Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul told The Daily Caller that being “detained” by the Transportation Security Administration at the Nashville airport Monday was a major ordeal that underscores flaws in TSA’s procedures that affect tens of millions of passengers every year.
“It was a big headache,” Paul said in a phone interview. “I missed my speech here. I was supposed to speak to the Right to Life March, probably the biggest audience I’ll get to speak to, and I missed it.”
The White House, through spokesman Jay Carney, defended the TSA’s actions during Monday’s press briefing by arguing that Paul wasn’t technically “detained.”
“Let’s be clear,” Carney said. “The passenger was not detained. He was escorted out of the area by local law-enforcement.”
But Sen. Paul told TheDC that 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.”
The incident started after the scanner Paul walked through sounded its alarm. Current TSA rules would require Paul to undergo a mandatory pat-down before proceeding to his plane. But Paul told TheDC that the TSA agents caved in after a two-hour battle and allowed him to go through the scanner again without additional physical screening.
“For an hour and a half, they said ‘absolutely, I would have to [accept a pat-down],’” Paul said. “And, because I used my cell phone, they told me I would have to do a full body pat down because you’re not allowed to use your cell phone when you’re being detained.”
“It’s like, well, I can’t call my attorney? I can’t call my office to tell them I’m going to miss a speech to 200,000 people?”
“In the end, after two hours of this quarreling,” Sen. Paul explained, “they did let me walk through the screener [machine] and it didn’t go off. So what the TSA is not telling you is the screeners are being used as random devices as well. The [mechanical] screeners will go off randomly, and the [agent] screeners don’t know that it’s a random call but it has nothing to do with what you’ve done.”
Paul doesn’t think the Nashville TSA agents were singling him out because he has been critical of the agency.
“I don’t think so,” Paul said. “They’ve usually treated me pretty well in Nashville. But the problem is the rules that are coming out of Washington. We’ve been 10 years and we have no frequent flier program, we have no ability for people to go back through the screener, [and] one-size-fits-all, everybody-is-a-potential-terrorist rules waste a lot of time on people who are not terrorists.
“So, resources, I think, could be better devoted to looking at who’s flying and where they’ve been flying and knowing more about the passenger list rather than spending all this time doing these random screenings of elderly people, young people and frequent fliers.”
Paul has dueled with TSA administrator John Pistole during Senate hearings about why travelers are required to consent to mandatory full body pat downs if scanners beep when they walk through. Paul argues that passengers should be allowed to choose to go through the scanners again rather than being forced to undergo a physical pat-down.
“The TSA has got a lot of problems,” Paul told TheDC. “There are a lot of people who are insulted and their dignity is compromised by what the TSA does to them. Really all I’m asking for is when you go through the screener [machine], you ought to be allowed to choose to get a body pat-down or choose to go back through the screener.”
TSA procedures, he said, ultimately waste time and resources. “So, if you try to comply, if you take your shoes off, you take your glasses off, you take your wallet out, you take everything out of your pockets and try to comply, it still goes off randomly.”
“But then you’re made to think that, ‘Oh, there’s a problem. We have to look at this,’” Paul said. “But, they’re wasting time, I think, by doing this. Instead of targeting people who meet a risk profile for terrorism, what they’re doing is they’re just doing these random things. But, I think it’s a waste of time and it’s insulting to put people through a body pat down when they have not shown any risk.”
“I think every American should be allowed to go back through the screener if they don’t choose to have a pat-down,” Paul insisted.