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Monday, June 22, 2009
cashbox

In April, I blogged about an incident in St. Louis where a passenger’s cash box was searched.

Since this is in the news again, I thought I would write a quick recap with some updates.

On March 29th, a metal box containing a large amount of coins and cash was flagged for additional screening. Any large amount of metallic objects in one place (loose change or rolls of coins) appear as opaque images and are difficult and sometimes impossible to clear without being searched. I blogged about this type of search last October. If we can’t see through something on the x-ray, we have to take a closer look by opening the box/bag. Due to the contents, the passenger was taken to a private screening area which is customary when screening money or high dollar value items such as jewelry.

While it’s legal to travel with any amount of money you wish to carry when flying domestically, movements of large amounts of cash through the checkpoint may be investigated by law enforcement authorities if suspicious activity is suspected. As a general rule, passengers are required to cooperate with the screening process. Cooperation may involve answering questions about their property. A passenger who refuses to answer questions may be referred to appropriate authorities for further inquiry. When traveling internationally, a passenger must file a report with U.S. Customs when flying with amounts exceeding $10,000. (or its foreign equivalent)

A TSA employee and members of the St. Louis Airport Police Department can be heard on the audio recording. TSA holds its employees to the highest professional standards. The tone and language used by the TSA employee was inappropriate and proper disciplinary action was taken.

Blogger Bob

TSA Blog Team

Comments

Submitted by Jim Huggins on

Bob ... with respect, exactly what information in here is an "update"? It looks like everything here was stated before. What am I missing?

Submitted by Anonymous on

@Bob "and proper disciplinary action was taken"

Which was? And what was done to their boss and trainer? And to all teh other TSOs that observed and did nothing?

Are you saying that any questions a TSO asks must be answered no matter how irrelevant to their purpose? Must I explain to a curious TSO the contents of love letters on my person?

Submitted by Anonymous on

Going to court. Let's see what happens.

Submitted by Megan on

It seems to me, Bob, that problems arise when there's a disconnect between those who create these policies and those who are set to enforce them. And it seems to happen way too often with the TSA.

While I really enjoy this blog giving a human face to the TSA, unfortunately, your excuse always seems to be that problems are limited to one employee.

However, this never seems to be the case. A disconnect between those in charge of the TSA and an employee can lead to more than just mere inconvenience to a passenger. It can ruin a trip or even a reputation.

My point is...no one wants to hear that you "hold your employees to the highest standards...blah blah blah." Because time and time again the problem resurfaces.

Submitted by Anonymous on
"As a general rule, passengers are required to cooperate with the screening process. Cooperation may involve answering questions about their property."

a posting on the TSA blog

"No person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself . . ."

from the 5th Amendment (part of the Bill of Rights)



Perhaps I'm dense, but I'm having a little trouble reconciling the two statements above. If "suspicious activity is suspected" by a screener, leading to an investigation by "law enforcement authorities" it would seem that a criminal case may well be underway, thus ensuring that the passenger has the full protection of his constitutional rights, including the right to not answer questions.

Is Bob misrepresenting the facts when he says that passengers are "required to cooperate" including "answering questions" or is he asserting that the Constitution does not apply when TSA is involved?

T-the-B at FlyerTalk
Submitted by Anonymous on

Its should also be noted that after the police investigated the passenger and he was cleared to travel. The TSO can be heard on the recording stating that he was not satisfied and refused to let the passenger pass the checkpoint. Until he was over ruled a second time. Your TSO repeatedly exceeded his authority.

As you have stated it is legal to travel with any sum of money within the United States. That does not mean that you are engaged in suspicious activity. So what law was he breaking and what law requires him to answer any questions. It is up to law enforcement to prove suspicious activity. The passenger is not required to prove anything.

Looking forward to the ACLU holding the TSA accountability. And what, if any action, was taken against the TSO.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Fofana ruling came down and TSA got slapped down.

