The detention by Transportation Security Administration agents of a staffer with the Ron Paul-backed Campaign for Liberty at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport became a cause celebre last week -- in part because the detainee secretly captured an audio recording of his interrogation on his cell phone. On its official blog, the TSA has chastised the agents for their conduct, while still defending the holding of passengers for such seemingly innocuous reasons as the possession of substantial sum of cash.
In the recording, parts of which were played on Andrew Napolitano's Fox News television show, and a more complete version placed online by the Washington Times, Steve Bierfeldt, Director of Development for the Campaign for Liberty, can be heard being aggressively questioned in a detention room about $4,700 in cash with which he was traveling. When Bierfeldt asks about his rights and the extent to which he is required to answer questions, agents deride him for behaving "like a child." The TSA agents threaten to call in DEA agents and other federal law-enforcement officers to extend the questioning in response to Bierfeldt's resistance.
On its Evolution of Security blog, the TSA conceded:
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.
While acknowledging concerns about the TSA agent's conduct, the TSA continues to insist that "[m]ovements of large amounts of cash through the checkpoint may be investigated by law enforcement authorities if criminal activity is suspected."
It should be noted that the TSA is not a general-purpose law-enforcement agency, but is specially tasked to guarantee the safety of the transportation system. It's mission statement says, "The Transportation Security Administration protects the Nation’s transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce."
While the use of cash is often used (to the dismay of civil liberties advocates) by police agencies as a means of profiling people who may be engaged in criminal activity, particularly drug transactions, it is not illegal in itself and would seem to pose no threat to the integrity of air travel or any other means of transportation.
"We are becoming far too eager to give away our liberties in the face of false security. We want to make our plane and we don't want a five-minute hassle so we are eager to give up our freedom, and that is unfortunate," Bierfeldt told the Washington Times.