Bosses asked me to profile Somali community members, airport security official says


A top-ranking security official at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport told U.S. lawmakers this week that he was asked to target Somali travelers.

"On April 8, 2016 my supervisors asked me [to] profile Somali imams and other Somali community members," Andrew Rhoades told a U.S. House committee Wednesday.

Rhoades is an assistant federal security director for the Transportation Security Administration (often called the TSA) in Minneapolis. He's been with the agency since 2002. He testified in Washington D.C. Wednesday about what he's seen in his time there.

Rhoades' written testimony can be read here, and you can watch video of his additional comments below. (Note: The meeting is almost 4 hours, but this should start when Rhoades begins talking.)

Details form the testimony

The profiling request came from a higher-up, he said, when the Somali imams and community members were visiting his office, Rhoades said. According to the New York Times, Rhoades claimed a superior asked him to provide names of the visitors so they could be screened.

Rhoades refused, he said, then told another story where a supervisor accused him of "going native" after he visited a local mosque.

"Those in the community in Minneapolis know I would never betray their trust by profiling them," he said, adding the "unfortunate incident" doesn't reflect the attitude of all government employees.

Minnesota Compass says about 23,000 Somalis live in Minnesota, many of them in the Twin Cities area. That metro area is home to the largest Somali population in the United States, U.S. News and World Report said. Terrorism recruiting within the community has been an issue for both law enforcement and the leaders within it.

According to the New York Times, the TSA said it does not support racial profiling, and is reviewing the complaint (though also said it'd be unfair to paint the entire agency based on one interaction with an employee and supervisor).

MPR News reports Rep. Keith Ellison sent a letter to the secretary of Homeland Security, and said the allegations of profiling bring up "several civil rights and privacy concerns."

Rhoades compares TSA to 'Game of Thrones,' 'Animal House'

The meeting where Rhoades testified wasn't specifically about racial profiling at airports.

He was there to tell the House Oversight and Government Reform committee (Note: there are no Minnesota Congressmen on the committee) more broadly about poor management and misconduct with the TSA, according to the meeting page. He also thanked Rep. Betty McCollum for her work on the matter.

"Our corporate culture is analogous to the movie 'Animal House,' while the relationship between our headquarters and the field is best depicted in the TV series 'Game of Thrones,'" Rhoades said toward the end of his testimony.

Among the issues, Rhoades said:

  • Promoting people into leadership position who are nowhere near qualified to run such a large operation.
  • The use of non-disclosure agreement to keep people quiet.
  • Using "directed reassignments" as punishment – a way to silence internal critics, and force early retirements or resignations.
  • High-level employees not being punished for egregious issues lower-level employees frequently do get punished for.
  • Exorbitant and unwarranted bonuses for administrators, which could be used to instead better staff security gates.

All those are reasons that help explain why the TSA "consistently underperforms," Rhoades said.

He added that he reached out to his supervisors and the TSA administrator about his concerns as early as February of 2015, but hasn't heard back.

"If the TSA was a private company, the entire leadership team would have been removed long ago," Rhoades said.

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