Submitted by Anonymous on

What disciplinary action was taken?

If the individual was not fired, why not?

Submitted by Sandra on

Between this case and Fofana, things ain't looking too good for the TSA. :-)

Submitted by Anonymous on

What disciplinary action was taken? I'm sure the response will be something along the lines that privacy considerations forbid you from revealing that information, but I find that answer dubious at best. TSA employees are public servants. There is a direct and justified public interest in how violators of the public trust are disciplined. I doubt the privacy act actually prohibits the release of that info anyway. Heck, you could even reveal what action (if any) was taken without revealing the names or other identifying information of the screeners, which should satisfy privacy concerns. If TSA screeners are not comfortable with even that moderate oversight, then they should not be public servants.

Submitted by Phil on

Bob at TSA wrote:

"movements of large amounts of cash through the checkpoint may be investigated by law enforcement authorities if suspicious activity is suspected."

What did you mean by that? Anything may be investigated. What about this situation led your staff to believe that they should notify law enforcement?

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

As a general rule? We're talking about detaining a person or at least preventing him from continuing to move in the direction he was headed. Please be specific. Are people required by law to cooperate with your "screening process"?

"Cooperation may involve answering questions about their property."

And it may involve jumping up and down on one foot. What does it involve?

"A passenger who refuses to answer questions may be referred to appropriate authorities for further inquiry."

Any passenger may be referred to authorities. Under what circumstances, according to TSA policy, will a passenger be referred?

--
Phil
Add your own questions at TSAFAQ.net

Submitted by Rob on

Short of terminating the employment of that TSO, no disciplinary action would be proper. If he was an employee of mine, he would no longer work for me.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Why is "refusing to answer a question" cause to refer somebody to law enforcement? Is there a law that says you have to answer the TSA agent's question? Honestly, that's what the guy in the airport wanted to know. The TSA still hasn't answered the question. Maybe we'll find out during the court case.

Submitted by Khurt on

So if the man was not legally required to answer the questions, and since his personal effects contained no contraband, what was the reason this incident was escalated as it was?

I sincerely hope that the TSA and the TSO are sued out of existence.

Submitted by Ayn R Key on

What, exactly, was proper disciplinary action? Giving a token punishment (a frowney face sticker for that day on his record) and then promoting him for his diligence?

Submitted by DoogieSD on

"movements of large amounts of cash through the checkpoint may be investigated by law enforcement authorities if suspicious activity is suspected"


Oooohh, while I'm a fan of the TSA this one don't hold much water.

While the guy was trying to make a "Ron Paul" freedom statement in the worst way I don't know of any charter for the TSA to work on behalf of local law enforcement when no laws were broken and applying a arbitrary "large amount of cash" is too much of an infringement of my liberties.

Dare I ask what is Large?

Granted I trust the guy could have just said it was from T-Shirt sales, look at the receipts and be on his way...at the same token once identified that it was under the 10k limit the TSA should have just said good day sir have a nice flight...

Submitted by Anonymous on

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

Unless a passenger is required to do so by a law your rules can only carry so much weight. The passenger was not breaking any laws, nothing he was doing was suspicious, and there is no law requiring him to answer any questions.

Please tell us what law he was breaking when traveling with $4700 in cash and what law he was breaking when he did not answer any questions?

Submitted by Bosconet on

So what you are saying is that the security checkpoint that was originally intended to keep dangerous items off plans how not 'evolved' into a general internal check point when law enforcement can question and require a law abiding citizen to justify the legal transportation of cash inside the country.....nice. Thanks for the info.

Submitted by Al Ames on

We'll see how long this policy stands up, now that it's being challenged. Just because TSA says it can do something doesn't mean it's legal or has the authority to do so.

You know, like in US v. Fofana, 2009 WL 1529815 (S.D.Ohio) ruling that just came down?

Find it interesting that TSA wouldn't let the judge see the policy as it was SSI, allowing TSA to be able to throw the screener under the bus for doing her job.

