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January 29 2016

Scanning for Cash

Patrice J. Lee

If you think no because it sets up the wrong incentives for TSA employees and distracts from their primary job, have reached the same conclusion that the Justice Department came to recently following an investigation into a reported scheme. Apparently, a DEA agent turned a TSA agent into a confidential source who was paid to flag luggage that carried large sums of cash in it and to search luggage for evidence of illicit activity.

The DEA violated their own policy by registering the TSA agent as a confidential source and to flag bags with large sums of cash. TSA agents already are obligated by law to report to law enforcement suspected criminal activity they observe while working, so it was a waste of money to pay for information.

It turns out the TSA screener never provided any actionable information and wasn’t paid.

Flying with a suitcase full of cash is not illegal. Last year, we reported on the case of a Virginia man who carried bundles of cash and was detained by the TSA then made fun of on the TSA’s Twitter page. TSA agents seem to be more proficient at invading our privacy than protecting us.

The Justice Department also worries about the privacy of passengers and the constitutionally prescribed protection against unreasonable searches and seizures if the DEA is involved.  This could very well lead to the un-American practice of law enforcement seizing your cash and property without charging you.  This is called civil asset forfeiture and it’s a practice that conservatives and liberals across the country want to reform.

The liberal  Huffington Post reports on what civil asset forfeiture is and why we should be concerned about arrangements like that the DEA is setting up:

Robert Everett Johnson, an attorney for the libertarian public interest law firm Institute for Justice, says the same criticism could be made about the entire practice of civil asset forfeiture, which allows law enforcement officials to seize a person's property -- including cash, cars, jewelry and houses -- without obtaining a conviction or even charging the owner with a crime.

"This really is what we see every day around the country -- when law enforcement takes property using civil forfeiture, law enforcement is able to keep that property and use it to fund their budgets and in many cases even to pay the salaries of people who are overseeing the forfeitures," said Johnson.

"That creates an obvious financial incentive to take property from people who haven't done anything or haven't been proven to have done anything wrong. It creates an incentive for all kinds of abuse," he added.

Transportation hubs are a particular point of focus for the DEA. A 2015 OIG report found that from 2009 to 2013, the DEA seized $163 million in 4,138 individual cash seizures, many of which were contested and later overturned. The agency has also come under fire in recent cases that involved agents seizing cash from airline and train passengers, and in some cases, allegedly shaking them down.

Johnson said the TSA case highlights these concerns, and demonstrates that the DEA is willing to go to great lengths to expand its ability to make profitable seizures. 

"That's really what the OIG is saying: The TSA agents should be focused on doing their job the way the TSA wants them to be doing their job, not what they're getting paid to do by the DEA," Johnson said. "It just warps the TSA agents' priorities."

If the DEA needs help in identifying traffickers, breaking its own rules and pursuing arguably unconstitutional activity is not the way.

And maybe those aces at the TSA aren't the ideal partners in this endeavor. We’ve reported countless stories of TSA workers sexually assaulting passengers, taking pat downs and screening to extremes, or engaging in illegal activity while in uniform. And let’s not forget that they’ve failed to find explosives during routine tests. 

IIndependent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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