‘Going native’: TSA whistleblower claims orders were to profile Somali imams

© Kevork Djansezian
Minnesota is home to one in three Somalis in the US, according to MPR News, and Somali leaders in the Twin Cities claim that members of their community are subject to higher scrutiny and harassment from TSA agents.

In an effort to address these concerns, Andrew Rhoades, an assistant federal security director for the TSA, met with Somali imams and others in the local Somali community. Rhoades’s good intentions, however, were being undermined by his superiors.

Testifying at Wednesday’s House oversight committee hearing, Rhoades said his supervisors had ulterior motives for the meetings.

"Recently I was asked to profile Somali imams and community members visiting my office,” Rhoades said, adding, "I will not do this," City Pages reported.

Rhoades told legislators that his TSA supervisors wanted to screen Somali-Americans through databases to check for terrorist ties, the Star Tribune reported. The problem with this, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) wrote in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, is that Somalis would be screened for terrorist connections “by the same office designed to address their complaints.

Rhoades went on to describe a toxic work climate fostered by the TSA, a “culture of misconduct, retaliation, lack of trust, cover-ups, and the refusal to hold its senior leaders accountable for poor judgment and malfeasance."

His testimony described a “punitive” system of punishing employees through transfers and demotions. In one case, Rhoades claims that a female staffer was transferred after filing a sexual harassment complaint against a co-worker. When a male employee refused to cover up the harassment, he was allegedly demoted by two positions.

Rhoades himself was reassigned after being suspected of leaking information to a news station. He also claims that after meeting an imam at a mosque, a supervisor accused him of “going native.”

His boss, David McMahon, heard about the meeting and sent out a memo reminding employees that the TSA must “be mindful of those we interact with” and instructing agents to "contact [field intelligence officer] [name redacted] on potential visitors to determine if we want them in our office space or meet somewhere else."

This is not the first time the TSA has been accused of racial profiling. A seven-month-old baby is among 15 American Muslims named in two lawsuits being brought against the US government by the Council of American-Islamic Relations for placing the plaintiffs on the so-called terror watch list without due process.

The TSA has responded in a statement saying, “TSA takes allegations of racial profiling seriously. We are reviewing this complaint and will take appropriate action if there is evidence that any TSA officer acted inappropriately.”