War on Terror

Ron Paul Staffer Held for Carrying 'Large Amounts' of Cash

| by Reason Foundation

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. The staffer
recorded his interaction with TSA agents and police officers while he
was detained, 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.