Federal Oversight

OIG opens racial profiling investigation of TSA

The Department of Homeland Security's inspector general is investigating whether officials at the Transportation Security Administration are illegally profiling passengers.

In a brief statement, the OIG said a TSA employee in the agency's Minneapolis office filed a complaint saying a supervisor instructed him to treat Somali residents "differently from others who visit the Minneapolis TSA office."

The statement comes a day after Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said that he was adding more Transportation Security Officers and asking Congress to approve funding for overtime for TSOs to alleviate long security wait-times at the nation's airports.

This isn't the first time the TSA has faced accusations of profiling. The New York Times reported in 2012 that 32 federal officers at Boston's Logan International Airport claimed that a program to identify potential terrorists was being used to racially profile numerous minorities.

"[Agents] asserted that passengers who fit certain profiles — Hispanics traveling to Miami, for instance, or blacks wearing baseball caps backward — are much more likely to be stopped, searched and questioned for 'suspicious' behavior," the Times story said.

The American Civil Liberties Union also sued the TSA in March 2015 under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain documents related to its Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques, or SPOT program, in an effort to learn how often minorities are selected for extra screening.

The TSA said in an emailed statement that it doesn't condone the practice of profiling and would wait for the findings of the OIG before commenting further.

"The Transportation Security Administration does not  profile, nor does it tolerate profiling by employees," a TSA spokesperson said. "TSA welcomes the Office of Inspector General's investigation and will cooperate fully, but cannot comment until the investigation is complete."

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