TSA Responds to Detainment of Campaign for Liberty Staffer

Monday, April 6th, 2009

The TSA has responded on its blog to last week’s story about the detainment of Steve Bierfeldt, a staffer for Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty organization, at a St. Louis airport. Bierfeldt recorded his interaction with TSA agents and police officers while he was detained, which was apparently for not giving a satisfactory explanation why he was carrying $4,700 in cash. The TSA’s response:

At approximately 6:50 p.m. on March 29, 2009, a metal box alarmed the X-ray machine at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, triggering the need for additional screening. Because the box contained a number of items including a large amount of cash, all of which needed to be removed to be properly screened, it was deemed more appropriate to continue the screening process in a private area. A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employee and members of the St. Louis Airport Police Department can be heard on the audio recording. The tone and language used by the TSA employee was inappropriate. TSA holds its employees to the highest professional standards. TSA will continue to investigate this matter and take appropriate action.

Movements of large amounts of cash through the checkpoint may be investigated by law enforcement authorities if criminal activity is suspected. As a general rule, passengers are required to cooperate with the screening process. Cooperation may involve answering questions about their property, including why they are carrying a large sum of cash. A passenger who refuses to answer questions may be referred to appropriate authorities for further inquiry.

The response raises a number of questions. How does carrying a large amount of cash impair the safety of air travel? Weapons I could see. But cash?

Also, merely carrying even large sums of cash is not enough in itself for someone to be legally detained. There needs to be some other sign of illegal activity. What else about Bierfeldt made the TSA agents suspect him of criminal activity? What is the minimum amount of cash you can carry in an airport without being expected to explain to TSA agents why you’re carrying it?

Will the public be told what disciplinary action is taken against the agents who acted inappropriately? Will Bierfeldt?

From a policy standpoint, it also seems like a bad idea for the agency charged with ensuring the safety of airline passengers to distract itself by policing for crimes unrelated to airline safety, too. Of course, in this case, the only “crime” was an airline passenger carrying a large amount of cash, and asking the screeners to tell him what law compells him to answer their questions.

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42 Responses to “TSA Responds to Detainment of Campaign for Liberty Staffer”

  1. #1 |  Robert | 

    “What is the minimum amount of cash you can carry in an airport without being expected to explain to TSA agents why you’re carrying it?”

    That should be “What is the maximum amount of cash…”. The minimum would be 0.

  2. #2 |  Edwin Sheldon | 

    What is the minimum amount of cash you can carry in an airport without being expected to explain to TSA agents why you’re carrying it?

    The minimum is zero. The maximum? I’d like to know, too. ;)

    The tone of the response is very disconcerting. The TSA proffers no explanation for why it uses cash as justification to detain a traveler. As such, I find it hard to sympathize with them when travelers proffer no explanation as to why they have the cash.

  3. #3 |  Jefferson | 

    I have no idea why people fly at all anymore.

  4. #4 |  SJE | 

    Maybe there IS a minimum amount of cash. The TSA can make up any rule it likes: howabout vagrancy. :)

    Anyway (a) If the TSA acted inappropriately, where is the apology?
    (b) If the TSA acted inappropriately, why are passengers required to answer all sorts of questions that are irrelevant to passenger safety, such as the amount of cash they carry. The TSA officers have a very limited jurisdiction, and very limited training and authority. Allowing them to detain and harrass people on any basis is a recipe for problems.

    I look forward to hearing the TSA on those points.

  5. #5 |  SJE | 

    Jefferson:
    Because it takes the better part of a week to drive one way West Coast-East Coast.

  6. #6 |  Robin | 

    I only travel by sea.

  7. #7 |  Nick T | 

    Goo dpoints Radley.

    How about: just because the items had to be removed to be screened why did Mr. Bierfeldt need to be interrogated in a separate area? What other items did he have that needed to “be removed” for screening?

