Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Transcript and Audio: The TSA's Third-Degree Interrogation of Steve Bierfeldt

There's been a lot of interest in the case of Steve Bierfeldt, a treasurer and development officer for a political group affiliated with the 2008 presidential candidate Ron Paul. Last week, the TSA backed down in this case after the ACLU filed suit.

Late last March, Bierfeldt was detained at TSA security at the St. Louis airport and given the heavy-handed third-degree by TSA screeners and two local cops. The reason: Bierfeldt -- returning home to Virginia from a campaign fundraiser -- had a box with $4,700 in cash packed (in plain sight) in his carry-on. (The cash was campaign donations and proceeds from the sale of t-shirts, books and other political material that Bierfeldt was routinely carrying as part of his job.)

Carrying a significant amount of cash is 1. Not illegal. 2. None of the screeners' official business, once they have determined that the cash is not hiding, say, a razor blade or other weapon. In fact, it's not even the business of a real police officer, unless that officer has determined that there is reasonable and probable cause to suspect a crime.

Bierfeldt politely declined to explain to the screeners why he had the cash, which was entirely within his legal rights. Because of this, he was marched off to a windowless interrogation room for a third-degree type interrogation session that lasted more than 20 minutes. But Bierfeldt had his iPhone with him. The interrogators were unaware that he was recording the entire ugly session.

The ACLU later sued the TSA on Bierfeldt's behalf. The suit was dropped last week after the TSA issued to screeners new guidelines that basically reminded them that their job is to protect air-travel safety by looking for weapons and explosives and verifying passengers' IDs.

Reading the transcript of the conversation, as recorded by Bierfeldt and later appended to court papers by the TSA, is the only way to get a full understanding of how out-of-line some screeners can get.

Via the ACLU Web site, here's a link to the .pdf that has the full transcript of the recording Bierfeldt made of the session. Note: At the top of the .pdf document is the affidavit by Ron Bardmass, the screener-supervisor who was Bierfeld's main questioner at the table -- where two other TSA officers and two local cops also were present. To see the actual minute-by-minute transcript, scroll down past Bardmass's affidavit to Attachment 1.

And here's a link to the audio recording Bierfeldt made.


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