But TSA would never do anything to violate the 4th amendment of the Constitution, right?

I'll take a bet that a judge will smack TSA and DHS down on this one too.

Al

Submitted by Dan Kozisek on

Please define exactly what falls under "cooperation". Do we have to do anything the screener demands? Do we have to answer any questions the screener asks? What are the limits?

Submitted by Adrian on

Blogger Bob's summary is interesting in that, with just a few sentences, it encapsulates a whole mess of legal questions:

"... movements of large amounts of cash through the checkpoint may be investigated by law enforcement authorities if suspicious activity is suspected. As a general rule, passengers are required to cooperate with the screening process. Cooperation may involve answering questions about their property."

The questions I have are:

1. What's a large amount of cash?

2. Is a large amount of cash in and of itself suspicious?

3. The investigation may be performed by law enforcement, but TSA is not law enforcement. So there's this fuzzy line between where the security screening ends and the law enforcement investigation begins. Where is that line?

4. In an investigation, you certainly have the right to invoke the Fifth Amendment and not answer questions. But because of the fuzziness of the previous question, at what point can you start exercising that right?

5. Can what you say to the TSA before they refer you to law enforcement be used against you?

6. What constitutes reasonable questions from the TSA about personal property that a passenger is compelled to answer versus unreasonable ones?

7. If the public must make some private information available in order to exercise their right to travel domestically, what restrictions can we place on TSA to protect that privacy?

8. Who may record interrogations, and how can those recordings be used? The passenger recorded in this particular instance (which, as I understand is legal in St. Louis but may not be elsewhere). I've seen notices in some airport terminals that security uses microphones in addition to CCTV cameras.

It's going to be interesting.

Submitted by Anonymous on

It's absolutely disgusting the way Steve Bierfeldt was treated by TSA officials in St. Louis. He is a citizen of the United States of America and deserves to be treated with the rights, dignity, and respect afforded all of our citizens.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Great, you are allowed to investigate the funny looking box on the x-ray screen.

Now that you've determined it's just cash and coin, which is not contraband and which any legal citizen can carry as much cash and coin as they wish within the United States, you should be letting them go. This is especially true if they do not show up on any "terrist" watch list or currently have a warrant for their arrest.


You let people through every day with platinum visa cards with 50k limits, why can't someone take 50k cash with them to another state for any reason.

Asking why they have the money and where they got it from has no bearing on your task as airport security and you are not LEO's.

If it is going to be TSA's policy to ask about high value items that people travel with, they must ask everyone with a credit card what their limit is and what they may spend it on when they get to their destination. It's only fair.

Submitted by Dave on

This was asked before, but never answered, so I think it's worth asking again:

1) Once the box was opened and it was determined that it only contained currency, what threat remained to the airliner that justified detaining the passenger?

2) Or, in the alternative, what law did the TSA agents suspect ,ay have been violated that would have justified a referral to law enforcement?

Please answer #1, or if the answer is that no threat to airliner security was suspected, then please answer #2 instead?

Submitted by Anonymous on

What do large sums of money have to do with the safety of aircraft?

Do you fear someone throwing pennies at the pilot while he tries to fly the plane?

Submitted by Anonymous on

As the ACLU astutely pointed out in the lawsuit related to this incident, the TSA's job (as indicated by its name) only includes ensuring the safety of flights. If a large amount of cash is found and determined not to be a danger to anyone's safety, the TSA's job is done. Any questions about the source or purpose of the cash are irrelevant to the TSA and should never be asked.

Submitted by RB on

After the persons cash box was opened and the contents identified and determined that no threat to aviation existed why didn't the TSO complete the screening sending the man on his way?

What defines a large amount of cash? Please provide United States Code!

Why has TSA declared United States currency contraband?

Where does TSA obtain authority to question anyone about property that is not a threat to aviation?

What was suspicious about someone having a fairly modest ($4,700)amount of money?