    It seems to me that cash possession could justify suspicion if you had a lot of evidence that terrorists carry certain amounts of cash or carried cash in certain manners. (E.g. Let’s say we somehow that terrorsists always carried exactly $38 in a certain denomination for symbollic purposes or whatever.) I’m fairly certain no such evidence exists and if anything, it would indictae that carrying no cash is more suspicious. So obviously this was a waste of time and a bucnh of bullshit…. while also being unlawful.

    Sadly, all the higher ups at TSA can point to is “inappropriate tone”

  8. #8 |  Robin | 

    “may be referred to appropriate authorities for further inquiry”–so what? refer me! I’ll refer you right back. Very different from the TSA guards acting like they’re about to transfer a prisoner.

  9. #9 |  Chris in AL | 

    “Movements of large amounts of cash through the checkpoint may be investigated by law enforcement authorities if criminal activity is suspected.”

    OK, so what criminal activity was suspected? Being a Ron Paul supporter?

  10. #10 |  Pinandpuller | 

    I could see them being suspicious if the money was taped to his abdomen but really.

    I have to ask again why isn’t AMEX using this in their marketing for traveler’s checks? If an agency confiscates them can’t you report them as stolen?

  11. #11 |  Andrew S. | 

    There’s a reason why the posters on the “Travel Safety and Security” forum on Flyertalk refer to the TSA’s blog as “Propaganda Village”

    As one of the Anonymous posters on that TSA Blog post, and as a regular at the TSA’s blog, the reaction isn’t a surprise. It’s what happens every day over there. What’s especially sad is the constant misstatement of the laws by two of the TSOs posting comments on that blog (TSORon and kelleymae81)

    That said, I think one good thing comes of this — it finally makes the people who thought there’d be a change in the way the TSA acted after the Obama administration began realize that they couldn’t have been more incorrect.

  12. #12 |  Bee | 

    I can’t be the only one who is shocked to hear that 4K is a “large amount” of money. Lots of people routinely carry that much money, for 100% legitimate reasons….like in this case. TSA are obviously unfamiliar with small business or retail.

    If you’re visibly nervous, wearing a hoodie, with hands, garments and bills all covered with that explode-y dye they use in banks, then sure, pull the person out for some extra questioning. But acting like someone with a few thousand dollars in cash on them is a criminal kingpin is, frankly, embarrassing.

  13. #13 |  Z | 

    “At approximately 6:50 p.m. on March 29, 2009, a metal box alarmed the X-ray machine at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, triggering the need for additional screening. Because the box contained a number of items including a large amount of cash,”

    What were the other items?

  14. #14 |  Regarding Liberty | 

    Maybe you don’t care about the security of this nation, but here are the facts:

    1. The ink used in the manufacture of US currency is harmful if swallowed
    2. It takes no more than five hundred $1 bills to cause an airplane full of people to get queasy (if the bills are ingested)
    3. If the pilot and co-pilot happen to choke while ingesting the bills, the plane is at great risk for crashing – perhaps into a church or school.

  15. #15 |  Dave Krueger | 

    If I get started on this topic again, my head will explode and they will have won (and my walls will be covered with brain fragments which will piss off my wife).

  16. #16 |  Omar | 

    The blog-post still fails to answer the most straight-forward question asked of the security officials:

    Are you are or are you not required by law to answer questions like that to travel? It’s a Yes/No, dichotomous, binary, true/false question with only two possible answers. These propagandists refuse to answer the question.

    What is it, TSA? By law, did that man need to answer those questions? Without that answer, clearly stated, the rest of the blog post is garbage.

    I hope he sues their fucking asses personally.

  17. #17 |  nwerner | 

    Of no particular relevance but, about five or six years ago, I was able to walk right through TSA security with about $5,000 in silver dollars with the only question asked, “are you buying or selling?” I was actually inheriting and responded as such and that was that. Precious metals are apparently outside their sphere of comprehension.

