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Was Utah Lawmaker Targeted by Airport Security?

By Ed O'Keefe

Updated 3:50 p.m. ET

Incidents involving grumpy or impatient lawmakers at airport security checkpoints are nothing new, but now a House Republican claims that Transportation Security Administration officers unfairly targeted him because he voted against granting them collective bargaining rights.

The union representing some of the officers says they followed proper procedure and that an officer who had recently completed military service in Iraq did not recognize the freshman lawmaker.

Jason Chaffetz
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), pictured with his family, opposes granting collective bargaining rights to government airport security workers. (Photo by Office of Rep. Jason Chaffetz)

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) has emerged as one of the most vocal and active Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. He recently voted against a bill the panel approved that grants collective bargaining to transportation security officers.

Chaffetz also dislikes TSA's use of body-imaging machines, which perform a full-body scan to detect weapons or other illicit devices hidden under air passengers' clothing. Passengers have the right to refuse screening by the machines, but Chaffetz said most airports -- including his hometown Salt Lake City International -- do not clearly inform passengers of that right.

"You don't need to see my wife or children naked in order to secure an airplane," Chaffetz said in an interview Friday. He introduced a bill earlier this year that allows TSA to use the machines only as a secondary screening device. The House passed the bill as part of the TSA Authorization Bill, but the Senate has yet to vote on it.

Flying back to Washington from Salt Lake City on Monday, Chaffetz passed through security at Salt Lake City International Airport's Delta Airlines Terminal 2. Some Utah news outlets reported that he acted obnoxiously and used an obscenity in an exchange with officers. The lawmaker confirmed in a Thursday interview with KSL-TV that he cursed, but in an interview with The Post, he disputed reports that he touched an officer.

He said he only wants to clear the record and ensure that airport security checkpoints clearly post information about the option of undergoing a body imaging screening.

"I’m basically on a plane every three to four days. Nobody wants those planes to be more secure than me," Chaffetz said.

After showing his identification to an officer at the front of the security line, he was directed to stand in a lane without a body imaging machine. But another officer then directed him to stand in a lane with the machine, according to Chaffetz. When he refused, the officer asked why.

“I know what that machine does, and nobody needs to see me naked in order to secure that airplane,” Chaffetz said he told the officer.

"Getting in the [body imaging] line is 100 percent optional. But they don’t let you know it’s optional, and when you exercise your right you’re treated with the greatest of suspicion."

But Sharon Pinnock, members and organization director for the American Federation of Government Employees, said Chaffetz chose to use the lane with the optional body-image machine.

“It does seem odd that Congressman Chaffetz would choose to use an image machine that he would like to see banned,” Pinnock said. “We are hard-pressed to understand his thinking on this since he previously had been given a tour of the ITM lane to this incident and knew quite well what the process could involve." AFGE's Local 1120 represents some Salt Lake City transportation security officers.

Chaffetz's spokeswoman Alisia Essig said he stands by his claim that an officer asked him to step into the lane and that he did not choose it himself. She also confirmed that he had received a tour of the lane.

The lawmaker later proceeded through a metal detector and was patted down by an officer. After being cleared, Chaffetz asked to see a supervisor to inquire about previous requests that the security checkpoints clearly state a passenger's right to refuse the body imaging machines. The officers initially refused Chaffetz's request.

“Any citizen, regardless of their station in life, should be able to get that information," Chaffetz said.

When officers asked why he wanted the supervisor's information, Chaffetz mentioned he was a member of Congress.

"And then the officer said, 'Oh, we know exactly who you are,' ” Chaffetz recalled, realizing at that point that the officers "were just jerking me around.”

After waiting a few minutes for the supervisor, Chaffetz tried to give his business card to an officer who refused it. He left it on the officer's desk and walked away.

TSA said it would work with Chaffetz to address his concerns. In a statement, the agency called the body imaging machines "an important tool to mitigate known threats."

"This safe screening option is always 100 percent optional to all passengers. Passengers who do not wish to receive imaging technology screening will use the walk-through metal detector and undergo a pat-down procedure," the agency said.

In her statement, Pinnock said officers followed proper procedures.

