A Wednesday U.S. House committee hearing on the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was initially framed as a review of how mismanagement at the unpopular federal agency might be making us less safe.
But the biggest news from the hearing came from Andrew Rhoades, a Minneapolis-based whistleblower, who informed Congress that he was pressured to profile Somali-Americans, particularly the community's imams.
In testimony to the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rhoades first said the TSA uses a "punitive" system of reassigning employees to stifle dissent and retaliate against low-ranking staffers. In Rhoades' case, his bosses suspected he was behind information leaks to the Fox 9 TV station, and gave him a "directed reassignment" as punishment.
In his written testimony, Rhoades also told of the same practice being used to drive one middle-aged TSA staffer into early retirement; in another case, a female employee was reassigned after filing a sexual harassment complaint against a co-worker, and a male employee was demoted two rankings for refusing to lie to cover up the harassment.
After laying out this complaint, Rhoades quickly moved on to the showstopping revelation. Just before getting into it, he gave a little shake of his head, and frowned.
"Recently I was asked to profile Somali imams and community members visiting my office," Rhoades said. "I will not do this."
Again, Rhoades' written submission helps fill out the narrative: Earlier this month, a supervisor caught wind that Rhoades had held a meeting with an imam in his office. According to Rhoades, his boss, David McMahon, cautioned that, in light of "current world affairs," the TSA needs to "be mindful of those we interact with." And where.
"Employee should contact [field intelligence officer] [name redacted] on potential visitors to determine if we want them in our office space or meet somewhere else," reads the memo.
Rhoades added that the same boss had also accused him of "going native" after Rhoades went to a meeting at a mosque.
"Those in the community of Minneapolis know I would never betray their trust by profiling them," Rhoades told the committee.
He was quick to add that not everyone at TSA is so eager to profile Muslims, and said it was a "culture of misconduct, retaliation, lack of trust, cover-ups, and the refusal to hold its senior leaders accountable for poor judgment and malfeasance."
In a statement to the New York Times, TSA said it was reviewing Rhoades' complaint about his boss, but said, "it would be unfair and irresponsible to infer or conclude that profiling is a common TSA practice based upon a single interaction between one employee and his supervisor.”
They're not the only ones interested in looking into it. U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison said he's already sent a letter to Jeh Johnson, the secretary of Homeland Security, asking him to investigate the allegation.
“The Somali-American community, and all Minnesotans, deserve to know if TSA officials are engaging in racial, ethnic, or religious profiling," Ellison said.