Why did a TSO illegally detain a person doing nothing more than trying to travel which is a constitutional right?

I bet someone anwsers these question and more in a court.

Want to take odds on that Bob?

Submitted by Philr on
The tone and language used by the TSA employee was inappropriate and proper disciplinary action was taken.

Gotta love that passive voice.
Submitted by Dani on

To say the tone and language used was "inappropriate" is a misnomer. Appalling is more like it - and the entire situation could have been resolved by the TSA simply saying yes/no to the question this man kept repeating. The audio, BTW, that they are referring to in the post can be found here: http://www.dailynewscaster.com/2009/04/02/audio-full-version-steve-bierf...

There is, as admitted within this post, nothing that requires someone carrying less than 10K to report to authorities that the money is within the person's possession. As such, if loose coins were causing such an issue, surely it could have been resolved as the metal box was being screened. After all, I've had my purse looked into sometimes and when the items are cleared, I am free to go.

Shame on the TSA.

Submitted by RB on

So Bob are you telling us that a TSA Screening checkpoint is actually a criminal search and not an adminstrative search.

That's what happen in this case!

Submitted by Anonymous on

All this sounds professional but it does not reflect my experience just a few days ago 20 June '09. I was in a small airport in Iowa going through security in order to board an American Eagle flight (4 pm to Chicago). I had one carry-on and one purse. The carry-on was passed, but my purse was dumped out. My wallet was emptied.. only about $300 cash and credit cards. Nothing more. And then a small flat velvet box containing approximately 10 gold coins on velvet was dumped out even though I said it might compromise their value. No private look at all. No separate room. She ran off leaving me with my carry-on and disappeared with my credit cards, cash and the gold coins. Out of my view. She grabbed my military ID card too. Came back and said 'sorry' but there I was with gold coins scratched and marred. Might I add I was on an emergency flight to see my dying mother? Lightly packed. I'm 59 yrs old. Her behavior was outrageous.

Submitted by Anonymous on

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

Absolutely; and Mr. Bierfeldt did cooperate with TSA's screening process for keeping weapons and explosives off of airliners. The problem is that once the TSA screener determined he didn't have anything that could be a threat to aviation security, he extended the process to look for things beyond TSA's mandate and legal authority.

Submitted by Trollkiller on

Man it has been a rough couple of weeks for the TSA.

We have a man that claims he was denied a job at the TSA due to HIV.

The House voted on legislation to limit the MMW WBI use to secondaries only.

The gun hand off a Philly.

The Clear program gets shut down. (Not TSA's fault but you can bet on grumpy flyers)

The court ruling that the TSA engaged in an unlawful search. PDF warning.

And finally the ACLU case claiming another unlawful search.

Keep you chin up Blogger Bob, we will get this thing fixed one day.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Dear Anonymous with the gold coins and sick mother, I would sue for the value of the gold coins (at the very least).

Submitted by Sandra on

It is my sincere hope that the anonymous poster who started her post with:

"All this sounds professional but it does not reflect my experience just a few days ago 20 June '09. I was in a small airport in Iowa going through security in order to board an American Eagle flight (4 pm to Chicago)."

and continued with:

"She ran off leaving me with my carry-on and disappeared with my credit cards, cash and the gold coins. Out of my view. She grabbed my military ID card too."

has filed or will file a complaint with the TSA, the airport FSD, American Eagle, whoever owns the airport, as well as her Congresspeople.

The TSA MUST BE STOPPED FROM TREATING PEOPLE IN SUCH A MANNER.

Submitted by Technology Slice on

It's good to see you guys take responsibility for your mistakes. It's very professional.

