April 6, 2009
The Transportation Security Administration is investigating the detention and harassment of a Ron Paul organization official by airport screeners, an incident that was caught on tape at a St. Louis airport.
Steve Bierfeldt, director of development for Campaign for Liberty, was selected for additional screening after officials spotted a metal box in his luggage that contained a large amount of cash and checks made out to the campaign.
Mr. Bierfeldt was attending his organization's regional conference in St. Louis and said he was keenly aware, as the situation unfolded March 29, of a controversial report issued to Missouri law enforcement officials intended to identify members of radical militia members.
"Militia members most commonly associate with third-party political groups," said the report, issued Feb. 20 by the Missouri Information Analysis Center. "It is not uncommon for militia members to display Constitution Party, Campaign for Liberty or Libertarian material. These members are usually supporters of former presidential candidates Ron Paul, Chuck Baldwin and Bob Barr."
Mr. Bierfeldt was carrying Campaign for Liberty bumper stickers and other campaign literature, and was interrogated by TSA screeners and airport police at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport for nearly a half-hour before being allowed on his flight to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
The money he was carrying, more than $4,700, was in the form of cash and checks received from ticket sales, bumper stickers, books and other conference-related items.
Mr. Bierfeldt recorded the event on his iPhone, and provided a copy to The Washington Times for review. (Click here to listen to the audio)
On the tape, Mr. Bierfeldt is asked repeatedly where he works, where he obtained the money and why he was in St. Louis.
In each instance, Mr. Bierfeldt asked whether he was required by law to answer the questions.
"You want to play smartass, and I'm not going to play your f--ing game," the TSA official said.
Mr. Bierfeldt continued to refuse to answer, asking whether he was compelled by law to do so. The officers accused him of "doublespeak" and "acting like a child."
"Are you from this planet?" one officer asked.
The officers threatened to handcuff him and turn him over to the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration for questioning.
"You're going to have to prove why you have so much money to the DEA," a second unidentified officer said.
"We're going to help you understand [the law]," the TSA official said.
As he was being led away by the officers questioning him in the recording, another unidentified officer approached the group and asked Mr. Bierfeldt whether he worked for Mr. Paul and whether the money was campaign contributions.
Mr. Bierfeldt responded, "Yes," and was told by that officer that he was "free to go."
But one of the detaining officers said he was "not all that ready to let him walk" back onto the concourse, and held him for another five minutes.
"I was not refusing to answer the questions. I was only saying, as per the law, 'Am I legally required to answer the questions?'" Mr. Bierfeldt later said in an interview with The Times.
"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," Mr. Bierfeldt said.
"I don't believe I was legally required to tell them. Carrying cash is not a crime," Mr. Bierfeldt said. "It is a dangerous precedent if the government can order you to tell them where you get your money, and no law requires them to know where I work or where I spend my free time and where I go on vacation."
Asked whether his employment with Mr. Paul's committee prompted more scrutiny, Mr. Bierfeldt said: "I don't know, but it may not have helped that they were aware of where I worked.
"I was obviously with the campaign and I was aware of that report. I didn't want to tell them off the bat that I worked for the campaign and Ron Paul, because the report said we were potential members of the militia, and that's why I asked what my rights were," Mr. Bierfeldt said.
Mr. Paul, a U.S. House member and honorary chairman of the grass-roots lobbying organization, said he was "rather shocked" by the incident.
"This sort of encounter is a sign of bad things to come," said the Texas Republican and 2008 presidential-primary contender.
"People need to know their rights, and law enforcement officers, even if their intentions are noble, should never be allowed to bully and detain law-abiding citizens," Mr. Paul said. "Steve´s experience is a prime example of how our liberties are in real peril and that we need to wake up to what's going on in our country."
The TSA issued a statement Friday confirming that the metal box triggered the "need for additional screening," but said the behavior of the screening officer was inappropriate.
"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," the statement said.
"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," the statement said.
The Homeland Security agency further explained that carrying large amounts of cash through airport checkpoints "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 TSA said.
Mr. Bierfeldt made his flight on time and said he had not decided whether to file a formal complaint against the officers or the agency.
"Everyone in these types of situations needs to stand up for their rights," said Mr. Bierfeldt, whose organization describes itself as supporting constitutional ideals and a free-market society.
The Campaign for Liberty already had objected to Missouri's militia report. On March 24, Missouri Department of Public Safety Director John Britt sent a letter to all the named candidates acknowledging the state had made a mistake.
"I have ordered that the offending report be edited so as to excise all reference to Ron Paul, Bob Barr and Chuck Baldwin and to any third-party political organizations," Mr. Britt said. "Additionally, you may rest assured that the report is not posted on any website maintained by the State of Missouri."
"The Missouri Department of Public Safety regrets any inconvenience or issues caused inadvertently by the unnecessary inclusion of certain components by MIAC in its militia report," Mr. Britt said.