, you have indicated your intention to board a plane and your acceptance of the screening process, and you lose your ability to turn around and go back if you are selected for additional screening half way through.
This is explained as being designed to prevent terrorists from ‘gaming’ or testing the security by testing to see what objects might or might not be detected by the scanners.
But for Senator Paul, the TSA didn’t insist on further screening, nor did it seek his arrest on various federal charges for refusing to acquiesce to secondary screening, and it allowed him out of the screening area.
(In case you’re wondering, Senator Paul simply booked himself on the next flight to DC, and this time went through security with no alarm occurring.)
So maybe he did get special treatment? Maybe some supervisor with a shred of sense realized that his underlings had created a nasty situation which could only lead to greater problems, so allowed this face saving measure, while pretending that it was normal treatment?
Lastly, recall the comment about Senator Paul being ‘escorted’ out of the secure area by local police, responding to a TSA complaint of an irate citizen? You can probably well imagine how a politician blessed with a super-sized ego might lose his cool and start shouting and shoving; indeed, there have been politicians who have done exactly that in the past.
Nashville Airport released video footage showing Senator Paul’s ‘irate’ behavior – behavior so extreme the TSA had to call the police to help out and remove him. Do look at the clip that is shown here, and tell me if the person patiently sitting and waiting in a TSA holding area looks at all irate to you, and if he looks like someone who needs two policemen to come and ‘escort’ him away.
And that’s the thing I object to the most. The TSA have outright lied through their teeth about Senator Paul being irate. Someone needs to be held accountable for these lies. But, you and I both know, no-one will suffer any negative consequences at all. A TSA staffer can scrawl a good humored note on an inspection slip in a person’s suitcase and lose their job within 24 hours, but a senior TSA official can slander a US Senator free of consequences.
Remember one more thing. The next ‘irate citizen’ the police are called to assist with could well be you or someone close to you. We are none of us safe when TSA officials will lie to cover up their incompetence and jeopardize our freedom while doing so.