Submitted by RB on

Anonymous said...
All this sounds professional but it does not reflect my experience just a few days ago 20 June '09. I was in a small airport in Iowa going through security in order to board an American Eagle flight (4 pm to Chicago). I had one carry-on and one purse. The carry-on was passed, but my purse was dumped out. My wallet was emptied.. only about $300 cash and credit cards. Nothing more. And then a small flat velvet box containing approximately 10 gold coins on velvet was dumped out even though I said it might compromise their value. No private look at all. No separate room. She ran off leaving me with my carry-on and disappeared with my credit cards, cash and the gold coins. Out of my view. She grabbed my military ID card too. Came back and said 'sorry' but there I was with gold coins scratched and marred. Might I add I was on an emergency flight to see my dying mother? Lightly packed. I'm 59 yrs old. Her behavior was outrageous.

June 23, 2009 12:05 AM

File a complaint with the TSA.

The value of your collectables has been harmed and there is no way to recover that loss.

If TSA brushes you off then I suggest contact a lawyer and seeing if any legal action is possible.

Do try to remember any TSA employees you came in contact with, write down the event while it is fresh in your mind and if possible notate names, places and any other relevant information.

TSA has no right or charter to damage your property. Nor should the TSO have taken your property out of your visual range.

Submitted by RB on

While it’s legal to travel with any amount of money you wish to carry when flying domestically, movements of large amounts of cash through the checkpoint may be investigated by law enforcement authorities if suspicious activity is suspected.

..............................
Bob, exactly what training does a TSO receive that qualifies them to determine if some random event, such as possession of cash, rises to the level of "suspicious activity? Is "suspicious activity" another way of stating reasonable suspicion or probable cause?

Wouldn't this concept of "suspicious activity" lead one to think a TSO is not acting to screen property for things dangerous to aviation but more of a general screening for anything that might be illegal?

TSO's have a fairly short training program and it seems impossible that they are properly trained to do much more than determine if an item is a weapon, explosive or incendiary or not.

Also could you please articulate just what threat to aviation any sum of money presents?

Please also state why TSA has declared United States currency as an item of contraband. Any links to other US laws/regulations that give TSA a role in the control of US currency would be appreciated.

Thanks.

Submitted by Randy on

While I believe that the TSA and LEOs were out of line, I also believe that he should also KNOW the law instead of simply asking "Am I required by law to answer the question."

The bottom line is that he has no constitutional right to board the plane.

Randy

Submitted by Anonymous on

The blog is nice.

Unfortunately it has little to do with what the flying public is made to endure.

This is supposed to be a CIVIL search undertaken for OUR safety.

We are not your inmates and you are not our jailers, but that is how poorly trained TSA personnel operate.

Bad attitude, weak training, designed to harass and humiliate, not to serve and protect.

Nice try with the blog, but you're the bad guys.

Submitted by TSO-Joe on

" I doubt the privacy act actually prohibits the release of that info anyway."

You'd be wrong. As I posted in the last blog, I ran my own business in the 1990's and to this day still have my employee records if they want to use me as a reference. I have to be very carefull as to WHAT information I can give out.

And even if the case is public, as in the case of several Sheriff Officers in MN who were convicted of improper money handling, depsite court documents and many news stories, the employer has to be careful as to what is said, other than he/she was discipled/suspended/fired.

TSO-Joe

Submitted by Anonymous on

One of the main problems with the TSA is simply the shear desire by a small percentage of agents to exert power over passengers, when they have no such authority if the passenger's actions don't indicate a threat.

Maybe this lawsuit will direct the TSA back to their intended purpose, since the agency clearly has lost control of it's purpose.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Bob:

1. Exactly what prevents you from issuing the sort of statement that anonymous presented?: "It's absolutely disgusting the way Steve Bierfeldt was treated by TSA officials in St. Louis. He is a citizen of the United States of America and deserves to be treated with the rights, dignity, and respect afforded all of our citizens." Instead we get the same old empty "appropriate action has been taken."

2. You have yet to address one of the main issues raised by this incident: From the audio recording it was amply clear that the TSO was absolutely incapable of understanding why someone might ever take a respectful, principled stand against such questions. I realize that you think that checkpoints are fourth amendment free zones, but would it be possible to at least provide a scintilla of training on how TSOs are to handle such situations?