  18. #18 |  Ben | 

    Movements of large amounts of cash through the checkpoint may be investigated by law enforcement authorities if criminal activity is suspected.

    This is fine, as long as the money isn’t the reason they’re suspected of being a criminal.

  19. #19 |  Lorraine Sumrall | 

    Carrying more cash than a TSA agent may have in his own pocket is obviously enough reason to suspect criminal activity may be present. I’m ill.

  20. #20 |  Kieffer | 

    As a general rule, passengers are required to cooperate with the screening process.

    Unless I’m mistaken, Bierfeldt was challenging exactly this notion. Talk about begging the question. There are no “general rules,” only specific laws, and he wanted to know which one required him to answer the question.

    That the TSA officially maintains that only the tone and language of the particular agent were inappropriate, and not the entire encounter itself, demonstrates to me the troubling viewpoint that seems to permeate through all levels of government that We The People should just shut the fuck up and do what we’re told.

  21. #21 |  Omar | 

    Check out this winner comment…

    http://www.tsa.gov/blog/2009/04/incident-at-st-louis-international.html?showComment=1238789460002#c6968705034868323685

    “Yup, and you wonder why we feel as we do toward the public.”

  22. #22 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    “How does carrying a large amount of cash impair the safety of air travel?”

    I’d hate to be that Geico stack of money with the big eyeballs. He must get hassled by the TSA man every damn time.

  23. #23 |  cApitalist | 

    How do you think they’ll respond to my “Eat a dick TSA” t-shirt?

  24. #24 |  craig | 

    “Are you are or are you not required by law to answer questions like that to travel? It’s a Yes/No, dichotomous, binary, true/false question with only two possible answers. These propagandists refuse to answer the question.”

    You are not required to speak, at all, to the TSA or to the police, eevr.

  25. #25 |  SJE | 

    Omar: that comment was deleted from the TSA. Maybe someone at the TSA actually reads this site, if only to control negative press.

  26. #26 |  Paul | 

    Looks to me like in the comments the TSA is trying to shift the blame to the local police.

    I’m amazed we’ve gotten to a place where the simple possession of a legal object (cash, in this case), can refult in detention.

  27. #27 |  Pinandpuller | 

    Omar-

    Apparently they scrubbed that link but I did find out that I can bring screwdrivers or wrenches longer than 7 inches in my carry on-that’s reassuring.

  28. #28 |  CH | 

    I’m still not clear: are there specific guidelines to what constitutes “superstitious enough” behavior on my part to detain me and/or prevent me from flying? Is it just the best judgment of the TSA agent?

    Can they detain me based on their intuition; a funny feeling in their gut about me?

    Can they detain me if i change brands of deo and sweat through my shirt? Excess perspiration could indicate a high level of anxiety.

    Can they detain me because I claim to have made $4700 selling nude photos of their wives? A-Hole, for sure, but a travel risk?

    I agree with Kieffer, these particular agents seem ill-equipped to enforce any kind of “General Rule”.

  29. #29 |  KBCraig | 

    I think the maximum amount to avoid suspicion is also $0. Heck, even zero is supicious… who doesn’t carry cash?

  30. #30 |  CharlesWT | 

    nwerner:

    “Of no particular relevance but, about five or six years ago, I was able to walk right through TSA security with about $5,000 in silver dollars with the only question asked, “are you buying or selling?””

    If that was face value, you’re a better man than I am. 5,000 silver dollars ~290 pounds.

  31. #31 |  freedomfan | 

    SJE, the comment is still there (do a search for “you wonder why” in your browser), but it looks like they turned off the comment links for the page.

    BTW, I would want an extra question answered. I know that TSA cannot arrest you and I know that the local police have to have more than just “he’s carrying cash” to arrest you, but do the TSA goons have discretionary power to keep you off the plane? In other words, I assume they can ask you questions about whatever you are carrying but, if you don’t answer them, can they basically cost you hundreds of dollars in air fare by not letting you fly (because you aren’t “cooperating”)? Or, do they actually have to show that you are a legitimate safety threat to the flight or let you fly?