“The TSO who administered the pat down had just returned from a tour of duty in Iraq, and did not recognize the freshman congressman. Furthermore, the screening TSO was partnered with a TSA supervisory job monitor who ensured procedures were properly followed," she said.

Chaffetz has spoken with TSA officials in Washington and Salt Lake City since the incident and has been assured that officers do not typically respond in such a fashion. He has no plans to take further action, but remains suspicious.

“I’ve flown 1.4 million miles on Delta. I’ve never been pulled out of the line to go into the body imaging machine," Chaffetz said.

By Ed O'Keefe  | September 25, 2009; 2:13 PM ET
Categories:  Congress, Workplace Issues  
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Posted by: PTaylor8336 | September 27, 2009 1:45 AM | Report abuse

Sounds like another arrogant Congressman to me. I was always taught to follow the instructions of the TSA officials. Besides, look at him. Does he honestly think nyone would get their kicks seeing him naked?

Posted by: davidlhanegraaf | September 27, 2009 8:29 AM | Report abuse

I've seen some incredibly arrogant TSA employees; I've also seen some very nice, professional ones. But the ratio needs to improve - A LOT. I'm surprised when I get someone professional, and that's not good. The best-case scenario is getting treated like cattle. Most of the time you're treated like a terrorist-in-waiting or a nuisance who has dared to interrupt the important conversation of an all-powerful TSA employee.

The whole "naked" thing is an exaggeration by the congressman, though.

Posted by: mindkiller1 | September 27, 2009 5:38 PM | Report abuse

What a cry baby !!!! I was just in SLC earlier this month - not a single problem going through the checkpoint !!! TSA is just doing their jobs. They are NOT looking to see the Congressman or his family naked ! !

He should be concerned about the safety of all passengers, including his constituents.

As a Congressman, he has the ability to meet with high officials at TSA, or could arrange a meeting with the top TSA supervisor in SLC - if he truly needs to speak with someone.

Some people actually take their jobs seriously - protecting our country.

Since I live in NYS, and have to go through security even crossing the Canadian border, it's not a big deal. I had to get a passport card to be able to go back and forth. Something we did not have to do before.

A small price to pay for some peace of mind. Not that all of these measures will catch everyone with a plan to blow up a plane or another building in our country, but all it is - a few extra minutes of your time.

As a United States Representative, this "gentleman" should understand the TSA rep was doing his job. Don't think too highly of yourself, sir. You are not above the guidelines or the law.

Hopefully, when it is time for re-election, you will find yourself at home, no longer travelling as much and having to deal with going through the checkpoints at the airport.

Did you not have a problem at the DC airports?? Or do you get special treatment there because you are a Congressman????

Quite frankly, the checkpoint lines move quite quickly in SLC airport.

What a cry baby Congressional Rep !!!!!!

Posted by: nyvalady1 | September 28, 2009 10:57 AM | Report abuse

Has not Chaffetz singled out and targeted the TSO by voting no for basic employee rights? The TSO, who, by the way was just doing his job. The flying public as a rule is courteous and respectful. Some politicians think they are above it all. I would like a nickle for every time I heard "I need to get dressed now from the strip search." Shoes, coats and big belt buckles do not constitute a strip search. For some it is wishful thinking.

Posted by: wilcoxrick | September 28, 2009 7:38 PM | Report abuse

The freshman congressman jumped to conclusions that he was selected because of the way that he voted. He was not recognized and who cares. HR1881 passed from the Oversight Committee with a vote of 19 yes and 10 no. The Transportation Security Officers are just grateful that the bill moved forward. They are not venditive and are confident that the bill will pass and become law.

They did follow the guidelines set by TSA. They are just doing their job. Remember this piece of equipment was chosen for use under the Bush (Republican) administration.

Mr Chaffetz you have insulted every Transportation Security Officer locally and Nationally. Your brand of politics leave something to be desired both locally and Nationally.

We are 'Fed-up'.

In Solidarity!

American Federation of Government Employess- TSA Local 1120 in Salt Lake City

Posted by: red1234 | October 1, 2009 4:35 AM | Report abuse

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