TSA whistleblower: Racial profiling at MSP Airport HQ

A senior manager for the Transportation Security Administration at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is accusing his agency of racial profiling at its headquarters near Mall of America and testified today before a U.S. House Oversight Committee about the dysfunction within the agency.

Andrew Rhodes is an assistant federal security director at MSP Airport  and TSA’s liaison with the Twin Cities Somali community.  Rhoades says his boss, federal security director Cliff VanLeuven, asked him if he was “going native” after he met with community leaders at a local mosque. 

Rhoades says another boss, deputy federal security director David McMahon, told him to check with an intelligence officer to see if Somali community members visiting TSA headquarters were on any watch list. In a job performance review of Rhoades obtained by the FOX 9 Investigators, McMahon writes, “Reminded the employee that with our current world affairs that we need to be mindful of those we interact with and advised that employee should check with the FIO (field intelligence officer) on potential visitors to determine if we want them in our office space or meet elsewhere…”

Rhoades says that’s not a practice they conduct with anyone else and believes it is racial profiling.

The allegation was first reported in today’s New York Times.

The FOX 9 Investigators have learned that request to screen visitors was prompted by a specific individual whose name is redacted from the review, Shikh Hassan Mohamud.  The reason is also blacked out, but it was because he had recently been removed as part of the legal defense team in a federal terror trial, because he had allegedly preached about jihad and had encouraged other defendants to not plead guilty.

Rhoades first brought his concerns public in February with the Fox 9 Investigators, telling how VanLeuven tried to transfer him, called a directed reassignment, to another state when he brought up security concerns. “We have a really bad practices of cover-up and glossing over problems,” Rhoades told the FOX 9 Investigators.  “And we don’t address people who continue to retaliate against others.”

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Rhoades told a U.S. House Oversight Committee today that TSA managers are suspected of manipulating and falsifying wait times and that Airport Police at MSP, a separate agency, is now sometimes monitoring wait times independently. 

Rhoades also said a portion of TSA’s headquarters was reserved for a regional director in Detroit, who never planned on operating out of MSP, an issue that was first reported by the FOX 9 Investigators.  The cost of the regional headquarters build out was $300,000.  Rhoades says it is costing another $150,000 to repurpose the space.

“I think the problem is we have codes of conduct, we just don’t follow them,” Rhoades testified.

In an email to all TSA employees, the top administrator Peter Neffinger wrote, “We have seen discouraging media reports about TSA, specifically regarding long wait times and allegations of misbehavior  at various levels of management.  I assure you that I am taking these claims very seriously and addressing them as warranted,” Neffinger wrote.

TSA statement

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) takes seriously all allegations of inappropriate behavior by its employees at all levels and does not tolerate illegal, unethical or immoral conduct.

Due to ongoing litigation and open investigations, we are unable to comment on many of the specific allegations brought up during today’s hearing. However, when such conduct is alleged, TSA investigates it thoroughly and takes appropriate action when an investigation finds that misconduct has occurred. This is the case regardless of seniority or position.

TSA and its employees are expected to be models of ethical behavior, with strong values built on integrity, team spirit and professionalism. Since TSA Administrator Peter joined the agency on July 4, 2015, he has taken decisive action to  strengthen the integrity of TSA’s personnel policies and practices.  He has previously directed a comprehensive review of these policies and practices, including ordering the cessation of the process by which directed reassignments were implemented.

TSA encourages its employees to speak frankly using the tools available to them when they see evidence of misconduct or security failures.