    (And, yes, I’m sure they get a “reasonable” amount of time to pose questions to me and I know that I might miss a flight if I’m running late. But, it rises to a whole other level if you basically just can’t fly if you don’t make these guys happy, even if they don’t have a legitimate reason claim you are a safety problem.)

  32. #32 |  Michael Chaney | 

    SJE – it wasn’t deleted, they just hacked their code to 404 if you go to that particular comment. Try this:

    http://www.tsa.gov/blog/2009/04/incident-at-st-louis-international.html

    And search for “yup” on the page.

  33. #33 |  Michael Chaney | 

    Okay, they’re not that smart. Here’s a working link:

    http://www.tsa.gov/blog/2009/04/incident-at-st-louis-international.html?showComment=1238789460002#c6968705034868323685

  34. #34 |  Wiliam | 

    To quote the Joker “And I thought my jokes were bad”

  35. #35 |  Patrick | 

    I think they’re concerned whether the passenger might recruit a terrorist unit on the plane by offering 1,000 dollars each for the first four persons to apply for the hijacking position, with a bonus of 700 in case they need to stop a passanger uprising.

  36. #36 |  Tom W | 

    When I first heard about this happening, I immediately wondered why too much CASH is deemed suspicious, while nobody bats an eye at a wallet full of credit and debit cards? What about if said cards don’t all have matching names printed on them?

    I mean, the bottom line here is, the TSA claims they can help weed out potential terrorists on flights NOT just by searching for products on their person or in their bags that would endanger people’s safety and pose threats, but by looking for signs you might be doing anything *illegal*. So why not look for “suspicious debit/credit cards” while you’re checking out that drivers’ license and making that arbitrary decision if they have “too much” cash?

    For that matter, I’d also like to ask the TSA screeners why the double-standard with containers? I mean, what if I had just as much cash as this guy did, but I carried it in a tupperware container instead of a metal box? Since the metal detector wouldn’t be set off by that, does that mean the money would suddenly be less “suspicious”? Apparently so!

  37. #37 |  fwb | 

    The issue about cash is not new. Anyone reading news knows that LEOs have been detaining/arresting people and stealing cash from them going back 15-20 yrs or more. In AZ in the 90s, a female sheriff pulled over a motorhome with an elderly couple in it and confiscated, as I recall, about $4500.00 in cash. In the late 80s or early 90s there was a business man (greenhouse owner) who did a cash business and was grabbed because he bought his plane tickets cash and traveled with large amounts of cash on him. There would seem to be an issue with the 4th amendment here since the 4th requires a warrant for any search to be reasonable (Don’t have to take my word, read any of the dozens of cases and constitutional law books from the 19th century). What most people believe about probable cause is a lie invented in the 20th century by the courts in order to screw over the people.

    Tiochfaidh ar la!

  38. #38 |  Dave Krueger | 

    Probable cause is the reason they cook up to justify what they already did.

  39. #39 |  omar | 

    #33 | Michael Chaney

    The link stoped working. Either TSA has shitbrain web admins, or they are scrubbing the link.

    Why they don’t just delete the comment though…

  40. #40 |  Anton Sherwood | 

    We don’t want people buying cocaine during the flight, do we?

  41. #41 |  JS | 

    Bah, who needs cocaine when you can get pure oxygen from the masks above your seat.

    A favorite TSA moment of mine was last fall when I used my passport as ID going thru the security line. It was brand new and the idiot geezer actually looked at it and said, “its expired”. I looked at him like “wtf?” and said, “no its not, its brand new”. “Yup it is, see here…” “Uh, no thats when it was issued, 3 months ago.” I had to bite back the “jackass” part I was thinking. “Oh, I see, thats right”. Then he gives me some goofball smile. I couldn’t figure out if he was that dumb or trying to be a smartass.

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