3. According to the Fofana ruling, the TSA refused to disclose SSI SOP for an in-camera, ex parte review. Does the TSA seriously believe that thousands of entry-level employees can be trusted with information while a federal judge cannot?

Submitted by Mikeef on
movements of large amounts of cash through the checkpoint may be investigated by law enforcement authorities if suspicious activity is suspected.

More passive voice. In other words, he doesn't want to say that "we will investigate your cash" since the TSA has no right to do so.

And could we get that definition of "suspicious activity" that so many have asked for? In particular, could you tie it to your procedures in light of Fofana?

Cooperation may involve answering questions about their property. A passenger who refuses to answer questions may be referred to appropriate authorities for further inquiry.

In this case, property is cash. Outside of papercuts, it appears that dollar bills can't do much harm to anyone. So how does carrying any amount of cash endanger air travel.

Mike
Submitted by TSOWilliamReed on

I believe the TSO should be fired, I don't really enjoy hearing this story again. However, I have no sympathy for the passenger. That passenger wanted to cause trouble. For one, why would you ever turn on a voice recorder after entering a private screening area unless you knew trouble was about to happen. He was legally not answering the officers questions but was also throwing questions back at them in a tone that was cocky and dissmisive. The passenger wanted to cause a scene probably for some political agenda. Obviously his goal was achieved because the media is having another field day upside TSA's head even though their were multiple law enforcment agencies involved with this incident. Why would you not answer questions about your stuff honestly, who is it gonna hurt. At our airport we get tons of people bringing thousands of dollars worth of jewelry through and they are actually happy with our screening it makes them feel safe. I had a jewelry store owner tell me one time the safest he feels while transfering jewelry is after going through TSA. We are just curious and ask about his store and his jewelry, it has nothing to do with security we are just making simple conversation. Now stop and think about what that TSO was thinking with all his training and SSI information in his head. I will tell you what he was thinking because he didn't notice at the time this guy was just trying to play him for media attention. That TSO was thinking "This guy is hiding something he doesn't want any of us to find. My training tells me that if he is hiding something I need to make sure it is NOT and IED." This story is just another ridiculous media stampede all because some guy wanted to make TSA look bad for some stupid reason.

Submitted by Anonymous on

What About Bob? Where did he go?

Submitted by Anonymous on

Great lets beat a dead horse......

@Bob "and proper disciplinary action was taken"

Which was? And what was done to their boss and trainer? And to all teh other TSOs that observed and did nothing?

Are you saying that any questions a TSO asks must be answered no matter how irrelevant to their purpose? Must I explain to a curious TSO the contents of love letters on my person?
___________________________________

This is rediculous. I don't kno why this would even be brought up again. So that every one can start compaining all over again about how money is none of TSA's business.
It is no ones business how the person was disciplined. Why would their superiors be punished?! It was the one persons actions.
And I guess the blog is saying that you do have to answer TSA's questions, otherwise the police can be called over and you can answer their questions.
No one else stood around and watched what was going on because they were in a private room. Not sure you caught that one.
Thats so nice that you carry love letters around with you. I wish that someone wrote me love letters. As usual people making stupid analogies. I wouldn't expect anything else.

Submitted by Anonymous on

What disciplinary action was taken?

If the individual was not fired, why not?

June 22, 2009 6:30 PM
___________________________________

NO ONES BUSINESS!!!!!

Submitted by Anonymous on

What did you mean by that? Anything may be investigated. What about this situation led your staff to believe that they should notify law enforcement?
___________________________________

The search should have been simple and the fact that he was traveling inside the US should have made the discussion end immediately. But unfortunately the boy being questioned was a smart mouth and that is why it escelated. Call it what you will, but the boy was not cooperating. He made it harder on himself. He was just egging everyone on, although the officers should not have given into it.

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