Rand Paul 'detained' by TSA. Does that happen to other senators?

TSA could hardly have singled out a worse person for pat-down treatment than Sen. Rand Paul, up-and-coming libertarian standard-bearer and son of GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul. He's not the only one on Capitol Hill to complain about pat-downs.

By , Staff writer

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    Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky, speaks about being detained by the TSA at the airport in Nashville, Tenn., on Monday.
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Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky was detained by the Transportation Security Administration Monday at the Nashville airport, in case you haven’t heard. A millimeter wave scanner detected an “anomaly” in the area of his knee, according to Senator Paul, and TSA agents then said he’d have to undergo a full-body pat-down. Paul said he wouldn’t submit to such a search and offered to show agents his knee, instead. They said that wouldn’t suffice.

This stand-off apparently escalated to the point where Paul was cornered in a cubicle for a bit – that’s where the “detained” allegations come in.

Eventually the TSA allowed Paul to board another flight for Washington. The second time through, the scanner didn’t see anything in the vicinity of the senatorial kneecap, apparently. This has led Paul to believe that the scanner never saw an “anomaly” at all, and that it is set to go off randomly so as to pick out unwitting travelers for extra-close inspection.

Recommended: TSA screenings: What protections do you have?

“Two people from the TSA told me there are random bells and whistles that go off,” said Paul Monday afternoon during an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room.”

TSA officials confirmed such an incident occurred Monday, but declined to identify the passenger involved as Paul, citing privacy concerns. White House spokesman Jay Carney took a similar approach, and then defended TSA actions.

“Passengers, as in this case, who refuse to comply with security procedures are denied access to the secure gate area,” Mr. Carney said. “I think it is absolutely essential that we take necessary actions to ensure that air travel is safe, and I believe that is what TSA is tasked with doing.”

Hmm. Well, we’ve got a few points to make here. The first, and obvious, one is that the TSA could hardly have singled out a worse person for pat-down treatment. Rand Paul is an up-and-coming libertarian stalwart, the son of presidential contender Ron Paul, and he’s not going to go quietly off after this and buy magazines in the gift shop. He’s going to do what he did: go on CNN and accuse TSA of not protecting America.

“I don’t feel more safe [because of TSA protection],” Paul told Mr. Blitzer.

That said, TSA has a problem with lawmakers in general. Senators and Congress members fly a lot, and they see the glitches in the system up close. Look at it this way: If you ran a restaurant, and you had a customer who had three meals a day there, 100 days a year, that customer is eventually going to find a fly in his eggplant gratin, or some other problem. Law of averages, and all that.

The personal experience horror story is kind of a staple of TSA congressional hearings. In that sense, Paul is not alone. Last November, at an oversight hearing conducted by the Senate Commerce Committee, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) of Missouri complained bitterly to TSA chief John Pistole about her airport treatment. Senator McCaskill has an artificial joint, which sets off alarms and gets her lots of pat-downs.

There’s one female agent in particular at the St. Louis airport that McCaskill dreads.

“If I see her coming, I like just tense up because I know it’s going to be ugly in terms of the way she conducts her pat-downs,” McCaskill told Mr. Pistole.

At the same hearing, Sen. John Boozman (R) of Arkansas complained about an old family friend, an elderly doctor, who was subject to what he perceived to be extremely invasive treatment that threatened to exacerbate an illness. [Editor's note: The original version misstated Senator Boozman's home state.]

“I think it actually did jeopardize him, mentally and physically,” said Senator Boozman.

Full-body imaging and pat-downs have been the drill at US airports since 2010. They are unpopular with the public, as well as with lawmakers. In an effort to defend the need for such procedures, the TSA notes that it catches four to five guns a day at checkpoints in US airports. Occasionally it catches artfully concealed weapons, too. On Jan. 14, TSA agents at the Lynchburg, Va., airport discovered a dagger disguised as a hairbrush, according to a TSA press release. Its blade was ceramic, which wouldn’t have shown up on a metal detector.

“Ceramic blades are more difficult to detect than metallic blades, and just as sharp and dangerous,” said the TSA release.

Recommended: TSA screenings: What protections do you have?
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